Men hunted elk, deer, bear, beaver, game birds and other animals. Different plants were gathered through the seasons. Roots, such as kouse, camas, bitterroot, and wild carrot, were an important food source. These root foods were boiled and baked and some dried and stored for the winter.
The Nez Perce and other tribes picked and ate many kinds of wild berries —strawberries, blueberries, wild grapes, huckleberries, serviceberries, currants, cranberries, and many more. Researchers have found there were 36 different kinds of fruit that Indians dried to eat in the winter.
Nevertheless, many of the traditional foods are still considered important to the Nez Perce People. For example, salmon, elk, and deer are still being hunted and used for food. The integration of nontraditional foods into their diet has lead to health problems such as diabetes and heart disease.
Historically, in late May and early June, the rivers filled with eels, steelhead, and chinook salmon. The aboriginal Nez Perce villagers crowded to communal fishing sites to trap the fish, or haul in fish with large dip nets. Salmon have long been an important part of Nez Perce culture.
The Nez Perce wore clothing made from animal skins. The women wore long dresses that were sometimes decorated with fringes and beads. The men wore shirts, breechcloths, and leggings. They made thick robes to wear during the cold months of winter.
Men hunted elk, deer, bear, beaver, game birds and other animals. Different plants were gathered through the seasons. Roots, such as kouse, camas, bitterroot, and wild carrot, were an important food source.
The Nez Perce lived in the heart of salmon country – along the Salmon, Snake, Grande Ronde, Imnaha, Clearwater and Tucannon rivers; which historically were major salmon and steelhead producers.
The Nez Perce and other tribes called their beautiful portable homes “tipis.” You will often see the word spelled tepees or teepees, but the correct spelling is tipi. It means “living place.” Tipis were made from buffalo skins held up by poles.
The religion and beliefs of the Nez Perce tribe was based on Animism 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.
They also had special drinks now and then. For example, honey or maple syrup was mixed with water to make a punch, and leaves were used to flavor other drinks. The dried leaves of snowberry, wintergreen, and spruce and twigs of raspberry, chokecherry, and wild cherry were dropped into boiling water to make teas.
Chief Joseph (1840-1904) was a leader of the Wallowa band of the Nez Perce Tribe, who became famous in 1877 for leading his people on an epic flight across the Rocky Mountains. It was Joseph who finally surrendered the decimated band to federal troops near the Canadian border in Montana.
The Nez Perce tribe was historically nomadic, traveling with the seasons from buffalo hunting in the Great Plains to salmon fishing at Celilo Falls. 17 million acres in what is now Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Montana made up the tribe’s homeland.
Today, the Nez Perce Tribe is a federally recognized tribal nation with more than 3,500 citizens.
A breechcloth is a long rectangular piece of tanned deerskin, cloth, or animal fur. It is worn between the legs and tucked over a belt, so that the flaps fall down in front and behind. In some tribes, the breechcloth loops outside of the belt and then is tucked into the inside, for a more fitted look.
In the winter additional coverings and insulation such as grass were used to help keep the teepee warm. In the center of the teepee, a fire would be built. There was a hole at the top to let out the smoke. The Plains Indians also used buffalo hides for their beds and blankets to keep their homes warm.
Seminole Indians lived in a home called a Chickee. A chickee was a house built on stilts usually about three or four feet above the ground. A chickee was usually about nine feet wide and sixteen feet long, with a wooden platform which served as the floor and a thatched roof.