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Lewis & Clark as Naturalists
The Journals Lewis and Clark as Naturalists

camas

Captain Clark wrote the first entries when his small party came out of the Bitterroot Mountains ahead of the main party.  The entries the following spring describe the habitat for camas and its relationship to cous, another important food source for these natives.  The final two entries acknowledge the hospitality of this tribe.

Capt. Clark, Sept. 20, 1805--a man Came out to meet me [with great caution] & Conducted me [us] to a large Spacious Lodge which he told me (by Signs) was the Lodge of his great Chief who had Set out 3 days previous with all the Warriers of the nation to war on a South West derection & would return in 15 or 18 days. the fiew men that were left in the Village and great numbers of Women geathered around me with much apparent signs of fear, and apr. pleased   they those people gave us a Small piece of Buffalow meat, Some dried Salmon beries & roots in different States, Some round and much like an onion which they call Pas she co [quamash. the Bread or Cake is called Pas-she-co] Sweet, of this they make bread & Supe   they also gave us, the bread made of this root all of which we eate hartily, I gave them a flew Small articles as preasents, and proceeded on with a Chief to his Village 2 miles in the Same Plain, where we were treated kindly in their way and continued with them all night   Those two Villages consist of about 30 double lodges, but fiew men a number of women & children;   They call themselves Cho pun-nish or Pierced Noses;   Their dialect appears verry different from the flat heads [Tushapaws] altho origneally the Same people    They are darker than the Flat heads [Tushapaws I have seen]   dress Similar, with more beads white & blue principally, brass & Copper in different forms, Shells and ware their haire in the Same way. they are large Portley men Small women & handsom fetu[r]ed   Emence quantity of the [quawmash] or Pas-shi-co root gathered & in piles about the plain,   those roots grow much an onion in marshey places the seed are in triangular Shell, on the Stalk. they sweat them in the following manner i. e. dig a large hole 3 feet deep Cover the bottom with Split wood on the top of which they lay Small Stones of about 3 or 4 Inches thick, a Second layer of Splited wood & Set the whole on fire which heats the Stones, after the fire is extinguished they lay grass & mud mixed on the Stones, on that dry grass which Supports the P√Ęsh-shi-co root a thin Coat of the Same grass is laid on the top, a Small fire is kept when necessary in the Center of the kill &c.

I find myself verry unwell all the evening from eateing the fish & roots too freely.

Capt. Clark, Sept. 21, 1805--The hunters all return without any thing, I purchased as much Provisions as I could with what fiew things I chan[c]ed to have in my Pockets, Such a[s] Salmon Bread roots & berries, & Sent one man R. Fields with an Indian to meet Capt.. Lewis,

I am verry Sick to day and puke which relive me.

The following entries were written in Columbia County, Washington, during the return trip.

Capt Lewis, May 2, 1806--I observed considerable quantities of the quamash in the bottoms through which we passed this evening now in blume.

Capt. Clark, May 2, 1806--I observed a considerable quantity of the qua mash in the bottoms through which we passed this evening now in blume.

These Corps was encamped on Weippe Prairie for a number of days, waiting for snow to melt on the Bitterroots and Rockies when the Captains wrote these extensive descriptions of the plant and its prepartion.

Capt. Lewis, June 11, 1806--As I have had frequent occasion to mention the plant which the Chopunnish call quawmash   I shall here give a more particular discription of that plant and the mode of preparing it for food as practiced by the Chopunnish and others in the vicinity of the Rocky Mountains with whom it forms much the greatest portion of their subsistence. we have never met with this plant but in or adjacent to a piny or fir timbered country, and there always in the open grounds and glades; in the Columbian vally and near the coast it is to be found in small quantities and inferior in size to that found in this neighbourhood and in the high rich flatts and vallees within the rocky mountains. it delights in a black rich moist soil, and even grows most luxuriantly where the land remains from 6 to nine inches under water untill the seed are nearly perfect which in this neighbourhood or on these flats is about the last of this month. neare the river where I had an opportunity of observing it the seed were begining to ripen on the 9th. inst.  and the soil was nearly dry. it seems devoted to it's particular soil and situation, and you will seldom find it more than a few feet from the inundated soil tho' within it's limits it grows very closely in short almost as much so as the bulbs will permit; the radix is a tunicated bulb, much the consistence shape and appearance of the onion, glutanous or somewhat slymy when chewed and almost tasteless and without smell in it's unprepared state; it is white except the thin or outer tunicated scales which are few black and not succulent; this bulb is from the size of a nutmeg to that of a hens egg and most commonly of an intermediate size or about as large as an onion of one years growth from the seed. the radicles are numerous, reather large, white, flexable, succulent and diverging. the foliage consists of from one to four seldom five radicale, linear sessile and revolute pointed leaves; they are from 12 to 18 inches in length and from 1 to 3/4 of an inch in widest part which is near the middle; the uper disk is somewhat groved of a pale green and marked it's whole length with a number of small longitudinal channels; the under disk is a deep glossy green and smooth. the leaves sheath the peduncle and each other as high as the surface of the earth or about 2 inches; they are more succulent than the grasses and less so than most of the lillies hyesinths &c. the peduncle is soletary, proceeds from the root, is columner, smooth leafless and rises to the hight of 2 or 2-1/2 feet. it supports from 10 to forty flowers which are each supported by seperate footstalk of 1/2 an inch in length scattered without order on the upper portion of the peduncle. the calix is a partial involucre or involucret situated at the base of the footstalk of each flower on the peduncle; it is long thin and begins to decline as soon as the corolla expands. the corolla consists of six long oval, obtusly pointed skye blue or water coloured petals, each about 1 inch in length; the corolla is regular as to the form and size of the petals but irregular as to their position, five of them are placed near ech other pointing upward while one stands horizantally or pointing downwards, they are inserted with a short claw on the extremity of the footstalk at the base of the germ; the corolla is of course inferior; it is also shriveling, and continues untill the seeds are perfect. The stamens are perfect, six in number; the filaments each elivate an anther, near their base are flat on the inside and rounded on the outer terminate in a subulate point, are bowed or bent upwards, inserted on the inner side and on the base of the claws of the petals, below the germ, are equal both with rispect to themselves and the corolla, smooth & membraneous. the Anther is oblong, obtusely pointed, 2 horned or forked at one end and furrowed longitudinally with four channels, the upper and lower of which seem almost to divide it into two loabs, incumbent patent, membranous, very short, naked, two valved and fertile with pollen, which last is of a yellow colour. the anther in a few hours after the corolla unfoalds, bursts,   discharges it's pollen and becomes very minute and shrivled; the above discription of the anther is therefore to be understood of it at the moment of it's first appearance. the pistillum is only one, of which, the germ is triangular reather swolen on the sides, smooth superior, sessile, pedicelled, short in proportion to the corolla tho' wide or bulky; the style is very long or longer than the stamens, simple, cilindrical, bowed or bent upwards, placed on the top of the germ, membranous shrivels and falls off when the pericarp has obtained its full size. the stigma is three cleft very minute, & pubescent. the pericarp is a capsule, triangular, oblong, obtuse, and trilocular with three longitudinal valves. the seed so far as I could judge are numerous not very minute and globelar.-soon after the seeds are mature the peduncle and foliage of this plant perishes, the grownd becomes dry or nearly so and the root encreases in size and shortly becomes fit for use; this happens about the middle of July when the natives begin to collect it for use which they continue untill the leaves of the plant attain some size in the spring of the year. when they have collected a considerable quantity of these roots or 20 [or] 30 bushels which they readily do by means of [a] stick sharpened at one end, they dig away the surface of the earth forming a circular concavity of 2 1/2 feet in the center and 10 feet in diameter; they next collect a parsel of split dry wood with which they cover this bason in the grown[d] perhaps a foot thick, they next collect a large parsel of stones of about 4 or 6 lbs weight which are placed on the dry wood; fire is then set to the wood which birning heats the stones;    when the fire has subsided and the stones are sufficiently heated which are nearly a red heat, they are adjusted in such manner in the whole as to form as level a surface as pi[o]ssible, a small quantity of earth is sprinkled over the stones and a layer of grass about an inch thick is put over the stones; the roots, which have been previously devested of the black or outer coat and radicles which rub off easily with the fingers, are now laid on in a conical pile, are then covered with a layer of grass about 2 or 3 inches thick; water is now thrown on the summit of the pile and passes through the roots and to the hot stones at bottom; some water is allso poared arround the edges of the hole and also finds its way to the hot stones; as soon as they discover from the quantity of steem which issues that the water has found its way generally to the hot stones, they cover the roots and grass over with earth to the debth of four inches and then build a fire of dry wood all over the connical mound which they continue to renew through the course of the night or for ten or 12 hours after which it is suffered to cool two or three hours when the earth and grass are removed and the roots thus sweated and cooked with steam are taken out, and most commonly exposed to the sun on scaffoalds untill they become dry, when they are black and of a sweet agreeable flavor. these roots are fit for use when first taken from the pitt, are soft of a sweetish tast and much the consistency of a roasted onion; but if they are suffered to remain in bulk 24 hour after being cooked they spoil. if the design is to make bread or cakes of these roots they undergo a second process of baking being previously pounded after the fi[r]st baking between two stones untill they are reduced to the consistency of dough and then rolled in grass in cakes of eight or ten lbs are returned to the sweat intermixed with fresh roots in order that the steam may get freely to these loaves of bread. when taken out the second time the women make up this dough into cakes of various shapes and sizes usually from 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch thick and expose it on sticks to dry in the sun, or place it over the smoke of their fires.- the bread this [thus] prepared if kept free from moisture will keep sound for a great length of time. this bread or the dried roots are frequently eaten alone by the natives without further preparation, and when they have them in abundance they form an ingredient in almost every dish they prepare. this root is pallateable but disagrees with me in every shape I have ever used it.

Capt. Clark, June 11, 1806--As I have had frequent occasion to mention the plant which the Chopunnish and other nations of the Columbia call Quawmash I shall here give a more particular discription of that plant and the mode of prepareing it for food as practiced by the Chopinnish and others in the vicinity of the Rocky Mountains with whome it forms much the greatest portion of their Subsistence. we have never met with this plant but in or adjacent to a piney or fir timbered country, and there always in the open grounds and glades; in the Columbian Vally and near the coast it is to be found in small quantities and inferior in size to that found in this neighbourhood or on those high rich flatts and vallies within the rocky Mountains. it delights in a black rich moist soil, and even grows most luxuriently where the lands remain from 6 to 9 inches under water untill the seed are nearly perfect, which in this neighbourhood or on those flatts is about the last of this month. near the river where I had an oppertunity of observing it, the Seed were beginning to ripen on the 9th. inst. and the soil was nearly dry. it seems devoted to it's particular soil and situation, , and you will Seldom find [it] more than a fiew feet from an inundated soil tho' within it's limits it grows very closely. in short almost as much so as the bulbs will permit. the radix is a tumicated bulb, much the consistence shape and appearance of the Onion, glutinous or somewhat slymey when chewed and almost tasteless and without smell in it's unprepared state; it is white except the thin or outer tumicated scales which are fiew black and not suculent; this bulb is from the Size of a nutmeg to that of a hen egg and most commonly of an intermediate size or about as large as a common onion of one years growth from the seed. the radicles are noumerous, reather large, white, flexeable, succulent and deviding the foliage consists of from one to four seldom five radicals, line[a]r sessile and revolute pointed leaves; they are from 12 to 18 inches in length and from 1. to 3/4 of an inch in widest part which is nearest the middle; the upper disk is somewhat gro[o]ved of a pale green and marked it's whole length with a number of small longitudinal channels; the under disk is of a deep glossy green and smooth. the leaves sheath the peduncle and each other as high as the surface of the earth or about 2 inches; they are more succulent than the grasses and less so than most of the lillies hyisinths &c.   the peduncle is soletary, proceeds from the root, is columner, smooth and leafless and rises to the hight of 2 or 2 1/2 feet. it supports from 10 to 40 flowers which are each surported by a Seperate footstalk of 1/2 an inch in length scattered without order on the upper portion of the peduncle. the calix is a partial involucre or involucret situated at the base of the footstalk of each flower on the peduncle; it is long thin and begins to decline as soon as the corrolla expands. the corolla consists of five long oval obtusely pointed Skye blue or water coloured petals, each about 1 inch in length; the corolla is regular as to the form and size of the petals but irregular as to their position, five of them are placed near each other pointing upwards while one stands horozontially, or pointing downwards, they are inserted with a short claw on the extremity of the footstalk at the base of the germ; the corolla is of course inferior; it is also shriveling, and continues untill the seed are perfect. The Stamens are perfect, six in number; the falaments each elivate an anther, near their base are flat on the in side and rounded on the outer, termonate in a subulate point, and bowed or bent upwards inserted on the inner side and on the base of the claws of the petals, below the germ, are equal both with respect to themselves and the corolla, smooth membranous. the Anther is oblong obtusely pointed, 2 horned or forked at one end and furrowed longitudinally with four channels, the upper and lower of which seem almost to divide it into two loabs, incumbent, patent, membranous, very short, necked, two valved and fertile with pollen, which last is of a yellow colour. the Anther in a fiew hours after the corolla unfoalds, bursts discharges it's pollen and becomes very manute and chrivled; the above discription of the Anther is therefore to be understood of it, at the moment of it's first appearance. the pistillum is only one, of which the Germ is triangular reather swolen on the sides, ISmooth, superior, sessile, pedicelled, short in proportion to the corolla tho' wide or bulky; the style is very long or longer than the stamens, simple, cilindrical, bowed or bent upwards, placed on the top of the germ, membranous shrivels and falls off when the pericarp has obtained it's full size.

The Stigma is three clefts very manute and pubescent. the pericarp is a capsule, triangular, oblong, obtuse, and trilocular with three longitudinal valves. the seed so far as I could judge are noumerous not very manute and globilar.-Soon after the seed are mature the peduncle and foliage of this plant perishes, the ground becoms dry or nearly so and the root increases in size and shortly become fit for use; this happens about the middle of July when the nativs begin to collect it for use which they continue untill the leaves of the plant obtain some size in the Spring of the year. when they have collected a considerable quantity of these roots or 20 or 30 bushels which they readily do by means of Sticks Sharpened at one end, they dig away the surface of the earth forming a cercular concavity of 2 1/2 feet in the center and 10 feet in diameter; they next collect a parcel of dry split wood with which they cover this bason from the bottom perhaps a foot thick, they next collect a parcel of Stones from 4 to 6 lb. weight which are placed on the dry wood; fire is then set to the wood which burning heats the Stones; when the fire has subsided and the Stones are sufficiently heated which are nearly a red heat, they are adjusted in such manner in the hole as to form as leavel a surface as possible, a small quantity of earth is sprinkled over the Stones, and a layer of grass about an inch thick is laid over the stone; the roots which have been previously devested of the black or outer coat and radicles which rub off easily with the fingers, are now laid on in a circular pile, are then covered with a layer of grass about 2 or 3 inches thick; water is then thrown on the Summit of the pile and passes through the roots and to the hot Stones at bottom; Some water is also pored around the edges of the hole, and also find[s] it's way to the hot Stones. they cover the roots and grass over with earth to the debth of four inches and then build a fire of dry wood all over the connical mound which they continue to renew through the course of the night or for 10 or 12 hours, after which it is suffered to cool, 2 or three hours, when the earth and grass are removed. and the roots thus Sweated are cooled with steam or taken out, and most commonly exposed to the Sun on Scaffolds untill they become dry. when they are black and of a sweet agreeable flavor. these roots are fit for use when first taken from the pitt, are Soft of a Sweetish taste and much the consistancy of a roasted onion; but if they are Suffered to remain in bulk 24 hours after being cooked they Spoil. if the design is to make bread or cakes of those roots they undergo a second preperation of baking being previously pounded after the first baking between two stones untill they are reduced to the consistancy of dough and then rolled in grass in cakes of 8 or 10 pounds, are returned to the Sweat intermixed with fresh roots in order that the steam may get freely to those loaves of bread. when taken out the Second time the Indn. woman make up this dough into cakes of various shapes and sizes, usually from 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch thick and expose it on sticks to dry in the Sun, or place it over the smoke of their fires. The bread thus prepared if kept free from moisture will [keep] Sound for a great length of time. this bread or the dryed roots are frequently eaten alone by the nativs without further preperation, and when they have them in abundance they form an ingrediant in almost every dish they prepare. this root is palateable but disagrees with us in every shape we have ever used it. the nativs are extreemly fond of this root and present it [to] their visiters as a great treat. when we first arrived at the Chopunnish last fall at this place our men who were half Starved made so free a use of this root that it made them all sick for several days after

Capt. Lewis, May 9, 1806--I have no doubt but this tract of country if cultivated would produce in great abundance every article essentially necessary to the comfort and subsistence of civillized man. to it's present inhabitants nature seems to have dealt with a liberal hand, for she has distributed a great variety of esculent plants over the face of the country which furnish them a plentifull store of provision ; these are acquired with but little toil, when prepared after the method of the natives afford not only a nutricious but an agreeable food. among other roots those called by them the quawmash and Cows are esteemed the most agreeable and valuable as they are also the most abundant,  this root (ed. - cous) they collect as early as the snows disappear in the spring and continue to collect it untill the quawmash supplys it's place which happens about the latter end of June. the quawmash is also collected for a few weaks after it first makes it's appearance in the spring, but when the scape appears it is no longer fit for use untill the seed are ripe which happens about the time just mentioned, and then the cows declines.

Capt. Lewis, May 10, 1806--the mud at the sources of the little ravines was deep black and well supplyed with quawmash.

the Chief spoke to his people and they produced us about 2 bushels of the quawmas roots dryed, four cakes of the bread of cows and a dryed salmon trout.  we thanked them for this store of provision but informed them that our men not being accustomed to live on the roots alone we feared it would make them sick to obviate which we proposed exchanging a [good] horse in reather low order for a young horse in a tolerable order with a view to kill.  the hospitality of the chief revolted at the idea of an exchange, he told us that his young men had a great abundance of young horses and if we wished to eat them we should by [be] furnished with as many as we wanted.  accordingly they soon produced us two fat young horses one of which we killed, the other we informed them we would postpone killing until we had consumed the one already killed.  This is a much greater act of hospitality than we have witnessed from any nation or tribe since we have passed the Rocky mountains.  in short be it spoken to their immortal honor it is the only act which deserves the appellation of hospitallity which we have witnessed in this quarter.

the noise of their women pounding roots reminds me of a nail factory.  The indians seem well pleased, and I am confident that they are not more so than our men who have their s[t]omachs once more well filled with horsebeef and mush of the bread of cows.  the house of coventry is also seen here.

Capt. Clark, May 10, 1806--the mud at the head of the streams which we passed was deep and well supplied with the Carmash

Soon after Cap Lewis who was in the rear came up and we smoked with and told this Chief our situation with respect to provisions.  they brought forward about 2 bushels of quawmash 4 cakes of bread made of roots and a dried fish.  we informed the Chief that our party was not accustomed to eate roots without flesh & proposed to exchange some of our oald horses for young ones to eate.  they said that they would not exchange horses, but would furnish us with such as we wished, and produced 2 one of which we killed and informd. them that we did not wish to kill the other at this time.

the noise of their women pounding cows roots remind me of a nail factory.  The Indians appear well pleased, and I am confident that they are not more so than our men who have their stomach once more well filled with horse beef and the bread of cows.  Those people have shown much greater acts of hospitallity than we have witnessed from any other nation or tribe since we have passed the rocky Mountains.  in short be it spoken to their immortal honor it is the only act which diserves the appelation of hospitallity which we have witnessed in this quarter.

 
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