Nez Perce Sign Language materials


Date: 1891-1938 | Size: 1 microfilm_reel(s)


The collection of materials on microfilm, copied from materials of Miss Jean Rumsey, contains seven published works, miscellaneous clippings, photographs, and correspondence of the Crawford sisters. The published works include the history of the Idaho mission, sign language translations by Mr. Levi W. Jonas, Nez Perce superintendent of the Kamiah church, and In-go-nom-pa-shi.

Background note

The Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America sent missionaries to over seventeen different Native American tribes. As members of this missionary group in 1836, Rev. Henry H. Spaulding and his wife, Eliza, established a church in Idaho to serve the Nez Perce Indians. Spaulding developed a written script for the Nez Perce language and translated parts of the Bible for his congregation. The McBeth sisters, Sue and Kate, continued this mission work in Kamiah, Mt. Idaho, and Lapwai from 1873-1915. At that time, Sue McBeth developed a Nez Perce-English dictionary. The sisters were joined by their nieces, Mary and Elizabeth Crawford, and continued ministering to the Nez Perce until the mission closed in 1932.

Scope and content

The detailed finding aid below includes all sections of the reel, in the order found. The first slide of the reel is a contents listing from May 1966.

Native American Images note : Over 1,500 sign language hand symbols of the Nez Perce language with thirty portraits of missionaries and Nez Perce Indians of Idaho from 1891-1938. Illustrations from different published works such as Gospel hymns in the Nez Perce language (1897); The Indian sign language and the invention of Mr. Lewis F. Hadley (Chicago, 1891); and Indian sign talk by In-go-nom-pa-shi. Also, clippings from various Presbyterian publications. Referenced in Freeman's Guide to manuscripts relating to the American Indian (#4588).

Collection Information

Physical description

1 microfilm reel

Processing information

Finding aid created and migrated by Anne Harney, with additions in 2019 by Paul Sutherland. Collection previously titled: "American Indian Sign Language." Changed to updated title in March 2021.

Indexing Terms


  • Negatives
  • Sign language

Personal Name(s)

  • Crawford, Mary
  • In-go-nom-pa-shi
  • Jonas, Levi W.
  • Rumsey, Jane
  • Rumsey, Minnie M.


  • Indians of North America -- Idaho
  • Missionaries.
  • Nez Percé Indians
  • Nez Percé language
  • Plateau Indians
  • Presbyterian Church -- Missions.

Detailed Inventory

 1. Axtell, Juliet L.: Gospel hymns in the Nez Perce language
 2. Axtell, Juliet L.: The Indian sign language and the invention of Mr. Lewis F. Hadley, as applied to the speedy Christian civilization and education of the wild adult Indians
 3. Cooper, Carrie S.: A Missionary Heroine
 4. Newspaper clippings

Includes two pages from the Assembly Herald section "Home Missions" about Dr. Marcus Whitman and Ip-nat-sol-a-talkt, "the only surviving convert of Marcus Whitman", and clippings on the death of Elizabeth Crawford in Idaho.

 5. Crawford, Mary M.: The Nez Perces since Spalding
 6. Ellinwood, F. F., Rev.: Three Heroines of the Nez Perces Mission
 7. Rumsey, Minnie M.: The Lady With the Broken Heart
 8. In-go-nom-pa-shi: Indian Sign Talk, being a book of proofs of the matter printed on equivalent cards designed for teaching Sign Talkign [sic] Indians as much English as can be explained through the medium of their almost universial [sic] gesture language
ca. 1893 
 9. Clippings and photographs

Newspaper clipping discussing the closure of McBeth Mission to the Nez Perces; photographs including Joseph Cook, Thomas Peterson, Harry Muffett (Nez Perce/Niimíipuu), Daniel Scott (Spokane), and Perry Ides[?] (Makah from Neah Bay, Washington); photograph of James Dickson; photograph of ca. 25 Nez Perce church members; other clippings about Native America music and language.

 10. Correspondence of and between Mazie (Mary M.) Crawford and Minnie M. Rumsey