Hamilton describes how the Cheyennes hunt buffalo, drying and turn the meat and tallow into pemmican, being 5 times as energy dense as fresh meat. He also describes the practice of using dupuyer - a long fatty strip of flesh along the buffalo backbone that is cherished above all else.
May 1, 1842
My sixty years on the plains, trapping, trading, and Indian fighting by William Thomas Hamilton
CHAPTER II Buffalo Hunt with Cheyennes. A Stirring Picture. My First Buffalo. Perils of the Chase. We are Feasted on our Return. Character of the Cheyennes. Pemmican and Depuyer a Substitute for Bread. We Leave the Cheyennes.
The next morning, before daylight, fifty hunters and about twenty squaws with pack animals were assembled, ready to start on the buffalo hunt. We travelled about ten miles, when the scouts discovered a herd and reported their location to the hunting chief. He was thoroughly acquainted with the topography of the country and led us on a long detour, so as to get on the leeward side of the herd. As soon as we reached there, the Indians stripped to breech-clout and advanced, leading their running horses. The chief now divided the hunters in two divisions, in order to get what buffalo were wanted in the smallest possible area. It is necessary to approach as close as possible before raising the herd, for when raised they travel fast and no laggard of a horse can overtake them. Generally each division has a leader, who gives the order to go. We rode to within a quarter of a mile of the herd before the word was given. Here would have been a grand scene for an artist to put on canvas—this wild array of naked Indians, sending forth yell after yell and riding like demons in their eagerness to bring down the first buffalo. For this is quite a feat and is commented upon by the whole village. Swift Runner and his cousin had the fastest horses in our division and brought down the first buffalo, much to the chagrin of many a young brave, who coveted that honor that they might receive smiles from their lady loves. My pony was close on the heels of the leaders, and Swift Runner pointed out a fat cow for me. In a few jumps I was alongside and fired, greenhorn like, at the cow's kidneys. As luck would have it, however, I broke her back and she dropped. Swift Runner gave a yell of delight at my success. I should have put the shot just behind the shoulder. There was yelling and shooting in every direction; and many riderless ponies were mixed in with the buffalo, with Indians after them, reckless if they in turn were dismounted as their friends had been, by the ponies stepping into prairie-dog or badger holes. Many an Indian has come to grief by having an arm or leg broken in this way. Ponies are sure-footed, but in a run such as this one, where over a thousand buffalo are tearing at full speed over the prairie, a dust is created which makes it impossible for the ponies to see the holes, hence the mishaps, which are very common. All the meat required lay in an area of three quarters of a mile. I had brought down four and received great praise from the Indians. I could have done much better, but, boy-like, I wanted to see the Indians shoot their arrows, which many of them used. One arrow was sufficient to bring the buffalo to its knees. They shot behind the shoulder, sending the arrow deep enough to strike the lungs. One shot there is enough for any animal in the United States.
Now came the butchering, which was completed in two hours, and each pony was packed with three hundred pounds of the choicest of meat. Several Indians who had been thrown, limped somewhat, but none were seriously hurt.
We arrived at the village about sundown and found the whole tribe lined up to greet us and to ascertain how successful we had been. A feast had been prepared and was awaiting our coming; and as for myself, I was "wolfish,” —which is a mountain man's expression for hungry,—for I had tasted no food since five o'clock in the morning. After supper incidents of the hunt were gone over, and listened to with interest by all. Our party congratulated me warmly on my success, and it was commented on also by the Indians, which pleased the boys immensely. If a white man fails to acquit himself creditably it invariably casts a reflection on all whites. The Cheyennes were and are today a proud and brave people. Their domestic habits were commendable and could be followed to advantage by many white families. To violate the marriage vow meant death or mutilation. This is a rule which does not apply to all tribes. Meat is their principal food, although berries of different kinds are collected in season, as well as various roots. The kettle is on the tripod night and day. They use salt when they can get it, and are very fond of molasses, sugar, coffee, and flour. They are hospitable to those whom they respect, and the reverse to those for whom they have contempt.
Most tribes of plains Indians dry their meat by cutting it in thin flakes and spreading it on racks and poles in the sun; although in damp or wet weather it is put inside of lodges, where it will dry, but not so well as in the sun. Mountain men follow the same practice and use the meat when game is scarce, and this often occurs. Pemmican is manufactured in the following manner. The choicest cuts of meat are selected and cut into flakes and dried. Then all the marrow is collected and the best of the tallow, which are dissolved together over a slow fire to prevent burning. Many tribes use berries in their pemmican. Mountaineers always do unless they have sugar. The meat is now pulverized to the consistency of mince meat; the squaws generally doing this on a flat rock, using a pestle, many specimens of which may be seen on exhibition in museums. A layer of meat is spread, about two inches thick, the squaws using a wooden dipper, a buffalo horn, or a claw for this work. On this meat is spread a certain amount of the ingredients made from the marrow and tallow, the proportion depending on the taste. This same process is repeated until the required amount is secured. One pound of pemmican is equal to five pounds of meat.
Buffalo tongues are split the long way and dried for future use, and thus prepared are a delicacy fit for a prince. Another important article of food, the equal of which is not to be had except from the buffalo, is “depuyer” (dépouille). It is a fat substance that lies along the backbone, next to the hide, running from the shoulder-blade to the last rib, and is about as thick as one's hand or finger. It is from seven to eleven inches broad, tapering to a feather edge on the lower side. It will weigh from five to eleven pounds, according to the size and condition of the animal. This substance is taken off and dipped in hot grease for half a minute, then is hung up inside of a lodge to dry and smoke for twelve hours. It will keep indefinitely, and is used as a substitute for bread, but is superior to any bread that was ever made. It is eaten with the lean and dried meat, and is tender and sweet and very nourishing, for it seems to satisfy the appetite. When going on the war-path the Indians would take some dried meat and some depuyer to live on, and nothing else, not even if they were to be gone for months. I have been asked many times regarding depuyer by different ones who have been astonished when told of its merits as a substitute for other food, and surprised that it was so little known except by mountain men and Indians. Trappers would pay a dollar a pound for it, and I do not believe that bread would bring that price unless one were starving. As I have said, it is a substitute for bread; and when you are invited to an Indian lodge your host will present you with depuyer just as you would present bread to a guest. You may be sure should they fail to present you with depuyer that you are an unwelcome guest.