Friday, August 26, 2011

Bill of Fare on the Plains

Annie D. Tallent (1827–1901)
From American Food Writing: An Anthology With Classic Recipes

When gold was found in the Black Hills of the Dakota Territory in 1874, prospectors were initially undeterred by the fact that the discovery was well within the boundaries of the Great Sioux Reservation established by a treaty six year earlier. Among the most prominent groups to travel into the region was the Gordon Expedition, which arrived in December from Sioux City, Iowa. By May 1875, however, U.S. troops, operating under commands issued from St. Louis by General William T. Sherman, had intercepted and detained members of the expedition and returned them to their homes. Nevertheless, during the following months, an increasing number of individual fortune seekers slipped past the threadbare government cordon into Indian territory, and the cavalry was reduced to playing a largely ineffective game of cat-and-mouse with the outlaws.

The miners and panners would eventually prevail. The U.S. government initiated negotiations with the Sioux to modify the treaty on terms more favorable to gold prospectors; after the talks collapsed, the military barrier melted away. “Representatives of every trade and profession under the sun came rushing along, figuratively, tumbling over each other in their headlong haste to be the first to reach the New Eldorado, each individual sanguine of realizing fabulous wealth on reaching the end of his journey,” wrote Annie Donna Tallent, the lone woman in the original Gordon Expedition, who was among those returning to the area with her husband and son in 1876. The Sioux, for their part, waged war against the transgressors, and the most famous event during the subsequent hostilities was the Battle of the Little Bighorn, which ended the life and career of Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer.

At the end of the century, after her days of gold prospecting and her career as a county schools superintendent were behind her, Tallent published her recollections of the hardships and rewards of frontier life. Among the most memorable sections is “Bill of Fare on the Plains,” describing the food she endured during their long journey, which she summarizes in what might well be the only fitting word: “Ugh!”

Bonus item: In the Google Docs Reader at the bottom of the page, below the Tallent selection, we present an actual recipe from the 1876 National Cookery Book, on how to make shortcake in the outdoors. Note especially the advice on how to create a rolling pin.

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Perhaps some of my readers may like to know how we fared during our long journey over the plains. Well, until the settlements were left behind, we lived on the fat of the land through which we passed, being able to procure from the settlers along the route many articles which we were after compelled to do entirely without. . . . If you don't see the full story below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!

This selection may be photocopied and distributed for classroom or educational use.