Wednesday, February 27, 2013

New young adult book depicts authentic Nez Perce story

The first young adult book from Washington State University (WSU) Press, Be Brave, Tah-hy!: The Journey of Chief Joseph’s Daughter, is unlike many popular and historical novels written for adolescents, because the protagonist is not portrayed as a modern heroine. Instead, her thoughts and actions are appropriate for a girl of her age, time and background.

Author Jack Williams, a Colorado native, worked and lived on the Nez Perce Reservation in northern Idaho from 1969 through 1974. During that time, several tribal members, hoping to correct errors and misconceptions from previous accounts as well as educate future generations about their history and culture, approached him with an idea for a book.

Begun in the 1970s and revised numerous times but never published, the project could not be undertaken today. The author worked closely with elders and cultural demonstrators to reconstruct Tah-hy’s story as accurately as possible—some contributors had heard accounts directly from relatives who experienced the 1877 war and its consequences first-hand.

A chance encounter between Williams and Native American artist Jo Proferes resulted in an enduring affiliation, and she illustrated the text with exquisite pen and ink drawings as well as twenty large oil paintings. The canvases were displayed at the 1976 Nez Perce Bicentennial Exhibit.

Now in his late eighties, Williams shared the completed manuscript with a friend. That ally, retired from a lengthy career in publishing, was so impressed he would not rest until he saw it in print. He insisted Williams submit the story to WSU Press. Staff members and the editorial board decided to publish it—despite its young adult focus—because the content is relevant to their core editorial program and to the university. (The institution houses author and historian Lucullus V. McWhorter’s extensive collection of Nez Perce artifacts and photographs.)

Based on actual events and narrated by Tah-hy’s youthful voice, Be Brave, Tah-hy! begins with the announcement that Chief Joseph and his people would be forced to relinquish their homeland and relocate.

A few weeks later, on June 17, 1877, the twelve-year-old heard the gunfire that marked the start of war—one that swept the Nez Perce into a harrowing journey across the American West.

Relentlessly pursued, they endured multiple battles, cold, hunger, and death. The biographical novel also covers their escape to Canada and their time with the Lakota and Chief Sitting Bull. It continues with their return to Lapwai and a new life under the influence of missionaries and Agent John Monteith.

Be Brave, Tah-hy! is available at bookstores or can be ordered from WSU Press by calling 800-354-7360 or online at

WSU Press is associated with Washington State University located in Pullman, WA, and publishes scholarly books with a cultural or historical relationship to the Pacific Northwest.

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