Kevin Carson ’81
Westholme Publishing, 2011
In his foreword to the latest account of the Nez Perce War of 1877, Kevin Carson ’81 writes, “In my memory, there was never a time when our family was not fascinated by the saga of the Nez Perce.” Carson’s great-great-great grandfather, Levi Watrous, served as a scout during the Civil War, then moved to Columbia County, Washington, in 1872, where he made his living as a stockman. When the Nez Perce War exploded, he rode out of Dayton as a lieutenant of volunteers, eventually becoming their commander.
“Generations removed,” writes Carson, “we now recognize that the war was planned and manufactured by politicians and the greedy. The history is written, and my ancestor was a part of the violent story of the summer of 1877.”
Carson’s fascination and his personal connection have resulted in a fresh and vigorous retelling of the Nez Perce rebellion against the federal government’s betrayal of its treaties and desperate flight toward refuge in Canada, where they hoped to join Sitting Bull’s forces.
Carson approaches the conflict between the Nez Perce bands and the U.S. Cavalry, as the subtitle indicates, largely as a battle history and notes that Nez Perce tactics are part of the modern U.S. Army curriculum.
Following the rout of the first major battle of the rebellion, Captain David Perry realized he would need to learn a new style of warfare “against a foe of unprecedented skill at arms. He had been outthought and outfought, and it rankled.”
Eventually, the superior resources of the Army would prevail. Chief Looking Glass was killed. Chief Joseph surrendered short of the Canadian border, unwilling to subject his band to any further suffering. Only White Bird and his small band would cross the border and join Sitting Bull. But their military skill and tenacity in the face of such great odds were extraordinary.
Carson writes with great admiration for that skill and empathy for their suffering and loss. He tells the story with immediacy and fascinating analysis. This is a really fine addition to our Western history, one that has given me a deeper understanding of our Nez Perce neighbors and our landscape.