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Flying Bird Image

When Everybody Called Me Gabe-bines,

Teachings from Paul Buffalo

Timothy G. Roufs (Ed.)
University of Minnesota Duluth

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a note on tenses
  a note on style

orignal tapes information

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

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

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Buffalo Image

This story is dedicated to all those who want to listen.


Paul Buffalo Meditating Medicine, Leech Lake Reservation, Minnesota, 1966.

Paul Buffalo Meditating Medicine, Leech Lake Reservation, Minnesota, 1966.

Photographer: Timothy G. Roufs

Paul's story begins, "Just then, when the priest was talking at my best friend's funeral, I was thinking about my mother . . ." and his story ends seventy-seven years and fifty chapters later . . . "Father Anthanase gave Joe a wonderful send-off sermon at the funeral. . . . That’s what I’m told." And in between you look in on and share the vivid memories of the life of one of the last to live as a hunter-gatherer-forager as he and his people -- "The People" . . . Anishinaabe -- embraced the modern world as most of us know it today.

And about his mother that he was thinking about at Joe's funeral. . . .

Paul Buffalo's mother, herself an Anishinaabe(1) medicine woman, told Paul, her oldest son, shortly before she died, that she had a dream revealing that one day someone would come to write down their Indian ways of life. She told him that when that time came he should speak of those things she had taught him: "You are the oldest and I have taught you my ways. Someday someone will ask you about these things. I have dreamed about that. Keep these things that I have taught. Someday people will want to hear about them again."

In 1965, after carefully watching this writer interviewing in his community of Ball Club, Minnesota, for a number of months, Paul Buffalo, the old woman's son, told the writer, "I have been watching your work. I have some things I'm supposed to leave behind, but few will listen to me now. Would you write them down for me? Someday people will want to listen again, and when they do, you can give them these words." Believing this writer to be the person his mother dreamed of, Paul Buffalo began what became a twelve-year process of systematically recounting his life experiences.

Mr. Paul Buffalo (Gabe-bines)(2) in the last twelve of his seventy-seven years, systematically recorded most of his beliefs and left a legacy of approximately 3,500 pages of life history materials. During the twelve years of taping life history materials, Paul Buffalo discussed every aspect of his public and private life, including descriptions of his religious beliefs and native medical practices.

Paul Buffalo Meditating Medicine, Leech Lake Reservation, Minnesota, 1966.

Paul Buffalo Meditating Medicine, Leech Lake Reservation, Minnesota, 1966.

Photographer: Timothy G. Roufs

He spoke of his heritage, his years as leader in Local Indian Councils, his beliefs, his language, the changes he had seen, the things his elders told him, and his personal experiences of life. He was only one of many with similar experiences, but he was one of the few Anishinaabe leaders of that generation who would talk at length about the past. A few months before he died in June of 1977 he said, "I've told you all now. I think we're done."

These pages contain those things that Paul's mother had taught him, and those things that he lived and learned and dreamt and contemplated. It is thus that we have a rare personal statement about some of those beliefs and experiences.

A descendant of Bizhiki, the great "Chief Buffalo" of Lake Superior,(3) Paul Buffalo was born at White Oak Point, near the fork of the Leech and Mississippi Rivers in 1900 or 1902. On the Fourth of July. Or at least that's how they reconstructed it. What they really only know is that he was born on the day that the whites in Deer River were temporarily crazy with celebration. And it is though that he was likely born twice.(4)

From the turn of the twentieth century, when Paul was born -- either once or twice -- until the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 and beyond, the world of Paul Buffalo and his people changed drastically in response to lumbering, mining, changing state and federal American Indian policies, and developments in transportation, communications, and education.

Few individuals have witnessed so much cultural change as have these generations of American Indian peoples. The individuals of Paul's generation -- as the last hunter-gatherer-foragers of the upper Midwest -- looked on at and were drawn into new lifeways and new ways of making a living. But few of these Native Americans would discuss at length their early days when whites brought radical change to their native ways of life. In that regard, Paul is an exception.

Mr. Buffalo had a gift of recounting "campfire talk" of the old days and of making his cultural principles, values, and perspectives on history relevant to present times.

In his early youth Paul Buffalo witnessed and participated in the traditional ways of northern Minnesota Anishinaabe and their continuing encounter with the white man and his roads, railroads, river boats, values, laws, educational systems, and general ways of life.

And they were white men in those days. He remembers the first white woman that moved into his family's area. She was the mother of his life-long friend, whose funeral sermon begins Paul's story in Chapter 1.

Paul Buffalo participated in the early logging activities of northern Minnesota, and from the 1930s onward acted as a councilman and representative of his people.

Although baptized in the Christian religion, Mr. Buffalo continued native Indian practices. His knowledge of "Indian religion" and ways of life, along with his awareness of present-day concerns and problems, gave him rare insight into the beliefs of his people.

People of Minnesota and the United States are overdue to learn a personal story of the people that whites have most often called "Chippewa" and "Ojibwa," and who call themselves Anishinaabe. In the spirit of earlier books setting forth the traditions of North American Indian peoples -- books such as Crashing Thunder, Black Elk Speaks, Cheyenne Memories, and The Autobiography of a Winnebago Indian -- the following memoirs aim to provide for "people who want to listen" a personal account of the early life of a modern Anishinaabe Medicine Doctor. They faithfully represent the 3,500 pages of transcribed oral narratives, and attempt to retain Paul Buffalo's interesting and subtle ways of saying things. Subtle, because great metaphysical and spiritual assertions are enmeshed in simple description of ordinary events. Interesting, because they are.

Paul Buffalo's life history provides a very personal statement about his people and their relationship to the land.

Paul Buffalo's Home Area

Paul Buffalo's Home Area

Map prepared by Matti E. Kaups

Source: The Anishinabe of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, Timothy G. Roufs
(Phoenix: Indian Tribal Series, 1975; Reprinted, Cass Lake, MN: Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, 2013), p. 75.

Traditional Anishinaabe of the Lake Superior area respect their land and live in intimate spiritual contact with nature.(5) Living and inanimate things share the same life spirit from which early Anishinaabe inhabitants took their spiritual strength. They share the land with the animals, mythological peoples, spirits, and deceased relatives and friends.

   Loon -- Paul Buffalo's Dodaim.

Loon -- Paul Buffalo's Dodaim.

(Gavia immer.)

  ©Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. 2018. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Website (online). Accessed Nov. 13, 2018 at 
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources 500 Lafayette Road St. Paul, MN 55155-4046

xxx Contact the DNR Web Team at  for permission to use or reproduce material on this site.

Paul’s narratives reflect a belief in the interrelationship of all things of nature that is, paradoxically, straightforward but intricate. Great and profound questions about the universe intermingle with reflections on experiences of a robin's song. The simple and grandiose coexist in a natural world, and are of equal importance in one's personal life. Death, illness, health, life, law, emotions, friendship, religion, diet, hope, and a thousand facets of life interact as parts of a natural world. Underlying these freestyle narratives is a basic statement about the interrelatedness of all creation, and a self-renewing excitement of nature.

Although Paul Buffalo speaks with extensive experiencing of, and very long familiarity with, the natural world, his attitude is not dulled by habit. After almost three-quarters of a century his approach to nature remains fresh and sensitive, and, often, one of awe.

Ojibwa beadwork.

Anishinaabe Floral Pattern, Duluth, 1989.

Photographer: Timothy G. Roufs

xxx Duplicate, Introduction and Ch. 10


Tenses in this manuscript are mixed in an unusual way. Paul Buffalo regularly uses the present tense when he's talking about something that happened or started in the past that HE KNOWS continues to be done or to exist today. He usually uses the past tense when whatever he is talking about is something that no longer exists or takes place. This distinction has been preserved in the editing, even when it results in single sentences containing verbs of differing tenses.


Paul Buffalo narrates in an oral tradition. Paul Buffalo's style is one typical of an oral tradition. Paul Buffalo's style involves much repetition. In particular, a common oral sequence is that a statement is made, and then it is more or less repeated with the main element of the statement/sentence stressed. Oral tradition is often very repetitive, especially compared to printed traditions. Things are repeated to emphasize certain items. Things are repeated to add emphasis. Things are repeated to insure that one does not forget; that is, repetition is used as a learning device.

In the work that follows there is much repetition -- not as much as in the original oral versions, but enough, hopefully, to maintain the flavor of the personal spoken style of Paul Buffalo. Some of repetition is minimized here, although an attempt to keep the original feel of the narratives is maintained throughout. Attempts have been made to carefully preserve the sense of the oral tradition, even though this work is in print, since that is the way Paul would have told it to you.

Reviewers who have actually known Paul Buffalo and who have read some of these materials indicate that what they read on these pages is "just like Paul himself talking." Those who did not know Paul Buffalo, or those who are not familiar with his peoples' story-telling traditions, think the following materials are too repetitious. The goal of this work is to present the material "just like Paul himself is talking."

The reader of Paul Buffalo's story from the beginning will notice that as they move along the chapters get longer and more detailed. That reflects the fact that as Paul gets older he remembers more things and in greater detail. It's a small detail of his story, but one interesting to note.

One other note: When Paul talks about "my Indians" he is referring to the Indian people of the group to which he belongs, including the group beyond his immediate "family" and "doodem" relations. The "my" is not possessive case, but rather indicates inclusion in the group of people that he knows personally or personally about, and who share his culture -- as opposed to, for example, the Dakota/Lahkota or Sioux, or even other more closely akin peoples such as the Chippewa-Cree of Rocky Boy's Reservation in Montana. Likewise, when Paul talks about "the Indians," as in a statement like, "The Indians send messages through this animal," he is almost always referring to Chippewa/Ojibwa/Anishinaabe peoples, and not (necessarily) all American Indian peoples.


Publication of this material is done in memory of Paul Peter Buffalo who "walked on" 28 June 1977.

This work began long before any of us now alive were born. It began with a dream of Paul Buffalo's mother, passed on to her son, who passed it on, for safekeeping, to me, who -- as they wished -- passes it on to all who want to hear. As both Paul and his mother prophesized, people want to listen again, and it is to all of our good fortune that among those eager to listen were Cassidy Capriglione, Rick Smith, and Monica Ares of the American Indian Learning Resource Center of the University of Minnesota Duluth. To them, as Paul Buffalo so long ago asked, I passed on his words. And through their diligent carrying of these words the dreams of Paul and his mother have been fulfilled. Dreams are of utmost importance to Paul and his people (See Ch. 27. "Dreams and Visions"). Dreams bring together the spirit world, the lives of the living, and unborn generations. To Cassidy and Rick and Monica I know Paul Buffalo sends miigwech . . . chi-miigwech.

Over the years many people and organizations helped out with this project, and encouraged both Paul and me in our efforts. Over several decades the assistance of Patricia K. Maus, UMD Archivist and Curator of Special Collections, including "The Paul Buffalo Collection" of the Northeast Minnesota Historical Collections at the University of Minnesota Duluth, has been invaluable. For what now seems like forever she has been a great friend as well as a wonderful advisor and professional keeper of our printed transcripts and audiotaped words. For that help and encouragement all of us should be grateful.

Paul and I wish also to thank The Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, The Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, The University of Minnesota Duluth, Larry P. Aitken, Billie Annette, Stanley E. Aschenbrenner, Joe Barnes, Josephine Barrett, Joseph Bauerkemper, Don Bibeu, John Bregenzer, Priscilla Giddings Buffalohead, W. Roger Buffalohead, Lea Carr, Dr. Rosemary Ackley Christensen, Wayne and Ida Cronin, Shirley Giizhigookwe Defoe, Penny DeVault, Henry F. Dobyns, Peter DuFault, Wayne Dupuis, Jr., Alfred and "Dolly" Fairbanks, LeRoy Staples Fairbanks III, Mike Fairbanks, Art Gahbow, Evan Gates, Leo Gotchie, Linda LeGarde Grover, Avis Hedin, George Himango, E. Adamson Hoebel, Pat Houlihan, Jimmy Jackson, Steve and Mary Jackson, Tadd Johnson, Carrie Jones, Jim Jones, Monroe Killy, Arthur LaRose, Margot Liberty, Roger C. Lips, Robert N. "Bob" Lynch, Jim Marken, Mammie Marken, William "Bill" Marquardt, Frank C. Miller, Susan Collins Mulholland, Charles I. Mundale, Ruth Myers, Fred Nason, Joe "Sky" Nason, Rose Nason, Thomas and Dora Nason, Lorraine Norrgard, J. Anthony Paredes, Gretel H. Pelto, Pertti J. Pelto, Dr. Robert E. Powless, George "Rip" Rapp, Raymond Robinson, Mark Ross, Elizabeth Rumsey, Josephine E. "Josie" Ryan, Michael Rynkiewich, Susannah Saver, Jean J. Schensul, Steven L. Schensul, Barbara Simon-Jackson, Stuart Sivertson, Mr. and Mrs. Cliff Sjolund I, Cliff Sjolund II, Cliff Sjolund III, David M. Smith, Jim and Theresa Smith, Barbara W. Sommer, William Stockdon, the VISTAs from Ball Club, George Wakefield, Mr. and Mrs. Orson Weekley, Steve White, Joseph "Core" Whitebird, Allen James Wilson, Sr., and Fred Witzig for their review of and/or assistance with all or part of this work.

Special thanks goes to my wife Kathleen Smyth Roufs, and to John-Mark Roufs, Peter Thomas Roufs, and Anthony William Roufs who have generously and graciously assisted in and "put up with" this project for way longer than they should have had to.

I also thank those who have helped over the years who wish not to be named.

Special thanks also goes to Lynn Sandness for his invaluable help in preparing the original taped interviews for digitalization <>, to Brian D. McInnes for his invaluable assistance in transcribing the International Phonetic Alphabet from Paul's narration transcripts into the contemporary Double Vowel System of notation, and to Tom and Patty Cartier for their generous support of the Paul Buffalo project.

All of us involved in the final stages of this project extend our sincere thanks and gratitude to Laura Zats, Patrick Maloney, Laura Wilkinson, and James “Jay” Monroe of WiseInk Publishing for their superb, cheerful, and most helpful assistance with all aspects of editing, layout, and publishing. Paul can be proud of their works.

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.

To many others we are also indebted. . . .

Tim Roufs
University of Minnesota Duluth
6 February 2019


1. Uncertainty surrounds the origin of the names "Ojibwa" and "Chippewa." Historians frequently suggest the name "Ojibwa" originally meant "to roast until puckered up," referring to a style of moccasin with a puckered seam worn only by the Anishinaabe. The name "Chippewa," by which the Anishinaabe are frequently known, is thought to be a result of misunderstanding and faulty recording of the native word "Ojibwa." Most Anishinaabe consider their appropriate name Anishinaubag, or more popularly Anishinaabe, which means something like "real or genuine people." Cf., "Early Indian Life in the Lake Superior Region," Timothy G. Roufs, in Duluth: Sketches of the Past, Ryck Lydecker, Lawrence J. Sommer and Arthur Larsen (Eds.) Special Bicentennial Volume of Duluth's Legacy Series, Duluth, Minnesota, 1976, p. 45 (reprinted in The Minnesota Archaeologist, Vol. 37, No. 4, (November 1978) pp. 157-197.

2. "Forever-Flying-Bird."

3.Biography of Be sheekee, or Buffalo (Art and History, United States Senate). Accessed 14 November 2018.)

"Born on Madeline Island in Lake Superior, near the present-day Red Cliff reservation in Wisconsin, Be sheekee was a distinguished leader among the Ojibwa, or Chippewa, people. The name "Be sheekee" -- from the Anishinaabe language -- was variously transcribed into English; other forms appearing in print in the 19th century include Pee-Che-Kir, Bezhike, and Pezhiki. Americans of English heritage called him "Buffalo" or "Great Buffalo," whereas the French used 'Le Beouf.'"

"Introduced to fur trapping as a means of trading for European goods in the 17th century, the Ojibwa became dependent on a system that ultimately depleted their resources and drove them west. Be sheekee was chief of the La Pointe band of Ojibwa, located on Lake Superior in Wisconsin; he also led all the Lake Superior and Wisconsin bands of Ojibwa during much of this cultural transformation. The United States government encouraged native people to concede mineral rights, and by the 1850s these groups were under increasing pressure to relinquish most of their traditional land and agree to live on reservations as well. Be sheekee traveled to Washington, D.C., in 1852 and 1855 as part of official Native American delegations to discuss and sign treaties with the U.S. government. During his first visit, Be sheekee met with President Millard Fillmore to successfully settle a number of grievances. In 1855, together with Aysh-ke-bah-ke-ko-zhay, another Ojibwa chief, and 14 other Native Americans from Minnesota and Wisconsin, Be sheekee negotiated a land cession treaty. He died the same year and is buried at La Pointe (Madeline Island), Wisconsin."

A note on published images said to be Bizhiki -- "Chief Buffalo" -- of Lake Superior:

Amorin Mello, in "Chief Buffalo Picture Search," Chequamegon History, suggests that their "reasoned conclusions based on the evidence we’ve seen" about the images commonly associated with Bizhiki ‘Great Buffalo,’ the famous La Pointe Ojibwe chief who died in 1855," are that the images are not of Chief Buffalo from La Pointe. (Chequamegon, accessed 12 March 2016.

This includes the often-referred-to 1856 sculpture by Francis Vincenti in the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. (pictured below). Chequamegon, accessed 21 November 2018.

 Bust often said to be that of Pezeke, "Principal Chief of the Lake Superior Chippewa Indians."

Original Bust by Francis Vincenti, 1856,
in the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C.
often said to be that of Bizhiki.

4. If and when asked about his birthday/birthdate, Paul would say that he was born on the Fourth of July, 1900. The "Application of Maggie Nason for the Enrollment of Paul Buffalo in the Indian School at Tower, Minnesota" in 1910 lists Paul Buffalo's birthday as 5 July 1902. See., Ch. 35, "Boarding School Days" for a reproduction of the application and health checkup documents. See Ch. 2, "Bena Childhood" for an description of how Paul's "older brother [Naagaanab] died because 'it was not time' for his soul to remain in this world," and how "The older brother's soul came back again . . . and the soul [spirit] became Paul Buffalo's." They could have gone to the high-level spiritual doctor to find out for sure, but chose not to, because Paul's mother was "satisfied" that it was: "It's up to a jiisakiid, a tipi-shaker to find that out for sure. But we never went to the tipi-shaker to find out. So anyhow, my mother was satisfied." (Cf., Ch. 31, "Spiritual Doctoring, Tipi-Shaking, and Bone-Swallowing Specialists.")

So Paul was, according to their belief, born twice -- once in 1900 and again in 1902. Paul himself would normally give 1900 as his date of birth. In this work we use Paul's preferred birthdate, although the physical birth described at White Oak Point probably occurred in 1902. The White Oak Point date is the one Maggie Buffalo, his mother, used on the government application for the Tower Indian School.

5. Cf., Roufs, Timothy G., "Nature and the Concept of Power Among Lake Superior Ojibwa: Reflections of Paul Buffalo," 16 pp., March 1978. Reprinted in two parts as "The Ojibwa Concept of Power," Red River Valley Heritage Press, Red River Valley Historical Society, Vol. 4 (1981): pp. 8 ff.

Grave of Bez Hike -- Chief of the Chippewas, Madeline Island.

Grave of Bizhiki -- Chief of the Chippewas, Madeline Island.

Photographer: Monroe P. Killy

Photograph Collection 9/25/1970
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location no. Collection I.69.284
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