By 1871 the American government had signed treaties with many of the plains tribes including the Comanche, but stragglers yearning for the old way of life would not abide.
Quanah Parker was a young up-and-coming leader of the Quahadi band roaming throughout Texas and all the way to present day Mexico fighting anglos where he needed to.
In one fateful ambush, Texan militia and soldiers killed the Quahadi Chief Bear’s Ear, but Quanah Parker’s quick thinking saved the horse herd and the lives of many men.
Being named chief of the Quahadi band in 1871 was a huge honor, but also a major responsibility. Quanah took the responsibility gracefully.
Not only did he promise to fight American encroachment on traditional Comanche land, but to protect the old ways the Comanche lived .
One of the ways the Comanche, and Quanah’s band of Quahadis in particular, were able to survive on the staked plains was a pemmican recipe passed down through time.
This pemmican recipe is specific to the Comanche and the region they called home in what is today Oklahoma and northern Texas.
What is Pemmican?
The Comanche were not unique in making pemmican. In fact, Native American tribes across the continent were making similar types of food.
The Inuit living as far north as Alaska and present day Canada were eating a type of pemmican. Even the name “pemmican” comes from the Cree word “pemi” (fat or grease).
Unlike jerky, which is a dried meat, pemmican is dried meat combined with rendered fat and sometimes with added foraged nuts and berries.
The native american pemmican recipe was designed to sustain people on long trips through fat for fuel, protein for strength, and some glucose in the berries.
Warriors would take pemmican on raids, nomadic tribes would keep pemmican for traveling and winter months, and it was a survival food amongst native people.
How to Make Pemmican the Comanche Way
The Comanche were a far ranging people. Once relegated to small mountain ranges up in Wyoming, the tribe branched out through marriage and warfare to an empire
The Empire of the Summer Moon depicts how this isolated tribe excelled at horsemanship, dominated the plains, and eventually took over in a couple hundred years.
By 1871 the Comanche were still near the height of their power minus the encroachments from Texans and American settlers.
One of the most common foods that Quanah and the Quahadi Comanche enjoyed was the bison.
Many of the great plains tribes subsisted on wild game, but bison was the most plentiful in certain regions.
Not only were bison large, but an organized bison drive could kill dozens (or hundreds) of bison at a time and provide a high quantity of meat for the people.
For our pemmican recipe, we will use bison in honor of the Comanche and the way they would have survived over hundreds of years.
Bison Sage Pemmican Recipe
Another feature of the great plains was sage. The Comanche were particularly fond of ke-war-re-nu sage (not to be confused with California sage), which only grows across a few square miles in northern Texas.
Combining bison and sage into this pemmican recipe, we aim to pay homage to the Comanche who lived near Oyasin headquarters in Austin, Texas.
#1. Gather your ingredients including:
- 1.5 pounds of lean, grass-fed bison shoulder roast
- 1 pound of fat (use bison kidney fat, bacon fat, or saturated fat specifically)
- 2 cups of dried currants
- 1 tablespoon dried edible sage
#2. Dry the meat – Add salt and pepper to the meat and set it out under the direct sun or in the oven at the lowest temperature (around 150 degrees). Open the oven routinely to let out moisture.
The meat should dry for 15 hours until it is so crispy you can make it into a fine powder. Next, put the dried meat into the processor to grind it up.
Crush it with your hand if you don’t have a processor, but make it into a powder.
#3. Add currants and sage – The dried currants and hint of sage are dry and thus should go into the powdered meat.
Mix them all together in a large bowl so the ingredients are evenly distributed. Once you are finished, add it to a large casserole baking dish with room for the fat.
#4. Render the fat – Heat your fat source in a crockpot, skillet, or wherever you choose.
Feel free to use the pemmican recipe coconut oil option. After all, coconut oil is saturated fat and similar to the animal fat, which allows it to stay in use longer without becoming rancid.
Once the fat has been rendered (it can take multiple hours), pour through a strainer to filter out any pieces.
#5. Mix powder with fat – The dried mixture in the casserole dish is waiting for some moisture to soak up. This is where you will slowly add the rendered liquid fat.
Try to maintain a 2:1 ratio between fat and the dried meat, currant mixture. This avoids creating a soup, liquid consistency, but add more fat as needed.
After the fat is added, some people put wet ingredients like maple syrup or honey, but we use neither of those here.
#6. Form and store pemmican – Put the casserole dish into the refrigerator and the saturated fat will quickly become a solid in the casserole dish.
Take out the dish with a solid pemmican block and cut it into smaller bars or pieces. Add these bars to individual containers and add to the refrigerator and freezer depending on the quantity.
Preserving Indigenous Culture
Is this pemmican recipe exactly what Quanah Parker and the Quahadi band of Comanche would have consumed on the staked plains?
We don’t know.
The truth is, much of Comanche culture was obliterated as their way of life started to die off. The clash of cultures between land owning anglo settlers and Comanche tribes assured one loser.
The Comanche, and many of the plains tribes, still have many indigenous practices maintained on the reservation and across their old territory.
Quanah and the Comanche added new practices to their culture, including the peyote ceremony as part of the Native American Church.
Maintaining or preserving some elements of their culture is important because of what their way of life can teach us about meaning and fulfillment today.
In the modern world we find many great technologies, but lack a community orientation, we are disconnected from nature, and the Comanche example can teach us.
When we make our own pemmican recipe, find gratitude and appreciation for the animals that died to give us the food and find gratitude for the Comanche and indigenous people of North America who remind us of a different way of life.
- Quanah Parker Comanche Chief by Rosemary Kissinger Updyke. 1991.
- Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History by S. C. Gwynne. 2010.