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Alvin M. Josephy Jr., 90, American Indian historian

WASHINGTON -- Alvin M. Josephy Jr., a prolific historian on American Indian affairs who also was a war correspondent, screenwriter, and government consultant, died Sunday at his home in Greenwich, Conn. He was 90.

While he was picture editor at Time magazine in the early 1950s, Mr. Josephy often journeyed to the American West. He was struck by what he considered the disastrous results of President Eisenhower's policy ending the autonomy of reservations, but he had trouble appealing to publisher Henry Luce to do a large spread on American Indians.

Mr. Josephy wrote in his 2000 memoir, ''A Walk Toward Oregon," that Luce called the Indians '' 'phonies' because they refused to give up their reservation and live like everyone else."

Mr. Josephy conducted interviews on his own time with the Nez Perce tribe of the Pacific Northwest.

''They were happy to talk to you as long as you weren't a dope," he once said.

He bought a retreat in the Wallowa Mountains of eastern Oregon, the ancestral home of the Nez Perce, and used that as a base for his research. He was drawn particularly to the story of the 19th-century Nez Perce leader, Chief Joseph, whose negotiated surrender with the US Army culminated in his stirring concession: ''From where the sun now stands, I shall fight no more forever."

After leaving Time in the late 1950s, Mr. Josephy was a senior editor of American Heritage books and then editor-in-chief of American Heritage magazine. He devoted much of his time to writing about Native Americans in such books as ''The Patriot Chiefs" (1961), ''Chief Joseph's People and Their War" (1964), ''The Nez Perce Indians and the Opening of the Northwest" (1965), ''Red Power: The American Indians' Fight for Freedom" (1971), and ''Now That the Buffalo's Gone" (1982).

Herbert Mitgang, reviewing that last title in The New York Times, called Mr. Josephy the ''leading non-Indian writer about Native Americans."

Mr. Josephy's work captured the attention of government officials, including Interior Department Secretary Stewart Udall. He became a consultant on federal policy toward American Indians, writing a study on the status of Indian affairs for President Nixon. Nixon wanted to reverse the Eisenhower-era policies that he thought tarnished the Republican Party, Mr. Josephy wrote.

In the early 1990s, Mr. Josephy was founding board chairman of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of the American Indian. He played a major role in designing the educational and research aspects of the museum, which opened last year on the Mall.

Mr. Josephy was born in Woodmere, N.Y. His father, a mechanical engineer, joined another relation in a poultry shipping business. On his mother's side, his uncle was Alfred A. Knopf of the book company, and his grandfather was Samuel Knopf, a founder of the American Mercury magazine.

A change in family fortunes during the Great Depression forced Mr. Josephy to abandon Harvard University after his sophomore year.

An uncle in the movie business helped him became a junior writer for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

He recalled working on ''idiotic scripts about dancing bras and panties."

That was followed by an unhappy stint in a Wall Street brokerage house and an assignment as a newspaper correspondent in Mexico, arranging an interview with exiled Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky.

After work as a Marine Corps combat correspondent in the Pacific during World War II, Mr. Josephy returned to Hollywood. He also wrote for a chain of weekly newspapers near Hollywood, where mob figures threatened his boss for investigating local bookies.

Mr. Josephy turned the tale into a screenplay. The subsequent film, ''The Captive City" (1952), was directed by Robert Wise and starred John Forsythe as a crusading newspaperman.

Soon after, Mr. Josephy was lured to Time.

In addition to his books about American Indians, he also wrote ''The Civil War in the American West."

His first marriage, to the former Rosamond Eddy, ended in divorce. His wife of 56 years, Elizabeth Peet Josephy, died last year.

Mr. Josephy leaves a daughter from his first marriage, Diane Josephy Peavey of Carey, Idaho; three children from his second marriage, Allison Wolowitz of Old Greenwich, Conn., Katherine of Enterprise, Ore., and Alvin M. III of Olympia, Wash.; a brother; eight grandchildren; and a great-grandson.

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