Hearts Through History Romance Writers

Nez Perce Indians and Pregnancy

by | January 24, 2010 | 21 comments

I’m working on the second book of a trilogy set among the Nez Perce Indians of Idaho, NE Oregon, and SE Washington. In this book the heroine is pregnant, so I’ve been spending hours reading books about the Nez Perce customs and social living aspects to learn all I can about pregnancy and child birth.

The Nez Perce women had specific jobs. They gathered roots, berries and herbs as well as the firewood. It was their job to keep the fire going all night during the winter months. They were the cooks, the ones who dried and stored the meat, fish, berries and roots. Tanned the hides, made the clothing, wove baskets and constructed the dwellings. They did everything needed to sustain a family other than hunt, prepare weapons, and fight. If need be, they could hunt for smaller animals, fight, and take care of weapons though it was not one of their jobs.

During battles women provided fresh horses, food, and water for the warriors, tended the wounded, warned others of danger, directed children and the old people where to hide and how to leave when their encampments were attacked. If a husband was shot they could pick up his gun and fight. They also cooked and gathered wood during attacks, keeping the children, old people, and warriors fed during the attacks and battles.

Pregnant women still did most of the chores right up until the moment they started labor. Some would have miscarriages from long periods of riding horses in the last months of pregnancy. Usually during campaigns of fighting.

If a woman was pregnant they believed their man would have bad luck hunting. She was also not allowed to see any part of a kill—blood, skinning. They feared her child would be born deformed. They also didn’t touch, view, or ridicule any deformed animals or humans, fearing it would cause their child the same misfortune. They didn’t tie knots or do things symbolic of obstructing the birth.

A wide strip of buckskin was tied around their bellies. This was believed to protect the child. After the birth, this strip was burned or buried, giving the child a healthy, strong body. They did everything to keep the baby safe. The Nez Perce wanted to build a large strong tribe.

When a woman started labor she was isolated in a small dwelling with either an older family member or a mid-wife. If there were complications the Ti-wet (medicine man) was called in. The dwelling had a hole dug in the middle of the structure. The blood and after birth were put in this hole and buried. The umbilical cord was kept in a small leather pouch attached to the cradleboard. It is believed to be bad luck to destroy such an intimate part of the baby.

The cradle board is made by a relative. The baby is transported and tended in the board until he is ready to walk. Children were breast fed for several years. This was one of their ways to contribute to birth control. Other ways were with herbs.

This is just a minuscule picture of what I’ve learned and hope to incorporate into my paranormal historical book.

Sources: Nez Perce Women in Transition, 1877-1990- Caroline James; Nee Me Poo – Allen P. Slickpoo Sr. and Deward E. Walker Jr.
Photos: First Americans

Paty Jager


  1. Beth Trissel

    Fascinating Paty. Amazing too. What a lot of research you've done.

  2. Redameter

    ed by the town bully and she seeks an abortion during the time right after the civil war. I did a lot of major research to this book and it will be on sale some time this year.
    And it is fitting to say that the Indians had herbs that were taken to abort the child. They knew all about the herbs that would cause this. So it is safe to say some took them. My books is Jodi's Journey.
    I'd love to read yours too. Let me know when you are done. Mine will be out with Whimsical Publications this year. Jodi's Journey.

    It is fascinating research.
    Love and blessings
    Rita Hestand

  3. D'Ann

    That's a lot of research packed into a small amount of space! I coached 4-H horsebowl for a long time, 15 yrs, and we did a lot of studying about the Nez Perce and appaloosa horses!

  4. Paisley Kirkpatrick

    Very interesting piece of history. I guess we have life too simple these days and it doesn't hurt to learn how easy it is every now and then.

  5. Mona Risk

    This is all so interesting. Great research. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Margaret Tanner

    Wow Paty,
    That was so interesting. I wanted to find out more. Thanks for posting it.


  7. Paty Jager

    Hi Beth, Yes, I tend to over research!

  8. Paty Jager

    Hi Rita, Your book sounds interesting as well. My first book in this series will be out later this year. I'm still waiting for a release date. In the first book the heroine boils dogwood to keep from getting with child. It is also set among the Nez Perce.

  9. Paty Jager

    D'Ann, We have much in common! I was a 4-H leader for 20 years and I worked as a 4-H program assistant for 10 years.

  10. Paty Jager

    True, Paisley.

  11. Paty Jager

    You're welcome, Mona and Margaret.

  12. M. M. Justus

    Fascinating stuff. I'm looking forward to reading your book when it comes out (esp. as the Nez Perce are minor characters in the book I'm attempting to sell right now).

  13. P.L. Parker

    Itneresting stuff. Paty, have you ever visited the Indian Cultural Center at Pendleton? Not Nez Perce but a great place to gather information.

  14. Kathy Otten


    Fascinating research. Sounds like material for several books. Though I don't usually read paranormal, I'll be interested in this one, just to see how you weave all this info into the story. I also saw Miner in Petticoats at number 9 I think it was on Sony ebooks, historical romance last week.

  15. Skhye

    Great post. Love the name Slickpoo! I so think they had something brilliant going in keeping their babies out of the fire and from swallowing everything with the papoose board! We would get charged with child abuse trying that. Anyway, thanks for sharing.

  16. Paty Jager

    M.M., Thanks! I'm waiting for a release date for the first one.

    P.L.- I visited the Pendleton Cultural center when it first opened. I'm trying not work in a trip to the Nez Perce museum in Lapwai, ID soon. And I've visited the Warm Springs Museum an hour away from my home a couple times.

    Kathy, I'm not a fan(no buddy shoot me) of paranormal in general, but I have a hero who is an Indian spirit so it puts my book into the paranormal category even though I consider it historical. And Wow! I never look at the stats any where so thanks for letting me know about Miner in Petticoats.

    Skhye, I agree, that ws a great way to keep children out of trouble when you are a busy mother with so many task to accomplish in a day.

  17. Toni V.S.

    Paty, I'm wondering: did it say why a pregnant woman would think her husband would have bad luck hunting? It would seem to me that it would be the opposite. Now that he'd proven he was able to continue his line, his hunting prowess would increase and he would be expected to be a better hunter.

  18. Paty Jager

    They believed when a woman was menstruating or pregnant they held greater power because they were fertile and that zapped their husband's power.

    Menstruating women stayed in a dwelling, built just for that purpose and giving birth, during their period. They were not allowed to leave the dwelling until they were through bleeding. The buffalo hair pads they used during that time were also thrown into the hole that the afterbirth was thrown in and buried.

  19. Linda LaRoque

    What an interesting post, Paty. I too have visited the cultural center in Pendleton. I think research is one of the most exciting things about writing. I'm always amazed at how much our ancestors knew about herbs and medicines.

  20. Paty Jager

    Linda, I think it's interesting as well how our ancestors figured out what plants worked for what.

  21. librarypat

    Interesting. As usual the women carried the bulk of the work in maintaining the families and tribe. They had to be able to do just about everything. Good research on an interesting topic.



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