THE NEZ PERCES, PART 1
The territory of the Nez Perces was bounded on the east by the Bitterroot mountains of Idaho and Montana; on the south by the divide between Salmon river and Snake river, and, in Oregon, by the Powder River mountains; on the west by the Blue mountains in Oregon, and, in Washington, by Tucanon creek from its source in the Blue mountains to its confluence with Snake river; on the north by the low divide between Snake river and the Palouse in Washington, and, in Idaho, by the range separating the headwaters of the Palouse from the tributaries of the Clearwater. This embraced, in Idaho, the whole watershed of the Clearwater, the valley of Salmon river as far eastward as the one hundred and fifteenth meridian, and that of Snake river to a point above the mouth of the Salmon. It included in the northeastern portion of Oregon the valley of the Snake, and of its tributaries, the Imnaha, the Wallowa, and the Grande Ronde to a point not far above the mouth of the Wallowa. In Washington their domain extended westward along both sides of Snake river as far as the mouth of Tucanon creek, about at the one hundred and eighteenth meridian.
This desirable territory is a region of varied aspect. It is almost surrounded by lofty, forested mountains, the source of numberless clear, perennial streams. Here and there are broad, undulating, upland prairies, which once afforded the inhabitants a dependable, though laboriously gathered, supply of edible roots, and abundant forage for their horses. The lower courses of the streams flow through pleasant, narrow valleys completely shut in from the cold mountain winds, forming ideal spots for wintering. Deer, elk, and mountain-sheep were obtained without great difficulty, and the rivers were alive with fish, particularly the salmon, which formed their principal food.
The Nez Perces were a loosely associated group of local bands, each possessing its own territory and its own chief. It is true that they had a collective name for these bands,' and that there were occasions when perhaps the greater part were in one camp, as at the camas meadows or during the fall fishing in the Wallowa and the Salmon. Nevertheless there was in reality no tribal organization. The bands were kindred, spoke the same language, and associated for mutual convenience and defence; but they remained distinct. The permanent villages were situated usually at the mouths of the tributaries of the larger rivers. Although each village community was independent of the others, and the head-chiefs of all such communities were theoretically of equal power, it was only natural that the influence of a man of unusual ability with a numerous following should extend itself beyond the borders of the band in which he was born. This was in fact the case, and thus we find a number of geographical divisions. At the beginning of the historical period the process was probably one of decay and separation rather than of consolidation. Lewis and Clark defined seven divisions: the "Chopunnish," on Clearwater river below its forks; the "Pelloatpal-lah," on Clearwater river above its forks; the "Ki-moo-e-nim," on Snake river above the Clearwater as far as "the Forks"; the "Y-e-let-po"; the "Wil-lewah," on Wallowa river; the "So-yennow," on the northern side of Salmon river and on "La-mal-tar [Lamata] Creek"; and the "Chopunnish," on Snake river between the Clearwater and the Columbia.
Of these it is to be said that the Pel-loat-pal-lah 2 are the Palus, who, by all tribal traditions, never lived elsewhere than on Snake river, about the mouth of Palouse river and eastward; that the Ki-moo-e-nim are not now regarded by the Nez Perces as having been distinct from the Wil-le-wah; that the Y-e-let-po are the alien Cayuse; and that the name So-yen-now has not been identified with any Nez Perce word. Within the more recent historical period, then, there were four geographical divisions of the Nez Perces, comprising respectively the bands along Snake river from Palouse river to the mouth of the Clearwater; those residing on the Clearwater and its branches; those on Salmon river and its tributaries; and those on Snake river from the Clearwater to the Salmon, including the valleys of the Grande Ronde, Wallowa, and Imnaha. It is a natural assumption that in earlier times the lines were clearly drawn, and that as small family groups were ever pushing beyond the boundaries to occupy new territory, they became selfdependent communities, a condition which of course was accompanied by a corresponding loss of cohesiveness within the larger social unit.
The Nez Perces, were first visited by Lewis and Clark, who in September, 1805, reached one of their villages on a head-stream of the Clearwater., The explorers spent about two weeks among the Nez Perces, on Oro Fino creek, recuperating from the hardships of their passage across the mountains and constructing canoes for the voyage to the Pacific, in the beginning of which they were guided by an old man and his son. Returning from the coast the ensuing spring, they camped for more than a month near the Kamiahpu band on Lawyer creek. They found the Nez Perces, well supplied with horses. So numerous were the herds that the date of the acquisition of their first horses must have been several decades before the beginning of the nineteenth century. One of the chiefs was said to own so many that he was unable to count them. They had also a few guns, which they had "acquired from the Minnetaries," that is, probably, not the Hidatsa, or Minitari of the Missouri, but the Atsina, or Minitari of Fort de Prairie, with whom the Nez Perces, frequently fought in the buffalo country. They were anxious to obtain more guns, for on account of their numerous horses they were constantly harassed by war-parties of Shoshoni and Bannock, their neighbors on the south. Desultory raids were made by the Apsaroke, the Piegan, the Cceur d'Alenes or Skitswish, and the Spokan. Even the little Salish bands of the Columbia valley above Snake river once organized an attacking party, but they were so effectually punished by a retaliatory expedition into their own country that they were thereafter content with peace. Hostilities with the Flatheads were of rare occurrence. The two tribes were frequent allies in their annual excursions into the buffalo country, and indeed hunters of the Spokan, Coeur d'Alenes, and smaller Salish tribes, as well as of the Shahaptian bands north and west of the Columbia, were glad to join themselves to the powerful and courageous Nez Perces. The arch-enemy was the Shoshoni. And it was because of their exposure to this common danger, as well as of affinity and proximity, that -the Nez Perces, Umatilla, and Wallawalla became such close friends. This alliance included also the alien Cayuse.
Within a few years after the appearance of the first white men in the Nez Perce country, trappers began to find their way across the mountains, and in 1818 Donald McKenzie established Fort Walla Walla I as a post of the Northwest Company. On the Columbia river, at the mouth of the Walla Walla,, this post was not far from the Nez Perces, of lower Snake river and the Grande Ronde, and as it was in the territory of their kinsmen and allies, they frequently resorted thither. Late in the year 1836 H. H. Spalding and his wife arrived among the Indians of the Clearwater, and in the following spring established a mission near the mouth of Lapwai creek. They experienced little difficulty in finding a number of young men willing to learn reading and writing. Emigration into Oregon increased. It was desirable to have in the Northwest a representative of the Government; but title to the country was disputed by Great Britain, and it was not advisable to assume jurisdiction. Nevertheless it was deemed not improper that there should be an Indian agent, and in 1842 Elijah White, who had been a physician-missionary in the Willamette valley, was appointed to the position. He at once proceeded with a company of emigrants to the lower Columbia, and in the fall of the same year, learning that the Indians about Whitman's mission at Waiilatpu were behaving with some insolence toward their teachers, he set out for the Walla Walla country to reprimand them.
EDWARD S. CURTIS
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