The Nez Perce

The Nez Perce have their own opinion of creation. They believed that a long time ago there was a greedy monster, which ate everything that was in his way. Coyote believed that he had to rescue the other animals that the monster had taken. After a long time of thinking, he finally thought of one. He put his bone in his mouth and tied the end a grapevine around a rock and the other end around his waist. He let the monster come and eat him; when the monster ate the coyote he broke the vine. Once coyote was inside the monster, he took the bone from inside his mouth and stabbed the monster right in the heart. Instantly the monster died. Coyote and all the other animals escaped through the open mouth. The coyote had killed the monster, but now the problem was what were they going to do with it. The fox suggested that they could cut the monster up into pieces and use it for something they needed. Coyote knew he would need help with that task so he asked the Great Spirit. He cut up the monster and threw the pieces over the mountains. Wherever a piece landed, the Great Spirit turned it into a new tribe of humans. When all the pieces were scattered there were no people where the coyote and the fox were. There were only drops of blood, which were left from the monster. The Great Spirit turned the drops of blood into humans that called themselves the Chopunish or the Nimipu. Those names meant the real people.

I n the 1600's French Canadian fur trappers were the first men to meet the Chopunnish. Yhe trappers called the Chopunnish Nez Perce, which means pierced nose. Years later American trappers used the same name but pronounced it nest purse.

The tribe was divided into seventy small bands. One village had several houses along a stream. Twenty families often lived in one longhouse. Each family cooked in a separate fire. Near the stream, there were lodges with a sweathouse that was used for daily baths. Hot stones were put into the hut and the people had to sit on them and sweat. When they finished doing that they jumped into a cold stream and washed.

Three or four ederly men formed a council. The chief was the man that was most respected. The men hunted deer, elk, moose, bear and antelope.

I n 1877 the government made all the Nez Perce move into reservations.

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Class 6-105