|After experiencing the practical advantages of the new trade goods brought by the soyaapos (white people), by 1811 the Nimíipuu had initially welcomed white fur trades into their villages. These were members of John Jacob Astor's Pacific Fur Company (an American company), under the leadership of Donald McKenzie. The following year a small trading post was built on the Clearwater River, a few miles above the present city of Lewiston. But McKenzie was rather demanding and sought to use the Nimíipuu as laborers and beaver trappers. Tensions soon arose between the fur traders and Nimíipuu, and with the increasing competition from the Canadian Northwest Fur Company and war with Great Britain McKenzie abandoned his trading post. However, the Nimíipuu continued to participate in the trade with the establishment of a Northwest Company trading post on the Columbia River near the mouth of the Walla Walla River. The new post was called Fort Nez Perce (later renamed Fort Walla Walla) and led by the American, Donald McKenzie. But it too was short-lived.
Eagle-feather Staff: the Indian Flag, at the Big Hole Battle Site, 2001
While not directly involved in trapping the beaver, nor becoming active middlemen in the fur trade like other tribes, the Nimíipuu maintained a minimal level of fur trade involvement. For their prized horses and various foods, the Nimíipuu could acquire metal pots and daggers, fire strikers and cloth, muskets and powder, and the highly valued glass beads from the Netherlands. While the effects of the smallpox epidemics and Blackfeet and Shoshone raiding parties were most pronounced, much of the early nineteenth century was marked by material prosperity for the Nimíipuu. The wealth they acquired and their geographic position with the plains helped the Nimíipuu become one of the most powerful and influential tribes in the Plateau.
It was during the early years of the fur trade period that the Nimíipuu had their first glimpse into soyaapo "justice." John Clark, a "hot-headed" American fur trader got into an argument with a group of Nimíipuu and Palouse at the confluence of the Palouse and Snake Rivers. He had his disagreement resolved with the hanging of one of the Indians. The Nimíipuu were horrified, as they had never experienced this form of corporal punishment, nor imposition of injustice. While tensions immediately rose, they quickly settled between the fur traders and Indians. But the memory of this brutal action would soon be relived.
© Nez Perce Tribe 2002
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