Chief Joseph and the Flight of the Nez Perce — my proudest accomplishment

I just received this note from a reader:

My wife and I traveled through western Montana this summer and just happened to stop at the Big Hole National Monument. The ranger on duty recommended your book, “Chief Joseph & the Flight of the Nez Perce”.

I’m halfway through the book and loving the book. I’m disappointed with the treatment of the Nez Perce, but your writing brings the events to life. Great job!

I hear this comment often from readers.  Many of the sites on the Nez Perce trail recommend my book as the one to read, because I wrote it as a ground level experience for the reader with a sympathy for all participants on all sides.  I wanted you to be there as the events unfolded, not watching from some historical perspective.

It took me four years to do that book, and it was the loneliest literary journey of my life.  But in many ways it was the most rewarding.  It reveals the shadow side of the journey of Lewis and Clark and offers a look into one of the most poignant stories of American expansion into the west.  It changed me forever.

It may not seem like a subject that intrigues you.  But I urge you to overcome your resistance.  The Nez Perce are a people quite unlike any other tribe you may have experienced.  And their story and the story of their tragic flight are at the core of our American historical narrative.

If you liked the way the story was told in Neither Wolf nor Dog, The Wolf at Twilight, and The Girl who Sang to the Buffalo, you will find Chief Joseph and the Flight of the Nez Perce well worth your while.  I hope you will pick it up.

15 thoughts on “Chief Joseph and the Flight of the Nez Perce — my proudest accomplishment”

  1. I didn’t know you’d written this book. I will definitely look for it. I’ve visited the Big Hole Battlefield. Our interp Ranger was Nez Perce and did a wonderful job explaining the site to us. I found the battlefield so poignant. I could really feel the sorrow there.

  2. Chrystal Parsons

    I read the Flight of the Nez Perce in college and used it as a study guide for my term project as I retraced the trail from OR to the Bear Paw.

    Thank you, I enjoy all your books. I learn something new and something within myself each time

  3. William R Feltes

    Did Lewis from Lewis & Clark die from suicide within a couple of years after the completion of their expedition? Sad if true.

  4. Chief Joseph and the Flight of the Nez Perce is one of several of your greatest books, Kent.
    All your books are written from the ground with heart. It’s what draws me and most others.

    Human feelings connect us to one another. In this case, what both sides were feeling and experiencing.
    I can see why it would take four years to bring it all together with the historical events and encounters.

    My heart will always grieve for Native Americans.
    But especially for Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce.
    So much so I contacted their office in Idaho.
    But I’ve yet to be able to make the trip.
    Someday soon, I hope.

    Your books help us all, Kent.
    Especially the Nez Perce.

  5. I’m no expert on Lewis and Clark, but it is my understanding that Lewis, who was prone to bouts of depression and had gotten into financial trouble due to the government not paying him for services rendered, shot himself in a tavern/rest house on the Natchez Trace. There are various claims that he was actually killed, but those seem to be standard conspiratorial fare.

  6. This was an excellent book. I felt like I was right there as it was happening. I’ve recommended it to many because of its comprehensive story of what happened to the Nez Perce.

    I’m happy to hear that you continue to get great comments about your work, Kent. My book club is going to read “Neither Wolf nor Dog” in early 2024.

  7. being a Southerner, I don’t know much about Western Indians. and most of our original Southern Indians died of European disease, were taken as slaves, and/or were sent west by Andrew Jackson and all those men who coveted their lands.
    but I do know about Osceola, war chief of the Seminoles during the 2nd Seminole War, 1830-early 40s. he was captured under a flag of truce by a General Jesup and sent to the dungeons of the big fort in St. Augustine. some of the warriors who were captured starved themselves and managed to slip through the bars and escaped. Osceola did not go with them. He was moved to another fort off the coast of Charleston, SC where he died. he was buried in the fort grounds without his head which was taken by the doctor who treated him. the story goes, his head was pickled in a jar to scare the doctor’s children.
    back in the 1950s when the old bridge to Charleston on highway 17 was still around, we took a trip on a school bus to the forts from Georgetown, 70 miles to the north of Charleston. we went over that bridge, very high with only two lanes. “here comes a timber truck” one of my schoolmates said, as we were on the highest part of that bridge. I looked at the floor. it was scary.. but I knew that I was going to see Osceola’s grave. I had a flower to put on it. I think it was a rose. we disembarked from the bus, after we made it over that bridge, and got on a ferry that would take us out to the fort. it was a rough, chilly day but having grown up on an island, the boat was heaven to me. as we passed the grave, I reached through a fence and placed the flower on the grave. it was accomplished! that night, as I fell asleep listening to the surf through a cracked window, I felt like I had done a good deed. I remembered a warrior who had been wronged in many ways. I was 11 years old.

  8. Steven Reynolds

    “Is it Possible That the Noble Red Man Is Not a Myth?”
    Page 318-320

    “Though the train was a fearful experience for the Nez Perce, it was a learning experience for their chief. Its speed was beyond the fastest horse; its power to travel without rest beyond that of the fittest animal. At one stop, soldiers pointed out the telegraph wires and told Joseph that white men could talk through these. The chief was skeptical and challenged the men to talk to someone at the next stop and tell them to bring him a glass of water and call him by name … At the next station, a woman came out asking for Joseph. She held a glass of water in her hand.
    Joseph understood immediately. This was how the soldier armies located the people … how they could keep coming at them no matter how fast they traveled or how well they covered their path … had power beyond anything the Indians could imagine … could move words faster than the fastest Indian courier could ride …”

    I re-read this now in the autumn of the year and relive their experience as told through your words. I feel the cold damp days, see the approaching appearance of an astonishing number of cities, hear the steel wheels upon the tracks, feel the reverberation throughout the drafty railroad cars; sense their dissolution, hopelessness — that, unknown to them, hasn’t even begun. Thank you for this tremendous heartfelt book.

  9. Reading your trilogy now
    man….
    Your writings are such a blessing.

    I’m so curious about how much of it actually happened, and what that journey was like.

    But these are a gift to the world.
    Thanks so much for all you do.

    I will email you when I finish the trilogy and I hope to get a chance to sit down and have an interview with you — so many questions.

  10. As with each book of Kent’s that I finish, I feel compelled to share a comment.
    I just finished Chief Joseph and immediately wrapped it up and sent it as a gift to a friend with a personal note. A friend I sense that this book will speak to as it did to me. How we each embody the lessons in these stories is different, but the writing of them is a profound gift for all who are able to receive the deep communication he imparts. I thank Kent for the gift of his stories, his works of heart and art. A true master.

  11. Thank you for the Nez Perce book, It was my introduction to the Montana way of life and I have spent a few years investigating their tribal ups and downs. Lucky for me I live in the bitterroot on one of the main trails they used. There are many sacred sites here. One on my own place. It is your writing that taught me to respect all that is here. What a journey.
    Thank you for sparing us another bad movie too.

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