Make your own free website on Tripod.com
  We had suffered much with hunger for several days past, and seated around the blanket, gladly availed ourselves of present abundance to"Satisfy as well we might,The keen demands of appetite."The lovely little hillock, composed of Whortle, Service, Hawthorn, and White berries, rapidly disappeared before the united efforts of eight hearty and hitherto half starved lads; and leaving in it an "awful gap," we arose, either satisfied, or ashamed to be seen devouring so voraciously the gifts of our generous friends...

From: "Life in the Rocky Mountains" By W. A. Ferris
 
The trout were baking on the rock near the fire, the kettles full of
berries, tea, and roots as four hungry mountaineers patiently waited for dinner to cook.  This was the annual Feast or Famine Camp of the Poison River Party, held above Tincup Creek, near Grays Lake in what is now SE Idaho. For the last two years our party has held a "Live off the Land" camp where no food items are taken.  The idea for this camp came from Crazy Cyot last year when he was doing his Aux Alimente du Pays, and the coyote in him made him think, "If I have to suffer this way, the rest of the party should, too!"  So he invited the rest of the party to come spend the weekend at the end of his three days alone.  But, as with most coyote things, it kind of backfired, cause that meant he had to spend 5 days Aux Aliments du Pays.  Crazy's luck prevailed, though, and he had 2 grouse and 2 pots of berries in camp waiting for them when they arrived.
  
  This year Allen Hall thought, "Why not," and followed the same course, and this year he had a pot of service berries waiting for us when we arrived in camp.  
 
When all hands were gathered, we grabbed our digging sticks and shovels and headed to the meadow where yampa was growing.  Yampa was widely used by the Indians. It was gathered  in late summer and early fall , and was used
fresh, boiled, or dried for winter use.  It is 1 to 2 feet in height, the
flower is a white inflorescense, somewhat resembling the yarrow blossom, but the leaf is quite different.  Yarrow has a fern-like leaf but Yampa leaves are narrow and flat, growing in a group of three on the lower stem, and a single leaf growing further up on the stalk just under the flower.  This difference makes it easy to differentiate from yarrow.  The root is the part that was used as food, it it is a small tuber about an inch or so in length, in groups of one, two, or three on one plant.  They resemble a miniature carrot in shape, as they taper to a point, but the meat is white in color.
Raw, they taste just like a carrot, but boiled they take on a unique flavor all their own, that is quite pleasant.  After 30 minutes of digging in the hard, dry ground by all parties involved, we gathered half a pot of roots and decided that would be enough for that portion of our meal!  We all walked away with awe and respect for the amount of labor the Native Americans went through.  They not only gathered enough for their meals, but also enough to put away for winter food!

Yampa flower's are umbels at the top of plant. Has a single, wiry stem, plant is 1 to 3 foot tall. Note the 1 to 6 inch leaves, which are each divided into three to seven threadlike segments. Has an oblong root that can have 1 to 3 nut like tumbers.
Found in moist, open meadows and hillsides, up to around 7,500 feet, in most mountainous regions of North America.


We divided forces for our next foray for supper, Crazy and I spending our day berry picking and hunting for the elusive grouse, which managed to elude us.  I haven't been on a horse for 20+ years, so Cyot decided it was time, as he handed me the reins and said, "Lets ride!" He headed up the mountain through downfalls and brush, Old Blue was testing me all the while.  Cyot picked most of the berries while I wrestled with the horse.  I lost my hat and broke a powder horn as Blue spooked when a beaver slapped its tail, but
I managed to stay in the saddle.  Crazy put his berry kettle in the saddle bag and wasn't able to cinch the flap and as we were riding off Sage decided to give a mighty shake. Crazy sat calmly in the seat, but the berries didn't.  About a third of them went flying all over the ground.  "Better them than me", he says.   Just about then, we heard a yelling  about three hundred yards below us.  We found a flatlander with a broken ankle who fell out of a tree while bow hunting elk. The frist thing Cyot says to the flatlander is have ya seen any  grouse here abouts? Ya know I have never seen an elk up in a tree seen birds, porkypines, squarls, bar and a panther or two but never no elk. Ya ot ta stay out of them trees the fall ain't going to hurt you but the landin will get ya every time. Then Cyot hoisted the flatlander into his saddle and we took him to his camp and his friends.

Chokecherry is a small tree or shrub
Found along steambanks, slops and woodlands.
              
                                                               Serviceberry is a small tree or shrub easily
                                                        Identified by its alternate, oval leaves and  dark                                                                                                         
                                                        purple juicy berries, leaves are toothed only  towards
                                                        the tip. Found along streems and wooded hillsides.                                                          
In the meantime, Allen Hall and Dave Tippets had got out
their primitive fishing gear and went to the creek. This was a true ordeal and test of patience for Dave, as he didn't have an Idaho fishing license, but Allen did.  Unfortunately, Allen is quite possibly the worst fisherman in these "shinin' mountains"!  After tying silk line on a primitive hook, all suspended from a wiping stick, Allen crawled over to the beaver pond where hopefully, supper was waiting.  Grasshoppers were used for bait. Dignity wasn't high on the priority list when we were catching grasshoppers for bait, it would have been pretty funny to watch from the hillside. Two rough, tough mountain men chasing those hoppers was a sight!!!
 Dave was giving directions while Allen tried valiantly to follow them.
Luckily the fish were hungry and what do you know, we caught 2 for supper!  Now they weren't "whoppers" and they weren't quite minnows, but they tasted really good!
Supper that evening consisted of service berries and chokecherries boiled into a kind of berry pudding, which tasted very good.  The tea was horsemint and rosehips, which could all be eaten after drinking the tea.  The two brook trout that Allen caught added to the fare, which was just enough to make you want more!  And, of course the yampa root afore mentioned.

Crazy & Allen digging Yampa.                 Note how deep the root is 2 to 3 inches.
 

As we sat around the fire discussing the ways of the mountain men.  Allen shared his story of his three day Aux Aliment du Pays, which he started just three days before our arrival.  

Allen tells the story now:
September is the perfect time of season for an Aux Aliment du Pays camp here in our part of the Rockies.  The berries were
ripe, hunting was open for grouse and bear, and archery hunting open for deer and elk.  Enough berries were gathered in an hour to fill a kettle and last for the whole 3 days. The secound day out I bagged a gruose to add to the fare.The highlight of the 3 days was hunting early one morning, with the wind in my face, I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye at about 3-5 yards and heard a quiet sound.  I followed slowly into the area where I saw movement.  Didn't see anything in the trees, but I looked out into the clearing, and at about 10 yards saw a big COUGAR looking back in my direction.  Now I wasn't quite as sure who was doing the hunting!
The cat looked my way, then walked off into the trees.  A cougar is about the last thing I expected to see.  Figured I'd see bear before a cat.  No wonder the deer and elk were scarce!  I kinda backed down the hill and spent some time thinking.

Nettle-Leafed Horsemint- like all mints it has opposite leaves. Stem is characteriscally four sided. bears a purplish white flower 1 to 4 inch long. Leaves have a toothed margin, much like the leaves of stinging nettle. Can be found in dry, sunny areas at foothill elevations from British Columbia south to California, East into the Rocky Mountains. Can grow up to 5 Feet tall.



Ron picks the story up again.
That night we slept under cover of canvas while it rained. My small tarp covered the saddles and me, while Allen, Cyot and Dave slept under Allen's tarp.  I started the fire the next soggy morning with no trouble.  Sleeping with your bird nest pays off.  We broke
our fast on leftover berries from the night before, and more tea.  All while we ate, the skies were threatening more rain, while lightening flashed in the hills all around us.  It seemed all to soon before it was time to load up the horses with our bedrolls and head out of camp, me a barely walking from the saddle sores on my rump and cramped legs.

I would like to thank the Poison  River Party for inviting me to their camps and especially thank Allen Hall and Crazy Cyot for their patience with this greenhorn and showing me the ways of old.            
                         By
          Almost a pilgrim of the Poison River Party
                     Ron Chamberlin
With input  from Allen on his fishing and Aux Aliment du Pays story and Crazy's input on the plants.We thank Bill Varga for acquainting us with yampa and its history of use by Native Americans!.