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Indian Commissary

from the Mandan Villages west to the Rocky Mountains, the Corps of Discovery was traveling through the territory of the Plains Indians Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara, Assiniboin, Cree, Blackfeet, Cheyenne, Comanche, Crow, Lakota, Dakota. The bison was at the center of those peoples' lives, both physically and spiritually.

It was the supermarket on the Plains, a source of nourishment, tools and utensils, clothing, home furnishings, weapons, sporting goods, transportation equipment, and ceremonial aids.

Edible Parts

  • Nourishment Meat, especially the tongue and the hump; blood, heart, intestines ( fat), stomach.
  • Tools and Utensils Bladder (water bucket), rough side of tongue (hairbrush), fat (soap), brains and liver (tanning agents), intestines (pouches).


  • Clothing Robes, shirts, leggings, dresses, belts, moccasins,caps, mittens.
  • Home Furnishings Tepees, blankets, medicine cases, trunks.
  • Tools and Utensils Tobacco pouches, berry bags, cooking vessels, buckets, pictographic records ("winter counts").
  • Weapons Shields, knife sheaths.
  • Transportation Saddles and pads, saddle bags, lariats, horse-watering troughs, dog packs, boats, rafts, snowshoes.
  • Recreation Ball covers, netting for lacrosse, hoops.
  • Ceremonial objects Rattles, masks, winding sheet for the dead.


  • Clothing Headdress ornaments
  • Tools and Utensils Spoons, ladles, cups.
  • Weapons Powder flasks.
  • Ceremonial objects Masks.


  • Tools and Utensils Rawhide rope was pulled through the eye socket to dehair it.
  • Ceremonial objects Antlers; entire head worn as a mask.


  • Clothing Ornaments (teeth were also used).
  • Tools and Utensils Knives, scrapers, hoes (shoulder blades), sewing awls, paintbrush handles.
  • Weapons Arrowheads, lance points.
  • Transportation Sled runners (rib bones).
  • Recreation Counters in gambling games.


  • Tools and Utensils Glue.
  • Ceremonial Objects Masks, rattles.


  • Clothing Headdress ornaments.
  • Home Furnishings Tepee ornaments.
  • Tools and Utensils Brushes, braided rope.
  • Weapons Ornaments for clubs.
  • Recreation Stuffing for balls.


  • Tools and Utensils Fly swatters.


  • Tools and Utensils String, thread.
  • Weapons Bowstrings, bow backing, arrowhead wrappings.

Dry Dung

  • Tools and Utensils Fuel, baby diapers (mixed with cattail).
    Information provided by National Bison Range, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Moiese, Montana

    --Joseph Mussulman


From Discovering Lewis & Clark ®, http://www.lewis-clark.org © 1998-2014
by The Lewis and Clark Fort Mandan Foundation, Washburn, North Dakota.
Journal excerpts are from The Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, edited by Gary E. Moulton
13 vols. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1983-2001)