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image: Nez Perce Indians
Photograph by Edward S. Curtis
Nez Perce Indians
(Sahaptin, Shahaptin)

First Noted by Expedition
September 20, 1805

The Nez Perce were the largest tribe Lewis and Clark met between the Missouri River and the Pacific Coast. They ranged across today's central Idaho, southeastern Washington State, and northeastern Oregon, from the western base of the Rockies to the falls of the Columbia River.

In the 1830s there were an estimated 6,000 Nez Perce. "Nez Perce," (French for "pierced nose") referred to the nose pendants which some of the Indians wore.

As typical plateau Indians, the Nez Perce fished the Clearwater and Snake Rivers and harvested camas roots. When Clark and other members of the expedition emerged exhausted and starved from their journey through the Bitterroot Mountains, the Nez Perce greeted them with dried buffalo, camas root bread, and fish. Unfortunately this rich diet had an adverse effect on the digestive systems of the explorers.

William Clark approached three Nez Perce boys carefully, afraid he would frighten the boys and make a bad first impression on the tribe. Offering the boys gifts of ribbon, he eased their fears and was soon led to the settlement of tepees.

After Lewis joined them a few days later, the expedition discussed the trade alliances and peace proposals that they proposed to every tribe they encountered. The Nez Perce were clear on what they wanted—guns, so they could compete with the Blackfeet and Atsina for buffalo and defend their villages.

The Corps felt comfortable leaving their horses with the Nez Perce, known for the Appaloosas they bred, while they continued westward by canoe. The Nez Perce, watching the sickness-weakened explorers try to create canoes from inadequate tools, showed them how to burn out a log to make a canoe.

When the Corps returned in May 1806 they claimed their horses and spent a couple of months with the Nez Perce, waiting for the snow to clear the mountain passes.

The U.S. government took control of large portions of their territory during the mid-1800s. In 1863 the Nez Perce were mostly confined to a portion of northwest Idaho. In 1877, a band of Nez Perce still living in Oregon and led by Chief Joseph refused to leave their lands but were defeated. Many of those Oregon survivors were moved to the Colville reservation in Washington, where descendants still live.

Today many Nez Perce also live on a reservation in Idaho. As of 1990, 4,000 Nez Perce lived in the United States.

From the Expedition Journals

"Stout likely men, handsom women, and verry dressey in their way. ..."
image: Nez Perce Indians
Photograph by Edward S. Curtis

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Sitka Mountain Ash
Subalpine Fir
Western Larch
Western Red Cedar
Whitebark Pine
Flathead Indians
Nez Perce Indians
Bitterroot Autumn
Bitterroot Meadow
Bitterroot Mountains
Bitterroot River