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Detail of Plateau Bag (NMNH catalog no. E204234)

Executive Summary

Assessment of a Lineal Descendant Request for the Repatriation of Human Remains from the Big Hole Battle of the Nez Perce War at the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution

Region: Plateau
Associated Cultures: Colville, Nez Perce, Umatilla

In compliance with the National Museum of the American Indian Act (20 U.S.C. Section 80q), this report provides an assessment of the identity of human remains (Smithsonian catalog number P243672) identified as Nez Perce in the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH). Initial documentation of these remains was undertaken in 1994, in response to a request from the Nez Perce Tribe for the return of all culturally affiliated human remains and funerary objects, and a report was completed in 1996 titled Inventory and Assessment of Human Remains Identified as Nez Perce in the National Museum of Natural History . The 1996 report recommended that the remains be repatriated, but did not identify the remains as a named individual.

The present report was initiated in response to a lineal descendant request from a lineal descendant of Pahkatos Owyeen (Five Wounds), a warrior killed in the Battle of the Big Hole in August 1877, during the Nez Perce War. This lineal descendant requested the repatriation of the remains of this individual, whom she believes to be Pahkatos Owyeen (Five Wounds). The 1996 report suggested the possibility that the remains of one individual held at the NMNH from the Big Hole Battlefield were those of Pahkatos Owyeen (Five Wounds), but concluded there was insufficient evidence to support the identification. Given the large volume of historical material relating to the Battle of the Big Hole, the Repatriation Office agreed to investigate this matter further.

This individual was identified as having come from the Battle of the Big Hole of the Nez Perce War, which took place in Wisdom, Montana. This battle occurred on August 9 and 10, 1877. No funerary objects are present at the NMNH. The cranium and mandible of this individual were sent to the Army Medical Museum (AMM) on August 18, 1882 by Acting Assistant Army Surgeon David S. Snively, from Fort Ellis, Montana Territory, five years after the battle. The remains were later transferred to the Smithsonian in May 1898, as part of a large donation of skeletal remains from the AMM (Smithsonian accession number 33553). In his transmittal letter, Dr. Snively identified this individual as a "Nez Perce medicine man."

Based on the historical information available, this individual has been found to be culturally affiliated with the Nez Perce. A reevaluation of the physical remains found that this individual was between 45 and 55 years old or older at the time of his death. Despite comparisons of information about the physical remains, archival information and published historical sources, it is still not possible to firmly establish his identity. This report was able to further identify a list of possible names, but a preponderance of evidence is lacking to support a specific identification. The remains cannot be confidently identified as Pahkatos Owyeen (Five Wounds), and therefore cannot be repatriated directly to the claimant as a lineal descendant.

In concurrence with the 1996 report (Molloy et al. 1996), it was recommended that the remains of this Nez Perce individual be jointly offered for repatriation to the Nez Perce Tribe and the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, since descendants of the Nez Perce who participated in the 1877 war are represented by both of these federally recognized tribes.

Repatriation Update
Based on a decision by both culturally affiliated tribes, the one individual from the Big Hole Battle of the Nez Perce War were repatriated to lineal descendants of Pahkatos Owyeen On December 19, 2005.

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