Primal Living on the American Plains
The oft romanticized life of the aboriginal Native American was at once beautifully free and unimaginably bloody. On the great plains, tribes like the Comanche were entirely dependent on the buffalo, which at the time numbered in the millions and darkened the plains like a woolly ocean. In order to secure the choicest hunting grounds, perpetual war was waged and when white settlers began moving westward the it was as if the white settlers had stumbled upon their own ancestors, the hunter-gatherer tribes of prehistoric Europe, with particularly brutal results.
The Comanche raided, raped and tortured the whites. They were expert horsemen and, for a time, seemingly unbeatable. The whites, however, brought the invisible scourge of diseases like cholera, and after years of frustrated military endeavors, eventually ground the Comanche down through a mix of sheer numbers and technological superiority.
This is the world described by S.C. Gwynne in his book "Empire of the Summer Moon". Amid unflinching descriptions of the "depredations" inflicted by both Native Americans and white settlers, one can catch a glimpse of a way of life that spanned uncounted generations and offers insight into the traditional foodways of nomadic hunter-gatherers.
In describing the eating habits of the Comanche, Gwynne describes buffalo as "the food loved more than any other." The meat was most often prepared as steaks "cooked over open fires or boiled in copper kettles" or cut thin and dried as pemmican to be eaten on long trips or stored for the winter.
Buffalo meat wasn't the only item on the menu, however, as Comanches also "ate the kidneys and the paunch." When there was a fresh kill, children would rush up, "begging for it's liver and gallbladder, squirt the salty bile from the gallbladder onto the liver and eat it on the spot, warm and dripping blood."
Contrary to the common notion that an animal must be "milked" in order for its milk to be consumed, the Comanche would regularly consume buffalo milk by cutting directly into the udder bag of a slain female to "drink the milk mixed with warm blood". The "greatest" delicacy was even a sort of cheese cut from the stomach of a suckling calf.
It was only in times of extreme hardship and looming starvation that Comanche would consume small game, fish, birds, "terrapins", and grubs. Their prized horses were also used as a source of food only in times of emergency, such as when pursued by white soldiers. One particular passage tells of a Comanche warrior who, while being chased, dismounted, cut open the stomach of his horse, wrapped the intestines around his neck, and jumped onto the back of another horse to take up flight once again, eating the intestines after removing the contents by squeezing them between two fingers.
Farming was unambiguously frowned upon, as were the white man's rations. During the years when Indian policy was marked by the signing of many treaties, which were promptly broken by both parties, the Comanche didn't think twice about eating the corn meal presented to them as gifts. They immediately fed it to their horses.
Want to try making your own pemmican? Try this recipe from Dave "Daveman" Parsons.