Nez Perce Indians

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Alternate Names: Nimi'ipuu, Chopuunish, Sahaptin
Ancestral Homelands: The Nez Perce ranged from northeastern Oregon and western Washington, across north-central Idaho and as far east as the headwaters of the Missouri River in Montana.


Brief Timeline

  • 1805 -- Contact between the Nez Perce and the Lewis and Clark expedition
  • 1836 -- Henry Harmon and Eliza Spalding establish a Presbyterian mission among the Nez Perce
  • 1855 -- Nez Perce Reservation established by treaty.
  • 1861 -- Nez Perce Agency of the Bureau of Indian Affairs was established
  • 1863: June 9, a treaty (Thief Treaty)  was signed at Lapwai Valley, Washington Terrtitory
  • 1868: August 13, a treaty was signed at council ground in Lapwai Valley in Washington Territory
  • 1868 -- Father Joseph Cataldo's first Catholic missionary efforts among the Nez Perce
  • 1874 -- St. Joseph's Catholic mission established
  • 1877 -- The "Nez Perce War," led by Chief Joseph, occurred. (Flight of the Nez Perce, 1,700 miles)
Battles: Clearwater Creek in Idaho, Big Hole Valley in Montana, Camas Creek in Idaho, Canyon Creek and Cow Island in Montana, and Bear Paw in Montana. Leading the U.S. forces was General Oliver Howard - (Formed Howard University - ed. African Americans; he had one arm)1877:  October, Chief Joseph 87 warriors, 84 women, and 147 children surrendered near Bear Paw, Montana. November the Nez Perce Tribe sent to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas
  • 1878: The part of the tribe that followed Chief Joseph was sent to Indian Territory in Oklahoma
  • 1885: Chief Joseph and his followers were sent to the Colville Reservation in Washington
  • 1904: Chief Joseph died at the Colville Reservation

Brief History

The first reported contact with non-Indians occurred in 1805 when the Lewis and Clark Expedition explored the area. The Nez Perce Indians, also known as the Nimi'ipuu, have been known by other names, as well. Lewis and Clark called them the Chopuunish, and later writers called them the Sahaptin.

Interaction with missionaries began in 1836 when a Presbyterian mission was extablished by Henry Harmon Spalding and his wife, Eliza. Father Joseph Cataldo was the first Catholic missionary, and the St. Joseph Catholic mission was established in 1874.

By a Treaty of 1855, the tribe was confined to a reservation in the Wallowa Valley in Oregon and a large area of central Idaho. On March 6, 1856 the Nez Perce tribe furnished horses to the Oregon Mounted Volunteers. The tribe was later reimbursed in a treaty signed June 9, 1863.

When the federal government wanted to further confine the tribe to the Idaho portion of the reservation in 1877, Chief Joseph and his followers who did not want to be restricted to the new boundaries of the reservation, resisted in what became known as the Nez Perce War. As a result of their defeat in this resistance, Chief Joseph led his followers on a march to try to reach Canada, but was stopped about 40 miles short of his goal, surrounded by U.S. soldiers, and forced to surrender in October of 1877. Their flight had taken several months of evading a pursuing army and had covered approximately 1700 miles. Chief Joseph and his followers were sent to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas and thence to the Ponca Reservation in Indian Territory. In 1885, they were allowed to return to the Pacific Northwest, but were confined to the Colville Reservation in Washington.

The remainder of the Nez Perce who had not resisted being restricted to a smaller reservation, remained at the Nez Perce Reservation in north-central Idaho.

The Nez Perce now reside mostly on the reservation near Lapwai, Idaho, with a few descendants of the tribe, principally Chief Joseph's Band, still residing on the Colville Reservation and with the Coeur d'Alene Indians in northern Idaho.


The principal reservation for the Nez Perce Indians is the Nez Perce Reservation in central Idaho. Small groups of Nez Perce also live on the Colville Reservation in northeastern Washington and on with the Coeur d'Alene Indians in northern Idaho.

Additional References to the History of the Tribe

Tribal Headquarters

Nez Perce Reservation
Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee
Charles H. Hayes, Chairperson
P.O. Box 305
Lapwai, ID 83540
Tel# (208) 843-2253, Fax# 843-7354


Most of the original records created by agents of the Bureau of Indian Affairs remain in the Agency Office in Lapwai, Idaho. However, some have been transferred to the National Archives in Washington, DC or to the Regional Archives of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in Seattle, Washington. These include census records, land records, school records, etc.  For a more complete description of the agency records pertaining to the Nez Perce Indians, see:

Nez Perce Agency, 1902-1933
Colville Agency, 1879-present (Chief Joseph's Band and their descendants)
Northern Idaho Agency, 1875-present
Ponca and Quapaw Agencies in Oklahoma, 1878-1879 (Chief Joseph's Band)
Fort Lapwai Agency

Church Records

Two churches were particularly active among the Nez Perce. The earliest missionary effort among the tribe was established in 1836 by the Presbyterian Church by Henry Harmon Spalding and his wife, Eliza. Records of this effort are included in the holdings of the Presbyterian Historical Society in Philadelphia. A later effort was made by the Catholic Church by Father Joseph Cataldo and was known at the St. Joseph's or Slickpoo Mission. The St. Joseph's Mission records are a part of the holdings of Washington State University in Pullman and of the Pacific Northwest Tribes Mission Collection of the Oregon Province Archives of The Society of Jesus, 1853-1960, housed at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington. Some of the registers are also on microfilm at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. Many of the converts to Catholicism are buried in the Slickpoo Cemetery near St. Joseph's.

Correspondence and Census

Tribe Agency Location of Original Records

Pre-1880 Correspondence

M234 RG 75 Rolls 962

Roll Number





M595 RG 75 Rolls 693

Roll Number




Nez Perce, Joseph's Band Colville Agency, 1865-1952 Seattle - - - Colville Agency Census 574208-215
Nez Perce Winnebago Agency, 1869-1947 Kansas City  - - - -
Nez Perce Northern Idaho Agency, 1875-1952 Seattle - - Rolls 11, 45, 49-56 579712
Nez Perce Ponca and Quapaw Agencies, Oklahoma, 1878-79 - 695-77, 707-713 - Roll 301 -
Nez Perce Fort Lapwai, 1902-33 Washington D.C. - - Rollw 145-48 576834-837


  •  1855  October 17, with the Blackfeet 
  •  1855  June 11, at Camp Stevens in Walla Walla Valley
  •  1863  June 9, at Lapwai Valley in Washington Territory
  •  1868 August 13, at council ground in Lapwai Valley in Washinton Territory

Vital Records

  • Colville Agency, M595, births and deaths 1920-1938, FHL Film: 574215
  • Winnebago Agency, M595, births and deaths 1924-1931, FHL Film: 583126  1925-1932, FHL Film: 583127
  • Quapaw Agency, M595, births and deaths 1924-1932, FHL Film: 581408

Important Web Sites



  • Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives; Record Group 75, Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
  • Hodge, Frederick Webb. Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1906 Available online.
  • Klein, Barry T., ed. Reference Encyclopedia of the American Indian. Nyack, New York: Todd Publications, 2009. 10th ed. WorldCat 317923332; FHL book 970.1 R259e.
  • Malinowski, Sharon and Sheets, Anna, eds. The Gale Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes. Detroit: Gale Publishing, 1998. 4 volumes. Includes: Lists of Federally Recognized Tribes for U.S., Alaska, and Canada – pp. 513-529 Alphabetical Listing of Tribes, with reference to volume and page in this series Map of “Historic Locations of U.S. Native Groups” Map of “Historic Locations of Canadian Native Groups” Map of “Historic Locations of Mexican, Hawaiian and Caribbean Native Groups” Maps of “State and Federally Recognized U.S. Indian Reservations. WorldCat 37475188; FHL book 970.1 G131g.
Vol. 1 -- Northeast, Southeast, Caribbean
Vol. 2 -- Great Basin, Southwest, Middle America
Vol. 3 -- Arctic, Subarctic, Great Plains, Plateau
Vol. 4 -- California, Pacific Northwest, Pacific Islands
  • Sturtevant, William C. Handbook of North American Indians. 20 vols., some not yet published. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1978– .
Volume 1 -- Not yet published
Volume 2 -- Indians in Contemporary Society (pub. 2008) -- WorldCat 234303751
Volume 3 -- Environment, Origins, and Population (pub. 2006) -- WorldCat 255572371
Volume 4 -- History of Indian-White Relations (pub. 1988) -- WorldCat 19331914; FHL book 970.1 H191h v.4.
Volume 5 -- Arctic (pub. 1984) -- WorldCat 299653808; FHL book 970.1 H191h v.5.
Volume 6 -- Subarctic (pub. 1981) -- WorldCat 247493742; FHL book 970.1 H191h v.6.
Volume 7 -- Northwest Coast (pub. 1990) -- WorldCat 247493311
Volume 8 -- California (pub. 1978) -- WorldCat 13240086; FHL book 970.1 H191h v.8.
Volume 9 -- Southwest (pub. 1979) -- WorldCat 26140053; FHL book 970.1 H191h v.9.
Volume 10 -- Southwest (pub. 1983) -- WorldCat 301504096; FHL book 970.1 H191h v.10.
Volume 11 -- Great Basin (pub. 1986) -- WorldCat 256516416; FHL book 970.1 H191h v.11.
Volume 12 -- Plateau (pub. 1998) -- WorldCat 39401371; FHL book 970.1 H191h v.12.
Volume 13 -- Plains, 2 vols. (pub. 2001) -- WorldCat 48209643
Volume 14 -- Southeast (pub. 2004) -- WorldCat 254277176
Volume 15 -- Northwest (pub. 1978) -- WorldCat 356517503; FHL book 970.1 H191h v.15.
Volume 16 -- Not yet published
Volume 17 -- Languages (pub. 1996) -- WorldCat 43957746
Volume 18 -- Not yet published
Volume 19 -- Not yet published
Volume 20 -- Not yet published