~ Nez Perce Indian Reservation ~

This was my second visit to the Nez Perce Reservation. Photos from my first visit are here.

The Nez Perce, also known by their tribal name as the Nimi'ipuu (Nee-me-poo), is a Native American tribe indigenous to the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. The name Nimi'ipuu means "the people" or "we the people" or "the real people" depending on whose translation one uses. Nez Perce means "pierced nose" and is of French origin. The name was inspired by nose pendants seen in some Indians in the Northwest, but was actually inaccurate as the Nez Perce didn't wear nose piercings, but the Chinook Indians did.

At the time of the Lewis and Clark expedition, the Nez Perce area covered approximately 17 million acres (27 thousand square miles) of land in Washington, Oregon, Montana, and Idaho. The Nez Perce tribe would travel with the seasons to find food, however always returning to the various Band's base areas.

They ate salmon and other fish, game such as deer, duck, geese, and elk, dried roots, berries, pine nuts, sunflower seeds, wild potatoes, camas roots and wild carrots. The also would send hunting parties over the Rocky Mountains to hunt the buffalo on the plains.

They lived in small villages, usually along a river or stream. They owned a large herd of horses, the largest on the continent. After receiving the horse from tribes in the south, who, in turn, had received them from the Spaniards, they became self-taught experts in animal husbandry. And white observers reported their system of gelding was superior to any conducted by the white man and they possessed no metal tools at the time.

As a people, the Nez Perce were connected by language, cultural practices and spiritual belief. However, each band acted independently from one another, chose their own leaders, who spoke for that band only, and lived in their own ancestral lands.

The Nez Perce were large men, standing up to 6' 4', considering that the average European height in the 1800s was around 5' 6". And they were a proud people and satisfied with their way of life and spiritual practices. At the time of Lewis and Clark they numbered over 4000.

Nez Perce Country

Traveling the Clearwater

What are you looking at in the four photos above and below, besides some very curvy, roller coaster roads, the confluence of the Clearwater and Snake Rivers and parts of Lewiston, Idaho and Clarkston, Washington?

Look to the horizon. All that you can see in the four photos once was Nez Perce lands. And more. These photos only show the area around those two cities and parts of two states. The Nez Perce also had lands in Oregon and Montana.

The views are from Lewiston Hill. When automobile traffic made steep old wagon roads obsolete a remarkable new highway grade was built down this hill in 1917. With a series of sharp curves that let cars travel 20 or 30 miles per hour, a good speed for that time, a gradual 10-mile, 2000 foot grade was designed. It still can be used by anyone not in too much of a hurry who wants to see an engineering model of early highway construction. These kinds of roads are common in this area of the country.

The new U.S. Route 95 road is not a whole lot straighter and not so much less steep. I drove down it and then back up upon my return to Spokane.

Beginning with the two photos above we begin to see the reservation. The left photo shows a part of the Clearwater River gorge also from Lewiston Hill. On the right is the site of an ancient Nez Perce village along that river.

This important archaeological site, occupied for 10,000 years or more, has at least ten pit houses as much as 5000 years old. Two styles of houses were used by the Nez Perce. Some were fairly square with interior benches dug out for use by a family or two. Others were found from 20 to 30 feet wide and two to three feet deep, but these lacked benches. This village reached its height from about 4100 to 2600 years ago, but remained important enough that when fur traders arrived in 1812, they made this their area main camp.

Also part of the village site

Small Island in the Clearwater River near the village site

The Ant and the Yellowjacket

According to a Nez Perce legend the stone arch on the hill was once two fighting insects. Ant and Yellowjacket had an argument and came to blows over who has the right to eat dried salmon here. Fighting fiercely, they failed to notice Coyote, the all-powerful animal spirit. Even when he ordered them to stop, they kept on struggling. For not heeding his warning, he turned them to stone while their backs were arched and their jaws locked to gether in combat. Moral: It is not wise to fight over the use of resources.

A short distance away evidence of another Nez Perce legend exists. Coyote's Fishnet. Coyote and Black Bear had a falling out while fishing there long ago. Coyote was having a good time until Black Bear, the busybody, began to tease him. Finally losing his temper, Coyote tossed his huge fishnet onto the hills across the river. To teach Black Bear a lesson, Coyote, then, threw Black Bear to the top of the hill on the other side of the river and turned him into stone. The Nez Perce know just where to look for the net and the unfortunate bear.

Many land features in the Clearwater Valley relate to Nez Perce traditional stories and legends.

Clearwater River Valley

Another view of the Clearwater River Valley

The Nez Perce National Historic Trail stretches 1170 miles from Wallowa Lake, Oregon, to the Bear Paw Battlefield near Chinook, Montana, forty mile south of the Canadian border. It covers four states, Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming and Montana. It follows the path taken by Joseph's band and the other non-treaty bands in their attempts to escape to Canada and avoid being forced onto the reservation. It is managed by the U.S. Forest Service. It is not the same as the Nez Perce National Historical Park, which consists of 38 sites of historical importance in five states and is managed by the National Park Service, although some of the sites are on the Trail.

The rock on the right could be from the Coyote and Black Bear Legend or one of several other legends connected with the valley.

Railroad crossing the Clearwater

U.S. Route 95 crossing the Clearwater

The Lapwai Mission

Henry Spalding established Idaho's first mission on Lapwai Creek near the town of Lapwai on November 29, 1836. The site was chosen by the Nez Perce.

Since meeting Lewis and Clark in 1805-6, the Nez Perce had wanted to find out more about the white man's ways and his "Book of Heaven." In 1831, a Nez Perce delegation went all the way to St. Louis, where they saw Clark again and asked for teachers. Spalding came west to answer their call. A house and assembly hall were built in 24 days, and in two months Mrs. Spalding had started a mission school. In 1838, at Spalding's insistence, the mission was moved to the river near the site in the photos. When the original site was being built suitable trees were not available to build the buildings. Spalding insisted on log buildings. The Nez Perce had to carry the logs from this area two miles to the site in Lapwai.

History leads us to believe that Henry Spalding was one of the worst possible things to happen to the Nez Perce. He systematically destroyed their way of life and turned a giving society, where all was shared by all, into one with materialistic standards.

The buildings seen across the river are not re-constructions of the Lapwai Mission. They are maintenance buildings in the park.

This green space in the right photo is the William Craig Homestead. Craig was the first white settler in Idaho Territory, which was part of Oregon Territory at the time. He joined the Rocky Mountain Fur Trade Company in 1829, married a Nez Perce woman in 1838 and settled with the Lapwai Band in 1840. The Nez Perce trusted Craig and allowed him to keep his farm and remain on the reservation after the treaties were in effect.


Today, the Nez Perce Reservation is located solely in North Central Idaho. The tribe is governed by a council of nine people known as the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee (NPTEC).There are 3,363 people enrolled as members of the Nez Perce tribe. The Wallowa Lake Site, where Old Joseph is buried (another page), was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1985. The Nez Perce developed a breeding program in 1995 to reestablish their horsemanship tradition which was destroyed in the 19th century.

The Nez Perce tribe has lived in the Pacific Northwest for an estimated 10,000 years and when visiting modern day Idaho, it is obvious that the presence of this peaceful tribe still lives on.

Today, the Nez Perce Reservation consists of 770,000 acres, one-tenth of the original treaty area and less than five percent of their original ancestral lands. The white man's greed had won again.
But it got worse.
The Dawes Act

U.S. Senator Henry L. Dawes of Massachusetts believed that Indians should live like white men. The act provided for the division of tribally held lands into individually-owned parcels and opening "surplus" lands to settlement by non-Indians and development by railroads.

According the Dawes Act, each tribe, in accordance with the criteria sanctioned by the Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, would obtain a parcel of land according to a particular formula. Each Native had to be of one-half native blood or more, to be of mixed blood below that degree and fall beneath the required level of "blood quantum" meant that they would not receive their allotment. In addition to that each native was to become an American citizen, thus destroying their "sovereign nation" status. Those who refused would be left landless as well.

From that point the division of land was made according to age and family situation; each head of the family received 160 acres, each single person over the age of 18 or orphan under the age of 18 would receive 80 acres of land, and each single person under 18 then living or born before the president ordered allotment received 40 acres. Those born after were out of luck. The amount of land in native hands rapidly depleted from some 150 million acres to 78 million acres by 1900, as the remainder of the land once allotted to appointed native tribes was declared surplus and sold to non-native settlers as well as railroad and other large corporations. Some lands were also converted into federal parks and military compounds. Quickly changing the concern from private native landownership to satisfying the white settlers demand for larger portions of land.

By dividing reservation lands into privately owned parcels, legislators hoped to complete the assimilation process by forcing the deterioration of the communal life-style of the Native societies and imposing Western-oriented values of strengthening the nuclear family and values of economic dependency strictly within this small household unit.

The land granted to most allottees was not sufficient for economic viability, and division of land between heirs upon the allottees' deaths resulted in land fractionalization. Most allotment land, which could be sold after a statutory period of 25 years, was eventually sold to non-Native buyers at bargain prices. Additionally, land deemed to be "surplus" beyond what was needed for allotment was opened to white settlers, though the profits from the sales of these lands were often invested in programs meant to aid the American Indians. However, much of that money was siphoned off by unscrupulous Indian Agents. Native Americans lost, over the 47 years of the Act's life, about 90 million acres of treaty land, or about two-thirds of the 1887 land base. About 90,000 Native Americans were made landless by the Dawes Act.

Seat of Nez Perce government

Supposed to be a tunnel there?
Lapwai is a town on the reservation. The population of Lapwai was 1,134 at the 2000 census. It is the seat of government of the Nez Perce Indian Reservation. In Nez Perce Lapwai means "place of the butterflies." Annually butterflies gather here to rest and mate during their migration to Canada.

Could not find a tunnel

And a tunnel there?
Given that the trestle and the sign were in the same area, I expected to see tunnels in the area.

Chief Lawyer was appointed Head Chief of all Nez Perce bands by the U.S. Government. This was contrary to any and all beliefs of the Nez Perce bands, which operated independently of one another and all had their own headmen and area to live in. Lawyer ended up being the leader of the "treaty" Nez Perce. During a council of all bands before the treaty was signed, the non-treaty bands broke away from those bands favoring it. Essentially, the tribe was split in two from that point. Lawyer never told anyone of this event and signed for all Nez Perce bands. Either through design or accident he signed the treaty reducing the Nez Perce Reservation by 90% and although the non-treaty bands were not even present and had displayed their opposition to the new treaty and lived on lands not wanted by white settlers, the U.S. Government held them to it. To make matters worse the U.S. Agents present at the signing made Lawyer go get 51 other Nez Perce to mark an "X" on the treaty so that the number of signatories was the same as the previous treaty. Soon the non-treaty bands would be forced onto the reservation.

This steel railroad trestle crosses Lawyer Canyon. Most trestles of the time were wooden, but the span of Lawyer Canyon dictated the use of steel.

Lawyer Creek

Mountain above Lawyer Canyon

More photos of Lawyer Canyon and Creek

Some panoramas of the rich farm land on the Nez Perce Reservation. How much is owned by Nez Perce? I think not all that much.

Nez Perce is a city on the reservation and the county seat of Lewis County, Idaho, United States. The population was 523 at the 2000 census. The racial makeup of the city was 91.20% White, 1.34% African American, 1.91% Native American, 1.34% Asian, 0.76% from other races. As I recall the population sign on the city limit said 660.

I was headed for that white strip near the top of the right hand photo, down in the canyon on the left. I would use that snaking, dirt road across the middle to get there.

I was on this high farmland plateau, but I would eventually end up back down on the Clearwater River. After a rock and roll, roller coaster ride down what might have been a logging road at one time. However, my GPS told me to go there. You can see a part of the road in the lower left of the photo on the right.

You can see on the left where I came from. The "road" runs just below center of the photo. The photo on the right was taken about two-thirds of the way down and I had come from way up there.

I met this small waterfall about half way down the mountain.

I never expected to find an Osprey way out here, but here she was. Her mate flew off before I could get stopped (not an easy thing to do on this road) and get the camera ready. She took off before I could take a second photo.

As you can see I finally made it to the Clearwater and off the Nez Perce Indian Reservation

Music is "Sacrifice"

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