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Flying Bird Image


When Everybody Called Me Gabe-bines,
"Forever-Flying-Bird":
An Ethnographic Biography of
Paul Peter Buffalo

Timothy G. Roufs
University of Minnesota Duluth

a note on tenses
  a note on style

 
orignal tapes information

Table of Contents

"This project has been financed in part with funds provided by the State of Minnesota from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund through the Minnesota Historical Society."

"This publication was made  possible in  part by the  people of  Minnesota  through  a grant funded by an appropriation  to  the  Minnesota  Historical Society  from the  Minnesota  Arts and Cultural  Heritage  Fund. Any views,  findings,  opinions,  conclusions  or recommendations expressed in this publication  are those  of  the authors  and  do not necessarily represent those of the State of  Minnesota, the  Minnesota  Historical Society, or the  Minnesota  Historic Resources Advisory Committee."

Canvas


Buffalo Image

18 17

Winter Wood and Wiigwaams

  Woman seated in front of wigwam, Chippewa camp, 1870

Woman seated in front of wiigwaam, Chippewa camp, ca. 1870.

Creator: Charles Alfred Zimmerman

Photograph Collection, ca. 1870
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.31 r91 Negative No. 1561
We had everything, so we were in peace. We moved about three, four, times a year. We had winter and summer, and spring and autumn. There were four seasons that we'd go by. We had that season that was for picking berries(1) and then the autumn would come. We had summer, and in the winter we had winter. We would move when it's time to "harbor-nate" for the winter.
Chippewa Indian winter lodge, Lake County, 1915

Chippewa Indian winter lodge, Lake County, 1915.

Photograph Collection, 1915
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.31 r13 Negative No. 79815

There were a lot of camping grounds along the river, and in the winter we moved to one a little further back in the woods where there's wood. In the winter we camp where there is plenty of wood to burn, to heat our children. We lived in the woods by a lake where we could get fish, by a lake where there's plenty of wood, by a lake where there's game. We always put our camp for the winter where we can get to fish. We go where we can set net through the ice -- under the ice. We set net all winter around here. We run a net -- ah-s^b -- under the ice. We put our camp for the winter where we can get water -- where we can get water for the camp -- or else where there's plenty of wood. We would move to where we can get wood, where we can get water, where we can get fish, where we can get meat, game. We picked out a place where there's plenty of deer. In our area there would always be enough for the group. 'Course there was a lot of game them days. There was game.

When we left ricing camp in the spring(2) we moved back to the place where we wanted to "harbour-nate" for the summer. We moved back to the place where we had a gii-tI-gan . . . a garden.(3) Some of us had garden spots. Some of us didn't. We did. We went back and took care of our garden. Gii-tI-gan is where we planted. When you plant, you're reseeding. You're seeding!

We had potatoes -- very nice tasting ones. When we harvested our potatoes we put them in the ground for storage -- just like with a root cellar. At the bottom of the pit that we dug to put them in we had birch bark or canvas. Birch bark is the best -- it absorbs the moisture. We had hay in there also. The hay goes against the wall of the dug-out. And there was a little air hole coming to the top, so the potatoes can breathe. The animals didn't eat all the potatoes because they didn't know the potatoes were there. They were covered. Even with the air hole they couldn't smell them, because there was too much air and moisture coming out, and later on there was frost. The animals wouldn't dig in there. They had plenty of other stuff to eat. We only took so much to last to Christmas. After Christmas we went back and dug some more of our potatoes.

Chippewa family beside bark tepee.

Chippewa family beside bark tepee, ca. 1895.

Photograph Collection, ca. 1895
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Identifiers: E97.31 p6 Negative No. 3422

Everybody was working all the time. The womenfolks and the men always had something to do. The men-folks were trapping and hunting in the fall, and the women were tanning hides and taking care of the sewing. They were sewing moccasins, sewing clothing and everything. Where we could work, our work was with hides. Where we could work, they did beadwork and hide tanning and everything.

I do remember.

Mrs. George Stump Sewing Moccasins, Squaw Point, Leech Lake, 1948.

Mrs. George Stump Sewing Moccasins, Squaw Point, Leech Lake, 1948.

Photographer: Monroe P. Killy

  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. AV1988.49.175
Identifiers: Collection I.69.175

Indian woman weaving bull rush mat, ca. 1910.

Indian woman weaving bull rush mat, ca. 1910.

Creator: Frances Theresa Densmore (1867-1957)

Photograph Collection, ca. 1910
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.34 p14 Negative No. 13204

Mat Made of Rushes, Lake Mille Lacs, 1959.

Mat Made of Rushes, Lake Mille Lacs, 1959.

Photographer: Monroe P. Killy (1910-2010)

Photograph Collection, 1959
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location no. Collection I.69.255
Accession Number: AV1988.49.255

In the olden days the women were busy preparing for the house -- the wiigwaam, or tipi -- and they were exercised. For exercising they always went out and got dry wood -- dry twigs, and dry sticks -- for kindling. They knew winter was coming and they always piled a bunch of wood -- that's kindling wood -- next to the door of the wiigwaam. For the winter we picked out the spot where there's a lot of wood around. Then all we had to do is knock down a tree. Sometimes they cut it up. If we had kindling wood along with the birch for body wood -- like we do now -- we never had problems. We never had hardship. There was always a big chunk of wood lying around, and we'd pick up all the chunks, and use them for our fires.

Whether or not that was rotten wood, we'd burn it anyhow. But we used dry wood -- mostly -- in the wiigwaam, because it doesn't smoke so much. Dry wood will burn up and make coals quicker, and without smoke. Of course there's some percentage of dry wood that will smoke, but green wood will "smalder." We generally put a few green pieces in the fire for night wood, but otherwise we used dry wood -- most generally. Dry wood gives quick heat and better coals, but it all depends on what hardwood you burn.

After a while we'd burn up most of the wood -- the best wood -- along the rivers. For campfires we had to get back in the woods for more dry wood. The women used to like to go out and get wood. Women folks got out by themselves for that. It was fun to get wood. Some other wiigwaam would join. They'd go out together, breaking twigs and everything. I've seen them do that. If there were four, five women, they'd go out together to get wood for exercise. They liked that. They'd collect wood and pack it in.

They had straps to carry the wood. I think those straps were about twelve feet long. In the center of those straps there was a wider piece of deer hide -- made out of a neck of a deer, rawhide -- sometimes with fur on. And they'd make a loop in there, on the end. That was a head-band. That's a pack strap. They'd lay those straps down, then lay those little sticks across there, three, four feet long. With the rawhides they would make a bundle. And when they make a bundle, these women help one another lift that bundle. They put this band around their head. They could pack quite a load. "Pack strap," we call it -- Indian pack strap for a heavy load -- ah-mI-kwaab. And if they didn't put it on their head, they put it on their shoulder. They made it short enough to go on the shoulder. Some of them liked it on the shoulder -- the men-folks especially. But the women generally put it on their head. They were protecting their breasts, see? They carried it on their head. That was what happened with the pack straps.

Leather tumpline - Not later than 1959.

Leather tumpline - Not later than 1959.

127-61/64 X 2-1/4 X 45/64 inches

From the Jeannette O. and Harry D. Ayer Ojibwe Collection.

3D Object: Not later than 1959
Owned/used by: Gottfried Heiplik
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. 10000.393

They'd pack in limbs -- dry limbs -- for kindling. Then the men folks hauled in pretty good size logs. They'd shoulder it in pole lengths. That's what we call "body wood"; that's bigger pole-wood. They made a pretty good pile of body wood -- may-zah-tIg. Sometimes, instead of packing or shouldering the bigger sticks for the fire, they tied them together and dragged them in tied. When they tied it in chain lengths, one pole followed after another.

Sometimes we'd cut the pole lengths up by axe, but mostly we didn't. We generally would not split body wood. We called unsplit body-wood mI-záa-tIg-o-s^d. That means not-splitted log, or wood. A-mi-záa-tIg -- that's not-splitted wood. We'd put the body wood right in the fire, and that would burn all night. They were shoved in the fire by hand. And the back end of those long logs stuck out through the wiigwaam door!

At both ends of a big wiigwaam there's a doorway, and there's fire down the middle. That's on a big family wiigwaam -- a long one. Some of them were thirty feet long and could hold lots of people. I remember. Some of them were small. Some of them were round. It all depends on who's going to live there -- and how many. On the long wiigwaam they made two doorways. On one side was one family -- or maybe even two families. In these wiigwaams we had fireplaces all clean across that thirty feet. We had fireplaces down the middle the full length of the house. A thirty-foot wiigwaam would have one big fire right across the middle. That's the only way to dry up and ventilate the soil. There was space on the ends to get from one side to the other. In the summer -- when they were cooking inside -- they would use two fires, or three fires. In the winter there was one fire, but they had sections of their own.

Dwelling and Indians at Vineland, ca. 1925.

Dwelling and Indians at Vineland, ca. 1925.

Photograph Collection, ca. 1925
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location no. E97.31 r144 Negative no. 12442

They generally put a green timber between sections to keep the fire in one section when somebody is getting up early. These fireplaces were curved or blocked up with green wood so the fire didn't catch the dry wood or hay. Pople was good for that, and the sections were built up like you would curve or build a cement firebox. This timber was built up so that it would not let the ashes out, or so that it would not let the spark into the bed area or the living part of the wiigwaam. The green wood was put so that it was all curled up around the fireplace.

The draft drawed all that smoke into the air of the ceiling of the wiigwaam. We always left an airspace on the top of the tipi or wiigwaam. That's to draw the smoke out of the wiigwaam, or out of the tipi. It was something to wonder about.

I looked at it. It was very very clean, comfortable, warm. By building and keeping fire in the wiigwaam -- or tipi -- the ashes and coals always heated the ground. And when that ground was heated once -- heated thoroughly thorough, to maybe a foot and a half or two feet down -- then the heat dries the moisture of the ground. The floor's vented by cedar boughs and that moisture from the ground came out. It's a nice dried place.

To insulate the people from the ground we use wild hay, we use cedar boughs, and we used balsam boughs. The hay lays right on top of the ground -- and the hay has enough moisture to make it safe. With that row of green logs curving the fire, it was generally safe to use that hay for bedding. A spark will get on there once in a while, but somebody's always awake and watches for that. The hay was about two inches deep. On top of the hay we had balsam and cedar boughs. First we put balsam boughs and then we put cedar boughs. You put on all you can. It would be about four or five inches thick -- when it settled down. On top of that we put woven cedar mats. Then our bedding went on top of that.

Those cedar and balsam boughs purify the air inside the wiigwaam and that's a very good smell in there. Balsam and cedar was used to purify the air. It also lowered the moisture. How clean places were! There were mats on top of the cedar boughs next to the fireplaces. Those cedar boughs, hay, and balsam boughs vented the bottom of the wiigwaam. With those boughs on the floor the moisture from the ground can come through without dampening the bedding. With the heat underneath, the moisture from the ground comes through the boughs and goes out into the ceiling of the wiigwaam. And with the moisture going out into the ceiling of the wiigwaam it makes a good bedding. It dries in there. It's vented in there. That's nice in there. It's comfortable. The way it's made, I would think it would purify the air.

Chippewa women and wigwam at Leech Lake Agency, 1900

Chippewa women and wiigwaam at Leech Lake Agency, ca. 1900.

Photograph Collection, ca. 1900
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.31 r93

And then, when we close up at bedtime, that fire goes down. All that day the fire has hot coals. All that day it warmed that ground, as low as two feet in the ground. And that heat of the ground keeps us warm at night. We never got cold. The wiigwaam is vented, and has low moisture. And with the heat of the ground and the bedding and everything, we slept warm.

Whoever of each division that gets up earlier -- before daylight -- builds a fire. There's no squabble against that. They were building fire for you and they were building fire for themselves. If the other parties didn't want to get up too early, the early one up didn't bother to start more than one fire. There's another green log between sections of the fireplace that they draw across when they're only using one section. When the other party gets up later, he builds a fire in his own partition of the fireplace. When that group was living together as a family deal, well, they watched out for one another. The first one up watches that fire. The old man's generally the one up. They don't want any spark. Sparks sometimes will jump, so he watches that fire carefully. When a spark jumps they know it right now. They have a paddle, a little paddle, to shove the dead grass -- dead vegetation -- back into the ashes.

That's a great life, boy! I've seen that.

Wherever we camped in the winter, we camped by wiigwaam groups. When we camped out, our group always got together. These camps were relative-ly -- neighbor-ly.(4) It was just like a little city on their own. We camped in tipis or wiigwaams, whatever style we wanted to build. It's up to each group what style they wanted to build, but most generally they were wiigwaams.(5) Our group would put up a wiigwaam -- an Indian round, long, wiigwaam.

Chippewa birch bark wigwams, ca. 1870

Chippewa birch bark wiigwaams, ca. 1870.

Photographer: Charles A. Zimmerman

Photograph Collection, Carte-de-visite, ca. 1870
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.31 r84 Negative No. 34363

Those wiigwaams were fixed up good for the winter. We won't build a wiigwaam unless the winter is coming. Then we build a wiigwaam for the winter. In the summer we used poles to build shelters. In the summer we used a wiigwaam shelter only as something to shed rain.(6)



Chippewa lodge and Sioux tepees, White Earth Reservation, 1928.

Photographer: Northwestern Photo Service

Photograph Collection, 1928
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location no. E97.31 p41 Negative no. 2075-B

A wiigwaam is Ojibwa. We call it a home of Ojibwa. It's round, bent on top, and it's made of bark. And they were well-made -- lots of them were well-made. For most of the year the wiigwaam didn't have the roofing, but we had most of these frames ready. The Indian word -- the Ojibwa word -- for a camp is waa-gI-no-gáan. Waa-gI-no-gáan is that round roof. That's Ojibwa camp. And I would say, "I'm going to take this deer back to the waa-gI-no-gáhn." A Sioux camp is a tipi. A tipi is Sioux. Du-wii-kí-ay-I-na -- that's a Sioux talking. A tipi can be made of bark too, but most generally it's made with hides. A wiigwaam is most generally made of birch bark, sewed on to poles. The trimming is sewed with two clamps of cedar. We tie it together with strings of basswood. We made good rope from basswood. That was one of the best in our line of bark. The wiigwaams were tied down. Everything was tied down -- with poles joining together, and the tops joining one another -- in a form of a home or shelter. These wiigwaams are fixed up; they're prepared for winter.

Women placing strips of black ash and birch bark in position on lodge frame, Mille Lacs, ca. 1915.

Women placing strips of black ash and birch bark in position on lodge frame, Mille Lacs, ca. 1915.

Photographer: Frances Theresa Densmore.

Photograph Collection, ca. 1915 and ca. 1920 (there are two photos in the collection, with different dates)
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.31 r114 Negative No.
22552 and also 35773

I'm telling you about wiigwaams. We had small wiigwaams for small families, and we had big long wiigwaams for the bigger family. It all depends on how many out of that family is going to live in the same quarters. The big wiigwaams were something to see. In later years, when I got to be twenty, I never saw them much. But way back I saw them. And there were small round wiigwaams for a couple; that's the kind they had if there was a new couple. They had it fixed up nice -- inside and outside.

I've seen families all lined up sitting in the wiigwaam by the fire, cooking their meals. In 1908 John Lyons' folks -- his old man -- had a lot of his relations living in their place. It was something to see. Old man Lyons had one corner -- one side -- of the wiigwaam. The mother and father would be on one side, the older class would be along the opposite side, and the young people would be on the other two sides -- on the sides between them. They could talk all they wanted to that way. The daughters, sons, and in-laws would each live on their side of the house. It was just plain law to do it that way.(7)

Interior of Chippewa lodge, Mille Lacs, 1909

Interior of Chippewa lodge, Mille Lacs, 1909-1912.

Photograph Collection, Postcard, 1909-1912
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.31 r72 Negative No. 37966

You should see that. In that long wiigwaam I counted fifteen or twenty at one time -- counting both sides. Usually there were ten or fifteen -- in some of them -- including kids and all. But they had long wiigwaams -- with a doorway on each end. Their wiigwaams sometimes were twenty to thirty or forty feet long. I've seen them. They were built just like a motel. I'm telling you, they were wiigwaams.

Ojibwe elm bark home, 1910

Ojibwe elm bark home, ca. 1910.
[note tiedown on right side of photo]

Photograph Collection, ca. 1910
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.31 r79 Negative No.

In these wiigwaams there's a group -- maybe a father, mother, and those who are there through the marriages of the younger people. In a wiigwaam some of them are related and some are married into the group. They could be anything, but normally they all hang together through intermarriages. Some of them have two, three children. There will be two elders -- the older class, there was always the old couple -- and two, three, children and their children, and then some from the in-laws' side. Sometimes they have their son-in-law -- or maybe they have their daughter-in-law -- and three, four children in the family in the wiigwaam. You take one family and you have two or three adults and four or five kids. That's one wiigwaam. That's In-dáa-wáad -- the wiigwaam wherever your home is. They're neighbor-ly, so there may also be a sister or cousin or anything in that group. That's In-daa-wáad -- all together. Strangers come there too, but the strangers are generally there to get married to a relative. If a stranger's a good man or a good women, they married -- but strangers have to show a proof of a good way of life in order to marry.

The older class are the leaders. And the older woman's the boss of the wiigwaam. The bosses of the wiigwaams are the leaders. Whether or not the wiigwaam had one boss or more bosses all depends on how long the wiigwaam is. There has to be a sister-relation if there's more than one boss.(8) These bosses are supposed to watch the children, so they won't crawl into the fire. But we work together. That's the way we do it. We got along together.

The younger people also help the old age along. They respect their father and mother, and they stay with them as much as they can. They help the old people along, and the old people help them along. The old people are very good advisory. They're good advisory, and they give lectures at the campfire inside the wiigwaam.(9) In these lectures they're talking to the younger class, telling the young folks about the way life was, and the way it's going to be. A lot of prediction was made by the older class.(10) I listened to the lectures when I was young, and later on in life I realized that what they predicted was a fact. I often wonder how they know this was going to happen. They seem to know what's going to happen ahead. They were good at predictions.

I was also there. I was raised in a wiigwaam right amongst them. I lived in a wiigwaam with my mother and sister on the west end of Leech Lake -- by Sugar Point and Five-Mile Point, right between there, by Ni-jo-gáa-b'o's.(11) In those days there were nothing but wiigwaams there. I also lived in a wiigwaam group -- In-daa-wáad -- with my aunt. I lived with Bellengers -- Boy River Indians. We were mostly at Boy River, but Round Lake was a great camping-out place too. I have some relation there yet -- my aunts. They're my dad's sisters. My aunts are my original relatives. The wiigwaam I was in had one division. Of course, this was kind of temporary. This was set up for harvesting wild rice and for picking blueberries. They had a group and -- you might as well say -- they'd say, "We'll all of us get together and we'll make one big long wiigwaam. And then we'll all live in there."

In most wiigwaams one part's the kitchen; the other part's the sleeping room. On the ground in the middle they have a cooking place. They have a division where they cook. Each family can cook in its own section -- if they want. And in the middle -- in the middle of the roof -- they have an opening to draw the smoke out.

You can get up anytime you want to. You eat any time you want to. I've seen that. I was in them. One party will eat earlier, and then what that party left will be shared with the rest. Some of them don't have much, but always the older class is conserve-ative and saves everything. The younger class was always standing behind the older class, and they shared with them. And they felt for one another. If they have a dish and if there's ever any leftover soup, or rice, or anything, it's never wasted. Anything that's leftover is never wasted. If there's something left over, they hand it to the next family. And if he's got enough, why he'll hand it across to the next family that needs it. So that's the way we all work together. I've seen that.

Inside there -- inside the wiigwaam -- it's just like a varnished wall, some of the walls. That's because the bark they use is cured right away -- right after they peel it off the tree. They don't leave it lay around in moisture. It dries right away, and then they take care of it to use it for the shelters and wiigwaams.

We have all the blankets rolled up in there. In the daytime we would roll up our bedding and put it on top of the cedar bark. At night we'd roll it out again. We have our bedding, we have our hay, and we have our cedar boughs that we lay on. We had feather ticks too. Around 1912, 1914, we started to make feather ticks. They make a big bag -- just like a pillow -- and they shove in feathers. And then they close it up. If they get some more ducks they'll shove in more feathers, until it's plumb full.(12) To clean the feathers they would lay them outside and spray them with a strong bark solution. Before we had feather ticks we used fur or woven rugs. In those days we made blankets out of bear hides or anything -- including horsehide and moosehide.

Tanned black bear pelt, not earlier than 1918 - Not later than 1959.

Tanned black bear pelt, not earlier than 1918 - Not later than 1959.

57-7/8 X 51-3/16 inches

From the Jeannette O. and Harry D. Ayer Ojibwe Collection.

Collected by Jeannette Ora Foster Ayer and Harry Darius Ayer
3D Objects: Not earlier than 1918 - Not later than 1959
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Identifiers: 1981.4.184

In the winter everything was dried up. In the winter we used a lot of blankets and rabbit-hide quilts. Boy we used to keep good and warm with those. The women make the blankets and quilts. They make blankets out of rabbit hide too. Rabbit-hide blankets provide great insulation. It's wonderful, warm, insulated. Rabbit hide is treated and dried, and then they cut them into square pieces and sew them together to make wonderful insulational blankets. You take one of those rabbit blankets . . . it's the warmest thing there is. That's because it's pure insulation.

Woman working on rabbit robe, Mille Lacs, ca. 1915.

Woman working on rabbit robe, Mille Lacs, ca. 1915.

Photograph Collection, ca. 1915
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.34 r9

Mrs. John Franks and rabbit robe, White Earth Reservation, 1942

Mrs. John Franks and rabbit robe, White Earth Reservation, 1942.

Creator: Monroe P. Killy

Photograph Collection, 1942
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.34 p23 Negative No. 35428

We had animal skins -- like the bear hides -- on top of those bark mats on the branches. Everything that we had was made from the nature of wild life. The bear hide was used for blankets. The wild life of the feathers off of birds was made into pillows, cushions, and different things. We had everything to work with. It was comfortable. These wiigwaams are comfortable, clean.

Ojibwe cradleboard blanket, Mille Lacs Reservation, not earlier than 1918 - Not later than 1959.

Ojibwe cradleboard blanket, Mille Lacs Reservation, not earlier than 1918 - Not later than 1959.

23-27/64 X 23-15/64 inches

From the Jeannette O. and Harry D. Ayer Ojibwe Collection.

Collected by Jeannette Ora Foster Ayer and Harry Darius Ayer
3D Objects: Not earlier than 1918 - Not later than 1959
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Identifiers: 10000.92

Baby seated on blanket, ca. 1920.

Baby seated on blanket, ca. 1920.

Photograph Collection, ca.1920
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.33 p17 Accession Number: AV1982.58.10

About 1909 we started to use burlap bags filled with hay for a mattress. About that same time -- for a while -- we also ground up rabbit fur to make mattresses. We used to go to the lumber camps -- after the logging camp was over -- and pick up those feed sacks. We'd dunk them in the water and hang them out. Then we'd rip them open and make mattresses out of them. Why it only takes about four or five sacks to make a mattress. We did that for years.

Jim and George Cloud's mother, Onigum(?), 1931

Jim and George Cloud's mother, Onigum (?), 1931.

Creator: Monroe P. Killy

Photograph Collection, 1931
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.1C p5 Negative No. 35483

We know how to use birch, and cedar, and ash bark to make our wiigwaams. The older class went out and got the roofing and other bark used in the wiigwaam. We usually take bark off the trees in May -- although it can be earlier or later depending on the bark you're after, and the weather. The roofing was generally cedar bark or birch bark. There's two kinds that we use. They roll the cedar bark up, and dry it. Same way with the birch bark. And then when you're ready for it, you open it up and lay blocks of wood on top so it becomes usable for a wiigwaam. Put a stick on it in a sunshine, and it'll flatten right out.

Sometimes timber was -- maybe -- a foot and a half across. Sometimes it was as small as eight inches, but even the smaller trees still made a big sheet. They all made a big sheet, and all would be four to six feet in length. They sewed the birch bark with basswood bark -- wíi-gob. You know you can't break that wíi-gob. Take that wíi-gob and soak it in water when you're going to use it. When we want to use basswood threading we put it in lukewarm water. It'll thicken, and then you can work it. You can tie anything on with that. We would even tie the roof on with wíi-gob. We used that to stitch the four-foot sheets and the three-foot sheets together. They spliced whatever size birch bark sheets they had with basswood. Then on the end they put cedar bark that was four feet, in length. Then they would sew these sheets onto the poles of the wiigwaam. They made a very nice neat work of it.

Ojibwe basswood biber, not later than 1930.

Ojibwe basswood fiber, not later than 1930.

Collected by: Frances Theresa Densmore

3D objects, not later than 1930
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. Collection I.69.158 Identifiers: 6874.40

When you're putting that birch bark on -- to keep it limber while you're putting it on, after you have it sewed together with the basswood -- you hold it by a fire to keep it a little bit limber. You do this before you put it on the building -- on the wiigwaam. This birch is flexible when it's dried with the heat. We don't soak birch bark; we soak the basswood threading.

Chippewa family standing in front of birch bark and reed wigwam,

Chippewa family standing in front of birch bark and reed wiigwaam, Leech Lake, ca. 1923.

Creator: A. F. Raymond

Photograph Collection, ca.1923
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Identifiers: E97.31 r94 Negative No. 4911 Accession Number: YR1936.2738


Ash bark is another thing. Ash bark was the easiest to work with. We use ash mostly for banking the side of a wiigwaam and mostly for rugged use, but you can use the bark of an ash tree for roofing too. Ash is more for rugged-use things around the house. You use ash for a mat on the floor, so the moisture won't come through the bedding. They put the ash bark all around the outside, in a circle -- around the poles outside. That's where the snow and the cold weather hits the wiigwaam worst. The snow and the cold won't go through the ash bark. They stood it up all around the bottom of the wiigwaam. The first strip goes only four feet high, so you put another strip of bark on the top of the first section. You put the next row of bark above the first strip. You judge how high the wiigwaam's going to be. And when it bends over the wiigwaam, you put another strip on the top of that second one. They spread the ash bark out. Above that, they put another strip of bark -- ash or birch -- whatever they had, whichever they wanted. Up there you can use birch too. You can use birch, but birch is a little harder to get. Birch is good, but you have to put weight on birch. Birch strips tear awful easy, but ash don't. Also, cedar don't. So they often put that birch to the top of the other sheets -- above the ash or cedar. And all of that was tied against the poles, which made a good form. Finally, you put another strip of bark on the very top to form the round part of the wiigwaam.

They always left an airspace on the top of the wiigwaam. That airspace -- that hole in the top of the wiigwaam -- was about a foot and a half round. That's to draw the smoke out. You didn't worry about snow and rain and stuff coming down there because they always had something over it, hooked to a pole. If it rains and comes through, they put a jacket over that hole. They put a piece of bark or something over the hole to stop the water from coming in. Nothing happens to their smoke when they have it covered. The smoke always gradually goes up, and wherever the air exists, the smoke goes with it. The smoke goes right through the top, naturally, because it isn't sealed. There's an air space between the bark sheets, and the smoke will go right through the air space. There's plenty of fresh air in the wiigwaams, because they're vented.

You can't cut the ash bark around the tree straight because the bark will bust. You cut it like a zigzag pattern so it's flexible. You cut the ash zigzag so you could peel it off. The saw blade that's cutting is flexible -- flexible. You cut through an ash tree in diamond shapes, so that when it peels off the tree it lays flat. You just can't cut around like you do with birch; you have to kind of make the cut up and down, so that it peels off flat. You have to do that because the ash bark is thicker. Otherwise -- if you cut it straight -- there's a bind on that and it'll bust open. Birch is a little bit thinner, with more sap. You don't have to cut the birch zigzag because you don't cut deep enough on the birch. You just take the top bark of the birch. At the right season the birch bark strips, but the ash doesn't.

Those ash bark pieces are about a foot, or a foot-and-a-half, two feet wide, when they come off. That's from a little one -- with a six- or eight-inch trunk. A big one will come from further down on the bottom of the tree. Those ash bark squares are something to see. We put them on as a big shingle on the bottom of the wiigwaam.

The greatest, toughest wood is ash -- black ash, aa-gii-máa-tI'g. That black ash is also good for making the shell of the wiigwaam. To make the shell we used small ash poles, bent over on the top. The bottom footings are first stuck in the ground, so the wind doesn't blow them over. The poles then bend over and meet on top, and we tie them together.

Frame for a wigwam, ca. 1910.

Frame for a wiigwaam, ca. 1910.

Photographer: Frances Theresa Densmore

Photograph Collection, approximately 1910
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Identifiers: E97.31 p61 Negative No: 13161

Building a wigwam, 1932.

Building a wiigwaam, 1932.

Photographer: Monroe P. Killy
Photograph Collection,1932
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Identifiers:AV1981.193.208 Negative No: 35659
E97.31 p102

They built it well-braced, well-tied. We tied them with basswood -- that wíi-goob. We tied everything with basswood. Just like you put weights on hay, we put weights on the wiigwaam -- to hold the roofing down. So you lay poles across. It's like weight-ing hay down -- like putting old weights on hay. You put weights on it to keep it from blowing off. Then they tied the corner of the roofing onto the bottom stake, criss-cross. If a house has a peaked roof we hold the bark down with poles and wíi-gob. We'd take a small pole -- six feet or so -- and just flop them over. They straddle, and they pull together. I've seen this at Mud Lake. Boy, that's something now.

Log weight holding down bark on wigwam, Lake Mille Lacs, 1959

Log weight holding down bark on wiigwaam, Lake Mille Lacs, 1959.

Creator: Monroe P. Killy (1910-)

Photograph Collection, 1959
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. Collection I.69.59 Accession Number: AV1988.49.59


With a wiigwaam you have a nice warm home. With the fire inside of the wiigwaam you formulate the whole works. With a fire, you have a building. We had games during the winter, in these wiigwaams. We talked and relaxed in there. We had our meetings and discussions in there. A lot of people came and discussed the problems of the area in those wiigwaams. That's why we made them big -- in some places.

But most of the time we pretty-much just minded our own business in there, and we got along well in those wiigwaams. If someone wanted to be with their sweetheart, they could always go outside . . . in the brush . . . if they wanted to. . . .   But that wasn't necessary, especially if it was really cold out. You generally didn't look around all that much in there anyway. . . . And besides . . . you might be busy yourself!!!. . . .

Indian wigwam, Mille Lacs, 1923

Indian wiigwaam, Mille Lacs, 1923.

Photograph Collection, 1923
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Identifiers:. E97.31 r106


Footnotes

1. Cf., Ch. 10, "Blueberry Time."

2. Cf., Ch. 13, "Manoominike-Giizis, 'Wild Ricing Moon.'"

3. Cf. Ch. 8, "Old Gardens and New Bark," Ch. 12, "Inbetween Time," and Ch. 16, "River Life and Fishing."

4. They were generally composed of relatives and in-laws, and were very friendly groups. They traditionally tended to be patrilocal.

5. They could be wiigwaams, round or oval lower-roofed bark houses more typical of the Chippewa, or tipis, tall conical houses customarily covered with hides and more closely associated with Plains Indian groups.

6. In the summer they slept outside, especially when the bugs were bad, when they slept outside around smudge pots to keep the bugs at bay.

7. It was the accepted standard tradition or custom to do it that way.

8. If more than one woman shared a husband, i.e., if a man had more than one wife, then the wives were usually sisters. If there was more than one senior woman in a wiigwaam then they would generally be sisters. But since it was fairly common for two sisters to marry two brothers -- or close relations, culturally defined -- the "boss" women would usually also be married to brothers. Cf., Ch. 24, "Courtship, Marriage, and Living in with the In-Laws."

9. Cf., Ch. 11, "Campfire Talks."

10. Cf., Ch. 41, "Talking with the Old Folks: Recollections and Predictions."

11. See Ch. 1, "Early Life at Leech Lake."

12. Completely, entirely full.

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