We officially opened the Alvin and Betty Josephy Library of Western History and Culture at Fishtrap to the public on March 13. It was a modest opening in modest, temporary quarters on the second floor of Fishtrap's Coffin House. A dozen volunteers and curious visitors showed up. Librarian Shannon Maslach showed people how to access the collection on-line, and we all looked and smiled at the 500 or so books already on the shelves. And at the large stack of magazines and journals with Josephy articles: the Marines in World War II; Custer and Chief Joseph, Sequoia, Nez Perce naming and other Indian affairs; Andy Warhol, giant condors, North Dakota canals and Southwest power plants. These, as well as another 1,500 books from the Josephy libraries in Greenwich, Conn., and Joseph and another 2,000 volumes accumulated in 23 years of Fishtrap events will all be cataloged.
There was a small box of material collected by the late Grace Bartlett: pamphlets on the Whitmans and other early settlers, programs from historic celebrations of statehood and the march of railroads across the West. And a wonderful, faded batch of copied pages she had somehow learned about and solicited from the Smithsonian, a talk delivered in Washington, D.C., by Alice Fletcher in 1891 based on conversations with Billy Williams, a Nez Perce man whose life spanned the time of Lewis and Clark to that of land allotments on the reservation. Billy had drawn a map, naming 78 Nez Perce villages scattered along the Snake, Salmon, Clearwater and Imnaha rivers. There were sometimes translations of the names and notations of relations among villages and with other tribes. And often comments that a particular village had ceased to exist - sometimes before the time of Lewis and Clark.
It's like a continual treasure hunt, this librarianship. What else was Alvin Josephy interested in, did he take an active role in supporting or arguing against? What about Grace Bartlett, who wrote a couple of books about Wallowa County and many articles for magazines and newspapers? What were the early relations between Indians and whites really like? Who were the early trappers and traders, the ones who intermarried with Indians and those who didn't but encouraged Indian men to take on more wives to prepare more hides for the fur traders - Billy Williams' mother left her husband to raise her children alone when he took on one of these "King George wives."
I thought about Fishtrap and its vast potential audience - all the wannabe writers and serious readers in the West - and how this library group is a smaller, more curious lot: people looking for family names and stories in the past; lawyers and public officials looking for historical precedent; and the genetically curious, the ones Alvin called "history buffs" who kept Western history alive when academic historians weren't much interested.
And I thought about my own library journey - about riding my bike to the town library to get books on baseball when I was 9 and 10; working in the college library as an undergrad, and then for a year in the rare books room at Northwestern while I struggled in grad school; spending five years immersed in Turkey and Middle Eastern stories; moving to the Wallowas in 1971 to spend a year and finding 40 years worth of stories and tellers; owning a bookstore and meeting Grace Bartlett, Grace Jordan, Irene Barklow, Glen Vernam and scores of other local writers, and then more than 300 writers of and about the West I've worked with at Fishtrap over almost a quarter century.
A friend of mine in Portland told me a few years ago that she quit a great job because she felt she had "one more good gig" in her, and she meant to find it. Maybe that's me, and this is my gig. Learning to be a librarian - and somehow raising the enthusiasm and the money to build a dream that Alvin Josephy started talking to me about a dozen years ago.
Alvin and Betty both loved this place. They loved books and writers, odd stories and the people who carried them. They thought that Indian stories and women's stories, the stories of folks on farms and in logging camps were as important as the stories of statesmen and railroad barons. Now, somehow, I continue their journey, one that won't end soon, and will get richer as the shelves fill and a new building grows to hold more shelves and more stories. Your stories, too.
Come see us any Saturday between 10 and 1:00 - or email me, the novice librarian (email@example.com) anytime to talk Josephy Library and the West.