The Intermediary by Lin Tull Cannell. August 2012. 244 pages. Softcover. ISBN 0982466838. Price $15.95.
The Intermediary explores one of the most obscure – because it was exceptionally hard to research – but important pieces of Northwest history, the years between the Lewis and Clark expedition and the earliest settlers in the inland Northwest. William Craig, a mountain man, was the very first non-native settler across a last region, and in the first half of the 19th century he played a pivotal role in the region.
A new review
Former Idaho 2nd District Judge John Bradbury read The Intermediary by Lin Tull Cannell, and offered this comment about it:
Lin Tull Cannell’s book, The Intermediary, William Craig among the Nez Perces, is a prodigiously documented, well written and much needed account of a man who played a pivotal role in the Nez Perce people’s struggle to keep their land and their traditions. As the beaver market collapsed in 1839 – 1840 mountain man Craig brought his Nez Perce wife Isabel and their children to the heart of Nez Perce country at Lapwai Creek.
Cannell describes the Indians’ complicated relationship with the missionaries that led to the killing of Marcus and Narcissa Whitman, Craig’s role during the treaty negotiations if 1855, the Cayuse and Yakima wars that followed and resulted in his eviction from Lapwai. Craig returns and continues his role as a true intermediary as the gold discovery in the Clearwater hastens the white migration into the Nez Perce reservation and forces a new treaty.
This is a balanced account of the era that ushered in the changes that forever altered the lives of the Nez Perce and of a man who finally gets credit for his role. It brings new and refreshing insight to the fate of the Nez Perce people and the cast of characters who were a part of it. It is a must read for anyone interested in the history of the Inland Northwest.
From The Intermediary:
William Craig, a tall, redheaded fur trapper, left the Rocky Mountains in 1840 and traveled northwest to live with his wife’s family in the Lapwai Valley of what would one day become Idaho.
Rising to the south of the valley were timbered mountains (‘eteyemé·xs i [distant mountains]) where young Nez Perce people often sought their guardian spirits. Craig eventually built a house at the base of those mountains and, as the years passed, people new to the region began referring to that part of the Blue Mountains as Craig’s Mountain. When “Craig’s Mountain” was printed on maps, the written name survived: the mountain spur is still called that. However, William Craig—the blue-eyed, red-headed man—has nearly been forgotten.
Perhaps because Craig so successfully hid his past, historians interested in America’s fur-trapping era stopped short of committing the time and travel needed to research his life. There were, after all, mountain men who left a more flamboyant—and easier—trail. Idaho’s historians who wanted to learn about the first white man to be granted a homestead in what is now their state must have been discouraged by the paucity of information about him. And Nez Perce historians were not inclined to honor William Craig as one of their heroes, for he was not ni·mi·pu· (Nez Perce people). While he was in many ways their steadfast friend, his aim was not that they retain their ancestral land and hold fast to their culture but that they share their land and meld their culture with his people.
Now, however, more than 140 years after his death, Craig’s activities in the west have at last been identified, documented, and placed in the context of his times. It is clear that he was a man who contributed in a unique way to the United States’ push to control the Far West. He was not only a trapper but also a trader and explorer in the Rocky Mountain fur trade. He married into and lived with the Nez Perce people, neighbored with the earliest American missionaries to reach the Columbia Plateau, and, after killings at the Whitman mission, acted as liaison between the Nez Perce and an encroaching settler militia. He acted as a middleman between a territorial governor and some Nez Perce leaders. He interpreted in treaty councils and participated, along with Nez Perce warriors allied to the United States, in the resultant wars. He was appointed the first U.S. agent to the Nez Perce people and he sanctioned the first hanging of a man in what is now the Lewiston, Idaho, region. He was an entrepreneur—a trader, farmer, stock raiser, innkeeper, ferryman, and guide.
Notwithstanding our divergent pasts (and presents), both so·yá·po· (white Americans) and ni·mi·pu· can agree that William Craig thrived on the Columbia Plateau during a pivotal period in Northwest history.