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The Official Publication of the Flathead Nation online

Historic Indian Agent Peter Ronanís letters released by Salish Kootenai College Press

PABLO ó The Salish Kootenai College Press has released locally the 1877-1893 letters of Flathead Agent Peter Ronan in two volumes for tribal members, historians, and others who are interested in western Montana history. Agent Ronan wrote long and detailed reports back to Washington, D.C., describing events on the reservation. Up until now most of these letters were only available to researchers who traveled back to the National Archives in Washington, D.C. The reports represent his viewpoint, but their detail helps make them a valuable source on Flathead Reservation history during the late nineteenth century. Most of the letters are printed with editorís annotations that include references to other historical sources that give background information.

The letters have been published in two volumes: ďA Great Many of Us Have Good FarmsĒ contains the letters from 1877 through 1887, and ďJustice To Be Accorded To the IndiansĒ, covers 1888 through Ronanís death in 1893. The first volume includes an introduction and biographical sketch of Ronan and the second volume includes biographical sketches of Salish Chiefs Arlee, Charlo, and Louison, Pend díOreille Chief Michelle; and Kootenai Chief Eneas. The first volume has an 1884 photographic tour of the reservation captured by F. Jay Tilden. Each volume has an index and footnotes to further sources of information.

The sixteen years between 1877 and 1893, when Ronan was agent, were a time of trial and crisis for the Pend díOreille, Salish, and Kootenai people living on the reservation. They had to keep the peace with the invading white settlers while at the same time undergoing a dramatic economic transformation. Soon after Ronan took charge in 1877 the Nez Perce War broke out and the tribes worked hard to stay out of the conflict. In the last five years of Ronanís tenure, the Kootenai under Chief Eneas faced repeated aggression from the white settlers living just north of the reservation. The Kootenai were somehow able to avoid open conflict while trying to get justice for Kootenai whose lands were jumped or were victims of white criminals. After the bison and other wild game were killed off, the tribes expanded their farms and cattle herds. At the start of the twentieth century the tribes were still economically self-supporting despite the loss of the hunting and gathering resources that had been the foundation of their economy for centuries. Many challenges faced the tribes in the years after 1893, but between 1877 and 1893 potential catastrophes were averted and a base was built from which tribal leaders could work to defend themselves in the twentieth century.

Each volume is paperback, 448 pages, and sells on the reservation for $22. Available from SKC Bookstore and Peoples Center Gift Shop in Pablo or by mail from SKC Press, PO Box 70, Pablo, MT 59855. Please include $2 for the first book plus $.50 for each additional book for shipping.

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