NEZ PERCE, IDAHOE
Idaho is the state that almost foiled Lewis & Clark expedition upon their second attempt westward crossing of the
Continental Divide. Unable to paddle down the Salmon River, the expedition hastily crossed the Bitterroot Mountains at Lolo Pass and nearly starved
within the disasterous elements.
The friendly Nez Perce (Nimiípu), upon their first contact with white people, welcomed Lewis & Clark into their
village. They gave them supplies and told them about the river route to the Pacific.
A year later Lewis & Clark returned the same way after reaching the Pacific and had a much easier crossing, even
stopping for a soak at the Lolo Hot Springs. Today the rugged terrain offers the same challenges as the olden days.
Two-thirds of Idaho is public lands, mostly mountainous terrian not suitable for urban sprawl.
Nez Perce National Historic Park headquarters is on the Nez Perce reservation east of Lewiston, ID. The national park
extends for 220 miles in 4 states including Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Montana. There are 38 sites of Nez
Perce National Historical Park and they are scattered across these 4 states.
This land is an important source of spiritual strength for the Nez Perce. The 38 natural & historical sites have
been designated to commemorate the stories and history of the Nimiipuu and their interaction with explorers, fur traders,
missionaries, soldiers, settlers, gold miners and farmers who moved through or into the area.
For thousands of years the valleys, prairies, mountains, and plateaus of the inland northwest have been home to the
Nimiipuu people. The primary settlements were in the valleys of Clearwater River
and Snake River and its tributaries. This land is an important source of
spiritual strength for the Nez Perce.
The Nez Perce and Shoshone tribes made frequent excursions into the Plains regions as they traveled along the ancient
Lolo Trail following the ridge of mountain north of the Lochsa River that extended through 150 miles of wilderness.
Lewis & Clark followed the Lolo Trail in 1805 on their expedition to the west coast and first met the Nez
Perce on Weippe Prairie. The expedition sighted the Weippe prairie
while seeking food for their starving expedition. They were exhausted, malnourished and sick from subsisiting on local
roots when they arrived. Here they were greeted by a group of Nez Perce with food and friendship.
The Nez Perce could have easily killed the Lewis and Clark expedition but they were a peaceful tribe and elected to
help them. 70 years later the Nez Perce were forced out of their homeland bu the U.S. Calvary and encroaching settlers.
War and disease wreraked havoc on the Nex Perce reducing their population from 6000 to 1,500.
Weippe Prairie is a lush meadow fringed by forest in the southern portion
of Shoshone County. In the Nez Perce language Weippe means a "very old
place" which has to do with a spring of water or camas ground. It was a sacred place frequented by the Nez Perce Indians who enjoyed the summer climate and profitable hunting grounds. They erected lodges, fished, hunted and dug the camas root in the surrounding area.
This was a sacred land with a long lineage of indigenous histories, traditions and spiritual ceremonies.
Forced to abandon hopes for a peaceful move to the Lapwai reservation, the Nez Perce chiefs saw flight to Canada as
their last promise for peace. The flight of the Nez Perce began on June 15, 1877. Pursued by the Army, they intended initially
to seek safety with their Crow allies on the plains to the east. As they tried to escape the pursuing white forces,
their desperate and circuitous route is what is now called the Nez Perce National
Historic Trail. This trail stretches from Wallowa Lake, Oregon to the Bear Paw Battlefield near Chinook, Montana.
Lolo Trail was a hisstoric Indian trade and hunting route accross the Bitterroot
Mountains to the Clearwater River. This trail is a spectacular high mountainous ridgeline trail nestled in the heart of
the Lolo National Forest near the Bitterroot Wilderness. It is about 100 miles long from Lolo Pass, Montana to the high
mountain ridges north of the Weippe, Idaho.
Lolo Trail is an ancient trail route that follows a general direction of east--west that leads meadow to meadow,
watering hole to watering hole with sparkling alpine lakes. It's primitive state and vast beauty are what make the Lolo Trail such an incredible place. At 7000-feet in elevation, this trail offers vistas that allow views of mountain
ranges spanning three states — Idaho,
Montana, and Oregon.
Lewis & Clark described this area as the most challenging yet majestic portion of their journey saying, "we were entirely
surrounded by those mountains from which to one unacquainted with them it would have seemed impossible
ever to have escaped." Little has changed since the Lewis & Clark expedition crossed this ancient trail.
The corridor of the Lolo Trail and Lolo Pass contain significant ethnographic, archeological and historic resources
associated with Nez Perce use during buffalo hunts as well as during the Nez Perce War of 1877.
There were many sacred sites with many oral histories and legends in this area including: Glade Creek, 13-Mile,
Lonesome Cove, Rocky Ridge Lake, Sinque Hole, Indian Grave, Smoking Place, Greensward
Camp, Bowl Ridge, Dry Camp, Spirit Revival Ridge, Colt-Killed Creek, Glade Creek,
Wendover Ridge, Papoose Saddle, Snowbank Camp, Bears Oil & Roots Camp, Weippe Prairie, Canoe Camp, Treaty Council Camp,
Nez Perce traditions and oral histories speak of many legends, stories and tales of their origins and the ancient
stories of the Star Nations. Some of these stories involve Star People and Deity Spirits including the exploits
of Coyote deity.
The most famous landmark site on the Nez Perce reservation is the Heart of the Monster
site near East Kamiah. In the creation legend of the Nez Perce, a popular god named Coyote did battle
with a fierce monster devouring all creatures in its path. Coyote saw this and came to the rescue of the animals.
He tricked the monster into eating him, but when inside of the monster's belly, Coyote pulled out a knife and slashed his
Once the mosnter was chopped up into little pieces, Coyote flung parts of
the monster far and wide and this site marks where the heart landed. Each piece of the monster became a different tribe
and the Nez Perce were created from Coyote ringing blood from the monster's heart and people sprang from the drops.
The Ant & the Yellowjacket and Coyote's
Fishnet are ancient sites over 5000 years old that relate to Coyote's famous exploits. Coyote was
once fishing with a large net in the Clearwater River. Black Bear happened
to come by and angered Coyote, who stalked out of the water, hurled his fishnet up on the hill to the south side, flung Black
Bear far up the hill on the north side, and turned him into stone. Both are still visible with stones to the Nez
Camas Prairie is a large prairie that extends many miles between the Salmon and Clearwater River. Having lived in the region for over
10,000 years, the Nez Perce continue to influence life in the area today as it was
an ancient sacred gathering place where camas roots were harvested for thousands of years.
Named for the Blue Flowering Camas, this was an important food source for all interior Northwestern Native Americans. This was a spiritual site that the ancient
ancestor spirits protected.
Smoking Place is a sacred site consisting of a conic mound of stones of 6-8 feet high where pipe ceremonies and other practices
Many indigenous natives congregated at Tolo Lake as this was
an ancient council site. Tolo Lake is 35 acres and is the largest natural water body on the Camas Prairie. The Nez Perce name for Tolo Lake is Tepahlewam (Split Rocks). It is east of Rocky Canyon
and is an ancient ceremonial site the Nez Perce used for gathering foods such as camas root and for meeting with neighboring
Before moving onto the newly reduced reservation, the Nimi'ipuu had a council ceremony here. For thousands of years before
Lewis and Clark arrived, the Nez Perce (Nimi'ipuu) traveled with the seasons following the plentiful fish,
game and native vegetation that could be found in the deep canyons cut by the Clearwater
River. These natives has many sacred sites along the Clearwater
River and had a great spiritual understanding of this plentiful land and its power sites.
Nez Perce Historical National Park, ID