Book Talk: Thunder in the Mountains: The Clash of Two American Legends, Oliver Otis Howard and Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce

April 12, 2017

Please join the Lillian Goldman Law Library, American Constitution Society at Yale Law School and the Native American Law Students Association for a discussion with Daniel J. Sharfstein ’00 regarding his book, Thunder in the Mountains: The Clash of Two American Legends, Oliver Otis Howard and Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce.  Commentary provided by Claire Priest ’00.

This event will take place on Wednesday, April 19, 2017, 6:10 – 7:00 pm, SLB 128.  

Thunder in the Mountains is the epic clash of two American legends, their brutal war, and a battle of ideas that defined America after Reconstruction.

After the Civil War, Oliver Otis Howard was chosen to lead the Freedmen’s Bureau.  The former Union Army general was entrusted with the era’s most crucial task: helping millions of former slaves claim their rights as citizens.  To honor his righteous commitment to a new American freedom, Howard University was named for him.

Curdled by the nation’s politics in the 1870s, General Howard exiled himself from Washington, D.C. and rejoined the army where he was sent to command forces in the Pacific Northwest.  Shattered by Reconstruction’s collapse, he assumed a new mission: forcing Native Americans to become Christian farmers on government reservations.  Howard’s new mission ran headlong into the resistance of Chief Joseph, a young Nez Perce leader in northeastern Oregon who refused to leave his ancestral land.  In the summer of 1877, the general and his troops ruthlessly pursued hundreds of Nez Perce families through the stark and unforgiving Northern Rockies.  Their devastating war transfixed the nation and immortalized Chief Joseph as a hero to generations of Americans.

Daniel J. Sharfstein’s visionary history of the Nez Perce War casts the conflict between General Howard and Chief Joseph as a struggle about the meaning of freedom and equality, the mechanics of American power, and the limits of what the government can and should do for its people. The war that Howard and Joseph fought is one that Americans continue to fight today.

Daniel J. Sharfstein ’00 is the is the Tarkington Chair of Teaching Excellence, Professor of Law, and Co-director of the George Barrett Social Justice Program at Vanderbilt University. 

Claire Priest ’00 is the Simeon E. Baldwin Professor of Law at Yale Law School.

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