During our second week, the staff and students of the Cooper’s Ferry field school had the opportunity to tour the Nez Perce National Historical Park, located in Spalding, about fifteen miles outside of Lewiston in Idaho. The students were given a tour of the National Park, which included many activities such as watching a video about the history of the Nez Perce people, atlatl throwing, archery, viewing the archives and collections, and receiving a walking tour of the park.
Upon arrival to the Nez Perce National Historical Park the students were given the opportunity to assemble a tepee. One by one the students all helped to place the canvas cover, the stakes and the door. The students then all gathered inside to experience what the inside of a tepee felt like.
Afterwards, the students were presented a short film that explained the Nez Perce culture, history, and how they have maintained their traditions to this day. Kevin Peters, a National Parks Service Interpretative Specialist and member of the Nez Perce Tribe, and discussed historical photographs of Nez Perce figures and was able to answer questions pertaining to the Nez Perce culture.
After this introduction to the Nez Perce culture, the students were treated to a demonstration of the dart thrower (atlatl (say “at-lat-l”)) and were given the opportunity to use the weapon on a cardboard target of Rocky and Bullwinkle. Of our group, only two were successful in hitting the target. Clearly, throwing the Atlatl takes years of training and precise technique, and had this been a real hunt we would have been pretty hungry.
Next, the students were shown how to string and use a bow and arrow system. Although more familiar to some students than the atlatl, the results were pretty much the same: only a few were able to hit the target. The bow was small and comparable to the same type of bow used traditionally by the Nez Perce peoples.
Once the students had their fill of trying to kill the cardboard animals, they were taken back inside to the museum portion of the park where they were given explanations of cultural materials from the Nez Perce culture. For this part, Diane Mallicken, Nez Perce interpretative specialist explained various materials such as the basket caps woven out of hemp and sometimes cornhusks. These caps were valued by the Nez Perce women as they were worn only by women of influence. The students also heard about the importance of camas root and the Nez Perce harvesting technique, which embraced the sustainable ideal of taking only as much as one needed.
To end the tour, Jason Lyon, a Park Ranger with archaeological experience, took the students to the rest of the park, which extends along the Clearwater River, downhill from the museum. He showed and discussed various archaeological sites, including semi-subterranean house pit depressions. The park is rich with contact and pre-contact period archaeological sites and provides the public with many educational opportunities.
Students of the Cooper’s Ferry field school were given a unique and memorable adventure as well as a very informative and educational experience about the Nez Perce culture. The students were very thankful to receive such a wonderful tour and day of educational activities. Everyone gained invaluable knowledge that they will apply to their work at the Cooper’s Ferry site. Many thanks to the staff of the Nez Perce National Historical Park!