Native American Photographs by Edward S. Curtis

Nez Perce Indians

Nez Perce Indian Photos by Edward S. Curtis

Tribal Summary

Dress

The Nez Perce costumes of both sexes were of the plains style, with the single exception of the fez-shaped basket-hats of the women. The usual material for clothing was deerskin; but the dresses of women were frequently of mountain-sheep skin, and robes were the skins of buffalo or of elk. Garments were ornamented with dyed porcupine-quills, beads, elk-teeth, shells, and paint. In the time of Lewis and Clark a dentalium shell was worn transversely in the septum of the nose. Men parted the hair in two diverging lines from crown to temples, cut the forelock square and curled it upward by rolling it on a heated stick. Gradually the curling of the bang gave way to the custom of throwing the uncut forelock back upon the head in a kind of pompadour. Women parted the hair in the middle, and braided it at the sides. Tattooing was not practiced.

Dwelling

Houses were mat-covered lodges of the tipi form, or more commonly a development of this type in which the material of several or many of these circular lodges was used to build a long, wedge-shaped communal structure. The menstrual lodge of women was an underground cell, and youths took their sweat-baths, and in winter sometimes slept, in a similar room. In summer, at the fisheries, related families occupied a shed-like structure, open at one side, where were hung the drying fish.

Food

Salmon, split, dried, and stored for winter, formed the principal staple. Sturgeon and lampreys were also common. Mountain game was fairly plentiful, and a portion of the tribe went each year to the buffalo plains. Roots in great abundance, especially camas, kouse, and bitterroot, were dug by the women and prepared in a variety of ways.

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