Camas Prairie History

A grassy meadow with a few shrubs on a cloudy day.
Thw vast expanse of the Camas Prairie. Tolo lake is in the background. The view is looking north toward the Clearwater River valley.

Nez Perce National Historical Park

The rolling hills and plains of the Camas Prairie mark the heart of the Nez Perce Indian Reservation. 150 years ago, this treeless landscape saw a great deal of activity. In the spring, when the weather warmed up, nimí·pu· or Nez Perce families and bands moved from the river bottoms to the Camas Prairie. The Prairie was rich in resources - grasslands provided forage for horse herds and camas bulbs could be picked in patches all over the prairie.

Tolo Lake, at the south end of the prairie, was a well known gathering place and it was here that the nimí·pu· bands from the Wallowa Country in northeastern Oregon gathered in June, 1877 after being ordered to leave their homes. The subsequent violence that took place in the Salmon River and at White Bird would ignite the Nez Perce War of 1877.

With the passage of the Allotment Act by Congress in the 1880s, the amount of land on the Camas Prairie held by nimí·pu· families would shrink. In an attempt to reform the way reservations were managed, the Allotment Act provided for 160 acres to nimí·pu· heads of households. It was assumed this would provide the basic land base needed to start a family farm. Land that was not allotted to individual families was then open to general settlement. As a result, much of the land was converted to agriculture. Camas can be found in isolate patches but it's mostly gone.

Last updated: February 10, 2018

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Mailing Address:

Nez Perce National Historical Park
39063 US Hwy 95

Lapwai, ID 83540-9715


(208) 843-7009

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