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First Contact:

gather% / fish % / hunt %
fat % / protein % / carb%

A rough estimate to help us understand how carnivorous and how ketogenic these people were before being exposed to western civilization

Click this Slide deck Gallery to see high quality images of the tribe, daily life, diet, hunting and gathering or recipes

About the Tribe

The buffalo meat, however, is the great staple and “staff of life” in this country, and seldom (if ever) fails to afford them an abundant and wholesome means of subsistence. There are, from a fair computation, something like 250,000 Indians in these western regions, who live almost exclusively on the flesh of these animals, through every part of the year. During the summer and fall months they use the meat fresh, and cook it in a great variety of ways, by roasting, broiling, boiling, stewing, smoking, etc.; and by boiling the ribs and joints with the marrow in them, make a delicious soup, which is universally used, and in vast quantities. The Mandans, I find, have no regular or stated times for their meals, but generally eat about twice in the twenty-four hours. The pot is always boiling over the fire, and any one who is hungry (either of the household or from any other part of the village) has a right to order it taken off, and to fall to eating as he pleases. Such is an unvarying custom amongst the North American Indians, and I very much doubt, whether the civilised world have in their institutions any system which can properly be called more humane and charitable. Every many, woman, or child in Indian communities is allowed to enter any one’s lodge, and even that of the chief of the nation, and eat when they are hungry, provided misfortune or necessity has driven them to it. Even so can the poorest and most worthless drone of the nation; if he is too lazy to hunt or to supply himself, he can walk into any lodge, and any one will share with him as long as there is anything to eat. He, however, who thus begs when he is able to hunt, pays dead for his meat, for he is stigmatised with the disgraceful epithet of a poltroon and a beggar.

George Catlin, North American Indians, pg. 137-138 (1880, originally published in 1841)


Importance of Animal Products

Importance of Plants

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Transition to Industrialized Food Products

Aug 5, 1804

Lewis and Clark Journals


Quotes from the Lewis and Clark expedition show how reliant upon meat the explorers were, and would especially look for fattier animals, finding others "very poor, meager, or lean & unfit for to make use of as food." Meanwhile, beaver tail was loved.

Nov 19: Monday — a Cold day the ice continue to run our Perogue of Hunters arrive with 32 Deer, 12 Elk & a Buffalow, all of this meat we had hung up in a Smoke house, a timeley supply. Several Indians here all day. the wind blew hard from the N.W. by W, our men move into their huts, Several little Indian aneckd" [anecdotes] told me to day 20':' 

Nov 20 Tuesday 1804 — Cap Lewis & my Self move into our hut,^ a very hard wind from the W. all the after part of the day a temperate day. Several Indians came Down to Eat fresh meat, three Chiefs from the 2*1 Mandan Village Stay all Day, they are verry Curious in examining our works.

Dec 7, 1804 - Cap Clark Set out with a hunting party Killed 8 Bulfalow & returned next day — a verry cold day wind from the NW. the Big White Grand Chief of the Village, came and informed us that a large Drove of Buffalow was near and his people was wating for us to join them in a chase. Cap Lewis took 15 men & went out joined the Indians, who were at the time he got up, Killing the Buffalow on Horseback with arrows which they done with great dexterity,^ his party killed 10 Buffalow, /x'f of which we got to the fort by the assistance of a horse in addition to what the men Packed on their backs, one cow was killed on the ice after drawing her out of a vacancey in the ice in which She had fallen, and Butchered her at the fort, those we did 

Biddle gives a more detailed account of the Indians' buffalo hunt. Gass says (p. 89) that Lewis took eleven men with him, who killed 11 buffalo, while the Indians killed 30 or 40. — Ed. 

 AT FORT MANDAN not get in was taken by the indians under a Custom which is established amongst them i e. any person seeing a buffalow lying without an arrow Sticking in him, or some particular mark takes possession, many times (as I am told) a hunter who kills many Buffalow in a chase only Gets a part of one, all meat which is left out all night falls to the wolves which are in great numbers, always in the neighborhood of the Buffalows.

13th of January Sunday 1805 -- On a Cold Clear Day, a great number of Indians move down the River to hunt. Those people Kill a Number of Buffalow near their Villages and Save a great proportion of the Meat, their Custom of making this article of life General leaves them more than half of their time without meat.

 Their Corn & Beans & they keep for the Summer, and as a reserve in Case of an attack from the Soues, [of] which they are always in dread and seldom go far to hunt except in large parties, about the Mandans nation passed this today to hunt on of Tribe.

23rd January 1805 Wednesday A Cold Day Snow fell 4 Inches deep, the occurancies of this day is as is common. I went up with one of the men to the villages. They treated us friendly and gave us victuals. After we were done eating they presented a bowlful to a buffaloe head, saying, " eat that."' Their superstitious credulity is so great, that they believe by using the head well, the living buffaloe will come, and that they will get a supply of meat. — Gass (pp. 98, 99).

[Feb. 5 and two frenchmen who together with two others, have established a small hut and resided this winter within the vicinity of Fort Mandane under our protection, visited by many of the natives today, our stock of meat which we had procured in the Months of November & December is now nearly exhausted ; a supply of this articles is at this moment peculiarly interesting as well for our immediate consumption, as that we may have time before the approach of the warm season to prepare the meat for our voyage in the spring of the year. Capt. Clark therefore determined to continue his rout down the river even as far as the River bullet' unless he should find a plenty of game nearer, the men transported their baggage on a couple of small wooden sleighs drawn by themselves, and took with them 3 pack horses which we had agreed should be returned with a load of meat to fort mandane as soon as they could procure it. no buffaloe have made their appearance in our neighbourhood for some weeks {time shorter) ; and I am informed that our Indian neighbours suffer extremely at this moment for the article of flesh. Shields killed two deer this evening, both very lean, one a large buck, he had shed his horns.

Feb 8 - the chief dined with me and left me in the evening, he informed me that his people suffered very much for the article of meat, and that he had not himself tasted any for several days.

Feb 16 — The Buffalow Seen last night proved to be Bulls. lean & unfit for to make use of as food, the Distance from Camp being nearly 60 miles and the packing of meat that distance attended with much difficulty. Determined me to return and hunt the points above, we Set out on our return and halted at an old Indian lodge 40 miles below Fort Mandan, Killed 3 Elk, & 2 Deer. 

Feb 17 — a cold Day wind blew hard from the N.W. J. Fields got one of his ears frosed determined to lay by and hunt to day killed an Elk & 6 deer, all that was fit for use [of] this meat I had Boned and put into a Close pen made of logs.

Feb 22 Capt Lewis returned with 2 Slays loaded with meat, after finding that he could not overtake the Soues War party, (who had in their way distroyed all the meat at one Deposit which I had made & Burnt the Lodges) deturmined to proceed on to the lower Deposit which he found had not been observed by the Soues. He hunted two day Killed 36 Deer & 14 Elk, Several of them so meager, that they were unfit for use, the meat which he killed and that in the lower deposit amounting to about 3000 pounds was brought up on two Slays one Drawn by 16 men had about 2400 pounds on it.

April the 2nd, Friday (Tuesday) 1805 — a cloudy day, rained all the last night we are prepareing to Set out all thing nearly ready. The 2nd Chief of the 2nd Mandan Village took a miff at our not attending to him particularly after being here about ten days and moved back to his village. The Mandans Killed twenty one elk yesterday 15 miles below this, they were So Meager that they [were] Scercely fit for use. 

Biddle describes the manner in which the Indians capture buffaloes which, trying to cross the river, have become isolated on ice-floes. Mackenzie states that the Indians on the Missouri also search eagerly for the carcasses of buffaloes and other drowned animals that float down the river in the spring season ; these, although rotten and of intolerable stench, "are preferred by the Natives to any other kind of food. ... So fond are the Mandans of putrid meat that they bury animals whole in the winter for the consumption of the spring " — Ed.

Thursday April \ith. Set out at an early hour; I proceeded with the party and Capt. Clark with George Drewyer walked on shore in order to procure some fresh meat if possible, we proceeded on about five miles, and halted for breakfast, when Capt. Clark and Drewyer joined us ; the latter had killed, and brought with him a deer, which was at this moment excep[t]able, as we had had no fresh meat for several days, the country from fort Mandan to this place is so constantly hunted by the Mountainaries that there is but little game, we halted at two P.M. and made a comfortable dinner on a venison steak and beaver tails.

Capt. Clark walked on shore this morning, and on his return informed me that he had passed through the timbered bottoms on the N. side of the river, and had extended his walk several miles back on the hills; in the bottom lands he had met with several uninhabited Indian lodges built with the boughs of the Elm, and in the plains he met with the remains of two large encampments of a recent date, which form the appearance of some hoops of small kegs, seen near them we concluded that they must have been the camps of the Assinniboins, as no other nation who visit this part of the missouri ever indulge themselves with spirituous liquor, of this article the Assinniboins are pationately fond, and we are informed that it, forms their principal inducement to furnish the British establishments on the Assinniboin river with the dryed and pounded meat and grease which they do. they also supply those establishments with a small quantity of fur, consisting principally of the large and small wolves and the small fox' skins, these they barter for small kegs of rum which they generally transport to their camps at a distance from the establishments, where they revel with their friends and relations as long as they possess the means of intoxication, their women and children are equally indulged on those occasions and are all seen drunk together, so far is a state of intoxication from being a cause of reproach among them, that with the men, it is a matter of exultation that their skill and industry as hunters has enabled them to get drunk frequently, in their customs, habits and dispositions these people very much resemble the Siouxs from whom thev have descended. The principal inducement with the British fur companies, for continuing their establishments on the Assinniboin river, is the Buffalow meat and grease they procure from the Assinniboins, and Christanoes, by means of which, they are enabled to supply provision to their engages on their return from rainy Lake to the English river and the Athabaskey country where they winter ; without such resource those voyagers would frequently be straitened for provision, as the country through which they pass is but scantily supplyed with game, and the rappidity with which they are compelled to travel in order to reach their winter stations, would leave them but little leasure to surch for food while on their voyage. while the party halted to take dinner today Capt. Clark killed a buffaloe bull ; it was meagre, and we therefore took the marrow bones and a small propor- tion of the meat only, near the place we dined, on the Lard, side, there was a large village of burrowing squirrels.

April 18th - 1805 -- Went out to hunt, Killed a young Buck Elk, & a Deer, the Elk was tolerable meat, the Deer very poor. Butchered the meat and continued untill near Sunset before Cap' Lewis and the party came up, thev were detained by the wind, which rose soon after I left the boat from the N W. & blew very hard until very late in the evening.

in the after part of the day we passed an extensive beautiful plain on the Starside which gradually ascended from the river. I saw immense quantities of buffalow in every direction, also some Elk deer and goats ; having an abundance of meat on hand I passed them without firing on them ; they are extremely gentle, the bull buffalow particularly will scarcely give way to you. I passed several in the open plain within fifty paces, they viewed me for a moment as something novel and then very unconcernedly continued to feed. 

May 5 --In the evening we saw a Brown or Grizzly bear on a sand beech, I went out with one man Geo Drewyer & Killed the bear, which was verry large and a turrible looking animal, which we found verry hard to kill. We Shot ten Balls into him before we killed him, & 5 of those Balls through his lights. This animal is the largest of the carnivorous kind I ever saw we had nothing that could weigh him, I think his weight may be stated at 500 pounds, he measured 8 feet 7 In! from his nose to the extremity of the Toe, 5 feet around the breast, i feet 11 Ins: around the middle of the arm, 3 feet 11 In! arround the neck his tallents was 4 Inches long, he was [in] good order, and appeared very different from the common black bear in as much as his claws were blunt, his tail short, his liver & lights much larger, his maw ten times as large and contained meat or flesh & fish only, we had him skined and divided, the oil fried up & put in Kegs for use. we camped on the StarSide, our men killed three Elk and a Buffalow to day, and our Dog cought an antilope a fair race, this animal appeared very pore & with young.

There were three beaver taken this morning by the party, the men prefer the flesh of this animal, to that of any other which we have, or are able to procure at this moment. I eat very heartily of the beaver myself, and think it excellent; particularly the tail, and liver.

Sent out some hunters who killed 2 deer 3 Elk and several buffalow ; on our way this evening we also shot three beaver along the shore ; these animals in consequence of not being hunted are extremely gentle, where they are hunted they never leave their lodges in the day, the flesh of the beaver is esteemed a delicacy among us ; I think the tail a most delicious morsal, when boiled it resembles in flavor the fresh tongues and sounds of the codfish, and is usually sufficiently large to afford a plentiful meal for two men.

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