The Nez Perce Indians first came into the American consciousness when they saved Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery from failure—and probable death. They fed the straggling Corps on the way to the Pacific—and outfitted and guided them on the return trip. Lewis and Clark estimated about 6000-7000 tribal members.
Most people today learn about the “people”—the Nimipu, when they come on the War of 1877 in a history book or a novel, or in a class at one of the Service academies. The Nez Perce’s 1200+ mile fighting retreat, which began when Chief Joseph led his band across the Snake River and towards a diminished reservation in Idaho, has been studied for lessons in guerilla—or “asymmetrical”—warfare, by US troops at West Point and Colorado Springs for decades.
There are now some 3,000—5,000 Nez Perce scattered on three reservations: the Nez Perce Reservation in Idaho; the Colville Reservation in Washington; and the Umatilla Reservation in Oregon. The language is being revived; the fisheries program is working to restore salmon and lamprey runs; and many of the people are returning to the Wallowa Country at every opportunity, gathering roots in the spring, singing and dancing at Tamkaliks in July,