Nez Percé Indians, a tribe of the Shahaptian division of the Shapwailutan linguistic group. The name Nez Percé, meaning “pierced nose,” was applied to them by the French. (There is no evidence, however, that they ever practiced nose piercing.) They call themselves Nimipu, meaning “the people.”

In early times, the Nez Percé lived in central Idaho and adjacent parts of Oregon and Washington. They were originally salmon fishermen, but after acquiring horses they hunted buffalo on the Plains. They developed the Appaloosa breed of horse. In the early 19th century, the Nez Percé were visited by Lewis and Clark. At that time, they numbered about 6,000.

In treaties of 1855 and 1863, the Nez Percé ceded much of their land to the federal government, but a band headed by Chief Joseph refused to agree to cession of the Wallowa valley in Oregon. Eventually trouble flared with homesteading settlers, and troops were sent to remove the Indians. The Nez Percé War followed. After several encounters, the Indians were forced to retreat. For four months in 1877, Chief Joseph led about 800 Nez Percé, including some 500 women and children, for 1,700 miles (2,700 km) from eastern Oregon to northern Montana, trying to escape to Canada. The Indians outfought the army in several skirmishes along the way but, outnumbered two to one, were finally surrounded by troops led by Colonel Nelson A. Miles near the Canadian border. Chief Joseph surrendered to Miles and General O. O. Howard. He and his followers were sent first to Kansas and then to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma), where many died in the unfamiliar environment. In 1885 the survivors were settled on the Colville Reservation in Washington. (Those who had agreed to the treaty cessions had earlier been settled on the Lapwai Reservation in Idaho.)

There are presently about 2,000 Nez Percé; most live on the Lapwai Reservation, a few hundred on the Colville Reservation. The Nez Percé tribe helps to monitor Idaho's wolf-recovery program.