During their return trip from the Pacific Ocean, members of the Lewis and Clark expedition spent nearly a month rejuvenating themselves among the Nez Perce Tribe. That time will be commemorated starting Wednesday at the Summer of Peace, one of the last remaining national signature events in honor of the bicentennial of the expedition.
The gathering will run through Saturday at various locations in and near this northern Idaho community, and could draw some 50,000 visitors. Most of the area's 1,000 hotel rooms are booked.
"It was a time of peace and friendships and they played old Nez Perce tribal games," said Farren Penney, a Nez Perce. "We want to recreate that same kind of friendship within cultures."
Many Indian tribes ultimately regretted the aid they gave the explorers, because it cleared the way for settlers to move in and displace them. For that reason, the Nez Perce do not consider this a celebration, Penney said. "It's a commemoration," she said.
The area around Lewiston and its neighboring city of Clarkston, Wash., both named for the explorers, played a major role in the expedition, as Lewis and Clark passed through twice.
When the expedition first stumbled out of the Bitterroot Mountains in 1805, after crossing along the Lolo Trail blazed by the Nez Perce, many of the men of the tribe were away on a raid. But the Nez Perce were not frightened of the white men and gave them buffalo meat, dried salmon, and camas bread. The Indians also told Clark about the route ahead.
Expedition members stayed with the Nez Perce for several days, making canoes. The captains traded for horses, which they temporarily left in the Indians' care.
On their way back to St. Louis in May 1806, the corps returned to the lodges of the Nez Perce for their horses and to prepare to cross the mountains. The corps stayed near the Nez Perce from May to June, waiting for the snow to melt in the mountains. The two groups met frequently. In exchange for food, Clark treated the Indians' illnesses and diseases and became, as Lewis wrote, their "favorite physician."
Opening ceremonies were set for Wednesday at the Nez Perce National Historical Park Visitor Center in nearby Spalding, Idaho. There's plenty to see and hear.
Tribal members will speak about issues such as language preservation, keeping culture alive, tribal legends and traditional fishing. "Surviving Lewis and Clark: The Nimiipuu Story" will be shown at a film festival. A two-day healing conference, led by Indian and non-Indian facilitators, will discuss reconciliation between cultures.
Visitors can also talk to members of the 4,000-person tribe about the legacy of the Lewis and Clark expedition in the "Tent of Many Voices."
Two Lewis and Clark re-enactor groups will be on the Lewis-Clark State College campus. The two groups will have a full Lewis and Clark encampment, with accurately detailed tents, weapons, trade goods and gear.