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We had four seasons. We had summer, autumn, winter, spring. Autumn season was for getting meats. It was that hunting season for shi-shíb, ducks, and time to start trapping. We went trapping a lot -- there were traps in our days too. In the old days we could hunt and trap anytime we wanted. Some would set trap and start getting game early. Some of them even started trapping muskrat hides while they were harvesting rice. It would get colder and colder, and then we'd go after the mink. Later on we'd go after mink. In the olden days most generally all of us did trapping towards spring, while we were waiting for better weather to run sap.(1) We'd trap through the winter, but we would get off of the lake before it thaws. So towards late spring we didn't have a very big trap line, because we didn't know when she was going to break loose.(2) That was all part of the four seasons that we'd go by.
We joined up in little villages at certain times, at certain parts of the seasons. We joined up for the winter. We'd all join up in little settlements for the winter, in the Minnesota area, in the northern part. We all joined our group for the winter. In the winter we all helped one another. We all trapped and got meat in this area. We all lived good.
We also traded. When we trapped, the traders finally came along and started trading. When we first trapped the buyer came right through our camps to pick up the hides. We would trade fur for this, and for that. We would trade for whatever the newcomers(3) brought. We'd trade and work together. They had something to trade with, and we had something to trade. That was trading.
The kids trapped too. In the old days, believe it or not, people would buy rat hides, mushrat hides, from kids. The kids would save the hides and sell them later on, when the trader came to our camp.
We traded hides and we sold them. There was a buyer of fur from Canada, and we usually sold the hides to him. In nineteen-eleven we got ten cents, five or ten cents, for a rat hide, a mushrat hide. We could use the hides if we wanted to, but we didn't. We thought it was better to sell them. We liked the money, years ago.
Sometimes the traders gave us money. The trappers would pick up their money and go to town. When they had four, five dollars, ten dollars worth of fur, they'd sell it and go to town. They'd have enough beaver fur to pile as high as their gun. That's true. A twenty-five-twenty was a good gun for the woods. They liked that for close shots. We called that báa-skíi-zi-g^'n, that means something that you use that explodes with a bullet in it.
We had trading posts later on, about 1909, 1910. That was something. We all went there. Some of us had a little timber money, or a little money we got from mineral rights and treaties. Afterwards we were allotted land, and we had our rights for timber and everything.
While the men and boys were trapping and hunting, the women and girls were working on the beadwork blankets, rugs, and everything. All the girls, mostly the young ladies, worked hard to get these things done. They were preparing to sell them somewhere. In the fall, during harvesting time, they got a chance to sell and trade their beadwork. They also traded and sold their handiwork to loggers.
Logging camps were moving in, and those loggers were cruising(4) in our area. We always laid for them(5) when we knew they were going to go through here cruising. They did a lot of cruising in the early days. Early on, we'd also go to cruising camps, and after they started building lumber camps we'd go to lumber camps. Cruisers also stopped at places to look at the women's work. These lumberjacks came from the cities. They came from far and near. We'd show them the work and they'd buy it, just to help us. These lumberjacks would buy our moccasins, mitts, and send them to their folks. They'd buy our beadwork, and all that. They generally paid pred'near our own price.
We got around a dollar-seventy-five, or a dollar, for a pair of moccasins. Sometimes we got two dollars for that. I know that sometimes we got two dollars for a large pair of moccasins. It all depends on what size the moccasins were, and how much time you put in, and the price of the beads. They all add the costs in. Some of them were pretty reasonable, cheap, and some held the prices up high. It all depends on how much money they needed. They didn't want to overcharge. No. They knew the lumberjacks could always buy somewhere else. The lumberjack could always buy things somewhere else, so we gave them a good deal. Maybe sometime they'd get an extra pair of moccasins, little small ones, or mitts, or a rug, or two, or something. The charging didn't matter for them. No. They were helping us.
The loggers would buy our work just to help us. That is great. That was a pretty good racket for the Indian. It was a pretty good deal. It was a good deal for us. We always made 'er someway. Art and craft work is still required by the whites for their souvenirs. We appreciate that.
I know I was pretty young when they were doing this in 1909. I went away to school for three years in 1912, '13, '14.(6) When I came back, they were still doing the same thing. There was a little more of it then because the population was increasing a little more. More people were coming into the north. They were coming from the rivers and all directions. And it was better that way, at least there was a little more shu-ñii-ah, money, in circulation. The living wasn't bad either. All that logging, which is almost gone now, was a great help to the people. Not only Indians, but also the white peoples lived off of the cream of the northern part of Minnesota. We were getting along pretty good, but the natural resources and the wild life weren't holding up. And our natural resources were the cream of our life.
It was good times in my days, in a way. We didn't have any roads, but we had boats, canoes, to haul our food from place to place, from camp to camp. That's the way we lived, paddling up the stream and down the stream, joining the others for trade of our natural food. We'd trade wild rice, maple sugar, fish, furs, and all that stuff. We'd get things in return from the Indians and from the comers as white friends.
I don't know what we would do if we were out of food and if we weren't getting much food hunting. I really would say I never saw anyone go hungry, that is, to starve. Of course, our federal government, in my times, about 1908 I guess, he gave out rations. That food was bought through federal funds. But even with just the natural resources we always had something to eat!!! That's why I'm talking about natural resources.
It is true that some years people would have a hard time between January and March. It is true because everything is freezing up then. Sometimes it gets too cold for the hunting. And sometimes you couldn't get into the woods very much because you'd break through the crust of the snow. Those that had snowshoes got along good. But even if you had snowshoes, in the middle of the day, those snowshoes would break through because the snow is settling and melting. It was hard to walk at that time. And then the hide, the rawhide, stretches. Sometimes it wouldn't hold you, particularly if you had a busted string. But a lot of them had good snowshoes, and that's why they'd hunt on snowshoe trails. I've seen them in the snowy and cold weather. I had that experience lots.
I went down to Six-Mile Creek one time. I followed a snowshoe trail. I saw this guy's snowshoe tracks ahead of me, and I was following them. It was old Tom Sky. He was from Bena. I used to live up that way. Old Tom Sky used to tell me lots of hunting stories. By Six-Mile Creek I was following his snowshoe tracks when I saw where waush-kI'sh, a deer, jumped and laid. It looked like he couldn't go anywhere. Deer get tired of that running in the deep snow. They're weak. They're hungry. When I met the guy next time he told me about it.
"I was behind you there," I said.
"Ya." He said, "I saw two, three, deer try to walk on my snowshoe trail, but they were breaking through. I caught up to them, and when I caught up to them all they done was jump three or four times and there they laid. They were looking at me just like they were begging me, 'Help us.'"
He didn't shoot. He was trapping.
We used ash to make snowshoes. We call ash áa-gii-máak. The white part of it, the meat part of the wood, that's a-áa-gii-máak. That's what áa-gii-máak is. A'a-gii-máak is a hardwood, a hard wood. A'a-gI'n is a snowshoe; áa-gii-máa-k is snowshoe tree. We knock the tree down. Then we split it up and make the side and edges of the snowshoes out of this wood.
We also made our snowshoes, and we made our bows, out of rawhide. Rawhide was good material. We knew what to use. Now people ask me, "How could the Indians make snowshoes out-a rawhide? Nowadays the rawhide of a deer is very tender. It'll rip."
When we made snowshoes we used moose hide. Moose hide is tough. If we didn't have any moose hide we used the neck of a big buck. That's tough too. The neck of a buck is more tough than the other parts of the deer, and it's good for the leading part of the snowshoe. But where the string crosses we use the best material. We had moose hide for that.
We wore moose hide moccasins too, ba-bi-bash-kway-gInn m^k-ah-sin. You keep warmer with those moccasins. We made our moccasins big enough so we could put enough footwear under the moccasin for sock, so our feet never got cold. But there were times that it would get so cold that if you were not careful, the strap around your feet, that crosspiece down there, would cut off your circulation and you'd get awful cold.
You have to have pretty good footwear to keep your feet warm. For awhile we had blanket shoes too. The blanket shoes were made from wool, from a woolen blanket, or from woolen clothes. In the lumber camps they wore the woolen clothes, and woolen pants made good shoes, good moccasins. They hand-sewed them. They sewed them together like they were using hides. Then we tied them with the shoestrings -- around the foot and back into the collar of the boot. We stopped wearing blanket shoes about 1912, 1913. Blanket shoes were warm. They were light too.
During my times I'd have to go out on the wet snow looking for food. I used to leave my wigwam when I was a boy and walk through the snow for two, three, hours searching for some wild life to take home for meat. I loved to be out in the woods. Maybe I'd just go out cutting wood, maybe I'd be out looking for something to eat. By noon, my socks and my blanket shoes, made out of wool, were wet.
Many of us had the same life. By getting wet we had to go home and take off our shoes and warm up. We had to take off our clothes and warm up. We had to keep warm. That's what we believe in. We believe if you keep warm you will not catch cold. To catch a cold is d^'-k^-gíi. We're careful so we don't d^'-k^-gíi. If you catch a cold, after so many hours, that cold may turn into pneumonia. We fear that. We fear that fever next to pneumonia too, gíi-zjay-zoo-wI'n. That's a fever. We also fear "quick T.B." "Quick T.B." is a pneumonia which you die from. Pneumonia is what you die from with "quick T.B." So we take care of ourself by keeping warm the same as we take care of ourself by watching our diet and the food we eat. We keep warm, keep in health, so that we can work for our folks, our father and mother, and for the children with us, our sisters and brothers.
As young folks we worked along with and helped our folks. That's why they had children, to bring about a good way, a good living for everybody. Working with our folks is how we learned how to live in this world. We all wondered at our ages how things were in the old days. My folks were always the one's that were telling me things about that, especially during the winter months. That's the only learning I had when I was home. Otherwise, if the folks wouldn't advise us on things, we wouldn't know what the score is, or how to go ahead with our lives. It's interesting to listen to the folks tell things about the old times, way back. And it's interesting to listen to how they lived with the deep snow. We also watched the old people, and took notice of how they lived.
'Course them days it was kind of hard to live up here in the North, just like it was when I was a boy. It's cold weather in season up here, but we're used to that. Well, we should be used to it. We have storms up here in the north with very long months and very dark, cloudy days. There's a lot of snow up here. I know that the others suffered with the winters just the same as I did. The winters are a little bit long -- too long -- but we don't mind it. We're kind of used to it, and we seem to be all happy about it.
Many people ask me, "How can you stand it in the forty-below weather up here?"
"Why, we're natural born, we're naturalized to here."
People are born on the weather. You have to know what time, what month, people are born in to understand them. October, November, December, gradually set in and many are born. It stands to reason that there are more winter-born people up here in the cold, but that's a point you can't point out. Some are winter-born and are more natural to the cold weather, others, like myself, are not. The winter-born can stand cold more than I could. But the winter born don't care for the heat. The heat makes them sweat, sure, but that sweating is not very good. The summer-born people sometimes get sick a little faster than others. It stands to reason.
I heard my sister one time say, "It must be cold, Paul must be pretty cold. Look at him rub his hands over the fire."
"Ya," my mother said, "ya, it's gonna turn warm when he does that. He's summer born. Oh, it's gonna turn warm; he was born in the summer." And it does too.
A lot of people say to me, "How do you know it's going to be warm?"
"Well, my hands have gotten cold in an unusual way. Then I run up to the stove and put my hands over the stove, rubbing my hands."
There are also things we can do to make it warm.(7) There are things we do to have the wind change too. There are a lot of things we can do to make it get warm. We do things to furs, hides, to make the weather change.(8) We do things to make it cold too. We can make it good and cold. You see, that's our belief. If you follow that belief it will get warm. Summer-born people do not have any more power to control the weather than the winter-born.(9) They have no more power because they're summer born, but some of them study and get more power. But they get that from studying nature and learning from the people that lived, not from when they're born.
My mother studied and learned to be a medicine woman and midwife. You couldn't get to white doctors those days, so my mother was a midwife. The midwife is gah-ta-wi-way ii-kway. The gah-ta-wi-way is "catch a child." Gah-ta-wi-way is the one that's ready for the birth. They'll say, "Who's the midwife?" Ah-way-nI'n ah-way-gáh-tu-nag gáah-tu-ni-way is the one that serves, acting as a nurse to the patient.
Ouu! Indians in those days had health! Women even had children, born babies, right on snowshoes. Sometimes they had to take the women along when we moved from camp to camp. A woman carrying a baby(10) would walk along on the snowshoes. They even put a light pack on her back, usually the birch bark for roofing. They didn't have a pretty heavy load on them, but they had something. They put their carrying straps on their shoulders. They'd shorten them up. They were always active, so they had muscles. Closer to their time they didn't carry much. There's no one who can get right up and do that when the child is almost full-grown and ready to be born. No, they'll hurt themselves.
When their time came they kicked off their snowshoes, and put the snowshoes aside. They shoveled out a round place in the snow, and put a little tipi in there and warmed it up by fire. And that woman had a birth of a child right there. When the child was born there were no problems. If the woman drank that medicine when she excessed the blood, she would be all right. The woman took care of herself and got ready to go again. They wrap up the child and continue to their destination. That's what happened years ago.
You know what makes that? It's that Indian medicine that they've been taking. They take tonic for loosenage. My mother knew the medicine for that. She knew what to give. She used bark, chips, roots, even the leaves. She knew how to mix medicine as the midwife. That tonic insured that the child would not grow on to the mother. By drinking that liquid form of medicine, and drinking pure water, and flushing out the internals the child and the mother never grow together. And when the child is due, when it's well-purified and grown, when it's time, there's no trouble at all. There's nothing to it.
The midwife also tells her to not lay around too much. If you lay down on your side too much, your child will have a long head in the back. Laying down on your side too much will do that. It's all right to rest, to give the child a rest, but keep moving. Keep moving. Walk. Washing clothes is hard, but it's all right if you keep away from bumping things.
But you have to handle yourself kind of rough, so the child will be rough. I heard a woman say, "Oh boy, he's rough. He's probably going to be a boy. Ya, he's gonna be powerful anyway, because he's rough. I can feel it."
A lot of them went out in the woods and cut wood with an axe when they were carrying. And they packed wood too. Their packs were not too heavy, but they packed, just to keep moving. They went out setting nets too. They kept moving. And they went out and got a lot of light pails of water, light baskets of water, to wash their clothes. And in those days they washed by hand-wringing, not on the washboard. Nothing's supposed to hurt them. They're not supposed to lift too hard. They are just supposed to keep a-moving. They just went out and picked up an armful of wood, then threw it by the pile of wood next to the wigwam. Take your time, but just keep a-moving. And when it's time to rest, well they go and rest because the internals are tired too.
So all of this made it easier for a woman when her time came. When the child is due, the child is there. The birth of a child was made easier by this liquid form, and by knowing how to take care of herself, through the orders of a midwife. And that's why I say they had children born on snowshoes. And those children, of course, were winter-born.
Both winter-born and summer-born have to get used to the cold. You have to build your blood up so it'll be heavy enough to take the cold weather. You eat differently. In the South it's too hot and they don't eat according to the natural life. They don't eat the natural stew and our other natural foods. Stew is good for your blood. Ya. Summer-born people eat more fruit and vegetables, and the winter-born people eat more tallow and fried stuff. Well, that's all they have to eat, the winter-born. All they had is what we hunted and trapped and snared and netted in the winter, and what we put up during the other seasons.
We only have a certain amount of time to prepare for living through the winter. And we studied nature to see how the winter was going to be. A rabbit and a mushrat told the proof of whether it was going to be a long and cold winter, or a short winter. If they were fat on the back, that's what made you expect a long cold winter. If it was going to be a short winter, they weren't fat at all as they didn't care to eat. But if it was going to be cold, those rabbits and mushrats ate. It's the same way with cows and horses nowadays. They eat more when it's going to be cold weather.
So when we'd get good weather, nice weather, we used to put up all the berries and wild rice that we'd need for the winter. We learned that if you want to live good you have to work to prepare for these hard winters. I suppose in the South they have it different. I suppose they don't care. But up here in the North you have to get on the ball. Yea, it's a great country up here. I like it up here because in the winter we have snow to track necessary food, meat.
But one of our favorite foods we didn't have to track, mushrat. We would sooner eat the mushrats than most other things, and in the early days we were after the mushrats as soon as the ice froze. In the late autumn and early winter of the year the mushrats are fat, and the Indian likes fat, with plenty of meat on. We spear them in their houses.
When we are spearing rats, we go to a rat's house, big or small. There are different houses, two or three different houses, and we'd find the feeding house. And where you see the sun shine on that house that's where the heat is and that's where he sits. So we go on the sunny side and spear right through the rat house. Then we leave our spear there. And you can hear them moving. He's fighting that spear. He chews that spear. You can hear his teeth rattle in there when he's biting that spear. Then I chop a little cap out of that rat house. It comes off in a chunk. There's your rat. It's a mushrat. Pull it out. You might-a hit him here, or hit him here, or hit him anywhere.
We skin that mushrat when we get him home. We skin that mushrat and we eat the meat of that. We clean them good, wash them good, then hang the muskrats over the campfire where they are roasted. We bake them. But we take the glands off first. They have glands, and we take the glands out, the musk out. Take the glands under the arms and legs out, and you have a dish!
We'd also evaporate the muskrats, drying them to make jerk steak out of them. They were pretty well cooked through by the heat of the coals, the red-hot coals. You ought to see the racks of mushrat. There was a big air hole up there toward the top of the rack. Fifty, sixty, seventy-five, good, healthy, fat mushrats were hanging up there. We had wáa-buss, rabbits, hanging there too, and almost anything. They were all usually nice and wide at that time of the year.
We used them for food. And beside those mushrats all we wanted was corn meal -- which we got from the federal government in my times -- and with those clean smoke-baked muskrats they'd cook up a good stew. That meat was just like it was smoke-baked.
And then we stretch the hide. We stretch them on the board, on a mushrat hide stretcher. And then we would tie the hide on, all stretched out. Those days we didn't have a string, but we had basswood, and we'd use that basswood to pull the hide out. That's what we used for string in the olden days. Now we have tacks, and we just tack them. We hang them up against the wigwam or something, where the sun will cure them. They dry out by air.
It's a great history, how we survived through the winters. I got pretty good answers from all that I studied and wondered about. It's interesting. That's why I think about it over and over. That's why we think about it over and over. No matter how bad a winter, we always came out of it. What little hardship we had wasn't bad. We had little hardships, but we expect so much hardship in this great world. I know my people from where I am, and I don't hear much complaint. We feel lucky when the spring is here, and when that first crow arrives(11) as a sign of spring we pray to the Great Manitou:
But even in the spring we know the cold weather is coming again. What shall we do? Prepare equipment. There may be snow again like that, or there may be less. We have to be ready as the seasonal comes and goes in the northern part. We have to be ready for the winter cold. And when it arrives again we'll be ready for it and enjoy it, as we generally do, because that's the time of the year when the old folks like to tell us stories of Winibozho(12) and our other heroes.
2. They didn't know when the ice on the rivers would break up and the rivers start running at full speed. The rivers can be very dangerous in the springtime, especially if there has been a heavy snowfall that winter.
3. The whites coming in, i.e., the lumberjacks, railroad people, etc.
5. Watched and waited for them.
7. There are ceremonies and rituals that medicine doctors can perform to control the weather. This ability to control weather is often given as a proof of the power of a medicine doctor.
8. They do things to hides ritually and ceremonially to make the weather change. Usually they also use ritual fire in a weather-related ceremony. A powerful medicine doctor can change weather both to the good and to the bad. In one incident, an In-law and one of the cooks at the annual Ball Club Migwitch Mahnomen community celebration (Wild Rice Thanksgiving Days) woldn't give Paul Buffalo a free lunch as she thought he wasn't working that day. Paul Buffalo went home. A little while later a huge rainstorm came up and caused the cancellation of the festival. Although he says he didn't do anything to them that time, Paul Buffalo certainly believed he could have, if he had wanted to. People from Ball Club, MN, generally thought that Paul Buffalo had meditated the weather for the bad. Many did not believe him when he said that he had not don it. I did not know Paul Buffalo to use his power to harm others in any way.
11. Seeing a crow return to the area was generally considered the first sign of spring. The sight of the first crow was greeted with much excitement and happiness. See Ch. 6, "Spring Move to the Sugar Bush."
12. Winibozho is known as Nanabozho and, to Whites, as Hiawatha. Winibozho and Nanabozho are spelled in many different ways, quite often following dialectical differences in pronunciation.
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