Well, I’ve certainly left you sitting on dead air for awhile. My apologies. There have been several reasons — none dire, but all real.
First, I’ve been waiting for definitive word on the headstone. Carrie (the woman’s name — she has allowed me to use it) has had several surgeries and has thus far not sent me the email note to all of you that I’m hoping to publish here. She has, however, purchased the headstone, and it should be installed soon. That is the point at which I am going to have to learn how to place photos on this website, because I want you all to see what you’ve helped accomplish. Despite my silence on the issue, it is truly a wonderful thing to be part of and to see coming to fruition. I’ll bring you all back in the loop as soon as I can do so in a meaningful fashion.
On the writing front, I’ve been pushing hard to finish the Joseph book. This is truly a case of wrestling an alligator — all legs and arms and sharp teeth and dangerous tails. I had to go down to Kansas and Oklahoma to do some final work on the exile period, and this was both fascinating and rewarding. There is a man in Kansas who is a living historical treasure regarding the Nez Perce exile. He is a local historian, wedded to his small home town, who has done yeoman research that not only fills in a gap the Nez Perce story, but flies in the face of the observations of the various historical big dogs who have skimmed over this period of the Nez Perce struggle. It might not seem like much to an outside observer, but to one who has committed several years of his life to this project, this man — Larry O’Neal — and his work have been stunning, even monumental, discoveries.
He and I have become friends, and he has been kind enough to let me use his voluminous research for my own book. Sadly, I won’t be able to do justice to his materials; this period deserves a book on its own. If it were my call, I would have written only about the post-surrender period of the Nez Perce struggle. But, as with most of our jobs, I serve a master, who serves another master, who serves yet another, until we arrive at the great master, PROFIT. It is a romantic misconception that authors just write what they want.
But, enough of my literary travails.
On a front that may interest you more, I stopped in Leavenworth, Kansas, and tried to bring a copy of Neither Wolf nor Dog to Leonard Peltier. It was quite an experience. The prison looks like the Supreme Court building, complete with colonnades and a white marble facade. But behind this facade is the usual walled fortress, stretching for what seems like blocks.
I drove up the long boulevard-like entry toward the colonnades and spoke into a microphone, explaining my purpose. Further passage was impossible because the road had been blocked with post-9/11 concrete berms. The voice that responded was, shall we say, less than inviting in its manner and intonation. It told me that I could not advance beyond that point. I explained my purpose and was told that I had to mail the book, and to do that I had to contact the prison. I pointed out that I was AT the prison and that this WAS my attempt to contact the prison. Said voice was decidedly lacking in a sense of humor and blurted out an address faster than I could write, then told me to move on. I felt like Dorothy and her friends asking for an audience with the wizard. Unfortunately, the great and powerful government had no intention of granting my request. I drove off unserved and unsatisfied, and not at all enchanted with the man behind the curtain. Obviously, if I want to get a book to Leonard, it will have to be done in a manner that allows the prison to parse it for metal files and anthrax and bomb plastique.
All in all, it was a very disquieting experience — unnecessarily unfriendly and brusque. And this is coming from a man who, in his younger days, played basketball in San Quentin, did work in Stillwater Penitentiary, and visited several maximum security institutions that carried the unlikely names of “vocational institutes.” Even a short stop at the dreaded Pelican Bay prison near Crescent City, California, several years ago did not have the same dark, menacing edge as this simple drive up to Leavenworth Penitentiary on a sunlit, Kansas spring day.
So now I’m back after a short interlude in Alamosa, Colorado, where I spoke to a group of students at Adams College. Joseph and the Nez Perce loom before me like ten mile high thunderheads. Each day I trudge out to my writing cabin, tank up on coffee, and try to do justice to this fascinating story. Maybe one of these days I will actually get it done and achieve my purpose of bringing more people to an awareness of this little-known part of our national history. If that happens, the project will have been worthwhile.
Until then, I keep writing. And I’ll do my best to keep on blogging, too.
Keep the faith and enjoy the springtime.Posted on: May 1, 2004knerburn