School for Hunters
Page 5 of 8
s of the moment when preparations were complete and the expedition was under way, Lewis himself still had not said whether his desire to engage one or more highly qualified hunters had been satisfied. By the time the Corps began to take shape at Camp Dubois in the winter of 1803-04, the only recourse had been to train up some of the enlistees to fill those roles, with the captains as their coaches and mentors, and perhaps with the field coaching of George Drewyer.1 The "curriculum" covered marksmanship, field dressing and butchering, distinctions among wildlife species, geographical and seasonal factors, and woodsmanship. It began with Captain Clark's assessment of the recruits' rifle and hunting skills, and led to methodical improvements.
n December 12, 1803, the day they arrived at the site of their first winter's camp on Wood's River, Clark sent some hunters out "to examine the Countrey in Deferent derections." They returned with a few turkeys and opossums plus the intelligence that "the Countrey was butifull and had great appearance of Gaim."
his de-piction of Drouillard—the cap-tains often spelled it phonetically as Drewyer—presents him as he might have appear-ed early in the expedi-tion, wearing clothing typi-cal of a woodland hunter. He was about 27 years old when he signed on as a civilian interpreter and hunter.
A bright silk scarf keeps his long black hair out of his eyes. A rough, bloodstained linen smock is worn to protect his good shirt, which is printed with a "window pane" checkered pattern. His blue trade-cloth leggings are trimmed in red ribbon, as are his woodland-style moccasins. The bands below his knees holding his leggings in place are decorated with trade beads. The slitting of his earlobes to accommodate numerous earrings was often seen among the Shawnees.
He is armed with a Kentucky rifle. His hunting bag, partially visible behind the turkey's wing, is of buffalo hide. The few written descriptions of him mention his long, straight black hair. He was a tall man. One writer alluded to his legs being tattooed from the waist to his feet, a practice common among the early Illinois tribes, and especially the Shawnees and Delawares who had banded together in two large villages in the vicinity of Cape Girardeau, Missouri. Slung over his shoulder—perhaps on a tug or hoppus,2—is one of the many wild turkeys3 that he bagged around Camp Dubois.
The first prior-ity was to clear land and cut logs for the walls of their huts. For the time being they could purchase veg-etables, grain and meat from the nearby farmers and Indians, so the need to hunt wasn't partic-ularly urgent. On the fif-teenth the hunters killed Some grouse. Six days later Clark mention-ed the names of two of his hunters for the first time: "Send out Shields & Floyd to hunt to day, they Kill 7 Turkeys verry fat." George Drew-yer began proving his ability as a hunter almost as soon as he arrived from South West Point, Tennes-see. On December 23 he "Came home . . . after a"—Clark wrote "long," then crossed it out—"hunt, he Killed three Deer, & left them in the woods" to be retrieved later. On the twenty-fourth he shot three more deer and five turkeys. The number of deer he brought down was proof of his marksmanship and gun handling as well as his skill as a woodsman, specifically his ability to recognize which deer was in charge of the herd, shoot that one first, then the order in which he should shoot the animals in a herd so as to take down the leader first.
The recruits spent part of New Years Day of 1804 in what was then a favorite holiday pastime for frontiersmen and farmers, several of whom "Come from the Countrey to See us & Shoot with the men, . . . I put up a Dollar to be Shot for," Clark added, "the two best Shots to win Gibson best the Countrey people won the dollar."
Now Clark knew what he had to work with, and where to begin, to make good hunters out of good soldiers.
here must have been some serious target practice after that lesson was learned. On January 16 "the Party made up a Shooting match, with the Country people for a pr. [pair of] Leagens, Reuben Fields made the best Shot, next one Wist4 & the 3 & 4 was Shields [and] R. F[razer?]." That little triumph must have inspired even more serious practice, for when the first Detachment Orders were issued on February 20, it was apparently necessary to direct that "The practicing party will in futer discharge only one round each per. day, which will be done under the direction of Sergt. Ordway, all at the same target and at the distance of fifty yards off hand. The prize of a gill of extra whiskey will be received by the person who makes the best show at each time of practice." That "practicing party" probably included the four winners of the January 16 competition. Drewyer would not have taken part because he was a civilian employee, although he may have done some coaching.
More competitions took place as the date of departure approached. On April 15 there was "some Shooting at a mark," and again on the 19th the "men Shoot at a mark." On May 4 there was "much Shooting," and on May 6 "Several of the Countrey peope In Camp Shooting with the party[.] all get beet and Lose their money." (Clark didn't say who lost their money, but one is inclined to surmise that this time it was those "Countrey people.")
It sometimes helped for others to observe their best marksmen in action, especially Indians, whose guns, if any, were cheap trade muskets of unreliable accuracy. On 24 January 1806, near Fort Clatsop, Lewis wrote: "The Indians witnissed Drewyer's shooting some of those Elk which has given them a very exalted opinion of us as marksmen and the superior excellence of our rifles compared with their guns."5 Always on guard, Lewis pondered, "this may probably be of service to us, as it will deter them from any acts of hostility if they have ever meditated any such."
Good physical conditioning was essential to a hunter's stamina and effective work. Thus at Camp Chopunnish in 8 June 1806, the captains ordered foot-races to be run between the Nez Perce and the men of the Corps. "The Indians are very active," observed Lewis. "One of them proved as fleet as Drewer and R. Fields, our swiftest runners. When the racing was over the men divided themselves into two parties and played prison base,6 by way of exercise which we wish the men to take previously to entering the mountain; in short those who are not hunters have had so little do do that they are geting reather lazy and slouthfull."
Shooting for the Beef, (1850)
George Caleb Bingham (1811-1879)
Oil on canvas, 33½ x 49-3/8 inches
The Brooklyn Museum of Art,
Dick S. Ramsay Fund, 40.342
arget shooting contests were an important part of American frontier life from the late 17th century until the end of the 19th. Daniel Boone in his boyhood would often compete (and invariably win) merely for the privilege of prying all the losers' bullets out of the target to re-mold for his own use. Competition was also an important part of Lewis and Clark's plans to hone the marksmanship of the Corps' most promising hunters. A cow was a highly valued prize among frontier farmers, but Clark's more modest trophies were suitable to the time and place.7
From the 1820s until mid-century, as the western frontier moved rapidly up the lower Missouri River, artist George Bingham recorded its passing history, painting scenes of the ordinary social and political activities of plain people, reflecting their egalitarianism, adventurousness, and roistering vitality.8
The captains' standards
illiam Clark was well qualified to set the standards for the Corps' hunters. He had served under General Anthony Wayne as the lieutenant in charge of the Chosen Rifle Company of sharpshooters in the Fourth Sub-Legion, at Fort Greenville in west-central Ohio. It was to Clark's command that Wayne had transferred Meriwether Lewis after his court-martial in November of 1795 — a clear indication that the twenty-one-year-old ensign had already established a reputation as an expert marksman.
In a conversation with editor Nicholas Biddle in the spring of 1810, Clark recalled an unusual incident that dramatized the 500-year gap which separated Euro-American technology from some western Indian cultures at the time. About 24 August 1805 the chief of a band of Wenatchees had crossed the Bitterroot Mountains to visit the Shoshones while the white travelers were still with them. Biddle's transcript of Clark's account continued:
|He was astonished & pleased to see White People. The Indians who had seen us had described to him ourselves the effects of our gun — which he was anxious to see. He sent a young man for a beaver (there was one brought up) & asked if I would show them upon beaver. I made Collins take beaver about 40 or 50 [feet? yards? paces?] hold him up by the tail, & I shot him in head. Chief ran up to Beaver & astonished to see hole. He wished to know if it was the noise that had killed beaver — looked at the gun, looked at me, at the party & then brought up his mule & wanted me to accept of it which I declined, but rode him to the village at the chief's particular request. He came cautiously & slowly at first towards us.9|
Surely Clark only intended to impress the man, not to fool him. Nevertheless, the captain must have enjoyed relating this anecdote back home. It did not find a place in Biddle's edition of the captains' journals.
Later, however, Clark elaborated on a similar experience he had among the Walulas at the mouth of the Snake ("Lewis's") River, which he had mentioned in his journal entry for 19 October 1805. Again, the result was entirely unintentional. Biddle's paraphrase was a combination of Clark's original notes and his verbal remarks. He had walked around the last, long rapid on the Snake ("Lewis's") River, and sat down on a rock to await Lewis's arrival with the canoes. A crane flew overhead; Clark shot it for his supper. At that moment he noticed a few Indians on the other side of the river running toward nearby houses apparently in fear, so he took a small canoe that had just come through the rapids and, accompanied by Drewyer and the two Field brothers, crossed the river to assure the residents that the white strangers' intentions were peaceful. On the way, Clark downed a duck on the wing. Biddle paraphrased what happened next.
Nor could we indeed blame them for their terrors, which were perfectly natural. They . . . knew we were not men, for they had seen us fall from the clouds; in fact, unperceived by them, Captain Clark had shot the white crane,10 which they had seen fall just before he appeared to their eyes; the duck which he had killed also fell close by him, and as there were a few clouds flying over at the moment, they connected the fall of the birds and his sudden appearance, and believed that he had himself dropped from the clouds; the noise of the rifle, which they had never heard before, being considered merely as the sound to announce so divine an event. This belief was strengthened when on entering the room he brought down fire from the heavens by means of his burning-glass.11
With his pipe now lit, Clark and his companions "convinced them satisfactorily that we were only mortals, and . . . we all smoked together in great harmony."
Near Tillamook Head on 10 December 1805 Clark shot at two ducks sitting on the water about 30 steps from him, and coincidentally blew the head off of one. The Indian onlookers plunged into the water like spaniels, retrieved the duck, and carried it into their nearby house. Clark remembered: "every man Came around examined the Duck looked at the gun the Size of the ball which was 100 to the pound and Said in their own language Clouch Musket, wake, com ma-tax Musket which is, a good Musket do not under Stand this kind of Musket.
At Fort Clatsop Clark continued to show off his prowess with his "small rifle." On 10 December 1805 he noted: "Those people [Clatsops] was Some what astonished, at three Shot I made with my little riffle [rifle] to day, a gangu of Brant Set in the little river, I Killd. 2 of them as they Set, and on my return Saw a Duck which I took the head off of, the men plunged into the water like Spaniards Dogs after those fowls."12 One day early in January he impressed some Tillamook Indians: "I Shot a raven & a gul with my Small riffle which Suppised these people a little."
Now and then Lewis demonstrated own his sharp eye and steady hand before the Indians. On 12 May 1806, at Camp Chopunnish, he made note of his own contribution to a shooting contest with the Nez Perce. He "shot at a mark with the indians, struck the mark with 2 balls. distn. 220 yds." That range, 40 rods, was standard for rifle target competition in his day.
Drewyer's marksmanship also made a strong impression on their Indian neighbors. Lewis considered the implications of the incident that occurred on 24 January 1806: "The Indians witnissed Drewyer's shooting some of those [four] Elk which has given them a very exalted opinion of us as marksmen and the superior excellence of our rifles compared with their guns; this may probably be of service to us, as it will deter them from any acts of hostility if they have ever meditated any such."
he captains encouraged their hunters as they wandered afield to watch for unfamiliar species of wildlife, and bring them specimens to examine for the record. Thus at Fort Clatsop in mid-February of 1806, George Shannon and François Labiche brought Lewis a California condor they had observed and wounded. The following May, at Camp Chopunnish, François Labiche presented the captains with a new squirrel he had seen and shot, later identified as a Columbian ground squirrel.
En route home both captains conscientiously collected specimens of bighorn sheep. They had already sent skins and skeletons of the pronghorn, plus mule deer antlers, ears, and tail, back to Jefferson from Fort Mandan, but on 28 August 1806, in the vicinity of the Big Bend of the Missouri, Clark "Sent out Reubin & Joseph Field to hunt for the Mule deer or the antilope neither of which we have either the Skins or Scellitens of."13 Accurate marksmanship would have been the primary qualification for this kind of shooting, in order to acquire specimens with as little damage as possible to hides and bones.
Training and practice, or luck?
n any given day there might have been from two to twelve or more hunters threading their individual ways through woods and underbrush from before dawn until after sunset, sometimes within clear view of one another, sometimes not. It speaks well of their overall skill and self-discipline as gun-toting woodsmen that there was only one friendly-fire casualty, and only one other reported close call worth mentioning. On 25 August 1805 Lewis wrote, "Frazier fired his musquet at some ducks in a little pond at the distance of about 60 yards from me; the ball rebounded from the water and pased within a very few feet of me." Injuries suffered in the process of field dressing and butchering game were inevitable but remarkably rare. Alex Willard cut one of his knees with his tomahawk while butchering an elk near Fort Clatsop. Several other accidents with knives were reported, but apparently none of those were connected with hunting. The labor of carrying meat from the kill site back to camp undoubtedly inflicted sore muscles, and worse, on those to whose lot that job fell (Figs. 18-21). John Colter once threw out his trick shoulder doing it, and York strained his back the same way.
Out in the coldxtremely low temperatures at Fort Mandan in 1804-05 made every aspect of hunting difficult and dangerous both on land and on water. The winter's first snow had been falling for two days when, on 15 November 1804, Clark sent a man to the hunters' camp thirty miles down river with orders to return to the fort, and sent along an extra tow rope as well as some tin to reinforce the bow of the pirogue against the river ice.
On December eighth, when the mercury dropped to 44° below zero Fahrenheit, Clark led fifteen men seven miles from the fort to hunt buffalo with some Indians. They killed eight animals, then Clark and most of the men returned to the fort, leaving two to field-dress and skin the animals, and drive off wolves. Several of the party, including York, suffered frostbite to their feet, and York also complained of frostbite on his penis — one can scarcely imagine the agony that caused him. One man, possibly Newman, had his feet severely frostbitten.
The sun rose in a clear sky on the morning of the twelfth, when the thermometer stood at 38° below zero. According to Clark the temperature "moderated untill 6 oClock at wich time it began to get Colder. I line my Gloves and have a cap made of the Skin of the Louservia [lynx] . . . the fur near 3 inches long." Great numbers of pronghorns were reportedly near the fort, but Clark decided that "we do not think it prudent to turn out to hunt in Such Cold weather, or at least untill our Const[itution]s are prepared to under go this Climate."
By the thirtieth of December travel had become extremely fatiguing because the snow was knee-deep or more. Walking on the river ice was difficult, painful and dangerous because of its roughness, and also from the daily rise and fall of the water level, which weakened it. By mid-January, however, it was three feet thick even where the current was strongest.
he first crucial test of the hunters' marksmanship, as well as their ability to work together as a team, began when they first encountered grizzly bears. As Lewis eventually discovered, and explained on 11 May 1805, "there is no other chance to conquer them by a single shot but by shooting through the brains." But this was difficult, he wrote, because two large muscles covered the sides of the forehead, and at the center of the thick frontal bone was a sharp projection. Otherwise, even under a fusillade of rifle fire, death usually came slowly to the great bear. In the meantime, every hunter within its range of sight, smell, or hearing was subject to injury or death under its claws or maw. One strategy they occasionally used on grizzlies was derived from a basic battle tactic that the soldiers would have at least occasionally rehearsed in anticipation of fights with Indians — firing in orderly volleys from two or more ranks of riflemen.14 Lewis described its use in an encounter with a grizzly on 14 May 1805:
|In the evening the men in two of the rear canoes discovered a large brown bear lying in the open grounds about 300 paces from the river, and six of them went out to attack him, all good hunters; they took the advantage of a small eminence which concealed them and got within 40 paces of him unperceived, two of them reserved their fires as had been previously conscerted, the four others fired nearly at the same time and put each his bullet through him, two of the balls passed through the bulk of both lobes of his lungs, in an instant this monster ran at them with open mouth, the two who had reserved their fires discharged their pieces at him as he came towards them, boath of them struck him, one only slightly and the other fortunately broke his shoulder, this however only retarded his motion for a moment only.|
All fled toward the river with the bear close on their heels. Two of them made it to a canoe while the remaining four ducked into a willow thicket, reloaded, and emptied their rifles into the beast with no apparent effect. The enraged grizzly pursued two men down a twenty-foot bank into the river. One of the two still on shore killed the bear at last with a bullet to the brain.
When game was scarce, or pressure from Indian hunters had taught some animals to avoid humans, the Corps' hunters could employ techniques such as "bleating-up" does during springtime fawning season. The trick was to find a hidden brushy copse or a nest in deep grass where a doe had hidden her fawn while she browsed, then imitate the bleating of a lonesome or frightened youngster to attract its mother's attention. If the hunter was skillful enough, he could lure the doe back to the hideaway where he could easily bring her down. During the Corps' month-long stay at Camp Chopunnish, where the Nez Perce pursued the game so much on horseback that "it is very shye," Lewis observed: "the does now having their fawns the hunters can bleat them up and in that manner kill them with more facility and ease." Drawing prey within rifle range by imitating their sounds was a skill expected of every professional hunter on the frontier. John Bradbury (1768-1823), the Scottish naturalist who traveled throughout parts of America in 1809-1811, gained much of his information about wildlife from his party's hunters, who could "imitate the cry or note of any animal found in the American Wilds, so exactly, as to deceive the animals themselves."15
uring the winter at Fort Clatsop it was hard for the hunters to keep the party fed, partly because of the almost continual rain, high humidity, and above-zero daily temperatures made it difficult to keep fresh meat from spoiling. Also, it took some weeks for the hunters to learn to get around in the dense forest with its deep underbrush, and to develop new tactics to achieve success. Reubin Field, Collins, and Potts left on December 28 to hunt along Lewis's River. They returned seven days later to report that
|they had been about 15 miles up the river at the head of the bay just below us and had hunted the country from thence down on the east side of the river, even to a considerable distance from it and had proved unsuccessfull having killed one deer and a few fowls, barely as much as subsisted them. this reminded us of the necessity of taking time by the forelock,16 and keep out several parties while we have yet a little meat beforehand.|
Processing the meat
fter expert marksmanship and well-honed tracking techniques, the next most urgent responsibility of every hunter was the field dressing of the carcass, which included removal of the "offal" — the paunch and intestines — and skinning. In the case of bison this might include some rough butchering for convenience in carrying the meat back to camp.
Two bull bison on Ted Turner's Flying D Ranch in Montana.
lexander Henry (d. 1814) listed the twenty pieces into which a bison carcass would be cut: "1 grosse bosse; 1 petite bosse; 2 dépouilles; 2 shoulders; 2 lourdes épaulettes; 2 filets; 2 thighs; 2 sides; 1 belly; ;1 heart; 1 rump; 1 brisket; 1 backbone; 1 neck."17
A mid-twentieth-century study of bison in which live weights were compared with dressed weights concluded that the average dressed weight of the meat, fat and bones of the four quarters, with the hide, head and entrails removed, averaged between 50 and 60 percent of the live weight. For example, a five-year-old bull weighing 1138 lbs. would dress out to 680 lbs., or 60 percent of its live weight.18 When it was boned back at camp, the total amount of useable meat would be approximately 400-450 lbs. However, the Corps' hunters would usually take only the preferred cuts such as the hump, and the shoulders and rump if they were meaty enough to be easily "fleased" into ¼-inch-thick slices ("jerked") for drying. The tallow from around the kidneys would be saved to enrich the stews. Long large thigh bones were similarly saved for their delicious marrow.
The liver, heart and tongue were considered delicacies. Among trappers the tongue often belonged to the hunter who made the kill. On New Years Day, 1806, "two of our hunters who Set out this morning returned in the evening haveing killed two Bucks Elks; they presented Capt. Lewis and my Self each a marrow bone and tongue on which we Suped." Occasionally a hunter would shoot a bison and then discover it was overall too lean to be worth dressing out and carrying back to camp, so he would take the tongue and hump, containing the most fat, and leave the rest to rot. That practice, called "pot hunting," was looked down upon by self-respecting hunters. The best hunters could tell at a glance whether an animal was fat or not.
Elk were somewhat easier to dress out and cut up, and deer even more so. A skilled and experienced hunter would shoot only at a standing or slowly walking elk or deer, aiming for the center of an imaginary ten-inch circle halfway between the top of the back and the bottom of the belly, slightly behind the front leg. If he hit the bull's eye, the animal would bleed quickly and die before running — which would toughen the meat. As with buffalo, field dressing of elk or deer required strength, a sharp knife, and a thorough knowledge of the animal's anatomy, and much practice. The Corps' hunters wouldn't have known anything about bacteria, but they must have learned how to keep the meat edible and good-tasting as long as possible, which in the process would have limited bacterial contamination. First, the scent glands in the hind legs had to be removed to prevent tainting of the meat. Then the hunter needed to remove the entrails quickly but carefully, avoiding contamination of the body cavity with the contents of the bladder, bowel, intestine or stomach, and to keep his knife clean. The meat had to be kept free of hair, which could quickly ruin the flavor. Finally, it was important to allow the body cavity to cool and dry out as quickly as the weather permitted, to make it easier to butcher. Today, before butchering, both wild and domestic meat is hung for at least ten days at a temperature a few degrees above 32° Fahrenheit, to inhibit bacterial damage and yet allow natural enzymes to tenderize it. The Corps' hunters and cooks seldom if ever could afford that luxury.
n addition to accurately adding up the combined effects of range, windage, and elevation, the marksman had to bet on the direction and distance his quarry might move in the split second between the pre-firing noise of the lock and frizzen, and the explosion that discharged the bullet.
By the Corps' standards, the average amount of usable meat cut from the carcass of a deer or elk was considerably less than that from a bison. Meat from a whitetail deer might come to only 32 lbs; from a mule deer, 40. A cow elk might dress out to 100 lbs, a bull elk to 150 pounds or more. The prime meat would be the tenderloins, the two large muscles on either side of the backbone. Next would come the hip and shoulder loins, from which a connective tissue, or fell, had to be removed to avoid tainting the meat with a gamey taste and odor. Finally, the hunter would take the shoulder and rump roasts. The neck and rib meat would likely have been ignored in the interest of saving time. Today all such pieces would be saved for processing along with beef fat (suet) or pork shoulder in a meat grinder to make bisonburger, elkburger or deerburger.
The meat of the buffalo's hump, although when boned-out it weighs only about five pounds, was considered a prime cut by frontiersmen 200 years ago. Sgt. Ordway, for example, tells of killing a bull on 27 June 1805 from which he and three other men "took out the hump and went down a Steep hill to get to water where we broiled [boiled?] the hump and eat a hearty meal of it." Lewis was particularly fond of hump meat. Two days later, while on a trip from White Bear Islands to view today's "Giant Spring," he and Drewyer shot a bison and "took a parsel of the meat to camp it was in very good order; the hump and tongue of a fat buffaloe I esteem great delicasies." Any Indians, had they been present to witness these incidents, would have been disgusted by their wastefulness.
Today, just as the bison has lost its magic—although not its majesty—the hump meat has lost its appeal to most gourmets. It is part of the chuck,19 or shoulder section of the carcass, and although it is tasty, it is also fatty (over which, of course, the Corps would have salivated), tough, and laced with gristle. It is best cooked slowly in a liquid, like pot roast—"sauced," as old-time cooks would have said. Along with buffalo tongue, it would have added a fine flavor to Charbonneau's "boudin blanc."20
our quarters of a bison hanging from meathooks at a commercial game processor's establishment. The two nearest the camera are hindquarters, which include the rumps and hind legs. The two partialy hidden pieces are forequarters without the shoulders. All four weigh 75 pounds or more each. A butcher will cut these up into steaks and roasts. The Corps' cooks would not have fried or grilled the steaks, but would have cut the meat into chunks and boiled it, which would have been quicker than roasting, and would have retained all of the fat.
ere are four bison legs, called "broken quarters," each one the lower half of a full quarter, and each weighing 25 lbs. or more. The two at left are from the hindquarters; those at right are from the forequarters. Notice the head of the femur, the shiny spot at the bottom end (actually top, near the hook) of the leg at extreme left. The Corps' hunters needed to know the anatomy of the animal well enough to cut through the deeply hidden joint cleanly, without wasting meat. The femur was the best bone from which to obtain fatty, nutritious marrow.
hese two elk hindquarters (left) and one forequarter (right), weigh an average of 75 lbs. each. The streaks in the thin outer layer of fat were made by the person who skinned the carcass, when his knife slipped.
Skinning is an exacting technique that requires a sharp knife and a steady hand. The latter is difficult to maintain in the rain or cold, or while the skinner is under assault by hordes of mosquitoes. The elk they ate on the coast were Cervus canadensis roosevelti, a sub-species of the Rocky Mountain elk .
his 75-lb. forequarter includes the neck, spine, ribs, and right foreleg of an elk. The meat in all of these photographs has been aged for many weeks in a controlled environment at a temperature no higher than 38° Fahrenheit. The fat and meat both are now dry on the surface, so the quarters are relatively easy to pick up, although they still would be awkward to carry—especialy the forequarters. The Corps' hunters had to struggle with meat that was slippery with warm blood and fat, which made the job much harder.
lthough it was sometimes hard to get within rifle range of a buffalo herd in regions where they were heavily hunted by Indians, shooting them was the easier part. However, field dressing a buffalo was another matter. It involved a lot of time and energy, and handling two or more in a day, plus hauling the meat to camp, required the help of several men. Even lugging quarters of bison, elk or deer to the riverside or ocean beach certainly required "stout men" who were capable of bearing hardship in "a pretty considereable degree," whether they were hunters or not. The captains often sent out a special detail of half a dozen men or more to bring in meat and hides.
On 13 December 1805, for instance, Drewyer and Shannon killed and "boochered" eighteen elk and left them in the woods. Two days later the immediate retrieval of all that meat was urgent. Clark took sixteen men and three canoes six miles up Lewis's River on the rising tide, divided them into three parties, and then hiked them three or four miles each way to haul forty-four quarters of elk to the canoes. It is no wonder that, as he reported the next day, "Several men Complaining of hurting themselves Carry meet, &c." He even packed some himself. One team, consisting of Ordway, Colter, Collins, Whitehouse and McNeal, lost their way with their last load and didn't get back to the canoes until after dark. In sheer misery they "staid out all night without fire and in the rain." It took another full, stormy day — "Certainly one of the worst days that ever was!" — to finish the job. But they were all proved to be stout men, capable of bearing bodily fatigue in a pretty considerable degree.
Sometimes their Indian neighbors pitched in, as at Fort Clatsop on 24 January when Drewyer and Lepage returned from hunting with "two deer and the flesh of three Elk & one Elk's skin, having given the flesh of one other Elk which they killed and three Elk's skins to the Indians as the price of their assistance in transporting the ballance of the meat to the Fort." It was a bargain. The sea being quite rough near Point Adams, where the animals had been shot, six Clatsops and Chief Coboway "carryed [the meat and hides] on their backs about six miles, before the waves were sufficiently low to permit their being taken on board their canoes."
Infrequently, carelessness or uncontrollable circumstances resulted in blunders that may have been hard to excuse. François Labiche, who was inducted at St. Charles as a lower Missouri River waterman and soon proved useful as an interpreter, emerged as one of the more reliable hunters. He "killed 3 Geese flying" over the Columbia River, Clark wrote approvingly. Somehow, though, he grew careless a few days before the Corps left Fort Clatsop. To begin with, he evidently failed to regularly examine his rifle, and as a result confronted his quarry at a considerable disadvantage. Worse yet, he neglected to clean one of his elk thoroughly. Lewis summarized the details.
|This morning at 11 OCk. the hunters arrived, having killed four Elk only Labuish it seems was the only hunter who fell in with the Elk and having by some accedent lost the fore sight of his gun shot a great number of times but killed only the number mentioned. as the elk were scattered we sent two parties for them, they returned in the evening with four skins and the flesh of three Elk, that of one of them having become putrid from the liver and pluck21 having been carelessly left in the animal all night.|
emember that in mid-July of 1805, when they were anticipating a lack of game in the mountains they were soon to enter, Lewis had remarked, "we eat an emensity of meat; it requires 4 deer, an Elk and a deer, or one buffaloe, to supply us plentifully 24 hours." At Fort Mandan in early November of 1804, on a fifteen-day hunt that took them thirty miles downriver from Fort Mandan, six hunters (whose names were never mentioned) killed and processed a total of 34 deer, 10 elk and 5 buffalo, according to Whitehouse, "all weighing 2,000 lbs as near as we could guess." (One suspects that figure represented the total amount of meat they brought back from all 49 animals.) Seemingly extravagant success such as this by no means represented killing for its own sake, but the accumulation of a food supply that would tide them over the days when the hunters shot few if any animals. In the long run they frequently went hungry despite all their efforts to be prepared. Lewis cited one of those efforts during the days when Clark was surveying a portage route around the Falls of the Missouri. On 20 June 1805 he sent out four hunters to kill some buffalo.
Whenever they found themselves with more fresh meat than they would eat in a day or two, they "jurked" (or "jirked") it. "Jerky" is a phonetic transliteration of the Spanish word charqui and the Bolivian and Chilean word charquear, a verb meaning to pound or "beat up, knock the stuffing out of." In general, at the time of the expedition "jerk" simply stood for "dried meat." The Peruvian idiomatic expression estar hecho un charqui means "to be shriveled up."22 They "fleesed" the meat, that is, sliced it thin — probably about a quarter of an inch — and with the grain so as to be able to dry it quickly in the sun and wind, or over fires.23 At best it was nothing like the deliciously smoked or spiced commercial jerky that is made today, but was a tough, often ill-flavored emergency food — a substitute for better fare. As Lewis complained one day at Fort Clatsop, "Some marrow bones and a little fresh meat would be exceptable; I have been living for two days past on poor dryed Elk, or jurk as the hunters term it." One of the more notable successes along this line was achieved by Drewyer, Shannon, and Reubin Field in the game park up the Medicine River beginning on 19 July 1805. They returned to camp on the twenty-fifth with "about 800 lbs of excellent dryed meat and about 100 lbs of tallow."
|My object is if possible while we have now but little to do, to lay in a large stock of dryed meat at this end of the portage to subsist the party while engaged in the transportation of our baggage &c, to the end, that they may not be taken from this duty when once commenced in order to surch for the necessary subsistence.|
The next step beyond "jurk" was pemmican, made from pulverized or "pounded" jerky mixed with melted fat and berries.24 Back at White Bear Islands in early July of 1805, while some of the men were finishing assembly of the "iron boat," a few hunters were out for buffalo "in order to make pemecon to take with us." The jerky had to be thoroughly dried before this process could begin, which was difficult to achieve during the soggy Fort Clatsop winter. On one occasion Clark lamented: "The dear skins which we had cased for the purpose of holding our dried meat is not Sufficently dry for that purpose, we derected them to be dried by the fire also. the weather being So damp that there was no possibullity of pounding the meat as I wished."
he ultimate test of the hunters for the Corps of Discovery was in the realm of woodsmanship. Reaching well beyond the requirements usually expected of a professional still hunter or long hunter, it required the capacity to process a great amount of new information instant-by-instant during diurnal journeys that could never be repeated unless the entire party happened to stay in one place for days or weeks. This part of the hunters' curriculum was more than just a how-to course, and few if any of the enlisted men could have had any prior experience in it. In the end, the Corps' overall success in woodsmanship reflected a kind of bell curve of wilderness competency.
--Joseph Mussulman, Dec 2007; rev. May 2012
1. Properly Drouillard. The surname was almost without exception phonetically spelled Drewyer by all of the journalists, including the captains.
2. A tug was a rope or strap; a hoppus was a long strap of leather or a web woven of hemp or buffalo wool and nettle, an inch wide at both ends with a three-foot center section 2½ inches wide. It was used by Indians and hunters to carry — or "hoppus" — bags, baskets, game and other burdens comfortably high on the back and shoulders. Meriwether Lewis, in his preliminary list of requirements for the expedition, included "Dress'd letter [leather] for Hoppus-Straps," but no record of such a purchase is known. None of the journalists ever used either term, but knowing Drewyer's expertise as a still hunter, it seems likely that he would have had one or the other in his hunting bag. Ted Franklin Belue, The Long Hunt: Death of the Buffalo East of the Mississippi (Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1996), 226.
3. Meleagris gallopavo; mel-ee-ag-ris gal-o-pah-vo. Meleagris is Latin for "guineafowl," which early European writers confused with the turkey; gallopavo is a combination of two Latin words meaning "chickenlike peafowl," which compounds the confusion. The wild turkey is the largest North American upland game bird; males may weigh from 16 to more than 20 pounds, females 9 to 12 pounds. They have several basic calls, but the most familiar is the one that gives them their nickname, "gobbler," which can be heard as far as a mile away. A sudden noise of any kind can cause the bird to repeat the same call even louder. This surely explains Drewyer's experience on 24 June 1804: He had, "Passed a Small Lake in which there was many Deer feeding he heard in this Pond a Snake makeing Goubleing Noises like a turkey, he fired his gun & the noise was increased."
4. Windsor or Weiser? Probably Weiser, inasmuch as Windsor never thereafter ranked among the Corps' more active hunters.
5. Lewis summarized the contrast in his journal entry for 15 January. The guns in the hands of the Chinooks, Clatsops, and others, he said, were "usually of an inferior quality being oald refuse american & brittish Musquits which have been repared for this trade. there are some very good peices among them, but they are invariably in bad order; they appear not to have been long enouh accustomed to fire arms to understand the management of them they have no rifles. Their guns and amunition they reserve for the Ek, deer and bear, of the two last however there are but few in their neighbourhood. they keep their powder in small japaned tin flasks which they obtain with their amunition from the traders; when they happen to have no ball or shot, they substitute grafel or peices of potmettal, and are insensible of the damage done thereby to their guns."
6. Prisoners' base, a very old game of tag characterized late in the 18th century as "a country game of prisoners bars which is a sport of mere agility, and speed and . . . productive of quarrels."
7. The most famous shoot of all had taken place a couple of hours down the Ohio River from Pittsburgh on 31 August 1803, when Lewis showed off his repeating air rifle to a group of friends from the city. It was cut short by a minor accident that could have brought the entire expedition to an ignominious end eight and one-half months before it officially began. Accounts of the incident may have circulated more or less widely for a time, but Lewis's own memoir remained lost to the written record until the Eastern Journal was discovered 113 years later. Moulton, Journals, 2:40.
8. Milton W. Brown and others, American Art (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1979), 222. E. Maurice Bloch, George Caleb Bingham: The Evolution of an Artist (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967), 117-120.
9. Jackson, Letters, 2:502.
10. Since he remembered it was white, it must have been a whooping crane, which could have weighed between thirteen and seventeen pounds — a modest meal for those four men.
11. Paul Allen, ed., History of the Expedition under the Command of Captains Lewis and Clark, 2 vols. (Philadelphia: Bradford and Inskeep, 1814), 2:21-22. Jackson, Letters, 2:529-30.
12. The water spaniel, a large longhaired species of canid that originated in Spain, consisted of numerous varieties, some of which have for centuries been bred by fowlers to retrieve downed birds from water. Encyclopaedia Americana (Philadelphia: Carey and Lea, 1832), s.v. "water spaniel."
13. Jackson, Letters, Lewis to Jefferson, April 7, 1805, 1:234-35; Jefferson to Charles Willson Peale, October 9, 1805, 1:263.
14. Described in Baron von Steuben, Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States, Chapter XIII, Article 2, "Firing by Divisions and Platoons." Baron von Steuben's Revolutonary War Drill Manual, facsimile reprint of the 1794 edition (New York: Dover, 1985), 63-65.
15. John Bradbury, Travels in the interior of America in the Years 1809, 1810, and 1811, 2nd ed. (London: Sherwood, Neely and Jones, 1819), in Reuben Gold Thwaites, Early Western Travels, 1748-1846, (Cleveland: Arthur H. Clark, 1904), 5:124. Later in the 19th century, bleating in a doe was deemed unsportsmanlike by gentlemen hunters. The American attorney, journalist, and far-western traveler Edmund Flagg (1815-1890) deplored it as a "diabolical modus operandi," and Friedrich Gerstaecher (1816-1872), a German tourist, declared the subterfuge "base and cruel." Daniel Justin Herman, Hunting and the American Imagination (Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2001), 154.
16. Lewis's reference, which he may have learned of from the educated men in Jefferson's circle, is to the ancient image of time and opportunity as a figure that is bald behind, with hair only on the forehead, by which he can be led. The basic idea is implied in the still familiar Latin phrase carpe diem, from the Odes of the Roman poet Horace (65 BC-8 BC), 1.11, which concludes: "Scale back your long hopes to a short period. Even as we speak, envious time is running away from us. Seize the day, trusting little in the future."
17. Elliott Coues, ed., New Light on the Early History of the Greater North-West: The Manuscript Journals of Alexander Henry and of David Thompson, 1799-1814, 3 vols. (New York: F.P. Harper, 1897), 1:446. The dépouille was the flesh between the ribs from the shoulder to the rump, on both sides; the lourdes épaulettes were shoulder pieces; the grosse bosse was the hump, composed of a number of thin bones separated by fatty flesh, which were attached to the thoraxic vertebrae.
18. Arthur F. Halloran, "Live and Dressed Weights of American Bison," Journal of Mammalogy, vol. 38, no. 1 (February 1957), 139. The results of a 1999 archaeological study of Indian butchering practices can be found in "Social Structure," by Leland C. Bement of Oklahoma University, at http://faculty-staff.ou.edu/B/Leland.C.Bement-1/Social%20Structure.html Accessed February 11, 2008.p
19. "Chuck," synonymous with "chunk," is any cut of beef between the horns and the ribs. OED, 1881.
20. Leandra Zim Holland, Feasting and Fasting with Lewis & Clark: A Food and Social History of the Early 1800s (Emigrant, Montana: Old Yellowstone Publishing, 2003), 30, 50, 64, 135, 258.
21. Noah Webster, in his Compendious Dictionary of the English Language (1806) defined "pluck" as "the heart, liver and lights," lights being the lungs.
22. The Oxford Spanish Dictionary (2003), s.v. "charqui."
23. Noah Webster, in his Compendious Dictionary (1806), did not use any form of the word "fleece" or "flease" as used in the expedition's journals. It appears to have been a nonce word with two spellings and two meanings. 1) As a verb: In December of 1805 Clark used it in lieu of "to slice": "We fleece all the meat and hang it up over a Small Smoke." Sgt. Ordway (18 February 1805) used "flease" in the same sense: "we fleased the meat from the bones and eat the marrow out of them." 2) As a noun: On 1 August 1804 Clark celebrated his birthday by ordering from his chef (York?) "a Saddle of fat Vennison, an Elk fleece & a Bevertail to be cooked." Here "fleece" was a slice of elk meat, possibly a flank steak. In mid-May of 1805 Lewis recorded that the hunters had killed an old grizzly whose flesh was so "indifferent" that they "only took the skin and fleece, the latter made us several gallons of oil." Here, "fleece" possibly referred to a layer of fat under the skin (Moulton, Journals, 4:155 n). On Christmas Day, 1805, Clark "recved a presnt of Capt L. of a fleece hosrie," undoubtedly wool stockings. Years later, artist George Catlin, in his North American Indian Portfolio (1844), II, liv. 181, used it in to denote "The fleece (hump) of a fat cow." In 1891 the noun appeared in the Army & Navy Journal (N.Y., 5 Sept., 30-31) in a somewhat more specific sense: "The fleece [of a buffalo] is the meat lying on each side of the hump ribs and resting on the outside of the side ribs" (Oxford English Dictionary).
24. Pemmican comes from a Cree Indian word meaning "manufactured grease." Edward N. Wentworth, "Dried Meat — Early Man's Travel Ration." Agricultural History 30 (January 1956): 2-10.
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