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In our way of reckoning the year we talk about berrying time as being half of the summer and wild ricing time as being wild ricing time. In between those two seasons there was a lot of activity going on, but we didn't have any special word or month-name to describe that season. It was a time of giving thanks to the Great Spirit for the maple sugar harvest(1) and for the berry crop that was drying out,(2) a time of looking forward to the fall fishing(3) and ricing(4), and a time of preparing for the long winter(5) that we knew for certain would sooner or later be arriving. It was a good time of the year to make and mend canoes, to collect our Indian plants that we used throughout the year, to fish and hunt, to play around in this great world of ours, and, of course, to meet with one another and visit. While we were in berry camp we'd most generally get two or three campfire talks,(6) so it was a time too when we did a lot of thinking and wondering -- particularly about the natural life that was green and growing, and, if we met some, about the personal histories and views that we heard from our visitors. We kids enjoyed all of this activity and liked to tag along with the adults as they went about their business.
We all enjoyed watching the women prepare for wild ricing by patching up our birch bark canoes. Our canoes lasted many, many years, and my family most generally traded for canoes, so I never got to watch canoe-making much when I was a boy. Some of those canoes lasted quite a while, and later on, when we settled down in one place by the forks of the Leech and Mississippi Rivers, we switched over to strip boats, so I missed out on learning a lot about canoe making.(7)
Any Indian will make a canoe, but they weren't all canoe-making specialists. In my time there were Indians that built canoes to sell or trade. These Indians were recognized canoe builders, and if you wanted a canoe you just told them how big you wanted it. If you wanted one of those big canoes you asked him for a chi-chi-wIg-wáa-su-gii-máhn. If you wanted one of those tiny canoes you asked for a wIg-wáa-su-gii-mah-náyss. A small fast hunting boat, a fire-hunting boat, was called a wáas-wáa-su-gi-máa. We called the passenger canoe, the inbetween sized canoe, i-daa-shI-báy or wIg-wáa-su-gi-máhn, either way. That wig-wáass-chi-mán, that's another one.
We had canoes made out of birch bark and the canoe specialist would make whatever you requested. You told him how long you wanted the keel -- there was no keel, but there was a round bottom -- and he'd make it that length. If they didn't have cedar strips already prepared and rolled up they went out and split cedar and stripped it. They always had the birch bark on hand if they were planning on making a canoe, because they had to get that in the early spring.(8)
The canoe makers rolled the birch bark and formed it for the sides first, then they shoved in the cedar laths which served as ribs. The canoes were formed inside by this cedar. Sturdy cedar wood strips, sewed to hold the canoe together, were formed inside on the edges. The bottom was made of flat ribs which curled up on each side onto the edge of the canoe. They usually had them about four inches apart, but the more ribs you have the more sturdy the canoe is. The side ribs were attached on the cedar rim of the boat, on the top. Then they were bent over on the other side of the rim of the canoe. These rims were well-sewed with basswood or cedar strips, and everything.(9) The rims were sewed well, and the bottom was sewed well.
The cedar ribs sewed on to the cedar side-top-rims of the canoe held the birch bark together to keep it from breaking. These cedar strips guarded the birch bark. When the canoe was all formed and sewed, they'd seal up the overlapped birch bark seams with pitch.
Those birch bark canoes were strong, but you could not hit a rock or a deadhead on the river because it would bust the bark. That's why they were very careful when we were on a journey. They were watching for rocks. If it was shallow, or if there were rapids, I saw them roll up their pants, walk in the water and pull their canoes, just to guide them through the rapids where it was shallow. They didn't want the canoe to hit the bottom of the river. They were afraid they might hit a rock and bust the bark. After they'd get in deep water again they'd get back in their canoes. I've seen lots of that. That was taking care of their canoes!
They had nice paddles, well made, hand-made, paddles. They had pretty color and designs on their canoes too. They were wonderful. They just had hand-drawn designs, like a hand-drawn Indian head, or maybe a star, or maybe a half-moon. Maybe the design was an Indian head, but whatever it was, it was usually on the bow end. How much work did they do to get that finished canoe! That was all hand work.
In those days they worked for one another. In those days if you bought a canoe from somebody else you'd pay them with your work; by that I mean something that you've worked on. There was money all right, but they didn't want money. They bought things with quilts, buckskin quilts, beadworks and other hand-work items. Sometimes they traded tools. They most generally wanted something they could use in tools. An axe was good to trade too.
My grandma told me that in her time they used to buy big canoes when they were in Duluth. They'd buy them from the Canadians who came along the Canadian shore south into the Great Lakes. They cost about thirty dollars, I think, thirty dollars worth of valuation. Gee they were great canoes!
Those canoes, even the bigger canoes, were easy to move on a portage. One strong young man could move it. It was awkward to handle; how did he move it? He put the couple paddles across the stringer, across the thwart, on the top. He put one paddle in there between the stringer and cedar rim on one side, then he put the second paddle on the other side -- wide enough apart for him to stick his head in between the two paddles. Then he put hay pads in there to protect his shoulder, and he balanced that canoe just where he wanted it. While he was getting ready to balance that, one end was up on a tree limb. That way he could work under there. When he balanced that canoe just where he wanted it, he used basswood to tie the paddles down. They always carried a bunch of basswood bark. You can't break that, so they carry that to tie with. So when he got ready to go, he got under there. And when he came up, he stood there for a minute and a checked to see that it balanced all right, then he just shoved a little and he was off. As he walked, he'd hold her down a little with the paddles. On the Great Lakes we had big paddles. On the Great Lakes we had big strong paddles. They weren't like duck-hunting paddles with these little handles. Those little-handled paddles would break on the Great Lakes. That's how we had everything made to order.
We had everything made to order in those days, and the Indian knew everything to keep it in order too. They knew the easiest way to patch the canoes. The adults paddled those little canoes by hand, and when they'd spring a leak the paddlers would go for shore. They paddled along without worrying because if the canoe started to leak they just headed for shore and land. If they'd spring a leak, they'd pull the canoe in right along the shore anywhere. They'd paddle to shore, plop the canoe right over on the bank and build a fire. They always carried a little kettle or pan that was full of pitch, spruce pitch. They patched up their canoes with that pitch of spruce. But sometimes they used any pitch. They used any pine, and they boiled that; they fried that. I mean they put that kettle or pan in the heat and the pitch melted. Sometimes they'd heat the pitches of different pines together. They'd mix that. That balsam pitch and that spruce pitch was a good mixture. Once in awhile, later on, they'd use a little tar.
Sometimes that tar came in to our area and they used that to waterproof. But we always had pure pitch, and that was just as good too. Pure pitch would crack up in time, it would weather-crack all right, but it was good enough for a trip, a voyage, anyhow.
They heated that spruce pitch, or whatever mixture of pitch they were using, by holding it over red-hot coals. They just held that little pan or kettle full of pitch over the fire. There's a crust on some of that pitch and they used a stick to skim that crust off. Sometimes there's too much bark or dust, timber dust, in there, and sometimes there are hard chunks in the pitch. Pitch chunks are the hardest there are. They'd skim off those chunks of pitch and wood, and the bark and timber dust, and throw away that colored part of the pitch. They used a fork-ed stick to skim pitch in the olden days, but later on they used a screen. They dumped away the impurities and drained out the best part of the pitch. When they skimmed that off they had pitch, pure pitch. So by heating and skimming that they got pure pitch, and that pure pitch made a good patching for canoes.
Later on we used wood strip-boats, lumber boats, as well as canoes. Some of the Indians then made strip-boats, and some still made canoes. Whichever we were using, we kept pitch to patch the leaks and the weather cracks.
When they warmed up the pitch they could put the pitch patching anywhere. It smears, like shellac or something. They had a little paddle, a little putty knife, sort of a wooden putty knife, and they smeared the pitch on the leak or seam with that little paddle. When the first coat of pitch cooled they could put coat after coat over it. How much they put on all depended on how much the leak or seam needed. It didn't take much in some places either. But when they were first making the canoe, the patching of the canoe in the splices on the ends -- underneath where the basswood bark threads were sewed -- took more pitch. Those patches were heavy with that pitch, just to cover up the seams. That warm pitch sealed the leak, sealed the seams. That sealed them, and in a little while the canoe stopped leaking. That was waterproof and they wouldn't leak, as long as the canoes were in a little water.
When the leak was fixed they'd be ready to go again. That's the way we used to get by. Oh boy, I tell you, oh, they were wise Indians those days. If the women were patching the canoes in camp, we were all ready for ricing after the canoes were all patched.
Those were happy days. We had fun playing along the beaches, playing in the canoes, trying to paddle the canoes. But in those days the children knew when their law was in order. One time we were down by the beach playing with one of the canoes when the old man, the chief, went down there. "You get up to the wigwam. You get home," he said. Boy we all walked up to camp, and never said a word. The children wouldn't dare to tell their father and mother that the old man said, "You get up to the house." Why? Because they were walking in his canoe.
The children didn't talk back neither. When those old Indian law officers said something, they didn't have any trouble. You'd just take their word. You couldn't talk back to those old people. They had their method. We were taught that. We were told, "Respect them. You don't know what power they've got. They can just think something about you in their minds and it'll happen to you." How powerful they were! They fast for that power. They believe their own belief, and we saw that what they believed in worked.(10)
Many of the men believed in and carried Indian hunting medicine. There are certain parts, different parts, to our belief and some are for luck. We have some medicine for luck as well as some other medicine to carry in life. We carry that medicine in little bundles and little pouches. That medicine's been blessed by a spiritual powerman. As I mentioned, there are different parts to our medicine, just like there are different parts to our belief, and the powerman says different things to different parts as he blesses them. He empowers more on something for luck. The Indians carry those medicine bundles with different kinds of powder in them, blessed for whatever they want them to be blessed for. And they have their rules they use with that medicine. You have to go through a lot of different ceremony parts to be spiritually full-empowered, but anyone can carry just hunting medicines without going through full-empowerment. Medicine and animals are useful things in our way of life, so please respect that.(11)
Indian hunters used life in the Indian way. They used life according to the Indian belief. While the women were patching the canoes, or were out with their pack straps getting wood, or berries, or whatever, the men-folks would go out to get some meat. The men would get up in the morning, put on their moccasins and go hunting. Before they'd go they generally gave a little ceremony. When the Indian went out he'd take out his medicine bundle and ask the Great Spirit, "I want to get food. I want to see food. I want to see this what I'm hunting for, deer. I want to see this!! I want to see something." Sometimes he just had that medicine on him, in his clothes, when he said, "I want to see." When he got out there in the woods he didn't go very far before he saw a deer or something. When he saw the deer he said a little prayer, "Mii-gwitch Manitou," "Thank you Great Spirit."
I don't think the Indian, in his days, beforehand, before log cabin times, had any trouble getting deer of moose. They went more for moose and caribou, I understand, in earlier times, because there weren't very many deer then. By the times I can remember there were so many deer that you could pick whatever one you wanted. And when you got a deer it was always a good size one.
When we were paddling along in our canoes when it was hot weather and blueberry time we'd see deer along the river. At that time of the year the deer hit the water because the flies drive them down out of the woods. They always hit for the water when the flies are out. Often just a head would be sticking out, and when the deer'd see our canoe he'd get out of there quickly.
Then we'd see tracks, all kinds of tracks, along the river. Us kids would sit there and watch for tracks as we paddled along. We'd see where the deer cross. Sometimes we could tell the deer just crossed because the grass was wet yet where they walked. As we paddled along the river we saw animals: deer, porcupines. The deer are wa-wãush-kI-shay-wag, quick or quick-sneaking animals that slide through the brush.
The Indians in the olden days always respected wild life, game and fish. Wild life was the life of their country. It was put there for the people in the country. That life of the people in the country was a great thing for them. It was handed down from the Great Spirit. Their Great Spirit created timber, birds, water, the necessities for your body, life, soil, and everything. They respected everything that was given unto them. They respected the air they breathed, the great life, the great sunshine, and everything that was given to them. They always believed in that. It came natural to them. The Great Spirit told them, "What is given unto you I shall share in with you when you need it. When you need the game, you shall take game, as this is your only means of your way of life. You have no other place to get food. You only have wild life and the soil." So they always had respect for their life. They respected things that grow on the soil. They also respected other people, whether they're strangers or not. They respected one another. They respected the old people. And they respected the animals.
When they wanted meat in the camp the men-folks would take that hunting gun, or bow and arrows -- what they had -- and they'd go out and hunt in groups. When they went hunting they went together. Mostly there were three or four of them going, but sometimes there were six or seven. They took what they wanted: the deer, moose, bear.
In the winter, which is when they hunted most often, and took the most animals, the hunters lined up from one island to another. An island is a group of trees in the swamp. In the winter the deer often hang around the swamp islands where there is a lot of timber. Balsam and spruce is their shelter. And the deer like that moss there. They eat off the moss. They eat cedar too, they eat cedar boughs. Oh, the wild life knows how to live, just the same as any person. The deer go from one island to another in a tamarack swamp. There's always a bunch of balsam there, along the edge of high land, and that's where the deer often bed down. So that's where the hunters would often start.
Some of the hunters went as high as three or four miles from camp. Then they'd close in. To pack that deer a long ways through the woods, three or four miles, was too much for those old wise hunters. So those old wise men would get in their circle and they would herd the deer close to the camp, where they were going to shoot the deer. Then, when they finally closed in on the deer and killed it, the deer was closer to the camp.
When they were together they talked to one another, but they didn't talk very loud. When they had the area scouted out they'd sit close by one another and talk low to understand one another. When you're hunting like that you have to talk about what the deer is doing, and you have to know just what the deer is going to do. You know -- or one of the other one's you're hunting with knows -- the wind and the area and the ways of the deer. The leader will most generally say, "One will watch that area, and one will watch this area, and we'll have it blocked. Let's go. One of us is going to get him." They knew how to hunt deer.
When they were driving the deer towards the camp, one of them would holler out, "Well, this close enough. Now we try to get him." As they closed in, the deer had to go through them someway or the other, and when he tried to go through the line of hunters, somebody was going to see him and then shoot the deer.
Sometimes they'd get three or four of them that way. Of course, sometimes, too, they didn't get any. But it was fun to hunt anyway, even if we didn't get a deer or moose. Everybody had fun. Most often the Indians were lucky when hunting in the old days. But they had respect and used that hunting medicine. And they had to know nature, they had to know the nature of the deer, they had to know the country, and they had to know where all the runways were too.
In the summertime they hunted differently, and not so often. It's not good to go out hunting when it's warm and real quiet. When it's quiet the deer, the game, the ducks can hear you a long ways. The deer will hear you walking first, and deer will sneak, they'll sneak out of your range.
When it's warm, and if you get the game you're after, it won't keep very well. Wild game sours quicker, and it isn't fun to get deer, in too-warm weather. If it's too warm, you have to hurry up and be sure that you get the meat put away. You have to take care of that meat, otherwise it sours. You may not taste it, but it's there. You have to bleed the animal, you have to drain it good, and keep it cool. That's good when it's well drained. When it's cold and windy the air's different. When it's more breezy, the air isn't so close. When the air is close the meat is hard to keep, unless you're well equipped to put it away to keep it cool. But when it's cold or cool you can always manage to cool your game off. When it's cold or cool the women have time to put it away properly; they can take care of it.
But we enjoyed the taste of deer meat, and moose meat and bear meat in the summer too. If we didn't have a deer and wanted one for dinner, we wouldn't make it appear like we were going to try to get any.(12) It's in the nature of the Indians to understand wild life and to know the nature of animals. The Indian knew when the animals were ready to feed. The animals get up at a certain time of the morning to feed. And when the Indians were working at hunting they would look over the spot where they were working. In the summer they would hunt somewhere close to water. They didn't want to go into the woods because they knew the deer come out of the woods to drink water. They'd go watch the animal's runway, where the deer came in to get water and eat the weeds in the water. We'd just go out and sit down somewhere near the water where the deer tracked, somewhere close to where they came in. Sometimes the hunters would shove their canoe in the grass and wait at the spot where the deer comes out on the edge of the woods. They'd sometimes cover up with grass a little bit and just sit there. And sometimes they climbed a tree and sat there. They'd climb a tree which hung through the runway, on the point of the runway, and wait there. They'd be about ten feet high, twelve feet high, overlooking a good runway.
We just sat there, wherever we were, by that runway. We just sat there in the evening, and pretty soon the deer'd come out for air. It's hot in the woods, and on a hot day you could just sit there and pick them out -- in those days. The hunters would sit there for an hour -- maybe a half-hour, twenty minutes. They were bound to see a deer somewhere. Most likely, in those days, every twenty minutes a deer would go by, because the crop was plentiful. When the deer came through they could pick out any one they wanted -- buck, doe, yearling and everything. When they found the one they wanted, they'd ready their bow and arrow and let the deer come close to them. And when it came close enough they'd just pull that bow and arrow and let'er go, driving the arrow to them.
Maybe they'd shoot them with a gun. Maybe they'd shoot them with arrows. See, those old guns came in, old shot guns. Old muzzle-loaders came in and after that the hunters would most often use those for hunting deer and moose and bear. But some of them were still pretty good shots with those bows and arrows, and they still had pretty good bows and arrows. We called the bow mI-tIg-wáab. They were made of ash, white ash or black ash, and were polished good with a stone -- just like those big wooden sugar-making bowls.(13) The size of the bow varied with the size of the person using it, but here and there one of the bows would get to be up to six feet long.
And we had good arrows. We made arrows all kinds of ways. Some arrows we used were all wood, sometimes with just a whittled out knob on the end. That all-wood arrow was called bi-kwák. We made arrowheads with all kinds of stuff, including stone, but we didn't care much about doing that because it just was not necessary, that's what. We didn't fear anybody any more after the whites came in here to teach us a better way of living, and then bows and arrows were used mostly for birds and rabbits and didn't need much of an arrowhead. But for hunting deer you had to use an arrowhead if you used an arrow. These deer hunting bows and arrows were loaded with flint, rock, or anything they could be loaded with. Some of them got ahold of a metal and put that on the end. They put sharp metal on the end. Some of the arrows had rocks on the end. The men would split the arrow and put a flat rock, or anything that's flat, in the end. Then they tied it together. They split an arrow without a wooden head on it. If you just split that cedar arrow -- or whatever wood arrow you were using, but an arrow with no head on it -- and then slide that flat thing in there, and then tie the wood up, that'll hold that arrowhead.
Those arrows were wicked. The old Indians loaded the arrow and pulled that bowstring way back. They could pull those bows! They were used to that, and they'd hit the mark. They could shoot quite a ways too. It all depended on how big your arrow was, and what size of bow you were using, but those arrows would travel, oh, about two or three hundred feet. You could shoot a deer with a bow and arrow from about a hundred feet, fifty feet for a dead shot, ya. Those bows and arrows used to go right through the ribs of a deer -- not through the ribs, but between the ribs. That arrow does a lot of damage. The deer don't go very far after they're hit well with an arrow. If it goes in the hide the arrow will do the rest because the beard(14) will crawl in. That arrow for hunting deer is generally made of flint, and when it goes in, it works right in all the time. The beard of the arrowhead will crawl in. The more a deer runs, the faster that arrow works into him, because the flint is cut to work like that. The beards on the arrowhead are cut with barbs on the back end. They're cut in this groove. And the more the deer runs, the more that arrow does damage. It keeps crawling in, like a porcupine quill. That's the way they got a deer or moose, whatever they were after. That's the way they hunted.
When we were kids we used to hunt partridges with bow and arrow. Partridge in Indian is bíi-náy. It was nothing to get those partridges with a bow and arrow. We'd walk right up to those that were sitting up in the tree, and they'd just look. There they sat, with their necks out. When we had our bows and arrows we'd shoot those partridges. We'd try to hit them in the head because we didn't care to hit them in the body. Down they'd come. We'd get all the partridges we wanted that way. Sometimes we'd lose arrows, sometimes they'd stay up in the trees. Well, we just made some more, we boys. You could get all the partridges you wanted.
Partridges "drum" after maple sugar camp. They drum into April, and sometimes even on to June. In late spring we often heard the drumming sounds of a male partridge mating. They flap their wings as they drum, and it sounds like an old "one-lung" motor trying to start up. As kids we'd look around for them, and try to go after them, but in the springtime it's most generally pretty hard to find where the "drummer" is. If you go this way, the drum sounds over there. When you go back, it sounds over here again. It's hard to place them.
If we weren't hunting partridges with bow and arrow, we got interested in snaring partridges. So the way we catch them that way is that we put a snare out, about three, four inches big. Then we break a stick and put it right over where his runway is, on top of a log. The partridge comes along, sees the snare and he sticks his neck in there to try to break it through. And here he is choking himself. He doesn't last long. I don't know why they do that, but that's his nature.
There were a lot of partridges those days, and rabbits too. You could go along anywhere and shoot a rabbit with a bow and arrow. You could choke 'em too, with a snare. You could choke partridges or rabbits. Or you could go after any of them with a bow and arrow.
Some of us got ahold of spikes one time and drove them in the end of some arrows and made points that way. Then we sharpened them, pointed them. Oh, those points were wicked. When we shot a tree it stuck there, right on the tree. We put the women's sharp needles on the head ends of our arrows too. Boy we got our birds with those arrows! Those arrows stayed right in there. They were wicked.
In the days before the gun some of the men would be out about three hours when they'd go hunting, but that all depended on where we were camping and on where the deer were feeding. Oh, I'd give them two hours to get to a destination and back, walking or paddling to the place where they wanted to hunt. They didn't have to go far, because, in my times, during the winter, we would put the winter through where there was a lot of game. We always picked out a place where there was plenty of deer in that area. In the summer the men could travel fast by canoe, and all they had to do in the summer was wait for the deer to come down to the water. So I'll say they were gone hunting three hours a day. They would be gone that long because there were signs of animals all over and they took the best ones for their hunting. On top of that, they used to go after the wolves for the clothes, for the fur. When the men caught them after the wolves shed they'd use the fur, so that's when they went after the fur and hides. They knew when to tan the hides. But anyway, just for the hunting of the deer, we'll give them three hours. I think it was three hours most generally, because they had to clean the deer and they had to put their inlets, their innerds, where a fox may get them, or a wolf. Maybe some of them were gone for over three hours, if they cleaned the animal and packed some of it in to camp, but that would be unusual if they did that.
If a hunter got a deer, or a bear, or a moose, they'd usually just dress it out where they shot it, then leave it there for the womenfolks to pack in to camp. And while he was dressing the meat by taking the innerds out, the hunter remembered the little prayer that he said when he first saw the deer, or the animal, that he shot: "Mii-gwitch Manitou." The one that got him always said his "Thanks" to the Great Spirit. The other hunters would help him clean the deer, and as they cooperated like that they worked out what they would do with the meat. If they had enough meat for their own use, the one that shot the deer would think, "We might as well share unto others. The neighbors haven't any meat." So they shared.
You always tried to manage to get enough food for everybody. If you had too much, you'd share with somebody else, you'd share-in with them. They always all shared the deer they got. They shared whether or not they came down to just having enough meat to make soup. That way the deer went quite a ways in the village. That way everybody would get a taste of it anyhow. By doing that, they believe they're doing good to others. They believe that when they do good to others they'll always do good on their hunt. They believe that if they do good to others what they hunt will always be given to them. But if they destroyed and wasted food, and did not share, and did not respect the animals they hunted, then it would be hard for them to get game. They didn't believe in destroying food. They didn't believe in wasting game when a person that needed food didn't have any. Food was created to be shared. When they shared their game they believed the Great Spirit would help them by helping them get still more game. So this is why they shared. They shared too, because they worked together. They shared because they went out hunting together. And the good hunters used to make out very well that way.
After the hunters got their meat, most generally, you didn't see them hanging around by it; they went home, took off their clothes, moccasins, and, if they had them, their socks. They were maybe wet. A young man might kill a deer and bring it into camp and give it to his father-in-law and mother-in-law, or to his sweetheart's parents if they weren't yet married, but usually whenever they got a deer or a moose the womenfolks took care of the meat. If the men knocked down a deer, even if it was not very far from their wigwam, they'd come home and tell the women, "You go to that bunch of willows by that island over there. Probably," the old man said, "probably, we got two over there. You go get them. I'm tired." They maybe were tired out from hiking. They'd go have a lunch. Of course this meal is served on the menfolks. The woman's supposed to be cooking for her man until he gets back from hunting and trapping. She's supposed to be a housekeeper. She supposed to be out working in the woods.
About all the men did was hunt and trap, hunt and trap, especially in the winter. That wasn't hard work, but they were hiking all the time. Hunting was different then. There is a great difference between hiking-hunting and taking an automobile like they do now. There's a great difference!! When the man was out hunting, or was out to search for something valuable for him to sell, like furs, he probably would pick up wood too. It didn't take him long to go out and get a big pile of wood. He knew that. There was always wood around, and he could get it. But later on in their years together, as a couple got used to one another, the woman would notice that the man worked too hard, so she'd go pick up dry limbs and stack them by the door of the wigwam. When the men were out hiking-hunting they were pretty hungry when they came back. They were all tired. Probably they were all wet. The women's clothes were dry, so she served them a lunch.
And while the men were having a lunch the old wives, their wives, were each busy with a big butcher knife. They were whetting up their knives on a stone. And the kettle was there cooking all the time they were whetting. When they were about done whetting their knives the leader of the women, the older woman boss of the wigwam, said, "Where are they?"
"They're right up there. You'll come to that hill, then you'll come to that bog. They're on this side of the bog." The men would tell them what was there. They'd tell the women whether it was a moose or a deer, whatever they had; maybe it was a big buck.
The old man would lay down and go to sleep and the whole works -- the girls and the old ladies -- would get ready to go get the deer. The women would pick up their packing straps and put them on. The three or four women would pick up their knifes and they'd go up there and skin that deer. After they had the deer skinned they cut up the meat and shared it. It was up to the womenfolks to share the meat with one another. The older woman of the wigwam would say, "You take that home for your family. You take this home. Take that home." So they divided it up amongst one another and they all took a hunk of that meat.
They took everything, head and all. They cooked the head too. They didn't throw away anything. They did not waste any food, because that meat was a necessity for the people who lived near. They used feet and all. Well, some of them would leave the legs. But others would take the legs and use them for what you might call Indian "pigs feet." They cooked the legs with corn, and those enriched bones made good corn soup. They put wild rice, and dumplings of flour or something in the soup along with the corn and deer legs. They used to have plenty of flavor in there because the way they fixed that soup they used plenty of oil, tallow, and marrow from the bones. That's the best soup you can eat. They never wasted, so they always lived good.
Some Indians also made baskets out of those hoofs, and they'd sell them. Deerhoof baskets were made with birch bark and basswood, with the deerhoofs standing, for legs. It was made so it would be a case, and it was sewed the same as a maple sugar case, with heavy threading. The women pulled the heavy threading tight so it would form like a basket. They wove sweetgrass and put it on top for a cover, just to make it smell good.
They never threw away anything. They used the hides, and of course the brains to tan the hides. They used the rest of the head of the deer or moose too. They cut the horns off and hung them up and dried them. They took the rest of the deer head and singed it on the flame of a fire, just like you would singe a duck. They singed the head just like they singed a duck, then they'd eat that. Boy that's good! And the tongue of the deer or moose is the best part of the meat. Right up to the neck is the best part of the food.
The women carried everything back to the wigwam, except, as I told you, sometimes the legs. They'd strap the meat up with their carrying straps and take it home. They'd clean the hide and get it started soaking for tanning. They'd hang the meat up, way up, so the bears and the other animals wouldn't get it. When it was cool they'd come back and just take the meat, two or three days after, when it had dried out and after the blood had been drained good. When it was warm weather they usually just left it hang overnight. They'd drag the deer into camp, leave the meat cool off overnight, and then the next day they'd cut it up.
Whenever it was ready they would share the meat with everyone at the camp. They always shared with one another, so the others would get a taste too. Generally, the one that got a deer always had a relative close by. And relatively close by they had the son-in-law, brother-in-law, father-in-law, and the old people. They always gave onto others. If the son-in-law was there giving the meat out he would give it to the father-in-law, if the father-in-law was there. The young man would give it to the father-in-law and mother-in-law together, and then they would handle the meat from there. Just like the women with an ordinary deer, they would give it first to those who were more relatively. They considered the old people too. The old people should have some meat from the younger class. The old people can not go as well as the young people can. They thought, "We'll give the old folks the meat if they want it." That's what they figured on. If they had too much they shared with the others. That's how they did it. Then they would give some meat to their close neighbor, and then, after the closest neighbors got their share, some of them would give onto others. If one had too much they would share with their neighborfolks. They would share it just as far as it would go. That worked out best that way because unless you were making jerk steak with it you couldn't keep it anyway.
Most generally that's the way they did it in the olden days. They believed in doing business in the old way. The regular way was to be good neighbors. They'd take care of one another. In the meantime, while the women were taking care of the meat and dividing it up, another group of men would go hunting. And if they'd get anything they would share their meat too. That's the way they got along.
They got along by taking care of one another. They got along by taking care of their food too. The old Indian doctors always pointed out that fresh meat has to lay over so many hours before you eat it. Meat should not be too raw when you eat it. You have to wait until it's cooled off. That's supposed to cool off. It should be a day or two old, a day old anyway, before you eat it, and you should keep it in kind of a cool place. By then the animal heat is out of it. Animal heat is not good in the meat you eat.
You're not supposed to take that meat right out of the dead and put it into the kettle. If you make a stew out of that while the animal heat is still there in the meat, the fat and all of that animal heat is boiled to the surface together. It foams up. That fat and grease will boil out when you wash the meat's surface and boil it. But if the meat is too fresh, that fat, the grease, of our animal stew is boiled out along with the animal heat.
The women take a spoon and comb the fat off the stew with that big spoon. They take the foam out. And when they don't take all of that animal heat out by combing the foam off when it foams in there, you eat that animal heat. If they don't get it all out, you commence to get sick to the stomach later on after hours. But when the animals's heat is out of the meat before you use it, and when it's good and clear, then it's all right to eat. It's not good eating meat that's too fresh. But when you wash it, and then boil it after it's laid over for awhile, that makes for good tasting meat.
If you eat meat when it's too raw, it always comes back on you. It comes back because it's too green. Anything that you eat is that way. But it's all right if you eat it after a certain stage of hours has gone by. It's the same way with wild rice. If you eat wild rice right away, it'll come back on you. You have to leave it lay over a couple of days. It's the same way with meat. It's always the best to leave food lay over for awhile -- about twelve hours, anyhow, maybe fourteen -- before you eat it.
A true story about my mother proves that you have to be careful about eating meat with animal heat in it. My mother and her friend, the two old ladies, paddled around to look for berries, to look for something that they could exchange with the white loggers or at the Flemming's store in Bena. They were also searching for what they could use, like birch bark and all that stuff. They knew where to find it, and if they'd find a bunch of raspberries they saved them. My mother and the old lady had worked together a long time, with their friends. And they paddled all the way up there, up by John Smith's, way up past Mud Lake on the Leech River -- about ten miles, fifteen maybe -- and they camped over there.
They had one of my cousins along for a guardian, for a helper. He was a young man, a scout, and he did all the heavy work. And he did the hunting, if they were short of meat. Finally he took his gun, he walked a little ways, and he shot a deer. It was not a very big deer, it was small. My folks were very hungry so they hurried up and cleaned that animal. While it was warm they washed it up. They washed it up and put it in the kettle. Boy that fresh meat smelled good! They made soup, and they threw a few dumplings in there. They could make a good stew.
That night their stomachs got loose, you know. They had -- they thought they had -- diarrhea. Both of them had that problem. Well, they had to visit a lot. My mother was so busy that night! She had to get up six or seven times, but it wasn't diarrhea. It was the animal heat. They just put the meat into the kettle too soon, before it cooled off. They put it in the kettle and they ate it, and the animal heat was still there, after they cooked it. The meat was hot when they ate it, and the animal's heat was cooked with that. The animal heat is different from the heat of cooking, and that turned them loose in the stomach. So they thought they had diarrhea, but it was that animal heat.(15) And that's why I say fresh meat is no good, because the heat is not out of it. With the animal heat in it the meat's too early to eat it; it's too raw; it's too fresh.
If they would have left that meat sit overnight, or for forty-eight hours, it would have been good for them to eat and good for their stomachs. They were so hungry that they ate too much of it, with animal heat. Multiply the animal heat and the starvation, the hunger, and you can see that they were working too hard on the fresh meat. They got sick from that, so they checked it. See, they have medicine to stop that.
Blood is another thing to watch out for too. If there's blood on the surface of the meat, or blood in the meat, and you cook that blood together with animal heat, you'll get sick. If you eat that with a little fat on it, it might come back on you and loosen you up.
When you get an animal hang him up and bleed him right. Hang him upside down. Then the surface of the animal heat drains out with the blood when you cut the throat open. You can even cut the head off, that's better. Animals should be drained right, and shouldn't be labored much before they're killed. That's why we don't go much for deer meat that's been snared.
At times some of our Indians tried snaring deer. They snared deer by wire, bailing wire, the heaviest wire they could get. I remember one time I had some relatively Indian in-laws that tried snaring deer. One of them was a Turtle Mountain Indian who was married to my cousin, a Buffalo girl. He didn't know much about hunting. He told me he set a na-gwáa-gan, a snare, for deer out of what we call "booming wire." That's the wire the loggers used to tie rafts together in the logging days. That's the wire they used to tie railroad stakes or log booms together. There was lots of that laying around along the river, particularly a little later on in my life, and you'd kick it as you'd go along.(16) That was camp wire, for the logging camp; that was heavy wire there. It was awful strong wire. It was made from good metal, good material, in those days. They made everything for that purpose good in the earlier days. It was tough, rugged. "Booming wire" they called it, bailing wire; but it isn't bailing wire, "booming wire" they called it. And they used it to tie their rafts and logs together.
My Indian in-law picked up about eight or ten feet of that booming wire. He put that on a trail which led from one island to another. He just tied it around a six-inch oak there and slung the loop over the deer trail. And the next morning he got up early. Of course all hunters get up early. After breakfast they were all going hunting. And this guy who set the snare said, "I'm going to have a deer."
He had some other hunters with him and they said, "You couldn't get a deer alone. We'll have to drive 'em to you."(17)
He went ahead anyhow, and shortly after they all left and went to see what he got up to. I think somebody made a remark, "He's got a snare. He wants to see that." The one that set the snare was hunting along through the woods heading to that island where he had set the snare the afternoon before.
The other hunters started to walk up there to the island too. Before they got to the place where my cousin in-law [sic.] had set the snare -- I think it was pretty near a half-a-mile away -- they could hear that wire whistle. It was solid and they could hear it whistle. While they were on their way there, the first hunter made a shot, and they heard that wire whistle faster. That wire played a tune like a banjo; the tighter it got, the more it rang. And they could hear that tune, "pinggg, pingg." And they could hear sticks slashing, and they wondered what was happening on that island. They wondered what he was up to on that island: "I bet he's got that snare there."
Pretty soon the one who set the snare came in sight by that island. "He's got one." So they went up to him and saw that he was still shooting. Do you suppose he could hit that deer tied up? He'd make a shot to one side, then he'd make a shot on the other side -- and miss each time. And every time he'd lead it or aim at the deer with that old gun the deer'd go from one side to the other. The deer was just like a whip in that snare. It'd go back and forth.
"While," this other hunter said, "I'll show you how to get 'em." So he went on one side while the deer was on the other side, and then, when the deer was coming back the other way, he shot and he got him down.
After that they always laughed at my cousin in-law. After that they always said, "You couldn't hit a deer tied up. We had to go and hit 'em for you."
They got that deer, but do you know that deer wasn't worth eating? He caught that deer in the early part of the evening and the deer struggled all night. That deer was slimed. It wasn't fit to eat. It was slippery. That deer had labored too hard trying to get away. The deer had labored, and he was all sweat and slimy. He wasn't fit to eat. His veins were all worked up. But anyhow my cousin in-law took the deer home, and then he fixed it up.
He put it in salt water and washed it and purified it. The only way to cook meat like that is to fry it and use plenty of lard. It was no good for boiling. So they fried it, and put a lot of spices and pepper and everything in with it.
Well, he got rid of that snared meat that way. He made use of it anyhow. I don't think meat is good after laboring an animal like that. Same way with a rabbit. But the rabbit chokes himself with that soft wire right away, most generally. So that's the way they tried snaring with that old metal wire. I'm talking about the time before these "V" chokers came in for use with the wolf. Later on that "V"-shaped snare, the new kind, came out. When those new snares tripped around a deer's neck it would choke him. Or, most generally, if it's a buck, it would catch him around the horns, and that snare would lock. But if he gets it around the neck the tighter he pulls, the tighter it shuts his wind off, until he's choked.
I thought I learned a lot from that experience of my cousin in-law snaring the deer. Another time, later on, I was talking to a guy, another hunter. So remembering my cousin in-law's experience I said to the other hunter, "A deer wouldn't be any good if it's caught in a snare." Another hunter said, "Oh, ya. There's one way to set a snare to make it good."
I said, "How? Will you tell me?"
"Ya. You could take any snare, any wire that'll hold a deer, like that booming wire's all right. Cable-wire won't work. It'll break. They used to have that cable-wire in the woods, and they stationed it, they anchored it stationary, when they were snaring deer. They anchored that cable wire snare for deer with a solid anchor. When that has a solid anchor the jerk of the deer will snap that wire if it's a cold night, because he twists and works on it. He'll get away if it's too solid. The cable-wire snaps, if it's too solid." This guy told me about that, which I already knew, and then he said, "I'll tell you. You cut a stick about six feet long. Then you just throw the one loop over that small log or stick, and throw the other loop on a trail. Leave that stick tied to the other end lay. That way the wire's hanging over the trail." When a deer comes, if it's a buck, you'll most generally catch him around the horns. It all depends on how you set it, and that depends on what you want. And if it's a yearling or a doe that you're after, you have to make the loop lower to the ground. Most generally, the deer carries his head low when he's walking on the trail. They're scenting, ya. And he said, "Ah, if you give him six feet in that cable, when he hits that snare and trips it he'll run for that six feet, and he's not coming back, he's gonna keep right on a-going. But he doesn't go very far. When that six-foot stick gets between two trees he generally doesn't go far, he breaks his neck. And that's better and quicker yet. When he breaks his neck all you gotta do is stick it and drain the blood."
"Well," I said, "is that good meat?"
"Well, its pretty good. It's better than the labored meat. It all depends on how much he labors building up that slime and sweat in that torture that he has. Maybe if he's tortured too much the meat gets tough, really tough. I don't think that snare's good," he said, "but I tried it. I tried it." He said, "I tried it."
Well that snaring sounds pretty good, but I wouldn't like to eat any animal that has been snared, except rabbit. They use softer metal for snaring a rabbit and he'll generally choke himself right away.
They had spring-pole snares too, bah-saa-gIs-ko-gi-gan, in my olden days, and they were worse for deer yet. They'd labor the deer even more with a spring-pole snare. That spring-pole trips and it pulls the deer up, but every time the deer jumps the pole just carries him and helps him. He's working and laboring with that too, and that's too much on an animal. So I don't think I'd want to eat venison in that shape. I suppose that's why the old way to snare was to use that trip-snare, that dead-fall. But those weren't any good for deer. They were only good for bear and small animals.
That snaring's an awful death, and I wouldn't want to see the animals when they were struggling. I'd rather just cruise around and watch the animals. I'd like to watch the way they hide and run to protect themselves, the way they'd hide and look at you along the river banks, along the woods. The animals and creatures and all living things are there for you to take what you want, but respect them and don't waste them.
The animals are given to you to eat, yes, but don't waste them because the animals have a spirit. Yes, we have animals that have a spirit, the same as you. And the animals are watched by the Great Spirit, who takes care of everything! Wherever they travel the Spirit watches them. Their spirit is all around them, all around them, and you can feel their spirits if you believe in the Great and pay attention to nature. You're a person and your spirit is right here with you. That spirit of yours brightens up when you look around and pay attention to the natural world. As you and your spirit work with other living things and their spirits in this world you can feel the rest of the spirits as they charge up your energy and spiritual power. I can still feel that charge of power now, just as I began to feel it when I followed my mother in the woods and along the rivers and lakes as I was learning by her actions and words how the Indian respects and uses this great earth we live on.
7. Cf., Robert E. Ritzenthaler, "The Building of a Chippewa Indian Birch-bark Canoe," Public Museum of the City of Milwaukee, Bulletin, 19:2 (1950), pp. 53-99.
9. Francis Densmore, Chippewa Customs (Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology, 1929), p. 150, indicates the sewing was done with the split roots of either tamarack or spruce.
10. They saw that things that traditional Indians believed in actually happened as they believed.
11. See Ch. 28, "Power," Ch. 29, "'What's Behind the Sun?': An Indian Sermon," Ch. 30, "Mi-de-wi-win," Ch. 31, "An Indian Curing Ceremony," Ch. 32, "'Spiritual Doctoring' (Tipi-Shaking), and Bone-Sucking Specialists," and Ch. 33, "Medicine Men / Medicine Women."
12. They went about their affairs in the normal manner, without any show of special preparations for hunting deer.
14. A "beard" is the barb of the wild rice kernel. The wild rice kernel "beard" works much like the notching on a arrow -- it keeps the kernel working in, and doesn't let it slip back out. The notches on the back of the arrow work the same way, and thus, are called a "beard."
15. The description of dying for humans -- see Ch. xxx -- indicates that the soul may be in the body until the heat is gone. This is also likely the case with animal soul. If so, it makes a good deal of sense to make sure the animal's soul has a chance to leave. Not to do so would likely be viewed as causing all kinds of problems, and certainly would not be respectful to the animal. That's probably also one reason why the animal heat is different from cooking heat.
17. Joking behavior between a man and his actual or potential brother-in-law (which, with cross-cousin marriage, was also his and his sisters' cross-cousins) was common among traditional groups. See xxx.
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