This book examines the familiar story of the settling of the American West that we all grew up with thanks to John Ford, John Wayne and the rest. The author takes this story from the point of view of the Nez Perce tribe of Idaho. One of the main themes of the book is the historical flight of 700 Nez Perce men, women and children from the United States army following their refusal to abide by a treaty signed by other Nez Perce bands in 1877. Their passage across Oregon, Idaho and Montana is interwoven with a travelogue along their route where the author describes the effects of 130 years of European colonisation on the Native American peoples and on the environment of the north western United States.
I enjoyed this book, it told me two stories I was not familiar with. The desperate flight of the Nez Perce as they tried to escape the mendacity of the United States government in thrall to the settlers and their big business backers is told well. The Europeans do not come out of the book well while the sympathy lies with the Nez Perce who only wanted to live in their traditional lands in peace.
The second story is of what happened to the Nez Perce and their lands after they were forced on to reservations. Here the settlers are now the victims of big business which wants to exploit the water, salmon, timber and minerals seemingly so inexhaustible in these mountains. This tale makes sad reading and here there is more sympathy for the descendants of the pioneers. Schofield also looks at the fate of the various groups of Nez Perce who still battle with high unemployment, alcoholism and domestic abuse. Yet the Nez Perce are recovering as they exercise their treaty rights through the courts they have become leaders in the conservation movement of the region, trying to undo some of the damage wrought after their land was stolen from them.
As I said I enjoyed this book but its themes and bias probably chime with my own political and environmental viewpoint. Other readers may find the book is a little black and white with the Native Americans as the put upon peaceful good guys and the US Army and European settlers as the rapacious, untrustworthy and not very bright bad guys. If you are interested in the history of the West and in the environment then this is a book I would recommend you read.