In 1805, Lewis and Clark named them “Nez Perce”, which literally means “pierced nose”, except this tribe didn’t perform nose piercings – that was the Chinook tribe. The tribe’s name was actually “Nimi’puu” (Nee-Me-Poo) and meant “the people” or “we the people”. This tribe was indigenous to a vast area of land (17 million acres) which covered present day Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana. Rather than being one distinct tribe, this group actually consisted of various bands with somewhat different languages, managing to live together peacefully – the tribes (Shoshonis, Bannack and Blackfoot) to the south were not quite so friendly, however.
The Nez Perce acquired horses sometime in the mid-1700’s, becoming expert horseman, and by the nineteenth century were the largest owner of horses in North America. They were a nomadic tribe, moving with the seasons to fish, hunt and gather – salmon, deer, elk, berries, pine nuts, sunflower seeds, wild potatoes and carrots.