Alan Pinkham is a Nez Perce tribal elder. The Nez Perce assisted Lewis & Clark in the fall of 1805, as the expedition stumbled out of the Bitterroot Mountains. The Nez Perce also allowed the expedition into their camp for several weeks in the spring of 1806 and guided them over the snowy Bitterroots. These excerpts are from an interview conducted in 2002.
We talked about the coming of the white man. We knew that they existed. It just surprised us that Lewis and Clark showed up one day in September of 1805. We had a lot of questions about them. They had a peculiarity about them. And they had an ability we didn't have, that is writing. The elders said we needed to understand how they do that.
People don't give us the credit for being progressive and inquisitive, but we were. We had a 2,000 mile radius that we traveled because we wanted to know what was going on.
When Lewis and Clark came out here we picked their brains. Red Bear said when he heard they were here, "I've got to smoke with these people." When you smoke with them, you pick their brains.
We could have been more hostile. We could have wiped them out. But they had some resources that we don't have, so we better treat these guys good. Feed them, take care of the horses, help them make canoes, guide them down the river. We thought we were going to get something back. All they wanted was more, so we gave up more. But we were still treated lousy. We were still dispossessed.
We weren't even considered citizens until 1924. A Nez Perce served in the Spanish American War. One served in the Civil War. We had about fifteen in World War One. My father was one of them . . . The Nez Perce have served in all the wars since the Civil War, and that is because we have a sense of place.
For the last 200 years we somehow survived all of this violence and genocide and pox and measles and the onslaught of the missionaries. We're still here after 200 years. That's the message we would like to convey. And we'll probably be here another 200 years, at the minimum.
What's written in the journals, people accept that as, oh this must be true. It's true to a certain extent, through the angle of American eyes. Looking through Nez Perce eyes, they're missing at least 50% of the story we should be telling.
It's not this intrepid duo of Lewis and Clark conquering the great unknown. We were already here. We accepted them into our neighborhood, into our country, and let them go through our country. That's the way we look at it. We treated these guys good. Why don't we get that in return?