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Flying Bird Image

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."


Buffalo Image

41 40

John Smith "Wrinkle Meat"

John Smith (Kay-bah-nung-we-way, Sloughing Flesh), commonly known as "Old Wrinkled Meat."

I want to tell you about John Smith.

John Smith didn't accept to be a chief,(1) but he knew lots. He was a good advisor, and that's all he wanted because he was getting too old. He didn't want to be responsible for anything.

Old John Grandpa Smith stayed with us many-a times at Leech and Mississippi Forks. They say Old John Smith, "Grandpa John," became a hundred and thirty eight years old.(2) They say he was over a hundred and thirty years old anyway when he died. I know he was in the ages of around ninety years old when I was a kid. He was eighty or ninety years old then, when we were still searching for a living around Leech River, Leech Lake, and Bena.(3) And he was a hundred, anyway, when he'd stop by our place at the Leech and Mississippi Forks.

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John Smith (Kay-bah-nung-we-way, Sloughing Flesh), commonly known as "Old Wrinkled Meat."

John Smith (Kay-bah-nung-we-way, Sloughing Flesh), commonly known as "Old Wrinkled Meat."

John Smith (Kay-bah-nung-we-way, Sloughing Flesh),
commonly known as "Old Wrinkled Meat."

Creator: Hakkerup Studio
Photograph Collection, 1915
Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.1K p6 Negative No. 10703

Photograph Collection, 192Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.1K r55 Negative No. 53623

We called Old John Smith "Grandpa" -- mI-su-mIss. We always called him "Grandpa." In my times they didn't call him John Smith. There were a lot of John Smith's those days. We knew two of them, the son and the father. We live right with them. Kah-be-nag-wi-a-rus, that was Old John Smith. They called Old John Smith Gah-bi-nag-wii-wIss in Indian.

In English they always called him "Wrinkle Meat." Gah-bi-nag-wii-i-wIss . . . "Wrinkled Meat" . . . "Wrinkled Face" . . . "Wrinkle Face" . . ."Wrinkle. . . . "(4) Anyway, they put that "Wrinkle Meat" on his picture and that's what they called him in English. Ya, that's "Wrinkle Meat" in English.

There's no other person with that Indian name still alive. Just only him has that name. He was an old, respected Indian, and they all like to say that they knew him. A lot of them would like to take that name. But no, you have to respect him. Unless he gives you that name, you can't have it.(5) But when he gives you a name, as your namesake, then you're entitled to the name that he gives you. It depends on how much respect he had for you, and it's how much respect you had for him.

Old John lived on the Division Point of Cass Lake. In the olden days of the railroad company, the Great Northern Railroad Company had a line which ran through by Cass Lake and created Division Point. A division point is where the train had a turntable. She goes back from there. That point is a division of the Great Northern. The big Division Point now -- I think -- has all the trains turn around there. They have a turning table there. The trainmen push that big bar to turn the train around. That's on wheels, on a circle track, and they use that bar to push the engine around. It moves wherever they want it to go. So when the train is turned around she just runs off of this turntable. The turntable is where they turn the engine around. And that's at Division Point.

It's called Division Point because that's all the farther the trainman is allowed to go. That's all the farther that the railroad company tells him to go, because he's got enough to pick up on the way back. He picks up and delivers, and by the time he's at Division Point he's got enough to put in his eight hours, or ten hours.

And John Smith lived there by Division Point, in later years.

John Smith's original home was where Tom Smith lives in Cass Lake. That was his grandson, and that's where John originally lived.(6)

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Tom Smith with woman and child in front of birch bark dwelling at Norway Beach.

Tom Smith with woman and child
in front of birch bark dwelling at Norway Beach.
Photograph Collection, 1920
Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.31 r188 Negative No. 53613

At Leech and Mississippi Forks we had a headquarters where Grandpa Smith stopped.(7) He made his headquarters at our place a lot of times, and he stayed with us. He used to stay with us lots. My folks used to wash his clothes. He used to have a change of clothes in his little pack, in the little bundle that he carried. We all loved Grandpa, old Grandpa John. His head was just as white as snow.

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Mrs. Jake Munnell and John Smith.

Mrs. Jake Munnell and John Smith.
Creator: Rich
Photograph Collection, 1915
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.1K r45 Negative No.

There were many-a-times that John Smith had come to our place. He would stay with us three or four days. About a week is all he could stand. He said he had to keep a-moving, that he had to keep active. He said, "The time is getting short. So I gotta cover lot of country."


He meant he's getting old. Old John, he was always great!

Everybody knew him around there. I remember that a lot of White people respected him. He got on the first "passengers," the first passenger trains, and he got on the steamboats, and automatically he had a passport. That was just the way he lived. He didn't have to pay. It didn't cost him anything on the train. It didn't cost him anything on boats. It didn't cost him anything on wagons, trail wagons. It didn't cost him anything.

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Ojibwa on Leech Lake.

Ojibwa on Leech Lake.
Photograph Collection, Postcard, 1909
 Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. HE5.18 r90 Negative No. 81988

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The boat Zelah May on Cass Lake.

Zelah May on Cass Lake.
Photograph Collection, 1915
 Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location no. HE5.17 p41 Negative no. 81489

We'd get up early in the morning and hear, "Well folks, I'm leaving you." At one time he had horses, but no car. Earlier on, he'd canoe when the ice was off the waters. The only way they traveled was by rivers, by canoes on the great Mississippi.(8) But by the time we knew him, at the Leech-Mississippi Forks, Grandpa John generally walked -- unless, of course, he was ridin' the train, which he could do for nothing.

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Great Northern Depot at Deer River.

Great Northern Depot at Deer River.
Photograph Collection, Postcard, 1908
 Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. MI8.9 DR r23 Negative No. 18459

But he loved travelling the hard way. He loved walking. He walked many steps on this earth. He walked for a long time on this earth. How many steps could you count? Gee. Yes.

John, my grandpa John. Oh, he was respected. They didn't charge him on the railroad train. He just got on the train wherever he wanted to. They didn't charge him on any train. That's how good the railroad company was to him. How good to him they were! They thought a lot of him. They respected him. They liked to talk to him and ask him questions. He was interesting, an interesting old man. Old John Smith was about a hundred thirty years old. He knew the conductors, he knew the brakeman, he knew the engineer. And those passengers got to hear very wonderful stories from Old John Smith.

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Passenger train.

Passenger train.
Creator: Minneapolis Journal
Photograph Collection, 1900
 Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. HE6.2 p11 Negative No. 59933

John used to have a lot of pictures and he'd get on the "passengertrain" with them. He'd get on anywhere, Bemdji, Grand Rapids. They'd let 'im ride free. He'd get on the train, sit down, and dig in his pack. They took his picture, and they gave him a whole bunch of pictures for his extra pennies or nickels. He'd get up and walk down the isle of the train and holler, "Wolf. Tickets. Tickets." 'Course all he had was his picture.

Everybody looked at them and asked him, "Well, how much John?"

"Five cents. Five cents." He'd collect a lot of five centses. A quarter those days was big money. When we got off he'd had a pocketful of change. Everybody would buy his pictures. He had pictures all over the states. That's how he got by.

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John Smith, age 128-129.

John Smith, age 128-129.
Photograph Collection, Postcard, 1912
 Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.1K r22 Negative No.

And they'd laugh at him, even when they just thought of him. They didn't really laugh at him; they thought he was all right. He was too. If he wanted to pay his way, they'd say, "Uh uhh, John. You help us."


"When you ride the train everybody wants to ride, John."

"I sell more pictures on train."

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Duluth, Missabe and Northern Railway Company passenger train on the outskirts of Duluth.

Duluth, Missabe and Northern Railway Company passenger train
on the outskirts of Duluth.
Photograph Collection, 1910
 Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. HE6.2 p21 Negative No. 61655

He used to make it to Duluth by train. John used to like to take a ride down to Duluth. He'd stay there for awhile, and then he'd go back. He would come and sleep in Duluth, in the best hotels they had. He would go to the hotels and stay. He went to different hotels and they would give him the best room in the hotel. They'd put him up for nothing. He'd get everything free because he was a well-known old man. They'd give him the best room they could get, one with a big wide bed so that he could have a rest.

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Superior Street; note Union Depot and Spalding Hotel, Duluth.

Superior Street; note Union Depot and Spalding Hotel, Duluth.
Creator: Eclipse View Company
Photograph Collection, 1889
 Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. MS2.9 DU2 p10 Negative No. 15380

One time they said to him, "Goodnight, John."

"Goodnight," he said.

They shut the door and let him rest. When they went to wake him up in the morning for breakfast, the bed was still made. They'd give him a bed, the best bed they had, but no, he wouldn't sleep on a bed. He'd sleep on the floor. He'd put his blanket on the floor. He always carried a blanket, and took his sack for a pillow. He'd put his blanket right on the floor, and then there he'd set. He'd never sleep on the bed. He'd only sleep on the floor, with just a blanket. He'd rather sleep on the floor. He'd set on the floor for awhile and then he'd roll up and have a good sleep. That's the way he was brought up. He'd sleep out in the woods that way.

When he was sleeping on the floor in a hotel, the bed was still made. "Why didn't you sleep on the bed?" they'd ask. "No," he said, "too soft. Can't sleep on soft bed. Might roll, fall down. On floor you won't fall down."

He probably liked to roll.

Naturally you'll sleep on the floor if you're used to the floor, or if you're used to a hard bed. Maybe that did him good. They say it's good. And this is more healthy. And then again, he was used to it. I don't suppose a man could sleep on the soft bed after he slept on a hard bed. That change makes you breathe unusual.

Oh, John! He had the right idea. He was great.

That was an important guy, that John Smith. He was important in this area anyhow. He was well known. They still have pictures of him all over. He was a nice old man. I can't forget Grandpa, old Grandpa John.

He'd go along and come to a lumber camp, "Hello, John. Hello." The cooks are usually busy in the camps.

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Inside of a cook shanty.

Inside of a cook shanty.
Creator: Arthur A. Richardson
Photograph Collection, Postcard, 1910
 Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. HD5.7 r45 Negative No. 10500

"Pretty tired John?"


"How about a cup of coffee, John?"

"No. No."

"How about a cup of tea?"


They put the cup of tea on. They were going to give him a cup of tea. The cooks were busy. Maybe they were slow about putting the tea on, but they finally put the cup of tea on there.

"I got no wigwam."

"Too bad John. Ain't you got no cook?"

"I got no squaw."

"Too bad John."

"I got no spoon."

"Here's a spoon, John."

"I got no doughnuts. My wigwam got no doughnuts."

"We'll give you some donuts. Take two. You ain't got no pie neither."

"No pie."

Pretty soon he had whatever he wanted. "I got no bread. I got no butter."

They'd feed him. He'd get a good meal and he'd quit. He had no squaw. No wigwam. So they fed him in the lumber camp.


They'd say, "Sit down. Smoke, John."

"No. Afterwhile I come back."

He was smart hey?

"No, afterwhile I come back."

He always did too. After he ate, he'd be gone on his journey. He was a good old man.

He talk to them lumber men and railroad workers in English. Where does he pick up the English? He spoke kind-a broken, but he knows how. I said, "John, how did you learn to talk English?"

"Camps. White men. I meet white men."

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Northern Mississippi Railroad engineers in camp.

Northern Mississippi Railroad engineers in camp.
Photograph Collection, 1890
 Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location no. HE6.41 p20 Negative no. 4291

That's where he picked it up. There were some men and women in a marriage, and he studied with them. He'd ask. Then he would go. He'd go on a long journey. And wherever he'd go he'd talk to anybody. That's how he learned. He wasn't . . . he wasn't dumb. He was a good man.

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John Smith (age 117) posing with Indian woman.

John Smith (age 117) posing with Indian woman.
Photograph Collection, Postcard, 1901
 Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.1K r33 Negative No. 46046

And he'd travel anytime. If it would get too dark somewhere, he just put up his mosquito bar, or something, over his head, and have a good sleep right out in the woods.

Oh, gee!

He was a great John. He was brave. He was a brave old guy. He said, "there's nothing'll hurt me; I've lived a long life. And when you've lived a long life you know that Somebody's with you." Hm. . . . He was a good old man.

Oh we used him good,(9) but you couldn't hold him in one place. He kept moving all the time. He'd stay in a place a month, if he stayed long. Then he'd go to the next group of Indians. Then he'd go back to Bena. He'd walk -- from Bena to Ball Club, and then down to Grand Rapids.

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Chippewa Indians at home.

Chippewa Indians at home.
Photograph Collection, Postcard, 1905
 Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.31 r41 Negative No.

Talk about him hike! How he hiked! Boy he could travel, walk with his pack, for a long time. Early on, he had a canoe too. Boy, he used to paddle that old canoe. And then, when it rained, or if a storm was coming, he'd park it on the point somewhere, tip the canoe over, make a good bed under the canoe and have a good sleeping in that shelter. Christ, Old John led a great life. I don't know why he didn't have a canoe later on. He probably was afraid to tip over in it. If you get caught in a storm with it, or something, you might get excited and tip over.

But he was sure-footed on land. He was sure of himself on land. Just how he crossed those creeks I can't understand. He must have crossed at a certain place. He must have crossed on a pole. There were no bridges at that time. Well, he knew a shallow spot to cross, and he'd walk or wade across. Oh, he knew the country.

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Chippewa wigwams and log home.

Chippewa wigwams and log home.
Photograph Collection, 1895
Minnesota Historical Socity
Location No. E97.31 p81 Negative No. 308-B

He hiked to Federal Dam and then back to Bena. Sometimes he'd hike to Cass Lake, then back to Ball Club or Deer River. Then he'd camp with us over there at the Leech Mississippi Forks for maybe a week or two. Then he'd move on. He keep moving to where the Indians live now. He'd visit a while and then move on again. He was a great old man!

"Where you going, John?" we'd ask him.

"Across the country."

He had no gun, just a walking cane. He was rugged. He was a hiker. Joe Barnes(10) will tell you that. And he'll tell you stories about how the Indians went by in canoes in our early days. My neighbor, Joe Barnes, will tell you the same thing I'm telling you. He used to see Old John walking, the same as we did.

Old John always liked the woods. He was always walking along in the woods. He said, "There Bear. are animals I see. They look at me. I look at them. Those animals are wild. So I go along with my cane. I stopped one time to see m^k-wah, a bear, on my trail. He stood up on his hind legs and he looked at me. I had to stop. There are times these bears are rough. They see something moving. They're hungry. I talked to that bear; I said, 'I'm going by there, but you go your way.'"

"And, he let me by. Just the same as a good answer(11) the bear dropped down on all four and he walked away. But I was a little shaky when I went by the place where he stood. And when I got even with the place where he was standing, I started to run -- and talk about me running! My little pack sack was just a-bouncing on my back. And I looked back and I tripped and I rolled over and I jumped up and I thought the bear was behind me. Then I thought to myself, 'what's the use of running? If he's going to get me, I couldn't run away from him anyway!' So I started to walk."

Just think what Old John Smith had to go through.

He'd tell us about those things, and then he'd laugh. There are lots of jokes like that that point out we have to go through.

Old John, he was interesting to hear. Oh, we enjoyed ourselves with his company. He was very good company. He told us the history of his life. He was a good adviser. He told us about the old histories. He told us about game(12) and everything. He was interesting. Very well, hey? Old John Smith.

"Hmm," he'd start off. Then he'd say, "There were many times when there was a lot of different noises in the dark, when it was wild. The animals made noises."

"One time I was camped in another place and I didn't have a match, so I just laid down by an old tree somewheres. About midnight I heard a racket. Oh, it must-a been a hundred feet from me. Somebody was tearing up a log. I jumped up and hollered and all at once they quit."

"The next morning I went there and saw big bear tracks around there. The way he tore that big old pine log! He was digging for ants. If I'd a known it was a bear, I'd a-got up and walked out-a there. But I just kept laying there after it was all over."

So somebody woke 'em up in the middle of the night. Well, he got scared. Then you could hear them owls, "Hoo-hoo-hoo." Maybe you're sleeping and those coyotes are howling, a-u-u-u-u, and they're hungry. "Boy they're creeps," John would say. "I'm all alone."

Just think what he went through.

So Old John'd go from one place to another, to the neighbor, and maybe to Bena. We'd hear from one neighbor to the other that he was in Bena visiting some of our relatives or folks. And we'd always look forward for him to return.

And just about the time my mother would know that he was going to come, she would bake a lot of bread, which Old John liked to eat. He'd eat pretty good too. And we had cows, bii-ji-kiid. He liked milk, do-do-sah-bo. You see, he liked that vitamin in milk. And we had weeds out of the garden that we made spinach out of. It took the place of spinach, and we cooked that up. It was ko-ko-sI-b^g-gon, "pigweed" -- it's good, but you have to catch it before it gets too old. He'd say, "Oh boy, that's good!" And they were good. We had stuff like that and we'd throw a little salt-pork in there with it, and add a little salt and a little flour, and mix. That's how we lived. Oh boy that was good to eat!

The old man always came 'cause my mom was a good cook. My step dad, Jack Nason,(13) may-sko-gwan-nay-as, "Red-Feather-Waving," did logging. And so did my xxx grandfather on my father's side, May-kwan, "Like-a-Big-Spoon," Fred Crow of Bena. I mean he wasn't my grandfather, but he was my grandfather.(14) We called all the old people "grandpa" in those days, and they were related to me as a grandpa. Anyway, Fred Crow ran a hotel and restaurant in Bena, and my mother cooked in that hotel, the Verle Hotel in Bena.(15) She helped with the cooking.

When she was young she learned cooking and she got so good at cooking she got to cooking out to the camps, the logging camps, where my step-dad started logging.(16) They cooked for as high as seven or eight there. The loggers were piece cutting then.(17) She was a very good cook, and they all liked her cooking. They had all the cooking, all they wanted to eat, in those days. So my mother cooked pretty good.

The old man would probably get hungry hiking around and he'd get back, "Where's that tea?" He used to say, "Son," -- he called me "Son" -- "go get cup of tea." He liked tea. We all liked tea. In those days we were tea drinkers rather than coffee drinkers. We all drank tea those days. For us tea was better then. We make coffee now, but those days they drank nothing but tea. They made up their tea, you know, they dried it. Gee, we'd run in and get a big cup of green tea. We had big tin cups, or porcel-een bowls when they first came out. We had bowls. I'd get a cup, one of those cups with a handle, and I'd hand it to him.

"Is that a good drink John, Grandpa?"

He'd take that cup and put it up to his mouth, and his nose was so long it would be sticking right in there. He'd be drinking and his nose was right in that tea. His nose was long. He could kill a fly with his nose. Oh, sure. He just snapped 'em. Ya, he sure had a nose. It was running all the time. And when he wiped his nose you could hear it slap across his face. You ought-a see his picture. We got it enlarged up in the Vet's Club in Deer River. It's a perfect picture. And you could see his nose all together.

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Ka-be-nah-gwey-wence (John Smith), age one hundred and thirty five.

Ka-be-nah-gwey-wence (John Smith),
age one hundred and thirty five.
Creator: Rich
Photograph Collection, Postcard, 1919
 Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.1K r20 Negative No.

We were great on tea, a-ni-oiis, {ni-bish??} in the old days. We weren't much for coffee. We called coffee "black medicine-tasting liquid," mah-ka-day wah-bo, because it tasted like medicine. We were on tea leaves. We were on more for tea. Now it's all coffee and smoke cigarettes, but mostly those days were on tea and snuff.

But in the old days we had smoking tobacco too, for pipes. I would sit and watch the old people smoke. Once in a while we'd get to goofing around when we were kids, and we didn't want the old folks to see us smoke. We'd get some leaves and we'd probably get the old man's pipe and fill it. Then one of them would light it, then we'd smoke, and oh, we'd try it. Maybe we'd get caught.

The folks would say, "You don't want to try that pipe. If you do try that pipe, if you want to smoke it, tell us. Wait 'till you're able to make a dollar and buy your own smokin'."

And boy we were always willing to go to work then! So that's why I started off early supporting myself, trying to support myself. I earned my smoking. Then I was let smoking. Before that they never let us smoke. This is a teaching lesson.

Old John always had his pipe. He'd set and light his pipe and tell us stories. The way I feel now it was just like watching TV. And by the time he'd have a smoke or two they'd have tea and something fixed up for him to eat. They'd bring it over and set it by him. They'd make a cloth, on the ground. We'd set there, and we'd get him to tell stories. We thought a lot of the old man.

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John Smith.

John Smith.
Creator: Hakkerup Studio
Photograph Collection, 1915
 Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.1K p22 Negative No. 86813

One time when I was little he was telling me a story, telling us about his experience. "There was one time, not very long ago, I left your place here. The mother here, your mother here, fixed a lunch for me. She handed me a cloth bag tied up in a bundle. It was not too big. It was just light enough to carry. I put that in my sack. I had other stuff in there in little bags, like tobacco, and tea, and sugar. I always have a tea kettle which I use wherever I stop, and I stop anywhere I want to stop, paddling my canoe or walking the trails."

"There was an old Indian campground where I wanted to stop, just to spend the night where the old timers, the Indians who were here years ago, used to camp."

He was usually going through along the edge of the woods. There were deer trails along the edge of the meadows that he followed along naturally. We had a Mud Lake here and you used to go by an Island on that lake to get to our house. Every once in a while he'd stop and camp by that place. During that the time that Old John was on a journey he'd stopped to rest. So he stopped there at Mud Lake. When he stopped to rest he was going to camp for the night, but he had to have a lunch first. He had a piece of old hard bread, and tea. He was kind-a shaky going through this place because there were times that there was something that one had to be afraid of -- old graves.

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Chippewa Burial Ground, Leech Lake Indian Reservation.

Chippewa Burial Ground,
Leech Lake Indian Reservation.

Creator: Cameron Booth (1892-1980)
Art Collection, Oil, 1936
 Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. AV1988.45.346 Negative No. 15367

In those days John believed he heard somebody talking in there, but there was nobody around. John wasn't very much for imagining things, and he believes in things he hears. He believes in what he hears and what he sees.(18) So he heard a sound on that Island. And those days you had to be careful of the big animals which we had. They're not here anymore, but what may be there were big snakes -- in herds. The big animals were in herds. He tells about what animals he knew, back a hundred years ago.

"It was getting dark." Then he said, "Well, I might as well camp here. I have no light, no nothing."

It was getting too dark.

"It's late now. I'll have to camp by where I'm always afraid of this," he thought to himself.

"It was getting late, so I hurried up and built a fire."

It was dark and he built a little fire. He didn't want to build a big fire because he was afraid something would walk up there. So he had a little pack and a lunch. He bundled his lunch. He was hungry.

He thought to himself, "If I go dip that wata down there, it'll be all right."

He dipped water with the little pail that he carried and put it upon a little stick by his fire.

"Oh boy, the mosquitoes were coming from all sides, so I hurried up and built a fire. I put the tea kettle on and it started boiling. It was getting dark, and I was tired, and I wanted to go to sleep. I was talking to the Great and to the people that were here years ago, just as if I was with them. Still, I was in kind of in a hurry. 'I'm going to hurry up, have my lunch, my 'nose bag,' I thought. 'I'll hurry up and make tea. I have a little maple sugar, and a piece of hard bread which my people left bundled for lunch on my journeys.'"

He said, "I was in a hurry."

We were sitting there listening.

"I had my tobacco here, kinkinik. I had my kinikinik here. I had wild rice over here, and I had tea in my bundle."

Finally he got nervous. And he was up too long waiting for that tea.

"It was my little camping ground with John Smith setting there."

"I have to hurry up. That wata's boiling. I have to make my tea. I got a hold of my maple sugar and I flung it in there. I want to drink out of the little pail. Now I take my tea."

He had three bags and he untied the bags. They felt like tea in every bag. He had, mazaan, fine rice for quick cooking, and he had maple sugar, and he had the kinnickinik. Kinnicknik and Indian tea, or tea, felt just about the same. So he took a handful of that, not a handful, but little pinches of that, and put it in that little kettle he carried with him.

So he took the herbs and put them in the little kettle.

"I got a handful of tea and put it in. Oh, I put in about two of them to make it strength enough. I put a handful of tea in that tea kettle, just the right amount to make it pretty strong."

He liked it pretty strong because he had poor taste, because he was old.(19) He let it boil awhile and then he put out his lunch next to a little fire.


Whatever he'd eat there he took a nip of it.

"Oh it was good."

He was tired.

"After I get through eating it I'm going to lay right down with a blanket, roll up, and go to sleep. It'll be daylight quick and I'm tired," John was thinking.

I was setting there listening to his story. He was interesting to tell it.

"Did the mosquitoes bother you?" I asked.

"All night. All night," John said. "The mosquitoes were biting me. Oh! They were terrible out. I was setting there by the fire and I was trying to get the smudge out and lit to blow the mosquitoes away. They were terrible."

During the meantime, while he was doing that, it turned warm. And the heat was coming, a wave was coming, in the dark. An electric heat was coming over. And pretty soon overhead he heard the rumble.

"Thunder. Now I have to hurry and put up my little mosquito bar."

He carried a mosquito bar with a canvas over it when he travelled.

So he said, "I was in a hurry. So I had my lunch. I was so hungry. I took my teapot," he said, "and when it cooled off I took a big whiff of that."


"Here it was my kinikinik tobacco," he said. "When I went to drink it, here it was my tobacco and kinnikinik that I made tea out of! So, I went to bed without tea. I boiled my tobacco, so I just gave up eating, and I laid right down and went to sleep. I went hungry and I was dried.(20) I spit up my tobacco, kinikinik."

So he got in a hurry, and made his tea. But instead of putting tea, Indian tea, in there, he took his kinnikinik and made tea out of that.

"Oh, now I can't finish a lunch. It's going to rain." So, he said, "I hope the Great Manido may help me."

And BANG!!! The lightning flashed, and he could see far and near in the woods. So he put up the tent. It had a hood over it just big enough for him to set in there.

That was all he could carry in his little roll-away(21) bag -- "pack sack," he called it. And then it lightninged again. Bang!! And he crawled into there.

"I'm out of supper now. I'm tired, so I might as well go to sleep."

And the next morning he woke up. Here he put kinickinik with tobacco in that kettle of tea, instead of that Indian tea he used. It felt just alike. He was out of luck that day. He went to bed without anything to drink or to eat.

"I was just going to have a good cup of tea anyhow, and a bite of that bread that I had. I bit that bread sandwich, and I was going to drink a good cup of tea and go to bed for the night."

"Nobody asked me anything. There was nobody to talk to about it. Still, I made a fool of myself. Next day I kept on my journey. Funny things happen like that. 'Course I couldn't see very well neither because it was getting dark, but I blame my own self."

It didn't rain very hard on him because he was under a big white pine. So that sheltered him. The wind blew and broke up the clouds. He was out there alone as an Indian. He prayed to the Great, "Help. I need help. I'm hungry."

It wasn't long before he went to sleep, and when he woke up the sun was shining warm. When he woke up in the morning the sun shined. Then the next morning he fixed up a good meal. He had bread and a little tallow. He always had a little lunch and tallow which he carried if he got hungry. If he got too hungry, and didn't have time to cook, he would bite on that tallow. Just one swallow of that tallow carries you a long ways. He bit that little tallow, and ate that bread. That would carry him. He had four miles to go yet, through a meadow. He had to cross pole-bridges. That's why he didn't want to keep on the journey the night before.

So the next morning he packed up his little bundle, put it on his back, and started walking on these trails through the meadows. He knew where the bridges were. He walked over a couple pole-bridges anyhow.

He got to his destination, where his son lived. He told about that. "Yes, Grandpa," they said, "we were wondering where you were. We thought that you would know that a storm was coming. We thought you would know a rain was coming by the heat wave, but you went against that. You should feel it when it's coming. You're old enough now. Are you going back to childhood days, Grandpa?" they asked him.

An then he laughed, "Maybe I am, but I'm happy." He always had an answer, you know.

But there they had given him a full meal, with a lot of stew made from vegetables and deer meat. They put up a nice stew, not too hot. They gave him nice luke-warm soup. And they gave him good tea and maple sugar.

Oh gee, that's a poor Old John. That could happen with anybody. Then we laughed. Funny stories I'll tell you about John. Oh, how we laughed about this. I laughed at him and he laughed too. What stories that he had!

And we talked to John, Old John Smith. He was an old man. He was a good adviser, great trapper, and great hunter. Ohhh, he used to tell us lots of stories! He loved his children. We loved to talk to him and he loved us. John used to talk to us truthfully. We all gathered around Grandpa John -- brothers and sisters, and my folks. And we asked him questions . . . well . . . the old folks generally asked him the questions. Asking the old-people questions was our pass-time.

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John Smith and Ojibway infant.

John Smith and Ojibway infant.
Photograph Collection, 1915
 Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.1K r48 Negative No.

I listened to a lot of words from Old John. I remember the old man, and it's just like I could hear him now. He brought out very good points when he was talking to the old and young both. We'd all set and listen to him, and he'd be settin' there smoking. Somebody'd asked him a question. He'd answer it.

When he was talking to young kids, he let the young kids ask him questions all right, but it was up to the old people to put them questions to him. When he talked to us on our own we asked him questions direct. But when he was talking to the old people, they told us not to ask questions. Then the old people were the ones that would ask him a question. We weren't supposed to ask Old John a question when the young and the old were both listening to him. The old people were supposed to ask him questions. He could answer the question clearly if the old people asked it, because he knew what they were asking him about. He didn't want two subjects together.

The kids asked questions once in a while. Sure! They did, but they didn't tie it up in their minds very well. And then Old John would tell them, "Wait 'till your folks get here." And the children would set around and listen when Old John talked. He didn't want to tell them anything wrong, because some of the old folks might accuse him of telling something to the children that they weren't supposed to hear. Then they'd tell the folks that's where they got it. They told them they heard him there. The folks would say, "Where did you learn that, from John?" He didn't want that. He was a pretty smart man, because he selected who wants to hear him and who could ask him questions.

I knew enough to ask him questions, because I was with him lots. I was with him from when I was a boy and we were still living out-a Bena. But when I was asking him questions in public, you might as well say, I was seventeen. Generally you had to be eighteen to ask a question in the group.

You could ask him question if you were about twelve -- if you have more sense-itive(22) to your person. If you got sense you could ask a question when you were twelve -- or even eleven. But if you were eight -- I don't know. He might not answer too many of their questions, because the answer wouldn't stay long, because at eight they forget easy. Eight forgets easy. See? You could ask him a question if you were eight, but he would tell you, "But what does it do if you don't tie it up in your head?" They forget at that age. They forget at eight. That's why he didn't want to do it. They can be ten, anyhow to ask. Ok?

So that's why we would just listen when we were listenin' in with the group. But when he was just talking to the younger class, then it was up to us to ask questions. . . . But then he didn't always care about answering. He was getting old, you know. He couldn't understand our points sometimes. But the old points he could understand. And, the old class could understand his points, and they showed it by answering his questions.

Great man!

Gee, that was something.

I asked a lot of questions when I was small, when I lived in the family, in my folk's family. I asked my father and mother, and my grandfolks, "Why all this"? They'd tell me. I just got in the habit of asking questions, and today I still wish they were living. I'd ask more questions with them because I know they wouldn't tell me wrong, or they wouldn't give me a sassy or smart answer. I know they'd just tell me for the best. They were glad to have me ask them questions about what I'm puzzled about. Huh. I think I used them ok.

And I asked Old John Smith a lot of questions. He was happy when he was a hundred. Gee he was a happy guy. Yea, he really had it. He felt good. I said, "What makes you feel good all the time, John?"

"Hoh," he said, "hoh. Look at the timber. Look at the trees. Look at the river. Look at the game, lots of game. Everything's there for me, for you. It's a great world we go through! We all gotta go through that. They give us that big picture and they feed us well here. There's plenty to eat. If you go get it, if you work for it, you get it. You gotta sweat for it."

"I talked to lots of wealthy guys. You ask them, 'How'd you get such a nice car? How'd you get this big farm?'"

"'It ain't easy,' they say, 'it took half of my life. I worked hard.'"

"Sure, they work hard. They didn't get it easy. They laid awake at night planning."

We(23) asked Old John Smith questions, as he was experienced in life. We asked him what he saw, what he heard, and about what we know now. He used to sit in the house; he would sit on the floor and talk. He'd say, "Ask me anything. If I can answer, I will."

"Grandpa," we'd ask him, the folks'ed ask him, "What was this Mississippi like in your time? Was this Mississippi a wild river?"

In those days we were talking Indian.(24)

"At times," he says. "It all depends on the snow. Most of the time it was a river that was slow, and the river stream was nice and clear. But when the waters got wild from the streams of the snow, it was really wild. And the fish were all over the woods. They would come from these little creeks. You'd find them anywhere, in any little puddle. It was great to see that stuff. But the water was pure. There was a lot-a game too. There was a lot of things that multiply in the world. Beautiful birds. When you'd look into the water you can see the fish all over."

"We still can do that in our time," we'd(25) say.

"Ya, but it was better in my days, when I was a boy. But we were always careful. We didn't know what we were going to run into. We were learning. We had caution."

"What did you caution about?" we'd ask.

"There were animals bigger at the days before me. My folks used to tell me about animals that were big along the Mississippi. And these animals, they looked like dragons. They were big. They called them, kaa-dI-gI-naayd-big -- "he-has-arms-and-crawls."

"Well how did they get up there?" I asked.

"They get up here from the south. They try to get north through the Mississippi. They follow channels, the deep places, clean out from the Mississippi to Pokegama."(26)

They saw something out to Stone Island on Mille Lacs Lake(27) that was unusual. They saw something on it. An unusual animal. That was unusual. Then that big storm hit that Stone Island too."

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Spirit Island, Mille Lacs Lake.

Spirit Island, Mille Lacs Lake.
Photograph Collection, Postcard, 1915
 Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. MM6.1L r63 Negative No.

And I heard a news about that later from my brother-in-law, Jim Mitchell(28) who saw it too, when they were along the river. We were talking about Old John Smith with my brother-in-law. I got in with my brother-in-law from Mille Lacs and we were talking about those things that were the wild animals Old John talked about.

"Geez, that's very interesting," he said.

Yes, it was very interesting.

"On a nice day you could hear them," Old John would tell us. "They sound like a cow. On a clear day you could hear them big-armed-crawlers. You could hear them big dragon animals. That's when they'd mate. When they'd sound, there was a storm coming. That's unusual," he says. "It's an unusual sound."

"Really, John?"

Oh, we believed it!

"They saw them in places. They saw them in their head."

"How did they see that?"

"Well, maybe in the water. The water was deeper then."

My mother saw one, and that one was about three-and-a-half feet high. She saw a "he-has-arms-and-crawls." It was a young one that got lost. Maybe he left, or maybe he was left here. But he drifted back.(29) The lumberjacks kicked the grass from the river bottoms when they were driving timber down the stream.(30) The logs and everything cut the bottom and the banks. And the banks caved in and filled the bottom of the river, and the fish were moving. The armed crawlers probably left at that time too. Logging and the whites changed nature. It changed the nature of life. The human being has to blame himself too.

Hm. That is interesting. That's from an Old John Smith. That's the very words he told me. He told me lots of things; he predicted this experience of life. He told the history about the Mississippi: "You know those great big animals? There's tunnels in the rivers, and in the Mississippi, from those big animals. You can see them tunnels yet."

You see a dip of the ground just like a snake. That goes way back, way back, you know. A big snake came out of there. John said that years ago you heard about those. They had a name for them. Ya. Ne-a-way. They had a big name for that. A hundred years ago they saw that. All that ground caved in and there was a hole there. That caved down.

"What were those snakes? What kind of snakes were they?"

"Well, might be a dragon. Or long-big animals."

"How did you know they were there?"

John said, "They camped down by the forks of the river and the Indians heard them. On a clear day, when it was nice as quiet, about nine o'clock in the morning -- about when the sun got about so high(31) -- everybody got limbered up, and that's when they crawl out. They sound like a cow. You could hear them for miles. There were no cows here at that time, but they sound like "mii-u-u-u." And when they howl like that it means sickness is coming.(32) It's a warning that sickness is coming.

That's what they believe. It's a bad warning. They'd say, "Maybe a big storm is coming. Maybe a storm is coming. Maybe somethin' is coming."

Sure enough. After they hear that Ne-a-way howl the biggest storm goes through. There was lightning. And the lightning drives those snakes down. The nature drives them down deep. That is what the lightning is for. Bang! . . . Bang! . . . Bang! . . . The snakes draw the lightning, see. So that's what keeps them down, at least that's what they believed in years ago. Nature does that.

The old Indian learned from nature. And they paid attention to unusual signs. I can tell you lots of stories about the Indians of the olden days. They had power to change themselves when they came into the world.(33) The Great proves it to them.

Old John Smith told me a lot of stories. Old John Smith was telling us stories one time, and I asked him, one time, no, not me, but my mother asked him a question. We were all setting there listening. My mother got to be eighty-four years old. But in my younger days and in her younger days, when I was a little boy, I liked to hear John tell stories of his days. They were telling stories when Old John Smith was a hundred and thirty years old.(34) My mother spoke up one time, "John." She was busy working, and John was setting on the floor, lighting his pipe. "John," she said, "I'm going to ask you another question. Do you remember at any time that there was something wrong with the earth in your times, in the last hundred years?" xxx

"Yes," he said. "I was a little boy when the stars fell."(35)

"Stars fell?"

"What did they look like Grandpa?"

"They fell. The stars fell that night."

He was telling us about way back in years. I guess it was about 1870 or 1871, or eighteen something anyway; I really don't know. Anyway it was when he was younger.

This was in John Smith's boyhood days, and that was quite a while ago. He was a hundred and thirty years old when he died so that must-a been about a hundred years ago then. What I'm talking about, what he used to tell about, what he used to tell us about, happened about a hundred years ago -- from when he was telling about it. Well, Old John probably died about thirty, forty years ago, didn't he? [1922] Anyhow, it was ninety -- eighty or ninety years ago -- about 1820-1830(36) [1833] that he was telling about.

He would tell my father and mother. We were all setting and listening to him.

My mother asked him, "John, do you remember when the stars fell?"

"Tell us about when the stars fell."

"Ya," he said. "I was a little boy then."

Then he'd pause and we looked at him.

"Yes, I was a little boy once."

Nobody asked a question, so I said, "John, please tell us about that. You said you were here when the stars fell?"

"Yea. That was a great night." And John said, "Oh, when the stars fell I was about nine or ten years old. Children were sleeping and the coyotes were howling. Before long we all heard about these warnings and signals. That's how we knew about the falling stars. Then the stars fell, and when they fell that night was just like snow flakes. They kept me inside, but I wanted to see them. The first thing in the morning everybody went out to see them. They shriveled up like buckskin leaves. They curled up and vanished. Around noon they shriveled up and vanished."

"That's a change of stars," that's what we thought. Yes, we thought, "That's a change of stars."

"What did those stars look like?" the Indian, the old Indians asked, my mother asked. "What did they look like? What do the stars look like when they fall? Do they fall on the ground?"

"Yes, they fell on the ground."

"What did they look like when they fell on the ground?"

"They looked like buckskin. They look like buckskin laying on the ground. The stars fell. And when they fell to the ground they looked like dried buckskin."

"Well, what happened to them?"

"What happened to them?"

"Well, what happened to the stars when they fell? Did they stay there or what?"

"No. They were just like wet buckskin, but around about noon they folded right up. They folded right up. They crumbled up, and they went to nothing. They just curl right up and they vanished. So they called that, the Indian called that, ah-n^3-gog gi-pang-gIsh-i-nog -- "the-stars-fell-down, and for some reason this star had changed."

"We didn't dare touch 'em because they're here. Maybe they have something to do with fertilizing the ground. And about noon they curled up. They disappeared."

"John, could that be purifying or fertilizing or something?"

"Could that help, or could it be for the great animals' might or something?"

"Some say so. We can't tell. We never studied that. What we believe in is the great Manitou,(37) the great God of the world. We believed that it was to show us something, so we never forgot that. That's the Great who shows us. The Great will show us anything in the past."

"John, does it mean storms, snow, and everything?"

"It may mean something. It may mean every two thousand years -- every thousand years -- every thousand years, every two thousand years -- anything could happen in this old world. Maybe every thousand years something changes above. Maybe every hundred years they might fall. You may see something too. You may see something too, if you live long enough. If you lived a hundred years you may see something, my boy. There are some changes like that. It changes, changes, changes all the time."

"So it's for better."

"But these stars vanished," he said. "You didn't see no more of 'em after. They just turned like dry leaves, you know."

"Thank you."

"John," I said, "how old were you?"

"I was about seven or eight years old."

That was over a hundred years ago. He said he was about seven or eight years old when the stars fell. But sometimes he said he was nine or ten years old when that happened. Other times he said he was eight or nine.(38) Anyway, he saw the stars fall when he was a young boy -- a few years before he was coming into his manhood, a few years before he was old enough to ask questions of the old folks. But he listened. And remembered.

I think he believes that it's a change, a change of the earth or something that took friction up against the stars and just skimmed the surface up around the stars somehow. That's what they believe. But the stars seem to be very big, many miles up. And there are meteors in different parts of the world and maybe in different worlds. Who knows what remains to be seen? When the great God tells you to go,(39) you'll see a lot of things. Boy!

"The Great will show us anything before," Grandpa John would tell us. "And there are a lot of things He's going to show us if we don't believe in Him."

"Oh, did you believe in Him?" my mom would ask.

"Yes, I believe. It's my way of life. And I'm a hundred and thirty years old."

I was thinking all the time. That's one big point that my Grandfather Old John Smith told me, when the stars fell. I remember. "I'll always remember that," Old John Smith told me, about when he saw the day the stars fell. John Smith was about eight or nine years old when the stars fell. That was a long time ago.

How they used to think! Oh it was very interesting. John Smith was interesting. I got to talk to him many many a-time. That's why I say that's what makes me think of a lot of this stuff. Old John, Grandpa John, become a hundred and thirty-eight. Wah! We got this picture of him, a large picture. He was bright and very sharp in mind. He was a good old man. I'm the one of my age that talked to him. I'm the one that asked him questions. Many, many times, I think of questions he answered to my people, to my old folks, to the people he set in groups with. They talked to him about the history before, as it was left to him by his father and mother. It was something interesting. It was just like a TV to us, these days, you know. We didn't have any TVs, but we asked the older class questions. They were very interesting when they would tell about things. Times are changing all the time, and they're gonna change more.

We'd set and talk. Grandpa John was quite an old man when I was a young fella. We'd set and talk lots. Oh, I must-a been, fourteen years old at that time that I'm talking about, when we began talking at the Leech-Mississippi Forks. What I liked about John was that he always liked to trap. Maybe he'd set a trap just to catch and then eat the meat. That's the only means he had of making a living. He'd trade with the trading post people. He believed in trapping. That's the only means he had in those days.

And he believed in eating fish. They were dried and cured. You know why he dried them? That's the only refrigerator he had. Then we'd take a cloth or something and wrap them.

Then when we struck off on a journey, when we'd get hungry, all we needed was good clean water. All we needed was a spring. We knew where all these springs were. Then we get a good cup of water. If we had tea, like wintergreen, we made tea. We had maple sugar. With that fish we had maple sugar. Maple sugar went with everything. That's the way we eat.

We like the taste of smoked dry meat from the timbers, from the coals. We cured it. It was cooked and dried and sun-cured in the weather. Everything was well-cured. That's the way we live. If it wasn't well-cured, we had a way to cure it. We had sticks, forked sticks, and we'd stand those forked sticks by the heat, by the fire. We just kept turning them, turning them enough so they'll dry.

That was a great lunch bag as we travelled. We had maple sugar, or maple syrup maybe. We had maple sugar most generally, and sugar cakes. And we had peppermint, an-day-go-bahng-goss. Wherever there is peppermint there are crows. We had that with tea. And we had this wintergreen. We had great tea, wi-sah-gay a-ni-bish, "nature mixed in there."

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Creeping or Spicy Wintergreen.

Creeping or Spicy Wintergreen.
Creator: Lloyd Quackenbush
Art Collection, Watercolor, 1941
 Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. AV1984.6.34 Negative No. 69557


"Labrador Tea" (Ledum groenlandicum)

"Labrador Tea"
(Ledum groenlandicum)
Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center

And we had Labrador weeds. We had what we call "Labrador weeds." We called that brush "Labrador weeds" because leaves were long. That was good tea. Swamp brush was great tea too wah-bass-ki-ki a-ni-bi-s, "swamp tea."

When we ate that stuff we felt just as good as ever. There was nothing out of cans. There's nothing artificial. Everything is wholesome. There was nothing put in, nothing taken out. That's why John believed in that stuff. It was a good life. Everything was boiled. We believed in that.

Old John ate well and that's why he had good healthy. Old John had good eyes too. He was telling that to me. I'd ask him, "at a hundred years old can you see good John?"

"Yes I can see good."

He did. Oh, it makes you wonder lot of times. Everything that we eat was boiled, and those herbs and tea was tonic. There was no "cumulation" inside you. That excess slime in you is supposed to be there. It's supposed to be changed every so many hours. By eating these natural fish you change that. We eat fish and that's lime. And when you eat enough, it'll make you drink. We'd drink good. If we can get good water, we'll drink it. We found lots of good springs. We made tea. We boiled it. We had all of these herb teas. Then we'd drink that. We got along good.

When that corn came in to the area we ground some of it right up with rocks, or hammered them down. Then we ate that. That natural corn gave you strength. The nourishment was there, and it doesn't take much either. You'd boil that too.

And we were little boys at that time. Oh, I wasn't a very small boy, I was around fourteen or sixteen years old. I was quite interested with Old John, and I used to ask him questions like how he lived so long. And I used to ask him questions about what did he see in his times, and he'd tell me. He told me many stories about things which the Indians had learned. He told me things they knew about in those days when he was young. He'd tell stories and then lay there in the shade in the hot weather out in the grass by the Leech and Mississippi Fork, at our land claim there. Under the old oak tree he'd lay. "I'm tired out," he said. "I took that walk from way up the river. I walked through those meadows. So I'm tired out. Let me sleep."

So we'd sit there and let the old man sleep. We'd watch so nothing would disturb him while he'd sleep. And there were flies that would fly around, mosquitos or something, and we'd brush the mosquito off. Then we'd look at Old John laying there. Then he'd twinker his eyes open and he'd look at us, "Oh. You're still here."

"Ya. We're watching you, John."


mI-su-mIss, "Grandpa," we'd call him. We watched him, Grandpa.

Then he'd say, "Well as long as you're here now my children," he said, "I didn't shave."

And there'd be one whisker here and there, a gray one. I said, "I'll get the old man's razor. I'll tell the old man to shave you."

Kahbe nagwi wens -- Wrinkle

Source: Carl A. Zapffe, Kahbe nagwi wens: The man who lived in 3 Centuries
(Brainerd, MN: Historic Heartland Association, 1975, p. 2.)

"I don't shave," John said.

So he loaned me an old jackknife. He says, "you put that knife there with your thumb and pull them whiskers out. If you got a tweezers or something like a tweezers, anything to pinch them, that'll work too. Pull 'em out."

So I used to be handy with my fingers and I used to pull out his whiskers. Instead of shaving, "Pull 'em out," he said.

You think he'd make a move when you'd pull them all. He looked just like he never had it.

"Does that hurt? Does that hurt, Grandpa? Does that hurt, John?"

"No, I don't even feel it."

Here his skin would stretch out about inch and a half, two inches. He would still be blowing, snoring, "cuu, cuu, cuu." Then we used to set and look at him. We respected him, you know. We were always over there watching him. Then he'd wake up and "WOOH!" he'd go.

One time my other friend, George No-kay, {xxxsp??} and I were hunting rabbits in the fall of the year. George was a little older than I was. He was from Ball Club, across the river. He was my neighbor's boy. I had four rabbits already.

Old John had kicked off his stags {xxx??} and there he laid -- right across from Barnes's cut-banks, the high-bank, down there where the bridge is now. John Smith's foot was sticking out of the grass. He was shaking it back and forth. He had white woolen socks on. So when George No-kay saw that white sock, he went to raise his gun. And he pointed a gun at grandpa. As he pointed a gun at him, Grandpa John's foot shook back and forth. That guy was trigger-happy, pointing a gun at him.

"Whoa," I said, "that's grandpa. Maybe it's grandpa. He travels through here."

And George No-kay looked at me. He said, "That's Old John. He's got white socks on."

He put his hammer down.(39b)

We went through that fire weed, through that tall grass. He thought there was a rabbit in there. But when we got there here was grandpa laying on his back with his legs crossed. He had a pair of white wool stockings on and he was waving one foot while he was laying on the bank of the river down there across from Barnes' old place.

We walked up to him and sat beside him. "Grandpa," that boy said, "I pretty near shot your foot. I thought it was a rabbit."

"Oh-h-h- no. You can't shoot me," he said.

When we told John Smith he shouldn't lay down on the grass with his sock up he said, "That doesn't make any difference. If I'm gonna die, I'm gonna die. . . . You can't . . . oh, that's all right for you to shoot that foot. 'Cause it'll fire back on you."

That's one of the great boys that passed the word amongst the Indians. He carried them right along. That great John will never be forgotten. Then I said to John, "Mother's home. Dad is home, John."

Old John was a happy man. He was an old man. And I talked to Old John and I would listen to every word that Old John told me, my great Grandpa John Smith. I would sit alongside of him.

"Grandpa," I says. "Grandpa how is it that you can walk these meadows on a long ways?"

We talked in Indian.

"I'm happy. I like to be alone. And it's nice weather. I'm taken care of."

"As old as you are John, how can you walk so far?"

"It don't bother me. When I get tired I should stop. That's why we lay down and rest. Your heart and spirit tell you what to do. Hmm hm. When you get tired, stop. Hmm. I like a life like that, and I always felt good," John said. "I consider that other people are livin' as well as I do. Animals, everything, has life. I'm not livin' alone. I'm happy to know that. I feel good at all times, I'm glad to say."

"Well, how come, John, you feel good all the time when you walk?"

"I met lots of people," he said, "all, all kinds of 'em. And wherever I meet people I sit and visit. We sit together visiting, and in two, three days, I go." And, he says, "I always felt good because I have good visit."

When I was eighteen to twenty he would tell me about how things were a hundred years ago. When I was eighteen to twenty I used to talk to him lots. And I used to ask, "Great Grampa. . . ," and, "Grandpa this. . . ," and "Grandpa that. . . ." He had a good mind on him. He could remember.

I used to set alongside of him all the time about, '18 or '19, yea. I even slept along with him. They slept outside. They didn't want to sleep inside in the summer. Old John slept on the floor in a house in the fall and winter. He didn't want to sleep on the bed. And I did just what John Smith did. And when he slept on the floor, I slept on the floor.

That's probably where I get some of my strength and stuff from. That way I was charging up, and there's my strength. See, I loved John. That's my power.(40) He gave some of that power to me with his own spiritual mind.

"My son," he says -- we were grandpa and son -- he said, "Thank God for everything you receive, migwitch. And believe in Him true. Be careful what you say. Love the word of God, the Great Spirit who gave you the earth. It's yours. And it'll prepare for you when you are coming. I prove myself, because the way I lived with the people I felt good.(41) I didn't have any trouble with any of the people I met," he said.

"And I felt good about it. And I was always welcome wherever I went because I was a friend to everybody. And I'm glad to say I'm brave to be old. It's nice to be old when you lived a good life."

"I figured that I had little faults," he'd continue, "but those faults, I don't think, they'll bother me. I feel good. It's a fault maybe when I took a drink, but I shouldn't drink.(42) That may not bother me 'cause to live in this world I live happy. I used to work when I was a young man. I'd go out into snow and hunt for something to eat. And I'm glad to say that I was always lucky to get something to eat with my bow and arrow."

Oh, he was wonderful, interesting to talk to, you know. I really liked John. I believe in John's way -- my great grandpa, one of the great people, great grandpa. "Son," he said, "I want you to understand that when you live amongst the stars and the sun and the moon, the air you breath and the birds that sings, the trees that grow, grass, everything that's nature for your country, is for you. So you have to appreciate who gave you that. The food we eat, and your clothes, come from the earth. We shall believe in that. There's a Great Master to this, and He's with us. We feel good, we believe in Him."


Boy! . . . he was a hundred years old.

Great man!

I'll tell you one story about Old John Smith. He claimed he was around 120 years old at the time of this story. At least he used to tell us he was around a hundred and twenty, at least over a hundred years old. For years Old John used to stay at our place, at my folk's place at the Leech and Mississippi Forks. I asked him a lot of questions of the olden days.

"John," we'd ask him about doctoring now, "we have some Indian doctors. How do they learn to be a doctor?"

He says, "Practice. Study. Thinking of what that tree is. Or what that medicine's supposed to do."

"How do they study that medicine?"

"They 'annual-ize'(43) that. What it will do on your hand, that's what it'll do into you. They put that on their hand and they watch that, in the olden days. If it's good, good. It'll smooth out. But if it starts burning, it'll do that inside you too. So if it penetrates and doesn't burn you, it may do you good for what you want. But sometime you can get medicine too mild or weak, and sometimes you get too strong. That's what they were studying."

So I said, "John, I want to ask you, how did they know, how did the Indian know about medicine?"

"One thing . . . , I'll tell you one thing about that. They watch one another, they watch the animals, and they watch everything as they would go in life."

"One time a man in the tribe, in the group, got sick -- very sick. Nobody knew what was wrong with him, so he condemned his life, he condemn himself from the group. He was not worth(44) to be in the group because he had an ailment. Maybe he didn't know what was wrong, and the doctors couldn't figure out what was wrong. He was weakening, weakening, weakening. So this man said, 'I'm going to leave you people, because of the way my health's going with me. I have to leave you people, and don't cry when I leave. And if I'm lucky, I'll see you again some day. Maybe we'll learn something from this."

"Well, they thought that he was going to pass away, the way things were going with him."

"'We want to know where you're going!' they asked him."

"I don't tell anybody where I'm going."

"So he bid us good-bye," John said; "he bid everybody good-bye."

"This is true," he said.

"This guy left. When he left he figured he'd live on wild game. He cooked all the wild game. He roasted it on fires. He even roasted cat. He lived on good water, made herbs, and took tonic -- which his body wanted. He was hungry, and whatever he hungered for he'd eat only very little of. But when he'd eat a little of that he knew it was doing good."

"How was he going to get an appetite when he was so weak?"

"So he went to some medicine doctor and he ate that which was given him for his appetite. He ate that what was benefitting him and taking the poison out of his system, and it was doing well. He commenced to brighten up. His mind come normal, and his health was getting better."

"He started walking faster through woods and rivers, and he went out into the wild alone, this Indian. Sooner or later he found a good group of Indians. He walked up to them. They kind of suspected him. Maybe they didn't know who he was. In those days, you know, you didn't usually meet anybody," John said. "And they looked at him; they fed him. He ate a little bit."

"And afterwards they set down and visited. He talked to them. It took time to get him settled, you know, but in a day or so, they commenced to ask him questions. They asked him the same story. When you go to a different group from your group, they ask you, 'Why did you leave? Why did you leave your group of Indians?'"

"So this man said, 'I was a sick man and I was afraid they'd all get sick if I stayed. I thought as long's I was in the condition I was in -- I gave up myself -- I might as well go out into the woods and let the birds or animals eat me after I'm passed away. That's the way I felt. But I began to study. I found I'm lack of something. Maybe even trees. As I went along, I was hungry. Hmm. Maybe I have to eat those herbs, and fruit, wild fruit.'"

"The chief of the new group accepted his answer."

"A little later on there was a big powwow within that tribe, a big powwow. The first group heard about the powwow one day on the river. They join that new group. It was a big powwow. They invited everybody. It wasn't for him, but he happened to be there. At the powwow that group he left way far back said, 'He's that man, the one that left us four or five years ago. Look at him. That looks like him.'"

"'It can be. He was a great big fellow.'"

"So the chief of the old group said, 'Aren't you that name?'"


"'Aren't you the one that left our group, our tribe?'"


"'What did you do when you gave yourself up? What did you do for your health? You look wonderful, solid.'"

"He said, 'That tree there gave me life. It took the poison out of me. I'm a well man.'"

"That's how we learn our medicine. It comes natural. What you're hungry for, what you want, is what you need. When you go into that and study that, it's going to do you good. Well that's wonderful!"

"'That one certain tree, that's what did the whole works. It's a great medicine.'"

"That's how they learned to be a doctor. After a while he told the chief, the leaders about the medicine. He told them about medicine and about the remedies. 'That's what I went through.'"

"'Yes we know that, but we just don't practice hard enough.'"

"We have to practice hard to learn. We have to know what's good for people to help one another. And that's a big thing: Study. Figure. Use it. Polish it."

"He was supposed to go and die. But there he was, a great man, one of the leaders with that other group. They elected him, because they knew he came through hardship, timber, and thicket to find this group. They were proud of him."

"'I left my people because I was sick. I got away from them. Now I'm not sick,' he told them."

"'Now you're not sick.'"

"So they all got in a group, and he got himself a nice woman and started a family. He was a great guy. That's the way they learned."

Wonderful hey?

"It's true, you see," John said. "That's true. That's the hard way," he said. "And by doing it the hard way you're satisfied and you learn something."

John was a great-great man. He didn't take for lies, because it was time for him to tell us the truth. He often told us that. And truth maybe will help us. He was great man, John. He passed the dish(45) on to us.

And John would talk about the sun.

"John," I said, "what is the sun made of?"

"We don't know."

"We aren't supposed to know. It's heat anyhow."

"John, what makes it hit hot when it's cold up in the air?"

"The reflections from the earth, gravity. You hold the light; you feel the light when it hits you. That's something. That's the same way with the sun. And when the light shines against a wall that part's going to be warm. The other part's cold, but it's circle."

"John, who made the North Pole, South Pole? Who circled that?"

"You aren't supposed to know. We're searching for that, and they think they know. And when they find out, maybe something'll happen. Wow! We're supposed to know what we see here. We're supposed to know what's here. We're supposed to walk, and we're supposed to know that water's for drinking."

Boy he was great, and he never said too much. "We go by here on this earth, you might as well say, for just a few minutes. Then there's always someone else to else to come. But when the time comes, when they stop this world,(46) they'll become something else maybe. This world's one-fourth land, three fourth's water."

"I read about that iceberg," I asked John one time, "is it true that there's a big ice north?"

He said while he was setting there, "Ya. That's way down in the water."

"How did you know it, John?"

"Well," he says, "it comes natural. On that side of the north it's cold. Forms ice. On this side it's hot, and it's hot. That's why the Black race is south. But there's a Master for everything, and we don't have to worry. And that Master we have to respect. There's a Master who cares."

Oh the women like to talk to him Old John too, but they had to be careful with him and not ask him too many questions. He'd come right out with any word. He didn't fool around. He'd never smile much neither, but when he smiled, it was a joke. Boy, was he a sharp old fella! Hm. He was a great, great old man.

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Mrs. Jake Munnell and John Smith.

Mrs. Jake Munnell and John Smith.
Creator: Rich
Photograph Collection, 1915
 Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.1K r42 Negative No.

Old John was married several times. A couple times I heard him talk about his marriage. But he wasn't married very long, I guess. He wasn't much on women. I think that after he lost his first wife he couldn't find one that he liked. That's what I heard him say. He said he couldn't find one that he liked. It probably was true love with that one he lost in time.

We asked him a lot of questions, but I don't know if he had two or three other wives. I wouldn't know.

But I know he was bound to be married when he was in his younger time of life, ya, he was bound to have a wife in his canoe days. There'd have to be two paddling. Those days he was able to support a wife. After he got old he just provided for himself, and he thought he was doing well providing for himself. And then he was unsettled too. He liked to travel; gee he liked to travel. He liked to make places. John Smith was bound to have a wife in his canoe days. But the canoe days ended about nineteen-eighteen.

But once he had a women that never would go in the canoe. He went to the wigwam to see what he could see. That was all he did. All he had with the women was a sociable visit. He respected women.

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John Smith posed with Ojibwe women.

John Smith posed with Ojibwe women.
Photograph Collection, 1920
 Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.1K r53 Negative No. 53614

He'd always tell that he had seven wives.(47) He'd tell the school teachers, or crew of white people that asked him, that he had seven wives. They'd ask him, "How many wives did you have?" or "How many times were you married?"

"Seven," he'd say.

"Oh, my-my-my, dear John," they'd say.

"No F--- deer. Run too fast."

Then one time we asked grandpa, "John, were you ever married, John?"


"How many wives did you have when you were married, John. Did you only have one wife, just like the law now?"

"Huh. Seven wives I had."

"Seven wives? Boy, that's a lot. How do you handle seven wives? What did you do with seven wives? Did you have different places for your seven wives?"

"One wigwam," he said.

"Oh my, John. Oh geez, John. One wigwam, seven women? Must-a been a big wigwam."


"What happened? What happened to your seven wives? How did they get along?"

"They didn't get along."

"Did you get along with them?"


"How come? How did you get along with them? What'd they do?"

"They went away."

"What they do? Did they leave you?"

"Hmm. No, they tore down the wigwam." They got in the battle and tore down the wigwam, and they left. "Then I left. Stay single." They were together in battle, you know. "Tore down the wigwam."

Oh, he always had an answer. There are all kinds of stories about him.


Well, in the early days we were pretty close to the Canadian line here. Earlier in my days I asked John, "How did you get along with the whites?"

"Well we trap, hunt, and everything. We fish. They bought fur from us. We sold 'em furs. They bought whiskey, they bring whiskey, and when we drink whiskey, we have good friends. They were good men."

"He's got whiskey. He's a good white man," they'd say. From that time on, when they had good whiskey we respect them. We were friends to white people."

"The logging days come in. We got a job. We work with the white people. We went to powwows with the white people."

"We got along. They never fight amongst one another. The younger class Indians fought amongst one another, but we never had trouble with the white man."

You feel that now too around here. When they're fighting or arguing you see that. That's natural to them. They never go after a white man to bother him. They always fight amongst themselves. We know that white men'll tell us what's right. That's how we get along.

If you want to chew snuff, if you want tobacco, the white man always has it. That's why we like the white man. They gave us more than we ever gave them, we feel. We work with them. They give us jobs. We were friends and we live with them, and they live with us as Americans. They live the American way of life.

Old John was learning from the whites. And we learned how to build homes, a house. We learned how to cut lumber, and we learn through their work. They learned us. They had good tools, axes. They showed us that, which we broke dry sticks with. We use good axes. We made a living on the axes and saws we got from the white people. They gave us hammers and everything to work with -- hoes, garden hoes, garden rakes. We had horses. We got harness for them. They made them. They helped us. Everything that was there was made for the people that live in that area.

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John Smith with book on northern Minnesota.

John Smith with book on northern Minnesota.
Photograph Collection, 1910
 Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.1K r40 Negative No. 46147

That is the way it was. And we felt if we got men to develop this area with, we'd have better living. It was good, and we still feel that way. We still feel we can develop better living. Our locals, our white people that live with us, mean well. He wants to live with us. We thank them for learning us how to live. We never had any local trouble with the whites. We felt that they were part of here too. So they work with us.

Of course the white people were friendly with us on the frontier. They liked Indians. We got along good with them. Old John got along good with them too. They were always glad to see John, and they'd say, "Hi, John."

Some white people met Old John one time. "Hello John." They were some hunters, duck hunters. They were paddling along, along the Mississippi. "Hello, John. Hello."


They gave him some good old whiskey. He looked at that bottle, "Whoo!" He tipped it over. He blinked his eyes; it was so strong. "Ah. Wooo. Wah. Fia-wata. Indian fia-wata. I-sko-day wha-bo." He knew a few English words. "Ah, wo-oo! Indian whiskey. Indian whiskey."

He said, "Indian whiskey," because it was kind of too strong for him. He wanted "Indian whiskey." In those days they generally cut the whiskey with water when they sold it to the Indian. So the Indian wasn't used to full-strength whiskey. Nowadays they have a washer for it. They should have told Old John that it was strong, to watch out. He drank that Indian whiskey just like water, and the full-strength whiskey was too strong for that.

Oh, they were all good to Old John. Hm.

Ho ya. Everybody got a kick out of him.

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Kindred Avenue, Grand Rapids.

Kindred Avenue, Grand Rapids.
Photograph Collection, Postcard, 1910
 Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. MI8.9 GR2 r6 Negative No.

Ahh, he was full of fun. They gave him a lot of stuff, people did. People took care of him, especially the people in Grand Rapids. They respected the old man. All these business people there took care of him. "Here John," they'd say when they gave him a bag of food or something.

"Woof," he'd go.

That's his thanks to them.

Grand Rapids used to be quite a lumberjack town in the saloon days. John often paddled along the river there, in those days. Sometimes John borrowed a canoe; sometimes he had a canoe. "Hmm. Hmm. Hm." That's the way he'd go as he paddled along. My gosh, before long he got down to Grand Rapids. And right away, after he got there, he went to see the whiskey man.

"Hi. I want some whiskey!"

"You can't have any. We aren't allowed to sell it to you, John."(48)


"We aren't allowed to sell it to you, John. You got money, John?"


"What do you want for it?"



"But how you gonna sell it to me?"

"We can't sell it. John, we'll put it in your canoe, down there by the river. You give me the money, and we'll put it in your canoe. You have firewata now."

They went and put that whiskey in his canoe. They took half a jug down there, a half jug of whiskey. They sold it for full strength, but they took that lake water beside the canoe and filled the jug up. They cut that whiskey. It was pretty near all water. They cut it way to much, even for "Indian whiskey."

All afternoon when he was going back up the river John would take a drink, but it didn't take effect.

"That's pure wata. Hmm."

"Well," he said, "something's wrong. I'm beat.(49) They're not supposed to sell me liquor. Hmm."

When they sold him the whiskey they told him, "John, the next time you come back, bring some venison. Bring some meat, and we'll trade you."

As John was drinking the watered whiskey he thought, "I go back."

In the meantime somebody's pony died, an Indian pony. John went to work and skinned that pony up. Boy it looked just like moose meat. It had a nice shape. He took one hind quarter in his canoe and took it down to that liquor man in Grand Rapids.

John Smith had to help his relatives, so he often loaded a hind quarter of moose onto his canoe. So when he came back to Grand Rapids they thought he had moose meat in his canoe. The bartenders were always watching the riverboats unload on these river highways. When John made it to Grand Rapids the one bartender saw that John was carrying something cut up in a short chunk on his back.

When John got up to the saloon the liquor man said, "Hello John! Hello John!"


"Come here! What you got on your back? What you got on your back?"

"Moose meat. Moose meat."

"Oh. How much you want for it? How much, John? How much for the moose?"

"Ten dollas."

"Oh, that's lots."

"Well, five dollas."

"Oh, that's lots."

They finally gave Old John a couple dollars, which in those days was a lot. The dollar was a valuation of a money in those days. He took the money. He didn't want to buy whiskey, and he didn't want to trade the meat for whiskey. He took the money. He went back home.

It went along for many months and then John happened to be in that city again. He happened to be in that town along the river there, in Grand Rapids. He went again to see the whiskey man.

"Hey John."


"You done something."

"And what did I do?"

"Well, that was pony meat I got from you. Somebody said you brought pony down."

"Oh? . . . . You done something too. You done something to me."

"What did I do to you, John?"

"Hm. I drank jug on way home, on river. All wata. You give me pure wata. You told me you'd give me gallon of whiskey. It wasn't whiskey. It was wata. So I sell pony for moose."

"I sell pony. I skunned pony. Pony meat look like moose. I sold you that for moose meat. It was good deal. Good deal. You sell wata for whiskey, I sell pony for moose."

"Now you know what you got. You know what you got. You know you got pony. You no get ahead of me. On second trip I gave you pony. Second trip was pony. I sold you pony for moose, second trip, because I have something against you -- you gave me wata for whiskey."

There was no whiskey in that jug.

He was quite a guy.

Another time he was in Grand Rapids he had more moose meat with him. This time it was moose. He went over to see the whiskey man.

"John, how much for the moose?"

"Well, enough to get fia-wata and enough to eat."

Well he got a dollar or so and some firewater. They told him they gave him firewater, but just like before, it wasn't firewater, it was water, mostly water. They bought the moose meat for less than nothing, almost. They gave him diluted whiskey in a jug.

"Here's a whole gallon, John, Old John!" They colored it.

There were some white guys in the saloon, listening in. They were off the riverboats.(50)

"Say, John . . . , would you give us . . . , would you let us have . . . your squaw . . . , or your daughter . . . , or some other relative. We'll bring up some whiskey, good whiskey, a whole gallon."

"Good! Come up."

So they named one day within ten days, and said, "We'll be there."

John went back to the river and put that new gallon jug in his canoe! Then he went back up the river. This was at Grand Rapids, out of Grand Rapids. John went up to the Mississippi Forks, where he lived, in his canoe. There's a pile dam up there, and that's where he camped. He had a little wigwam there. His wife just passed away a couple years before that. That's why he camped there. He didn't want to leave her.

A few days later here come that motorboat. A little gasoline boat was coming up the river, and there were a couple of men in there.

"That must be the riverboat men from Grand Rapids," John thought.

He told them where he lived. "There's a pile dam," he told them. The piling was sticking out. "That's where you'll find me."

The two men turned around by that pile dam and headed for Old John's camping place. They were a couple of big wheels that came on riverboats. They anchored and jumped off of the boat. Here was John camping along the river in a wigwam, in a tipi. They walked over to his tipi. They took a jug of whiskey with them.

John was sitting by the campfire, smoking. He smoked, you know. He cooked a lunch for himself and he was setting there smoking peaceably. He was waiting for the evening, to go out and get a deer. He was all alone. The deer were plentiful, so he didn't worry. When the sun goes partway down, then you'll see the deer moving. Naturally, there were so many.

"Ho boy! Hello. Hello, Chief."

White people call Indians "Chief."

"Haa-ha-ha-ha. How about a little whiskey, John?" They brought some whiskey along.

"Good, good, good."

"You like firewater, John?"

"Oh, good. Whaa!"

They handed him the bottle and he poured out a drink and took that. "Whaah! fia-wata." It was strong you know.

And Old John took a drink of that. "Whaow!" he said. "Fia-wata! Fia-wata! Wwahh! Indian fia-wata. Whiteman-wata."

He gave them a hint see? "Whiteman wata. Indian fia-wata."

He took another swig. He felt good. And they sat and visited. They ask John questions. They asked him all about the river, all about his life, all about what he lived through. He got told the stories so interesting to them they got to feeling good.

"Say John, remember what we asked you?"

He took his pipe out of his mouth. He looked at 'em.

"What'd you ask me?"

They were all feeling good by then.

"Ah, John, they tell me there are pretty nice Indian girls here."

"Oh, lots of 'em. Nice Indian girls."

"I'd like a Indian girl. We both do."

"No Indian girls with John. All gone."

"Well, how about your wife? Did you know I wanted your squaw. Or I wanted your daughter? I wanted your squaw or your daughter or any of your relatives, only someone that's old enough."

"Good, good, good. You want my wife?"

"Yes." The white man said, "Yes. What did you tell us?"

"I told you to come on."

"I need other drink," Old John told them. "If you want my wife, you can have her. This is what I tell you." He poked that fire around. "Very well."

They all took three or four drinks and John was telling them more stories. They looked around the wigwam.

"John, go get your wife. We want to see your wife."

"You want my wife?


"Okay. Come. We go."

"I show you."

He got up from that campfire.

"Come on."

There was a little trail going through the brush. He walked up. The riverboat big wheels walked behind. There was a round turn up on that little trail. And he took those big shots around back of his house and up and around on the little trail to the grave yard.

He stopped at the head of the grave. "My friend! You want my squaw. There she is. She under there. She under lump of dirt. She died two years ago. I got no squaw now."

Old John was already drunk. There he was, saying, "There she is under ground there. I lost her couple years ago. You can have her!!!"

"There's my wife under the ground there. You can have her," he said.

Can you imagine that?

"So you ask me a question, to come up here," he told them. "Now I got your whiskey. You're in the reservation and my boundary now. So if you don't like it, all you got to do is float down the river. This is mine. I'm good fellow, but I want you to be true with me."

I wonder how those guys felt. . . .

They felt foolish.

You better not monkey with the Indian. He'll answer you. If you want anything, he'll answer you.



The Indian always has an answer. When I was quite a young fella, when I was coming to around eighteen years, I told Old John, "It's getting so that we now grab somebody else's property.(51) We grab their property . . . canoes, women -- anything! It seems like they're grabbing women, especially nowadays."

"John, was there law amongst the Indians in your day?"

"At my age," John looked at me and he said, "in my days, you grab somebody's woman, fine. You go off with that woman, fine. But you're not done. That's somebody's woman. That man'll meet you."

"How do they meet you?"

"He'll meet you man to man."

"Will he kill you?"


"Will they do something bad to you?"

"No. He'll go half and half with you. They'll go half and half. Everything's half and half. If you want your half, that man'll come along with something sharp, take half of that woman. You can have the other half."

"Hoooh! . . . Is that true John?"

"That's what happened in the past. At one place it happened."


"No. Just one example. That was enough. That's what happened one time, they say. 'If you want my woman, I'll give you half. You take the left. I'll take the right.' Whoaaah! He took the right side of her. He took the left side. That's true. Never happened again."

That story is passed on to one another. And you think of that. Would you do that if you had a lover? Would you do that to anybody else? I don't think so. I do not. I want to be in the clear. That's the way it comes to John too.

That Old John, he was a good pointer.(52) He really told me by his story that that man done wrong. He didn't care; he didn't care if he did wrong, but he was going to show them that they did wrong too! "You take that half."

No fooling. Hoohh, hoohh, gee! Wasn't that awful though?

That's what he told was true in the past.

It's kinda scary? I got scared. I started to think. Old John woke my mind up. I thought, "I have to be careful with the other man, with other people. They live like you and maybe better, maybe better. If you can't handle your own, he'll show you how to handle your own. If you're weak somewhere, he'll show you how to handle it." It's kinda scary you know.

If two guys had a fight in Old John's time, they would settle it in death. One would finish it off some way, maybe with tomahawks. Just think! Old John said one time, "There were two men not very good. One man was for the truth, but the other man wanted too much power and didn't want to work with what was right. He wanted all the power. So they had a big feast. They put up the big campfire. The chief said, 'I have two boys. One of them is in our tribe. One of them is advanced with his own mind,(53) and one is right. If the wrong is the winner, then we're wrong.'"

So they went up against one another. 'There they are," they had clubs or whatever they could get a hold of. And all they had on was just that little apron. They went fighting and they missed one another with those big stone clubs, or hatchets, whatever they had. And at the end, right was right.

And if the right was right, if he won, it was just like a newspaper -- they'd hear it all over. They finished that round. They felt when it's wrong, when the person was wrong, that's weakness. See, the right and the wrongs fought, and the right proved it all the time. Everywhere you go the right proves itself. The wrong is bad. It weakens.

These two guys were fighting mostly over jealousy. There was jealousy because one man is a better man, or there's jealousy in the peer group. Mostly there's jealousy because one man may be a little more popular than the other. And when he knows he's so popular that he doesn't have to wait for the group, he feels he's attractive and the other one tells him he's going a little too far: "You think that you're a bigger man. You think you're a better man. That's what you think."

And the other one will answer, "That's the way to be."

"All right, but you're forgetting somethings. You're not learning anybody anything. You're taking too much. You're going beyond the rules and regulations of my Indian people."

"I'm not. That's the way we're supposed to live."

"All right, let's prove it."

That's what the fight is about. See? "Be careful." That's the way they did it. Boy, they were braves! So that's why they're braves. There's a group like that that stuck together, and the leader was a great man. That's what they called him, gitchi-dah. O-gitch-i-dah is a great leader for the good. O-gitch-i-dah, chief, brave.

Ma-gii-In-nI-nii. Ma-gii-nI-nec is a bad leader. He's not trusted. Oh, he was a big man too. He probably had power, but he was not trusted.

That old fella, Old John, he was not fooling. He'd light that old pipe, smoke, and then he'd go, "Wu-u-huu." It felt good.

It proves there are good men, there are good women -- but find 'em. That's just the way you do it. That's the way you get it. That's the way you find things. That's where I get the good and bad. Huh huh; gee whiz.

I thought lot of Old John. He was very happy. He had a lot of jokes.

He said that about grabbing somebody's woman. But he said that it only happened one time like that. The law they most generally had was that if a guy went wrong, they would talk with him.

We had a leader,(54) and when someone caused trouble they got this leader, one of our best leaders, and one of our best men, and he went to that outlaw. He'd say, "You sit down and talk. You went wrong."

The outlaw probably didn't believe in anything.(55) His mind was weak. He'd ask, "Did I go wrong?(56) What should I do about it?"

And the leader would say, "Don't talk like that because if you have done wrong, we don't want you in the tribe. They don't want you in the group. If you don't like our way of living, if we're not good enough, go on alone.(57) If you don't change, they'll get you. They'll get you if you've made a bad move."

So he leaves. That's the law.

Sometimes after an incident like that sickness struck this area, and fires broke out. John told what happened, ya. If some people were bad, John told about what happened to those people. John said, "This man had a family, but he was an outlaw -- gah-gay-yay-nI-zi, 'he's crooked,' 'he's not true.'" And he had a group, maybe. Most generally the outlaw had relations. Most generally they had brothers living in their camp -- most of them. If they didn't, there will be brothers, he said, in a bigger group.(58) So he was doing good.(59) What happened? He got sick, he broke out with sores, gii-pah-pah-gi-o-mn-gi-wah-pI-nay."

"Why John?"

"Because he wasn't feeling good. He had an ailment, and his heart and blood weren't working good. So what bad you do," we believe, as John said many-a time, "poisons your body. You commence to get sick on that. If you do wrong, you don't have the right function in your heart. You have to help your heart to live. You should feel good with your mind, your heart, your body, and keep that regulated. Your mind and body look for the good, and if you do good, your mind and body and heart do good. And if you do wrong, it's going to hurt you many times. It'll get you."(60)

"Is that right John?"

"Most of the times that's what happens. If you're good, you'll be happy; you'll have lots of friends. They want you as their leader. What you advise goes. Whatever you advise them, they'll do, if you are good. But if you do bad, they won't listen. If you're good, they know you wouldn't give them the wrong advice. When they want medicine, you told them what's good medicine for his ailment. If he's suffering, we look for the cause of it. But 'What is he suffering for?' you'll ask."

"He's lack of work." He's lacking because every man must go and look for his own way of life to help his family, to help the group. He has to help those that work out in the sugar bush, and move to the berry patches to work and dry their berries.

He has to help the group he travels with, and they are mostly his own relations and intermarriage. ay-ni-goo-Kwi-m^d is the whole tribe on his journey. A journey tribe is his "relation group" that he travels with, o-day-ju-no-wIn. "His relation," is the relation group of a leader, including his friends. It's the relation-group and friend-group that he travels with.

They were preparing for the winter. The bees and the birds are working. The bees are busy; they're putting up for the winter. They eat. They lack of food, and when you lack of food you get weak. You have to regulate your "intestals"(61) and your mind. If you do, you'll feel good. Everything proves the way you live. Everything proves the way you want to live. You get an answer."(62)

"Gee, boy he was good wasn't he?"

John talked about things -- that's what we respected John for. He knew something about something to look out for. "Watch that." He said, "In this earth, when we live, we should be looking for something good. If you're bad, you won't find anything good. You'll always run into a jam. And if you're bad, you'll run into bad people. You can't get along with them."

They traveled in groups. They're mostly relationship, you know. They had seven, as high as eight, in groups, in family groups. But in times long past they probably had six canoes, two and three in a canoe.

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Ojibway Indian camp with birch bark canoe.

Ojibway Indian camp with birch bark canoe.
Creator: Benjamin Franklin Upton
Photograph Collection, Carte-de-visite, 1870
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.31 r146 Negative No. 36762

They would camp on a lake big enough so they can have any amount of fish. In the winter they'd keep that a water hole open for the nets. That's how to trap. They had enough to take care of them all. When they got a deer, or fish, or anything, they didn't get it for themselves. They got it for the whole group. Maybe they even got it for six or seven camps. But way back in John's years he said there were high as twenty-five camps as a group. They average six to eight in a camp that includes in-laws and the whole family. You never know exactly. You have to tell by the size of the camps and houses they build. Sometimes they had as high as ten to fifteen of those long houses.

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Chippewa Indian camp on the Rainy River.

Chippewa Indian camp on the Rainy River.
Photograph Collection, 1915
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.31 r129 Negative No. 5470

There were lots of people, Indians. And he said, "there were many groups as you go further south and further north. When we got over the north boundary line," he said, "it was kind a hard to understand the Canadians because they had a 'sly,'(63) a linger in the words in the language on the end. And when they heard us, well, they knew we were from the south."

In the northern part they talk alike, but they're further on north so that their Chippewa began to stick somewhere with a "sly" in it. When they heard you talk they knew right away where you were from, and who you were. That's the way they proved themselves to one another. Then when Old John's people went south and talked to somebody, they knew he was a southerner too because he wants to talk that language of the other tribe. The language and the "sly" signifies where you're from. If you're in a Sioux area you wouldn't understand Sioux because you're a Chippewa. You might be a Chippewa. I was a Chippewa when I was a little boy, but I found my way over Sioux country. You are in the Sioux area then, when they're talking the Sioux language. If you go to Canada or you go to Turtle Mountain there might be a little Frenchie in there too. And when you talk, they know where you're from.

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Sioux Indian camp, Dakota Territory.

Sioux Indian camp, Dakota Territory.
Photograph Collection, 1865
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E91.31 r27 Negative No. 36287

Grandpa John told one time, "These people couldn't make it. There was a group. They had trouble. They went along with trouble. One time some of them tipped over the birch bark canoes and they broke up. Some of them had their canoes and kept right on a-going. These people that tipped over were lost, and that group went along. And then they met the other groups. When they met the other groups they couldn't get along. So that group just vanished. Why? Because he was wrong, he just withered away. The Great Master was at his side. It proves out. At last you hear of somebody who doesn't do good, but is tough enough to go through on the wrong path. But he finally gets played out, tired of his path, and he doesn't have anything. He doesn't have people enough to follow him. It wears out that way. But if he has a good group, they'll follow him and he's strong."

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Chippewa Warrior, 1870.

Chippewa Warrior, 1870.
Creator: Charles Alfred Zimmerman (1844-1909)
Photograph Collection, Carte-de-visite, 1870
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.1 r154 Negative No. 40930

Those groups are capable. They know what to do. And if they don't know what to do, they get in the group and talk for the betterment. Why do they talk for the betterment? They love their children. They love their families. "Let's try to make better. Get busy, the winter's coming. Maybe a bad storm's coming." They're all busy. These are the ones that's advanced, dah-nii-wahanI-sinabe, "well-off people" they call it in Indian, dah-nii-anishinabe, that's "well-off, individually."

But you're better off alone, instead of with a rough gang. You might get a blame on something heavy. Maybe the gang will get raided up someway, you can't tell. You're better off to drift alone than to go along with a rough gang. Tell them you're going to stay alone. Tell them, "I'm going out and see the birds. I'm going out in the canoe and see the waters. I want to listen to these clouds as they whistle by. I want to listen to the storms. I want to listen to the birds, to the wild natures, to the ducks on the pond. I want to listen to the wind as it whispers through these canebrakes. I want to drift by myself. Please, let me be free."

And we shall all do that, to understand the nature of what we're made for. It's given to us, to listen to the whispering in your ear. Why is it given to you? It's given to you to build your life, to build your health. Something's there to use, to cook and everything.

So by hard works -- like bees, bees are hard workers -- they get enough for the winter, for their family, because they love their family. They give up their life by working. They gave it. They weren't lazy. And when they the people worked hard, they had wood enough to burn all winter. So no sickness weakened them. They weren't weak. If there was any sickness, it went by them.(64) The damage went around because they had food in them; they had the resources. They kept up the fuel. They felt good. But the one that was stealing, looking for something easy, he couldn't make it, as he was weakened. He didn't know where to find anything. He was weakened, and the group is weakened.

You know why the Indians were afraid of a loner? He They knew the loner was all for himself. And he was learning bad ways. He was after something wrong. He was after something that the people had. Maybe he might steal somebody's woman. He might steal your canoe. He might steal something and go into a strange place where they don't know him and say, "I got everything by working hard." But he can't go far. They learn why he's a drifter.

The other chief will say, "Have you got any people?"


"Where are they?"

"I left them back of me."

"Why are you here? Why are you here? Why did you come here? You have everything equipped. How come you have these things? Did you make those canoes? Did you make everything you have?"


"You made them yourself?"


"All right."

In those days they had "fingerprints,"(65) you might as well say, on their work. Then they'll say, "This isn't a man's work. This sewing is a woman's job, and the women respect that. That's woman's work. Where's your woman?"

"I left her."

"Why did you leave her?"

"Because I was going to look for better."

"I think you got better where you came from. Go back. Go back."

Then, when he goes back, he's in a jam. See? He went and lied. A lie will catch you quicker.

And if he went back to the group they just put him way back. They'd tell him, "Keep right on a-going, way back. Until you are ready for us, stay away. We'll give you another chance, but until you are ready to be in the group again, go by yourself. When you are ready, then you can be with us. But you have to change your ways. You think you don't have to be told. Your energy is too strong for your mind."

If he changed, he would be all right, and they would let him back into the group. But they wouldn't trust him. He wouldn't be trusted because they figure he's ailed. He's already got a mark. They figure he's ailed. His mind may be weak. He might do anything. So they watched him. They'd rather have him along, but he was not respected. He didn't have any voice.

That ailment wouldn't rub off on the tribe, but when that guy's blackmarked nobody wants him. They feel that he has already done wrong. He stole, and stealing was a big thing. If they let one guy free, then the younger class in the good group might follow that example. But if they show a good example, and let him go on his own, he will have a heck of a time to live. He gets the dirty end of it.

I loved to talk to John about his predictions as to what was going to happen in the future. In my past I just loved that. I used to sit there and listen to him. I'm the kind of a guy that likes to hear somebody talk. And after he's through talking, then I add it up. I like two and two to make four, you know. And when you add two and two up to make four things, I like that. I don't know why I take time to look and listen, but I'd look and listen. Maybe I enjoyed how other peoples lived, and then, maybe, I want to live that way too. I asked Old John, I said, "How come you don't lose weight, John? Would you ever lose weight, John? Was it like this in your younger days?"

"It was worse."

"What do you mean 'worse,' John?" I was talking Indian to him.

"Well," he said, "we were coming into this world. That's when we were boys. There weren't very many people, just a few, and they were traveling in groups and they would camp together. Relationship and intermarriage mostly would camp together. We met people. We had powwows. This great chief or somebody would sit down and give lectures.(66)

"My people," he'd say when he spoke. "My people," John said, "we're coming into the world. This is a great country, America. This country, this island, is great."

He called it the "island of United States."

"This is a great country, and there are people across, far and near. When they come across with their boats, they're white people. After awhile they're coming in here. There are going to be big cities, and those big cities are going to be big."

When I was a little boy there weren't any big cities around here, but Minneapolis was quite a city by then, you know.

But he said, "They predicted this."

"There'll be trains."

When I was fourteen years old I heard about cars. He said, "There will be big highways through here. It may be stone."

How did they know that? How did they know about that big stone highway?

"You'll have cars -- each and everyone will have a car."

I said, "Oh, wasn't that great when I'll have a car afterwards?"

"Ya, if you lived to see the day. There'll be so many cars, they'll be hitting one another. There'll be more of them, and there'll be things flying in the air. There'll be people in them."

I'd ask, "What people are in them?"

"White people. They have boats already started coming in here, and they have doctors and carpenters and everything they put through. They're going to ship them over here!"

So that's what he told me.

"We knew that, you see. So we formed up a council, because this is our country. So that is why we started to make treaties, because we saw what was coming into our country. When the whites came in here, they took over. They were learning us a better way of life, but we made treaties. We had trouble." John said, "we had trouble by other nations, other groups. Maybe we met them, but we had trouble. So that trouble cleared away, but we still had other trouble. We still had trouble all the time. If you have anything, you'll have trouble over it. If you have anything good, they want some of it, see? People are funny. And when they come here, they build up. Then you have to have rulings for your area. There is going to be a law," John said, "there is going to be a law that you can't walk across this land where you're able to walk now."

He hit it.(67)

"You'll have no rights there."

"How come, John?"

"They're going to take it from you. Hmm."

"All this land? Why who's the people that are going to take it?"

"Look across the ocean, if you're on the coast. You could see those boats coming here and there in spots. There is going to be more spots. Later on you'll see people flying in the air above. After a while as far as you could see those boats'll be landing. There'll be an invasion. It's just the same as invasion as they come in here and live with you. Then you'll be learning. You'll like that. They're good; they're good, telling you how to live and everything. It may help you, but you're going to lose the Indian way of life."

How they predict that? How did they know that? Well, we're learning, you see. They hit that. He hit that good.

John would say, "Your game,(68) they're going to take that away from you."

We'd say, "We'll starve to death."

John continued, "They'll take the deer away from you. They'll take the birds. They'll take your ducks. They'll take your wild rice. They'll take the timber where you get your sugar."

"How come, John?"

"Well, maybe they'll try to buy them with money. But what is money? When you have land you have something to live on. So they'll make laws and rulings on that. We have to make treaties. That's why they made treaties on land. We knew what was coming because when they the whites started to come, they came fast. So later on in years you're going to be educated. Some of our Indians are even going to be lawyers, maybe. Some of them'll have big stores. Some of them'll be advanced in schooling. Some of them are going to have big families. It will be just like a cities all over here, like Grand Rapids. Ball Club'll be a big town some time. There'll be a highway through here."

There was no railroad in my times, but that railroad was as far as Grand Rapids and Deer River and was coming through here. John would say, "There's going to be big trains going through here."

Gees, he was interesting. I sat there and thought, "I wish I would live to see that. I wish I would live to see these days what John predicts."

How'd they know that? They said, "Them wagons, horses, ponies will be too slow on the road."

I thought we had fast ponies. He'd answer me all the time.

"There's going to be big farms. These trees and everything will be gone."

I said, "They can't take them out, it would take a long time with a axe."

"Un-a. There'll be a big pusher.(69) They will push everything out."

"Wow, I'd like to see that too!" I kept saying would say to John.

"There'll be the day you'll work with one of them, and maybe you'll operate one."

Oh, geez. How do they predict that? They hit everything on the head. Ya.

Just think, the young people coming into the world are getting the lectures which the old people left. They're coming in with a college degree and have to re-form a lot of stuff in the country. They have a big, big job because there's so much coming in. They have to have the education to understand that. But those days we had everything without education -- we had the production of the land, wild life. We had to use that up before it was contaminated by chemicals. It was healthy food, natural resources.

But now it's all burned out. It doesn't mature. You can tell the old soil is losing ground. Hm. The enrichness is gone; the rich soil wore out. It's burned out. The natural resources won't supply much now. It doesn't get a chance to supply because they don't take care of it.

Of course, we have some crops, but they're very small crops, very small. Boy there used to be big cranberries. Boy they were big! We had big blueberries too, big clusters of them. Oh, they were just like grapes. Either that was because of the enrichment of the soil, or because the moisture was protected by timber. Just think!

The fish were better, bigger too. Nowadays fish don't get a chance to mature. Think how many licenses are sold and how many fish are fished out of just one lake. When so many fish are taken out of that pool, well they have to multiply pretty fast. All year 'round they take fish out of that lake. And then you wonder why there aren't any fish. Nothing will compare with the fish before. Oh boy, you'd see them anytime. I heard an Indian in Mille Lacs, Jim Mitchell, my brother-in-law, who just died lately in the old age home up here in Grand Rapids, tell about the fish in the old days. He was older than I was. He was about eighty-four, I think, when he died, but he kept his health pretty perfect. He didn't show his age. I said to him when we were setting together one time at a campfire: "Jim," I said, "what happened when you went fishing and hunting?"

"Oh, we used to have a blanket and fish through the ice. We'd stir up the bottom, and we'd pile 'em up like cord wood. Then we'd go get the ponies, and the cutter." We build a sled, a homemade sled. They lasted longer.

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Ice fishing shelter frame, Mille Lacs.

Ice fishing shelter frame, Mille Lacs.
Photograph Collection, 1948
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.32F p8 Negative No. 35188

If Old John were here today, you know what I would think he'd say about it? He'd say, "You people don't respect your father and mother. Something else is destroying your mind. Those are bad habits. You have to go along with your father and mother for your strength, for you're family that doesn't go along. You have to remember your father and mother for your health, for your body, for your futures. You're wrong by leaving poor father. You're wrong by leaving poor mother alone. Help her. She helped you when you were small. Help her. They're going fast. And you're going faster by forgetting what took care of you in the past. Take care of yourself. I think you're living a fast life. You want everything too easy."

That's what John would say. I know he would. "You're living a fast life." What he means by "living a fast life" is that the stuff you eat is too rich. It's too rich for you. When it's too rich for you, it isn't good for you. You have to cut it. You have to cut it down to so much. Just so much is good for you. He would say, "you're living a fast life. Those habits form, too many, too strong. You take it slow, look. I see things here that are very upset from when I was on earth, when I left here. My Indians, you have changed your color, you have changed your ways, you have changed your style. You don't want that real American Indian way of life. You want to change. It looks like you're going to get that change in the near future because of your action, your words. The world is acting for more improvement. But, you're trying to get to the end too fast." Just think, heck, "you don't work, exercise, and rest. You should stop everywhere and rest. You want to go there too quick. When you get there you stop good, maybe you rest a bit. That's too fast." That's the way he'd talk; I know it.

What would he do about it? He would tell us, "People, go back. Pick it up, what I told you. If you don't pick it up, the old customs, the old proof, and you don't want it, I can't help you. Then when you do want a good point, when you want your own way of life, I'm sorry for you." That's what he would say.

When he says that, boy you can't answer back, and you begin to wonder. He'll save you if you use that. He'll change you. He doesn't have to say it all out. A good pointer doesn't have to tell you that you have to do it. He'll let your own mind figure if you could use it. It's only a reminder. He reminds you. What do you do about it? He'd help you with that too. He'd talk points.

A lot of those points I'm giving you will cost a good meal. It fills you up. A good meal will be enjoyable even if you have only tea or coffee. It's peace on earth, I think. It's peace, the way you use it on earth. Good change.

You know what he'd say about the world situation?

He would pound his little pail on the fire with a stick and Old John would say, "My Indians, the limit is coming. There's a limit to everything. When that limitation, that limit, when that big day of limit comes, we're all gone. That's what's going to happen. That's how fast the world's going. There's a limit to anything, regardless. We are glad there's a limit to everything."

You pretty near met him. You could have pretty near met him, but he passed away -- about twenty or thirty or forty years ago, I guess.(70) xxx What year Old John Smith died I couldn't remember. He has a gravestone in Cass Lake somewhere. It's in the history; it's written down somewhere.(71) I wouldn't know about what year; I wouldn't say it. It might be too far, too close, or anything. I was about eighteen years old(72) when John died thirty or forty years ago.

I liked John. We loved him. He was great. Boy, he was quick, snappy. He could walk quick.

He told me something before he left: "Carry this -- this word. That means life."

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John Smith, age 128-129.

John Smith, age 128-129.
Photograph Collection, Postcard, 1912
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.1K r24 Negative No.

Boy, I could see him yet, all the time. I never forgot that old man. I never forgot asking him questions of the old days and what he saw. He was a great man. He was good. Everybody loved him. You'd look at him and you had respect for him. He was respected. He was happy all the time. He talked and had a time. Boy, how he'd make you laugh. Gads. Oh, he was well-rounded. He was down on at my place all the time. And when he travelled, he travelled alone in the woods. He was a great-great old man.

John Smith was wise, smart, bright. He was bright. Really, he was very likeable. He dished out something for years, and you know, I still wonder about those things today. He served the tribes. He served his people good. He had good points. A lot of them used them points. Whoever remembered John used those points. I think there's gonna be another old man just like John Smith, too, the way it looks. I hope it's Buffalo.

He gave it(73) to me. John give me that when he was over a hundred years old. He said, "My boy, you see my head? Your head's gonna be like that. But it'll take a long time to get there." And it is taking a long time, I'm glad to say. I listened to him. That's why I got it. He knew I went to school.(74) I took interest of life. But I had to come back. With three years straight in one school without coming home I think I learned something. With the peoples' points, with my tribe's points, with the peoples' points with education, I think I learned something. I cannot have education alone; I also got to have the experiences of life by the old people. Then it's a great world. Then I see things. I know what they meant in the past and I know that education is trying to work for a betterment. With experience and education it'll develop into better, a better place, I think. Oh boy! He was wonderful.

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John Smith, age 128-129.

John Smith, age 128-129.
Photograph Collection, 1912
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.1K r25 Negative No. 25443

We will meet him someday. We will. I think he's doing something for me. I think he gave me that life, and I think he's doing all he can to ask that One overhead to help me. He's taken to the next world.

And in my dreams I see those little people, and I see my friends. I see those Indians and "bang," I woke up.

People like to joke sometimes, and I like to joke. But when I'm telling them something, when I talk to them, they don't answer back. They nod their heads, "Very well." When I'm having a hardship they join me and they're ready to help me. They don't push me around. Why? Because I think that John is helping me. John above is helping me. I think the oldest man we had -- the oldest Indian in the State of Minnesota -- is helping me.(75) He's helping me with the Great Master. He's got to prove himself. As I come in the world I think I have his good will. I think I have the good will of the Great. I think I have the power from John, from the Great Master, which we all work for.

Some day we might see him when the time comes. We'll all meet together some day. We're not here on earth forever. We have a limit of time to live here. And if we can live along, many years, from seventy-five up, then we know we lived. When you pass fifty you begin to know where the truth is. You feel it. It's time to prepare. It's time to get ready. Don't fool around. They exempt you the first eighteen to twenty years. You're the oats of the earth then, and when you pass that time, after fifty, you're done sowing and you commence to use your head to bring the garden up so you won't get any weeds.

How are you going to do that?

You're going to talk to the people.

Just think, you're clean. You don't have to go to confession. You confess to your own self. You confessed to Him, because whoever is the Master is here. That Master's here. Between you and me, He heard every word I said. He knows everything I do. You cannot fool Him. Nobody can. Whatever he says goes. That is the Great Master of all, manito, manito. That's God.

I'm given it to you too heavy. It's scary, but I think it's going to do you good. It clears your mind up. That's what we're supposed to do. We're supposed to talk to people that think they're lost, that think they need talking to, that think of their people, and to the people that are trying to find a way for the betterment of their home grounds here. I think this lecture that I put out from Old John Smith, and from the great chiefs I heard and talked to, will help the country. I hope the great Manitou, the God, Manitou, is ready to help you if you do good, or if you try, even try, to do good.

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Ka-we-tah-ke-shig (John Smith)

Ka-we-tah-ke-shig (John Smith).
Photograph Collection, Postcard, 1912
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.1K r39 Negative No. 62063

I'm just telling you what I learned from John. I'm just talking about the points that you asked me. So that's what he was telling me.

I'm telling you my history of life as I'm seventy-one -- seventy years old anyway, going on seventy-one. I think I should be able to pass the words on to the people of our time and tell of our Indian way of life which we enjoyed in the past. Included is what I learned from Old John.

It was a great country.

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John Smith (Ka-be-na-gwe-wes), age one hundred and twelve.

John Smith (Ka-be-na-gwe-wes), age one hundred and twelve.
Photograph Collection, Postcard, 1896
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.1K r14 Negative No. 60161


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Ka-be-nah-gwey-wence, Cass Lake.

Ka-be-nah-gwey-wence, Cass Lake.
Photograph Collection, Postcard, 1920
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location no. E97.1K r3


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 Kahbe nagwi wens -- Wrinkle
 Kahbe nagwi wens -- Wrinkle
 Kahbe nagwi wens -- Wrinkle

Source: Carl A. Zapffe, Kahbe nagwi wens: The man who lived in 3 Centuries
(Brainerd, MN: Historic Heartland Association, 1975.)

Click on above images for larger photos.


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Wednesday, Feb. 8, 1922: 137-year-old Indian dies

37-Year-Old Chippewa Indian
Dies in North Minnesota Home

Oldest Man in Country Was
Active Until Week
Before Death.

Cass Lake, Minn., Feb. 6 – Ga-Be-Nah-Gewn-Wonce, also known as John Smith, a Chippewa Indian reputed to be 137 years old, died here today after a week's illness with pneumonia.

Smith, whose Indian name means “Wrinkled meat,” had been very active in late years. A year ago he became totally blind, but his mind remained clear to the last, and he often recalled the days when he was a scout for the Chippewas in the wars with the Sioux. He also remembered events of the war of 1812. One of his boasts was that he had never fought against the white man.

Up to four years ago he had never visited a big city. His first trip of this kind was to the Twin Cities. Later he visited the Automobile show at Chicago.

A year and a half ago he returned to the north woods of Minnesota to spend his time fishing for sturgeon in Lake of the Woods, in the same waters that he fished more than a century ago.

Ga-Be-Nah-Gewn-Wonce had been married eight times. He had no children and the only survivor is Tom Smith, an adopted son at whose home he died.

The “old Indian,” as he was generally known among the white people, was active until six months ago, since which time he had not been seen outside his adopted son's house. Before that time he had made it a practice to meet all trains entering the village and offer postal cards for sale.

He claimed to have met the Schoolcraft and Cass exploration party which passed through here about 100 years ago, and recalled the changing of the name of the lake, then known as Red Cedar Lake, to Cass Lake, in honor of one of the leaders of the expeditions.

Two years ago he took the central part in moving pictures taken of Indians, called the “Recollections of Ga-be-nah-gewn-wonce,” which have been exhibited all over the Untied States.

Soon after the prohibition was put into effect, some bootleggers sold “Old Indian” what they claimed to be a quart of whisky, but which proved to be water. “Old Indian” did not say anything, but three years later the same bootleggers purchased a hind quarter of “venison” from him. This turned out to be a portion of an old horse which had just died.

To illustrate his vitality, it is related that seven years ago, when 130 years of age, “Old Indian” was knocked down by a switch engine, while crossing the railroad tracks. His injuries confined him to a hospital for only three weeks after which he suffered no ill effects.

Pagan rites will be omitted at the funeral of John Smith. He will be buried from the Catholic church here, which he joined about eight years ago.



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1. Cf., Ch. 5, "Chiefs and Councils."

2. Some of the folk legends about John Smith "Wrinkle Meat" have been presented in The Man who Lived in 3 Centuries: A Biographic Reconstruction of the Life of Kahbe nagwi wens a Native Minnesotan, by Carl A. Zapffe (Brainerd, Minnesota: Historic Heartland Association, Inc., 1975). Cf., Anderson, O.L. 1922. "Modern Methusala, 137, Passes Away at Cass Lake, Minnesota." North Woods, 7:33:13-15; Beaulieu, C.H., Jr. 1922. "Wrinkled Meat Was Over 100." Minneapolis Journal, 24 February, p. 1; "Claims of Great Longevity Exaggerated." 1974. Science Newsletter, 106:101-102; Gris. H. 1974. "Inquirer Finds Oldest Man in World -- He's 140." National Inquirer, 12 November, p. 16; Powell, Ransom J. 1922. "'Wrinkled Meat' but 88 Years Old, U.S. Records Say." Minneapolis Journal, 15 February, p. 1; Smith, John. 1921. Chief John Smith, A Leader of the Chippewa, Age 117 Years. His Life as Told by Himself. Being the Life Story of Chief John Smith as Narrated by Himself and Interpreted by His Adopted Son, Thomas E. Smith. Walker, MN: The Cass County Pioneer.

3. "Searching for a living" means migrating seasonally. Cf., Ch. 2, "Bena Childhood," Ch. 3, "Canoe Days," and Ch. 40, "Leech and Mississippi Forks."

4. Paul Buffalo is having trouble with the translation of the name to "Wrinkle Meat." He eventually states that that's what they put on his pictures anyway. For alternate interpretations, see Zapffe, 1975, pp. 87-94 and 36-37.

5. Cf. Ch. 2, "Bena Childhood" for information on names and namesakes. . . . and ch XX or ch XX part on "respect."

6. Thomas E. Smith was his nephew and adopted son. John Smith lived there from 1921 until his death in 1922. Cf., Zapffe (1975), pp. 22-23, 55-57, 77.

7. Homestead. Cf., Ch. 3 40, "Leech and Mississippi Forks."

8. See Ch. 3, "Canoe Days."

9. Took good care of him and treated him well.

10. Paul Buffalo's neighbor from childhood on.

11. The action of the bear was a good answer that the bear understood what he was saying.

12. Animals.

13. See Ch. 37, "Jack Nason, 'My Dad. My Step-Dad.'"

14. That is, he wasn't his biological grandfather, but he was, according to custom, nevertheless his "grandfather." The fact that he wasn't biologically his grandfather didn't make any difference. If they called someone "grandfather" they were, in fact, their grandfather.

15. See Ch. 2, "Bena Childhood."

16. See Ch. 39, "Timber Days."

17. Cutting pulp on a piece-work basis.

18. "Superstitious" is said to mean, in Chippewa, "one who believes in everything he sees." Thus, Old John was "superstitious."

19. People who chew snuff for a long time lose much of their sense of taste.

20. Thirsty.

21. Rolled up.

22. That is, you had to be old enough to have common sense and be sensitive to the answers.

23. The adults and, when appropriate, children.

24. When John Smith is quoted by Paul Buffalo when he was talking in Indian, the translation is full and grammatical. When John Smith is quoted when he's talking English, the quotes are in "broken" English. John Smith's quotes are here in more fluent English when he was talking with Paul Buffalo in Indian and Paul Buffalo is translating them into English. John Smith's quotes are in "broken" English when quotes are of John Smith speaking in English. According to Zapffe (1975) Smith, in his own autobiography, chose to use "the Indian jargon: ". . . The use of the Indian jargon was his own decision. Since the white Man finds a laugh in the way others try to handle his own clumsy language, why not get with it and help them be happy? (p. 56.)."

25. The adults of the group.

26. Pokegama ("Spider") Lake, near Grand Rapids, MN.

27. Mille Lacs Lake, on the Mille Lacs Indian Reservation in central Minnesota.

28. Cf., information on "underwater pigs" in Ch. XXX [Winibozho, Ch. xxx]

29. He left, to go back to wherever he came from.

30. Cf., Ch. 39, "Timber Days."

31. Points to a level with his hand.

32. Cf., Ch. 33, "Messengers and Unusual Events," and Ch. 34, "Fireballs, and The Shadow Man."

33. Powerful medicine people could change themselves into animals and back again.

34. Probably Old John was only about 100 years old at the time. Paul many times repeated that Grandpa John Smith was nine or ten years old when the stars fell. Once he said, "eight or nine," and once he said, "seven or eight." Nine or ten is probably correct, although, since the adults kept John in the house during the actual event, he may have been younger. At least, he was probably pre-adolescent (as culturally defined at the time).

John Smith "Wrinkled Meat" died at Cass Lake, Minnesota, on 7 February 1922. At that time the Federal Commissioner of Indian Enrollment, Ransom J. Powell, "got into the argument [about how old Old John really was], claiming that Smith was not over 88 years old . . . [and] that it was disease and not age that made him look the way he did, and that certain charlatans [sic.] among his own race [sic.] had exploited his deformities to dupe [sic.] a sensation-loving public. . . . Powell had come to the conclusion that Smith was born just about [the time the stars fell on 13 November 1833], and that he had faked his so-called recollections of earlier events" (Zapffe, 1975, p. 1). Others, such as the Rev. Clement Beaulieu, Jr., and Sandy Morrell, have defended Smith's age (Zapffe, 1975). Zapffe himself suggests a possible birth date as early as of 1790 (1975, p. 1; cf. also pp. 22-23, 81-87).

If John Smith "Wrinkled Meat" was nine or ten years old when the stars fell in 1833, he would have been born in 1823 or 1824, which would make him 98 or 99 when he died in 1922. Paul Buffalo also said regularly and repeatedly that Grandpa John was "about a hundred" when he and Grandpa Smith used to talk at the Leech-Mississippi Forks when Paul Buffalo was "eighteen to twenty" (1918-1920).

35. The day the stars fell, 13 November 1833, is an important "date" in Indian history and lore. Zapffe writes, "Birthdates of Indians of the 19th Century had generally been determined by the Government in relation to the awe-inspiring shower of meteorites that burned through the American skies just before dawn on 13 November 1833, scaring the daylights out of civilized and uncivilized [sic.] peoples alike. Obviously it was the end of the world. . . ." (1975, p. 1).

Pulitzer Prize winning writer N. Scott Momaday recounts the event in The Way to Rainy Mountain (NY: Ballantine Books, 1970, "Epilogue," p. 114): "During the first hours after midnight on the morning of November 13, 1833, it seemed that the world was coming to an end. Suddenly the stillness of the night was broken; there were brilliant flashes of light in the sky, light of such intensity that people were awakened by it. With the speed and density of a driving rain, stars were falling in the universe. Some were brighter than Venus; one was said to be as large as the moon."

"The most brilliant shower of Leonid meteors has a special place in the memory of the Kiowa people. It is among the earliest entries in the Kiowa calendars, and it marks the beginning as it were of the historical period in the tribal mind. . . ."

The "day the stars fell" is likewise an important event in Chippewa cultures, and children and adults alike never tired of hearing Grandpa John tell the story of the event.

36. xxx?? 1833??

37. The Great Spirit.

38. The slight age discrepancy reported is to be expected as they didn't keep close track of one's age in years. Rather, they keyed into important events and one's developmental level. Hence, it's not important to John Smith if he was seven, eight, nine, or ten at the time. The important thing is that he was old enough to be paying serious attention to what was happening, but not yet in his adolescence. See p. xxx for Paul Buffalo's discussion of the age at which you begin to pay attention to things. For a most unusual event like the stars falling, the children at a younger age would also remember what happened. Hence, the John Smith's response to the question, "seven or eight," is probably closer to what his age actually was.

39. I.e., to die.

39b. He released the hammer of his gun without firing a shot.

40. Cf. Ch. 28, "Power."

41. Health and long life comes from living properly. xxx . . .

42. Zapffe says John Smith quit drinking after his late conversion to Christianity at the urging of his stepson Thomas (1975, p. 70).

43. Analyze, plus carefully interpret things during the annual cycle of events.

44. Worthy.

45. Pass on a full bowl of life to those coming behind, to use for living.

46. When they stop living in this world.

47. Carl A. Zapffe, The Man who Lived in 3 Centuries (Historic Heartland Association., 1975), p. 70, suggests that John Smith had nine wives.

48. It was against the law to sell alcohol to Indians at that time. Nevertheless, they were also asking him if he had money to pay for whiskey rather than to trade something for it.

49. I've been tricked; they pulled one over on me.

50. They were workers on the river boats.

51. In the "old days" there was not much stealing of property as people were afraid of power persons. Cf., xxx.

52. He was good at pointing out how to live, and how to do things.

53. He does things his own way, rather than following the group customs.

54. See Ch. 5, "Chiefs and Councils."

55. Suggesting that the outlaw probably did not believe in anything, in any spiritual or religious things, is a tremendous put-down. The implication is that a good part of the reason he is an outlaw is that he does not have a belief.

56. The suggestion is that the outlaw is so stupid about doing wrong that he does not even recognize it. Even the small children listening to the story would recognize that the outlaw had done wrong, thus emphasizing the stupidity and recklessness of the person -- AND what might happen to YOU if you don't have a belief.

57. Being a loner who was at the same time a stranger, and having to try to make it on your own as a stranger in some other territory, was one of the most difficult of propositions. Threat of ostracism was one of the strongest sanctions that could be threatened. Being a loner in your own territory, where people knew you, was quite all right -- and in some cases even very desirable. But being shunned or ostracized and ending up as a loner in another group was not good.

58. If you are doing something wrong sickness and evil will happen to you, or to your children or relatives. If you or your offspring or your relatives get sick, or if something bad or unlucky happens to them, that is proof of your wrongdoing.

59. It looked like everything was OK, but then something bad eventually happened.

60. If you do wrong it will work on you. The guilt will catch up to you. And eventually the wrong you do will catch up to you and exact its vengeance. It will make you sick, or your relatives sick, or the people in your settlement sick, and, in the extreme cases, may cause death.

61. Intestines.

62. Something will eventually happen that is an "answer" to how you live. The answer will be a reward of a good life for living well, the way you're supposed to, and part of living well is living in a balanced way.

63. Slang or dialect.

64. The sickness went by them because they and their relatives were living the way they were supposed to live.

65. Individual styles or marks in handicrafts and hand-made goods which identified the maker.

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

67. The prediction was accurate.

68. Game animals.

69. Bulldozers and Caterpillar©-type tractors.

70. 1972 tape. John Smith died at Cass Lake, Minnesota, 7 February 1922 (Zapf, 1975, p. 1).

71. Zapffe, Carl A. 1975. The Man who Lived in 3 Centuries: A Biographic Reconstruction of the Life of Kahbe nag wiwens, a Native Minnesotan. Brainerd, MN: Historic Heartland Association.

72. Paul was 22 years old when Old John Smith died.

73. "It" in this context often refers to a bundle of things. He literally gave Paul Buffalo part of himself -- including ability to live a long life, his Indian power, his likability, his ability to pass on stories and traditional ways, his ability to serve his people, his ability to observe things and think about them in a way that he can draw important conclusions from those observations, etc. Central to the "it" would, of course, be power xxxftnt and part of Old John's life itself.

74. Cf., Ch. 36, "School."

75. Even though Old John Smith died, he continues to help Paul Buffalo just as he did while he was here on earth.

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