- The Fifth Generation: A Nez Perce Tale
In September of 1805, the Lewis and Clark expedition emerged from the Bitterroot Mountains into what is now North Central Idaho. Half starved from their arduous journey, they were fed and befriended by the local Nez Perce, being the first white men they had encountered. According to an epigraph to Linwood Laughy's first novel, The Fifth Generation: A Nez Perce Tale, Nez Perce oral tradition predicted this meeting with white men coming from the East and stated that it would result in difficult times for the tribe for five generations.
Following the story of Isaac Moses, who embodies the fifth generation, the novel weaves together 150 years of history. In alternating chapters, we see the Nez Perce world change utterly, and the heartache of Isaac's family is revealed as they and their community struggle to keep pace.
At the center of the story is the spiritual rift created by the missionaries Henry and Eliza Spalding, which divided the Nez Perce in two: Christians who acquiesced to white demands and non-Christian Dreamers who clung to their traditional beliefs. We see the treaties of 1855 and 1863 squeeze the people onto a smaller and smaller reservation as gold prospectors and settlers move into the Nez Perce homeland; we see the war of 1877 and the epic but ultimately futile journey made by the Dreamers; we see the people divided still further, from one another and from the land, by the Dawes Act and the allotment system. In a particularly moving scene, Laughy recreates the heartache of forced assimilation at the Carlisle Indian School:
Mary did not dance. The drumming in her soul had been lost along the tracks of the Union Pacific, in the sand hills of Nebraska, in the cemetery behind Hatfield Hall where Carlisle's youthful dead were buried in the Pennsylvania night—brown skin and black hair with names like Rachel, Sarah, Jonah and James. No sound of drums, no sweetgrass smoke, a hurried prayer to a god who spoke neither Nez Perce nor Sioux, Hidatsa nor Crow.(22)
It's a familiar story of betrayal and loss, but through Isaac, Laughy presents the potential for renewal. Taking receipt of a government check issued to each of the Nez Perce in recompense for gold extracted illegally [End Page 109] during nineteenth-century gold rushes, Isaac is confronted with a choice: he can drink away the money in the Boots & Saddles Bar or he can reclaim his life. Under the guidance of the aging shaman, Raven Eye, Isaac reconnects with his family's past to discover his true identity, thus becoming the vehicle for carrying the Dreamer traditions into the future.
A North Idaho native and historical tour guide, Linwood Laughy knows the landscape and history of the region intimately. Through exquisitely crafted prose, he brings a distant world to life and shows how the past remains with us always, shaping the present and influencing the future.