June 10, 1790
A Kentucky hunter tells stories about the carnivore diet he survived on while hunting buffalo, just a few years after the foundation of the United States. "They always relied upon the forest for a supply of food - buffalo, bear, dear, elk & turkey. Stewed bear's liver, or roasted bear's kidney, made a good substitute for bread."
Recollections on Hunting in Kentucky, 1790-1791 by Hugh Bell
Mrs. H F Bell and the Indian cows were up -- the gate creaking, an Indian lay behind a log some 15 feet off, peeped up his head, which Mrs. B saw -- dashed to & fastened the gate, & escaped. The Indian knowing the alarm wd. be instantly give, jumped up & ran off.
Wm. & Nick S. Baker & some few others from the settlement, living on McAdoe Creek, a few miles above Clarkesville, in the present county of Montgomery - went down Cumberland below Palmyra, down the north shore hunting buffalo - Wm Baker had wounded a old buffalo bull, & was following it close behind through the cane, it turned upon him; Baker turned & ran but was soon over taken by the enraged animal, run one of his horns through his leather pants & badly goring his thigh, threw him back entirely over his head -- the buffalo went on. Baker was barely able to clear the other way & left the buffalo to go unmolested. This was in 1790.
This same year Hugh F. Bell, his older brother John & Isaac Peterson went out hunting on Little River in Trigg Co - Ky-. John Bell was pursuing a gang of elk, Hugh F Bell & Peterson got after a gang of buffalo, & each shot buffalo bulls. Bell went and sat down upon Peterson’s buffalo, & then proposed to go & skin his first - went; and on their return Peterson’s had gone! By the time John Bell returned, not having killed any of the elk, & aided the others in hunting up the lost buffalo. The grass in the river bottom there was thick & as tall as a man’s head - the two Bells clamped several feet up a fallen lodged tree & discovered the bull lying down some 15 paces off. Called to Peterson to shoot it - he said he wd go & stick it - crept up behind a small blackjack pine nine inches through, close to which the buffalo lay - & as Peterson was within point of giving the fatal stab in the buffalo’s side, the animal suddenly bounded to his feet, & Peterson up the tree - clear of limbs for fifteen or 20 feet - would get some eight feet, & then from fear & exhaustion, wd. fail & gradually slip down until nearly in reach of the buffalo’s horns, - who all the while kept a warfare upon the tree, completely barking it with his horns - Again Peterson wd make an effort & ascend about the old height, & again give way & slide down - begging the while for the Bells to shoot the buffalo; who, so full of laughter, could not - Seeing after his third ascension, that he could not stand it much longer, & had already rubbed the skin from his breast & face, - shot the buffalo, & rescued Peterson.
The next year, 1791, Hugh F. & Wm Bell over Little River on the Barrens - they went so far, became less dangerous than nearer the settlements - hunting; came across two buffalos, Hugh F. Bell shot one of them - & William took buffalo & Elk after the other - the buffalo took after Bell, who mounted dashed away around a large sink hole of some ten acres, & the buffalo in hot pursuit, went around twice, & the buffalo gained & had got within 20 steps when Hugh F. Bell came up & shot him down. They both thought the buffalo had no evil design, but in its fright mistook Bell’s horse for its mate & thus followed. At a subsequent hunt, Hugh F. & John Bell & John Newell were again out together, in the old range on Little River, came upon a gang of 3 or 4 elk - the dogs took after & overtook him, some seizing him by the nose, others by the ears, while one of the dogs bounded upon his back & took post between the large antlers that lay up behind, & the dog clung to his place all the while gnawing into the flesh of the neck of the elk - & the elk ran several rods with the dog upon his back; took post in a spring, & there took his stand, & remained until H.F.B. came up & shot him. The hunters wd take with them some pack horses, to convey home the meat. When they had it, they wd take with some salt & pepper & sage - a camp kettle; these with their knives & rifles, tomahawks sufficed. They always relied upon the forest for a supply of food - buffalo, bear, dear, elk & turkey.
A buffalo hide per adventure wd be stretched across poles overhead for a covering from the damps & rains - other skins, with the hair side up, wd be placed upon the ground before the fire to be used as a kind of rug & for the bed at night - & sometimes with another hide for a covering. When upon the hunt by day they wore a kind of moccasin made of buffalo hide, the hair side turned in - these would not easily saturate; at night these were taken off & thrown one side & away from the fire that they might freeze if the weather shd be sufficiently cold to congeal water - for the buffalo moccasins were all the better for being frozen. While in camp, the hunters wore the light tanned deer skin moccasins.
Now for the mode of living. The stew was a common and favorite mode - the choicest bits of buffalo, deer, elk, bear & turkey, part or all of these as the case might be - put into the kettle, with the proper seasoning would furnish a nice dish, leaving each of the company to choose as to kind. Stewed bear's liver, or roasted bear's kidney, made a good substitute for bread. When hunters had a roast turkey, they had a way of cutting numerous small incisions in the body, & putting in them bits of fat bear meat & proper seasoning - this was excellent. But when a luxurious meal was to be provided it consisted of one or all of these articles, roasted beaver tail, buffalo tongue, or marrow bone.
Take a large beaver tail, some 8 inches long, and 4 broad, well seasoned, & wrapped up in a coat of wetted oak leaves & put into a bed of embers & covered up over night, wd be elegantly cooked by morning.
To cook properly after hunter's style a fine buffalo tongue - first scorch it a little & peel off the outside coating, then stick it upon a spit made of spice bush, with the lower end inserted in the earth & left to roast before the fire all night - the spicebush wd give it a very agreeable flavor.
Cooking a buffalo marrow bone was the work of a few minutes - simply lay one end upon the live coals, & in a few minutes the other - then cut the bone in two with the hatchet, then split or hew off one side to the marrow - what rich delicious eating! Neither this nor bear's oil in any quantity even produces the least injurious effect - tip up the kettle after cooking bear's meat, & sometimes tip off a pint!