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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Did the Romans Colonize America? One Mountain Man Thought so.

Rufus Sage, a bonafide mountain man, felt strongly about a Roman colony in America. Does his argument persuade you?

Prehistory, or history before it was written down, is mysterious stuff. All we can definitively know is what we can find and prove. Sure there are lots of interesting theories out there, but unless you have the evidence, it doesn’t stand. It is wild to think that well over 97% of our history isn’t even really understood. Lots of mysteries abound from this period, and proving them true or false is the arduous work of archeologists and historians. One entertaining theory from America’s pre-history, is of an ancient Roman colony in America.

It is little known today, that in the early 1800’s there was some support for the hypothesis that the Roman’s had colonized America at some point in the past. Personally, I first came across this theory while reading Rufus Sage’s Rocky Mountain Life. Needless to say, it caught my eye.

Sage was a mountain man who headed west in 1841 after the fur trade had passed its apex. While in the west he recorded his adventures, observations, and experiences for readers to enjoy. Most of the journal is what you’d expect from a mountain man’s life. Much of it covers description of the country he saw, the people he met, and how his life played out. However, at a few junctures, Sage expounds upon a theory of a Roman colony in America.

He first postulates this theory by comparing Sioux language to Latin on page 158. According to Sage:

“… enough, I trust, has already been said to fortify the position so largely warranted by the premises, to wit; that in former ages the Romans maintained a foothold upon the American continent, and had intercourse with this nation, either by arms or by commerce.”

Sage also goes on to state:

“It is by no means a conjecture of recent origin, that the ancient Romans did actually colonies portions of the American continent. The industrious researches of antiquarians have long since brought to light many items which prove and strengthen it, though none of them so tangible and obvious as those previously noticed.”

Following this in his journal, Sage goes on to note several pieces of evidence he feels backs up his claim that Romans colonized America.

Later in the journal, Sage once again picks up this hypothesis, only this time while spending time further west. His story begins on page 234 of the journal.

He recounts meeting a trapping party coming out from the Gila country of the present day Southwest. They have a friendly discourse with the trappers and discuss activity in the region. He then relates a tale the trappers told him about the Munchies, a tribe of white indians in the extreme northwestern part of Sonora. The wandering group of trappers even told Sage they had stayed with the Munchies for four weeks.

Sage recounts their tale of staying with this group of white aborigines, and how their skin was more fair than the whites. They reportedly subsisted through agriculture, and raised cattle, horses, and sheep. The Munchies had what would have amounted to a republican government, “arts and comforts of a civilized life”, and had a religion similar to other Native people of the region. Sage goes on once again to say:

“…are they not the remote descendants of some colony of ancient Romans? That such colonies did here exist in former ages, there is good reason for believing. The great lapse of time and other operative causes combined, may have transformed the Munchies from the habits, customs, character, religion, arts, civilization, and language of the Romans, to the condition in which they are at present found.”

It is there Rufus Sage ends the conversation on a Roman colony in America.

The Colosseum
Was there a Roman colony in America? Odds are, probably not.

What are we to make of this? Sage is providing us with a primary source from the time period. These are supposed to be our most accurate widows into the past. Did the Romans colonize America? Did trappers stay with a group of white Indians? Sorry to say, the answer to these entertaining theories is likely NO, at least in my mind.

Fist off, try researching the relationship between Lakota and Latin today. There simply isn’t anything out there on the subject. Today there are linguists who do nothing but study language, and they haven’t been producing volumes of work on the connection. In fact, I couldn’t find a single shred of modern evidence to back up a relationship between the two languages. That’s not to say there might not be any, I certainly couldn’t find it.

Secondly, Sage’s second report on the theory of a group of white Indians is second hand. It also came from trappers, a group with a hard-earned reputation for telling tall tales. There may be little doubt that trappers did in fact tell Sage this story. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean it was true. I’d wager that the closer Sage leaned in, the wilder the tale actually became. My guess would this would be one of those instances where Sage got duped by an entertaining tale. He then felt compelled to either dupe more people, or he bought it hook, line, and sinker. That of course, is speculation on my part.

Although there are still modern attempts to claim Roman colonization of America, the claims are generally disputed. As with many aspects of prehistory, we may never know the answer to question of Roman colonization in America. It can be fun to think about though.

More than anything, the Rufus Sage journals can teach us about the life and thoughts of an American mountain man. We can learn about the theories of the time, their lives, and more about the world they lived in. When you read the journals you certainly get a better feel for the mystery the world still held at the time. Everything was new, much had not been documented, and people still lived vastly different lives depending on where you went.

Sage was gracious enough to have recorded his experiences, and reading them is a real treat. They certainly do offer up a great deal of knowledge about the lives of mountain men. If you have the time, and are interested in western history, they certainly are worth a read. When you read them, enjoy them for what they are; the wonderful adventures of a rambling mountain man.

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Thanks for taking the time to read this article on a mountain man’s theory of a Roman colony in America. If you enjoyed it, please follow this blog by clicking the button near the bottom of the page. You may also enjoy this post on a mountain man poem he penned in the same journal.

Rufus Sage’s Authentic Mountain Man Poem Opens a Window to the Past.

This mountain man poem opens a window to the heart and mind of someone who lived the life of a mountaineer.

Primary sources are invaluable for learning about the past. From them, we can learn about the past most accurately and get a real sense of a time period. Journals, newspapers, artifacts, and photos all can offer up tidbits of insight about human life in a different time. Art is another category of primary source that can teach us a considerable amount. Art, such as poetry and song, can not only teach us about life in the past, but also about what was going in the mind of the people. In addition we can imagine how they saw themselves, the world, and the people around them.

One era of history where the use of primary sources is widely practiced for research, is the mountain man era of the western fur trade. During this era, many diaries were penned, inventories kept, and a generally plentiful supply of primary sources exist. While reading the journals of Rufus Sage, I happened upon a bit of a gem within its pages. During his time out west, Sage penned a poem he titled, The Wanderer’s Grave. From it we can learn not only about his life, but perhaps the thoughts that coursed through the mind of a mountaineer.

His authentic mountain man poem goes like this:

A Wanderer’s Grave

Away from friends, away from home
and all the heart holds dear,
A weary wand’rer laid him down,
Nor kindly aid was near.

And sickness prey’d upon his frame
And told its tale of woe,
While sorrow mark’d his pallid cheeks
And sank his spirit low.

Nor waiting friends stood round his couch
A healing to impart,-
Nor human voice spoke sympathy,
To sooth his aching heart.

The stars of night his watchers were,
His fan the rude winds’ breath,
And while they sigh’d their hollow moans,
He closed his eyes in death.

Upon the prairie’s vast expanse
This weary wand’rer lay;
And far from friends, and far from home,
He breath’d his life away!

A lovely valley marks the spot
That claims his lowly bed;
But o’er the wand’re’s hapless fate
No friendly tear was shed.

No willing grave received the corpse
Of this poor lonely one;
He bones, alas, were left to bleach
And moulder ‘neath the sun!

The night-wolf howl’d his requiem,
The rude winds danced his dirge;
And e’er anon, in mournful chime,
Sigh’d forth the mellow surge!

The Spring shall teach the rising grass
To twine for him a tomb;
And, o’er the spot where he doth lie,
Shall bid the wild flowers bloom.

But, far from friends, and far from home,
Ah, dismal thought, to die!
Oh, let me ‘mid my friends expire,
And with my fathers lie.

Rufus Sage.
Rufus Sage’s authentic mountain man poem allows us a deep look at his life and thoughts.

The author of this poem, Rufus Sage, was a greenhorn by all accounts. He had traveled west to chase adventure and see The West in its splendor. In his journal, this poem marks the end of his time at Scottsbluff. Most western Nebraskans know the story of how a trapper named Hiram Scott died at the spot in 1830. While encamped at the same location 11 years later,  Sage looked around and reflected on the circumstances of the man’s death. All alone. Prairie in all directions. Nothing but the prairie wolves and wind for a burial party. While standing there, enveloped in isolation, Rufus Sage appears to have stood in Scott’s moccasins for a time, and contemplated his final moments.

As you can tell from the poem, Rufus Scott had no romantic desire to die on the plains. While envisioning his own death on the prairie, he noted he would long for one thing; his family. This brief exposure of his psyche can help possibly break a few of the old sterotypes we are sometimes fed about America’s wild mountain men.

For starters, most mountaineers weren’t traipsing around the mountains with no hopes of ever returning home. Mountaineers streamed to the Rockies for lots of reasons; adventure, allure of money, curiosity, intrigue, and a host of others. Like Sage, most of the men didn’t have plans to die a glorious death on the windswept plains. This seems like a no brainer, but sometimes is seems we cast these men as having some wish to vanish forever into the mountains. While possibly true for some, unlikely the wish of many.

Secondly, it can possibly reveal the breathtaking, yet fearsome, scope of the prairie. The huge grassland of our nation seemed to really engulf him for a moment, and intimidated him to a degree. You can imagine the feeling of standing in over a half million square miles of prairie with no lifeline to the world you came from. For Sage, he seemed to realize the reality of the vastness of the plains. When paired with his thoughts of death, you can tell it sort of rattled him.

Rufus Sage’s authentic mountain man poem is not only a good read, but, like other primary sources, it offers a glimpse into the past. As art, rather than fact, it also opens up another layer in the story of his life. We not only can learn about his experiences, but what he was thinking and feeling on a deeper level. When you take the time to read his words, think about the context. You might be surprised at where your own thoughts wander if you look at it from his moccasins.

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Thanks for taking the time to read this essay on an authentic mountain man poem. If you find this sort of thing interesting, you might enjoy reading this essay on Rufus Sage’s thought on Scottsbluff in 1841.

Scottsbluff Circa 1841 was God’s Country.

According to Rufus Sage, Scottsbluff, Nebraska was heaven on earth in 1841.

Do you ever find yourself gazing at our Nebraska prairies, dreaming of what they looked like in the days of old? Before civilization, before telephone poles, and before fences, what was it all like? For some of us, that dreaming is near constant. These days, the search for unadulterated landscapes can seem a bit like catching the wind with a net, hopeless. Although the land has changed, it still lies beneath our feet and retains the bulk of its original features. We can better see through the shroud of modernity if we understand what it looked like in the past. One man who gave a vivid account of the native Nebraska landscape was Rufus Sage.

Rufus Sage was an adventurous soul, who drifted west in 1841. He pitched in with a group of mountaineers who departed out of Westport, Missouri headed for the Rocky Mountains. Sage left with only one purpose in mind, the slate his “innate curiosity, and fondness for things strange and new.” Fortunately for us, Sage documented his three year expedition through The West of the early 1840’s in his journal.

By this time the first wagons had already passed over South Pass, the blessed gap in the Rockies that made mass migration possible. Not only that, but the height of the mountain man rendezvous period had passed. True enough, missionaries and families had passed over the land before Rufus Sage laid eyes on it. Even so, he gives us a glimpse into what the world looked like in days long ago.

Within his journal Sage notes many of the amusements and amazements The West of 1841 still had to offer. He notes giant herds of buffalo, unmolested rivers meandering across a vast grassland, and unforgiving elements of Mother Nature. Sage had a keen eye for beauty, and his words still convey the sense of breathlessness he must have felt when traveling under the grand skies of The West. He notes early and often about various flora and fauna, displaying his keen awareness of the subtitles of life. One place Rufus Sage left no doubt as to his feelings of awe, was his camp at Scottsbluff.

In his journal he describes Scottsbluff as, “a most romantic and picturesque scenery.” He goes on the describe the area as such.

“The spectacle was grand and imposing beyond description. It seemed as if Nature, in mere sportiveness, had thought to excel the noblest works of art, and rear up a mimic city as the grand metropolis of her empire.”

He goes on to describe the rock formations around Scottsbluff as if it were a small city. Stones were work-shops and ware-houses. Parks and pleasure grounds abounded in this venue shaped by heat, rain, and incessant wind. While on Scottsbluff’s summit, he describes the vista still afforded from this tower of the prairie as, “Command(ing) a view of the whole country, lending enchantment to the neighboring scenes”. You can still get this same commanding view from the summit today.

One point of interest Sage notes in his journal, is the wildlife that abounded in and around the bluff. He describes the area at “the favorite home of the mountain sheep, where she breeds and rears her young, secure in her inaccessible fastnesses.” Not long after he notes:

“Most of the varieties of wild fruits indigenous to the mountains are found in this vicinity, and also numerous bands of buffalo, elk, deer, sheep, and antelope, with the grizzly bear. In the summer months the prospect is most delightful, and affords to the admiring beholder an Eden of fruits and flowers.”

Near the end of his entry on the Scottsbluff area, he records the feeling of one voyageur of his party.

“I could die here, then, -certain of being not far from heaven!”

As you can see, the men were certainly impressed with this unique landscape of western Nebraska.

These days it can be hard to visualize the wild land Sage is documenting. Today this landscape is concealed beneath the varnish of civilization. Roads, buildings, farms, and railroads now dominate the scene. Even in the mostly unknown region of western Nebraska, human development now reigns supreme over the wildness that once was. We have overcome the obstacles Rufus Sage thought impossible, and settled the prairie.

Gone are the sheep in great numbers. Gone are the elk and the blackening herds of buffalo. Gone too are the grizzly bears, for bad or for good. People are now the omnipresent force shaping the land, also for bad or for good. Where once bands of sheep reared their young, we now have bustling communities where children are raised. Where once an Eden of fruits and flowers sprang up, we have fields of abundant grain and family gardens. Herds of wild buffalo have been replaced by herds of relatively tranquil cattle. The once hushed and timeless prairie, has transformed into a bustling and busy locale. These changes have improved our lives, but make envisioning the world it was seem impossible.

Although our impact has greatly shaped the land Rufus Sage witness, its has not buried it. Those equipped with a keen eye and a sense of history, may still be able to tease out a vision of the past. You can still see the bluff rising above the surrounding prairie. Many of the same native plants set their roots in its soil. A sunrise today still sets the white sandstone ablaze along with the golden prairie grasses. Mule deer today still perk their ears with the alertness they have for thousands of years. In fact, the wildness of the past may not be as far gone as we think.

Those of us who seek a window into the past may find traces of it still around. It may require some digging, some sifting, and some imagination, but the core of what Rufus Sage recorded still remains. For all of us in western Nebraska, we can learn from his journals that our lands were as inspiring as any to the adventurers of the past. Although they stayed only temporarily, their fondness for the region stuck with them. In a world where men were free to trespass across the expanse of The West and explore the lofty mountains, clear streams, and grassy meadows, the rising bluffs of western Nebraska were as much God’s Country as any of it.

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Thanks for taking the time to read this essay on western Nebraska and Rufus Sage. If you enjoy learning about the past and the mountain men, you might enjoy this article with video of a vintage mountain man journey that is sure to impress.