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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."

"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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16 15
Lacrosse and Other Camp Games

 Ballplay of the Dakota on the St. Peters River in Winter, 1848.

Ballplay of the Dakota on the St. Peter's [now the Minnesota] River in Winter, 1848.

oil on canvas.
Seth Eastman (1808–1875)

Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas,
acquisition in memory of Mitchell A. Wilder, Director, Amon Carter Museum, 1961-1979, 1979.4.

permission pending

"Although played by tribes throughout North America, rules varied. In her book The American Aboriginal Portfolio (1853), Mary Eastman, the artist’s wife, describes the general rules of the game, which she and her husband frequently observed close to their base at Fort Snelling, Minnesota. . . ."

We have all kinds of games which we enjoy. Besides the moccasin game,(1) we liked to play lacrosse.(2) In canoe days Indians from different reservations came long distances to play a game like lacrosse. They used to land by the lake shore and play there. That's the only team fun they had -- outside of moccasin games. They were quite the games.

I've seen that game played at Ball Club,(3) but the last time was about 1912. They played it right by Daigle's Landing, by Willow Beach -- Willow Beach Landing. My mother tells how there sure used to be big games there. Years ago, boy, you'd see them playing, and that's why they call the town Ball Club.

Baah-gah-du-án-nIg, is the game. Baah-gah-du-án is the way we call this lacrosse playing place in Indian. In English it's called "Ball Club." Ball Club is named after the lacrosse game the Indians call "Ball Club" -- but it isn't the same, exactly. They played that game -- that kind-of lacrosse game -- on that big sand beach of Ball Club Lake, down at Willow Beach. And where they played that sort-of-a lacrosse game is Baah-gah-du-án. That's what they're talking about in that name. They're talking about that big wide beach. That's Ball Club. Ball Club -- Baah-gah-du-án -- is named after the play ground of the Indians.

Lacrosse wasn't a religious doings or anything; it was just a gathering -- mah-mai-o-tah-wag. It was something to do as a team -- team by team -- bah-gah-du-wán ah-ta-gan-wi-nI-nii. You can have as many as you want on a team, but there's usually seven, or eight, or ten. They played as any group, but they chose the sides mostly from the family and from neighbor groups. It is mostly a friendly group. Sometimes they played in totem groups -- doodems .(4) Some groups were called just like the name of the tribe. We have names for each tribe of the Indian -- each group of the Indian -- according to where they originate.(5) That's how we know who they are. When you play in groups you play for the team of the area where you live. This is how we choose sides. Players join what division they belong in.

"Division" represents the area where you live. There was Sugar Point, for example, who were Pillager. We're Mississippi. When these two groups get together we chose Mississippi Ojibway and the Pillagers as teams. Muk-a-day-wI-nii -- that's Pillager -- and they played the Mississippi Ojibwa. That's Ojibway again; they're Chippewa.

xxxTR NOTE: ". . . the Pillagers; Makandwewininiwag in the Ojibwe language") <> Shoud it then be Mu-kand-we-wi-ni-nii ?? Check with Brian xxx

Women could play that too. Oh, Jeeze ya! The women would play when they didn't have enough men for either side to be balanced. They pulled up their dress about just above their knee -- and then they got a belt -- anything, a rope or anything -- and tied their dresses up. They do that to get that dress out of the way of their knees when they're running. They're always ready to go -- on the women's side. And the men's side is always ready. Boy they're good runners! Boy those women are quick! Oh boy!! They're quick as a man. They'd get rough too. My mother said, "Oh gee, we used to really play that. Then we'd talk about it and laugh about it. How we'd used to run! We'd take that ball and run, and when somebody'd overrun us, you'd better look out." Some of them would get mad easy too -- nIsh-kah-day-say. Ya, the women really played that game.

Of course they'd bet on this too. Ah-ta-gay is when you're trying to beat somebody with cards or with a betting. It's betting. Like in the moccasin game, we'd bet anything -- horses, rifles, the old-time rifles we had before. We bet anything that's valuable -- anything that you could use, like canoes. We'd often bet for canoes. Sometimes the women bet too -- that's why they play.

The men-folk never used the women for bets.(6) No!! You read about that, but they don't. They probably did in the past, but we didn't in my time or in my folk's time. We quit that long ago. When the men bet the women(7) that probably makes them play harder, but we don't do that anymore.

For a lacrosse club we used a big stick -- a white ash stick -- with a basket on the end. We call the white ash ah-gii-máak, "snowshoe tree," and we call that white ash stick with a basket on the end baa-gáa-do-waa-nák. The ash stick has a little hoop on it, and a little pocket top. It's sort of a hockey stick, but it has a pocket on it -- a little sack. The end of the stick is sacked in.

Nettle Fiber, Stalks, Braided Hank, Ball of Finished Fibre, Mille Lacs, 1957

Ojibwe lacrosse stick, ca. 1900-1932.

33 X 4-1/2 inches

Category: 3D Ojects
Used by: Jack F. Rohr at Itasca State Park
Not earlier than 1900 - Not later than 1932
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society

You used that pocket to pick up what you're playing with -- bi-kwa-kw^'d, usually a ball -- and run with it. Bi-kwa-kw^'d is a ball you play with. It could be any ball -- or anything -- but it's round. If you didn't have a ball you'd play that game with anything -- anything you could get a hold of. Some say they even used to play with an old human skull, but I've never seen that in my days. It doesn't matter what you play with. Even the kids play with bi-kwa-kw^'d. One player would throw that thing and the other one would catch it in that little pocket in the hoop end.

The game we play is just like hockey, but it's played up in the air. You score when you bring the ball home where it belongs. You score by carrying the ball in the stick hoop to where the marks are on the ground. Someone always tries to carry the ball to the marks. Whatever you used, you always try to shove 'er in there -- shove 'er between the home marks at your end of the play ground.

You try to keep the ball away from the people you're playing against. Then you try to keep it up, and try to make a score -- try to make a home-base move. To make a score you usually have to throw the ball back and forth with your team members. It's like a ball game. You throw that ball and give it to who you're playing with. When they catch the ball they'll dip that stick and run. The one that catches the ball will try to run back with it to the home base. And if he gets tired of running, he throws the ball out of his basket and someone else catches it. So that way they keep right on a-running.

And if the one he's throwing the ball to is no good at catching it, he'll miss it. He'll lose it. And the other one -- one of the players on the other team -- will grab it with his stick. They each take turns on one side to another that way.

All the while, the other team is trying to knock the ball out of your basket so they can grab it. You have to keep away from their sticks too. That's part of the game. And you never know when or where they're going to hit you. Sometimes they hit you when they're trying to knock the ball out, but they don't mean it. Sometimes they swing so hard they hit you. And if they hit you with their club, you're down again. But that stick is so limber that it won't hurt you very long. It isn't supposed to hurt too much. See, on the end it's thinned out -- thinned out like a bow, like a bow and arrow. But you have a solid handle. Geeze you could swing that. When you get hit you have to laugh, that's all. But sometimes they get mad. When the man gets mad -- or when the woman gets mad -- then the harder they play. When they get mad in the game -- if the women's side lost -- we say nIsh-kah-day-say.

That's the roughest game I ever knew. It's rough! -- especially when the women get in there. Holy cow they're rough. Oh boy!! The way they'd go!! They moved!! They don't fool around with the ball, no. And when they score, the referee of the area says the word. He's the guy that says the word. He's the guy they have to listen to. Geeze you have to be quick, fast.

I like to see that.

My god!!

In some places, I'm told, women played a game called a "woman's game," where they'd toss two "balls" tied together, with sticks, and run that home to a goal -- kind-a like in the lacrosse game.(8)

Ojibwe "women's game" double "ball," Grand Portage, not later than 1930.

Ojibwe "women's game" double "ball," Grand Portage, not later than 1930.

22-1/8 X 1-1/2 inches

Identifier: 6935.35.8.A
Ojibwe "women's game" double "ball" sticks, Grand Portage, not later than 1930.

Ojibwe "women's game" double "ball" sticks, Grand Portage, not later than 1930.

29 to 31-/2 X 1/2 inches

Identifier: 6935.35.8.B-E

Made by: Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa
Collected by: Frances Theresa Densmore
Made in Grand Portage Reservation, Cook County, Minnesota
Creation: Not later than 1930
Content Category: 3D Objects
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society

The kids didn't play moccasin game or lacrosse, we just watched the adults -- with those games. We had other games, like "hoops," "stump," and shu-shu-may. We had hoops for a game. A hoop is a ring -- or whatever we wanted -- tied onto a stick with a string. We'd flip that ring up and catch it with the stick. We'd see how many times we could catch that ring. We'd thrown that hoop up, seeing how many times we could catch that before we'd miss. We might catch that ring four, five times, and if we made twelve hits without missing, that's a point. If you can put that hook through -- one handed -- twelve times without missing, you got a point. Otherwise, the one who hits the same hole the most times in a row was the winner -- because the other ones couldn't do it as many times. We had a good time. Those were good days.

Ojibwe ring and pin game.

Ojibwe ring and pin game, White Earth, ca. 1890-1917.

"An Ojibwe game consisting of eight deer dewclaws and an aluminum thimble strung on a leather thong with an iron needle at one end and a perforated leather tab at the other. Between the tab and thimble is strung a lead disc with perforations around its edge. Collected at the White Earth Reservation, Minnesota, by Byron Carr, who worked on the reservation as a government cruiser, circa 1900."

19 X 1-1/2 inches (widest)

Made by: Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa
Owned/Used by: Byron Franklin Carr
Made in Grand Portage Reservation, Cook County, Minnesota
Creation: Approximately 1890 - Approximately 1917
Content Category: 3D Objects
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Identifier: 1995.46.2

Ojibwe ring and pin game.

Ojibwe bone and pin game, ca. not earlier than 1800 - not later than 1899.

18-5/16 inches

From the Jeannette O. and Harry D. Ayer Ojibwe Collection.

Creation: Not earlier than 1800 - Not later than 1899
Content Category: 3D Objects
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Identifier: 10000.524

Ojibwe ring and pin game, Grand Portage, not later than 1930.

Ojibwe ring and pin game, Grand Portage, not later than 1930.

22 X 1-1/8 inches

Made by: Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa
Collected by: Frances Theresa Densmore
Made in Grand Portage Reservation, Cook County, Minnesota
Creation: Not later than 1930
Content Category: 3D Objects
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Identifier: 6935.35.7

We'd play "stumps" too.

We all used to play "stumps."

Do you know what "stumps" is?

In "stumps," some guy'll lead, and if you can't follow him, why you're chicken when you get stuck. He'll lead by doing something like jumping the fence. If somebody jumps a fence, and if you can't jump that same fence, then you're a chicken. If the leader jumps over a post, and we all jump over a post, and if one guy can't do it, he's no good. He's "stumped." The guy who leads can do anything, and you follow him to see how many can do that complete.

We had all kinds of tricks, including racing and jumping. We'd mark the place where we used to land when we'd jump broad-jumps and running-jumps. We'd mark who were the best ones. Everybody tried to beat one another. Some of them were pretty good on the broad-jump. Oh boy they could jump! That's good for exercising.

We used to wrestle a little bit too. We had one big fun wrestling. We had a good wrestler -- from Red Lake -- George Earth. George Earth was quick as a weasel. Ya, he was a darn good wrestler.

We'd run races too. That's what we used to do years ago. That's what games we used to play. Ya.

Canoe race, White Earth Indian Reservation.

Canoe race, White Earth Indian Reservation, ca. 1908-1916.

Photographer: A. A. Richardson Photo-Illustrating Company
Creation: ca. 1908 - 1916
Content Category: photographs
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Identifiers: Collection I.364.32, AV2006.35.36

There was one old guy -- he was an old man too -- who used to say, "We used to be the same way you boys are at play. And we'd get old barrels -- pork barrels, or logs, or anything -- and roll 'em. We'd put 'em on the ground and roll 'em to try to roll one another off." Ah geeze, they were good! We'd put them In the water for log rolling. That was fun. Everything was fun!!

And this same old guy told me, "Puttin' braggin' aside, I was the only one to ever take a pork barrel and stand with my hands beside me, and jump right in the pork barrel, and jump out without touching anything!!" That's pretty good isn't it? I asked some of the other boys his age who lived in his times, "Is that really true? That little old man tells that he jumped in a pork barrel and he jumped out without help with his hands. Did he broad jump in the pork barrel and jump out? Is that right?"

"Oh-h ya. He'd do almost anything. He's very active. He was not big, but he was active. We were very careful what we said to him, he was so active."

That little fellow was a good man, they say. He was good on his feet. He was good with the jig too.(9) Boy he could jig! There were always a few of them like that around in the old days.

One of our favorite games is shu-shu-may -- a winter game. It is quite a game. One time we were all sitting in the wiigwaam, in the ring. There were young children there who never realized the meaning of the lectures they were given.(10) And I sat there and listened. But the young children disturbed the minds of the old people. And the old people told the young boys -- it was winter time -- they told the young children, "Go on out-side and play with your toys for a while." And for all the rest of this lecture session we had, they left, and there was no disturbance. Everybody understood the lecturing. Everybody understood what the points meant.

The children were sent outside to play so that they would not disturb the meeting we had -- the gathering we had. The old people told the children, "Go on out and play with your sh'uuuu-shu-may. Mahd-jáhn -- go. Play with sh'uuuu-shu-may." That's an Indian word -- sh'u-shu-mahn, sh'u-shu-mayn. And that's a word I never hear much now-a-days.

Sh'u-shu-mayn is a stave(11) that's made with a little turn-up on the bow end -- like a ski. It's a stave that you throw by hand onto the snow -- or into the snow -- by swinging it, and it slides by itself. For grown-ups it's made four or five feet long; sometimes it's five or six feet long. The length varies according to what one could handle at their age. If it was a small boy, a small team, we make small ones. And if it's a big team -- if it's a big grown-up team -- we make them about five or six feet long. We make it according to one's height. That's the best. We make it out of hardwood: oak or ash, white ash.

Ojibwe snow snake game pieces

Ojibwe snow snake game pieces, not later than 1959.

19 7/8 inches length (A - F)
63/64 inch width (A - F)

Made by: Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa
Collected by: Harry Darius Ayer
Collected by: Jeannette Ora Foster Ayer
Creation: Uncertain
Content Category: Game piece
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Identifier: 10000.409.A-F

Ojibwe snow snake game pieces, not later than 1959.

Ojibwe snow snake game pieces, not later than 1959.

24-1/64 inches length (A - F)

From the Jeannette O. and Harry D. Ayer Ojibwe Collection
Content Category: 3D Objects
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Identifier: 10000.526.A-D

Ojibwe snow snake game pieces, ca. 1900-1925.

Ojibwe snow snake game pieces, ca. 1900-1925.

32-7/8 inches (A)
31-1/2 inches (B)

Creation: Not earlier than 1900 - Not later than 1925
From the Jeannette O. and Harry D. Ayer Ojibwe Collection
Content Category: 3D Objects
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Identifier: 10000.410.A,B

We most generally throw this sh'u-shu-may on top of the snow. It's slippery on top of the snow, but it also slides in the snow, and out of the snow, and in the snow. It comes out of the snow, and goes back in the snow so that you think it's live -- but it isn't. It's just a piece of wood that's made to shoot in the snow, and on the snow. If you throw it right straight, it goes right straight. It goes a long ways on the top of the snow. Some can throw it quite a long range. And whoever can throw it the furthest has the best swing. Whoever can go the furthest is a good man. That's the game.

When the kids are big enough to play outside they swing a little sh'u-shu-may. After they are eight or nine years old they get to be pretty good at it. And the older they get, the more experience they have, and the better they are. That's experience for them to learn.

We encouraged the children who know how -- who are experienced -- to throw one of them. It became a game. In the early years we used to be pretty good at games. We played sh'u-shu-may together -- the same as foot-lacrosse, and the race, and "hoops," and everything. But it's a private game -- for a private house, a private wiigwaam.(12) Sometimes there's four, sometimes there's five playing sh'u-shu-may. It all depends on who joins.

Ojibwe snow snake game pieces

Ojibwe "snake game" pieces, ca. 1900-1932.

8-1/2 X 1/2 inch (64.139.20.A-.D)
4-1/4 X 1/4 inch (64.139.20.E-.M)

Creation: Not earlier than 1900 - Not later than 1932
Content Category: Artefacts
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Identifier: 64.139.20.A-M

We always found a way to keep busy. In the fall we'd go down skating, or play with stones on the ice. We'd whip stones on the ice like tops. We had a rag cloth with a stick on it -- or with a horse whip on it -- and we'd horse-whip a stone. You'd get a round stone built up with speed, and when you get that speeding, boy I'll tell you, it's spinning! Every time it slowed down you run up and whip it, and it'd go right around. That's quite a game.

But some of us just like to play what you might call "hockey." We like to bat the ball -- or whatever you have around -- and rush and try to get it away from one another. That's an old game, you know. We had a lot of fun. And it was nice weather.

Man playing shinny, White Earth Reservation, 1936

Man playing shinny, White Earth Reservation, ca. 1936.

Creator: Kenneth Melvin Wright
Photograph Collection, ca. 1936
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. Collection E97.38 p17 Negative No. 2077-B Accession Number: YR1966.3645

Oh, we had all kinds of those games in our times. Some of the boys that played those games are living yet. That post-mister over here -- Jimmy Lyons -- he was quite a boy too. He'd join us once in a while. He was a very good boy. He was brought up good. We'd coax him down to the lake, and we'd go skating.

We had skates in my time. That was in 1910, 1911. Skates came out about then -- regular skates that curled up on the end. We called them rocker skates -- "rockers." Ya. Those rockers were kind of rocking(13) shape. Those days, in our time, the skates came -- skates with leather on. Skates in Indian is shush-kwah da-ah-g^n. That sounds like you're skating -- moving smoothly. We liked skates. Then later on the hockeys came, and we liked those better. The rockers were good skates, but then the hockeys came. Well, only a few had hockeys -- hockey skates.

Once I broke through the ice in the middle of Ball Club Lake. Jimmy Lyons pulled me out. That post-mister pulled me out. Every now and then I tell him, "Well when we were young, we used to go around a-raising Cain."

I've skated on rubber ice(14) just to take a dare, but it's really not good to do that. With our means of life that's the only sport that we had. Now we have other sports that we can do. In those days little boys could go out skating in bunches, especially around Thanksgiving. By Thanksgiving the lake generally had a pretty good coat of ice on it.(15) But if we get a warm trend it's very dangerous.

On Ball Club Lake the ice is very thin out in the middle, but where the water is shallow the ice will hold you. That lake has a slow flowage which comes from a chain of lakes back of it, underground, and goes into Ball Club Lake and then into the Mississippi. A river goes through the middle of Ball Club Lake. That's where the current is -- underneath the water of Ball Club Lake. There's a river that comes through Ball Club -- but it's just a creek now. But it's still flowing. Under that lake that I'm talking about there's slow moving water which goes into the outlet and then into the Mississippi. That's Ball Club River. It comes out of Ball Club Lake and crosses under the railroad bridge.

That's why the ice is thin out there. It freezes over all right -- if it gets cold enough. But it has to be pretty cold. That water comes from the swamps. It comes in through the swamps and goes from lake to lake. Before the water gets to Ball Club Lake it goes into Coffee Lake. That's all mud, and the water's warm because in the middle it's flowing a little, out into the outlet. But the edges are shallow so that area freezes down pretty good. But it can be dangerous with the air pockets too. At times maybe there's air pockets in the ice. It's very dangerous. A lake is very dangerous. So I don't like to advise anybody to fool around the lake too much without caution. Stay very close to the edge and always have somebody with you.

I learned that the hard way. I'm scared of the lake. I should be. I got to fooling around the lake when I was skating so much, and I fell in the middle of Ball Club Lake when the ice was thin. I fell right in the middle of Ball Club Lake. There were five, six, of us crossing the lake of Ball Club: Jimmy Lyons, Charlie Bibeau, Frank and Mark Maki, and the Tibbitts boys. Some of us got across the lake, and, since we stayed there a little while, it got dark -- it got kind of dusky.

"Gee, we don't want to go back across the lake," we said. Some of us said, "Ya. We'll go around the lake, along the shoreline."

But one of the others said, "Oh, that's a long ways. That's three, four miles around there. It's only a mile and a half across the middle there to get to our old skating grounds."

We decided that we didn't want to go around the end of the lake. We wanted to go across. Coming back we dared each other to go across the lake, otherwise we would have gone around.

When we got to the middle of Ball Club Lake -- right across from Cook's Point, the big point -- there was a crack in the middle of the lake, oh, about three, four feet wide, coming right clean across the lake. That lake had cracked open.

"Geeze," we said when we saw that.

"Oh, we can jump that," Jimmy said.

The other boys said, "Oh, we can jump across." I was with the Tibbetts boys and Jimmy Lyons. Charlie Bibeau was in there too.

"All right, God damn, you guys jump across. I'm going around," I said.

"We'll follow the leader." I think Jimmy Lyons was the leader. He jumped across. The other boys jumped across. They'd run and skate and jump across. Some of them just threw themselves across the big crack. We all jumped across at the same place. See how much we know? We all jumped across at the same place -- and I was in the back. The second one across had a bum leg, and I haven't got a very good leg neither. When it was his turn he kind of threw himself across -- instead of jumping -- and I could see him sliding across the ice.

"All right Paul, you either get going to go around, or jump across. Come on Paul," they said.

"All right. I'll come."

I was the last one -- about the fifth or sixth one -- and I jumped this big crack half scared. I was going pretty good when my skate broke the edge of the ice as I was coming to jump. I could feel my skate breaking the edge of the ice. I couldn't make the four feet. I landed on the other edge of the crack, and the ice broke. The others had cracked it, and since I was the final one to jump, down I went, up to my arms, right out in the middle of the lake!

I should have moved over -- down below more from where they had been jumping. Or I should have moved up -- because when the others jumped across, all of them jumping in the same place cracked that ice enough so that it was ready to break. I didn't know that then, but from what I know now, I should have moved over to a new ice. I would have jumped and made it on new ice, but instead of that, I jumped and the ledge of ice cracked and broke.

There I went down, right in the middle of Ball Club Lake. But I didn't go all the way down. I only went up to my arms. I was hanging on the ice and could feel that cold water coming through my clothes and skates. In the meantime the others were skating around there. As I was hanging on a ledge of ice, one of my friends -- Jimmy Lyons -- tried to help me. The only way to do it was to make a swing at me. He didn't dare to come close because the ice was breaking all over. He skated over and made one swing with his "hockey"(16) stick. He reached out with his stick and hooked my hand just right. It was just in time, or I was going down. There was no bottom. With the skates on I kept on top of the ice as much as I could. He hooked me, and just when he hooked me, the ledge of ice I was on started sinking down on me. His stick hit my hand and I grabbed it just that quick, and they dragged me out. He slid me on top of the ice, dragged me about twenty feet, and stopped.

It was kind of cold that day. When I got out of the ice, my clothes froze up just that quick. How cold it was! My clothes froze up right now, and it was getting colder. I hit for the shelter where a stove was. I hit for the depot. In the depot I took off my clothes and rinsed them. There were still wood coals, so we built a fire and I dried my clothes in there before I went home. My friends all stood around and laughed. They said, "Well, Paul pred'ner got it."

I made up my mind to be more careful on the ice. I said, "That's not something to be fooling with. There's no more fooling on the lakes for me. And I wish that everybody else would carefully consider the lakes and the ice. The warm trend -- the warm weather -- makes the ice very dangerous." I learned from that. And I thank the Great Manidoo today for all I went through, and for the experience I have.

See, that's the kind of thing we used to do. We also used to gang up and harmonize and sing, and then we'd laugh at one another. What tricks we had!

There was no law enforcement those days, and if we wanted fish we'd go skate along and pick out a big northern.(17) Four, five, of us would go play "hockey" along the shores and often somebody'd see a fish in three, four feet of water. We usually wouldn't go much beyond four feet of water because then it begins to get dangerous. Early ice is very dangerous. So we had a line and we wouldn't go beyond it -- especially after the time Jimmy Lyons fished me out. We had a good place to play along the shore, so we didn't have to go far out.

Somebody seeing the fish under the ice would say, "There he is!" And there we'd go, all of us chasing it around on skates.

"Boy he really goes!"

"What is it?"


Northern -- gi-nö-zhay, long fish.

 Northern Pike (Esox lucius).

Northern Pike.
(Esox lucius)

  Source: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service National Image Library
  Author: Drawing by Timothy Knepp
public domain

"Pretty good size?"


"You want it?"

"Sure. I want it!"

We'd skate around, chasing the big northern underneath the ice. We could see him under the glare ice. We call that ice mI-kw^m -- which is a clear surface of something; it's anything you can see through. We call some rock mI'-kw^m too -- because you can see through it. Anything you can see through is mI'-kw^m. A bunch of us would chase that northern, and some would yell, "There he goes. There he is." We all chased that fish. All of us would keep that up, and pretty soon, in a little while, he'd play out(18) and stop. It doesn't take long to play him out. We'd drive him to shore. The less water he's got underneath the ice, the more tired he gets. That's because there's no air there. There's no air when it's so shallow, and he plays out quick. He wears out quick. He tires, so he lays still underneath there. When he gets played out he'll lay still in a "pike hole." A pike hole is where the fish has been working or where the water breaks. See, there are holes in the bottom of the lake, and he'll generally stop in one of these holes. Some places there are deep holes. He doesn't dare to go to shore any further. He's afraid he'll get trapped in a pocket there.

When that big fish stopped, "Oh, that's a big one," somebody'd holler. We didn't care for the little ones. We'd get the big ones. Then we all circled around him.

For a spear we had a "hockey" stick, but later on some of them had what we call a "rat spear." They used to spear mushrat houses with those. It has a beard -- a barb -- just like a spear, but it's only one tinged. The main ones -- those that like to spear northerns -- are ready for that and have their rat spear with them. Whatever you use, you punch a hole in two, three inches, to four inches of ice. We'd take that stick or rat-spear and punch a hole through the ice. We'd get a little hole in the ice just big enough for that rod to go through. The northern will sit still while you're chopping the hole. He's tired! He's afraid of that bunch that circled him, and he's afraid of that stick!

After you punch a hole in the ice you put a pretty good aim at the fish's head. In the meantime that northern's just lying there. He won't move because he's tired out. The fish will lay there waiting. Nature tells him that you're on top of the ice and he's under the ice, so he doesn't have anything to worry about. That's his nature.

"Spear him in the head."

Then you shove that spear right into the front part of the fish -- back of the neck -- and that pins him down there.

"There; we got him."

After he's pinned down on the bottom somebody comes along with another spear or two and keeps making that hole bigger so you can shove his head through when he's coming through the ice. We'd take a little hatchet or something, or maybe even our skates, and we'd kick the hole bigger. We always had a hatchet or something -- something to break the hole bigger so we could pull that big fish out. When the hole is big enough, there it is.


"Who wants this one? We'll get some more!"

Then we go in the bay or somewhere else and try it again. It is dangerous though. I wouldn't want to do that anymore, because it's dangerous.

One time when I was walking out on the lake they told me, "You can take that fish home with you." I carried that big fish two miles to go home where we were camped down by the Leech and Mississippi Forks. I carried that thing right on my back because we wanted that big fish to eat. I was quite a tall boy then, but the tail was dragging all the way home. Every so often I'd have to sit down and rest. When my folks saw me coming they thought I had a big log on my back. Here it was . . . a big fish.

Whatever the season, we love fishing. . . .

And wherever we happen to be, we love to eat fish.


1. See Ch. 14, "Moccasin Game Gambling."

2. Cf., Walter James Hoffman, "Remarks on Ojibwa Ball Play," American Anthropologist 3:2 (1890), pp. 133-135; and Albert B. Reagan, "Some Games of the Bois Fort Ojibwa," American Anthropologist 21:3 (1919), pp. 264-278.

3. Ball Club, MN.

4. Totem groups or doodems are kin groups, or clans (gens), usually identifying with an ancestral animal protector who also serves as a favorite protective spirit patron. Doodem members do not hunt, kill, or eat their protective animal. Chippewa consider doodem dreams, symbols, tokens, and/or parts most sacred. Early Chippewa legends include five totem groups, but by the middle of the nineteenth century the list of clans identified by a totem had grown to twenty-one. Totems were occasionally non-animals. See Francis Densmore, Chippewa Customs, (Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 86), pp. 9-10; Peter Jones, History of the Ojebway Indians (London: A.W. Bennett, 1861), pp. 138-139; Barbara Sommer, "Ojibwa Totems," Manuscript, (Duluth, MN, 1976), 39 pp.; William Whipple Warren, History of the Ojibways Based Upon Traditions and Oral Statements, (Collections of the Minnesota Historical Society, 5 (1885), Ch. 2; and N. H. Winchell (ed.), The Aborigines of Minnesota. . . ., (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 1911), Part 7, Ch. 8.

5. What Paul Buffalo calls "tribes" are usually what others call "bands." These were quite often named according to place of residence.

6. That is, they never put the women up as stakes in a wager.

7. When the men put the women up as stakes in a bet.

8. Cf., Densmore, Francis Chippewa Customs, (Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 86), pp. 118-119. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office. (Reprinted, Minneapolis: Ross and Haines, 1970; St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 1979; and elsewhere.)

9. He was good at jigging wild rice by "dancing" it while holding onto pole railings. See Ch. 13, "Manoominike-Giizis, 'Wild Ricing Moon.'"

10. Cf., Ch. 11, "Campfire Talks," and Ch. 40, "John Smith 'Wrinkle Meat.'"

11. Paul Buffalo uses the word stave generically; i.e., it's any piece of wood that looks a bit like a stave. It is not necessarily a board from a barrel.

12. I.e., it's played among the members of the household rather than as competition between households or bands or other groups.

13. They were like a rocker on a rocking chair. In Chippewa the focus is on the verb rather than the noun, hence Paul Buffalo's reference here to the action of the rocking of the chair rather than to the shape of the rocker on the chair.

14. Thin ice that sags and gives a little bit when you walk or skate on it, but which, usually, is thick enough to hold a person up.

15. Thanksgiving was celebrated in the United States on the last Thursday in November until 1939, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the holiday up a week.

16. It was a stick that they played games with, not an actual hockey stick.

17. Northern pike (Esox lucius).

18. Get tired out.

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