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