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Purple camas plants business women harvest

Early Nez Perce Business Women

The Nez Perce business women did profitable business.

As I researched for my Call of the Rockies series, I had the pleasure of diving deep into the culture of the Nez Perce tribe. I found it interesting that one of the primary food sources of The People (as they called themselves) was camas roots.

But what really drew my notice was how the women would cultivate entire fields of camas root, store what they needed for their family through the winter, then use the extras for bartering. Some savvy women would become quite wealthy from their business dealings.

Nez Perce woman named I-ah-to-tonah (or Little Woman Mountain) and her son, ca. 1909. She might have acquired many of these possessions through the trade of camas route.

Business Women Traded In Camas Plants

The bulbs of the camas plant are full of calories and nutrients. Each fall, Nez Perce families traveled to their particular camas meadow. These sections of land held camas rights probably passed down from generation to generation within their family. Many of these meadows were located near present-day Weippe, Moscow or Grangeville. In these regions, the onion-shaped bulbs grew thickly.

Women used pointed wooden tools to harvest the bulbs. They could often gather over 50 pounds a day. Such a harvest satisfied their full winter’s supply within just a few days.

Native American peoples who ate camas include the Nez Perce (Nimíipuu), Cree, Coast Salish, Kalapuya, and Blackfoot, and Yakama, among many others. Not all of these people groups harvested camas themselves. Instead, many relied on trade in order to procure it. Trade networks were established all the way from the Rockies to the Pacific Ocean, and a shrewd businesswoman who tended her camas meadows well could provide everything her family needed and more!

Edible Camas Plant. Photo courtesy of Walter Siegmund (public domain)

Author Bio:

Misty M. Beller is a USA Today bestselling author of romantic mountain stories, set on the 1800s frontier and woven with the truth of God’s love. Her Call of the Rockies series follows a band of brothers along the path taken by the Lewis and Clark expedition—an epic journey through breathless landscapes and adventure so intense, lives will never be the same.

For a limited time, you can get one of Misty’s bestselling novels free here:


Meet PeggySue

We’ve heard of soccer moms and stage mothers. I’m a writer who trailers my kids and horses across the nation. My Apple computer, fondly christened MacBeth, is the essential I bring along.