Treaty of 1855

By 1855, the nimíipuu (Nez Perce) had already seen decades of enormous change. From fur traders to minors to missionaries to settlers who seemed more numerous by the day, outsiders had brought in new customs, products, religions, and ideas. The tribes' leaders reasoned that since the steamrolling of their traditional lifestyle seemed inevitable, it would be in their best interest to reason with the Soyapu (white people) on their own terms. The nimíipuu feared that if an agreement with the government was not made, their lands would be taken anyway, and they would get nothing in exchange.

When General Isaac Stevens (who was also the first Governor of Washington State) arrived in 1855, eager to acquire land on which to build a transcontinental railway, the nimíipuu were prepared to set the terms of a fair agreement. The council lasted more than a week and several thousand Indians were present, including almost all of Nez Perce nation, and the Wallawallas, Cayuses, Umatillas, Yakamas, and representatives of several other tribes. Eventually they reached a reluctant treaty. The only land the nimíipuu would have to cede was 7.5 million acres, all of it in border areas. Important ancestral sites were included within the reservation. All traditional nimíipuu hunting, fishing, and gathering activities would also be allowed to continue indefinitely, even outside the boundaries of their new reservation. In exchange for this trade, the US Government agreed to supply the nimíipuu with:

  • two schools (including furniture, books, and stationary)
  • two blacksmith shops
  • a tin shop
  • a gunsmith shop
  • a carpenter shop
  • a wagon and plow shop
  • a sawmill
  • a flour mill
  • 13 people to work at and maintain the abovementioned buildings for 20 years
  • a hospital stocked with medicines and a trained physician
  • $200,000 (almost 6 million dollars in today’s money)
  • Each tribe’s headman/chief would also receive a house and a stipend of $500 a year ($15,000 today) for twenty years.

The idea of most of these provisions was that within 20 years, the tribes would learn the skills necessary to thrive in the new American world while still retaining the most important aspects of their own culture. No whites besides the above-mentioned employees and the Indian Agent would be allowed on the reservation without the consent of the tribal leaders.

The 1855 treaty was an agreement between sovereign nations. Since all 56 Nez Perce bands had input on and signed the resulting treaty, it became their basic document in dealings with the US Government and legally can still be recognized as such today. Never again was a treaty made that all
nimíipuu agreed to.

What happened next?
Aftermath of 1855 treaty.



  • Josephy, Jr., Alvin. The Nez Perce Indians And The Opening Of The Northwest. (pp. 333-338) Complete And Unabridged. Yale University Press. 1965.
  • Josephy, Jr., Alvin. Nez Perce Country. (pp. 7-90) Complete And Unabridged. University of Nebraska Press. 2007.
  • NPS. General Management Plan Nez Perce National Historical Park and Big Hole National Battlefield.(p.7) Department of the Interior. September 1997.
  • U.S. Congress, Senate, Indian Affairs, Laws and Treaties, Vol. 2 (Treaties), compiled and edited by Charles J. Kappler, 58th Congress, 2nd Session, Document No. 319 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1904).

Last updated: April 15, 2023

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