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Siouxs and Scouts
The Indians we met on the rivers were pretty nice, at least I thought they were. They were travellers. They travelled the waters the same as Indians did before them. When we would meet another group they would be from our same tribe.
It wasn't always that way. In my grandfather's time occasionally they'd meet a Sioux somewhere, but generally the Siouxs would roam pretty far off. I can't remember any fights with the Siouxs, but I heard the old folkstell about it though. And I heard them tell about the uprise they had in spots, but it didn't amount to anything. Still, in the days when it was wild, the children were scared all of the time. We had rattlers, bears, animals, and one thing or another like that to fear. And we didn't know who we were going to meet.
The groups usually travelled alone then, and there was a quaintness to a group and to one's self in the family. You might as well say they were all in one family. Oh, they'd talk to one another in camp, but I used to notice that the adults wouldn't hardly talk much when they'd get in a strange place. Naturally the women wouldn't talk in a strange place if their husbands weren't around, but besides that, the people in the olden days whispered more. When they did talk I used to hear them whisper, at least the older class would whisper. They talked very low. And when a child cried they hushed him as quick as they could. "Shhhhhd!," the old folks'd say when I used to travel along and want to make noise or cry. They'd hush me.
One time, when I was a little boy about eight or nine years old, I wanted to play along the river. Me and a couple more kids wanted to play down by the shore. But every time we talked loud one of the older class would go "SShhhu!" That's the way they would tell us.
I began to take notice of all this whispering so I went up to my mother and asked, "Why do you tell us to stop? There isn't nobody around." I spoke out amongst the boys: "And why do those Indians talk so low, my mother. Why do those Indians talk so low and whisper like that?"
"Well," she said, "for one reason, they were always shy. I heard the old people mutter when I was young too. They were always shy. They didn't want the Siouxs, or an enemy, or the spies to hear them. You never know where there's an enemy searching for a better country. You never know. You never know who's around. We're too close to the border.(1) Anybody could come in this area of Minnesota. And that's why we don't build a fire very much either, because we have to be careful. That's why."
They didn't want anybody who might be there to hear them. We had lots of men drifting and roaming through the river banks, travelling on the highway of the river. Somebody might be laying in the brush, in the weeds, listening to all this stuff. And the information he heard could help him find his way to whatever you're discussing. He might get interested in your affairs.
After I thought about it for awhile I realized that the adults also talked in a low tune because they didn't want the children to be wise of the languages they spoke to one another. They didn't want the children to learn too much about the older life until they were of age. If the child came in when they were talking about adult matters they'd tell the child, "Now you go out and play. You're not to listen. You're not old enough to listen. This is for the older class." That's also why they whispered more. I remember that too.
Like my mother said, the Indians years ago in her times were kind-a shy. They were built that way. There were too many warriors amongst themselves. They were afraid of an attack. That was one of the things they worried about, and that's why we had scouts. If we were in danger, we had o-kah-bay-s^g, scouts, checking the surrounding area.
The scout was a worker out-field. Scouts were the young people, the younger class. He was a scout in the field, and he'd probably be eighteen or twenty, twenty-one years old. The scouts were working all the time. There were so many scouts in each group.(2) There were groups of Indians here and there and they knew one another by their camping ground and by the kind of houses they lived in. They had different kinds of wigwams, different tipis. Wigwams, those are the round ones, that's the Chippewa style. And those peaked tipis, the peaked ones made out of poles, they were the Sioux's. And other tribes regularly had a little dug house.(3)
We had cruisers coming in from different tribes. We had scouts coming in from different areas too, like the Siouxs. There were a lot of Indians, and there were a lot of different tribes that were going to take over our area. The Chippewa Indian always called this northern part of Minnesota his land. We selected it as Chippewa. As a Chippewa people we selected this land for our warehouse! The state of Minnesota is the warehouse for the Chippewa of this area.
Why did that one chief say we selected this for our warehouse?
We selected this for a warehouse because here there was all the game we wanted to eat. That's a warehouse, and that's why so many other Indians were coming in from other areas.
Sometimes the scouts found everything OK, but if there was any problem in that area they'd take it in to the discussion with the chiefs.(4) If the scouts saw other tribes, there was something wrong somewhere and they were kind of sneaky then. They investigated that and made tracks to go back and report to the chief. They'd tell him where this shouldn't be, or where he should or should not go in his field. They'd tell the chief if they'd seen something wrong, or if someone was moving in. The scout's liked that when they'd go out and bring in reports to the chief. The scouts enjoyed that because they could go anywhere and find something or someone where they weren't supposed to be.
If Indians of a different tribe moved into our territory the scouts and the chief went and talked to the people that weren't supposed to be there. The chief went there and told them to move. If they'd go, everything was all right. But if they didn't, there was trouble. If they didn't go, then there was trouble, so that's why they used smoke signals. They had smoke signals which the scouts understood. The strangers almost always moved, because there were a lot of Chippewa Indians. But there were a lot of Siouxs too.
When the Chippewa got into a battle they really went out for their life -- for the benefit of the kids, the children, the little children, and the womenfolks. They didn't care for their life when it came to protecting this country. That's their country. "And the quicker we settle it," they felt, "the quicker we can have better times."
That's what my mother told. She told that in her times all the children were put in one place and the menfolks, the old chiefs, and the scouts went ahead and told the other party, "You either move or you'll have it." That's the way they did it.
The number of men who would go out to fight all depended on the scouts' reports. If they could do it on so many men, with the men they had available, they'd go. They never trusted the womenfolks to go with them, but the womenfolks were always leery and were always ready to help, the same as the men.
Before they left, the menfolks took their ladies, young ladies, and told them, "You surround the children, and battle with all you're good for!" There were a lot of women, and the younger class, the children, were behind them. The women were protecting little ones, particularly the little baby. The women were out there backing the men, so when the men went they always had a scout to send messages back. They always sent messages with the fast one. He had to be fast. That scout would give messages to the women. If the men couldn't settle the battle, if they needed additional power, the scout was always ready to give the women the report. He'd call in right now, and they were right there. The women were ready to go. They let the children turn aside and they'd really battle, with bow and arrows, and clubs, just like the men. They used anything they got ahold of, including knives. Even the women! Even the women got into it! My mother used to tell that they really were back of that chief and back of the scouts in her times too, but by then the battling with the Siouxs was pretty much over in our area.
That's our angle of it. I know that. That was something. The adults didn't fear anything. The Indians were never scared, because they had to be brave.
Old John Smith, the guy everybody called "Wrinkle-Meat" in Indian,(5) Kahbe-nag-wI-wens, was the one who could remember his people fighting with the Siouxs. Old John was one of the oldest Indians who ever lived, and everybody loved to talk with him. When I first met him as a young boy in Bena he already claimed he was around a hundred and twenty years old.
We'd talk to Old John lots and we'd ask him, "Did you see any times John in the past that there were any wars?"
"Yes," he said, "a few of 'em. I seen uprises, wars, uprises." A few of my relatives and I would be setting by the campfire and we'd ask John questions. "What did you see John?"
Several times he told us about the time they scouted the Siouxs below the Mississippi Rapids:
So it was a good thing. Oh there was a strong rapids them days! There was lots of water comin' through there. And it made a lot of noise; it was just like a dam makin' a lot of roar, a lot of noise.
See what hardship we went through? They had-a wake up in the night to go down to see what this was. We didn't know what it was gonna be down there. You see how we had to beware, to be afraid for our children?
Being a scout was very good, if you weren't doing foolish things like sneaking up on rocks at night. They learnt more. They learnt all the angles about the way to live. A scout made a hero when he found something that had to be done and then made an improvement by working on it. They were our main protection years ago. We didn't have any law enforcement. We only had our own law.
We never had much trouble in my early times, but when we did, they'd send the scouts to check. A chief would say, "Somebody stoled a canoe." And maybe he'd send a couple of scouts out. The chief decides, and if he decided to send scouts the chief said, "You go out and find that." They'd go. They worked nights. You wouldn't know who they were. You never knew. Everything was done secretly. The scouts just about knew where that problem was, so where did they go? They'd go to the nearest settlement. They checked. Ya, they'd go right to him direct, right to the one they suspected. You bet! Boy it was just too bad for him if he stole it. Ooh, Jesus!! There'd be an uprise!
Scouts were working for our protection, but most of the time they just hunted and searched for food. The scout was always searching for the big patch of berries during berrytime.(7) When he got through working he came home and they had a big bowl of soup for him, and fried bread. He had a good meal and he laid down. He told the women, "Listen, you go up to that big cluster of pine, on the north side there's berries in there. There's also berries on the south side. There's berries all over in there. You can't miss them. And by the berries up there I shot a deer." A number of times he shot a deer. He said, "The deer is laying over there."
Two or three canoes of womenfolks'd go right there, cut up the deer, and pick all the berries they wanted to pick. Maybe a scout or two would go with them, to protect them and show them where to go. Somebody had to protect the women. But the scouts that went had to be married to one of the women. No other fellow would go with the women to show them where to go. The scouts had to make it sincere. They'd take their muskets or bow, in case a bear or something came. A bear years ago was vicious.
So that's how the chief of a family group had scouts going around working out in the field and advising him. And when the scouts made good then they became a chief. By protecting the camp, working in the field and giving sensible advice a good scouter was a hero, was made a hero, and he became a chief. That's how a good scout became a chief in my younger days.
1. The border with the Dakota or Sioux.
2. Probably two or three.
3. Semi-subterranean house.
6. See Fig 1-2, Map of Leech Lake Reservation in Northern Minnesota.
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