Missouri-Yellowstone Confluence Interpretive Center
The Countrey in every direction is plains.
— William Clark
This area held large herds of bison, elk, and deer, which had grazed on grasses and shrubs for millennia. Chief among the native grasses were big bluestem, buffalo grass, and needle-and-tread grass. Big sagebrush was a common shrub on the semi-arid plains.
Prairies provided native peoples with plants, used for food and medicine. Paste or tea made from purple coneflower root was used by many Northern Plains tribes to treat their coughs, sore throats, and headaches. They called the plant "elk root" because they learned of its effectiveness when they saw sick or wounded elk eat the plant. When Meriwether Lewis sent seeds to President Jefferson, he indicated it was used for snakebites.
Indian bread root, also called prairie turnip, was an important food for native peoples because it can be eaten raw, boiled, dried, or pounded into flour. It was also sought after by grizzly bears, once common among the wooded stream bottoms. Indian breadroot seeds collected by Lewis are preserved today by the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia.
This root (beadroot) forms a considerable article of food with the Indians of the Missouri, who for this purpose prepare them in several ways. they are esteemed good at all seasons of the year, but are
best from the middle of July to the latter end to Autumn when they are sought and gathered by the provident part of the natives for their winter store. when collected they are striped of their rhind and strung on small throngs or chords and exposed to the sun or placed in the smoke of their fires to dry; when well dryed they will keep for several years.... — Meriwether Lewis, Wednesday May 8th 1805