Facts about the Nez Perce Native Indian
This article contains fast, fun facts and
interesting information about the Nez Perce Native
American Indian tribe. Find answers to questions
did the Nez Perce tribe live, what clothes did they wear, what
did they eat and who were the names of their most
famous leaders? Discover what happened to the
Nez Perce tribe with facts about their wars and
Did the Nez Perce have pierced noses? No
explorers of the Lewis and Clark expedition
referred to the tribe as the Chopunnish. The
name Nez Perce, meaning "pierced nose" was
incorrectly provided by French fur traders who
were generalizing about the customs of the
tribes the Corps of Discovery would next meet,
such as the Chinook
in the Northwest Pacific coast, who favored nose
What was the lifestyle and culture of the Nez Perce
The Nez Perce tribe were one of the most
numerous and powerful tribes of the Plateau
Culture area. They lived a semi-nomadic
lifestyle fishing, hunting, or gathering wild
plants for food. They lived in pit houses in the
winter and tule-mat lodges in the summer.
The introduction of the horse in the 1700's
brought about a change in lifestyle and many of
the people traveled to the Great Plains to hunt
buffalo. They adopted some of the ideas of the
Great Plains native Indians including the use of
the tepee which were covered with buffalo hides
and some items of clothing made from buffalo
hides. The rich grasslands of the Nez Perce
territory enabled the tribe to become horse
breeders and traders and they raised some of the
largest horse herds of any Native American
Indian group. They are famous for breeding the
sturdy, spotted horses now called Appaloosas,
that were named after the Palouse tribe.
The Lewis and Clark expedition encountered the
Nez Perce during their explorations and
Meriwether Lewis described the Appaloosa in his
journal dated February 15, 1806 "Their horses
appear to be of an excellent race. They are
lofty, elegantly formed, and durable".
Where did the Nez Perce tribe live?
The Nez Perce are people of the Plateau Native
American cultural group whose territories
covered hundreds of miles from the Bitterroot
Mountains of Idaho, west to the Cascade
Mountains of Oregon and further westward to the
state of Washington and eastwards to Montana. The location of the
tribal homelands are shown on the map. The
geography of the region in which they lived
dictated the lifestyle and culture of the Nez Perce
The Nez Perce lived along the lower courses
of the Snake, Salmon, and Clearwater Rivers
and their tributaries
Land: Fast flowing rivers, lakes, forests
Climate: Warm summers and cold, snowy
Animals: The animals included elk,
deer, bear, mountain goat, groundhog, coyote, raccoon,
fox, porcupine, weasel, beaver and hare
Fish: Salmon, steelhead trout
Natural Resources: Berries such as
blackberries, strawberries, huckleberries, bulbs,
bitterroots, onions, nuts and
Map showing location of
Plateau Native Indian Tribes
What did the Nez Perce tribe live in?
The Nez Perce were semi-nomadic and needed
shelters that were easy to set up and take
down. The Nez Perce lived in one of three shelters,
depending on the season. The types of
shelters were a semi-subterranean pit
house, a tepee or a tule-mat lodge.
Pit houses were winter shelters that were built
with logs and sealed for insulation with
dirt and grasses. Pit houses were built
below ground with an entrance and ladder
at the top and were generally used
during the cold, winter months.
The summer shelters, the tepee and tule-mat
lodge, were above ground. Tepees were
covered with animal skins but the tule-mat
lodge was covered with mats of strong,
durable, tule reeds (bulrushes).
What language did the Nez Perce tribe speak?
The Nez Perce tribe spoke in a Sahaptian dialect
of the Penutian language. They call themselves 'Nimiipu',
which means "the people".
What transportation did the Nez Perce use?
The Nez Perce tribe built dugout canoes built
dugout canoes made from the hollowed-out logs of
large trees. The
men hollowed logs with controlled fire that
softened the timber so they could carve and
shape their canoe to have a flat bottom with
straight sides. The dugout
canoes were important to the
way of life of the Nez Perce as semi-nomadic
fishers and hunters and was
a perfect means of transportation for travel along
fast streams and shallow waters of the Snake,
Salmon, and Clearwater Rivers and their
The Nez Perce tribe and the Lewis and Clark
Lewis and Clark encountered the Nez Perce tribe in October
1805. They used new dugout canoes built with the help
of the friendly Nez Perce Native American
Indians. The canoes enabled the expedition to
float downstream from the Clearwater River
Idaho, the Snake River into the Columbia River
in the state of Washington.
Who were the allies and enemies of the Nez Perce
The allies of the Nez Perce tribe were many of
the other Native American Indians who inhabited
the Plateau region including the Cayuse, Walla
Walla, Spokane, Coeur D'Alene, Yakama and Palouse. The main enemies of the Nez Perce
tribe were the Great Basin groups to the south,
including the Shoshone, Northern Paiute, and the
The Nez Perce War
The Nez Perce War was fought between June -
October 1877. It was led by
Chief Joseph, his brother Ollikut, White Bird and Chief
Looking Glass. The Nez Perce fought a
series of battles and skirmishes with
General Howard and later, Colonel Nelson
A. Mileson in a fighting retreat that
covered 1,170 miles. The Nez Perce stopped at the
Bear Paw Mountains in Montana, about 40
miles from the Canadian border. It was
here that they fought a 5 day battle
against Colonel Miles's troops. On
October 5, 1877, Chief Joseph, leader of the Nez
Perce, was forced to surrender to the US forces
and the short, ill-fated Nez Perce War came to
What food did the Nez Perce tribe eat?
The food that the Nez Perce tribe ate included
salmon and fish and a variety of meats from the
animals that they hunted. They supplemented
their protein diet with seeds, nuts and fruits
and used cornlike roots to make 'kouse'
What weapons did the Nez Perce use?
The weapons used by the Nez Perce were spears,
knives, bows and arrows and clubs.
What clothes did the Nez Perce men wear?
Traditional Nez Perce clothes were made of
shredded cedar bark, deerskin, or rabbit skin.
However with the introduction of the horse, and
the ability to hunt buffalo on the Great plains,
they used buffalo hides to make their clothes.
The clothes worn by the men varied according to
the season but generally they wore breechcloths
and leggings, shirts and robes. Blankets and
gloves were frequently used to keep out the
cold. Nez Perce clothes were often belted and they
wore moccasins on their feet. It was customary
to decorate their clothes with fringes.
Breastplates were worn for decoration purposes
and made from the narrow dentallum shells
acquired in trading with the coastal tribes and
later they were made from buffalo bones and were
called "pipe bones". Armbands, wristbands and
anklets were also worn for special ceremonies.
Headdresses were made of feathers, but did not
trail to the floor. Their hair was kept long and
decorated with plaits and beads for special
What clothes did the Nez Perce women wear?
Nez Perce women during the 1700's wore large basket
hats they wove out of dried leaves and plant fibers. The women of
the tribe wore long dresses that covered them
from the neck to their mid calves. The women
also wore knee length moccasins during the
winter. The Nez Perce made a large bag called a
parfleche to store and carry their food and
clothing. Parfleche were made from tough hides,
and were often beautifully decorated.
Nez Perce Clothes were decorated with beads made from a
variety of materials that included shells,
bones, pebbles, claws, nuts, seeds, porcupine
quills, horns, pieces of metal and bird talons.
What was the religion and beliefs of the
Nez Perce tribe?
religion and beliefs of the Nez Perce tribe was based
that encompassed the spiritual or
religious idea that the universe and all
natural objects animals, plants, trees,
rivers, mountains rocks etc have souls or
spirits. The Nez Perce believed they had a
personal link with nature in the form of a
guardian spirit, or wyakin, that protected them
from harm and provided assistance during their