|Tim Roufs||extended search|
When Everybody Called
Timothy G. Roufs (Ed.)
Leech and Mississippi Forks
Here and there those old steamers would hit those bars in the shallow water of the Mississippi Forks of the Leech River. You'd see that mud kicking up the same time as water when the Old Mud Hen(1) was in one of those bars. But they made a good channel that way. They kept scaring up the mud; then the current would kick out that bar.
And the fish would just shoot around that boat. You could see them on the bottom. The water was
clear above the boat, but after the
boat went by it was pretty "riley."(2) You couldn't see anything after the boat went by. How those
fish would rush!
|Even with a steamer you run out of fuel in the boat once in a while. Down below on the
river, around Aitkin I guess, there were men -- there were settlers -- along
the river, that would cut poplar to burn on the boat. They'd cut cord
wood, pile it along the river, and sell it to the steamboat company. The
boat would stop and they'd load up that whole boat for fuel. You'd see
cords of wood piled up on the boat in four-foot lengths. Some of that
wood would even be on top. They'd go along as long as the wood would last.
Pretty soon they had to stop at some other refueling yard. They'd pile that
cord wood up again in the boat. They'd fill up the coal bin -- you might
as well say the "wood bin." The fireman would be standing in the boat with
that cooker door open just shoving in wood. Then he got a rest. The old steamers would
burn it fast; popel burns fast. They would try to get hardwood, but they
can't always. Maple or oak is good. The old fireman, he'd get mad if there
was poor wood.
Then sometimes when the boat stopped we paddled up to it. We'd just looked at the lay-out and sized up those engineers. It seems like it was all grease and all steam, all smoked up. They had a lunchroom on the boat. It's a big tug, you know. That is an old Navy boat. ci-nah-bi-kwah is steamboat -- big steamboat. It's a houseboat put up by steam power which is taking care of that boat. It was something to see. I'd like to have a picture of that.
We'd ask the engineer, "Ah, could we have a ride up? Could we have a tow?"
"Well, how far ya going?"
"Well . . . just up the one bend."
We'd tell him that 'cause we'd just want to be towed up there.
And he'd tell us to hang our ropes over the bend of the boat and he'd tie them.
Well, he'd start off. The boat would shove off with our boat -- we had a rowboat . . . little rowboats . . . little home-made boats. We'd hang on to the side and see how he was going to start up. And that old engine'd go "chuck-a-chuck-a-chuck," and then pretty soon he'd speed up.
And then they'd start making waves and we'd watch that old wheel. We'd think we were really doing something.
We'd get up the river so far and he'd slow down a little bit. He wouldn't go very fast because we were hanging on. Then he made sure that wheel'd stop or slow a little bit, and he'd shove our boat out, and we'd shove into shore. Then we'd lay for that boat again. We'd lay not only for the boat, but also for the donuts he'd put on the plate for us boys.
We couldn't catch them at times because they go pretty fast. They go down river or up river. Sometimes we'd catch them when they were refueling.
We had times!
They were good days! And those old engineers and firemen were glad to talk to the kids.
I moved to the place at the Leech and Mississippi Forks when I came
home from Tower School. When I left for Tower school we were still searching for a living.(3) We were moving according to the
seasons, pretty much just living off of the land.
I think at that time they were issuing tracts of the land from the government to our mothers and fathers, and to those who were of age. My sister got one, but I was too young.(4) I wasn't of age at the time. So all of them got different tracts of land. And when they got these different tracts of land, some of them moved on to them, and some, they turned around and sold them as soon as they could. They sold them for less money than they were worth, but they wanted that check! And boy, that land's worth money now!
When I was at Tower School I heard that my mother and Jack Nason got married. By the time I returned from Tower school(5) my folks had already moved down to the Leech and Mississippi Forks. In Indian it's nii-gI-d^-d^- wI-way-aang Wh $h! nii-gI-d^-wI-t^ -gway-aang. That's "the-rivers-apart, separating-one-another" -- the Leech and Mississippi. That's "they-separate-there." gab-zng-gah-yIn-nay-zi-bii is Leech River. wIni-bii-go-si-si-zi-bii is Mississippi River. gah-zng-gah-Kwa-jIm-nay-Kwag is Leech Lake. And we had a good location, by the Mississippi Forks.
It was around about 1910, 1911 when they moved there. My folks got an allotment at the Leech and Mississippi Forks and they moved there. We began a homestead there. You might as well say we began our home there on an east forty acres of Indian land. We lived on that forty-acre tract of Indian land. We were all alone on the south side of the Mississippi, out of Ball Club. It was on that tract of land between the "Y" that we had a section of land. We had what you call individual trust land. That was land given to certain individuals. Some of them had forty acres, some of them had eighty.
That homestead where we lived was later called "Nason Point." We had a little village there. I lived there at Nason Village on the Mississippi, at the Leech and Mississippi Fork.
We lived along the Mississippi a long time. That was my home on the
Mississippi-Leech River -- by the Mississippi fork by Ball Club -- for many
years. And I enjoyed living there. We trapped, hunted, and fished for
wildlife. That's where I was really hunting ducks. I had a small
gun, just a four-ten.(6) But we had
plenty game, plenty to eat.
In my days at the Leech and Mississippi Forks there were lots of berries.
You need certain sweet stuff in life, and we used berries and sugar -- maple sugar. We had oh-day-I-mii-nud -- "heart-shaped-berry," strawberry.
And we always had plenty of mii-nnn -- blueberries. We'd make sauce
from the blueberries. That's all we knew since we didn't have stoves.
Lots of them didn't have stoves, lots of them. But later on, we
finally got a Kalamazoo cook stoves and all that.(7)
We left birch bark baskets, iron chisels, and the wooden plug-ins in the woods. The plugs were made of a slant-blunted chip. For storing the sap we used to use the pork barrels years ago that came in there later on. And we used nu-ska-ci-nah-gan. That's a small birch bark fanning tray. And we had birch bark baskets years ago to store sugar. In Indian, we called these cases where you put maple sugar mah-kahk.
wIg-was is birch. That's where we got our birch bark. Now you can't get birch big enough to make big baskets. Now they make little bird houses out of the little birch. You see? That's the answer to that. We had big birches years ago. And the cork, or stick-bark, was used for anything.
We'd also patch things up with a pitch -- like the little birch bark baskets we used for collecting sap. There was no flavor in that pitch, so there was no taste in that. It cooled off, and when it cools off, it sticks and patches the baskets up, just like they patch canoes. And we would work that heavy sap in the wooden plates with the wooden spoons.
Lots of the natural resources were a great help. We picked berries, we picked wild rice, and back we'd go for more. We dried the blueberries. . . . We dried the blueberries. We dried the jerk steak. We call dried meat jerk steak -- bah-tay-wii-ahss. We can keep that dried without a 'frigerator. We just keep it dry, in dry bags and cases -- birch bark cases -- mah-kahk-kon.
In those days none of the Indians had known carpenter work, but we managed to build a log house anyhow.(9) We built our homes there without any money on hand. We built our homes out of logs, and these logs were put together with moss and mud for chinking. It was easy to build them.
Indians in my area started using log cabins about 1907, `08. Then they got tools made by the blacksmith. The blacksmith would melt iron and make tools. They'd put a sale on for the one-man saw, and we all caught on how to use them.
Before the saws came in they had to leave the poles sticking out on the corners. They didn't trim them. They had the poles so long and left them alone. They just put a groove(10) in there to fit them together. Then they'd tuck moss in between logs for chinking.
They didn't worry too much about houses because the young people were making things so fast. They finally knew how to make log houses, and later on they knew where there was an axe -- wah-gah-kwnd. In Indian axe is "one-that-you-cut-with, with-a-handle-on-it." And the young people were never alone, because the old man would go along to help.
They didn't build very high at first. They dug that sod out in the place where they were going to build a house, so it's pred'ner all cleared before they begin building. They'd water that clearing and they'd pat it down. After it's dry by heat, it's like a hardwood floor. Then, later on, after the log house was up, they wove cedar-bark rugs, mats, and these would go right on top of the earth floor. At first we used woved cedar-bark mats just like we did in the wigwam.(11) You'd never know the floor was packed earth.
And what they'd use for a broom was balsam boughs tied in bunches. Gee they used to go good. Well, hell, that was nothing. If that wasn't enough, they'd go down and get canebreaks and tie them in a bunch on a stick. The canebreaks do just as good as a broom.
Later on, when they wanted a wood floor, they made some way to exchange
work with the mills for whatever lumber they needed. Beforehand they used
an edging tool they call an "edger." When they used that, they laid logs down
on the floor and edged them. They put a nice edge on the board and it
made a good floor. It was a nice insulation from the ground too.
A log house is the warmest house you can find. These log buildings were "coo‑zy" warm. The houses weren't built very high, but they were comfortable. Log houses make nice homes.
My folks decided to plant a garden and stay there at the Leech-Mississippi Forks for the winter. A lot of them had done that. These winters here are long, and in the spring we'd put in a garden.
We lived on that land, and on this land of forty acres we made our living by raising gardens.(12) We were trying to farm and raise garden stuff on our claims, on our tribal lands. We had a nice garden, a nice trapping area, and a nice hunting area. That interested my step-dad. He was more interested in raising crops and improving his place.
I got interested in things too. I saw farms when I was away at school.
I saw how they raise big crops. I felt like getting home and helping with
the crops. And when I got home we had crops, garden crops. We had
We'd get the seed from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The government, once in a while, would give us seeds. The B.I.A. had a farm hand going around issuing out seeds and everything. It was good seed which they offered us, but it didn't do very well for us. Probably those seeds would do in some other soil, but this sand soil would dry out and drought and the seeds would blow away. Those of us who used the seeds struggled to try to keep them going. Some of them were lucky to have a crop out of seeds which the government issued. It was a great work though, and the government tried to go along with us.
Some people know how to train other people what to do. And the government always had a man to go around amongst the Indians and tell the Indians how to use the tools. He also was supposed to teach us how to plant. His name was Bemis. I don't remember his first name, and I can't tell you what it is, because I couldn't say what I don't know. All I know is Mr. Bemis. They all knew Mr. Bemis, the farmer of the Indian area. His headquarters were at Cass Lake and Bena. Bemis was the government agent who was a farmer and who traveled around and told us what to plant and how fine to grind the soil and stuff.
"Ya," he'd tell us, "get it fine; then the seeds won't dry out."
We had new ground, and all new ground is good. And we planted pretty good. Some of them didn't have any help to plant gardens. So, some of them hired horses and cleared a piece of ground to make a garden spot. We had heavy hoes, big hoes -- b^skwadayig^n -- garden hoes -- to plant with. . . .
Around here they plant mostly cabbage -- ci-ah-nii-bis, cucumbers -- ays-kan-dah-mIn, and tomatoes -- ci-o-qI-nii or ci-o-qI-nIq. They all planted cabbages, tomatoes, cucumbers -- canning stuff like that. And squash -- ci-ays-kan-dah-mIn. Oh ya. We plant squash. Now they have cantaloupes up here too. But we didn't have cantaloupes early on.
Corn -- man-dah-mIn -- grows good here -- beautiful corn, sweet corn. When the corn and potatoes came up, we'd chop the soil between the rows. So in that way we shook up the potatoes with a little spade -- or sometimes with a little piece of bark. We moved the dirt just a little bit and that expanded the earth to get more air and the crop began to grow.
How did the Indian know that?
They practiced. And they got to be big farmers. These potatoes and corn were plenty tall and there were a lot of potatoes on each plant. But this ground only lasts three years before it runs out -- two, three years. The second year they commence to manure the ground. See, they improve that.
I think that fertilizer will help; ya. You have to put lots of vegetation or something in the soil, and keep mixing it so it'll rot. That sod's all rotten by the end of the second year, so the third year crops get good again. And then, from there on, she's going back again the other way.
The government says this is not productive land. But some of it here isn't too bad. Some of it's bad.
The more you fertilize the land and the more you work that ground, the better it is. If you work one piece of ground and lay the other ground up a year or so, it'll get even better, you know. Reverse it like that the next year. You don't have to have big ground.
You don't have to have a big garden for a family, but you should get a crop out of a garden. All that canning will help you make it through the winter.
That's something, isn't it?
We should learn to be prepared for these long winters. Now-a-days when summer comes we just throw up everything. We quit. And when the hard winter comes we start working again. Now we never try to prepare in advance, and put up stuff ahead for ourself, for the winter. That's where our biggest mistake is: never getting ready for the next winter.
Isn't that right?
In the olden days they used to can stuff and put them in the cellars
-- cool, cool, places. Root-cellars. And that root-cellar is picked to
put vegetables in. And in those root cellars they had all kinds of fruit
and vegetables. They had canned stuff in the jars. There were different
sections where they had jars. There were different sections where they
had fruit. There was another section where they had vegetables.
The room where the vegetables were was . . . oh . . . maybe twenty, twenty-five, thirty feet. You couldn't get it too hot in there. They had a lot of air space so it's not too hot.
You know why?
Your vegetables decay if it's too hot. But if you keep the fresh air circulating, they'll be all right. Everything tastes so good from there. You know when you're eating root-cellar food.
That root cellar is covered with soil, so there's no way for the cold air to get in. And the door was a double door. Those root-cellars had two doors. Those first doors on the root cellars are stopping the draft and the cold air from coming in when you open the cellar. Sometimes that root-cellar might be about sixty feet long, and thirty feet wide. They're sometimes sixty feet -- including out to the first door, where the windbreak is. See? When you go to the second door, you begin to smell the vegetables. Then you get whatever you want.
It's in bins. They knew enough to put in bins built out of timber, out of logs. They had bins . . . bins. The bins were all sizes. Some of them were as big as, I'll say, six or eight feet wide. It depends on what you're putting in. Some of them had certain sections -- certain gates or doors. Oh, all together they'd have about three or four bins in there. Sometimes they have six or seven. It all depends on the size of the root cellar.
So it was . . . everything was . . . done well. They boiled and steamed everything. They canned. They had everything. Those days they had everything. They follow one another to see how to do it. The Indian followed one another too, to see what they were doing, and they'd try to do better.
Gee. . . . That's really good!
We stayed there and worked the allotment,(13) and then fishing would come. By the waters we had nets and we'd go down and set our net whenever we want fish. We had enough fish in the lakes, clear-water fish, good-tasting fish. They were dried and cured to use them in the winter. If it was cold we would freeze them outside.
Some of them had prepared ice houses.(14)
We didn't, but others around us did. They had ice in their ice houses
to keep their milk and stuff like that cool in the summer. We dried and
canned our stuff, or kept it in the root cellar, so we didn't need an
Oh, they had ways. They worked. It was work, but they didn't think anything of it. But now they have 'frigerators. They have everything. Now they think, "What is there to do?" They don't even have to cook any more. They just open a can. Now they think, "What does that?
What does that?"
Yah. What does that?
They were ready for the winter with the canning, the root cellars'
stuff, the dried fish and berries, and the big wood piles. They had good
winters. They were damned up for the winter. Soon as the warm weather
set in, they went about their work preparing the ground. All that kept
us up. Then there would be swimming on beaches, you know, and fishing
and canoe days. And then there were the idle times when everything is
going and everything was all set. Before you knew it, the harvesting time
came. And then we had to get busy with hay in the fall.
That's the way it was by the Leech and Mississippi Forks. And on these allotments some made good. They made a good living. We had production from the soil we live on. We had fish, rivers, sugar, sugar making, wild rice. . . .
Wild rice is a great thing. It was properly cured and well prepared. We'd take it right off the waters. There was plenty for all in the area where it grows. Then they were happy. They had wild life, ducks, game, natural life, trapping, fur, seasonal, everything. It was great.
It was a frontier. They had fur. Everybody was busy to themselves. We were free. And we lived there with wildlife, game life, a little garden stuff, sugar, pork, tea. Tea wasn't too high in those days. When you had a dollar, the dollar was valued in those days. I think we got along just fine, but we had to work on our own. There was quite a life in those days. I enjoyed that. That's the way we lived in the old days.
You know what?
The problem is that now we all have to be satisfied with the location of the homestead the old folks took on. But we had a perfect location. We looked `er over as young people and we saw that it was a place by water, by a river, and that there was plenty of hay, wild hay -- "river hay." We thought we might get cattle, and that we had a wonderful place that we could use. Some land was cleared, and was ready to go. And these lands were good. With some land you have a problem clearing the land.
Sometimes you have problems establishing yourself in that area, but
once you're established, that's your area. That's proven. We establish
ourselves in an area by putting up a mark. A post was driven in the ground
and peeled to warn that somebody lives here. And after a while when we
had cattle, we used that post for a corner fence post. We had one or two
calves in a fence. In my grandma's time there'd be no boundary
between two places. No. And later on when you put a post in, that's really
setting the boundary line between the two groups.
We had a big claim in there, by the Leech-Mississippi Forks. My mom and my dad had a claim. We raised good gardens. We had cattle and horses and everything. We raised just a few cattle at first. Later on in years, later on, we had more cattle -- as high twelve to sixteen head.(15) Finally we'd get enough -- enough to eat -- and that's all you can do in this country. You'd get all you want to eat. I think we ran short at times during a certain part of the season when the crop hadn't matured yet. Then we go and milk the cattle. Johnny cakes and corn meal was a great thing in those days too. And those that worked(16) made enough so that they could have a few chickens, a pig or so, and a couple cows. So, later on, if we wanted a cow to eat, we had cows we butchered.(17) We had chickens -- little chickens. If we wanted chicken to eat, we'd get a chicken. But we all tried to manage and raise them and save them. And we ate garden stuff with milk, and all that. Boy that was the straight deal.
Some of us were able to get a job in a lumber camp.(18) A few of the Indian boys would go to work in the lumber camps, but some of them would always stay home and help the older folks preparing for the winter. The younger folks liked the work in the lumber camp. They liked the Finns and the other loggers that worked there.(19) They'd get enough money to help the folks buy an animal or two. And they'd get enough money for their clothes, and when school started they'd go away for school.(20) Some would go to Haskell, Pipestone, and other government schools. A lot of times that leaves folks without help, but they'd get along. They'd try to get along the best they could by cooperation with whites and the Indians, and with the frontiers that came. And it was a great life. Everybody was happy.
The womenfolks made nice moccasins and sold them to lumberjacks. But then we had buckskin we'd tan. We tanned buckskin, deer hide, and everything. The womenfolks sewed beadwork while the menfolks bring in the hide and meat. Some of the men worked on the garden, and the womenfolks took care of the house part. Some womenfolks liked to get out and exercise, which was great for them. We worked together, just that way. That's what I've seen all my time. I've been living that way with my folks, and we got along pretty good.
And we'd trade blueberries in some towns that we go to, like Deer
River and Grand Rapids.(21) We'd sell
berries to the boats and trains going by. We'd sell a lot of berries to
them. We'd get enough money to get some flour, food, or whatever tea and
stuff we needed.
During these times there used to be a ration program going on.(22) Years ago, in my times, about 1913, 1914, the Federal government still had a ration program. You'd get so much flour. You'd get a bag of this. You'd get a bag of that. Food was rationed to every Indian. How much food you got all depended on the size of your family. We got pretty good rations. We'd take that home and eat it with our maply sugar and our blueberries. I think we got along pretty good. We would fish, and we had lots of meat and everything. Yea, we had lots of that meat and fish, and everything. So that helped. We already had a nice start to learn how to get along. That should be. We should learn, because we often struck bad winters far in the north up here. We knew that we had just so much time to get the garden in and work on it. During the meantime, sometime, we'd run short of food. But every month we'd just get so much allowance from the Federal Indian offices.
Those that had something besides the rations did well, because they knew how to do it. They remember what their folks said. They were changed by the lectures.(23) They were learning to work.
But some didn't practice working. They had it too easy. All they believe is buy, trap, go buy. Their money didn't last long. But if you would trap, sell your fur, and put that money in for clothes, something to eat, buy some more traps, probably buy a gun, axe and saw, you were rich. You had the tools to work with. They didn't cost much.
The government gave some of them horses. Some of them, you know, got horses, but some didn't get horses. And if you had a horse, then you had it made -- because you could sell a load of wood. You could cut timber at your place, sell it, exchange it. Oh it was a great, great, free occupation. You were self-employed.
There were no roads to go to any big city to buy from stores that
had competition. We'd generally buy from places like Dumas's store, and
in those stores we'd always be well acquainted with the storekeeper. He
was always willing to help the Indians with a big family along. He let
them charge, but he always managed to get settled with their bills. He
trusted them. If he didn't, why they all had a little something to go on -- enough to get
them from one season to another -- because they sold wild rice, ready-made
wild rice, and they sold sugar. They had a little money.
Our "local store" was the Dumas Store. We'd paddle up river all day to get there. It was just a little store, with some boarding places, and some company buildings. You could paddle up to the door, pred'near to where the railroad track is now. We'd go get salt-pork, lard, a small sack of flour, some white sugar, and what we could carry in our small packsacks. We'd have tomatoes and peaches, and we'd open the can and eat them right there. We'd lunch out there. And sometime we'd even have a little sausage meat. A neighbor -- I think it was Saugstad -- fed me one time when we went to Dumas Store, but I was so excited I didn't care to eat much. "Come on, eat 'er up," he'd say.
"Noh, I got enough."
I always wanted to play right by the mill site. There was a big mill there, a good-sized mill, at one time, by Number Two Bridge. "Dumas Mill" we called it -- but the mill was only one of the buildings.(24) Oh, the current was swift too, especially in the springtime. But we paddled boats and canoes up the river. The river was our main highway those days.
There were no highways in our times. There were canoes and boats. And there were home-made launches with motors. The motors were from the Redwing Motor Company. They were a "one lunger," one cylinder. In Indian we called them ah-kay-kunse. That's motor, in Indian. It's the same as "cylinder," only in Indian that comes out as "motor kettle." You'd hear a put-put-put going up and down the river any time of the night, any time of the day. "How can they see those channels?" I used to wonder. It was just natural for them.
I ran out of gas one time when I was with my uncle, John Tulin of Ball Club Townsite. Oh geez! We ran out of gas and he cranked It, an Evinrude! My uncle first watched, and then he bought one. He was going to take me for a big ride. Oh yah. We got to about the Mud Lake Dam and the motor cut out. There he stood cranking and cranking and cranking. There was no more gas flowing in. Then he'd pull out the plug(25) and look at the plug, and he'd clean it. Then he'd crank it, crank it, crank it.
"No. No, she don't go! Him won't go! Him won't go! Him won't go!"
"They're made to run uncle!"
"How come him won't go?"
The problem was the gas line was shut off. Geeze! Instead of monkeying with the gas line he fooled around with the plug and propeller. Just think, huh! Somehow he finally got it a-goin' anyhow. I think somebody came along and helped us. We went up river. And up river we went all over Goose Lake. Boy were there birds and ducks. We might as well say that we were looking at the crop of rice fields.(26) And we were looking at the crop of ducks.
We didn't have roads in those days, but in the wintertime we had trails for the horses to pull a sled. We were always pretty much what they call "on your own."
How did we use to keep warm?
We went out into the world, out in the open air, and sat by the fire. When we had to be outside in the winter, in the olden days, we built a fire. We built fire and we sat by fire.
I've seen the time that we had two families on the road in the winter with two teams of horses. Oh, it was cold! It must have been about fifteen or twenty below that time. We were on the way to Bena, about twelve, fifteen miles from the Mud Lake Dam, and we were way out in the jungle, about ten miles, eight, ten miles to town. And you couldn't run those big horses pulling sleds. When we were camping out, the whole family was pred'near a load in itself for a team. And then we had groceries coming back. See, going home from Bena we had groceries. Groceries and the family made quite a load, because we'd haul fifty to a hundred pound sacks of flour those days. At that time we bought flour by the sacks. We didn't by pork like they do now. Now they go downtown and by pork, bacon, by the pound! Those days we used to buy it by ten, fifteen, twenty pound slabs -- sidings -- of nice salt pork. But you didn't pay so much as you do now. We'd buy the bacon by the slabs and all of that made a load in a little while.
We were driving along and it was cold! Boy, it got cold!! Aahhh, it got terrible cold!! "Well, it's time to make tea or coffee and warm 'em up," the old man says. "I think the womenfolks and the children are getting cold. Ya."
He stopped the team, unhooked the team, and put the horses by their nosebags -- the pails they used to feed them a little oats. The menfolks went and got some wood. All the menfolks gathered logs -- from old downfalls -- and broke and chopped them up. They got downfalls -- there were a lot of drywood downfalls along the trail.
They chopped the downfalls up into six-foot and eight-foot lengths. They made kindling out of some of them. They'd build a big fire. They'd slab off some pitchwood. Pitchwood starts fire. They'd walk up to some stump there, chop it up, slab it off, start a fire quick and pile that wood on. Boy, oh boy, that firewood burnt just big flames. It was so cold that you'd freeze on one side and you'd roast on the other side. One side was so hot, and you'd burn your clothes if you got too close to the sparks. The old man said, "Well boys, go get some more wood." I got another pile of wood and the old man put another big fire about twelve feet away. Now in between, he put the womenfolks. Boy, then they got heated on both sides. They made lunch and coffee while they were heated on both sides. Why that was the best!
There used to be a half-way stop, next to a creek where they'd get water to make tea and coffee. They called that Little Bear Creek.(27) It's right beyond Six-Mile Lake, by Bena. There was an old, old dam -- a stage dam, wooden dam -- made there. We used to stop there and get good water, nice cold water. That water off of the creek was the best tasting water for tea and coffee. There was good flavor in that outside cooking. That was best. Boy, that's good. That nice water made good coffee.
We'd have a good lunch too. They'd take that bacon, put it in a frying pan and cook it up. They'd carry a lunch bag along -- a lunch box -- with a frying pan in it. They'd take the frying pan and put it on the coals and fry the bacon. Some of them'ed take sticks and hold pieces of the slab bacon over the fire. Geeze!! Boy, that was good to eat with bread. I'll tell you, when you're way out in the woods and in deep snow and it's colder than heck, that goes good when you're hungry. Cold weather will make you hungry too, and by eating warm stuff it will warm you up and you'll feel better. Then you resist the cold better.
Finally we got thawed out. We drank up the coffee and tea, and everybody was raring to go. We got in the sled box full of hay and we'd go again. We continued our journey. Gee!
That's what we used to do.
Well, that's the way we used to go continually in this frontier life years ago, in the old frontier. When we got home we were good for a month. We stocked groceries good for a month or so -- maybe a month and a half. When they were gone, the folks went to town again. That's just the way they did it, year-'round. 'Course, on the plantation they had garden enough to put them through the winter. They had vegetables and all that stuff. Well, they had root cellars mostly; they had root cellars then to keep the garden production in.
Ya, that's our life. That's the Indian life. That's frontier life. The old lumberjack had the same life. In order to make it to the camp he'd stop and build a fire too.
And I think we were doing good. Why? Because we had neighbors. Every time we wanted to find out a question, we'd go ask the white people, neighbors; they were farming. We lived on the allotment across from Joe Barnes. We moved across from the Barnes' on the Leech and Mississippi Forks. Joe Barnes was out in the world; he was out in the Dakotas; he was out places where he worked. Joe Barnes was a hard worker. And he was always on the river, driving rafts of posts. He was always helping his folks on the plantation where they lived. They had a beautiful home, made of logs. So that was all labor.(28) The ground they bought was full of cedar. It was several years after they moved there that they cleared it and got a clear title to that land. It was a state swamp, I think. They got the clear title to that land, and when Mr. Barnes -- the old man -- died, and the whole works of the older generation died, Joe Barnes was the leading brother of the place.
Joe Barnes was a leading brother, and also Frank Barnes, but Frank Barnes died. That's his younger brother. The only one living now is Jimmy Barnes. And Jimmy is still a hard worker, but he has a little ailments of his heart. I think he got that way from working hard in his young days. I think all them Barnes boys worked too hard in their young days. They worked on the waters, and had their feet wet all the time. They went barefooted sometimes, to keep dry, and sometimes they wore boots so they could walk on the logs.
We enjoyed life. We had a private family life working there. Nobody
trespassed the land, and we were learning about the white way
of living. That living a white way was interesting. We were learning fast. They'd tell us how to farm, how to
improve. They'd tell us how to do things and we go back home to do the
same. That Barnes farm is still there.
There was a big snowstorm one spring. It was a late spring snow and it got to be four or five inches deep by the time it stopped snowing on that corn and everything we planted. And it froze; the snow froze it. And it froze the cucumbers we had covered.
This work of snow and everything came in the morning. My mother went out to garden. Oh she came back with a broken heart!
"We're gonna starve this winter, son."
"The corn froze right down. Ya."
But it snowed the warm snow, and the heavy snow had turned to water by noon. That's a different kind of snow, and everything kept warm as long as it got wet, you know. I was thinking of that, and I said, "I wonder what we could do?"
We had a good farmer across the river. A white man, Mr. Hurt. I wanted to go talk to him. He had a nice farm, with nice horses and everything. We did too . . . by that time. So I went across the river to see him.
"How is your garden?"
"Oh, everything flattened right out. The corn is all right."
"Our corn is frozen. We'll have to replant again."
"Noh. You wait two or three days and see what happens. Take a drag(29) -- hook on a double-tracked drag -- and drag your corn and garden. Or you can even separate the drag so it won't be too heavy. A separated drag is a little bit lighter. You hook on one horse, if you wanna, and drag that corn over."
I dragged that corn over, and after three or four days it perped right up again. That fall you couldn't pick the corn out fast enough. My mother sat out there and watched. Oh, she was happy.
"How did you do that?" she said.
"Well, Mr. Hurt told me what to do." He told me, "You take a drag and just drag the soil. In two or three days, when that soil is dry, that corn will come up again. That'll stir up the ground, then your warm ground comes up. And that won't disturb the roots; no."
So I dragged it, right over the leaves and everything. And I dragged the garden. It didn't hurt the leaves, but I was careful going over the cucumbers' vines. At that time of year the cucumbers still had little vines.
That was in about, 1926 -- 1926 or something. That was after I came back to Leech-Mississippi Forks after working in North Dakota(30) and at the sawmill for J. Neils Lumber Company in Cass Lake.(31) We had a big snowstorm, in June I guess. I dragged that corn and cucumbers and when I got through dragging, well, there was sunshine, and it was warm.
That spring, after planting season time, you ought to see the garden grow. See that was sandy soil. I dragged it, and boy I tell you it growed to beat hell. It got air right away.
I used to go after the low ground too.(32) The corn ground was high, and we fertilized that with manure, and -- sometimes -- a little bit of fish. We planted corn way up high, and on the sunny side. Corn has to have heat, you know. And that also put a windbreak on the north side. Then we went to the low spots and planted the cucumbers, carrots, rutabagas, and all of them. Holy Mackinaw, when I broke that up and disked it, well, it made a wonderful garden. I don't think I went ten feet across, but I took a strip, oh, about a half a block long, and I went there and disked. We disked the heck out of it, dragged it. So we planted there. Gee you ought to see that stuff grow. Where alder bush is growing there is dark soil. It's little lower than the high sand. See, the sand soil was up-hill where we planted the corn. Next to the meadows and rivers we have plenty of moisture and heavier soil, and we had a good crop again. We grew garden peas and everything. We grew garden stuff on the low ground because it was rich.
We fertilized that with manure too. Talk about garden! We had pumpkins laying around there like they were great big oranges. After we got a garden we had pumpkin and squash. We like squash. Mother used to go out there and get squash and cook them all the time. She liked that squash. She'd cut the meat off and everything, and generally she'd throw away seeds. But some of the time we even kept the seeds. We fried some of them -- sometimes -- and sometimes we planted them again. They'll multiply by the seeds.
My people, my sisters and brothers -- and also includin' me -- talkin' about the weather -- we lived through a lot. I didn't do it all. I had sisters and brothers that would work along. I tried to do what I can because I had a little defect in my life, paralysis. And I think I still enjoyed my life working with it. It didn't bother me a bit. Mine is a mild case of paralysis on the right hand. But still I enjoyed -- I really enjoyed -- life. I enjoyed working at it. I went to doctors and they sure have given me encouragement to try to get along good.(33) So that helps. And I am glad that I can talk English and meet people that know something, where I try to learn. And I ask if I don't know anything. I ask, then I listen to them talk. Oh, it's a great life, you know! You just have to get that brain a-working, which is handed down to you. Sometimes I make mistakes! I make lots of mistakes, but that doesn't run me down; that doesn't turn me down. I still look for better health at all times. And I think I'm doing pretty good getting around, and I thank the Great Spirit for the blessing I have got in the past.
At my times we had to dig in, get a plantation, put a little house on it, and keep warm. We had to get our wood prepared. Father and mother worked together, they got their heads together. We had to take care of the cattle -- we got cattle, a few cattle for milk, and chickens.(34) We put up the hay. In my community they all worked together at seasonal haying time.(35) They were preparing for the winter.
Then there was something they felt they had to do about schooling. At that time schooling was coming in too, and the children -- my younger brothers and sisters -- knew they had to go to school. And they did all they could to get to school. So we had to attend school, take care of the stock as much as we could, and raise our crops. Mother canned and father planted as we helped. Things were going good. The ground was fresh and pure, and we raised good crops. The weather was just right. When we needed rain we got it. We didn't have any droughts.
And it seems as though in my times that I was there things went along well at Leech-Mississippi Forks, and eventually I was able to get out on my own and start looking for jobs. When you look for work -- employment -- you get interested in lots of things. You know you have to work for yourself. A little work helps everybody; it doesn't hurt anybody. With practice you get used to work. When you practice work and occupy your mind with an occupation, it is good for you. Like it says, "a sweat of the brow for the bread is honest earning." The ground is there and we have great seed, certified seeds -- at least they should be certified. If we take care of the garden, it'll grow. If it's too big those of a family that are able to help get out and work it. It's a kind of a coop‑eration. Finally, I believe from my experience that when it comes to employment you can do better by staying put in one place.(36)
I was told if you keep moving from one place to another just to make bigger money, you'll spend that money looking to seek work. By the time that you find work maybe you're hired for higher pay for only three months. It is higher pay, but you're moving. You left, and your belongings are left behind. You might have sold them for little or nothing. Or maybe you almost just left them, or maybe you gave them away to neighbors or friends 'cause you're looking for a bigger scale of work. The way it looks to me, the times are going back to where we have to stay put. I think by staying put, working, and having something that belongs to you, you'll be better off. If your machinery works, if your cattle are increasing, if your chickens are increasing, it'll work out all right. And you can always exchange. Sooner or later you'll be getting along by working and you've got something to plan with, something to plan on. You have soil, good soil, production, and equipment to plan with. When you need new equipment maybe you can get a certain exchange and maybe get better equipment. Pretty soon it's a betterment. That's what I found out; that's what we were learning.
What I'm driving at is that my family -- the sisters and brothers of mine -- were getting older and I left home to seek work. When I left home they felt like they would seek work too. I wasn't making big money, 'course, but I was on my own. I was seeking work on my own. And eventually they wanted to do the same.
We lived at the Mississippi and Leech Fork about, 25, 30 . . . 25, 30 . . . 25 . . . 28 years. I left down there when I was around eighteen years old. I left
for sawmills. I went out working. I worked in the sawmills, and was working
on road-works and stock works.(37) Then
I came back home. I'd stick around home a while and then go back to the
sawmill. I worked for the J. Neils Lumber Company, Cass Lake. That was
a big outfit. I worked for them quite a bit. I like it there. Many times
I thought to myself, "I loved the Cass Lake Mill, and working for the
J. Neils Lumber Co. That was a good company."(38)
In the early '20s I had a place in Bena for four or five years(39) but then I came back to Ball Club -- to the Leech-Mississippi Forks of Ball Club. I know I am local here. I felt this was my headquarters all the time. I knew my people and they knew me. When I came back I was about 26.
While I was gone my folks tried farming. They tried it. But the people, the old folks -- father and mother -- were always at home and they were tired. They got their heads together and they talked about their younger children leaving home to seek a betterment for themselves. And my younger brothers and sisters wanted to go. Maybe the younger ones thought they'd find a job, or get a better education. When the younger children left, the folks thought, "we don't need that production; we don't need the stock,"(40) so they began to sell off their stock.(41) Pretty soon the plantation vanished.
The children moved into the cities and towns where it cost money to live.(42) There's lots of Indians in the cities that have to
start in new. And then they keep moving. Some move out north, east, and
west. Some move back in from the south. Some from the north move east or south
to seek that higher pay as a seasonal worker.
I think if we would-a stayed at home like my folks, as the younger brothers and sisters took over -- if we'd-a continued with the cattle raising, continued with the chicken raising, continued the production from the soil, and stuck right with it and still went to school, done chores, done that haying and bought feeds -- I think eventually we'd have something. We'd have something later on, sooner or later. It's a little struggle to start off and make the easy going life, but you get built up if you stay with it. That's what I saw in the past.
And there were big families of neighbors across the river that had a school by their neighborhood, and they got by very well because they were educated enough to get out on their own when they grew up. They were the Barneses who lived next to school. They even called it "Barneses' school of Leech River." It was located by the first high banks of the Leech River.
The Barnses had a beautiful place where they worked in my area. They all had beautiful places. I think some of us give up hopes -- or gave up -- too quick. Stay with it. I think sooner or later it gets brighter by improving the production of where you live. Your belongings are yours that way and you feel more free by working for yourself. Pretty soon you have something, and maybe you'll save.
It used to be that by working you didn't have time for anything else. Now-a-days you have T.V. equipment. You can gather the news. It isn't like my times; now you can see the news; you can see the show. I traveled eight, ten miles to Deer River from Ball Club(43) in 1916, '17, and 1920's to go to a show with fifty cents in my pocket. Now everyone can see a show on T.V. There's something to learn there; news is a big thing.
You can continually work for better homes. On a plantation one can work their soil, work for their stock. I think it's a good point to notice that because it may get to where we have to work a lot more of the soil someday. They're talking about a shortage of food in this country. Somebody has to produce, sooner or later, or else there will be a shortage. If we don't produce from this great soil, from the great soil that is given to us to work with, we'll have a shortage. It proves out.
It made me think a lot by traveling and seeing what they are doing all around this area. The tractors are going; the machinery is going. In my time we had horses a-going and still produced enough to live on. But now with machinery a-going they should have enough to live on. They can cover a big area with that machinery. They can make it better. They don't wear themselves out; they plan and are thinking.
In a few years' time on a plantation, if there's any children around, the children will be ready to give a hand. They'll be glad to give a hand. Those young children are glad to be out to do their part with their father and mother. I know that. I was always glad to help Father and Mother when we lived at the Leech-Mississippi Forks. We were always occupied.
I think I feel good today because I have done right with my father and mother. And I thank the Great that I'm able to talk at this time: "Thank you . . . Migwitch."
1. For a picture of The Old Mud Hen see Ch. 41, "Talking with the Old Folks: Recollections and Predictions."
2. "Above the boat" means ahead of the boat, especially when the boat is heading upstream. And after the boat passes, the waters are "riley," all riled up.
3. Paul left for the Tower Indian School in 1909, for the 1909-1910 school year. Cf., Ch. 35, "Boarding School Days." When he left, his family was still moving from season to season in the traditional way. Essentially they were seasonal hunters-gatherers-foragers up until that time, "pretty much just living off of the land." (See chapters in Vol. 1, "Year-Round in the Early Years.") By the time Paul returned from the Tower Indian School in 1912, at the end of the 1911-1912 school year, his mother had remarried, to Jack Nason (Cf., Ch. 36, "Jack Nason, 'My Dad. My Step-Dad'") and they remained on the Leech-Mississippi Point year round, going out from there for ricing and sugaring, but returning to their homestead when those activities were over.
5. Paul returned from the Tower Indian School in 1912, at the end of the 1911-1912 school year.
6. A .410 gauge shotgun; a small-bored one.
7. “A Kalamazoo Direct to You” was a popular advertising slogan of the times, for what became popular products for the era. The Kalamazoo Stove Company of Michigan began making wood stoves in 1902 and in its early years became one of the first companies to sell products directly to consumers by mail order, and as folks began to settle in year-round homes, as Paul's family did on the Leech-Mississippi Forks homestead, these items "and all that" became highly-desired additions to homes.
Mail order and direct-to-customer sales became important to folks in this aera in the early 1900s, and especially in the years right after Paul's family moved to the Leech-Mississippi Forks. Earlier on, in 1886, Richard Warren Sears started a mail-order business in Minnesota, which in 1893 became Sears, Roebuck, and Co., and through its catalogue sales "Sears" began "targeting rural customers with little access to goods produced primarily in the east, and offering stable, straightforward pricing." As Paul and his family moved into a wage and cash economy -- largely beginning with the timber industry and the arrival of the railroad (Cf., Ch. 37, "Finns, 'The Sweatbath-Men,'" and Ch. 38, "Timber Days"), and by selling small things like cream to the Deer River creamery, berries, home-made leather and beaded goods, wild rice, and maple syrup and sugar, to the lumberjacks, railroad train and boat passengers, and their white neighbors -- these mail-order sources of goods began to have an increasingly important impact on their lives. (Selling furs that they trapped and processed goes back to earlier times, but they continued doing that in a meaningful way into the early part of the twentieth century. Cf., for e.g., Ch. 35, "Boarding School Days.") Fueled by the Homestead Act of 1862, and later similar events, America’s westward expansion followed the growth of the railroads. This growth and expansion, in part, set the stage for the Sears, Roebuck and Co. and other catalog and direct-to-consumer companies. (Sears archives. Accessed 14 September 2017. http://www.searsarchives.com/catalogs/history.htm.)
The move to year-round residences, as at the Leech-Mississippi Forks, also brought outhouses into use. The appearance of Sears catalogs brought other unintended consequences, and Sears catalogs and other publications, like The Old Farmer's Almanac, became popular in the outhouses. Their secondary use declined only in the 1930's when direct-mail catalogues switched away from newsprint style paper, and commercial toilet paper appeared more widely used and accepted (about 1928). (Rue, 2014.) Nevertheless, when one is earning $26 - $30 per month, toilet paper -- even at 7 cents a roll -- was relatively expensive and the cash that was available was generally used for things deemed more important.
Prior to the arrival of the Sears and other catalogs moss was used in the cradleboards of the infants.
Non-cash income, including trading and bartering, remained important in the area through the middle of the twentieth century. See Schensul, Paredes, and Pelto, 1968.
10. They would cut notches in the corners of each log and assemble them at right angles, like Lincoln Logs.
12. Cf., Holzkamm, 1985, pp. 143-154.
13. They "stayed there and worked the allotment" at the Leech-Mississippi Forks unlike earlier years when they moved from camp to camp seasonally. (Cf., Vol. 1, Year-Round in the Early Years.)
14. These "ice houses" were special buildings to keep large blocks of ice cut from the lake in the winter, not little houses for ice fishing which are nowadays also called "ice houses."
16. Those that worked for an hourly or monthly wage off from the homestead (generally logging or on the railroad or building roads or helping out on a neighbor's farm, or even working seasonally in North Dakota) had a little money to buy a few farm animals. Cf., Ch. 38, "Timber Days," Ch. 43, "Cattle, Horses, 'Siouxs,'" and Ch. 46, "Out There in North Dakota."
21. "At the turn of the century only three villages were incorporated in Itasca County. These were Grand Rapids with a population of 1,428, Deer River with a population of 251, and La Prairie with a population of 88. At the turn of the century -- when the total population was 4,573 -- 4,573 were listed as 'rural dwellers.'" (Rottsolk, 1960, p. 25.) "St. Louis county is 63 miles long, 60 miles wide and covers 2844 square miles. It's about twice the size of Rhode Island, half again as big as Delaware and covers one hundredth the area of Texas." (Rottsolk, 1960, p. 1.)
23. Cf., Ch. 11, "Campfire Talks," Ch. 28, "What's Behind the Sun?: An Indian Sermon," and Ch. 41, "Talking with the Old Folks: Recollections and Predictions."
25. Spark plug.
27. It is also known as Little Bear Brook.
28. Their home was made of logs, all locally harvested, and so they did not have to pay for many materials.
38. Cf. Neils, 1980.
40. After the children left they felt they no longer needed the livestock. Keep in mind that to a large extent farms in this area for most of this time were not farming businesses oriented to cash crops and market livestock. Paul notes that the first person he noticed "to make a business of his farm" came into the area in 1918, or about the time he left the Leech-Mississippi Forks to work in the sawmills and roadworks and stock works. Cf. also Ch. 37, "Finns, 'The Sweatbath-Men.'"
42. They moved into little cities and little towns and villages, including Ball Club, Deer River, and Grand Rapids.
43. People talk about travelling so many miles "from Ball Club," when actually they mean "from the Ball Club area"; so the mileage stated for any give trip can vary up to four or five miles, depending where the person is "starting" from. And, for this time period and earlier, the distances given between two named locations can vary depending on whether one is travelling on the rivers and lakes or on land. For reference, the Google Earth distance on U.S. Highway 2 from "Ball Club" to "Deer River" is listed as 7.3 miles.
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