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Half-Sun on the Columbia

Half-Sun on the Columbia: A Biography of Chief Moses by Robert H. Ruby, John A. Brown

Reviewed by L. Bennett


Robert Ruby and John Brown published this biography of Chief Moses in 1965, some 66 years after the Chief's death. Using government records, newspapers, and personal accounts, the authors reconstructed the life of a man for whom several Washington State landmarks are named and a few legends have been told. It was a life of daily tedium, ceremonial joy, strategic planning, distress, and accomplishment. This biography also chronicles the history of the Columbia people and neighboring tribes of the inland plateau of eastern Washington and north-central Idaho.


The authors strove to balance the histories of Native American-Government relations, pioneer settlement, and forgotten promises. I believe they succeeded in providing the reader with insight into both Anglo and Native American life after the treaty-making of 1855, and relating how drastic and quick were the changes wrought on Indigenous cultures by Anglo settlements and new technology. The story, strongly told from a Native American perspective, is rich in detail and an evocative telling of Chief Moses's struggles to hang onto valued traditions and resources in the face of greed and racially-based policies. Not all the bad guys were white and not all the good guys were Indians, which was a strength of the book. It is an informative and careful study and I'm glad I read it.


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