The Official on line magazine of the

North American Frontiersmen

Smoke Signals

FROM THE EDITOR

Buck Conner's articles have been seen in a number of publications; "On the Trail", "Backwoodsman", "Tomahawk & Long Rifle", "Black Powder Report", "Buckskin Report", "Poke & Stroke" magazines, Smoke & Fire News" also found in "The Colonial Society", and the "Colorado Collectors" journals.  He is currently writing as a columnist for "Buckskinner" magazine. His new book "Success in The North American Fur Trade" is a collection of company records, reviews, and the author's thoughts on the subject and the history of the Northwest Trade Gun.

 

I thought in this issue we would talk about a common, yet correct edible grown here by the first peoples to walk this land and still available today. Even a small amount of research will turn up more information than you'll ever use, this item has more information than almost any other edible I have ever studied.

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The great French explorers were probably the first white men to enjoy the delicacy that is wild rice. In their writings and other historical documents, the great Indian wars were described: Ojibway and Sioux battling for over 250 years for the stands of "manomin", as they called wild rice.

Today, Indians harvest wild rice much the same as they have for over 500 years. One poles a canoe through the rice beds, the other strikes the heads of the rice with a stick, knocking the ripe grain into the canoe.

The Indians of old then parched the grain in a kettle (similar to roasting coffee) and thrashed it by stamping on it with their feet. It was then cleaned by shaking it in a birch bark basket on a windy day.

The Fur Trader magazine - Oct 1968

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In the last couple centuries one of the simplest business operations that still works closely to the original plan is the growing and preparation of wild rice (manomin) in Wisconsin and Minnesota. Wild rice grows in lakes, ponds, and slow moving stream in these states and in the Atlantic and Gulf states, in the Mississippi Valley sloughs, as well as along the shores of the Great Lakes. The wild rice for many natives has become one of the staple articles of diet, along with maple sugar, water fowl and venison in these regions.

The presence of wild rice in the Great Lakes was cause for war between the Sioux and the Ojibwa, it made possible the extension of the fur trade in that region with the available food source for traders and trappers. The expansion of settlements and development of other resources where helped with the wild rice production throughout the area, as a food source, a trade item and an income source.

The preparation of wild rice has always been one of the most picturesque activities of the Native American and has been a cooperative enterprise by families, tribes and neighborhood groups.

 

The rice was gathered in the early fall just before maturity in canoes poled by women. With a pole or forked stick the kernels were knocked down from the stalks into the canoes, where blanket had been spread to catch the grain. Since the rice is being gathered before maturity it is necessary to cure it before removing the hulls, this is done by spreading it on the rocks and drying it in the sun or over a slow fire, or parching or popping it in large iron kettles while being stirred with paddles. In the old days the parched rice was then placed in a skin lined holes in the ground, a skin placed over the rice and "new" moccasined footed men tramped down the rice breaking the hulls. Today modern threshing machines do this part of the operation.

The rice was then winnowed by the wind as the women shook small quantities in birch bark trays, the clean rice was then stored in woven bags of cedar bark with a layer of hay placed over the top and sewed down to the bag. It was also packed in skin containers and put in caches for long periods of time.

The collection and preparing has changed to modern equipment with today's demands, still being conducted under the shade of the trees, but if one looks hard enough "old ways" harvesting can be found, even today, usually by small operations.

A word to the wise, I have gotten some wild rice done the old way and have found it to be of poor quality - do to having fine sand mixed within the bag of rice. Apparently when drying on the rocks or when being shaken in the birch bark trays the wind has blown in the fine sand.

So to our modern day adventurer, and traveler, yes wild rice is correct and was traded from the Great Lake states long before a white man ever came into this land, and it would have been in the diet of the trapper, trader and long hunter. It was listed on trade lists of supplies in St. Louis warehouses, on menu's of the hotels and found in the small settlements up and down the major rivers from the north.

 

Minnesota Wild Rice Growers - 1989

SMOKE SIGNALS

AN ON-LINE MAGAZINE 

 

dedicated to early American life on the frontier.

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