Saving the species

In 1976 I closed a book on the Indian wars in the University of Washington library, concluding there had been good people involved in American history's worst chapters - they'd just been outnumbered.

Then I drove to Portland to help Jimmy Carter in the Oregon primary.

Later, I was complaining to his press secretary, Jody Powell, that the media had ignored our Kids for Carter press conference.

"Have them meet Jimmy at the airport," Jody drawled.

"But why would the press cover that?" I asked.

"Because," he responded matter-of-factly, "if somebody shoots Jimmy and they don't have it on film, their ass is grass."

We put the 14-year-old twins, Mary and Becky Wood, in the front row. They looked like peach princesses. In the next few weeks they would meet Jimmy and Roslyn eight times.

On election night we all celebrated in the dining room of the old brick hotel, while their father attended the Oregon Fly Fishing Club next door - a room festooned with bamboo poles, wicker baskets and hundreds of flies.

The twins could talk bird dogs, steelhead and chukars. At one point they said something between themselves about C.E.S.

"C.E.S Wood?" I asked. "Lieutenant C.E.S. Wood?"

They looked up: "You know about Great Grandpa?"

C.E.S. Wood was an aide to Gen. O.O. Howard in the Nez Perce War. After fighting 1,200 miles in a brilliant and courageous military campaign known around the world, the Nez Perce surrendered at Bear Paw, Mont. It was C.E.S. Wood who translated Chief Joseph's "I will fight no more forever" speech.

Afterwards C.E.S. became Joseph's friend and resigned from the Army because of the way the government didn't live up to the surrender terms.

He also sent his son to live for months at a time with Joseph. When that son spoke to the Oregon Historical Society, the twins invited me.

"Woody," as they called him, was over 100, still practiced law, drove badly and spoke Nez Perce.

After his talk, my wife and I stayed at the twins' father's house on the Columbia. Erskine Wood ambled in as we were about to retire. Tall, weathered and very John Huston-ish.

He poked the fire and asked, "Do you like poetry?"

He read us some good poetry, then told us a story about when his grandfather had printed Mark Twain's most obscene work on the presses at West Point.

Two books have been written about C.E.S. In one, author Robert Hamburger claims C.E.S. Wood could be funnier than Mark Twain and more eloquent than Clarence Darrow - two of his friends.

Over the years the twins sent me letters filled with their adventures of chukar-hiking in the Wallowas and fly fishing in the Metolius River. Our bird dogs bred.

After Mary was hired by Seattle's most prestigious law firm, I visited her. She secured the door. "Can I tell you a secret?" she asked.

"Of course."

"I hate the law. And another thing ... I hate Seattle - it's so smug."

I assured her those were reasonable prejudices.

The next I heard from the twins, Mary was a professor of Indian Law at the University of Oregon with two kids. She'd just pulled off a minor miracle on behalf of Chief Joseph's descendants that there isn't room here to do justice to.

This past Saturday I witnessed another minor miracle at the house on the Columbia. It was packed with the Woods family, neighbors, conservationists and Indians.

Below the house, in a gravelly inlet, the guests of honor could be perceived cruising along the bank, especially when their white abrasions dimpled the surface.

This was one of the three last chum spawning grounds on the Columbia. After donating their land, Mary, Becky and the Woods had spearheaded a campaign to buy the adjoining parcel from a developer who'd demanded $2 million.

"This is so incredible," Mary told the crowd. "Thanks to you we have raised all but $67,000 of two million dollars....

"Salmon have been coming here for 5,000,000 years, but since Lewis and Clark, the chum salmon population has dropped from a million to a few thousand."

Mary introduced Jaime Pinkham: "It's come full circle - now Jaime cares for our father's home."

Jaime said, "Since Mary's and my grandfathers first met in 1878, our relations have improved."

The mayor of Vancouver, Royce Pollard, got up. "Unlike my friend Congressman Baird, I've stopped spawning, so it was harder for me to relate to this..."

The Congressman reminded the room that they needed to raise $67,000 by February, and - whenever have you seen this? - the Congressman wrote a personal check for $500. Then a congresswoman from Oregon did the same.

Baird said that Mary had forgotten to thank herself and her family.

"You know," he said, "instead of seeing this development as an opportunity to get rich, they saw the need to protect these fish."

A junior at the community school, Johnna Case, told how, with bake sales and a Funk for Salmon, her classmates had raised $1,000.

"Salmon are the most regulated species on earth," Mary said, "and that bake sales, not the Endangered Species Act, are saving them makes this a case study anybody can understand.

"Sure, the developers leave the table with their money, but in the scheme of things that's a shallow profit.

"We walk away with the fulfillment of having created a legacy that is timeless and sacred, an in-heritance for the great-great-grandchildren of the Columbia River."

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