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