The Nez Perce National Historic Park is not your father’s traditional National Park site. The park consists of 38 sites located in four states— Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington. The Nez Perce Tribe, along with their Tribal partners, work to preserve these sites themselves, which hold ten thousand years of Nez Perce culture and history. Let’s take a brief look at some of the amazing sites available to visitors.
Idaho: The Confluence Overlook site, located on the Highway 95 Corridor, is the spot where Donald MacKenzie established a trading post near the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater Rivers in September of 1812. He hoped to trade with the Nez Perce, but they weren’t interested in the fur trade. Coyote’s Fishnet, located seven miles east of Lewiston on Highway 12, is where an important Nez Perce legend took place. Coyote and Black Bear got into an argument. Frustrated, Coyote threw his fishing net onto one hill and tossed Black Bear onto another, turning him into stone. Both of these features are still visible today. The Camas Prairie, about six miles south of Grangeville, is a beautiful field of wheat which was once all camas bulbs, a major staple for the Nez Perce. The bulbs still grow here (in smaller numbers), and are gathered in late summer and early fall by the tribe.
Oregon: Located in Hell’s Canyon National Recreation Area, Dug Bar is a part of the Nez Perce National Historic Park, a crossing at the Snake River where the Wallowa bands traversed in May of 1877, leaving their homes in Oregon for the reservation in Idaho. Old Chief Joseph’s gravesite, located just north of Wallowa Lake on the west side of Oregon Higway 82, is where the remains of the elder Chief Joseph were reburied in 1926. The Lostine Campsite, at the junction of the Wallowa and Lostine Rivers, is where Old Chief Joseph died in 1871, and is a traditional Nez Perce summer campsite.
Washington: Buffalo Eddy, located 20 miles south of Lewiston, Idaho, along the Snake River on County Road 209, shows the long history of the Nez Perce occupation with a series of unique petroglyphs.
Montana: Big Hole National Battlefield, located ten miles west of Wisdom on Highway 43, is the site where Colonel John Gibbon attacked a Nez Perce encampment on the morning of August 9, 1877, and killed between 60 and 90 men, women and children. Canyon Creek, located off of US Highway 310 in Laurel, is where the Nez Perce had been pursued by Colonel Samuel Sturgi’s Seventh Cavalry after coming out of what today is what today is Yellowstone National Park. The Nez Perce pulled a rearguard action on September 13, 1877, and were able to gain time by stopping his troops.
The natural resources of the park are, of course, diverse. With the park sites scattered over four states, there is a wide variety of flora and fauna to see. The park falls into three ecoregions, sagebrush steppe of the Columbia and Snake River plateaus, shortgrass prairies of the Palouse Grasslands and Missouri Basin, and the conifer/alpine meadows of the Blue Mountains, Salmon River Mountains, and the ranges and basins of southwestern Montana, as well as the northern Rocky Mountains of Idaho and Montana.
For more information on visiting the park, visit nps.gov/nepe