Part 5 of 18

Part 5, Suspicion

Tsoopnitpeloo Legends

As Told by Otis Halfmoon Of the Nez Perce Tribe


Lewis and Clark left an impact. They gave out their medals, and so forth, and the Nez Perce weren't quite sure what to do with these things. It was a nice gift, and all. But again, too, that's another side of the story people don't really understand. It's that a lot of our tribes have purification ceremonies. They had no idea what these medals were. Maybe they had medicine on 'em. Maybe there was something that was going to destroy our people. Maybe it was something that was going to bring bad luck to our people. We had to purify those items that they gave to us. That was our way. We had to purify 'em, clean 'em. There might be bad medicine on 'em. And so they did those ceremonies, to smudge 'em, to clean 'em, to take away whatever evil might be on there. Now these things–Lewis and Clark had no idea that tribes were doin' 'em.

In 1806, on the return journey, they came back up again. And they ran into many of the Nez Perce that they met before. It was a very interesting times, because, I know one thing the Nez Perce remember, was their like of dogs. They loved to eat dogs. The Nez Perce, we don't eat dogs. And they wanted the dogs, and they traded all kinds of things for these creatures. And the Nez Perce kind of made fun of them in a way. In fact, you read in the diaries, where one of the Nez Perce warriors came over and threw a puppy at . . . I believe it was Clark.1 And Clark threw it back, and threatened the warrior. Said I'll kill you if you do it again. But the Nez Perce, that's how they saw it. It was humorous, to see these people eating the dogs. 'Cause they gave 'em camas, they gave 'em some dried salmon, and here it got 'em sick. Some of our best foods we gave 'em, and here they got sick, and was throwin' up. A lot of 'em were just laid out completely flat. And boy, the Nez Perce had a fun time with that . . . with these creatures.

There was another name that came up, too, that I forgot to mention. We hear it every so often with the old Nez Perce. It was that name we called 'em. It was Pai-yo-it. And that means "something that smells." Consider, when Lewis and Clark and their crew came out of the mountains they hadn't had a bath for I don't know how long. They probably did smell pretty bad. So they called them Pai-yo-it. You don't hear that name very much any more.

1. It was Lewis. May 5, 1806: "While at dinner an indian fellow very impertinently threw a half Starved puppy nearly into the plate of Capt. Lewis by way of derision for our eating dogs and laughed very heartily at his own impertinence; Capt Lewis was So provoked at the insolence that he cought the puppy and threw it with great violence at him and Struck him in the breast and face, Seazed his tomahawk, and Shewed him by Sign that if he repeeted his insolence that he would tomahawk him. The fellow withdrew apparently much mortified and we continued our Dinner without further Molestation." –Ed.