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Theme—The Nez Perce National Historical Park encompasses great stretches of primitive country which was the scene of significant events on the Rocky Mountain frontier. The Historic theme at Nez Perce National Historical Park is complex, not commemorating a person, a period in our brief history, or the success of a battle, but rather, the year-in, year-out struggle of an Indian tribe against the elements and the encroachment of a conflicting culture of a young, vigorous, expanding nation hungering for land and natural resources.

Essentially, the Nez Perce story can be classified into two major themes of the National Survey of Historic Sites and Building List. The first theme, XV, "West ward Expansion", (sub-theme "Military—Indian Affairs") will present the Nez Perce after the missionary story, and the military campaign known as the Nez Perce War of 1877. The second theme, XVI, "Indigenous People and Cultures", will explain the structure, customs, and traditions of the Nez Perce Tribe prior to the first contact. Additional sub-themes are to be found under XV, "West Expansion and are identified as: "The Fur Trade", the "Farmer's Frontier", and the "Mining Frontier" with the "Lewis and Clark Expedition" a closely related sub-theme of XI, "National Surveys".

Inventory of Historical Resources. (click on image for an enlargement in a new window)

Principal Details—Archeological evidence shows that man has inhabited this country for at least 10,000 years. Whether or not the Nez Perce Tribe, which belongs to the Sahaptin family, evolved from these first inhabitants or migrated into the area at a much later time is not yet known. When Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark arrived in this area in 1805, they found the Nez Perces to be a handsome, intelligent group that treated the whites with generous hospitality. By then, the Nez Perces were accomplished horsemen, skilled hunters and fishermen, and proud tribesmen of the plateau.

Soon after the expedition of Lewis and Clark, a party of the Overland Astorians under Robert McLellan passed through the Nez Perce Country in 1811. The next year, Donald MacKenzie established a short-lived fur trading post at the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater Rivers. For 30 years the fur traders, both British and American, explored this country and came to know and appreciate the Nez Perce people. The missionaries arrived as early as 1836, and such men as Henry Spalding and Asa Smith left their imprint.

Beginning with the first probings into the Pacific Northwest by white settlers, the Nez Perce encountered Indian agents and signed the increasingly restrictive treaties. They saw their land ripped open by gold miners in the 1860's and towns spring up in the virgin and tradition-laden land where they fished, hunted, and gathered wild food. The problems caused by the two conflicting cultures erupted in an Indian War in 1877. Out of this came the withdrawal of the hostile Nez Perces from their homeland and their epic retreat of 1,700 miles.

Since that conflict, the country has witnessed the peaceful evolution of the administration of Indian affairs; the growth of great industries such as lumbering, and the efforts, both successful and not, of Indians and whites to live side by side. The country's history has run the gamut of Western expansion and development. Its history is an epitome of the history of the West and of the Nation, both in epic events and in small but enlightening episodes.

Physical Remains—Nez Perce National Historical Park will consist of 24 parcels of land in the State of Idaho. The National Park Service will own four sites and the remaining 20 will be left in the hands of the current owners. These areas, administered by the Service, are on the major routes of access to the Nez Perce country and are the scenes of significant historical events. The first four described below are owned by the Park Service.

(1) Spalding Site

Named after the famous Nez Perce missionary Henry Harmon Spalding, the village of Spalding is about 10 miles east of Lewiston at the junction of the Clearwater River and the Lapwai Creek. This area has the largest concentration of sites in the park, including:

Nez Perce Community: In the journals of Lewis and Clark, there is a reference and map indicating that a camp of three lodges was located just below (West of) the mouth of Lapwai Creek on the left bank of Clearwater River. Today there is no evidence of the camp site. Because of frequent flooding and the subsequent damage, an archeological investigation may reveal little. The trees in the area now are cottonwoods and not the willows mentioned by Lewis and Clark.

Henry Spalding Mission Site of 1838-1847: This mission site at the mouth of the Lapwai Creek has been identified and marked by the State of Idaho. A trench, reputed to be the mill race and two chimneys are the only physical remains. The State filled the area with 1-1/2 feet of topsoil and planted many specimen trees which are found in midwest deciduous forests. The fill and trees do not present the correct historical scene. The actual location of the mission and its related structures is not known, but photographs of the mission and research should locate the actual site.

The site of the Henry Harmon Spalding Mission and Home of 1838-47.

"Lyon's Folly": A 30- by 50-foot uncompleted stone church is alleged to be in the vicinity. There is no evidence of the structure today.

Lapwai Indian Agency: Near the mission was the site of the Indian Agency before it was moved up Lapwai Creek to Fort Lapwai. There is no evidence of the agency today.

Nez Perce Indian Cemetery: This cemetery contains many graves and headstones of both European-American settlers and Indians. The graves of Rev. Henry Spalding and his first wife, Eliza; Mary M. Crawford and John B. Monteith are here.

Frame House: Of board and batten construction, this house was removed from an earlier location and is supposedly the house in which Spalding died, the McBeths' residence during the 1877 War, and the only remaining structure from the Indian Agency. This building is in very poor condition with one wall and part of the roof removed and is temporarily located directly across from the Watson's Store.

Watson's Store: A typical general store circa 1910-1915 which served the Indians for nearly 50 years still has some of the stock displayed on the shelves and a large wood burning stove in the middle of the floor. At the present time, it serves as park headquarters.

Historical Base Map—Spalding. (click on image for an enlargement in a new window)

(2) East Kamiah Site

This area located 58 miles southeast of Spalding, between U.S. Highway 12 and the Clearwater River, has two significant sites:

Heart of the Monster: The "heart" is a small, dark, rocky hump protruding from the level valley to a height of 50 or 60 feet which, according to Nez Perce mythology, is the heart of the monster Iltswowich. On a nearby mountain are located the "ribs" and, to the west of the "heart," a small mound known as the "liver."

The McBeth House: In a group of five small houses, close to the highway, is a frame house reputed to be the home of the missionary McBeth. The house is of board and batten construction, unpainted, with the remains of a fireplace and chimney at the northwest exterior. The house is currently occupied by a family of Nez Perces.

Historical Base Map—East Kamiah. (click on image for an enlargement in a new window)

(3) White Bird Battlefield

This is a large area on the north slope of White Bird Canyon, generally called White Bird Hill, west of White Bird Creek, on U.S. Highway 95, about 88 miles south of Spalding and 3 miles northeast of White Bird, Idaho. Largely open grassland ranging up the slopes of a high ridge, the area still presents a remarkably unaltered scene of the battle site. A research project during the summer of 1966 revealed some 45 to 70 rifle cartridges on the field. Indian burial pits have been located on the site. No evidence of the battle remains.

Historical Base Map—Whitebird. (click on image for an enlargement in a new window)

(4) Lewis and Clark's "Canoe Camp"

Formerly known as "Canoe Camp State Park, Clearwater County, Idaho", this small 3-acre roadside park was the scene of Lewis and Clark's 1805 camp-site. Here the explorers fashioned dugout canoes from logs. A replica of the type of canoe rests under a shingle-roofed, open shelter near the highway. This park was donated to the Service along with Spalding during the summer of 1966.

The remaining sites are to be interpreted under co-operative agreements with the National Park Service. The land is owned by other Federal agencies, state agencies, or in private ownership.

(5) Coyote's Fishnet

According to Nez Perce mythology, the coyote's fishnet was tossed on the south banks of the Clearwater River. It is a geological formation on the bluff visible from the highway pull-off and existing state marker, 6.3 miles east of Lewiston.

(6) Ant and Yellow Jacket

Also a geological formation, this is a rock outcropping at the junction of Highways 95 and 12, 9.1 miles east of Lewiston. A pull-off and interpretive marker has been placed at this site by the State Highway Department.

(7) Henry Spalding Home Site of 1836

The first home site of the Spaldings was about 2 to 2-1/2 miles up the Lapwai Creek near the foot of Thunder Mountain. There is no evidence of the site today, nor has the exact location been determined.

(8) Northern Idaho Agency

Four miles south of Spalding, the agency is still active and maintains a complex of buildings on the site of the former Fort Lapwai. Besides the agency headquarters, there are many residential structures lining the streets.

(9) Fort Lapwai

Located at the site of the present Northern Idaho Indian Agency, three remnants of the Army's occupation are still visible:

The old parade ground, tree-lined and flat; an officer's residence (still in use) with gabled roof and dormered windows, and the stables, which have been extensively remodeled. This fort was the major army post in the Nez Perce country from 1862-1884.

Probable former Fort Lapwai officers' quarters on grounds of Northern Idaho Indian Agency.

(10) William Craig Donation Land Claim

(Along U.S. Highway 95 about 8 miles south of Spalding) The original cabin is no longer standing and the land claim property is divided into numerous privately owned farms. A state marker identifies the land claim and notes William Craig was the first white settler of Idaho.

(11) St. Joseph's Mission

((At Slickpoo, 10.3 miles south of Spalding) The church is a wooden structure, covered by horizontal siding and one story in height. The building has been rehabilitated, but needs some exterior work. This Catholic mission was dedicated in 1874 and sold in 1957 to a private owner.

St. Joseph's Mission Church, Slickpoo, dedicated in 1874.

(12) Weis Rockshelter

((On the west bank of the Graves Creek about 8.05 miles south of Cottonwood.) The rockshelter was a site of human habitation from 5500 B.C. to A.D. 1400. The site has been identified by Idaho State College and archeological investigations conducted during 1961, 1962, and 1963.

Weis Rockshelter.

(13) Site of the Cottonwood Skirmishes

The actual location of the skirmishes is not known, but it has been generally determined that the ambush occurred 2-1/2 miles southeast of Cottonwood. There is a state marker at the site adjacent to U.S. Highway 95.

Cottonwood Skirmishes Site. United States troops took a defensive stand against the Nez Perces on the brushy knoll in the center of the picture.

(14) Camas Prairie

(Southeast of Cottonwood and west of Grangeville) The prairie can best be seen from the newly aligned Highway U.S. 95, where Tolo Lake appears in the midst of the low prairie.

(15) Clearwater Battlefield

(On top of the bluffs and flats across the Clearwater River on Highway 13, 1-1/2 miles south of Stites, Idaho) Remains of Indian stone breastworks are still evident on top of the steep bluffs overlooking the river from which the Indian warriors fired upon General Howard's line on the plateau to the east.

(16) Lolo Trail

A National Historic Landmark, this 150-mile trail runs across the Bitterroot Mountains from Lolo Pass almost to Kamiah. The trail, a traditional Indian route to the Judith Basin buffalo grounds, was the route both west and east of Lewis and Clark and the route of the nontreaty Nez Perce on their retreat from their homeland. Today, it is a dirt road maintained by the U.S. Forest Service.

(17) Lolo Pass

(At the crest of the Bitterroot Mountains on the boundary between Idaho and Montana) Lolo Pass served as a funnel for the traffic on the Lolo Trail. U.S. Highway 12, the Lewis and Clark Highway, goes through the pass, where the U.S. Forest Service maintains a ranger station. The Forest Service is planning a visitor center at the Lolo Pass site, from which they will interpret the nearby national forest, the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and the Lolo Trail. Upon invitation from the Forest Service, introductory exhibits for Nez Perce National Historical Park will be included by the Service. Park Service personnel will not be on duty here.

(18) First Presbyterian Church (Indian)

(Diagonally across the road from the McBeth Home at East Kamiah) The church is a wooden structure built in 1874. In the short steeple in front hangs the first church bell installed in the State of Idaho. The missionaries Susan and Kate McBeth are buried in a cemetery behind the church. Both the church and the cemetery are still in use today.

(19) Asa Smith Mission Site

(An unknown site on the southwest bank of the Clearwater River, possibly one mile or so northwest of the town of Kamiah. Idaho) From 1839 to 1841, Smith and his wife served the Indians and created the first mission and white settler's home on the upper Clearwater.

(20) Lewis and Clark "Long Camp" Site

(On the north bank of the Clearwater River, about 1.5 miles downstream from the highway bridge at Kamiah, Idaho) A large sawmill has obliterated the site no evidence campsite remains.

(21) Weippe Prairie

(On State Route 11) A National Historic Landmark marks the spot where Lewis and Clark met the Nez Perce Indians. Weippe Prairie was a Camas gathering area used by many bands of Indians living in northern Idaho. A large open area still is in evidence, but the encroachments of Weippe are obscuring the open space.

(22) Pierce

(On State Route, 11 about 31 miles from Greer) It was in this town that gold was discovered in 1860 and it became Idaho's first mining "boom town".

Canal Gulch: Gold was discovered on September 30, 1860 by trespassers on the Indian land. The Gulch today still runs through the town and is identified by a State marker.

The Old County Courthouse: A small two-story wooden structure with walls of squared logs covered with board and batten. The courthouse appears to be in a fairly good condition and is presently being cared for by a private owner.

(23) Lewiston Hill

(At the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater Riven) Lewiston was the site of the Astorians fur post in 1812 which was founded by Donald MacKenzie. The post failed, but for the next 30 years, British and American trappers ran their lines and traded with the Nez Perce Indians. There are now two State markers on Lewiston Hill which discuss the fur trade and Lewiston's origins.

(24) Musselshell Prairie

(Ten miles east of Weippe) This is the site of the active gathering spot of the wild Camas. Not on a major highway and remote, Indians from all of northern Idaho come here to collect this traditional Indian food. The U.S. Forest Service has indicated they will protect the area by obtaining the land and will provide interpretation based upon a proposed research program.


At the present time about half of the sites to be included in the park possess dramatic and impressive integrity. Other sites have been severely damaged by commercial or residential developments, but could be restored to something like their historical appearance by the acquisition of scenic easements. At least four sites have been so severely damaged by highways, dam construction, or lumber mills that their integrity must be considered as forever impaired. All sites will need continuous scenic protection to preserve them for the future.

Below the themes are listed the specific sites, to show the integrity of each individual site in relation to the interpretive value and to the theme under which it has been placed. The following key indicates the assessed value of each site:

**** -Outstanding
*** -High Value
** -Low Value
* -No Value

The Nez Perce Culture, which included mythology, history, and prehistory of the Nez Perce Tribe:

****East Kamiah
***Coyote's Fishnet
***Ant & Yellow Jacket
**Weis Rockshelter
***Lolo Trail
***Musselshell Prairie
***Camas Prairie
***No. Idaho Indian Agency
***White Bird

The Lewis and Clark Story, as related to the journey of the expedition through Nez Perce country:

**Long Camp
***Canoe Camp
**East Kamiah
****Weippe Prairie
***Lolo Pass and Lolo Trail

The Missionary Story in Nez Perce country:

***East Kamiah
***St. Joseph Mission
***First Presbyterian Church (Indian)
*Asa Smith Mission
*Spalding Home (1836)

The Nez Perce, War of 1877:

****White Bird Battlefield
**Fort Lapwai
**Cottonwood Skirmishes
***Clearwater Battlefield
***Lolo Pass and Lolo Trail

The Fur Trade in Nez Perce country:

*Lewiston Hill

Gold Mining in Nez Perce country:

**Canal Gulch

The Logging in Nez Perce country:


Agriculture in Nez Perce country:

**Craig Land Donation Land Claim

Each site is related to at least one and in many cases more than one theme, such as the Spalding site, which has five themes. At the four sites administered by the National Park Service, the following themes can be identified:

The Spalding site
The Nez Perce Culture
Lewis and Clark
The Missionary Story
The War of 1877
The Logging Story

The East Kamiah site
The Nez Perce Culture
Lewis and Clark
The Missionary Story

The White Bird Battlefield
The Nez Perce Culture
The War of 1877

The Lewis and Clark Canoe Camp
Lewis and Clark

Each one of the sites plays an important part in the total interpretive presentation and has value even in cases where the integrity may be minimal or entirely lacking.


Legal: On May 15, 1965, the Senate and House passed Public Law 89-19; 79 Stat. 110, an act to authorize the creation of Nez Perce National Historical Park, Idaho.

Under the provisions of P.L 89-19, the purchase of land is limited to 1,500 acres of land in fee and 1,500 acres in scenic easements. The Nez Perce Tribe may sell, donate, or exchange tribal-owned lands held in trust with the Secretary of the Interior's approval to further the purpose of P.L. 89-19. Other sites in Federal ownership may be included in the park with the agencies retaining their administrative responsibility or they may transfer their responsibility to the Service in an amount not to exceed 1,500 acres. Indian trust land may be included in the park with the concurrence of the beneficial owner.

Cost limitations of $630,000 for land acquisition and easement and $1,337,000 for construction, restoration, and other improvements are included in the act.

Another factor which would affect development was the Governor's request that the Service continue the public use of the Spalding site in the same manner as the State regarding picnicking. This request was orally agreed to by the Service prior to the actual transfer of the State lands to the National Park Service.

The type of jurisdiction at the four sites owned by the National Park Service will be proprietary. The remaining sites not under Service ownership will not be under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service.

Terrain: Topography at the White Bird Battlefield site will limit the location of facilities.

The river bottom land in the Spalding area is subject to periodic flooding and swamping.

Soils: Soils are mostly thin residual soils covering, a very thick basaltic layer.

Land Status: The federally owned lands within the Nez Perce National Historical Park are administered by the National Park Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the United States Forest Service. The State and County Highway Departments maintain right-of-ways at the majority of the sites, other than the four Service areas, and have already placed markers and pull-offs at these areas. Privately owned land at Spalding and East Kamiah is developed, while the land at White Bird Battlefield is still used for agriculture. The land ownership shown below indicates land within the suggested boundaries of the four proposed areas under Service ownership as of January 1, 1967. The acreage figures are approximate, pending the Office of Land and Water Rights completed survey of all of the areas:

Church Land04000
Indian Trust Land27
Total Acres**1601211,9753
**Fee land:
   Limitation—1,500 acres
   Proposed land acquisition—1,459 acres

   Limitation—1,500 acres
   Proposed land acquisition—790 acres

Climate: The Nez Perce Country has a moderate climate. Only rarely do temperature extremes typical of many inland areas of the United States occur during either summer or winter months. Lewiston, in fact, is known for its mild winter.

Temperature highs occur in mid- to late-August; the lows in early- to mid-November.

Most precipitation in the area occurs during the winter. Summers are dry, with clear, almost cloudless days.


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Last Updated: 10-May-2007