Thursday, September 27, 2007

Nelson: "Fighting for Paradise: A Military History of the Pacific Northwest"

[ Fighting for Paradise: A Military History of the Pacific Northwest by Kurt R. Nelson (Westholme Publishing, 2007) Hardcover, photos, 20 maps, notes, appendix, bibliography. Pages Total/Main Text: 325/290 ISBN:978-1-59416-045-5 $35]

Although largely overlooked in the popular literature, the clash of cultures in the Pacific Northwest* was just as wide ranging and brutal as any the continent has seen. A number of studies exist (mostly older), but this is the first comprehensive treatment that I am aware of that begins with the first white explorers and ends at World War II.

Author Kurt Nelson provides the reader with an interesting survey of the various Indian cultures of the region, assessing their relative mobility and warmaking capacity. Incidents are described in chronological order, with detailed attention paid to the U.S./British 'Pig War', the Cayuse War, The Great Outbreak of 1855-1858, the later Indian wars with the Snakes, Modocs, Nez Perces, Bannocks, and "Sheepeaters". The officers taking part in these actions are a who's who of Civil War luminaries (I believe the author counted 17 officers involved that later on became Civil War generals). The Pacific Northwest region also served as a staging area during the Spanish-American War and the two World Wars. Various WW2 Japanese submarine and balloon bomb attacks are described.

The Civil War years saw most regular units replaced by Oregon, Washington, and California volunteers. They sought to maintain order in the region and protect emigrant trains utilizing the Oregon Trail. During this period, the most famous (and perhaps most controversial) military campaign was fought by California units under Col. P.E. Connor against the Shoshoni [ I recommend Brigham Madsen's Shoshoni Frontier & Bear River Massacre(Univ. of Utah Press, 1985) for readers interested in reading about Connor's campaign ].

Adding value to his work, Nelson places at the end of each chapter a brief assessment of the current state of preservation of selected historical locations related from the text. Unfortunately, and as many residents already know, many of the most important sites are either inadequately interpreted or completely unmarked. General directions are included as well.

The research for this book utilizes predominately secondary sources, categorizing the study as a work of synthesis. In terms of scope, coverage of skirmishes and battles is exhaustive, yet the narrative is concise, with a descriptive depth similar to that found in specialist encyclopedias. With this expectation in mind, the author performs the task quite well. Fighting for Paradise should be regarded as a very useful reference work. Undoubtedly, I will consult it frequently.
* = Perhaps most expansively thought of as an area encompassing present day Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and adjoining parts of California, Montana, Wyoming, and British Columbia.


  1. Drew,

    This sounds great --first I've heard of it, but I can see that I need to have this one on the shelf along with my Modoc War and Nez Perce books.

    Can you tell me if he gives much space to Crook's campaigns. Does the "Infernal Caverns" battle appear in the index (NE California)?


  2. Yes, but only briefly. I just checked the Crook materials from the index. It looks like about 3-4 pages are devoted to the battles of Steen Mountain and Infernal Caverns.


  3. Are there serviceable maps, or directions to the sites described?


  4. David,
    The maps are very general, basically just numbered dots over large scale areas. The site descriptions and directions are very general as well, so I wouldn't recommend the book as a functional touring guide.



***PLEASE READ BEFORE COMMENTING***: You must SIGN YOUR NAME when submitting your comment. In order to maintain civil discourse and ease moderating duties, anonymous comments will be deleted. Comments containing outside promotions and/or product links will also be removed. Thank you for your cooperation.