Nimiipuu–This is the name by which the Nez Perce call themselves. It means: “The People”.
A tired and starving Lewis and Clark expedition ventured into Nez Perce territory in 1805. The Nez Perce offered them food, helped them build canoes, and guided them down the Clearwater River toward the Snake and Columbia rivers. The Nez Perce kept the expeditions horses until they returned from the Pacific coast. Lewis and Clark remembered them fondly.
It is believed that the Nez Perce heard first about the Bible from members of the expedition. In 1831 several Nez Perce made the dangerous trek across the western territories to St. Louis, Missouri, the then most western outpost of the United States in their now famous search for the “White Man’s Book of Heaven.” Only one of the original six Nez Perce who went returned to the Northwest, the others perished on the way. But word of their desperate search had reached the population centers in the Eastern United States and in 1836 Henry and Eliza Spalding established a mission near Lapwai, Idaho. Although Spalding claimed many converts, his lack of tolerance for Nez Perce culture caused him to alienate large segments of the tribe. It was the beginning of deep division within the tribe.
In 1855, a treaty was signed that granted the Nez Perce a reservation, which included most of their homelands in its seven million acres. In 1860 gold was discovered on the Nez Perce Reservation. During the next few years, miners swarmed illegally onto the reservation. The supply town of Lewiston was established on Indian land. All such activity was in clear violation of the 1855 treaty, which made the reservations off-limits to whites.
After the Gold rush, the Federal government pressured the Nez Perce into accepting a new treaty in 1863. The treaty reduced the Nez Perce Reservation by 90 per cent. Many of the Christian Nez Perce leaders signed the treaty, while the traditional leaders did not. The split between the Christian and non-Christian Nez Perce widened. The two factions became known as treaty and non-treaty.
The Great Spirit Chief made the world as it is, and as He wanted it, and He made a part of it for us to live upon. I do not see where you get authority to say that we shall not live where He placed us.” *)
(Too-hool-hool-soot, Nez Perce Chief to US General Howard)
In Pursuit of the Nez Perces, © 1993 Mountain Meadow Press, page 286
Further information about the Nez Perce:
- Official Website of the Nez Perce Nation: http://www.nezperce.org
- Nez Perce National Historical Park (Photo Gallery)
- Josephy, Alvin M. The Nez Perce Indians and the opening of the Northwest, University of Oklahoma Press, 1998
- Walker Jr., Deward E., Nez Perce Coyote Tales, University of Idaho, 1980
- Beal, Merrill D., “I will fight no more forever”, University of Washington Press, 1964
- McWhorter, L.V., Yellow Wolf: His own story, Caxton Printers, Caldwell, ID, 1991
- Axtell, Horace & Aragon, Margo, A little Bit Of Wisdom, Conversations with an Elder, Confluence Press, 1997
- Area Geography
- “Sacred Journey” of the Nez Perce, Idaho Public Television
Ethnographic Overview of the Nez Perce Tribe Compiled by Julie Davies, Nez Perce Tribe Cultural Resource Program (accessed from: http://www.nezpercehorseregistry.com/history1.pdf)