It goes without saying that men traveling through a barren region cannot be fastidious in their definition of "game." All's meat that comes to a hungry man's pot. A few words here may not be amiss as to the edible qualities of certain animals that are not commonly regarded as game, but which merit an explorer's consideration from the start; also as to some that are not recommended.
Probably most sportsmen know that 'coon is not bad eating, especially when young, if it is properly prepared; but how many would think to remove the scent-glands before roasting a 'coon? These glands should be sought for and extracted from all animals that have them, before the meat is put in the pot. Properly dressed, and, if necessary, parboiled in two or three waters, even muskrats, wood-chucks, and fish-eating birds can be made palatable. (See Vol. I., pp. 281, 313, 3i6, 318).
Prairie-dog is as good as squirrel. The flesh of the porcupine is good, and that of the skunk is equal to roast pig. Beaver meat is very rich and cloying, and in old animals is rank; but the boiled liver and tail are famous tid-bits wherever the beaver is found. A man would have to be hard pressed to tackle any of the other fur-bearers as food, excepting, of course, bear and 'possum.
The flesh of all members of the cat tribe, wildcats, lynxes, and panthers, is excellent. Doctor Hart Merriam declares that panther flesh is better than any other kind of meat. The Englishman Ruxton, who lived in the Far West in the time of Bridger and the Sublettes and Fitzpatrick, says: "Throwing aside all the qualms and conscientious scruples 0^ a fastidious stomach, it must be confessed that dog meat takes a high rank in the wonderful variety of cuisine afforded to the gsurmand and the gourmet by the prolific mountains. Now, when the bill of fare offers such tempting viands as buffalo beef, venison, mountain mutton, turkey, grouse, wildfowl, hares, rabbits, beaver-tails, etc., etc., the station assigned to dog as No. 2 in the list can be well appreciated—No. 1, in delicacy of flavor, richness of meat, and other good qualities, being the flesh of panthers, which surpasses every other, and all put together".
Lewis and Clark say of dog flesh: "The greater part of us have acquired a fondness for it. . . . While we subsisted on that food we were fatter, stronger, and in general enjoyed better health than at any period since leaving the buffalo country." Again they say: "It is found to be a strong, healthy diet, preferable to lean deer or elk, and much superior to horse flesh in any state." Many other travelers and residents in the early West commended dog meat; but the animals that they speak of were such as had been specially fattened by the Indians for food, and not starved and hard-worked sledge animals.
One who was driven by starvation to eat wolf's flesh says that it "tastes exactly as a dirty, wet dog smells, and it is gummy and otherwise offensive." But it seems that tastes differ, or, more likely, that all wolves are not alike. Ivar Forsheim of Sver-drup's second Norwegian polar expedition says: "They were two she-wolves in very much better condition than beasts of prey usually are, with the exception of bears. The fat really looked so white and good that we felt inclined to taste it, and if we did that, we thought we might as well try the hearts at the same time. Although most people will consider this a dish more extraordinary than appetizing, I think prejudice plays a large part here; as, at any rate, we found the meat far better than we expected".
I am assured by more than one white man who has eaten them that the flesh of snakes and lizards is as good as chicken or frogs' legs. One of my friends, however, draws the line at the prairie rattler. Once when he was on the U. S. Geological Survey he came near starving in the desert, and had to swallow his scruples along with a snake diet. "Probably," he said, "a big, fat diamond rattler might be all right, but the little prairie rattler is too sweetish for my taste; it's no comparison to puff-adder; puff-adder, my boy, is out of sight!"
This much I can swallow, by proxy; but when Dan Beard speaks approvingly of hellbenders as a side dish, I must confess that I'm like Kipling's elephant when the alligator had him by the nose: "This is too buch for be!"
Another of my acquaintances assured me that the prejudice against crow (real Corvus) is not well founded, and I found by testing that he was in the right. The great gray owl is good roasted, despite what it may be when "biled." The flesh of the whippoorwill is excellent. Turtles' eggs are better than those of the domestic fowl (soft-shell turtles deposit their eggs on sandbars about the third week in June).
It is the testimony of gourmets who survived the siege of Paris that cats, rats, and mice are the most misprized of all animals, from a culinary point of view. "Stewed puss," says one of them, "is by far more delicious than stewed rabbit. . . Those who have not tasted couscoussou of cat have never tasted anything".
Anyway, who are we, to set up standards as to the fitness or unfitness of things to eat? We shudder with horror at the idea of eating dog or cat, but of such a downright filthy animal as the pig we eat ears, nose, feet, tail, and intestines. How about our moldy and putrid cheeses, our boiled cabbage and sauerkraut, raw Hamburgers and "high" game? The hardihood of him who first swallowed a raw oyster! And if snails are good, why not locusts, dragon flies, and the like? I tell you from experience that when you get to picking the skippers out of your pork, and begrudge them the holes they have made in it, you will agree that any kind of fresh, wild meat that is not carrion is clean and wholesome. Caspar Whitney, after describing his menu of frozen raw meat in the Barren Grounds, says: "I have no doubt some of my readers will be disgusted by this recital; and as I sit here at my desk writing, with but to reach out and press a button for dinner, luncheon—what I will—I can hardly realize that only a few months ago I choked an Indian until he gave up a piece of muskox intestine he had stolen from me. One must starve to know what one will eat".
I trust that none of my readers may be cast down by reading these somewhat lugubrious pages. After all, it is not so bad to learn new dishes; but think of the predicament of that poor wight—he was a missionary to the Eskimo, I believe—who. being cast adrift on an ice floe, and essaying to eat his boots, did incontinently sneeze his false teeth into the middle of Baffin's Bay!