By Nancy Bonvillain
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Extra resources for The Nez Perce (The History & Culture of Native Americans)
Communal hunts in search of deer and elk also took place in early spring, sometimes even using snowshoes when the snow was still deep. Soon, fishermen sought the first salmon as the fish began their spawning runs on the Snake and Columbia rivers. Crucial to the spring cycle were the rituals performed to welcome the arrival of the first roots and the first salmon in the Nez Perce environment. The ceremonies were led by specialists who recited prayers in honor of the plants and fish upon which the people depended for their survival.
Horses revolutionized Nez Perce economies and ways of living in several respects. People on horseback were able to expand their resource base, traveling far distances to areas abundant in roots and other plants and to follow animals that they hunted. People could also use horses to carry back plants that they gathered or the hides and meat of animals that they killed. Horses Introduced to North America through Spanish colonization, the horse changed traditional Native American economies and traditions.
Grave goods were symbolic of the roles and interests of the deceased. For example, men might be buried with their fishing or hunting gear or with weapons of war, while women were buried with their cooking baskets, utensils, and beaded bags. Horses owned by the deceased might be sacrificed at the site of the grave. Indeed, Clark reported observing that 28 horses were sacrificed during the death rituals for a wife of one of the Nez Perce leaders whom he met on his expedition. The tutelary spirits that a person had acquired during his or her lifetime departed at death.