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The location of Colfax, shown on a map of Louisiana created in 1892

147 years ago in a tiny Louisiana town, white supremacists committed mass murder. The aftershocks of this despicable crime are still being felt today.

By William Briggs and Jon Krakauer

An hour after sunset on Easter Sunday in 1873, a stern-wheel riverboat put ashore at Colfax, Louisiana, a ramshackle settlement surrounded by cotton plantations on the east bank of the Red River. Rain was falling. As passengers disembarked, they found themselves stumbling in the dark over what turned out to be the lifeless bodies of African-Americans who had been freed from slavery eight years earlier at the conclusion of the Civil War.

Most of the dead were lying facedown in the grass “and had been shot almost to pieces,” according to Charles Lane in his book “The Day Freedom Died: The Colfax Massacre, the Supreme Court, and the Betrayal of Reconstruction.” Others had been bludgeoned or mutilated, and some had burned to death. There were too many corpses to count. …


Written as an afterword to the 1999 edition of my book about the 1996 Mt. Everest disaster, here is my response to the allegations made by Anatoli Boukreev in his book, “The Climb”

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Approaching the base of the Lhotse Face between Camp Two and Camp Three on Mt. Everest, May 8, 1996. Photo copyright © Jon Krakauer

In November 1997 a book titled The Climb arrived in bookstores — Anatoli Boukreev’s account of the 1996 Everest disaster, written by an American named G. Weston DeWalt. It was fascinating, for me, to read about the events of 1996 from Boukreev’s perspective. Parts of the book were powerfully told, and moved me deeply. Because Boukreev took strong exception to how he was portrayed in Into Thin Air, however, a significant portion of The Climb is devoted to defending Boukreev’s actions on Everest, challenging the accuracy of my account, and calling into question my integrity as a journalist.

Mr. DeWalt — who oversaw research for the book, and has assumed the role of Boukreev’s spokesman — undertook the derogation of Into Thin Air with notable energy and enthusiasm. He has tirelessly expressed his view of my book — and my character — in print and radio interviews, on the Internet, and in personal letters to family members of those who died on the mountain. In the course of this campaign, DeWalt has brandished an article from the July/August 1998 issue of the Columbia Journalism Review with particular relish. Titled “Why Books Err So Often,” and written by a Missouri-based author and instructor of journalism named Steve Weinberg, the article raised doubts about the accuracy of three recent bestsellers. One of the books singled out for criticism was Into Thin Air. DeWalt was delighted with Weinberg’s article, and has cited it frequently. …


A book by Chris McCandless’ sister reveals long-buried secrets that explain why the protagonist of “Into the Wild” ditched his family and lit out for the Territory

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A crown that fell off one of Chris McCandless’ molars sits atop a grizzly bear skull inside the bus he used for shelter in the Alaskan bush. McCandless lived in the rusting bus beside the Sushana River, just outside the northern boundary of Denali National Park, from May 1992 until he died in August 1992. This image was shot during a visit to the bus in July 1993 as part of my research for the book Into the Wild. Photo copyright © Jon Krakauer

I was sitting at my desk in Seattle, struggling to write a crappy magazine article that would enable me to make an overdue mortgage payment, when the phone rang. The call was from Mark Bryant, the editor of Outside. His voice was animated. Skipping the small talk, he said he’d just read an odd snippet in The New York Times titled “Dying in the Wild, a Hiker Recorded the Terror.” It had been published the previous day — September 13, 1992 — and Bryant couldn’t stop thinking about it. On September 6, according to the Times piece,

a young hiker, stranded by an injury, was found dead at a remote camp in the Alaskan interior. No one is yet certain who he was. But his diary and two notes found at the camp tell a wrenching story of his desperate and progressively futile efforts to survive. …

About

Jon Krakauer

Author of Into the Wild, Into Thin Air, Classic Krakauer, and Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town. www.instagram.com/krakauernotwriting/

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