Mr. Macoun, you are an experienced Canadian explorer and naturalist. In your late 19th
century travels in the west, did you ever encounter the diet and nutritional conditions of
the natives on the prairies?
For the next five days Matheson and I lived on oatmeal porridge without salt, and
this, I consider, the greatest privation any man can undergo except actual starvation...
There were about one hundred and twenty-five beautiful tents, most of them being
made of tanned buffalo hide... a number of women came around the camp while we were eating
and I gave them pieces of biscuits and, by signs, they asked us if they could wash the
plates. We said yes and, before they washed the plates, they actually licked them clean...
Father Scallen said "Do you know that the people here are dying of starvation?...
There are two lying dead in their tents now who have died of starvation." When I
heard this I said: "You tell the Chief that I am going up to Calgary and that
tomorrow I will give him all the provisions I have except what we will need to take with
us up to the fort." We retired and left all of our provisions in the cart and had our
doubts as to whether we would see any of them in the morning. We were agreeably surprised,
therefore, that not one particle of our food had been touched...
Late in the afternoon, the men returned and the War Chief, who had Father Scallen's
horse, had killed no less than six cows and the others had killed numbers also... When I
called on [the War Chief] that morning, he was sitting in his tent like a lord and, in
front of him, was a large heap of bloody meat, cut up into pieces of possibly 20 pounds
weight. Every once in a while, a squaw would come into the tent and say some words in
their language, and he would nod his head and she would take a large chunk and leave. This
went on all the time I was with him. The advent of the buffalo relieved me of giving my
provisions, so we packed up and left their camp for Calgary in the afternoon.
Autobiography of John Macoun, Canadian Explorer and Naturalist,