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When Everybody Called Me Gah-bay-bi-nayss,
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."


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26 25

"Self-Houses," Sweat Houses,
and Blood-taking

The old Indian(1) was well prepared for marriage. One main thing the Indian doctor pointed out is, "Be careful with ladies becoming to be a lady. Ladies are faster blood builders than a man. A woman is an excess blood builder. A man can wear his excess out by laboring, by hard labor and sweat.(2) A man can get along, but the poor women are building up fast, and they have to purify their blood someway else."

Young Indian women, Lake of the Woods.

Young Indian women, Lake of the Woods.
Creator: Carl Gustaf Linde
Photograph Collection, 1912
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.1 r193 Negative No. 55830

Girls have certain stages to go through. Then they have a change of life. They're not like a man. A man can go and come. A woman has a problem of her internal system. So when that time comes every month, they suffer, some of them, going through it.(3) So it could be that is a problem. And if you wait a certain amount of time, then she'll come back normal. She'll purify herself. A woman does that for the child, for the certain part of her life. A woman's giving a life, many lives, if she takes care of herself.

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Indian women.

Indian women.
Photograph Collection, 1890
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E99.1 r50 Negative No.

When they were teenagers they came to a change of life when they're supposed to be blood builders. When they're thirteen years old that's the first stage. At that time these Indian doctors pointed out that they should move away from the main house or wigwam.(4)

They always gave it a name when a woman begins to generate. They have a word to describe when a woman becomes of age. They call that bah-kay-ni-gay. That means "a different woman." It means "a different one, different life." She's different after she becomes of age.

The girl didn't get a new name after that. She had the same name as before. But she had a different life.

ba-kah-nii-gay means ba-kah-nii-gay. b^-kah-nii-gay means she's ready to live alone in a house. That house is called m^k-kàa-nii-gay, b^'-kàa-nii-gay. . . . That's called "the different house in life," bu$-kàa-nii-gày. It means she's ready to live alone. She can go out into the world. She's ready to live alone in the house as a house-keeper. b^-kàa-nii-gày is a new life, a new home, a new clean everything. That's how they purified. That's how strongly they were in purifying. b^-kàa-nii-gày is a different way of life, the different purified home and everything.

They do that because of . . . what do you call that when the first period of life comes? That's why they do that.

How clean they were in those days.

When the Indian lays's down, when the man lays down, the woman must not step over him. He'll get sick if she does. When the Indian woman goes by you, by a laying-down man that's close by, she'll always hold her dress together at the bottom. She'll close it up when she walks by. That's just the same as saying, "Excuse."

Medicine man, boy.

So, you know how careful I am!

In my time, what I remember, if the father had a daughter, the daughter would respect the family. When she'd go through a certain state of life she'd have a wigwam or tipi(5) of her own for so many days. And when she goes through a certain state of life, "woman-life," she becomes a woman. When she becomes a woman she's very careful.

So they built them a wigwam or tipi. We generally built a wigwam. I don't know how far away from the house, but it was a little ways away anyway. I know the ground where she had what we call a "self-wigwam," ness-i$-kày-wii-gày. She's home alone, ya, ness-i$-kày-wii-gàan. The wigwam was filled with clean boughs. At that certain time the old people would get boughs and make a wigwam with that.

It was a clean wigwam. Everything was clean. That's "a different house in life," they called it. They did that when the girl was getting of age. She's ready to excess the blood she was built up on. That's coming through her. She's moved to a clean wigwam, a clean tipi, or to a clean little home, where everything's purified. And she's excessing too much blood, and she's supposed to stay still. Some of them had trouble, had a problem, moving too much, and there's not much strength in the blood. Too much blood goes away from them, so they get weakened. Then -- when they're weakened like that -- the germ of T.B., or pneumonia, or "quick-pneumonia," or something can attack them easier. And when they get a little cold, chilly, and the blood is too thin, then pneumonia or "quick-T.B." attacks the thin weakness more. You can catch a germ, a cold germ they call it: ^-mii-zjàa-kii-gwan. That means "sneezing, a cold germ affected."(6)

When you're too weak, and you haven't got enough blood to supply the internal, and when the internal is getting weak from the changing circulation of your body, then you have to be careful. You have to slow down, and sit still. Then you have to lay back, to mature your blood better. The women excess more. They have to hold still and not lift too hard, so the excess runs all right, normally. They can move around a little bit. But not much.

She's there in that house alone. Nobody dares to go in there, because they're afraid of germs. They were particular about germs in those days. They were particular about a woman's excess. Women have germs at that time, and those germs might start to work on you. So during a certain time of the month she goes there by herself.

There would be maybe one or two women taking care of that girl. They're relatively.(7) They're her sisters, or her mother. Most generally the women take care of that. Two women go to her house, to her wigwam. They don't stay or eat there. They just put the food out for her to eat. They'd take food over there in her own dishes. They wouldn't take the dishes we eat on. She's not supposed to use the same spoon or eat out of the same dishes that the others, the young people, are eating out of. She has to go over there into that little house and live alone, and use a certain dish made out of birch bark. They make everything for her out of birch bark, cups and everything. They wouldn't let them eat out of the same dish as anybody else. oo-nàa-g^n o-dóo-naa-a-g^'noo, that's "her dish," b^$-kàa-nii-gay, "different home": that's"different-home-dish." That's supposed to be destroyed too. You never use a same dish that's been used over that period.

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Ojibwe birchbark serving dish.

Ojibwe birchbark serving dish.
3 1/4 inches height
10 inches length (rim)
6 inches width (rim)
Used at White Earth Reservation, Minnesota
Creation: Not later than 1925
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Identifier: 6462.9

I watched, from a distance!! They didn't allow me to go too close, because the old lady, the mother, is the one that can help them. She is already built solid and went through that, so she's able to help.

So when that period of time comes, they take all them boughs and all her clothes and burn them. And the girl really has to wash her arms and legs, and change clothes too. When she's finished, everything is burnt by fire, clothes and all. They'll pick up all these things with a stick or a fork, and they'll burn them. They don't just pick up these things with their hands. No. Everything is piled up in one spot, and they either burn them or bury them. They either throw them in the fire or they bury them. That way, either way, the old excess is left in the ground.

They'd also take all her bedding and bury it. The mother, and the relatives took the bedding and buried it. They took all the boughs and buried them.

She was there nine days, I guess.(8) They required nine days, ya, but some stayed on after nine days. It all depends on how they flow. For nine or ten days she has to be there. After nine, ten days, she's ready to come back home. And when they're ready to come back home after nine or ten days they purify themselves with medicine. They make all kinds of medicine in liquid form. They use trees, herbs, and roots, and things like that to make liquid medicine. It's just a mixture. They are there nine or ten days, alone, and when they had enough rest and everything they're prepared to come home. The first shot of the blood flows heavier, and for some of them it got too heavy. See? And when they're ready to come back home, they bathe with good medicine and they purify themself. They also change all their clothes! They didn't want any continuation on that blood back home.

She takes them off in there, and they give her a new change of clothes for her. They gave her disinfected clothes, purified clothes.(9) They take new cloths, fresh-washed clothes, to them. They change them all.

Any one of our neighbors sewed these clothes for her. Probably it was someone who favored her and wanted to help her while she was going through this stage. They always have a heart as a neighbor. And we had a neighbor there, a breed, who was a good seamstress. She was good in sewing. They made the clothes any time they wanted to. They always had extra cloth. They made regular clothes, I mean the regular style, but when they deliver them, then it's special. The clothes were not made special. They were meditated special. See . . . ? When the women bring the clothes they meditated them for the girl that's passing the change of life. You see, everything is meditated through the Indian belief. They spoke to the Creator of the Spirit, which also can not be seen.(10) They thank the Great Creator for her going through this. She was losing part of her life, which was the blood she excessed.

The girl didn't have to go through this every time she excessed, only the first time. She only left the main house the first time, not every month. Just the first time, for nine or ten days. That's the first time, when she leaves. The rest of the time, every month, they're exercising, and a second time they're able to work. The bloodstreams and the pores work fine. But every month those clothes are buried. They change. And they take -- I imagine they take -- a bath. Water purifies.

And then after that's over -- after the nine, ten days, maybe twelve days -- they're purified. Then they're all right and they're ready to return to the main house.

When the girl walked back to the main house, she had to walk on cedar boughs. They walked on boughs just to attract the germ to the place where she stayed. And they'll burn everything she walked on. When she's done going through that, then she can walk on pure ground now.



When it was over even the wigwam was left open for the air to get at it and disinfect. They took the birch bark off, but they left the poles standing. The poles stay there. They just forget about the poles. I don't think they would use this wigwam again, no. They make a new one for the next one coming along. But they have to take that birch bark down. They have to take it down.(11) They took it down and aired it out. They aired it out before they handled it too, before they handled it again. Those bark sheets hung there for a certain time. And then the sun and the air purified it. I never noticed them burn the little wigwam down, but they always unraveled the wigwam coverings and laid out and hung up the birch bark wrapper of the wigwam. They saved those to use from one time to the next.

That's b^k-k^a-ni-gay i-kw^y$. b^k-ah-nii-gay ikway$ is purifying the woman when she's coming into her new life.(12) Ask any Indian about b^k-k^a-ni-gay. Ask them, "Did you ever see a woman b^k-k^a-ni-gay? A lot of them won't know what that is. That's an old history. That's the old way of doing life.

That's true. I have seen that. I saw one of my sisters go through that. That was Mary Buffalo, the oldest one, the oldest sister. The others are breeds! They don't believe in anything like that. My sister Mary was two years older than I am, or somewhere around that. So she become at that stage.

"Why do you put that wigwam up, Ma, and Dad?" I said, "What's that for, Ma?"

She said:

"A woman is different. She's a blood builder. At a certain stage she's got to destroy so much blood to purify herself. She's a blood builder. She's in that wigwam so she can take care of herself in there, as much as she wants to. And she can keep clean in there, the way she wants to. There's nobody to disturb her. And the people won't go there. Nobody won't. They don't dare to go in there."

"The stage came from the girl. She has to live alone for nine days, to leave the excess of her teen age. And that excess will be buried. Then the period from there on will continually be purified. Everything is burnt up there."

"But during the meantime the girl is drinking this purifier made from herbs, Indian herbs, and wood. She'd drinking that for medicine to purify her blood."

"So it isn't the wigwam alone that is important, but it's a belief, the style of the Indian, what matters. That's the way they learn these faculties, by a doctor. An Indian doctor learned them that. And you have to be purified in every way. You can't go in a place, you can't go, without following the Creator's word. The Creator's words are from a Great Manito. If you believe in those words and follow them, you're purified. If you follow that, then you believe in that. But if you don't believe in a Great Spirit, then I don't know how long it'll carry you."(13)

That's what she told me.

So just think, huh?

Not every one of my sisters did this. The younger class(14) didn't pay much attention to it because later in years we had doctors from the government.(15) So they got along good anyhow. Just the one sister, I know, did this. That's Mary Buffalo. That happened at the Leech-Mississippi Fork where we lived. I think it was about 1910, or somewhere in there.(16) That's about the last one I knew about directly.(17) Oh. . . I heard about others after that. That was in nineteen . . . about nineteen-twelve . . . about nineteen-twelve, thirteen. . . . It was about 1914-1915, no, later on, about 1917, 1918.

And I heard of them doing that before, somewhere else. They must have been doing that at Sugar Point too. The last time I saw one of these at Sugar Point, was maybe around '17 or '18, or '19. It was somewhere along in there. I didn't keep much attention paid to it, but I listened to what I heard.

That's about the last time I saw them taking blood too. Some other doctor, Indian Medicine doctor, pulls what's ailing you out by bloodtaking.(18) You can't do it yourself. You have to have help there. They used to stand a woman and draw blood from her. The last time I saw that was about 1915.

After so many years -- in their thirties, I guess, or twenties, women start to have complaints.(19) Women have too much blood builders. A woman's a blood builder.

When the women had a blood problem the Indian doctors would take that flint and they just hhuuit, hhuuit, cut them right up on the legs, while they were standing. The doctors would stand there while they were bleeding.

After a while the doctor put that moistured medicine(20) on the cuts. After they healed you'd never see the marks. It grows right back together. You'd never see big veins on them women.

After they get that bad blood out they feel good. Their heart's strong after that's gone out. Every twenty years, or thirty years, you have to change and you have to get rid of bad blood. If you keep all that blood in you when you're building blood too fast, then it clogs up, especially if you don't clean yourself.

Just think, how did those Indian doctors know that? Boy they must have studied hard, huh?

That's a medicine!

I saw a couple of girls, that, times apart, just stood right outside when the Indian doctor took a sharp flint or glass and tapped them on the legs. They'd rip them on the legs so the blood will come out. That's for the women. They do that because they're blood builders. At a certain age they have to get rid of that blood. After they get rid of it, they put medicine on the cuts. There's some of them still alive that did that. I don't know these girls that I saw. I knew they do that to young ladies. They just slice them down with a piece of glass, and drain their blood from the lower part. And when that drains, then their blood starts moving.

I think I was pretty small when I saw this. But I've seen it. Well, my mother used to tell me that too. A woman is a blood builder. They have a purifier for them. They take a medicine drink. They take medicine, but they're also taken up to the Indian doctor to let out some of their excess blood. They pull their clothing up to their knees, and they stand on the cloth, a tablecloth or something. And the Indian doctor takes a piece of glass and cuts them down the legs. And the blood runs out. And they stand there. And they'll put that ground-up medicine on them. They'll just pat it on their legs. They put their sock on. Maybe some of them will get a bandage.

Now I asked my mother, she was an Indian doctor too, you know, "What do they do that for?"

"A woman's got an excess of so much blood. They get a high pressure. They get a nervous tension and all that. Then she has to purify her blood."

That's for the women.

The name of that is bay-pay-shwàa, bay-pay-shóo. That means they take a glass, a sharp glass, a chip of glass, or a sharp flint, and then they cut you open. Then that forms a blood opening, and the blood drips out of you. That's what makes it better. It's working on the blood pressure.

I know. I used that bloodtaking in my time. I was cut right on the side of my face. They take a sharp flint, one that's sharp as a razor on the point. I still have a mark on my face, by my temples. And they have a horn and a shape of wood(21) and they draw the blood. That blood comes out of your head and it takes the pressure out of your head. And when your pressure is out of your head, then they put medicine on that cut. They just tap it on there, in a powder. They ground it up. You put that on once or twice, then you're all right.

When you have a headache the pressure builds up on the back of the neck, or on the neck. And when you have excess pressure on the back of your neck, it works on your head, it works on your eyes. And if you don't take care of this blood here, in the back of your neck, there's some vein that's going to bust somewhere and that'll clog up in your head.

Well, before that happened you have to release that pressure. That's what they figure.

If there was a bad spot of blood left, you could tell that later on. That's a clog. A bad spot clogs, and the clog builds up, and then probably it will turn into something. Then maybe you'll have a stroke.

You often see the Indian with a band on his head.

What is that?

What does that mean?

We wear headbands to take the pressure off. If the pressure goes through the front part of your head over your eyes, then your whole head is aching and your vision is poor. When you put that headband on the pressure floats back into the center part of your head. When you put that headband on tight it takes the pressure away from your eye.

That band keeps your brains steady, smooth, warm. It's all there; that's what that headband means. It's all there. It holds down the pressure inside. We wear them here. If we get a headache we pull it tight, and the headache goes away. Then the mind works good. If you get a pressure on your head then your head can't work.


We have cloth. Years ago they used to have them headbands on all the time when they get old. Now we use that for regulating the brain. We used to use fur or something very beautiful. It signifies "brains all together still working."

If you look at a picture of an Indian with a headband on, he'll be fore-casting his views, fore-casting his look.(22) He'll be working that brain. It's naturally great. He had a Great; he had a Great Spirit with him at that time. That headband shows the people that you have the Great Spirit with you. It's wonderful too that we have been able to show that the Indian people can translate pictures. We're given the power to understand that.

You have the same blood in your whole body, unless it gets too heavy. If it gets too heavy it doesn't fit in your body. That means it's a clog! It's a clog! It's easy to clog up, and that's dangerous. The clog is thick and if the blood gets too heavy it sends out a new branch by the pressure. The pressure is dividing that flowage, and it breaks a new stream. It's just like a river, just like on sand. If you look at the water on earth you'll see that sometimes it makes a new stream because it breaks through into a new area. Then there'll be another stream, another stream. The circulation will be there, but divided. It's the same way when the blood flowage breaks a new stream in your body.

So, that's why the Indian doctors draw out that bad blood. That holds down the pressure that's building up. That takes the pressure out of the back of your neck. And out of your head. That relieves the pressure building up in the whole body.


I had that done to me too, in my time. Sometimes you become ill and they don't know what's the matter with you. In my times I used to have headaches from my eyes. My eyes were giving me headaches because I was snow blind or something. I had awful headaches.

When I was at the Indian school(23) I went to the doctor they had there. We had a government doctor and everything there. I was going to school at the time. This doctor told me, "I recommend that you go home, Paul. I can't find anything. I can't find anything wrong with you. So I just recommend that you go home."

So I went home, and when I got home we hired(24) the Indian doctor. I went to an Indian doctor. She said, "Well, you have high blood pressure in you. Are your ears ringing?"

"Yea," I says, "my ears are ringing."

"That's from the pressure coming up on your head. But we have remedies for that. By your action, and by the remarks of your mother here, I can tell you have high blood pressure. They sent you home from school. The white doctor sent you home. They're supposed to know how to doctor this,(25) but I'll give you medicine for it. You'll never have it again. But you really have high blood pressure now."

The Indian doctor says, "This boy's got a high blood pressure. The strength of his eyesight is weakening in him from snow. His veins are not working right. Why? He has to much energy, and the blood doesn't pump through because he caught cold in his eyes and the veins closed. If you don't take care of him, he'll lose his sights. I can take care of him."

"All right; take care of him."

This Indian doctor looked me over and said, "I can fix that. I can cure that."

Some of the Indian doctors drive a needle, a horn or bone, in your guts and suck that blood out. But this one here said, "I'll take it out of the side of your head."

I said, "Geeze!!" I thought that was going to be awful. But I thought, "Well, maybe it will be worth it if I'm not going to have headaches any more. Maybe my eyes will be alright too. Maybe they won't bother me anymore."

The doctor came up to do the Indian doctoring. "You know what?" she says. "I haven't got any flint. I'll just use a broken bottle, the neck of a bottle." So she busted a neck of a bottle. It was a woman doctor, Ness-caven, n^sh-kày-bIn, of Ball Club. Drumbeater. It was Ness-caven, n^sh-kày-bIn, Old Lady(26) Drumbeater. She was a great doctor. It was n^sh-kày-bIn. She was an old lady, a very wonderful, very wonderful old lady. n^sh-kày-bIn means "all alone." Her English name is "Old Lady Drumbeater." n^sh-kày-bIn, Old Lady Drumbeater, was my first doctor like that.(27)

We have Indian women and men doctors, and I've asked the men doctors, "Does this ceremony have to be done by a man? Does this operation have to be done by a man or can it be done by a woman doctor?"

"It doesn't make any difference. But it's up to her whether or not she wants to doctor. Her doctoring is to help the people's life."

She laid me down, took that sharp glass, a little flat one, and cut me open on both sides of my head. She cut me right by the temple. I kicked when she cut me and that's what made her make a mistake. She cut a little longer and deeper. So there I laid. She just tapped that glass on both sides of my head.

She had a great big steer horn, like the one I have in my house.(28) It was sawed off so that it was about four, five, inches long. She took that horn, drew the bad blood out with it, and then put some medicine ground up from roots, small roots, on the cuts.

Those horns used to be useful when we didn't have the white doctors. We used them with anybody with a high blood pressure. We were doctors with those horns. We were doctors with them. We make people well with them.

We still carry stuff like that to remind us of what service we have gotten out of them through the Great Spirit. With power, the Spirit shows us the way to live, and that is the way we lived.(29) We lived good. We lived a decent life. We breathed pure air, and made it through life by respecting one another.

We had some bad persons who went wrong. Maybe they had an ailment. If you go wrong, you have an ailment, you don't feel good.(30) You say things you shouldn't when you don't feel good. The first thing you'll ask when somebody's upsetting you is, "Don't you feel good?" Sickness, ailments, weakness, nervousness all affect your mind.

We were glad to find them horns. We were glad. We saved them. Usually we'd take the horn of a young bull and hollow it out. We'd roast it out. We'd hollow it out and then we'd put the end of the horn on the cut. That draws quicker. You really could feel it drawing. They raised your skin right off your skull with them horns.

The one I have is from a cow, a beef cow or a milk cow, but any horn that's like that will do. Buffalo horns are good too. Any round horn like that will do. We cut them just so we could use them. We cut them about eight inches from the tip, or maybe about six-and-a-half inches from the tip, and then we cut them so that altogether they're about five inches long. We cut it off where it comes to a point as big as your mouth. Then cut it so that overall it's about five inches. Then we cut them out through the middle. We drill a hole through there -- there's a hole in the middle, it's hollow up there.

We used them with anybody who had high blood pressure. When used for high blood pressure, these horns saved a lot of them's life. We tapped them with a sharp flint, or something very sharp.

Old Lady Drumbeater, she cut six, five or six, little short cuts right here, on the sides of my head. She just made little marks like that. Lots of them my age have scars from that. She'd take that horn, and she'd draw that blood with that horn in her mouth. Then she spits that out in a dish. 'Course she's got medicine there too.

After Old Lady Drumbeater tapped my head with that broken glass she pumped that blood out of my head with that horn. That blood was just terrible. It was sticky, and too heavy. That clogged up my eyes, and clogged me up to my brains and everything. She'd take two, three, of them mouthfuls. She's a medicine woman and she's got dope in her mouth that she gets from this earth. She'd wash her mouth with that medicine. That's all the farther she'd go with her mouth. She'd wash her mouth and then she'd draw three, four, times on one side of my head. Each time she'd draw she'd spit that out in a pan or basket or something. You'd look at that blood and it was just, . . . oh, terrible!

The scent of blood means that we'd send the clog, the sickness, out of the vein. They break the clog loose and the flowage starts. The flowage of blood starts naturally. Then, when the flowage of blood starts, you become normal again.

She told me, "Roll over." And she did the same thing on the other side of my head. She drawed all that blood out. She'd draw four, five, loads of that, and spit it out in a basket.

I have scars there yet. A lot of them have scars there.

When she was through drawing blood with that horn she'd put a little of those ground-up herbs on the cuts. After the bloodtaking, the Medicine Man or Woman always puts on the cut the medicine that you need, that the patient needs. Old Lady Drumbeater ground up roots and made a patting with that ground up medicine. She just tapped it on there. After she got through, she put some dope(31) on the places she cut. First she tapped(32) one side, then she tapped the other side. She moistened her herbs, then tapped it on. She rubs that medicine on there and she tells you to keep quite: "Don't wipe it off, so it heals fast. With fast healing there's no danger of infection."

Then she gave me a liquid medicine to drink. That medicine was made from powdered living things, ground up and dried -- things like bark and stuff like that. That's a medicine, man! And she prays to the Great when she gives you that medicine: "This is medicine for You." All trees have medicine strength, and are used for certain divisions.(33)

We have eye medicine too.

When she tapped my temples to cut the blood veins I was sicker than hell from high blood pressure. That blood taking makes low blood pressure, and that liquid they give you afterwards goes into the blood right now. So the blood begins to work and you begin to feel better twenty-four or forty-eight hours after.

That proves what I'm saying. After I drank that medicine the blood pressure came down, and I was all right. That medicine took the blood pressure right down.

I said, "Is that going to be all right? Do I have to lay off and take it easy for awhile?" I said, "What shall I do next?" I said, "What should I do?"

"I'm done. Go out now. You can go out and play if you want to. Go anywhere you want. It isn't going to bother you."

After that my vision came clear. My everything came good. I was all right. Geeze I could see good! I felt good. My neck felt good. The blood clog is what they took out.

"It's in here. We have to clean that out. You have a clog in there that upsets your sights." That's what she told me.

I was about fourteen years old when Old Lady Drumbeater did that. My eyes bothered me. That's why I couldn't go to school. I was expelled. The school doctor couldn't help me. We had a government doctor there, but he didn't know what was the matter.

How did the Indian doctors know that? Everyone that went through that bloodtaking lived good. You have to clean that out while you're changing your life too. They start cleaning a man out again after twenty, a woman, eighteen.

How much blood they take out all depends on how much blood you got. Your blood will slow down on the horn(34) and then it will begin to clear-ify. If it is not fully cleared the Medicine Doctor'll say, "Well, I'll do it again. Comeback in a week or so." They put ground up medicine on there and the cut sealed.

Some of them have little needles. Alan Wilson's dad did that too, but Alan's dad died. If anybody was sick with high blood pressure, or wanted to be doctored, or had an appendix or something wrong with them, he just snapped that needle and that scent of blood would come out. He'd close it off, put the herb in there, the Indian medicine, and that's all it takes.

They used to do that a lot. I remember forty-five years ago, thirty, forty years ago they'll still do that.(35) But lots of people stopped bloodtaking because they didn't want to believe in two religions. They wanted to believe in one religion, because there's only one way for some things to be done. The Indian thought that God was like He is on the pictures that the priest brought in. He makes the world grow bigger and purifies it. He shed his blood from his hands and feet. He was on the cross. He went down to the soil.(36) At first they didn't know He was doing that for their good. But after while they learned. He shed the blood in His country. For us. For everybody. So now we don't have to shed ours.

I think that if the priests didn't come the Indians woulda went to school eventually, and lost the Indian way of life by going to school. School had destroyed the Indian way of life. School has a lot to do with the Indian history-cal.

I don't know if they do that bloodtaking anymore today.(37) They're getting so that they don't hardly remember(38) anything anymore. But if they did, they wouldn't talk about it anyway. They don't want anything to go out from the Indian.(39)

Sweatbath is another thing they don't talk about much now-a-days.

Years ago we sometimes used a sauna to take blood pressure down. We always had a sauna for that.(40)

Did you know the Indian had the sauna?

The Finns didn't bring them. We had sweatbaths many years before the Finns came.

Where did the saunas come from?

We always had them.

The Indians used that beforehand. The Indian had saunas by using rocks, heated rock.(41) Ya. I saw a lot of those Indians with rheumatism and everything use the Indian sauna. I've seen lots of them on the reservation, where they use them. I've seen where they left their rocks. They would just leave it stand. They would just leave the whole wigwam stand. The old ones were made of birch bark and wi-gob.(42) Those Indian saunas years ago I've seen. I was a little boy when I first saw that. And I was a little boy when they were using them. We had a sauna that we built. We just build a little round one, for one man. You curled around the rocks, and took cedar boughs to put the water on the rocks. Boy, I tell you that'll make you sweat. That's a sauna, Indian sauna, mah-dú-du. We call it "sweatbath," m^'-du-dú. It's the same name of the sweatbath they take in the Midewiwin(43) lodge.

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Sweat lodge used in Midewiwin ceremony, Squaw Point, Leech Lake.

Sweat lodge used in Midewiwin ceremony, Squaw Point, Leech Lake.
Creator: Monroe P. Killy (1910-)
Photograph Collection, 1946
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.37 p49 Negative No. 35579

Then later on the Finns came in with their big sauna. We call the Finns ma-dú-du wI-ynIn-níi, "Ma-dú-du men" -- "Sweatbath Men."(44) That's all right. That's a fact. They're all right. When they came in this country and built a "sauna-for-all," that's OK, because we all have to sweat it out. The big saunas came just about the same time as the Finns. The Finns more or less had them. I never saw any big saunas at an earlier date. Before, all that I saw were those single ones, you know, those single saunas with one person going in there -- those little Indian sweatlodges.

And when the Finn sauna came in, that helped them keep healthy. All them Finns are healthy looking. And they live a life. They are spry. They are active. There's nothing wrong with a Finn sauna. And that's why we like that too. We had that before. And when they came in and made saunas, big saunas, laboring for a betterment, well that's good. We use them now. So this is something good. This is not against any rules and regulations. You're supposed to "sweat by the brow of your eye." You can work it out anyway you want to.

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Finnish type sauna, Heiskanen Farm, Toivola.

Finnish type sauna, Heiskanen Farm, Toivola.
Photograph Collection, 1937
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. MS2.9 TV r6 Negative No. 66057

The sweatbath is something we use when the man has an excess. You drink a lot of water to purify the internals and to rinse out the sluggish and all that in your lung. And by sweating that out you'll feel healthy. But you treat it good. And k eep warm after.

We carry that bloodstream in our system a long time. Some of them don't sweat it out. Or do that bloodtaking. What does it do inside? Maybe it sours up, the same as sourdough. But purifying once or twice a year helps you in life. It makes your ticker work good. It makes your internal purified. Your bloodstreams are all right. Ya. The clogs of the veins break open by the heat, by the sweat, and by the fresh water. The fresh water nurses the blood, nurses the veins.

This person had a fever, and was weakening. The Medicine Man said, "I advise you to go take a 'Finn bath.'"

But it wasn't a "Finn bath," it was a "sweatbath."

Each family had its own sweathouse, if they wanted to. If they wanted to, they had their own. It's up to them. But most generally, in the olden days, each household would have a sweatbath wigwam. They were about four, five, five-and-a-half to six feet long, all around. And they'd be about four feet high.

Our family generally put some rocks in a pail and built a little small wigwam around it. We built a little small wigwam that was covered up with bark. We used birch bark, or, later on, tar paper. We had a little round wigwam made with six, seven, stakes, which were tied up on top. Between two stakes left enough room for an entrance. We build it with room enough for one man to set in. It was just big enough for one man to curl around the rocks and set in there. It wasn't high, but they were enclosed tight.

There were no seats or platforms in there. We just had boughs on the ground inside the sweatbath. We only used hay and boughs on the ground. We had the boughs and the straw. We call it "bath straw," in Indian. Yea. We put the boughs on the floor with hay, lots of hay, so you don't get next to the moisture in the ground. We laid cedar boughs on the bottom of the sweathouse, on top???xxx of the hay, and when we were ready we dug that sand so that a pail with hot rocks would set in there straight and not tip. We have some more boughs on the floor for you to lay on. Boughs of the cedar purifies the blood, and when you lay on them they draw out what's ailing you.

The fire was built outside. We heated the rock outside and then we took shovels or sticks and put them in a pail, in a bucket. There were about ten rocks, about as big as your fist. Some were a little bigger, to keep hotter a longer time. After the rocks were heated, we put them in a galvanized pail, or in an iron kettle, and we took them into the sweathouse. We brought the pail in there from the outside. That way we always had enough room inside.

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Sweat Lodge, Squaw Point, Leech Lake.

Sweat Lodge, Squaw Point, Leech Lake.
Creator: Monroe P. Killy (1910-)
Photograph Collection, 1948
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. Collection I.69.94 Negative No.

In the sweathouse there's a little curtain that serves as a doorway. You slide in there after the hot rocks are in place, and right away you begin to sweat. Hot rocks were put inside the wigwam first, and then the man laid right beside them, curled up. He's only the one in the wigwam that's taking that treatment.

Before you sweat, you take lots of water. You drink a lot of water, a lot of liquid. Drink a little lukewarm water, or water that's a little bit on the cold side. Drink a little water before you go in, and then, when you're in there, spray a little bit on the hot rocks.

You can drink that medicine too.(45) That medicine is made up of wild potato, ground up dry. To that the Medicine Man added bark that's powdered. Everything that we take is made from living things in the woods. That ground up medicine is the best medicine that you can drink. Mixing the powder with water makes medicine of that. It's just like coffee now-a-days.(46) You may have seen that medicine. You might as well say that medicine is sort of a ginger. After you drink it, you begin to sweat on that. You heat up, and what's ailing you comes out.

The sweatbath takes the blood pressure down. Sweatbath was also used for stomach aches. But you have to drink a lot of water. Then it starts working. Drink a lot of water before and the sweatbath will start working. Then you'll be regulated. The kidneys will start moving. That's a main part of your life. If your kidneys slows down, everything's going to slow down, right to the heart.

When they were sweating they'd crawl in there and they'd curl around the rocks. They warm their knees, they warm their backs, they roll over and warm everything. You would be sweating in the sweathouse for about twenty minutes. There was no danger of scalding. But one thing -- if you touch your balls on those hot rocks . . . you'll never sweatbath again!!

When it gets too hot in there he'll breathe through the air opening. When he gets too hot he'll spray water on the fire with a little bough. The boughs are made out of cedar, most generally. The boughs used for spraying water on the rocks are wrapped up so that you can have a handle. It's just like a little broom. You dunk that bough handle in the water and then spray the rocks with it. He does the spraying himself, with the amount of water used varying according to the moisture, that is, steam, that he wanted. Occasionally the Medicine Man would do the spraying. Occasionally he'd reach in there to judge the moisture and the heat, but the guy who is the patient, the in-patient, would help him spray water on the rocks.

We also used cedar boughs to help dry off. When you come out of the sweatbath you know you're too hot. So you have to keep your eyes rinsed. Some would use cold water. Some of them rolled in the snow to close their pores. When you sauna, your pores are wide open, and by cold water they close up. If there's snow on the ground, go jump in the snow. Go jump and roll in the snow when you come out of the sweatbath. If there's a lake with cold water, jump in that. See, your blood is heated up. Cool it off by rolling in the snow or by jumping into cold water. That stimulates!

Then wipe off good.

When he comes out of there, he'll be limber. Rheumatism, anything rheumatic, and everything that's bothering him, gets out of him.

"Waah!! I feel good," he'd say.

"Wait 'till you get two, three, of them. Then you'll be better; you'll feel better. You'll be a well man," the doctor would tell him. "What you sweat out is what poisoned your blood. That sweat's gotta come out. You don't work hard enough. . . . You don't walk a long ways."

I gave my son,(47) Dave, a sweatbath not very long ago. He wasn't feeling very good. He was about forty-five.

Dave said, "Would you give me an Indian bath?"

"Yes! I will! Well, we have to make it first."

So I made it. I put canvas over it, over the Indian bath, and he got in there. Now I use canvas, or a blanket, or anything that will cover the stakes. In the old days they used to use birch bark.

We built a fire to heat the rocks outside. I took two pails of heated rocks and set them in the sweathouse. I opened the door and I told him, "I figure it's ready for you." It doesn't have to be too hot, you know; you can burn out of there.

I said, "How do you feel over there?"

"Whooh, that feels good!! I think everything'll come out of me."

"I think about the third time you take this, you'll be all right."

The last time I had one was about 1927, '26.

You know what I did?

I just took a chair in there, and left the rocks in there. It was high enough for a chair. And we just put the blankets over, the canvas over, and sprayed a little water on the hot rocks. Oh boy! Boy that'll make you sweat, but you feel good. And then drink cold water. I was in there for rheumatism. It never bothered me since. But outside of that, it was my teeth that were making me sick.(48) I had my teeth out, but before that, all that saved me was sweatbath. It kept purifying me.

The last time I saw an Indian in an Indian sweatbath was about eight or nine years ago,(49) something like that, way back anyhow. And before that, I was about eighteen when I saw the last one. A neighbor had one when I was about eighteen.

It would be better to take a sweatbath once a month, but most often we'd feel so good we didn't take one. We took one if we didn't feel good. We generally used the sweatbath to purify our internals. And to heal ailments. And when we're healing, they'd give a good "rub," with the wash, with the sweat.(50) But if our pores are clean, closed, we didn't need a sweat bath. A sponge bath with hot water was just as good just to get clean. The most they ever took a sweat bath was one once a week, maybe two or three times a month, through the summer.

Of course if you're doctoring, then you need to sweat. Afterwards, if the sweatbath doesn't remedy your ailment, they'd do that bloodtaking. After the sweatbath the Medicine Man would say, "Well, you have another session to go through." Then they'd lay you down on a pillow. They take those horns, the little short horns that I told you about, and then they'll cut you on each side of the head. They would cut you with flint, sharp flint -- or glass, or anything. They would use anything to cut your skin. That would start bleeding and they'd put that horn over the cut. Then they tap(51) you. They use the horn of the bull of any animal to pull out whatever's ailing you.

And if that didn't cure your ailment, then maybe you could get clarification through the spirit of your dreams.

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1. Traditional Indians.

2. A man can sweat excess out by hard labor, or by the Indian sweatbath. Cf. pp. 660 ff.

3. Cf. R. E. Ritzenthaler (Chippewa Preoccupation with Health, 1953, pp. 212-213.)

4. A counterpart puberty ceremony for the boys was fasting in an attempt to secure a dream or vision. Cf. Ch. 27, "Dreams and Visions." The men also used the sweatbath for their "excess." See pp. 660 ff.

5. Wigwam is the more traditional woodland rounded-top house. Tipi is a conical-shaped housing type more typical of Plains Indians. In northern Minnesota Anishinabe peoples used both types, although in some areas wigwams were the predominant house type.

6. "A cold germ affects them." This is different than infected. You can have a cold germ in you, i.e., be infected with a cold germ, but if you are sound and healthy and not worn down that germ will generally not have much of an effect on you. However, when you get run down, when you're weak, with "thin" blood, then the cold germ takes affect and is active.

7. Relatives.

8. Frances Densmore (Chippewa Customs, 1970, pp. 70-71) notes that a young girl was required to isolate herself for four days and nights in a little wigwam that her mother made for her at some distance from the main lodge. It was said that in old days she was allowed absolutely no food during this period, but that in later days an older sister or other relative brought a little food to the girl. Densmore also notes that during her isolation she was not allowed to scratch her hair or body with her hands, a stick being provided for that purpose.

9. Clean, washed clothes, but also clothes which had been spiritually purified.

10. I.e., they speak to the Creator of her spirit, which, as with the other times when they speak to the Creator Manitou or to the spirits, can not be seen.

11. For more discussion on use and re-use of bark, see Ch. 6, "Spring Move to the Sugar Bush," Ch. 7, "Skayy-go-mI-zi-gáy-wIn, Maple Sugar Time," and Ch. 8, "Old Gardens and New Bark."

12. ah-ni-kii-mIg-w^n naeshii -- female transition rites

13. Your beliefs are thought to "carry you along" in this life. Believing in the Great Spirit is a great help to you in life. If you do no believe in a Great Spirit, then Paul Buffalo does not know how long you'll last in this life.

14. Younger children.

15. Cf., Ch. 39 xxx 46, "Doctors and Missionaries," and Ch. 39, "Leech and Mississippi Forks."

16. In 1910 Paul Buffalo's sister Mary would have been about 12 years old.

17. The last one he really knew much about.

18. Cf. R. E. Ritzenthaler (Chippewa Preoccupation with Health, 1953, pp. 193-194.)

19. Physical complaints.

20. Cf. Chapter 13, "Indian Medicine."

21.A small wooden bowl.

22. The picture will often have an Indian looking forward, casting a glance fore-ward and off into the distance.

23. Cf. Ch. 36, "School."

24. Went to.

25. The white doctors should have taken care of this at school.

26. "Old Lady" is a term of respect.

27. When Paul Buffalo says that Old Lady Drumbeater was his first doctor he means the first doctor who doctored him like that, using bloodletting. His mother, a medicine woman obviously doctored him from time to time. He was also "doctored" by Old Man Ryan when he was a very small boy, about 1907 or 1908. See Chapter 2, "Bena Childhood."

28.Cf. R. E. Ritzenthaler (Chippewa Preoccupation with Health, 1953, illustration, p. 194.)

29. Cf. Ch. 28, "Power," Ch. 29, "What's Behind the Sun?: An Indian Sermon."

30. Going wrong, or living in a bad way induces sickness. Cf. xxx Roufs 1995.


32. Patted. Paul Buffalo uses tap as in tapping tree, and tap as in patting something.

33. All trees have medicinal properties, but certain trees are used only on certain groups ("divisions") of things. Cf., Ch. 13, "Indian Medicine."

34. The animal horn that they're using to suck out the bad blood.

35. This was taped in 1968. That would be 1923, 1938, 1928.

36. Was buried.

37. Paul Buffalo has not seen bloodletting in recent times. He heard about recent practices, but didn't see them.

38. Practice, remember to do.

39. People often do not discuss certain practices. They don't want information on those practices to go out beyond the Indian communities. In the 1990s this is less often the case than it used to be.

40. In the original transcripts Paul Buffalo sometimes uses the term sauna when he's referring to a sweatbath. Sometimes he doesn't. It depended on who he thought the audience is. In Minnesota people are familiar with the sauna, especially in Finnish communities. If Paul Buffalo is talking in English with someone he knows or suspects is familiar with the Finnish sauna, he usually uses the term sauna. Otherwise, in English he talks about the Indian sweatbath or steambath. In general, unless otherwise clear from the context of the sentence, sauna and Finn-Bath are used to refer to the Finnish, frequently multiple-person, version of an Indian "steam bath." Sweatbath, steambath, and occasionally Indian sauna, are used to refer to the Anishinabe variety, usually single-person, sweat lodge.

41. Cf. R. E. Ritzenthaler (Chippewa Preoccupation with Health, 1953, pp. 196-198.)

42. Strips of basswood inner bark used for tying.

43.See Chapter 30, Mi-de-wi-win.

44. See Chapter 38, "Finns, the 'Sweatbath-Men.'"

45. Cf. Chapter 13, "Indian Medicine."

46. Instant coffee.

47. Stepson.

48. Cf. Ch. xxx [on teeth problem].

49. From April 1981; 1971 or 1973.

50. Frances Densmore (Chippewa Customs, 1970, p. 95) notes that with the Midewiwin sweat lodge, "There was no subsequent 'rubbing' of their bodies, as was done if the sweating were for medicinal purposes."

51. Suck the blood out of you.

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