Nez Perce, the Corps of Discovery, and Me: Kamiah

The Nez Perce Tribe of American Indians tell a story about a great monster that devoured all of humanity and then began eating all of the Earth’s animals. Coyote got himself intentionally eaten and once inside the belly of the beast, he produced a set of smuggled knives and cut his way out, thereby killing the creature and freeing the previously consumed animals. Coyote then scattered the monster carcass across the land and the bits of it grew into humans.

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The heart of the monster is in Kamiah Idaho, where it gave birth to the Niimiipu people, whom Lewis and Clark’s translator mistakenly called “Nez Perce”. The translator was mistaken because the Niimiipu did not in fact pierce their noses like the Chinook over towards Oregon, but since that misassociation in 1805, the name has stuck.

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Lewis and Clark camped on the Clearwater River nearby the heart of the monster for a couple of months on their way back east. They called it the long camp in their journals and after last week my wife’s journal would record a similar entry. For her, spending a week nine miles outside Kamiah, a town of 1,200 people, 3 hours from the nearest airport (Spokane), at my parent’s home with all of my siblings, was surely a long camp… despite the fact that we were at a house and not actually camping.

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It is a nice place. Quiet. Small. Picturesque. The town has a main street, a cafe, couple bars, a hardware store, grocery store, a gas station but no stoplights. It once had a thriving lumber mill, which closed, then reopened on a reduced scale. As far as industry or commerce goes, that’s about it.

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The fish and game are abundant and the scenery unspoiled which would make Kamiah a great outdoor tourism destination, were it just a little more accessible. No, were it a LOT more accessible people would likely flock there for hunting trips and other sorts of outdoor recreation.

But for the most part people don’t.grocerystore

Living in Kamiah is a little bit like living in an episode of that old TV show Northern Exposure, just in Idaho not Alaska.

I liked that show.

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