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[photo] Images of Nez Perce National Historical Park
Photos from National Park Service digital archives

The Nez Perce National Historical Park contains 38 sites, mostly in Idaho, encompassing the valleys, prairies, mountains and plateaus of the inland northwest that have been home to the Nez Perce people for thousands of years. Lewis and Clark established extremely friendly relations with the Nez Perce Indians beginning in September 1805 on their westward journey. The Nez Perce, superior horse breeders who are credited with developing the Appaloosa breed of horses, had never seen a white man until the explorers, near starvation, stumbled out of the Bitterroot Mountains and camped with the Indians at Weippe Prairie. The Nez Perce graciously welcomed the Corps of Discovery, giving them supplies and information about the river route to the Pacific Ocean. Refreshed and prepared to continue onward, the explorers entrusted their horses to the Nez Perce until their return.

Site of the Corps of Discovery's Long Camp
National Park Service photo, courtesy of Nez Perce National Historical Park

In early May 1806, the Corps of Discovery reunited with the friendly Nez Perce Indians. The explorers had hurried from the Pacific coast in the hopes of crossing the Bitterroot Mountains over the Lolo Trail early. Lewis and Clark were disappointed to learn that the snow was too deep in the mountains and they would not be able to proceed on for at least three or four weeks. On May 14, the Corps set up camp nearly opposite the present-day town of Kamiah, Idaho. This camp has become known by many names: Long Camp, due to the almost one month stay; Camp Chopunnish, a name Lewis and Clark used for the Nez Perce; and Camp Kamiah, based on the camp's location. During their stay Clark became the Nez Perce's "favorite phisician" and spent much of his time tending patients. He treated chiefs, braves, women and children for ulcers, rheumatism, sore eyes and weak limbs and Clark dressed wounds, drained abscesses and distributed salves, laxatives and eyewash. The Corps also participated in much revelry with the Indians. Clark recounted this merriment in his journal, "in the evening several foot races were run by the men of our party and the Indians; after which our party devided and played at prisoners base untill night. after dark the fiddle was played and the party amused themselves in dancing" (DeVoto 1997, 400). The rest and relaxation ended on June 10 when the Corps of Discovery broke camp to continue on. The Corps:

. . . rose early this morning and had all the horses collected except one of Whitehouses horses which could not be found, an Indian promised to find the horse and bring him on to us at the quawmash fields at which place we intend to delay a fiew days for the laying in some meat by which time we calculate that the Snows will have melted more off the mountains and the grass raised to a sufficient hight for our horses to live. we packed up and Set out at 11 A M we set out with the party each man being well mounted and a light load on a 2d horse, besides which we have several supernumary horses in case of accident or the want of provisions, we therefore feel ourselves perfectly equiped for the Mountains . . . (DeVoto 1997, 401)

The explorers traveled approximately eight miles northeastward to the southern portion of the Weippe Prairie, near the spot where they first met the Nez Perce a year earlier. Finally, on June 15, the Corps set out over the Lolo Trail on their journey home.

The Nez Perce National Historical Park, administered by the National Park Service, has two main Visitor Centers, one at Park Headquarters in Spalding, Idaho, 11 miles east of Lewiston and the other at Big Hole National Battlefield, 10 miles west of Wisdom, Montana. The Visitor Center at Spalding, Idaho is open in the winter months from 8:00am to 4:30pm and until 5:30pm in the summer. The Visitor Center at Big Hole National Battlefield near Wisdom, Montana is open in the winter from 9:00am to 5:00pm and in the summer from 8:30am to 6:00pm. Please call 208-843-2261, or visit the park's website for further information.

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