The Nez Perce are a Native American tribe that once lived throughout the Northwest United States including areas of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. Today, there is a Nez Perce reservation in Idaho.
Prior to the arrival of Europeans, the Nez Perce lived in spread out villages in the Northwest in relative peace. When horses arrived they began to venture further into the Great Plains to hunt bison.
The Nez Perce came into contact with Lewis and Clark on their expedition out west in 1805. Lewis and Clark had nearly starved to death crossing the Bitterroot Mountains, but the Nez Perce gave them food and helped them along in their journey.
Traditional Lands of the Nez Perce by Ducksters
In the late 1800s, white settlers moved into Nez Perce land. The Nez Perce signed a treaty with the U.S. government guaranteeing them their traditional homeland in 1855. In the 1860s, gold was discovered on the Nez Perce land. Prospectors soon moved into the territory. The U.S. government then took over more of the Nez Perce land.
Chief Joseph and the Flight of the Nez Perce
Chief Joseph was the leader over a band of Nez Perce that refused to leave their homeland. After a small skirmish, the U.S. Army arrived to remove Chief Joseph's people. They tried to flee to Canada, but were pursued by U.S. soldiers. Chief Joseph and his people traveled 1,400 miles, fighting many battles along the way before they finally surrendered.
Chief Joseph and Family by F. M. Sargent
What kind of homes did the Nez Perce live in?
The Nez Perce once lived in small villages usually located near a stream. During the winter, they lived in more permanent homes called longhouses. Longhouses had A-shaped roofs and floors that were dug a few feet into the ground for warmth.
In the summer, some Nez Perce would follow the bison herds and live in teepees. Teepees were easy to move as they could be set up and taken down quickly. They were made from wooden poles and bison hides.
What was their clothing like?
The Nez Perce wore clothing made from animal skins. The women wore long dresses that were sometimes decorated with fringes and beads. The men wore shirts, breechcloths, and leggings. They made thick robes to wear during the cold months of winter.
Nez Perce Warrior on Horse by Edward S. Curtis
What type of food did they eat?
The men hunted a variety of game including bison, elk, deer, and rabbit. They also fished from the lakes and rivers. The women gathered berries and camas bulbs. They would grind the camas bulbs into a paste and use it to make cakes.
How did they get the name Nez Perce?
The name Nez Perce came from French trappers and means "pierced nose" in French. The trappers must have been confused, however, because the Nez Perce did not typically pierce their noses. The Nez Perce refer to themselves as the Nimiipuu.
Nez Perce Government
The early Nez Perce did not have a complex form of government. Each village had a small council of elders that was led by a chief. There weren't any written rules, but people were expected to do what was best for the village. Today, the Nez Perce reservation has its own government led by a tribal council of elected leaders.
Interesting Facts about the Nez Perce
The Nez Perce were famous for being excellent horsemen and for breeding fine horses. They are credited with creating the Appaloosa horse breed.
There were around 12,000 Nez Perce in 1805, but the population declined to less than 2,000 by the early 1900s.
Only a few people still speak the Nez Perce language and it is in danger of becoming extinct.
They began a new horse breed in 1995 called the Nez Perce Horse.