Historical and Cultural Background of “My Home in Idaho” and the Nez Perce Tribe
The essence of John Ramsey’s “My Home in Idaho” revolves around the theme of Indian and White relations between the Nez Perce tribe and the surrounding white community in Idaho. That being said, the thesis of the text could prompt the name of the text to be re-named “My Home in Idaho Among the White People” but for purposes of the Carlisle Indian School’s magazine the original name is suitable. Around the time when Ramsey wrote this piece for “The Indian Craftsman” the Nez Perce tride in Idaho was in a rapid decline due to governmental policies and military actions. The positivity reflected in Ramsey’s text regarding the Nez Perce and White retaliations, were not always so positive. In fact, the relationship between the tribe and the surrounding white community was very hostile and even deadly as it resulted in the Nez Perce War of 1877. It began in 1863 when the tribes chief, Young Chief Joseph, refused to uphold the mandates in a treaty by the government to have the tribe move to a reservation. The Chief agreed to relocate the tribe as he said “I would give up everything rather than have the blood of my people on my hands.” Yet, a group of rebels within the tribe rebelled against the mandates of the governments policies and began to attack white men in the surrounding community that were afflicted with the decision to relocate the tribe. Government military action was almost immediately deployed when the attacks began and the tribe did not move from their home in Wallowa Valley, Idaho. This began the Nez Perce War of 1877 which caused the tribe to flee to the mountains where they continued to run from “2,000 U.S. Army troops under General Howard.” The Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes reflected on Young Chief Joseph leading his hundreds of remaining people out of harms way and into the mountains as “one of the most remarkable stories of pursuit and escape in military history.”
In his memoir, Ramsey discusses the “mountains” quiet often which could be attributed to their symbolism of sacred security. He wrote, “Idaho is a mountainous country. Its mountains are white with snow nearly all the year.” Although he says that his home resides by a river in a valley between two mountains, I assume he is very fond of the mountains as he reflects on their Fourth of July camping trip in the mountains where the tribe congregates as a tradition. The text’s voice is very factual with no detection of Ramsey’s opinions what-so-ever. But based on his tribes history and the facts within his text of the mountains being a place of traditional retreat for the tribe, I assume the mountains are one of Ramsey’s most favorite places at his home in Idaho as he reflects good memories from the mountains camping trips. He wrote,
“The work I do out there is mostly making hay and hauling wood from the mountains. Sometimes some other Indians hire me to help them haul hay. After I finish all the work we then go out camping in the mountains for the rest of the summer.”
After all his labor work is done, he and his tribe retreat to the mountains where they live and act out traditions of the Nez Perce culture like war dances, games, fishing and hunting.
It is as if this is an escape for Ramsey and the rest of his tribe to remove themselves from their now “Americanized” lives and live in the traditions of their tribes past. Ramsey alludes to white-relations throughout the text that can be attributed to this fleeing of “Americanization”. When Ramsey is describing his “home in Idaho”, he explains “My home is also among white people.” He continues, “The river flows near my home and there is a railroad about a quarter of a mile away.” Before the tribe and the area was so taken over by the white people and their progressive “American” ways, the river was used for transportation by canoe or small boat, but they use the railroads for transportation. After putting the pieces together and really understanding the meaning behind Ramsey’s writing because he doesn’t express his opinions directly, it could be assumed that although he is accepting of the white-ways and assimilating to the American culture, the mountain trips are very sacred to him because it connects him back to his roots within the Nez Perce culture.
According to a secondary source regarding Nez Perce culture, the tribe became so connected with Christian ideas because they were apparently “forced to attend Christian churches and government schools”, maybe like the Carlisle Indian School? In his text, Ramsey ends the passage by saying, “The customs of the Indians are nearly the same as those of the white peoples. Half of the Nez Perces are Christians. Because Ramsey is deemed assimilated and accepting of “Americanized” assimilation based on his biography and text, this invitation (as one might call it) would be appreciated by Ramsey as it is part of his education in learning the ways of white folks.