Wetxuuwíitin’ formerly the Spalding-Allen Collection (Nez Perce)

Wetxuuwíitin’ formerly the Spalding-Allen Collection (Nez Perce)

Created by the hands of our Nimiipuu ancestors. Collected and given away by a missionary. Rediscovered decades later, the fight began to reclaim these treasured items back. And now, we welcome them home.

Between 1841 and 1846, Henry Spalding acquired Nez Perce [Nimiipuu] clothing, artifacts, and horse gear which he shipped to his friend and supporter, Dr. Dudley Allen, in Ohio. In exchange for these Native American goods, Dr. Allen, a benefactor to the Presbyterian mission sent needed commodities to Spalding. After Allen’s death, his son, Dudley, donated the Spalding-Allen Collection to Oberlin College in 1893. Oberlin College, in turn, loaned most, but not all, of the collection to the Ohio Historical Society (OHS) for safe keeping, where it languished for decades. In 1976, curators at Nez Perce National Historic Park (NEPE) rediscovered the collection. After negotiations, OHS loaned most of the Spalding-Allen artifacts to the National Park Service in 1980 on renewable one-year loans. However, in 1993 OHS abruptly demanded the return of the collection. In negotiations with OHS, the National Park Service learned that OHS would sell the collection, but only at its full appraised value of $608,100, with a six-month deadline to provide the money. The Nez Perce Tribe raised the money within six months with help from thousands of donors and purchased the collection where it is now on loan to NPS.

In June 2021, the Nez Perce Tribe renamed the collection Wetxuuwíitin’ meaning “returned after period of captivity.” According to Nakia Williamson-Cloud, "The re-naming of this collection is a significant step to reclaiming ownership of one of the most significant ethnographic collections in existence."

In November 2021, The Ohio History Connection returned the $608,100 the Tribe raised in 1996 to purchase the Collection. At the time, Burt Logan, Ohio History Connection Executive Director and CEO said "[...]we diligently sought to learn as much as possible, and to process what this means to our organization. If the Wetxuuwíitin Collection was in the possession of the Ohio History Connection today, we would freely return these items to their rightful home."

Josiah Pinkham on the journey of the Wetxuuwíitin’ Collection and Nez Perce collections away from home:


"Because I think about the journey of the Spalding-Allen Collection and how, you know, Spalding collected them and then he packed them in these barrels or crates. And they were taken by horseback down to I think Walla Walla. And then they were taken by horse and buggy on farther down. And then they were put on boats that went all the way down into Ohio. And they’re almost kind of like dormant for you know, many years, for decades. And then all of a sudden they’re back on the scene. And then they’re returned home on temporary loan, or permanent loan, and then the Nez Perce acquired them. And that really, like I said, in a backhanded way, adds to the value of them. Because you know that they survived that tremendous journey. 

And that provides a note of reassurance for the present Nez Perce that you’re very resilient in what you can overcome. Look at the journey of your material culture and how it went to this far off place and then it came home. Things are always coming home, always coming home. And you count on that as a coping mechanism in some way. And it’s my hope that these things that are in, like there are some Martingales over in Stuttgart, in Germany. There are objects in the British Museum. You know, those things are lying dormant. And they’re probably sitting in, you know, the stacks. And they’re not being seen. They’re not being shown. People aren’t learning about them to the extent that they could. It’s my hope that one day that those things will come back home and you know, again be reunited with their kinfolk that really appreciate the spirit of that expedition. And you know, it’s just a pretty powerful thought to know that those things are out there, that there’s potential for us to see them."


Items in Collection: 
Photograph of Rev. Henry Harmon Spalding
Washington State University, Manuscripts Archives and Special Collections
Nimíipuu [Nez Perce]
Artistry and Artifacts, Religion
Returned after period of captivity