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Nez Percé Indian Tribe

Nez Percé ('pierced noses') A term applied by the French to a number of tribes which practiced or were supposed to practice the custom of piercing the nose for the insertion of a piece of dentalium. The term is now used exclusively to designate the main tribe of the Shahaptian family, who have not, however, so far as is known ever been given to the practice.

The Nez Percé or Sahaptin of later writers, the Chopuunish (corrupted from Tsútpeli) of Lewis and Clank, their discoverers, were found in 1805 occupying a large area in what is now western Idaho, north east Oregon, and south east Washington, on lower Snake river and its tributaries. They roamed between the Blue Mountains in Oregon and the Bitter Root Mountains in Idaho, and according to Lewis and Clark sometimes crossed the range to the headwaters of the Missouri.

By certain writers they have been classed under two geographic divisions Upper Nez Percé and Lower Nez Percé. The latter were found by Bonneville in 1834 to the north and west of the Blue Mountains on several of the branches of Snake river, where they were neighbors of the Cayuse and Walla Walla. The Upper Nez Percé held the Salmon river country in Idaho in 1834 and probably also at the same time the Grande Ronde valley in eastern Oregon but by treaty of 1855 they ceded a large part of this territory to the United States.

The 1877 flight of the Nez Perce from their homelands while pursued by U.S. Army Generals Howard, Sturgis, and Miles, is one of the most fascinating and sorrowful events in Western U.S. history. Chief Joseph, Chief Looking Glass, Chief White Bird, Chief Ollokot, Chief Lean Elk, and others led nearly 750 Nez Perce men, women, and children and twice that many horses over 1,170 miles through the mountains, on a trip that lasted from June to October of 1877.

Forced to abandon hopes for a peaceful move to the Lapwai reservation, the Nez Perce chiefs saw flight to Canada as their last promise for peace. The flight of the Nez Perce began on June 15, 1877. Pursued by the Army, they intended initially to seek safety with their Crow allies on the plains to the east. Their desperate and circuitous route as they tried to escape the pursuing white forces is what we now call the Nez Perce National Historic Trail.

This route was used in its entirety only once; however, component trails and roads that made up the route bore generations of use prior to and after the 1877 flight of the nontreaty Nez Perce.

The trail starts at Wallowa Lake, Oregon, then heads northeast and crosses the Snake River at Dug Bar. It enters Idaho at Lewiston and cuts across north-central Idaho, entering Montana near Lolo Pass. It then travels through the Bitterroot Valley, after which it re-enters Idaho at Bannock Pass and travels east back into Montana at Targhee Pass to cross the Continental Divide. It bisects Yellowstone National Park, then follows the Clark Fork of the Yellowstone out of Wyoming into Montana. The trail heads north to the Bear's Paw Mountains, ending 40 miles from the Canadian border.*
* US Forest Service

The reservation is located in Lemhi County, Idaho, about the middle of the Lemhi valley, which is 10 miles wide and about 21 miles long. It is a fair grazing country, and has about 5,000 acres or tillable land, with an abundance of good water for all purposes. The water courses run near the farming lands, and with ditches could be utilized for the irrigation or all the valley lauds. All the land is avid, and irrigation is necessary for the production of crops.

There is a quartz mine on the reservation, but its extent has not been determined, as the government does not allow any prospecting, It also has an abundance of timber of fir, pine, spruce, and mountain cedar on the mountain slopes and sides. The indigenous grasses get moisture from the melting snow in the spring. There is occasionally a little rain in the spring, but after the 1st of June it is continually dry until snow falls again in the autumn.

The Lemhi agency is located about 1 mile from the south line, of the reservation, midway from the ends. It is beautifully situated on Hayden creek, a tributary of the Lemhi River, which makes its confluence about one-third of a mile from the agency.

The agency buildings are as follows: the office, the agent's and physician's houses, the girls' dormitory, the day school, and a barn and ice houses They are all frame buildings, The carpenter shop, blacksmith shop, storehouse, laundry, clerk's house, and boarding school building's are built of logs. The implement building is of slabs. The value of those buildings is about $6,000, although they cost much more.

In the past the buildings were in a bad condition, but the present agent has repaired and repainted them, so they look clean and are comfortable. Hayden creek flows within a few steps of the agency building and affords an abundance of clear, pure cool water for the school, the agency, and. or other purposes.*

*Idaho Indians in the 1890 Census

Idaho Indian Tribes Project



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