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When Everybody Called Me Gabe-bines,

Teachings from Paul Buffalo

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

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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."

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Siouxs(1) and Scouts

O-kun-de-kun (To keep the net up), warrior of Leech Lake band of Chippewa, 1880

Okandiikan (To Keep the Net Up),
warrior of Leech Lake band of Chippewa, ca. 1880.

Creator: Martin's Gallery
Photograph Collection, Carte-de-visite, ca. 1880
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.1O r17 Negative No. 62062

The Indians we met on the rivers were pretty nice; at least I thought they were. They were travelers. They traveled the waters the same as Indians did before them. When we would meet another group they would be from our same tribe.

It wasn't always that way. In my grandfather's time occasionally they'd meet a Sioux somewhere, but generally the Siouxs would roam pretty far off. I can't remember any fights with the Siouxs, but I heard the old folks tell about it though. And I heard them tell about the uprise they had in spots, but it didn't amount to anything. Still, in the days when it was wild, the children were scared all of the time. We had rattlers, bears, animals, and one thing or another like that to fear. And we didn't know who we were going to meet.

Sioux scouts in camp, with firearms, ca. 1885.

Sioux scouts in camp, with firearms, ca. 1885.

Photographer: Frank Jay Haynes
Photograph Collection, Stereograph, ca. 1885
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location no. E90 r21 Negative no. 54472

The groups usually traveled alone then, and there was a quaintness to a group and to one's self in the family. You might as well say they were all in one family. Oh, they'd talk to one another in camp, but I used to notice that the adults wouldn't hardly talk much when they'd get in a strange place. Naturally the women wouldn't talk in a strange place if their husbands weren't around, but besides that, the people in the olden days whispered more. When they did talk I used to hear them whisper, at least the older class would whisper. They talked very low. And when a child cried they hushed him as quick as they could. "Shish!," the old folks'd say when I used to travel along and want to make noise or cry. They'd hush me.

One time, when I was a little boy about eight or nine years old, I wanted to play along the river. Me and a couple more kids wanted to play down by the shore. But every time we talked loud one of the older class would go, "shaanh!"

That's the way they would tell us.

I began to take notice of all this whispering so I went up to my mother and asked, "Why do you tell us to stop? There isn't anybody around." I spoke out amongst the boys: "And why do those Indians talk so low, my mother. Why do those Indians talk so low and whisper like that?"

"Well," she said, "for one reason; they were always shy. I heard the old people mutter when I was young too. They were always shy. They didn't want the Siouxs, or an enemy, or the spies to hear them. You never know where there's an enemy searching for a better country. You never know. You never know who's around. We're too close to the border.(2) Anybody could come in this area of Minnesota. And that's why we don't build a fire very much either, because we have to be careful. That's why."

War Dance -- Group of Sioux Indians, 1896

War Dance -- Group of Sioux Indians, 1896.

Creator: Truman W. Ingersoll
Photograph Collection, 1896
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E91.37 p10 Negative No. 15674

They didn't want anybody who might be there to hear them. We had lots of men drifting and roaming through the river banks, traveling on the highway of the river. Somebody might be laying in the brush, in the weeds, listening to all this stuff. And the information he heard could help him find his way to whatever you're discussing. He might get interested in your affairs.

After I thought about it for a while I realized that the adults also talked in a low tune because they didn't want the children to be wise of the languages they spoke to one another. They didn't want the children to learn too much about the older life until they were of age. If the child came in when they were talking about adult matters, they'd tell the child, "Now you go out and play. You're not to listen. You're not old enough to listen. This is for the older class." That's also why they whispered more. I remember that too.

Like my mother said, the Indians years ago, in her times, were kind-a shy. They were built that way. There were too many warriors amongst themselves. They were afraid of an attack. That was one of the things they worried about, and that's why we had scouts. If we were in danger, we had oshkaabewisag, scouts, checking the surrounding area.

The scout was a worker out-field. Scouts were the young people, the younger class. If a young man was a scout in the field, he'd probably be eighteen or twenty, twenty-one years old. The scouts were working all the time. There were just so many scouts in each group.(3) There were groups of Indians here and there and they knew one another by their camping grounds -- by where they most generally camped -- and by the kind of houses they lived in. They had different kinds of wiigwaams, different tipis. Wiigwaams, those are the round ones; that's the Chippewa style. And those peaked tipis -- the peaked ones made out of long poles -- they were the Siouxs'. And other tribes regularly had little dug houses.(4)

We had cruisers coming in from different tribes -- drifters. We had scouts coming in from different areas too, like the Siouxs. There were a lot of Indians, and there were a lot of different tribes that were going to take over our area. The Chippewa Indian always called this northern part of Minnesota his land. We selected it as Chippewa. As a Chippewa people we selected this land for our warehouse! The state of Minnesota is the warehouse for the Chippewa of this area.

Why did that one chief say we selected this for our warehouse? We selected this for a warehouse because here there was all the game we wanted to eat. That's a warehouse, and that's why so many other Indians were coming in from other areas. Sometimes the scouts found everything OK, but if there was any problem in that area they'd take it in to the discussion with the chiefs.(5) If the scouts saw other tribes, there was something wrong somewhere and they were kind of sneaky then. They investigated that and made tracks to go back and report to the chief. They'd tell him where this shouldn't be, or where he should or should not go in his field. They'd tell the chief if they'd seen something wrong, or if someone was moving in. The scout's liked that when they'd go out and bring in reports to the chief. The scouts enjoyed that because they could go anywhere and find something or someone moving in to where they weren't supposed to be.

Na-gwa-na-be and Aish-pun, head men of Mille Lacs Band of Ojibway, 1901

Na-gwa-na-be and Aish-pun,
head men of Mille Lacs Band of Ojibway, 1901.

Photograph Collection, 1901
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.1N m3 Negative No. 40727

If Indians of a different tribe moved into our territory the scouts and the chief went and talked to the people that weren't supposed to be there. The chief went there and told them to move. If they'd go, everything was all right. But if they didn't, there was trouble. If they didn't go, then there was trouble, so that's why they used smoke signals. They had smoke signals which the scouts understood. The strangers almost always moved, because there were a lot of Chippewa Indians. But there were a lot of Siouxs too.

Kakin Yance, Sioux warrior, ca. 1895.

Kakin Yance, Sioux warrior, ca. 1895.

Photographer: Ingersoll View Company
Photograph Collection, Stereograph, ca. 1895
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location no. E92 r15 Negative no. 35934

When the Chippewa got into a battle they really went out for their life -- for the benefit of the kids, the children, the little children, and the womenfolks. They didn't care for their life when it came to protecting this country. That's their country. "And the quicker we settle it," they felt, "the quicker we can have better times."

That's what my mother told. She told that in her times all the children were put in one place and the menfolks -- the old chiefs and the scouts -- went ahead and told the other party, "You either move or you'll have it."

That's the way they did it.

The number of men who would go out to fight all depended on the scouts' reports. If they could do it on so many men, with the men they had available, they'd go. They never trusted the womenfolks to go with them, but the womenfolks were always leery and were always ready to help, the same as the men.

Before they left, the menfolks took their ladies, young ladies, and told them, "You surround the children, and battle with all you're good for!" There were a lot of women, and the younger class, the children, were behind them. The women were protecting little ones, particularly the little baby.

The women were out there backing the men, so when the men went they always had a scout to send messages back. They always sent messages with the fast one. He had to be fast. That scout would give messages to the women. If the men couldn't settle the battle, if they needed additional power, the scout was always ready to give the women the report. He'd call in right now, and they were right there. The women were ready to go. They let the children turn aside and they'd really battle, with bow and arrows, and clubs, just like the men. They used anything they got ahold of, including knives. Even the women! Even the women got into it! My mother used to tell that they really were back of that chief and back of the scouts in her times too, but by then the battling with the Siouxs was pretty much over in our area.

That's our angle of it. I know that. That was something. The adults didn't fear anything. The Indians were never scared, because they had to be brave. Old John Smith, the guy everybody called "Wrinkle-Meat" in Indian,(6) Gaa‑binagwiiyaasens, was the one who could remember his people fighting with the Siouxs. Old John was one of the oldest Indians who ever lived, and everybody loved to talk with him. When I first met him as a young boy in Bena he already claimed he was around a hundred and twenty years old.

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

Gaa­binagwiiyaasens, John Smith, Cass Lake, ca. 1915.

Photograph Collection, 192
Photographer: C. N. Christiansen
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.1K p27 Negative No. 12474-A
Accession No: AV1999.100.8

We'd talk to Old John lots and we'd ask him, in Indian, "Did you see any times, John, in the past, that there were any wars?"

"Yes," he said, "a few of 'em. I seen uprises, wars, uprises."

A few of my relatives and I would be setting by the campfire and we'd ask John questions. "What did you see John?"

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

Several times he told us about the time they scouted the Siouxs below the Mississippi Rapids, not far from Ball Club:

"Quite a while ago in my younger days, eighty or ninety years ago, about 1820 or '30, we generally paddled along with fear that we were gonna meet up with the Siouxs somewhere. The river was a great means to travel, but it was wild. The Siouxs would paddle the streams too. Two, three of 'em would sometimes take a canoe up the river, following the Mississippi bank."

"We used to wait for the Siouxs at Mud Lake."(7)

"You see, when they had an uprising in the west we were kind-a feeling the Siouxs were gonna enter in Mud Lake. We felt they were gonna enter by the rivers there, so we were afraid of rivers, especially at night. In them rivers a person didn't know what they were gonna see in the next bend of the river or in the grass. Somebody'll stick his head out maybe, and point an arrow at you. That's what we feared."

"One time, up the river a-ways from Mud Lake, on the Mississippi, I was with a group of Indians, Chippewas, paddling around. We had to go in groups because we were afraid of Siouxs and any stranger. We were young -- a lot of us were young. We were goin' along, combing for other Indians, Chippewas, looking for some relations who maybe were up the river where we had heard of them last. We were trying to get to Winnibigosh, to the big lake. There was a chief we knew who usually camped on an island near there and we knew we'd feel safer in open waters."

View of the Upper Mississippi, ca. 1875.

View of the Upper Mississippi, ca. 1875.

Photograph Collection, ca. 1875
Photographer: Benjamin Franklin Upton
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Identifiers: SE1M r7 Accession Number: AV1990.44.34

"We were very quiet as we went paddling along the river toward a place called the Mississippi Rapids, up above Ball Club. We were kind-a shy going up the river because there were strange places there and we didn't know what we were gonna meet. It got dark before we made it to below the Mississippi Rapids. Below the Mississippi Rapids there it got kind-a dark. It was windy and we were all tired out so we parked our canoes along the river, pulling them up behind the meadow."

"We put up the camp -- but in them days it was just a camping ground and a fire. There were mosquito shelters -- you know, these little bushes we made into smudges. After we built the campfire and cooked up lunch we right away went to bed. But before we went to sleep we selected scouts to be alert. 'This is a strange place we're going into,' our leader told us."

"We had come from down below, from down around White Oak -- down below Deer River -- and we kind-a got alerted that somebody was gonna sneak up on us at night. So we got out our bow and arrows, and sent out scouts. In them days we were still using bow and arrows. Camps always had scouts; they always had young scouts. The young crop that was on the alert never'd sleep at night. They'd sleep in the mornings. So we camped there and the rest of us went to sleep. We just got nicely sound asleep when one of the scouts came running back. He said, 'There's trouble here!'"

"He was scared."


"'Down the river. Siouxs are coming!'"

"The old Indians and the older boys got up, got their bows, and just that quick they were all set. Somebody said, 'We made smoke with our smudges; maybe somebody thought we made a signal.'"

"We sat in a circle and the chief said -- one of our chiefs said -- 'Why did you make that smoke? Now we got trouble; somebody is sneakin' up on us. We might have war. Maybe the Siouxs or some other group is camping above us. We might get attacked. So take the women and children back, away from the camp ground. We might have war. I want you to defend the women and children. I want two scouts. That'll be three of us. We'll go see who's up the river.'"

"I was quite a husky boy at that time so I said, 'All right; I love my people. I have to defend 'em. Whether I'm worth a life to my people is worth life to me.' Somebody said, 'They're comin'; across the river.'"

"'Okay you scouts get ready!' the chief said, so we grabbed our bows, stones, clubs, or whatever we had."

"As a small group we made a march, and the leader marked where the noise was. The leader pointed to where the noise was, and all advanced with arrows in the bows. When I heard that noise I was ducking in the grass. I was ducking in the grass, but I went down there, as a brave, with my bow and arrows and tomahawk. I sneaked down the river first, and the other scout sneaked behind me. We sneaked behind the bushes from one tree to another. When we got down to the river, down to the foot of the river, we stopped. I pointed my bow right to the water and was pulling on that bow just as hard as I could pull. As soon as we knew that a Sioux canoe was goin' by we were gonna drill their leader."

"Nothing went by, but the water kept roaring. We got tired of waiting so we got up and the other scout went and investigated to see what was wrong. He went down to the river, down into the water there. The scout became mad; he stopped, paused, and looked at me silent."

"We looked . . . 'Those are the rapids!'"

"There were no Indians. It was rapids! Here was a rock stickin' out of the water, making noisy rapids that sounded like somebody was wading in the water. The water was suckin' through the rapids as the water was comin' through the rocks."

"So we all laughed. The wind was blowing when we first camped there, then everything quieted down. The wind went down; then the rapids made noise. We got scared. We couldn't hear the rapids at first because the wind was blowing; when the wind settled down we thought somebody was comin' across the river for the Mississippi Rapids."

"The leader said to the other scout who was a watch-man that night, 'Could you go ahead and tell them back at camp that there's no trouble? Tell them it's the rapids. Tell them that it's a rock stickin' out of the water, making that water roar like that. It isn't the Siouxs comin' across the river. It's the water that rolls over the rocks makin' all that noise, makin' the water waves like that. That's the rapids! That's the rapids up here. Could you go ahead and tell 'em?'"

"'You're our leader; you go tell 'em. When they laugh, we'll laugh with 'em.'"

"We all felt foolish and didn't want to face the others back at camp. I told that watch-man scout, 'All right, you're great. You're a great man. We're free. Let's tell 'em we had to get up in the night to see if there's rocks stickin' out of the water. We'll tell 'em they got a rapids here that we gotta go through in the morning. We'll have to watch out for our canoes. We learned that anyhow.'"

"We still felt foolish when we went to bed that night, but we were all happy about this incident and were laughing the next day. I guess the scout that was a watch-man that night went somewhere else and slept. That kept him awake. The next day they all had to go look at them rocks. The leader told the others 'These rapids may be dangerous, so we gotta find a way to go through without hittin' them rocks with our birch bark canoes.'"

So it was a good thing. Oh there was a strong rapids them days! There was lots of water comin' through there. And it made a lot of noise; it was just like a dam makin' a lot of roar, a lot of noise.

See what hardship we went through? They had-a wake up in the night to go down to see what this was. We didn't know what it was gonna be down there. You see how we had to beware, to be afraid for our children?

Being a scout was very good, if you weren't doing foolish things like sneaking up on rocks at night. Scouts learnt more. They learnt all the angles about the way to live. A scout made a hero when he found something that had to be done and then made an improvement by working on it. They were our main protection years ago. We didn't have any law enforcement. We only had our own law.

We never had much trouble in my early times, but when we did, they'd send the scouts to check. A chief would say, "Somebody stoled a canoe." And maybe he'd send a couple of scouts out. The chief decides, and if he decided to send scouts the chief said, "You go out and find that." They'd go. They worked nights. You wouldn't know who they were. You never knew. Everything was done secretly. The scouts just about knew where that problem was, so where did they go? They'd go to the nearest settlement. They checked. Ya, they'd go right to him direct, right to the one they suspected. You bet! Boy it was just too bad for him if he stole it. Ooh, Jesus!! There'd be an uprise!

Scouts were working for our protection, but most of the time they just hunted and searched for food. The scout was always searching for the big patch of berries during berry time.(8) When he got through working he came home and the women had a big bowl of soup for him, and fry bread.(9) He had a good meal and he laid down. He told the women, "Listen, you go up to that big cluster of pine; on the north side, there's berries in there. There's also berries on the south side. There's berries all over in there. You can't miss them. And by the berries up there I shot a deer." A number of times he shot a deer while scouting for berries. He said, "The deer is laying over there."

Two or three canoes of womenfolks'd go right there, cut up the deer, pick all the berries they wanted to pick, and pack it all home. Maybe a scout or two would go with them, to protect them and show them where to go. Somebody had to protect the women. But the scouts that went had to be married to one of the women. No other fellow would go with the women to show them where to go. The scouts had to make it sincere. They'd take their muskets or bow, in case a bear or something came. A bear years ago could be vicious.

So that's how the chief of a family group had scouts going around working out in the field and advising him. And when the scouts made good then they became a chief. By protecting the camp, working in the field, and giving sensible advice, a good scouter was a hero -- was made a hero -- and he became a chief. That's how a good scout became a chief in my younger days.


1. Many find the term "Sioux" offensive -- referring as it does to a name given to these cultural groups by other (often enemy) peoples -- preferring their own specific terms, such as Lakȟóta, Sičháŋǧu Oyáte, Isáŋyathi, Iháŋktȟuŋwaŋ, or even the derived English-language terms Dakota or Lakota which are though by many (if not most) to be related to native terms meaning "allies" or "friend" or "friendly." The term "Nakota" or "Nakoda," earlier referring to a group thought to be part of the Dakota-Lakota language group, is now though by some to be more appropriately reserved for the Assiniboine and the Canadian peoples known as Îyârhe Nakoda (the latter also known as the "Stoney"). Exact etymologies are uncertain. Cf., "Dakota people," "Sioux," "Assiniboine," and "Nakoda (Stoney)" (Wikipedia).

When Paul Buffalo began telling his story few were concerned about offensive terms, names, and mascots. Paul himself, as one can see here and throughout these texts, used terms in common parlance totally without negative intent, and even occasionally parenthetically commenting about their lack of accuracy and/or appropriateness.

2. The border with Canada, and the border with the "Dakota" or "Sioux."

3. Probably just two or three.

4. Semi-subterranean houses.

5. See Ch. 5, "Chiefs and Councils," and Ch. 13, "Mah-no-min-I-kay Gii-siss, 'Wild Ricing Moon.'"

6. See Ch. 40, "John Smith 'Wrinkle Meat.'"

7. That is, they used to keep a lookout for the Siouxs at Mud Lake. Located within the boundaries of the Chippewa National Forest, Mud Lake lies about four miles south-southwest of Ball Club, not far upstream on the Leech [Lake] River from the fork of the Leech and Mississippi Rivers. It is connected to the smaller Goose Lake to the south. Today it is the focus of the Mud-Goose Wildlife Management Area -- managed by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) -- which consists of about 17,000 acres of forest, wetland meadow, marsh, and lakes. About three-fourths of the Chippewa National Forest is part of the Leech Lake Reservation.

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

9. John Smith "Wrinkle-Meat," Gaa‑binagwiiyaasens, was born before the advent of fry bread as a "traditional" food. Nevertheless, in his day scouts would have been greeted upon their return with warm soup and a nourishing "good meal." Cf. Ch. 12, "Inbetween Time." For more information on fry bread, see Mihesuah, Devon. "Indigenous Health Initiatives, Frybread, and the Marketing of Non-Traditional 'Traditional' American Indian Foods. Native American and Indigenous Studies 3:2 (Fall 2016), pp. 45-69. Accessed 26 June 2018. For more on Gaa‑binagwiiyaasens, see Ch. 40, "John Smith 'Wrinkle Meat.'"

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