Older than the recorded history of the West, Kamiah was the winter home of the Nez Perce Indians. It was here they came to fish for steelhead, a staple in their diet, and to manufacture “Kamia” ropes, hence the name Kamiah, meaning the place of “many rope litters”.
Lewis and Clark camped for several weeks during the early spring of 1806 in the Kamiah Valley waiting for the snow to melt before they could continue their journey east. The valley is rich in the heritage and legends of the Nez Perce and it was here, among the ancestors of the present day Nez Perce, that the Appaloosa horse was first bred, primarily for use as a war animal.
Lewis & Clark Meet the Nez Perce
The homeland of the Nez Perce Tribe was located in present north central Idaho. They spent their lives roaming the grassy plateaus, hunting, fishing, gathering berries and herbs. They migrated across the Bitterroot Mountains to eastern Montana to hunt buffalo, but when winter came they returned to their lodges in the sheltered valleys. One of those winter home sites is now known as the Kamiah Valley.
The first white men known to the Nez Perce were Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. The Lewis and Clark Corp of Discovery waited with the Nez Perce in the Kamiah Valley almost a month in the spring of 1806 for the snow to melt so they could cross the Bitterroot Mountains on their return to the East. Their campsite was located on the present site of the lumber mill across the Clearwater River from the present townsite.
Of the Nez Perce William Clark wrote “These people has shewn much greater acts of hospitality then we have witnessed from any nation or tribe since we have passed the rocky mountains.”
It was here that one of his men brought Lewis a black and white bird highlighted with a red face and light breast which Lewis named in his own honor, the Lewis Woodpecker.
A short distance up the Clearwater, in East Kamiah, stands the original home of Sue McBeth, a Nez Perce missionary of the early 1800’s. It is located across the highway from the First Presbyterian Indian church, longest in continuous service in the State of Idaho. Here also is the Nez Perce Historical Park Site, “The Heart of the Monster” which is an important legend in Nez Perce Indian lore.
Elk, deer, bear, game birds, wild turkeys, steelhead and Rainbow trout, bass, kokanee, snowmobiling, 4-wheeling and skiing are nearby for the hunter, fisherman and those who enjoy the great outdoors.
Osprey soar and swoop over the Clearwater River from their nests high on the great yellow pine. Bald Eagles wait on the winter ice flows to snag a steelhead for dinner. Many small birds flit through the riverside greenery and high in the surrounding mountains. Birders delight in a visit here. In a recent May excursion, 56 species were sited on a one-day bird count in the Clearwater River area.
Check Lewis and Clark NW for further information on Lewis and Clark.