The elk is a member of the deer family. Adult males weigh up to 1,000 pounds. James Reed, who saw one for the first time in 1846, reported: "My first appearance on the wilds of the Nebraska as a hunter, was on the 12th (June) when I returned to camp with a splendid two year old elk, the first only only one killed by the caravan as yet. I picked the elk I killed, out of eight of the largest I ever beheld, and I do really believe there was one in the gang as large as the horse I rode." Native Americans hunted the elk for meat. Another pioneer, Edwin Bryant, commented: "The flesh of the elk is coarse, but this was tender, fat, and of good flavor."
Stephen Powers argues in his book, Tribes of California (1876) that Elk were used for making moccasins: "Most California Indians go now, and always have gone, barefoot; but some few were industrious enough to make for themselves moccasins of a very rude sort, more properly sandals. Their method of tanning was by means of brain-water. They dried the brains of deer and other animals, reduced it to powder, put the powder into water, and soaked the skins therein - a process which answered tolerably well. The graining was done with flints. Elk-hide, being very thick, made the best sandals."
Thick elk hides were also turned into robes by members of tribes such as the Cree and Pawnee. Tribes along the coasts used elk bones and antlers in their harpoons and other fishing equipment. Other tribes used the skin to make tipi covers and its teeth for ornaments. Over hunted, by the end of the 19th century they were only found in large numbers in the Rocky Mountains.
My first appearance on the wilds of the Nebraska as a hunter, was on the 12th (June) when I returned to camp with a splendid two year old elk, the first only only one killed by the caravan as yet. I picked the elk I killed, out of eight of the largest I ever beheld, and I do really believe there was one in the gang as large as the horse I rode.
Mr. Reed shot a large elk to-day, and brought the carcass into camp. The flesh of the elk is coarse, but this was tender, fat, and of good flavor.
On board the Steamer Twilight - 450 miles below Fort Benton... I believe I have seen 50,000 Buffaloes within the last two weeks. They are continually swimming across the River in droves and very often they get caught in the current and carried right down by the boat so close that they are often struck by the wheels. The deck hands can take a lasso and catch them in the water any day... You would laugh to see the old mountain men cut the stones and tongue out of a Bull as soon as he is down. They are considered the choicest parts. Deer, Antelope, wolves. Bears and Elk are also very abundant on the shores. Indeed all kinds of game is so abundant that it has ceased to have any interest.
The air is so bracing that we all feel equal to anything. Mr. Struble has already killed a fine "spike" elk for camp eating. We camped in a bunch, and we have camp stoves so that in case of rain or snow we can stay indoors. Just now we have a huge camp fire around which we sit in the evening, telling stories, singing, and eating nuts of the pinon pine. Then too the whole country is filled with those tiny little strawberries. We have to gather all day to get as much as we can eat, but they are delicious. Yesterday we had pie made of wild currants; there are a powerful lot of them here. There is also a little blueberry that the men say is the Rocky Mountain huckleberry. The grouse are feeding on them. Altogether this is one of the most delightful places imaginable. The men are not very anxious to begin hunting. A little delay means cooler weather for the meat. It is cool up here, but going back across the desert it will be warm for a while yet. Still, when they see elk every day it is a great temptation to try a shot.