American Indian

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.

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What Robert Plant learned from reading Neither Wolf nor Dog

I have often said that being a writer is like shouting from inside a glass box:  you can see the people moving out there, but you have no idea if they hear you.  Here is an unexpected example of Neither Wolf nor Dog being heard.  Robert never told me this, but it makes life in the glass box feel ever so more worthwhile.


The book that made Robert Plant search for silence
(Credit: Alamy)


The book that made Robert Plant search for silence

Once, when Robert Plant was travelling the US on tour, he briefly stopped by a bookstore in Colorado. In the years leading up to his visit, he’d been between places whilst on the road but was drawn to the south. He described it as having a culture of European immigrants and wound up on a quest to see what had gone on in a time before the Europeans moved through.

The period before the rounding up of the great Comanche empire was of huge interest to him, given the empire, built by the Comanche tribe of Native Americans, fell victim to European colonialism in 1875. Plant was fascinated. “I started trying to track down what happened, the change of power, the hierarchies, the push through to the west coast by the European travellers and the whole frontier spirit,” he told BBC Radio 5. “I was constantly amazed by what I was reading about the tenacity and the wisdom and the guile of the original fathers of the new world.

He was at the end of another very dense book; one concerned more with dates than a sense of adventure and conquest. But then he stumbled across Kent Nerburn’s Neither Wolf nor Dog: On Forgotten Roads with an Indian Elder, and flicked through its pages. “I started going, ‘My goodness, this is somebody who has actually, as a European stock, European-blooded guy, he’s been around these people enough to express the words that I can’t quite get out,’” he said.

He was amazed at how Nerburn charted both the guilt and the adventure in tandem: “The whole idea of being so uncomfortable with getting too close to something that’s so profound, that you just feel like some sort of spaceman trying to even comprehend what these guys carry with them, the way they touch the earth.”

Once he’d finished the book, he decided he had to meet Nerburn, if not to ask him more about why silence was so important to Native Americans. “It’s [been] a treasure,” Plant said. “I don’t really do it great service. Since Kent and I have met, I spend quite a lot of the time babbling and enthusing, and being the same ‘RP’ that I’ve been for many years. But I do find my silence. I live close to the Welsh borders, and I know the special places to go, to be, to actually recharge.”

Famous for his shockingly high shrieks with Led Zeppelin, silence is an alien concept for Plant. He described the sheer volume of his performances at times becoming too much, “almost like it was every second had to be filled with some musical comment”. He mentioned that in the early days of his career, insecurity and nervousness led, “like most Western communications,” to too much noise.

But, with the book’s spiritual take on the importance of silence, he learned to find it. “It’s got more and more fluent, my time in silence since,” he said. “I’m very pleased with that.”

Led Zeppelin - Since I've Been Loving You (Live at Madison Square Garden 1973) [Official Video]




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