The crew of the Corps was expected to replenish their larder along
the way by hunting and gathering as circumstances and conditions
According to William Clark: "It requires 4 deer, or an
elk and a deer, or one buffalo to supply us for 24 hours." Additionally,
193 pounds of "portable soup" were ordered as an emergency ration when
stores ran out and game was scarce or unavailable. The soup was produced
by boiling a broth down to a gelatinous consistency, then further drying
it until it was rendered quite hard and desiccated. Not exactly a
favorite with the men of the Corps, it nonetheless saved them from near
starvation on a number of occasions.
Each man consumed nine
pounds of meat per day, when available, and the designated hunters of
the Corps were kept busy throughout the journey. Raymond Darwin
Burroughs tallied the quantity of game killed and consumed during the
course the expedition:
Deer (all species combined) 1,001
Bighorned sheep 35
Bears, grizzly 43
Bears, black 23
Beaver (shot or trapped) 113
Geese and Brant 104
Grouse (all species) 46
Wolves (only one eaten) 18
Indian dogs (purchased and consumed) 190
(From "The Natural History of the Lewis and Clark Expedition".
Michigan State University Press, 1995)
This list does not include the countless smaller or more exotic
animals that were captured and eaten by the Corps, such as hawk, coyote,
fox, crow, eagle, gopher, muskrat, seal, whale blubber, turtle, mussels,
crab, salmon, and trout. Nor does it enumerate the unfamiliar varieties
of fruits, vegetables, mushrooms, seeds, and nuts that were found to be
edible. However, all are mentioned in the Journals along with detailed
and sometimes lively accounts of accompanying adventures.
Deer of many species were ubiquitous in North America and venison
became a primary source of protein for the duration of the expedition.
prominently during the crossing of the Great Plains, while
salmon and wapato (a
starchy tuber) were the staples when the Corps roamed west of Rockies.
Their diet varied according to the changing terrain, the shifting
climate, and with the passing seasons.
Of incalculable importance to the men of the Corps was the
contribution of native foods by the Indian nations. The Mandan tribe of
North Dakota brought them corn, squash, and beans; the Chinooks living
along Washington’s Columbia River introduced them to wapato, a
much-needed carbohydrate; and the Clastops from the Oregon coast traded
elk, wild licorice root, and berries. A Shoshone tribesmen from what is
now Idaho and Montana offered Lewis antelope and his first taste of
salmon, and the Chopunnish (Idaho and Washington) section of the Nez
Perce tribe, who ranged over Idaho, Washington and Oregon, offered dog
as well as edible roots.
During their stay at Fort Clatsop, members of the Corps developed a
technique for extracting
salt from sea water through evaporation by boiling. Essential
not only as a flavoring, of which Lewis was fond and to which Clark was
indifferent, salting was a vital method of curing and preserving meat,
along with smoking and drying.
Despite the apparent bounty of the ever-changing landscape and the
generosity of local tribes, many were the nights when the crew of the
Corps went to sleep hungry. Many were the days when shots went awry and
missed their mark, or game remained hidden from sight. Relentless rain
ruined drying meat, punishing heat spoiled perishable provisions, and
clothing rotted right off the backs of the men. It is impossible to miss
the despair in Clark’s description of their privations:
September 11, 1804 "he
had been 12 days without any thing to eate but Grapes & one rabit, which
he killed by shooting a piece of hard Stick in place of a ball…Thus a
man had like to have Starved to death in a land of Plenty for the want
of Bulits or Something to kill his meat." Clark
The following recipe is from
The Lewis & Clark Cookbook: Historic Recipes from the Corps of Discovery
and Jefferson's America (Lewis & Clark Expedition)by Leslie Mansfield, an official cookbook for the National Council Lewis &
Home Corned Beef
Fresh meat generally spoils after a few days without refrigeration or
some kind of preservation. However meat laid in a salt brine for several
weeks can be stored much longer. This process, known as corning, allowed
members of the Corps of Discovery, to maintain a supply of edible meat
throughout the cold months of winter.
4 quarts warm water
2 cups kosher salt
¼ cup sugar
2 tablespoons pickling spice
1 teaspoon salt peter (optional)
5 pounds fresh beef brisket
2 onions, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
6 whole cloves
In a large non-reactive pot, whisk together the warm water, salt,
sugar, pickling spice, and salt peter (if used) until the salt has
dissolved. Place the brisket in the brine and weigh down with a plate.
The beef must be completely submerged at all time. Cover the pot and
refrigerate for 3 weeks. Turn the brisket every 5 days.
After 3 weeks remove the brisket from the brine and rinse well.
Discard the brine. The corned beef is now ready to be cooked.
Remove the corned beef from the brine and rinse thoroughly. Place the
corned beef in a large pot and barely cover with water. Add the onions,
garlic, bay leaves, and cloves. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to
medium-low, cover pot, and simmer for 2 ½ hours, or until very tender.
To serve, slice the meat across the grain.
Serves 8 to 10
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