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An American Indian tribe of the Pacific Northwest, the Nez Perce came to Oklahoma as prisoners of war in 1878. More than one hundred died in Indian Territory before the tribe returned to its homeland in 1885. At the end of the twentieth century the Nez Perce composed the memberships of the Nez Perce Tribe of Idaho and the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, Washington, both of which are federally recognized.

When the Nez Perce under Chief Joseph surrendered to Brig. Gen. Nelson A. Miles at Bear Paw Mountain, Montana, in October 1877, their settlement on Idaho's Lapwai Reservation had been guaranteed. However, Miles's superiors broke that promise and exiled the tribe to Indian Territory. Thus began their Trail of Tears, first to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where they spent winter 1877, and then to the Quapaw Reservation in northeastern Indian Territory (present Ottawa County). Sickness and lack of supplies decreased their number from 410 to 391. In October 1878 better land was selected for them near the confluence of the Chikaskia and Salt Fork rivers in present Kay County.

Chief Joseph visited the Office of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C., in January 1879 and proposed to surrender all Nez Perce claims in the Northwest in exchange for land in Indian Territory and a $250,000 bonus. That summer 370 Nez Perce arrived at the Oakland Agency near present Tonkawa. During their six years there, they were appropriated $100,000 in government assistance.

Despite droughts, disease, and theft the Nez Perce farmed, sold lumber, leased ranchland, developed schools, pursued Christianity, and built homes. Nevertheless, their population dwindled. Finally, through the efforts of eastern advocates and the publication of their plight, the Nez Perce in July 1884 received word that they could go home. Those not under indictment returned to Lapwai. The rest, including Chief Joseph, went to the Colville Reservation in Washington. Two hundred sixty-eight Nez Perce left Indian Territory in May 1885. Their reservation was soon occupied by the Tonkawa and Lipan Apache.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Grant Foreman, The Last Trek of the Indians: An Account of the Removal of the Indians from North of the Ohio River (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1946). Velma Nieberding, "The Nez Perce in the Quapaw Agency, 1878-1879," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 44 (Spring 1966). Alan Osborne, "The Exile of the Nez Perce in Indian Territory, 1878-1885," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 56 (Winter 1978-79). Muriel H. Wright, A Guide to the Indian Tribes of Oklahoma (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1951).

Ingrid P. Westmoreland

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