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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
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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


Canoe Days

Indian family in birch bark canoe, Lake of the Woods, 1911.

Indian family in birch bark canoe, Lake of the Woods, 1911.

Photographer: Carl Gustaf Linde

Photograph Collection, 1911
  Collections Online
 Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.35 r85 Negative No. 101792

All I had time for at Bena was helping mother get wood for cooking. I'd build fires for her and my sister. I had other chances to play, to shoot bow and arrows with the other boys. She wasn't strict on me. But years ago, at that time, there was kind of a hardship because we were still continually moving from one season to another.

Leech Lake Map.
Leech Lake.
Source: Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe

I've seen those times where we had to move seasonally to different places to make our camps because we harvested natural resources. In March we had to move to a sugar bush to tap the maple trees.(1) We made maple sugar and maple syrup from the sap of those trees. There's a lot of work to that. When that sap ran out -- when it was done running for the season -- we had to move out of the sugar bush and find blueberries. We had to move to a different area where the blueberries were.(2) When they were picking blueberries the adults were busy and tired and we stayed in one place. During the summer we moved around from one place to another; we moved to where hunting was good, to wherever fishing was good.(3) And when the time came for harvesting wild rice we had to go move by the harvest.(4) We camped right there by the wild rice field and took care of our wild rice. We always got enough for our own use. After harvesting wild rice we stayed in the home as sort of a thanks that we felt for the season -- a thanks that we felt because the seasonal harvestings were almost over, except hunting and fishing and trapping. After ricing we moved somewhere else. I'm talking about moving camps. Years ago we had to live in birch bark tipis and wiigwaam which we could move around.

In the fall we talked with others and picked out a good place to camp for the winter.(5) When winter came people usually met somewhere. They knew where the others were because they'd just hibernate for the winter. All these great lakes had good camping grounds.

Why did we camp by a lake?


Chippewa dwelling on Rainy Lake, ca. 1915.

Photograph Collection, ca. 1915
  Collections Online
 Minnesota Historical Society
Location no. E97.31 r130 Negative no. 72141

Because we could fish all winter and live on fish. When winter came we went where we could get wildlife, deer, and fish and everything, and where we could get water and firewood.
When we found such a place, that's where we camped for the winter. That's where we put the winter wiigwaam and tipis, years ago. We live in those very well. That's why we stuck together. These camping grounds became big villages as the Indians camped for the winter on these great lakes. Sugar Point on Leech Lake had quite a few camps. Sugar Point was a great camping ground. It stands to reason -- there was hardwood there. There was a canoe passage there, a roadway for canoes. They all heard there was a big camping ground at Sugar Point.

Leech Lake Map.
Leech Lake.
Source: Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe

Otter Tail Point was another one. Walker was another one. Brevik was another one. Winnibigosh had winter camping grounds at Third River, Winnie Dam, and Bena. There were Indians all over. Ball Club had a village along the shore too. There was a beach there at one time, a pretty beach. And when the water was low they played a game there with a ball club.(6) That's why they call it Ball Club.

Tail Point, Leech Lake, Cass County, 1910

Otter Tail Point, Leech Lake, Cass County, ca. 1910

Photograph Collection, ca. 1910
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. MC3.1L r1 Accession No. YR1933.5021

That was years ago and that's what I've seen. Later on, by the time we moved to Bena, most people had permanent winter houses and in the winter they went to those.(7) My mother and my sister and I came back to Bena for the winter. That's just the way we kept going for three, four, seasons around. That's just the way we lived.

Log cabin, 1930

Log cabin, ca. 1930.

Photograph Collection, ca. 1930
  Collections Online
 Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. GT2.1 r1 Negative No. 79082

In between seasons the adults seemed to wait for the hides and furs to get in prime, for there was a space there that we had a rest period.(3) During that time the adults were preparing for the winter by making and collecting different things. While they were resting they were preparing the canoes and getting birch bark.(8) They were making birch bark for the roofing of their shelter, or for the roofing of the storage sheds where they stored their belongings or whatever they had. They used bark for their roofing and the women would carry that bark from camp to camp. Shelters were made to hold firm. Those things were made to last for quite a while. The adults had to gather birch bark, wood cedar, basswood strippings, and basswood threads. They gathered herbs and medicines too. They had to gather all that stuff in between the harvests of the other natural resources.

Birch bark canoes, Cass Lake, 1915

Birch bark canoes, Cass Lake, ca. 1915.

Photograph Collection, Postcard, ca. 1915
  Collections Online
 Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.35 r6 Negative No. 101852

When we moved from season to season we most generally traveled in bunches and went by small river canoes made out of birch bark. We moved our camps around in groups because the seasons were too short for everybody to be working just for himself. That bunch was called ayokwiinowaad or miziwe aygoziwaad*, and would be the relatives in a group, maybe five or six canoes full of relatives. Sometimes there would be only three or four canoes travelling together, with two and three in a canoe. Once in a while there would be seven or eight canoes. Most generally there would be fifteen or twenty people in a group, but many of them weren't full-grown. They were mostly children, and were closely related through the men.(9)

A typical bunch in my time would be two brothers and their sisters-in-law, and some brothers-in-law attached to the sisters. All together four, maybe five, out of the bunch would be in-laws, and they followed what the others would do. The in-laws would go along with the people that were related. Everybody who traveled in a bunch knew the nature of one another. A man attached to a sister of one of the related men would travel with her relations for two or three months, a season maybe, to help her folks prepare for the winter. Some of them would just take off with the sister in a little while. If he had a better site with any other of his relations they'd move there and travel with them. But if the girl didn't want to go right then the man most generally did whatever she said.(10)

Chippewa Indians at Leech Lake, 1905

Chippewa Indians at Leech Lake, ca. 1905.

Photograph Collection, ca. 1905
  Collections Online
 Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.35 r56 Negative No. 49117

In my time the old class sometimes were more stationary and the younger people moved around, but pretty much over half of the people would go. The old class liked to stay home and watch their belongings, like their canoes and whatever else they might otherwise leave. They wanted to be ready to clear a piece of ground for gardening corn and potatoes and everything.(11) The old man did that. The younger people were capable of moving around so they worked together like that, a young couple with their folks. That's what happened my olden days. I've seen a lot of the old people stay home, and they got all the syrup and sugar and wild rice they wanted from the younger people. They got what they needed from the younger people. They got what they needed from the young daughter or son, whichever they had.

Some groups in my days didn't move around much at all. We called them "camper-Indians" because they were more stationary. When they were planting a garden they camped right by it. They kind-of put their camp so they could get their potatoes and vegetables. There were just a few camper-Indians, because the rest kept moving. The others would sleep overnight in different places, but the camper-Indian stayed right there by his garden. He directed new on-comers where to turn off on the lake. The camper-Indian would show the others where the outlet to the river was. The camper-Indians were the stationary ones and everybody else was moving.

Indians in canoe on Lake of the Woods, ca. 1912.

Indians in canoe on Lake of the Woods, ca. 1912.

Photographer: Carl Gustave Linde
Photograph Collection, ca. 1912
  Collections Online
 Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.35 r112 Negative No. 10273-A Accession Number: AV1986.108.76

When we traveled the rivers and lakes in the canoe days we learned about one another. On these rivers we'd all meet. That was the way of our life. We knew pred'near everybody within fifty miles because they also camped by waters, out on the rivers. Every time we saw a camp we stopped. When we moved into another camping ground and landed we sat in our canoes. Down would come the chief(12) of that camping ground. He and my Uncle Henry talked, talked Indian. They understood.

"Where you going?"

"We're going as far as the river flows from."

The chief of that camp would give kinikinik, tobacco.

"Come on," he'd say, and invite us for a cup of tea or something. We'd usually just meet one another for a while. It didn't take long to get acquainted. When we stopped to visit we talked about our journeys. Everybody always wanted to know where we were going. When one family group met another one, they always discussed this: "Where you going?"

"Why we're going to look at this area. I think there's berries here. I think there's better trapping over here."

"There's just better trapping."

"But the both of us will trap this area out this winter, so we'll go a little farther."

We talked about our way of life, and talked about their way of life. They always wanted to know who you were. Some found their relations by talking and by finding out where people came from. A lot of times I saw them grab ahold of one another and kiss one another, and say, "my sister," "my brother."(13)

We talked about resources too. If one bunch, one family, found a patch of blueberries, the old man of that family would tell the other group. They'd say, "OK, that's where we're going to move. Come on along." If one group was going to camp and make sugar at a certain place they'd say, "Come on. Camp over there too." They'd help one another like that. They got acquainted that way and learned by meeting one another. We camped with other groups once in a while. Even two groups which just met camped by one another and had powwows and feasts.(14) The camp chief would take the visitors in and give orders for a big powwow that night. Towards evening they all came around a big campfire. They hit that drum.(15) The chief got up and said, "We have visitors. They come from a certain area, close to Canada somewhere. These are Chippewas, our friends, neighbors, relatives. We're drifted along in this area. We meet one another. We're going to give a feast tomorrow. Feed them."

Indian singers and dancers at powwow, Mille Lacs Reservation, 1920

Indian singers and dancers at powwow, Mille Lacs
Reservation, ca. 1920.

Photograph Collection, ca. 1920
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.37 r58

They fed one another. They talked peace. They had a powwow. Everybody came and surrounded the visitors. That was friendship. Then they got acquainted. They were happy just to join the other group they didn't know. It was a happy life.

The older boys and girls liked camping with other groups because it gave them a chance to get acquainted. That's how young couples got to know one another. That's the way my mother and father met on the Mississippi near White Oak Point.(16)

How does a couple get to know one another?

By watching one another, by him watching her. The men and boys were very careful in those days. The father would tell this boy, "Be careful who you pick, and what you do." As a young man watched a young woman in camp he'd remember the lectures he heard many times from his father, and grandfolks, and namesake. They'd point out to him. . .

"You should look for a girl that you like, a girl that likes you. You should look for a girl that has proven herself. You should look for a girl with a background that you know, a girl who works. Look for a girl that carried her life clean, and believes in the Spirit. Find a girl that has showed that she is willing to work, a girl that's very pleasant to others. Look for a girl who uses one person just the same as the other.(17) Look for a girl you can talk to with sense and who will answer you. Look for a girl that you can trust, one that you would feel to yourself that you can trust. I believe you'll be more satisfied if you have a girl that would make a good mother, one who's sound and capable in every way. You'll be happy with one that's not afraid of work and not afraid to learn."

"You'll be happy with a girl that will work with you, and a girl that will show you she cares for you by her actions and words and expression that she has when she's talking to you. You'll take a liking to her and after a while love will come and you'll fall into her. You'll love her. If she's got what you're looking for, that'll be a good marriage."

"Ya, that's a big thing. It's true."

So if a man thought that a woman in camp was a dandy woman and would make a dandy wife, he watched her carefully. Maybe several would be after that girl. This woman would never go anywhere. If she proved to be like a girl his folks talked about, and if she kept the wiigwaam clean, she's for him. That's what they studied when they were alone. That's what I did later on too.

Young Indian women, Lake of the Woods, 1912

Young Indian women, Lake of the Woods, ca. 1912.

Photographer: Carl Gustaf Linde
Photograph Collection, ca. 1912
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.1 r193 Negative No. 55830

How does a woman know the man?

She watches him too. If he's clean-dressed and neat, and a working man who cuts wood, is a good hunter, and is a good provider, he would be for her. Her mother and grandfolks had lectured her many times too, and she's going to think about that when she's looking. The old folks many times told their granddaughter . . .

"You find a man that will be capable to support you, a man that'll be good to you. When a man is good to you, then learn about him and study him by looking at his background. But even if he has a background from when he was in his young days, you might still like him if he's bettering himself and proving himself. Maybe a marriage will change him to a better man if he likes you. But you have to ask him, 'Are you going to be satisfied? How are you going to be?'"

"If he wants to go out into the world and work with you, you can probably make it, even if he has nothing. But ask him, 'Can you provide? Do you have a little experience?'"

"You don't need too much money, just enough to get along so you won't strike hardship. You can both work together and get your own footing. A man you love doesn't have to be wealthy. That might come back to you later on because the man will think you married him for money. He'll always feel that. But a good man will notice that when he didn't have any money you showed him that you wanted to marry him even though he didn't have anything. A guy that doesn't have money, one that's looking for a home, for the way of life to have a home, will be satisfied if he finds a good mate to work with."

"I think that's a happy life. Look for a man who is able to make a living, one who will go out to work and take an interest in working. The man that is willing to work is the kind of man that will make a good home. He's looking for someone that will work with him. Find a hard-working man who is able-bodied and solid, one with no bad habits. Oh, he may have a few, but you can probably correct that. A good woman can make a good man. A good woman can make a good man, and a good man can make a good woman, just by working together. So always remember his side and your side. It takes two to make a fight and it takes two to make it go. There'll be you and him."

In a camp a young woman will have her eye on a young man, probably. Maybe several women, several girls, were after him. They all wanted a good man, a good hunter, a good provider, a good trapper, one who could get meat. They'd all watch the young men, and the young men would keep an eye on them.

Mah-zoonc and Indian boy, Mille Lacs Chippewa, 1897

100-Year-Old Mah-zoonc [Mo-zonce] and Indian boy, Mille Lacs Chippewa, 1897.

Photograph Collection, 1897
  Collections Online
 Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.1M r33 Negative No. 62032

Pretty soon a couple would take an interest in one another. They'd contact one another. There was probably a tree or something somewhere where she got a birch bark note from him. He would write a note of birch bark and leave it in the tree for her. That's the old custom. At that time, in a couple days, they would see one another.

In the meantime the others in her camp got a hint of some kind that he was coming. Sometimes they'd hint with songs -- with just a little tune, or sometimes by singing. I remember a song that says, "Don't cry because I'm leavin'. If you cry it will be cloudy." That's the same sound in my language, like a poem; it's like the same words. The song means, "Don't cry sweetheart. I'm leaving tomorrow. If you cry when I leave, it will be a sad cloudy day again." Yes! It says, "Don't cry for what you get. Don't cry when I leave." In the song the same thing is sung which signifies that. It means when the sun goes, don't cry because that's nature; it's leaving. If you cry it may be cloudy and lonely continually. Be happy because we always come back. It's the same with the sun and sweethearts. We're happy to see the sun when it comes out, and sweethearts are happy to see one another again. "Don't get lonely, when it goes; that's nature. When it's cloudy, don't cry. Don't cry for anything when I go." That's the song. "If you do cry it may be cloudy again," and that means in your life. You'll cry tears and then you can't see a brightening. When you don't cry you show appreciation to the sun and the moon that brightens this world, gives you light, and makes things grow.

Ojibwa courting flute, 1900-1925.

Ojibwa courting flute, 1900-1925.

19-5/8 X 1-1/2 inches

From the Jeannette O. and Harry D. Ayer Ojibwe Collection
3D Objects, 1900-1925
  Collections Online
 Minnesota Historical Society
Identifiers: 10000.74

In 1906 or '07 I used to hear that same tune. As they gathered in the camps the young couple would greet one another with songs like that. That's the meaning they had when they sang to one another as sweethearts. These were love songs. When they listened to one another it was a hint to them. The song was a hint; that's the way they got in contact with one another, and that's the way the rest of the people in camp began to realize they wanted to be sweethearts.

That's in the history of the old days. I heard lots of that. I had a lot of relatives and I've seen lots of that. And I've seen young girls tease their older sisters. They'd be teasing one another and saying, "Oh, there's your boyfriend." And then the other would say, "Ah, he's a little too young for me." The mother sat there and listened to that. The mother talked to the girl more, and the father talked to the boys. They would help them learn how to get into the world, how to practice in the world. The mother joined those girls that were teasing:

"Oh, don't start thinking about a boyfriend. But when you do, look carefully over a boyfriend. If you get one that's working all the time with his folks, helping his folks, that's a good one. A boy that's working doesn't have to go around looking for a woman, and the good woman doesn't have to go around looking for a man. If they want you, if you're good, they'll come to the house and ask to talk to you. They'll develop a friendship with you, because you're a worker. Now-a-days you can not run around looking for something you like. If you do that, you can never be liked and loved. It won't last. You have to show the talent you have. You have to show the job that you practice on. You have to show his people that you know that you are a good worker. When you show these things, that proves that you can develop a family in marriage."

That's the way the old people, the old ladies, would cut in on the younger girls' discussion about different men. The old ladies would break in and say a word or two:

"Daughter, whatever you do, if you want a good home always believe in the man a little older than you are because a man thinks 'a man's a man.' And if he wants a big family, he'll work. And when he works, he's looking for somebody to work with him. So if you want a good home, you better pick on somebody that works hard and is a little elder than you are."

That's the way they used to teach the girls. The old ladies would tell the girls to look for a man a little older than they were. It always works out better that way. And the man tells that to the boy too. The man says,

"Get a woman a little younger than you are. Get one that works. If she works, and if you think you like the way she works, then that will make a better living. Then the act, the work, becomes love. That's love; it's proof that you have trust in her occupation. Never rest. Then when the time comes to have a family, she'll be able to take care of her own family. She'll be happy to take care of them. She'll not be depending on anybody else to take care of the children because of the practice she's had working in her life."

If a girl was interested and old enough her mother told her, "He's the man you should talk to."

And then the sister, the younger sister, or whoever it was, took a message for the old lady of the young man's family. Then the old lady told the boy, "Let them talk to you." He would go to see the girl. He would come right up to her wiigwaam and this girl would say, "He's come to see me."

They'd go sit down beside a tree or river or something, but they would only go as far as the old folks could see them. And there they sat. Nobody interfered. They'd sit an hour, an hour and a half. Then the man got up and left. If he got no answer to his questions, he stopped his interest in her and continued searching for somebody else. But if there was an answer, he'd continue with her.

Maybe this would go on for three or four nights, maybe even several nights. When evening came, the boy and the girl met somewhere by certain trees. I've seen them do that. I've seen where they'd sit down on a log, someplace on a log, and discuss things and have a visit. After a couple of days he'd probably give her a little present. If she accepts it she's ready to marry him. The present would be something like a little wrist band, or, later on, a little ring or diamond or pin, which they had then. If she doesn't accept the present she's not ready to answer him. She won't accept the present until she knows what his personal is like, or what kind of person he is. She has a lot to look for if she's looking for a good husband. If she accepts his present they sit by the wiigwaam somewhere, and promise to one another what they would do if the family -- their fathers and mothers -- allowed them to marry. The girl would go home and the man would go home.

The folks would see that they're meeting together regularly, then, probably, the old men -- the father of the girl, and the father of the man -- would come and sit around together. One of the relatives would contact the relationship of the other and he'd say that the young couple wants to get married. Often they'd marry right there, but sometimes they waited until later on.

The night before groups split up and went on their journeys there would always be a bunch of Indians sitting together and enjoying their party around a campfire. They'd discuss, tell stories, and sing. They'd bring in love call songs. Boy they'd listen to them! The words just fit in there, the way they put them out.

The one who was about to leave his new sweetheart would sing, "Speak to me before I go. Don't cry just because I go. Remember, speak to me. Don't be afraid to talk to me when I leave. Oh, I'm going to leave; sweetheart I'm going to leave."

She'd answer, "We know you are going to leave. Go on! We know you're going to leave. Go on!"

That's quite a story. That's the old history. That's a good tune. You would see some of the Indians put down their heads when they heard that. I figured they were sincere and would shed tears. They'd think of the old history and what life they went through. The one that's singing would be good, and they'd give him his clap. She'll be sitting with a long braid looking nice. Big tears will be dropping.

Indian love calls!

Now-a-days you'd never hear Indian love calls like that.


1. See Ch. 7, "Skigamizigewin, Maple Sugar Time."

2. See Ch. 10, "Blueberry Time."

3. See Ch. 12, "Inbetween Time."

4. See Ch. 13, "Manoominike-Giizi, Wild Ricing Moon."

5. See Ch. 17, "Winter Wood and Wiigwaams."

6. See Ch. 15, "Lacrosse and Other Camp Games."

7. See Ch. 17, "Winter Wood and Wiigwaams."

8. See Ch. 8, "Old Gardens and New Bark."

9. Through their doodems.

10. This is a form of "brideservice." Cf., Ch. 24, "Courtship, Marriage, and Living in with the In-Laws."

11. See Ch. 12, "Inbetween Time."

12. See Ch. 5, "Chiefs and Councils," and Ch. 4, "Siouxs and Scouts."

13. This "brother" could be and individual of one's doodem, as well as a brother of a nuclear family.

14. See Ch. 23, "Niimi'idiwin: 'Come and Dance, Come and Sing -- Living and Spirit Alike.'"

15. See Ch. 22, "Drums."

16. See Ch. 1, "Early Life at Leech Lake."

17. That is, look for a girl who treats everyone equally.

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