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  • Writer's pictureNotes From The Frontier

Ancient Nez Perce Art Still Flourishes

Updated: May 4, 2023

Beadwork and horse regalia are glorious art forms for the Nimiipuu

The Nez Perce tribe of Oregon, Washington and Idaho is known for their illustrious leader, Chief Joseph (his Nez Perce name, Hinmatóowyalahtq̓it meant “Thunder Rolling Down the Mountain”), and their amazing spotted horses, Appaloosas. But they are also a complicated and industrious tribe known for their inventiveness and magnificent beaded artwork. That artwork manifested itself not only in their clothing, moccasins, tipis, blankets, and household gear, but also especially in the decoration of their prized horses.

The gear they created for their horses included bridles, rein decorations, native saddles, saddles ornaments, banners and blankets, martingales (chest straps), head gear and head bonnets, stirrup covers, and saddle bags. The Nez Perce created most of these pieces from cured hides, that were then dyed, embroidered, decorated with drawings, or decorated with beads made from a wide variety of materials, natural and also traded beads. Natural materials included shells, bones, pebbles, claws, nuts, seeds, porcupine quills, horns, pieces of metal, bird talons, sometimes even animals heads or animal fetuses (these especially for bags called parfleches). The Nez Perce were also known for their fine basket weaving from grasses and organic materials and sometimes incorporated this artform in their horse regalia as well.

The Nez Perce were especially renowned for their beautiful and extremely colorful designs, that could be geometric, floral, or narrative images, usually of animals, hunting or war exploits.

The artform still flourishes today among the Nez Perce and are worn as magnificent regalia at powwows, weddings, parades, reenactment events, for movie scenes, and for other special occasions. Many antique and contemporary examples of Nez Perce work are also exhibited at art galleries, fine arts museums, the Smithsonian, and numerous Native American museums.

You may find this related post interesting:

-Amazing Native Bead Artist, Angela Swedburg

"Ancient Nez Perce Art Still Flourishes" was first published on Facebook and on April 9, 2020

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Deborah Hufford

Author, Notes from the Frontier

Deborah Hufford is an award-winning author and magazine editor with a passion for history. Her popular blog with 100,000+ readers has led to an upcoming novel! Growing up as an Iowa farmgirl, rodeo queen and voracious reader, her love of land, lore and literature fired her writing muse. With a Bachelor's in English and Master's in Journalism from the University of Iowa, she taught students of Iowa's Writer's Workshop, then at Northwestern University, Marquette and Mount Mary. Her extensive publishing career began at Better Homes & Gardens, includes credits in New York Times Magazine, New York Times, Connoisseur, many other titles, and serving as publisher of The Writer's Handbook


Deeply devoted to social justice, especially for veterans, women, and Native Americans, she has served on boards and donated her fundraising skills to Chief Joseph Foundation, Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW), Homeless Veterans Initiative, Humane Society, and other nonprofits.  


Deborah's soon-to-be released historical novel, BLOOD TO RUBIES weaves indigenous and pioneer history, strong women and clashing worlds into a sweeping saga praised by NYT bestselling authors as "crushing," "rhapsodic," "gritty," and "sensuous." Purchase BLOOD TO RUBIES online beginning June 9. Connect with Deborah on, Facebook, and Instagram.

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