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The Allotment Plot

Alice C. Fletcher, E. Jane Gay, and Nez Perce Survivance

Nicole Tonkovich

Publication Year: 2012

The Allotment Plot reexamines the history of allotment on the Nez Perce Reservation from 1889 to 1892 to account for and emphasize the Nez Perce side of the story. By including Nez Perce responses to allotment, Nicole Tonkovich argues that the assimilationist aims of allotment ultimately failed due in large part to the agency of the Nez Perce people themselves throughout the allotment process. The Nez Perce were actively involved in negotiating the terms under which allotment would proceed and simultaneously engaged in ongoing efforts to protect their stories and other cultural properties from institutional appropriation by the allotment agent, Alice C. Fletcher, who was a respected anthropologist, and her photographer and assistant, E. Jane Gay. The Nez Perce engagement in this process laid a foundation for the long-term survival of the tribe and its culture.

Making use of previously unknown archival sources, Fletcher’s letters, Gay’s photographs and journalistic accounts, oral tribal histories, and analyses of performances such as parades and verbal negotiations, Tonkovich assembles a masterful portrait of Nez Perce efforts to control their own future and provides a vital counternarrative of the allotment period, which is often portrayed as disastrous to Native polities.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Title Page

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Copyright Page

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List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-ix

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pp. xi-xiii

Since the early eighteenth century the federal government of the United States of America has exercised a unilateral and presumptive right to manage the sovereign Native groups classified by the Marshall Supreme Court in 1831 as “domestic dependent nations...

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pp. xv-xviii

This book owes its existence to a network of generous researchers, archivists, and friends. Three deserve special thanks, for they shared with me large numbers of primary sources that they had gathered and processed. At the very beginning of this undertaking, while...

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Introduction: Allotment and Nimiipuu Survivance

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pp. 1-37

In late June 1890, during the second of four summers devoted to assigning lands in severalty to the Nez Perces, Alice C. Fletcher, the government allotting agent, posed for a photograph with Chief Joseph and James Stuart, her interpreter. Segments of this...

Part One. Beginnings

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Introduction: After the End of Nez Perce History

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pp. 41-53

Presbyterian missionary George L. Deffenbaugh found the celebration held on 4 July 1885 at the Nez Perce Agency in Lapwai, Idaho, to be a notable one. In his annual report to the commissioner of Indian affairs, Deffenbaugh remarked on “the absence of the...

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1. A False Beginning

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pp. 55-71

By the end of the nineteenth century the rationalized extension of 160- acre individually owned homesteads into western territories seemed to demand that Native lands, enclosed in reservations thought to be too generously sized, should be similarly apportioned. In...

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2. Another Beginning

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pp. 73-92

A week or so after the meeting at the Kamiah Presbyterian Church, Fletcher announced she would establish a base camp in the field where she would meet allottees upon their lands and finalize their deeds. The allotting party — Fletcher, Gay, James...

Part Two. Land

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Introduction: Map and Territory, Space and Place

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pp. 95-102

In January 1890 Commissioner of Indian Affairs Thomas Jefferson Morgan declared that “pupils” in federally supported Indian schools “should understand the significance of national holidays and be permitted to enjoy them.” He listed eight such...

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3. “The Square Idea”

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pp. 103-134

The presence of Alice Fletcher, a lame, middle-aged white woman in smoked glasses and a flower-trimmed bonnet sitting under an umbrella in her wagon on the southwestern border of the Nez Perce Reservation, signaled that the federal expeditions undertaken...

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4. Ethnographic Knowledge and Native Cartography

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pp. 135-164

As she prepared to return to Idaho for her second summer’s work in 1890, Fletcher was intent upon giving more attention to her ethnological investigations. Such work was, to her way of thinking, entirely congruent with her allotting duties. However, as...

Part Three. Citizens

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Introduction: E Pluribus Unum

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pp. 167-173

In early July 1890 Idaho Territory stood poised to enter the union as the forty-third state. The process by which territories become states is intended to produce uniformity in the land and its inhabitants. The Ordinance of 1785 mandated that territorial possessions...

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5. Technologies of Citizenship

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pp. 175-197

On 3 July 1890, having demonstrated that its citizens could overcome their differences sufficiently to perform the functions of democratic self-rule, Idaho became a state. With duly elected representatives to stand for their interests in the legislative assemblies...

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6. Fictions of Coherence

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pp. 199-218

While Alice Fletcher and Jane Gay expected the Nez Perces to be consistently predictable in their behaviors, Gay’s accounts of the allotment expedition present herself and Fletcher in multiple guises. The Photographer, the Cook, the friend, and “I” keep company...

Part Four. Endings

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Introduction: “If the Work Is Ever to Be Finished

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pp. 221-224

Having left the reservation early in October 1890 after abbreviating her second field season, Alice Fletcher returned to Idaho earlier than was her wont, in April 1891, hoping to complete the allotment so she could turn her full attention to the research she could...

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7. Irresolutions and Incompletions

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pp. 225-250

Were the accounts written by Jane Gay to be taken as fully accurate representations of events on the Nez Perce Reservation, Independence Day in Lapwai in 1891 might be seen as the end of traditional celebrations of that occasion. Wishing to emphasize the emergence...

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8. The Ends of Nez Perce Allotment

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pp. 251-267

The complexity of such deceptively simple terms as end and allotment becomes apparent as one seeks to establish the event or events that might be taken as the conclusion of Fletcher’s work. Endings, a convention of storytelling, are not always apparent within...

Part Five. Afterward

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Introduction: “Double Pictures Have Met Us All along the Way

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pp. 271-277

In early July 1903, Independence Day was observed in Kamiah, Lapwai, and Nespelem as it had been for decades past. The celebration in Kamiah seemed to exemplify the success of the recently completed allotment. Here about a thousand celebrants...

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9. After-Words

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pp. 279-298

In the early twentieth century Nez Perces supplemented their performances with the technology of voice recording as a way of preserving their histories and transmitting the old ways to generations to follow. At the Fourth of July celebration in Lapwai in...

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10. After-Images

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pp. 299-333

Although federal officials made little or no response to the Memorial of the Nez Perce Indians . . . to the Congress of the United States, it has since become a cornerstone of Nimiipuu cultural history. Copies of the document were printed under Borah’s sponsorship...


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pp. 335-388


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pp. 389-407


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pp. 409-418

E-ISBN-13: 9780803271524
E-ISBN-10: 0803271522
Print-ISBN-13: 9780803271371

Page Count: 440
Illustrations: 62 illustrations, 10 maps, 1 table
Publication Year: 2012

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Nez Percé Indians -- Land tenure.
  • Nez Percé Indians -- History -- 19th century.
  • Nez Percé Indians -- Government relations.
  • Indian allotments -- Idaho -- Nez Percé Indian Reservation -- History -- 19th century.
  • Allotment of land -- Idaho -- Nez Percé Indian Reservation -- History -- 19th century.
  • Fletcher, Alice C. (Alice Cunningham), 1838-1923 -- Correspondence.
  • Gay, E. Jane, -- 1830-1919 -- Photograph collections.
  • Nez Percé Indian Reservation (Idaho).
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