Hetty Dutra is no ordinary 71 year old. This summer the adventurous
golden age Californian is riding the entire Nez Perce
Trail solo with just her two horses for company. For the second
I felt disconnected
from mind and body. I needed to go back to nature to find
myself ... because every seven years youre
a new person your cells change - you have to renegotiate
She set off on her second epic adventure from Wallowa Lake on
the 31st of May, 2014 with little fanfare. She expects to average
around 13 miles a day. If all goes to plan she will complete the
1,170 mile trail in early September. She intends to go past the
official end of the trail at Bear Paw, Montana, and follow the route
of the handful of Nez Perce who managed to slip away and cross the
Canadian Boarder before Chief Josephs famous surrender.
As most of you know, but a large portion of Americans do not,
what is now the Nez Perce National Historic Trail is the flight
path taken by the Joseph band of Nez Perce starting at Wallowa,
Oregon and ending near Chinook, Montana. The trail traverses through
portions of the U.S. states of Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming and Montana
and connects 38 separate historical sites that commemorate significant
events that took place as the Nez Perce tried to escape capture
by the U.S. Cavalry.
Her mounts are two 12-year old geldings, Shaggy, a quarter horse,
and Cheetah, an Appaloosa. Her trip is funded mostly by donations
so she was limited in her selection of mounts, and has chosen these
two for conformational correctness. She says shell only know
if they have that key ingredient, heart, a few weeks
into the ride.
Inspired by the historical riders of 1877, she is not carrying
any feed, letting her horses get all their nutrition from grazing
periodically throughout the day. With just two orange plastic pack
panniers, she has only the basics with her a water purifier,
propane stove, tent, sleeping bag, freeze-dried food, extra set
of barium reinforced horse-shoes and a satellite attachment for
her iPhone from which she is sporadically blogging.
Dutra grew up on a cattle ranch in California, and has ridden
since she could walk. In her everyday life she is a divinity scholar
and owner of a large equestrian facility outside Berkley, California.
When I spoke to her on the morning of her departure, she reflected
on her experience riding the trail 20 years ago at the age of 50,
as well as looking forward to her immanent ride.
What has called her on this soul searching quest
on the Nez Perce trail, not once, but twice? She set out on her
first ride in 1994 after life had thrown her a rack of curve-balls
in a 60 day period her mother died , she got divorced, her
bishop declined to ordain her and she turned 50.
I felt disconnected from mind and body, she said.
I needed to go back to nature to find myself.
Her experience on the trail 20 years ago, which included dreams
and visions, totally transformed her and connected her
with her authentic self. Last year, at the age of 70, she
looked in the mirror and felt disconnected from the old lady
standing there and felt it was time to do it again, because
every seven years youre a new person your cells
change - you have to renegotiate it feels like it worked
did she choose the Nez Perce Trail in particular? For her, the Nez
Perce trail is a site of trauma, which resonates with her own personal
trauma. Like many other, less-adventurous tourists, she is primarily
attracted to the tragedy of the Nez Perce flight. She is not working
with any contemporary Native people, although she sought the blessing
of the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee and Horace Axtell at
Nez Perce for her 1994 ride.
She calls her ride a pilgrimage, but a pilgrimage to what? To
seek personal wellbeing by paralleling her personal trauma with
the trauma of the flight, and overcoming both her personal trauma
and the challenge of the trail day by day, one hoof beat at a time.
Dutra is by no means the only equestrian to feel the draw of
this trail. 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of American Appaloosa
Horse Clubs annual Chief Joseph Ride.
As readers of this journal well know, the Nez Perce are widely
credited with the creation of this unique spotted American horse
breed. Each year around 200 appaloosa horse enthusiasts ride 1/13th
of the Nez Perce trail, covering the whole thing in 13 years at
a very recreational pace. This ride dwells less on trauma and is
more of a celebration of the Appaloosas heritage. This ride is fully
organized by the American Appaloosa Horse Club, and anyone with
a registered appaloosa can apply to join the fun. This has caused
some minor controversy as several Nez Perce decedents feel that
the horse registration criteria misses the point and their own heritage
and blood should qualify them for the ride on any horse. Alongside
the mostly Soyapoo trail enthusiasts, each year the Nez Perce tribe
of Idaho sends a handful of Native youth to experience their equestrian
heritage on the AphC ride. The Umatilla equivalent to this is the
recently instigated annual ride from the UIR reservation to the
Tamkaliks Pow Wow Grounds in the Joseph homelands of Wallowa.
While most people find the story of the Nez Perce trail moving
and some, like Hetty report that riding it is a spiritual experience,
the trail is a fundamental part of the identity of the Nez Perce
and their decedents throughout the northwest. While Hettys
is an extreme case, the trail means many things to many people.
And you dont need a string of horses to explore it. A complete
self-driving auto-tour, including maps and an accompanying book
is available, and you can comfortably drive routes paralleling the
trail all the way from Wallowa, though Yellowstone, to Montana.
You can follow Hettys trip on her blog at www.nezpercetrailride.com
Information about the trial and historical sites, including
maps can be found at http://www.fs.usda.gov/main/npnht/home
Roisen Seifert is a Ph.D candidate from Ireland studying Platuea
horse culture on the Umatilla and Nez Perce Reservations.