The Nez Perce

Chief Joseph

“Tell General Howard I know his Heart. What He told me before I have in my heart. I am tired of fighting. Our chiefs are killed. Looking Glass is dead. Toohoolhoolzote is dead. The old men are all dead. It is the young men who say yes or no. He who led on the young men is dead. It is cold and we have no blankets. The little children are freezing to death. My people, some of them have run away to the hills, and have no blankets, no food; no one knows where they are — perhaps freezing to death. I want to have time to look for my children and see how many of them I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my chiefs! I am tired; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever.”

Those were the famous words spoken by Heinmot Tooyalaket — Chief Joseph — at his tribe’s surrender at Bears Paw Battle, October 5, 1877. (Translated by Lieutenant Charles Erskine Scott Wood).

The Nez Perce name was given to the tribe by an interpreter with the 1805 Lewis and Clark expedition. This name was interpreted by French Canadians as meaning “Pierced Nose” – but this was not a common cultural practice within the tribe.

The Nez Perce call themselves Nimi’ipuu, which means the “real people” or “we the people.”

The Nimi’ipuu lived in bands, and each band had its own territory and smaller sub-bands. The Nimi’ipuu traveled across Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. Their territory was was about 17 million acres or about 70 thousand square kilometers (27 thousand square miles). Today, the Nez Perce Reservation is located in North Central Idaho.