Mammals of the plains and forests provided the men with food, clothing, and even construction materials. Estimates have each man eating a whopping 9 - 10 lbs. of meat per day. That means the entire crew ate around 300 lbs. daily (1805 - 1806). Cooking this quantity of meat was challenging, especially using a portable kitchen. On warm days the meat did not preserve long without refrigeration, and some meat was lost to the carnivores and scavengers lurking around camp. Nearly every day hunters were sent out to replenish the meat. The supply came from hunting bison, whitetail and blacktail deer, elk, pronghorn, bear, and beaver. Even one little prairie dog became a menu item. Only a landscape teeming with large game could possibly provide such quantities, and that is exactly what Lewis and Clark encountered. They wrote the river ". . . passes thro' butifull extensive vallee, rich & fertile and at this time covered with Buffalow, Elk & antelopes, which may be Seen also in any other direction in this quarter" (Clark, April 22, 1805).
Like the Serengeti of Africa, large game was found roaming by millions, and consequently supporting large numbers of Indians. Even smaller animals were abundant, such as the black-tailed prairie dog found living in large colonies all across the plains. Throughout their journals we are treated to a view of America west of the Mississippi River. The land they saw was inhabited by mammals in superabundance, and when we read their journals we can almost hear bison grunting and elk whistling, and feel the ground shake.