The Nez Perce Indians call themselves Nimi'ipuu, or "the People." Early French trappers named the Nimi'ipuu "Nez Perce" for "pierced nose," even though piercing was not part of Nimi'ipuu tradition. In the past, these Native Americans roamed North Central Idaho, Northeastern Oregon, Southeastern Washington, Western Montana, and Wyoming. Today, the Nez Perce Reservation is located in North Central Idaho.
One of the legends of the origins of the Nimi'ipuu tells the story of a giant monster appearing and eating all of the animals except coyote. Coyote asked the monster to swallow him because coyote missed his friends, the animals. After coyote cut out the monster's heart, coyote and all of his friends escaped. To celebrate, coyote cut up the monster into small pieces and threw these pieces into the winds, creating human beings. The Nez Perce Indians were created from the drops of the monster's blood that coyote washed from his hands to commemorate the land where coyote killed the monster.
Horses indigenous to North America became extinct about 8,0000 to 10,000 years ago. When the Spanish brought horses back to the New World, the world of Native Americans changed. By the 1700s, the Nez Perce Indians had mastered horses and horseback riding. Because of horses, the Nez Perce were able to travel farther to hunt. In addition, horses were a sign of wealth among Native Americans.
The Nez Perce had generally good relationships with Europeans and European-Americans. In fact, Nimi'ipuu offered critical assistance to the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1805 and 1806. It was not until the United States government started taking traditional Nez Perce lands that relationships soured.
Nez Perce Indians gave the United States government nearly 13 million acres (about 5.3 million hectares) in 1855 to avoid being forced to a "foreign" reservation, but were able to keep some of their traditional lands. In 1860, a party led by Captain E. D. Pierce discovered gold on the Nez Perce reservation. Rather than help keep the usurpers off of the reservation, the United States government took about 90 percent of these Native Americans’ remaining land in 1863, splitting the Nez Perce Indians into two groups, those who favored the 1863 treaty and those who did not.
The United States government pressured the Nez Perce Indians who did not agree to the 1863 treaty to move to the reservation. Conflicts between these Nimi'ipuu and settlers escalated until the Nez Perce War broke out in 1877. It took the United States three and a half years to defeat the Nez Perce Indians under Chief Joseph.