28 Wild Foods Eaten By Mountain Man Rufus Sage

Buffalo

If you’ve ever wondered what wild food the mountain men ate, you’ll surely appreciate this list from Rufus Sage’s journal.

Food in America today is atypical from its historical place in people’s lives. Very few people reading this, if any, will wake up and ask the question, “Will I eat today?” Most folks will wake up secure in the fact they’ll have at least a few meals. Most of them will have snacks, fruits, and vegetables, all within arms length if they desire to. The biggest challenge we tend to have is batting away bad calories and trying to get just the good. As normal as this might be to the average American, it certainly hasn’t been the norm in our history.

One of the more interesting aspects of history to me personally, is how people were able to forge a living from the land. Be it pioneers, mountain men, or Stone Age hunters, just thinking about how much food they had to consume is a little mind blowing. Men on the Lewis and Clark expedition would consume up to 9 pounds of meat in a day. 9 pounds! I’ve never met anyone that could eat 9 pounds of meat in a day and still be worth a darn. It’s stories like this that stoke my fascination about how people of the past lived.

Recently while reading mountain man Rufus Sage’s journal, I started searching for the food he ate. Albeit, he doesn’t spend an extraordinary amount of time on the subject, he does address it occasionally. You see, Sage was not an experienced mountain man. He headed west in 1841 after the Rendezvous period had come to a close. He had bounced around the frontier states for a while, and eventually decided to see the great west while it remained unsettled. As he was new to mountain man life, he recorded it from a perspective of observation. As such, he could point out unique things seasoned mountain men took for granted. He sheds some light on the wild foods eaten by the mountain men because they were an oddity in his life. Just as they would be new experiences for us, they were likely the same for him.

After reading the journals I was able to nail down these 28 wild foods he ate while on his adventure. This list may be incomplete, and other food may have been included. At times the journal hints that other foods were eaten, but never directly states the fact. Those food were intentionally left out. He also apparently ate farmed food, but that has been omitted as well. These foods are the wild foods that Sage directly states he had eaten.

If you’d like to read his account of the food, you can click this link and follow along in his journal. It has graciously been provided by the Mountain Men and the Fur Trade website.

Without further delay, here are the 28 wild foods eaten by mountain man Rufus Sage.

Buffalo
Buffalo were a staple food of mountain men. Image via Pixabay.

Buffalo (PG 43)
Buffalo was one of the mainstays in the mountain man diet. They consumed many parts of the animal from meat, to intestine, to organs. There are many cases where Sage records hunting the animals and enjoying their meat. This entry records his first taste of what would become his staple food.

Sage was impressed by the impact a diet of wild meat had on human health. Later in his journal (PG 280) he would write:

“Sickness of any kind is rarely known to the various Indian tribes confined exclusively to its use. These people almost invariably live to an extraordinary age, unless cut off by the ravages or war or some unforeseen event. Consumption, dyspepsy, colds, and fevers, are alike strangers to them. The same observation holds good in regard to the whites who reside in this country and subsist in a similar manner.”

Dog (PG 111)
Sage comments that Indian dog was not inferior to pork. He also notes that the thought of eating dog would have made people of the mid-1800’s “squamish”.

Elk (PG 122)
Of course elk was on the menu. Sage mentions hunting elk on several occasions.

Pomme Blanc (White Apple)(PG 122)
A root eaten by the mountain men. Noted to taste like turnip and look like sheep sorrel.

Commote (PG 123)
Another root. Like radish with leaves like a carrot.

Wild Cherry Bark Tea (PG 123)
Apparently very common and use for purifying blood. Sage notes it as, “Effective and necessary to general health.”

Deer would certainly have been enjoyed. Image via Pixabay.

Deer (PG 124)
Of course many deer were eaten. This is barely mentioned in the journal though, likely because it wasn’t that out of the ordinary in his life.

Prairie Dog (PG 126)
Sage describes them as tender and quite palatable.

Serviceberry (PG 131)
Highly esteemed for its superior flavor.

Box-Elder Sap (PG 132)
Noted as “Not inferior to that of maple.”

Bear (PG 133)
At several points in his journal Sage mentioned eating bear. He specifically mentions the liver, heart, kidney, fat, fleece and ribs as portions they ate.

Mountain Sheep (PG 139)
Described as good, tender and sweet.

Mountain Fowl (PG 144)
By the description, I’d wager a ptarmigan, though could be some other grouse as well.

Bilters (PG 153)
Buffalo gut-juice drink. Directions are to mix one pint water with 1/4 gill of buffalo gall. “A wholesome and exhilarating drink.” Sage also notes that on the first drink it “may cause vomiting,” though on the second or third trial the stomach accepts it. He also goes into depth about how the drink is believed to be very beneficial for overall health.

Bald eagle
Even bald eagles contributed to the diet. Image via Pixabay.

Bald Eagle Fledglings (PG 164)
Made “a fine meal.”

Waterfowl Eggs (PG 164)

Antelope (PG 175)

“Greens” (PG 175)
He doesn’t go into much depth here. You can imagine he had learned a variety of wild greens available, though as far as I can tell this is the only instance where he mentions “greens”.

Prickly Pear Cactus (PG 196)
Eaten after boiling. Described the practice as “not uncommon”.

Turkey (PG 203)
Killed by the dozens out of the roost. Sage gives an entertaining and descriptive account of hunting turkeys from the roost. On several occasions he talks about shooting multiple birds after discovering their roost tree.

Salmon (PG 248)
While spending time in Oregon, Sage notes the abundance of fish and other marine life in the area. Though many types of marine animals are noted, only the salmon are described as “delicious”. One could likely assume he ate other species noted as well.

Oftentimes in his journal Sage gives advice on what future settlers should do. For example, he says some areas should be used for farming and mining. In the case of Oregon, he rightly assumes that fishing will become a major industry of that region.

Wild Fruits (PG 259)
Cherries, gooseberries, serviceberries, currants, plums and grapes.

Wolf.
Even predator meat was occasionally on the mountain man menu. Image via Pixabay.

Wolf (PG 296)
Interesting to read that mountaineers occasionally dined on predator meat. In this case it was for breakfast. One should note it was only after 2 days and 3 nights of not eating. Foods like this seem to be reserved for “survival” purposes.

Horse (PG 305)
Again, more of a “survival” food. There are many stories from this time period of men eating horse and mule. In this case a colt was slaughtered for being “unmanageable” and presented “an opportunity too tempting not to be improved in replenishing our stock, which induced us to encamp for that purpose.” An entertaining story follows with the owner of the horse showing up shortly after the colt was killed.

Crow’s Eggs (PG 320)
Six to ten dozen in an hour.

Catfish (PG 347)
Caught in great number. He also mentions that east of the Rockies there were few good places to fish.

Prairie potato (PG 355)
Prairie turnip in today’s nomenclature.

Nothing (PG 291)
Maybe the biggest aspect of the mountain man diet that stands out when you read their journals, is the fact they often went hungry. In this case Sage went 5 days and nights without eating. It certainly wasn’t uncommon and Sage often notes not eating for days at a time. In a world where 3 hots at predetermined times  is the norm, it’s hard to imagine being constantly half starved.

While there are many takeaways from this list of wild food the mountain men ate, a few stand out. One, the idea that mountain men simply ate large animals like buffalo, elk, and deer is just not the case. Although buffalo supplied a large amount of meat, and was coveted, they ate a variety of food. Two, in a pinch they’d eat about anything. Three, their level of activity and diet of wild food had a positive impact on health that was not lost to men at the time. This shouldn’t be earth shattering for anyone to hear. Eat right, stay active, and you’ll feel good.

Finally, mountain men really seem to have enjoyed eating. Sage describes legitimate feasts in his journals. You can imagine that after not eating for several days, then finally laying down a cow buffalo, you’d fully appreciate your food. In our world of easy food access, this may be something we’ve lost.

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4 Uses of Soapweed Yucca, a Blessing on the Plains

Uses of soapweed yucca

In a land that may seem bleak, knowing the uses of soapweed yucca is a must.

One of the most alluring aspects of learning about skills of the past is the new perspective you develop about the world. You’ll see things you never saw before, and begin to see abundance where you once saw only barrenness. Where once you saw a forest, you start to see a multitude of individual treasures scattered all about. Some food here. Some fire starting material there. The more you learn, the more incredible a few simple acres of woods becomes.

The same can be said for the expansive grasslands of our prairie lands. Our great prairie is where I call home at the moment. Historically, this area has always been one of low human population. For good reason too. There is an obvious lack of timber and running water, two things that have always been vital for human settlement. Prior to the migration of European Americans, Native American societies called these grasslands home. They were also sparsely settled and many had adapted a nomadic life well suited to this vast land. When the first European Americans came through this land in large numbers, it was only to pass through our Great American Desert. The thought of actually staying didn’t even cross their mind.

The misconception of our Great Plains as a vast wasteland is a myth that some still hold today. In truth though, our great grassland can in fact be a difficult place to scratch a living from the land. This is especially true when you talk about primitive living. Although difficult, there are a variety of plants and animals available that humans have been using for millennia to subsist in this exapansive land. One plant that people of the plains have traditionally found very useful is the ever-so-common soapweed yucca.

Soapweed yucca is one of the many varieties of yucca on the North American continent. It is characterized by the same features of many species. It has thin green leaves that terminate with a sharp needlelike point. Soapweed also has a woody center from which the plant’s flower blossoms grow. Chances are, if you’ve been through the Great Plains, you’ve seen this prolific plant.

Although soapweed is not a plant that will keep you alive for an extended period of time, it is a plant that can provide a variety of materials we can benefit from. That being said, here are the 4 uses of soapweed yucca that you can begin to experiment with.

Cordage

The first way that I came to realize the utility of yucca, was when I started making cordage from the leaves. Yucca has strong and fibrous leaves that make it ideal for that sort of use. For an in-depth explanation of how to turn yucca into stout cordage, reference this article I penned for Offthegridnews.com. Within an hour you can make a good amount of cordage for future use.

Yucca cordage
Yucca makes a natural needle and thread.

Another way to use yucca as cordage is to put the naturally spiked end of the plant to work. Anyone who has walked across the yucca covered plains will testify to the prickly nature of the plants. However, what we classify as a nuisance, can quickly be turned into a benefit with a change in perspective. To use the natural needle on each yucca leaf, you still have to get the outer layer off the leaf to bare open the fibers. To do so, pound the leaf between two pieces of wood. As you do so you’ll begin to notice the outside beginning to flake off. At that point you just need to scrape off the waste to access the fibers. Pound the entire leaf except the last 2 or 3 inches. You can separate the fibers to make them more flexible, decrease the number to decrease the diameter, or leave them as they are.

After the quick process you’ll be holding an all-natural needle and thread in your hand. The point is strong and sharp enough to punch through denim, and can sew up nearly anything. This quick and easy cordage surely wasn’t lost on the ancestral people of this land.

Fire

Yucca hearthboard.
Soft yucca hearthboard.

Another of the many uses of soapweed yucca to start friction fires. It has one of the lowest combustion temperatures of any wood, which makes it a great wood choice. The portion to use is the woody stalk at the center of the plant. As with any wood, make sure to select dead and seasoned stalks. Personally, I’ve had the best luck using yucca as a hearth board and a mullein spindle when practicing my hand drill. That being said, many people out there can quickly bring a coal to life using yucca as the spindle and hearth board. It was one of the favored woods of people in the past for starting friction fires.

Soap

Perhaps the most well-known use of soapweed yucca is where it derives its name; making soap. The natural soap yucca provides has been used for eons on this continent, and still cleans just as good as it ever has. Within the root of the plant there is a compound called saponin. This compound is the agent that you need to get at to make soap.

To make soap you’ll first have to gather some yucca root. When digging, give a fairly wide berth around the plant to get as much of the root as possible. Once the plant is removed from the soil, take a few minutes to shave off the woody exterior of the root. Next, dice the root into smaller portions. The smaller you make the pieces, the easier making soap will be.

Yucca soap
All natural yucca soap and shampoo.

With your yucca root chopped into smaller pieces, drop them into a sturdy container and add a small bit of water. Don’t overdo it on the water. You can easily add more water, while removing it once you start the process can cause you to lose some of the soap. Once your water is added, begin to mash the roots. You can use stones, wood, or whatever tool you can devise. As you mash the roots you’ll begin to notice a small bit of saponin secrete from them. Mix this with the water and soon you’ll have a very foamy soap you can use as needed. You can also use it as both a soap and a natural shampoo. Before you dive into using it though, you may want to do a skin test. Some people are allergic to the saponin that creates the soap.

Like all primitive skills, if you give making yucca soap a try, you’ll not only better understand our natural world, but you’ll have a better grasp of the past as well.

Food

The final use of soapweed yucca is its value as a food source. While this prolific plant doesn’t provide us with copious amounts of calories, at certain times of the year it does offer a small snack. What you’ll need to search for are yuccas in bloom. The flowers of soapweed yucca are a crisp and tasty treat if you catch them at the right time of year. Be sure to shake them out, as the creases of the flower are a great place for insects to roost. I’m sure you can cook the leaves somehow, but enjoying them off the plant provides a refreshing snack on a hot day.

As you can see, soapweed yucca is a very useful plant. Although it can’t be regarded as an abundant food source, it can provide other necessities that can add to your knowledge of primitive skills. It is a very useful plant in regards to cordage, and is one of your only option for fire on the grassy plains. You can also make a fine soap if you want to experiment with primitive skills. As with all primitive skills, it is one thing to know about the process. It is another thing entirely to practice it. By actually putting the ancestral knowledge into action, we can continue to keep our most ancient knowledge alive.

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Thanks for reading this article on the 4 uses of soapweed yucca.  If you enjoyed it, please follow this blog by clicking the button near the bottom of the page. For those interested in learning more about the uses of different plants, you might find this article useful about the 8 uses of cattail from hunting to dinner plate.

Soft Tracks Outdoors

Soft Track in snow

“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” – Matthew 6: 26

cropped-soft-tracks.jpg
Soft tracks through the frozen prairie.

This simple bible verse has fueled my interest in ancient skills. Simply put, this verse shares a wonderful truth with the world: God has created the world, cares for all his creation, and will provide you with everything you need to persevere in this life. For over 100,000 years people lived as an embodiment of this principle neither sowing nor reaping. Nomadic hunters roamed the land believing their needs would be met if they invested the energy.

We know little about the lives of people in pre-history but can assume they were widely diverse across the globe. As you study pockets Paleo people, you do seem to notice a few reoccurring tendencies. The recognition that a higher power existed and influenced the world, and the concept their lives were a small part of a bigger mystery called life seem prevalent across the world.

Another interesting aspect of Paleo people’s lives is the fact their lives left a small impression on the world. Ancient people lived for thousands of generations and left the landscape nearly unchanged in that time. It is not to say people didn’t impact their environments and didn’t utilize the world to their advantage. The reality is they had an impact on their environment, animal populations, and possibly even accelerated the extinction of different species. It is a modern misunderstanding to view these people as static and content to watch the world roll by, hoping for enough blessings to make it though the next day.

In fact these people were actively living in the world, both realizing a higher power was in control, but applying their own energies toward their survival searching for the gifts. They used stones, animals, plants, and anything else the land and God provided. Compared to our modern lives though, the impact of these people is hard to discern. Though their existence makes up the lion share of history finding evidence of this fact is difficult at best. In contrast, we are arguably living in a time where our “tracks” are the most discernible.

Soft Tracks outdoors is not a blog dedicated to a return to the Stone Age. In fact my interests lie beyond skills of the stone age to included 19th century mountain man skills, 18th century longhunter skills, modern outdoor pursuits, bushcraft in general, and other skills where at the core is reliance upon the natural bounty. I believe practicing these skills creates an understanding of the treasure naturally available and changes the perspective of people who practice them. It’s not about everyone regressing, as much as it is about keeping our ancient knowledge alive in the world. At some point it may once again be called upon.

Primitive skills for some also reenforce the realization that God will care for you and will provide you with all you need. I don’t believe primitive skills are the only route to this destination however. I know it helps me and could possibly help others as well. Some experience God on a Sunday worship, and others may realize his glory on a Friday night deer hunt.

Please follow us as we rediscover ancient skills, celebrate the bounty of the hunt, experience typical human experiences in history, deepen our faith, and learn to live a life of soft tracks.