On the Road: What’s in a Name?

Notes from the Road: Grangeville, ID – Before leaving on this road trip I was given a book entitled The Last Indian War by Elliott West. A non-fictional account of the year 1877, West reveals a pivotal time in U.S. history when American Indian nations were driven headlong into the unyielding power of the United States government. Specifically, he details the Nez Perce, the events leading to the Nez Perce War and finally the land that resolved to be the tribe’s homeland, the state of Idaho.

Map of Nez Perce War

Map of Nez Perce War. Click to see full size. http://www.nps.gov

Seizing an opportunity to find out more about the landscape on which our teenage years alighted we took West’s book and a knack for asking questions and planned our first leg to follow the Idaho panhandle across the now finite boundaries of the Nez Perce reservation. This path would take us to our hometown of Grangeville 17 miles outside the Nez Perce borders. There we would cross the Camas Prairie, its purple flowers and retired trestles patched with fields of young wheat and furrows of black loam, and follow Hwy 95 to the canyons of the White Bird Battlefield, home to the battle that launched the Nez Perce War.

Deciding on a Story

With West’s book as companion, we decided to skip the 38 historic Nez Perce landmarks in lieu of elsewhere revelations. We were more concerned about Tolo Lake, Yellow Wolf Road, the town of Denver and others. Places where stories embodied the minutia left off the historical markers or out of the mainstream history books due to simple limitations of space and time. In his book, West writes:

Segmenting time, or periodization, is something we have to do if we want to organize the past and give it meaning. But it’s dangerous. By choosing some dominating event and saying that its period starts here and ends there, we run the risk of neglecting other events that don’t fit well into the scheme we’ve created, and that in turn risks distorting our view of how events have worked and built on each other to make the America we have come to know… History is not the same, no matter how you slice it.

I was very aware that even by reading West’s book, centered on 1877, I was in effect “slicing history.” But that’s a risk I was willing to take. It’s easy to know you live near a battlefield when the road to a favorite beach is impregnated with historical markers. Like some giant historical painter’s wheel or even an epic lottery, smaller stories lend their names to sign posts on gravel roads and prairie knolls by edict of the historical society or the simple weight of history.

And these were what we were after.

Up next… “History, a Town, a Lake”

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About Jonna

Adventuress. Travel, sights, sounds and the inside scoop on how to experience the unbeaten path via air, earth or water. View all posts by Jonna

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