Nez Perce National Historical Park, Washington

Nez Perce National Historical Park, Washington

The Nez Perce was a Native American tribe whose typical distinguishing feature was pierced noses in which they wore a type of sea shell. This custom was traditional among them for many centuries, but later it became rather exceptional and around 1830 it stopped appearing completely.

According to Iamaccepted, these Indians inhabited the area around the Grande Ronde, Salmon and Clearwater rivers. Their territory was bounded on the west by the Blue and Bitterroot Mountains. Today, the territory on the borders of the states of Washington, Idaho and Oregon could thus be marked. Not much information has been preserved about this tribe, but according to historians, they were one of the oldest settlers of this area. Evidence of their ancestral settlement dates back more than 8,000 years.

Until the Indians managed to get horses (sometime around 1700), they lived as hunters and gatherers. They hunted bison, deer, sheep, elk, antelope and other animals. Later, salmon began to appear in their diet, which was full of the waters of the Columbia River. The Nez Perce Indians did not have a tribal chief, so when they needed to, they chose personalities with the greatest authority and experience for individual actions.

Between the years 1740 and 1840, the tribe goes through a great flowering and its so-called golden age begins. They began to associate with other tribes in the area, held large annual bison hunts, built better and better teepees, and learned to breed horses. They even managed to breed one of the most valuable breeds to date called the Appaloosa. The Indians thus traded not only horse meat, but also dried salmon and bows.

The first whites to encounter the Nez Perce people were members of an expedition led by Lewis and Clark in 1805 who were trying to reach the Pacific coast. People from the expedition were amazed by the huge herds of horses, they looked at the individual huts and teepees. The Indians gave them beautiful feather headdresses, jewelry, and beaded clothing made of fine leather to commemorate them. At the time, there were about 70 villages in which around 7,000 Nez Perce lived. Perhaps all the reports of the whites who met these people were positive and spoke of the intelligence, pride, courage and art of this Indian nation.

In 1836, the first Christian mission was established in tribal territory. At that time, the tribe split into two branches: the upper one, led by Chief Aleiya, adopted Christianity and an agricultural way of life, while the lower one remained faithful to traditional religion and hunting. In 1860, gold was discovered in Indian Territory, which started a great tidal wave of white settlers. A large part of the original territory of the Indians passed into the possession of the American government. At that time, the chief took the Bible in protest and demonstratively tore it in front of the Americans.

In 1877, members of the Nez Perces tribe were forced to move to a reservation under threat of military intervention. Although the Indians themselves did not want it, they were drawn into the war. Between June 17, 1877 and October 5, 1877, 6 Indian groups embarked on a 1,600-mile retreat with unprecedented tactical brilliance. For more than three months, they eluded the multiple superiority of the American army, grouped into four armies. Eventually, however, they were overtaken and surrounded by General Miles’ army. The Indians surrendered the siege after five days on condition that they be allowed to return to the Lapwai Reservation. General Miles promised them this, but in the end he did not keep his promise. The Indians were actually deported to the swamp region of the lower Missouri, where nearly a third of them perished.

It was not until several years later that the Indians were moved from the swamps back to Idaho. However, their heroic journey won admiration even among the whites, and their tactical retreat was later lectured at the famous military academy at West Point. Today, around 2,500 members of this tribe live in the Lapwai Colvivve reserve and their numbers are slowly increasing.

Nez Perce National Historical Park, Washington

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