Nez Perce History - Pacific Northwest Native Americans
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Nez Perce History

Nez Perce pictograph
Nez Perce pictograph

April 2016 - The Nez Perce, who call themselves the Nimiipuu, meaning "The People", seem to have come down from Alaska to the Pacific Northwest about 10,000 BC, or even earlier. Some time later, maybe around 3000 BC, this group split off from the Chinook and other people, and moved further south and west, into what is now eastern Oregon, eastern Washington, and Idaho.

Little Salmon River
Nez Perce land (now western Idaho)

The Nez Perce lived along the banks of the Columbia River and the rivers that flowed into the Columbia, and, like their Chinook and Shoshone neighbors, they fished for salmon in the great river. Once the salmon were finished running, the Nez Perce also hunted deer, elk, and wild sheep, travelling west into Montana and Wyoming. They ate a lot of camas, which is related to asparagus, but you eat the root, so it's like yuca root or potatoes. They also gathered many different kinds of berries, pine nuts, and wild sunflower seeds.

grass mat tipi
Nez Perce tipi covered with grass mats (from 1910)

At this time there were probably about 6000 Nez Perce people in all. The Nez Perce lived in longhouses in settled villages, but they also traveled to different camps to harvest food there as it came ripe. When they were traveling, Nez Perce people camped in tipis. They covered the frames of both longhouses and tipis with woven grass mats.

Smallpox reaches the Nez Perce

Bibliography and further reading about Nez Perce history:

Chinook history
Blackfoot history
Shoshone history
More about Native Americans
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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