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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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"Self-Houses," Sweat Houses,
and Blood-taking

The old Indian(1) was well prepared for marriage. One main thing the Indian doctor pointed out is, "Be careful with ladies becoming to be a lady. Ladies are faster blood builders than a man. A woman is an excess blood builder. A man can wear his excess out by laboring, by hard labor and sweat.(2) A man can get along, but the poor women are building up fast, and they have to purify their blood someway else."
Girls have certain stages to go through. Then they have a change of life. They're not like a man. A man can go and come. A woman has a problem of her internal system. So when that time comes every month, they suffer -- some of them -- going through it.(3) So it could be that is a problem. And if you wait a certain amount of time, then she'll come back normal. She'll purify herself. A woman does that for the child, for the certain part of her life. A woman's giving a life, many lives, if she takes care of herself.

Indian women, ca. 1890.

Indian women, ca. 1890.

Photograph Collection, ca. 1890
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E99.1 r50 Negative No.
95128 YR1939.5107

When they were teenagers they came to a change of life when they're supposed to be blood builders. When they're thirteen years old that's the first stage. At that time these Indian doctors pointed out that they should move away from the main house or wiigwaam.(4)

They always gave it a name when a woman begins to generate. They have a word to describe when a woman becomes of age. They call that bah-kay-ni-gay. That means "a different woman." It means "a different one, different life." She is different after she becomes of age, but she didn't get a new name after that change. She had the same name as before. . . . but she had a different life.

ba-kah-nii-gay means ba-kah-nii-gay. It means she's ready to live alone in a house. That house is called m^k-kàa-nii-gay, b^'-kàa-nii-gay. . . . That's "the different house in life." It means she's ready to live alone. She can go out into the world. She's ready to live alone in the house as a house-keeper. b^-kàa-nii-gày is a new life, a new home, a new clean everything. That's how they purified. That's how strongly they were in purifying. b^-kàa-nii-gày is a different way of life, the different purified home and everything.

They do that because of . . . what do you call that when the first period of life comes? That's why they do that.

How clean they were in those days.

When the Indian lays down -- when the man lays down -- the woman must not step over him. He'll get sick if she does. When the Indian woman goes by you -- by a laying-down man that's close by -- she'll always hold her dress together at the bottom. She'll close it up when she walks by. That's just the same as saying, "Excuse."

Medicine man.


So . . . you know how careful I am!

In my time, what I remember, if the father had a daughter, the daughter would respect the family. When she'd go through a certain state of life she'd have a wiigwaam or tipi(5) of her own for so many days. And when she goes through a certain state of life -- "woman-life" -- she becomes a woman. When she becomes a woman she's very careful.

So they built them a wiigwaam or tipi. We generally built a wiigwaam. I don't know how far away from the house, but it was a little ways away anyway. I know the ground where she had what we call a "self-wiigwaam" -- it's ness-i$-kày-wii-gày. She's home alone, ya, ness-i$-kày-wii-gàan. The wiigwaam was filled with clean boughs. At that certain time the old people would get boughs and make a wiigwaam with those.

It was a clean wiigwaam. Everything was clean. That's "a different house in life," they called it. They did that when the girl was getting of age. She's ready to excess the blood she was built up on. That's coming through her. She's moved to a clean wiigwaam, a clean tipi -- or to a clean little home -- where everything's purified. She's excessing too much blood, and she's supposed to stay still. Some of them had trouble, had a problem, moving too much, and there's not much strength in the blood. Too much blood goes away from them, so they get weakened. Then -- when they're weakened like that -- the germ of T.B., or pneumonia, or "quick-pneumonia" or something can attack them easier. And when they get a little cold -- chilly -- and the blood is too thin, then pneumonia or "quick-T.B." attacks the thin weakness more. You can catch a germ, a cold germ they call it: ^-mii-zjàa-kii-gwan. That means "sneezing, a cold germ affected."(6)

When you're too weak, and you haven't got enough blood to supply the internal, and when the internal is getting weak from the changing circulation of your body, then you have to be careful. You have to slow down, and sit still. Then you have to lay back, to mature your blood better. The women excess more. They have to hold still and not lift too hard, so the excess runs all right, normally. They can move around a little bit. But not much.

She's there in that house alone. Nobody dares to go in there -- besides her mother and her sisters -- because they're afraid of germs. They were particular about germs in those days. They were particular about a woman's excess. Women have germs at that time, and those germs might start to work on you. So during a certain time of the month she goes there and stays mostly by herself.

There would be maybe one or two women taking care of that girl. They're relative-ly.(7) They're her sisters, or her mother. Most generally the women take care of that. Two women go to her house, to her wiigwaam. They don't stay or eat there. They just put the food out for her to eat. They'd take food over there in her own dishes. They wouldn't take the dishes we eat on. She's not supposed to use the same spoon or eat out of the same dishes that the others -- the young people -- are eating out of. She has to go over there into that little house and live alone, and use a certain dish made out of birch bark. They make everything for her out of birch bark -- cups and everything. They wouldn't let them eat out of the same dish as anybody else. oo-nàa-g^n o-dóo-naa-a-g^'noo, that's "her dish," b^$-kàa-nii-gay, "different home": that's"different-home-dish." That's supposed to be destroyed too. You never use a same dish that's been used over that period of time.

Ojibwe birchbark serving dish, White Earth Reservation, pre-1925.

Ojibwe birchbark serving dish, White Earth Reservation, pre-1925.

3-1/4 X 10 X 6 inches

Used at White Earth Reservation, Minnesota
Creation: Not later than 1925
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Identifier: 6462.9

I watched, from a distance!! They didn't allow me to go too close, because the old lady -- the mother -- is the one that can help her. She is already built solid and went through that, so she's able to help.

So when that period of time comes to an end, they take all them boughs and all her clothes and burn them. And the girl really has to wash her arms and legs, and change clothes too. When she's finished, everything is burnt by fire, clothes and all. They'll pick up all these things with a stick or a fork, and they'll burn them. They don't just pick up these things with their hands. No. Everything is piled up in one spot, and they either burn them or bury them. They either throw them in the fire or they bury them. That way, either way, the old excess is left in the ground.

They'd also take all her bedding and bury it. The mother and the relatives took the bedding and buried it. They took all the boughs and buried them also.

She was there nine days, I guess, (8) but some stayed on after that. It all depends on how they flow. The first shot of the blood flows heavier, and for some of them it got too heavy. She has to be there, alone, for that time, and after that she's ready to come back home. When she's had enough rest and everything she prepares to come home by purifying herself with medicine. The medicine women make all kinds of medicine for her, in liquid form. They use trees, herbs, and roots -- and things like that. It's just a mixture. And when the girl is ready to come back home, she bathes with good medicine and purifies herself.

She also changes all her clothes! She didn't want any continuation on that blood back home. She takes her clothes off in there and the women looking after her give her a new change of clothes. They gave her disinfected clothes, purified clothes.(9) They take new clothes to her -- fresh-washed clothes. They change them all.

Any one of our neighbors sewed these clothes for her. Probably it was someone who favored her and wanted to help her while she was going through this stage. They always have a heart as a neighbor. And we had a neighbor there, a breed, who was a good seamstress. She was good in sewing. They made the clothes any time they wanted to. They always had extra cloth. They made regular clothes -- I mean the regular style -- but when they deliver them, then it's special. The clothes were not made special. They were meditated special. See . . . ? When the women bring the clothes they meditated them for the girl that's passing the change of life. You see, everything is meditated through the Indian belief. They spoke to the Creator of the Spirit, which also can not be seen.(10) They thank the Great Creator for her going through this. She was losing part of her life, which was the blood she excessed.

And then, after that's over, they're purified. Then they're all right and they're ready to return to the main house. When the girl walked back to the main house, she had to walk on cedar boughs. They walked on boughs just to attract the germ to the place where she stayed. And they'll burn everything she walked on. When she's done going through that, then she can walk on pure ground again.

The girl didn't have to go through this every time she excessed, only the first time. She only left the main house the first time, not every month. Just the first time. The rest of the time, every month, they're exercising, and a second time they're able to work. The bloodstreams and the pores work fine. But every month those clothes are buried. They change. And they take -- I imagine they take -- a bath. Water purifies.



When it was over the wiigwaam was left open for the air to get at it and disinfect. They took the birch bark off, but they left the poles standing. The poles stay there. They just forget about the poles. I don't think they would use this wiigwaam again; no. They make a new one for the next one coming along. But they have to take that birch bark down. They have to take it down.(11) They took it down and aired it out. They aired it out before they handled it too -- before they handled it again. Those bark sheets hung there for a certain time. And then the sun and the air purified them. I never noticed anyone burn the little wiigwaam down, but they always unraveled the wiigwaam coverings and laid out and hung up the birch bark wrapper of the wiigwaam. They saved those to use from one time to the next.

That's b^k-k^a-ni-gay i-kw^y$. b^k-ah-nii-gay ikway$ is purifying the woman when she's coming into her new life.(12) Ask any Indian about b^k-k^a-ni-gay. Ask them, "Did you ever see a woman b^k-k^a-ni-gay? A lot of them won't know what that is. That's an old history. That's the old way of doing life.

That's true. I have seen that. I saw one of my sisters go through that. That was Mary Buffalo, the oldest one, the oldest sister. The others are breeds! They don't believe in anything like that. My sister Mary was two years older than I am, or somewhere around that. So she became at that stage at a time I remember.

"Why do you put that wiigwaam up, Ma, and Dad?" I said, "What's that for, Ma?"

She told me:

"A woman is different. She's a blood builder. At a certain stage she's got to destroy so much blood to purify herself. She's a blood builder. She's in that wiigwaam so she can take care of herself in there, as much as she wants to. And she can keep clean in there, the way she wants to. There's nobody to disturb her. And the people won't go there. Nobody won't. They don't dare to go in there."

"The stage came from the girl. She has to live alone to leave the excess of her teen age. And that excess will be buried. Then the period from there on will continually be purified. Everything is burnt up there."

"But during the meantime the girl is drinking this purifier made from herbs, Indian herbs, and wood. She'd drinking that for medicine to purify her blood."

"So it isn't the wiigwaam alone that is important, but it's a belief, the style of the Indian, what matters. That's the way they learn these faculties, by a doctor. An Indian doctor learned them that. And you have to be purified in every way. You can't go in a place -- you can't go -- without following the Creator's word. The Creator's words are from a Great Manidoo. If you believe in those words and follow them, you're purified. If you follow that, then you believe in that. But if you don't believe in a Great Spirit, then I don't know how long what you believe in will carry you."(13)

That's what she told me.

So just think, huh?

Not every one of my sisters did this. The younger class(14) didn't pay much attention to it because later in years we had doctors from the government.(15) So they got along good anyhow. Just the one sister, I know, did this. That's Mary Buffalo. That happened at the Leech-Mississippi Fork where we lived. I think it was about 1910, or somewhere in there.(16) That's the last one I know about directly.(17) Oh. . . I heard about others after that. That was in nineteen . . . about 1914-1915 -- no, later on, about 1917, 1918 -- that I still heard about others.

And I heard of them doing that before, somewhere else. They must have been doing that at Sugar Point too. The last time I saw one of these at Sugar Point, was maybe around '17 or '18, or '19. It was somewhere along in there. I didn't keep much attention paid to it, but I listened to what I heard.

That's about the last time I saw them taking blood too. Some other doctor -- Indian Medicine doctor -- pulls out what's ailing you by blood-taking.(18) You can't do it yourself. You have to have help there. They used to stand a woman and draw blood from her legs. The last time I saw that was about 1915.

After so many years -- in their thirties, I guess, or twenties -- women start to have complaints.(19) Women have too much blood building. A woman's a blood builder.

When the women had a blood problem the Indian doctors would take that flint and they just hhuuit, hhuuit -- cut them right up on the legs, while they were standing. The doctors would stand there while they were bleeding.

After a while the doctor put that moistured medicine(20) on the cuts. After they healed you'd never see the marks. It grows right back together. You'd never see big veins on them women.

After they get that bad blood out they feel good. Their heart's strong after that's gone out. Every twenty years -- or thirty years -- you have to change and you have to get rid of bad blood. If you keep all that blood in you when you're building blood too fast, then it clogs up, especially if you don't clean yourself.

Just think!

How did those Indian doctors know that? Boy they must have studied hard, huh?

That's a medicine!

I saw a couple of girls, that . . . times apart . . . just stood right outside when the Indian doctor took a sharp flint or glass and tapped them on the legs. They'd rip them open on the legs so the blood will come out. That's for the women. They do that because they're blood builders. At a certain age they have to get rid of that blood. After they get rid of it, the Indian doctors put medicine on the cuts. I don't know these girls that I saw, but I know they do that to young ladies. They just slice them down with a piece of glass, and drain their blood from the lower part of their legs. And when that drains, then their blood starts moving. There's some of them Indian doctors still alive that did that blood-taking.

I think I was pretty small when I saw this. But I've seen it. Well, my mother used to tell me that too. A woman is a blood builder. They have a purifier for them. They take a medicine drink. They do take medicine, but they're also taken up to the Indian doctor to let out some of their excess blood. They pull their clothing up to their knees, and they stand on the cloth -- a tablecloth or something. And the Indian doctor takes a piece of glass and cuts them down the legs. And the blood runs out. And they stand there. After a short while the doctor'll put that ground-up medicine on them. They'll just pat it on their legs. The women then put their socks on, and that's it. Maybe some of them will get a bandage.

I asked my mother -- she was an Indian doctor too, you know -- "What do they do that for?"

"A woman's got an excess of so much blood. They get a high pressure. They get a nervous tension and all that. Then she has to purify her blood."

That's for the women.

The name of that is bay-pay-shwàa, bay-pay-shóo. That means they take a glass -- a sharp glass, a chip of glass, or a sharp flint -- and then they cut you open. Then that forms a blood opening, and the blood drips out of you. That's what makes it better. It's working on the blood pressure.

I know.

I used that blood-taking in my time. I was cut right on the side of my face. They take a sharp flint -- one that's sharp as a razor on the point -- and cut with that. I still have a mark on my face, by my temples. And they have a horn and a shape of wood(21) and they use those to draw the blood. That blood comes out of your head and it takes the pressure out of your head. And when your pressure is out of your head, then they put medicine on that cut. They just tap it on there, in a powder form. They ground it up. You put that on once or twice, then you're all right.

When you have a headache the pressure builds up on the back of the neck, or on the neck itself. And when you have excess pressure on the back of your neck, it works on your head; it works on your eyes. And if you don't take care of the blood in the back of your neck, there's some vein that's going to bust somewhere and that'll clog up in your head.

Well, before that happens you have to release that pressure.

That's what they figure.

If there was a bad spot of blood left, you could tell that later on. That's a clog. A bad spot clogs, and the clog builds up, and then probably it will turn into something. Then maybe you'll have a stroke.

You often see the Indian with a band on his head.

What is that?

What does that mean?

We wear headbands to take the pressure off. If the pressure goes through the front part of your head over your eyes, then your whole head is aching and your vision is poor. When you put that headband on, the pressure floats back into the center part of your head. When you put that headband on tight it takes the pressure away from your eye.

That band keeps your brains steady, smooth, warm. It's all there; that's what that headband means. It's all there. It holds down the pressure inside. We wear it around the head and if we get a headache we pull it tight and the headache goes away. Then the mind works good. If you get a pressure on your head then your head can't work.


We have cloth. Years ago they used to have them headbands on all the time when they got old. Now we use headbands for regulating the brain. We used to use fur or something very beautiful. It signifies "brains all together still working."

If you look at a picture of an Indian with a headband on, he'll be fore-casting his views, fore-casting his look.(22) He'll be working that brain. It's naturally great. He had a Great; he had a Great Spirit with him at that time. That headband shows the people that you have the Great Spirit with you. It's wonderful too that we have been able to show that the Indian people can translate pictures. We're given the power to understand that.

You have the same blood in your whole body, unless it gets too heavy. If it gets too heavy your blood doesn't fit in your body. That means it's a clog! It's a clog! It's easy to clog up, and that's dangerous. The clog is thick and if the blood gets too heavy it sends out a new branch by the pressure. The pressure is dividing that flowage, and it breaks a new stream. It's just like a river, just like on sand. If you look at the water on earth you'll see that sometimes it makes a new stream because it breaks through into a new area. Then there'll be another stream, and then another stream. The circulation will be there, but divided. It's the same way when the blood flowage breaks a new stream in your body.

So, that's why the Indian doctors draw out that bad blood. That holds down the pressure that's building up. That takes the pressure out of the back of your neck. And out of your head. That relieves the pressure building up in the whole body.


I had that done to me too, in my time. Sometimes you become ill and they don't know what's the matter with you. In my times I used to have headaches from my eyes. My eyes were giving me headaches because I was snow blind or something. I had awful headaches.

When I was at the Indian school(23) I went to the doctor they had there. We had a government doctor and everything there. I was going to the Tower Indian school at the time. This doctor told me, "I recommend that you go home, Paul. I can't find anything. I can't find anything wrong with you. So I just recommend that you go home."

So I went home, and when I got home we hired(24) the Indian doctor. I went to an Indian doctor. She said, "Well, you have high blood pressure in you. Are your ears ringing?"

"Yea," I said, "my ears are ringing."

"That's from the pressure coming up on your head. But we have remedies for that. By your action, and by the remarks of your mother here, I can tell you have high blood pressure. They sent you home from school. The white doctor sent you home. They're supposed to know how to doctor this,(25) but I'll give you medicine for it. You'll never have it again. But you really have high blood pressure now."

The Indian doctor said, "This boy's got a high blood pressure. The strength of his eyesight is weakening in him from snow. His veins are not working right. Why? He has too much energy, and the blood doesn't pump through because he caught cold in his eyes and the veins closed. If you don't take care of him, he'll lose his sights. I can take care of him."

"All right; take care of him."

This Indian doctor looked me over and said, "I can fix that. I can cure that."

Some of the Indian doctors drive a needle, a horn or bone, in your guts and suck that blood out that way. But this one here said, "I'll take it out of the side of your head."

I said, "Geeze!!"

I thought that was going to be awful. But I thought, "Well, maybe it will be worth it if I'm not going to have headaches any more. Maybe my eyes will be alright too. Maybe they won't bother me anymore."

The doctor came to do the Indian doctoring. "You know what?" she said. "I haven't got any flint. I'll just use a broken bottle, the neck of a bottle." So she busted a neck of a bottle. It was a woman doctor, Ness-caven, n^sh-kày-bIn, of Ball Club -- Drumbeater . . . Old Lady(26) Drumbeater. She was a great doctor. She was an old lady, a very wonderful -- very wonderful -- old lady. n^sh-kày-bIn means "all alone." Her English name is "Old Lady Drumbeater." n^sh-kày-bIn, Old Lady Drumbeater, was my first doctor like that.(27)

We have Indian women and men doctors, and I've asked the men doctors, "Does this ceremony have to be done by a man? Does this operation have to be done by a man or can it be done by a woman doctor?"

"It doesn't make any difference. But it's up to her whether or not she wants to doctor. Her doctoring is to help the people's lifes."

She laid me down, took that sharp glass -- a little flat one -- and cut me open on both sides of my head. She cut me right by the temples. I kicked when she cut me and that's what made her make a mistake. She cut a little longer and deeper. So there I laid. She just tapped that glass on both sides of my head.

She had a great big steer horn, like the one I have in my house.(28) It was sawed off so that it was about four, five, inches long. She took that horn, drew the bad blood out with it, and then put some medicine ground up from roots -- small roots -- on the cuts.

Those horns were very useful when we didn't have the white doctors. We used them with anybody that had a high blood pressure. We were doctors with those horns. We make people well with them.

We still carry stuff like that to remind us of what service we have gotten out of them through the Great Spirit. With power, the Spirit shows us the way to live, and that is the way we lived.(29) We lived good. We lived a decent life. We breathed pure air, and made it through life by respecting one another.

We had some bad persons who went wrong. Maybe they had an ailment. If you go wrong, you have an ailment, you don't feel good.(30) You say things you shouldn't when you don't feel good. The first thing you'll ask when somebody's upsetting you is, "Don't you feel good?" Sickness, ailments, weakness, nervousness all affect your mind.

We were glad to find them horns. We were glad. We saved them. Usually we'd take the horn of a young bull and hollow it out. We'd roast it out. We'd hollow it out and then we'd put the end of the horn on the patient's cut. That draws quicker. You really could feel it drawing. The old medicine doctors of times past raised your skin right off your skull with them horns.

The one I have is from a cow -- a beef cow or a milk cow -- but any horn that's like that will do. Buffalo horns are good too. Any round horn like that will work. We cut them just the length so we could use them easily. We first cut them about eight inches from the tip -- or maybe about six-and-a-half inches from the tip. We then cut one off where it comes to a place across as big as your mouth. Then we cut it so that overall it's about five inches long. After that we drill a hole through the middle so that it's hollow a little bit up to the tip. Then we cut it out full through the middle.

We used them with anybody who had high blood pressure. When used for high blood pressure, these horns saved a lot of lifes. We tapped the patients with a sharp flint -- or something very sharp -- then drawed out the blood.

Old Lady Drumbeater cut six -- five or six -- little short cuts right on the side of my head. She just made little marks. Lots of them my age have scars from that. After Old Lady Drumbeater tapped my head with that broken glass she pumped that blood out of my head with that horn. She'd take that horn, and she'd draw that blood with that horn in her mouth. She'd take two, three, mouthfuls. She's a medicine woman and she's got dope in her mouth that she gets from this earth. Then she spits all that stuff out in a dish. 'Course she's got medicine there too, in the dish. She'd wash her mouth with that medicine. That's all the farther she'd go with her mouth. She'd wash her mouth and then she'd draw three, four, more times on one side of my head. Each time she'd draw she'd spit that stuff out in a pan or basket or something. You'd look at that blood and it was just . . . oh, terrible!

That blood was just terrible. It was sticky, and too heavy. That clogged up my eyes, and clogged me up to my brains and everything. The scent of blood means that we'd send the clog -- the sickness -- out of the vein. They break the clog loose and the flowage starts. The flowage of blood starts naturally. Then, when the flowage of blood starts, you become normal again.

She told me, "Roll over." And she did the same thing on the other side of my head. She drawed all that blood out. She'd draw four, five, loads of that, and spit it out in a basket.

I have scars there yet. A lot of them my age have scars there.

When she was through drawing blood with that horn she'd put a little of those ground-up herbs on the cuts. After the blood-taking, the medicine man or medicine woman always puts the medicine that you need -- that the patient needs -- on the cut. Old Lady Drumbeater ground up roots and made a patting with that ground up medicine. She just tapped it on where she cut. After she got through, she put some more dope(31) on the places she cut. First she tapped(32) that medicine one side, then she tapped it on the other side. She moistened her herbs, then tapped it on. She rubs that medicine on there and she tells you to keep quite: "Don't wipe it off, so it heals fast. With fast healing there's no danger of infection."

Then she gave me a liquid medicine to drink. That medicine was made from powdered living things, ground up and dried -- things like bark and stuff like that. That's a medicine, man! And she prays to the Great when she gives you that medicine: "This is medicine for You." All trees have medicine strength, and are used for certain divisions.(33)

We have eye medicine too.

When she tapped my temples to cut the blood veins I was sicker than hell from high blood pressure. That blood-taking makes low blood pressure, and that liquid they give you afterwards goes into the blood right now. So the blood begins to work again and you begin to feel better twenty-four or forty-eight hours after.

That proves what I'm saying. After I drank that medicine the blood pressure came down, and I was all right. That medicine took the blood pressure right down.

I said, "Is that going to be all right? Do I have to lay off and take it easy for a while?" I said, "What shall I do next?" I said, "What should I do?"

"I'm done. Go out now. You can go out and play if you want to. Go anywhere you want. It isn't going to bother you."

After that my vision came clear. My everything came good. I was all right. Geeze I could see good! I felt good. My neck felt good. The blood clog is what they took out.

"It's in here, in your veins on the sides of your head. We have to clean that out. You have a clog in there that upsets your sights." That's what she told me.

I was about fourteen years old when Old Lady Drumbeater did that. My eyes bothered me. That's why I couldn't go to school. I was expelled. The school doctor couldn't help me. We had a government doctor there, but he didn't know what was the matter.

How did the Indian doctors know that? Everyone that went through that blood-taking lived good. You have to clean that blood out while you're changing your life. They start cleaning a man out again after twenty, a woman, eighteen.

How much blood they take out all depends on how much blood you got. Your blood will slow down on the horn(34) and then it will begin to clear-ify. If it is not fully cleared the medicine doctor'll say, "Well, I'll do it again. Comeback in a week or so." They put ground up medicine on there and the cut sealed.

Some of them have little needles they work with. Alan Wilson's dad did that with needles, but Alan's dad died. If anybody was sick with high blood pressure, or wanted to be doctored, or had an appendix or something wrong with them, he just snapped that needle and that scent of blood would come out. He'd close it off, put the herb on there -- the Indian medicine -- and that's all it takes.

They used to do that a lot. I remember forty-five years ago -- thirty, forty years ago -- they'd still do that.(35) But lots of people stopped blood-taking because they didn't want to believe in two religions. They wanted to believe in one religion, because they began to think that there's only one way for some things to be done. The Indian thought that God was like He is on the pictures that the priest brought in. He makes the world grow bigger and purifies it. He shed his blood from his hands and feet. He was on the cross. He went down to the soil.(36) At first they didn't know He was doing that for their good. But after while they learned. He shed the blood in His country. For us. For everybody. So now we don't have to shed ours.

I think that if the priests didn't come the Indians would-a went to school eventually, and lost the Indian way of life by going to school. School has destroyed the Indian way of life. School has a lot to do with the Indian history-cal disappearing.

I don't know if they do that blood-taking anymore today.(37) They're getting so that they don't hardly remember(38) anything anymore. But if they did, they wouldn't talk about it anyway. They don't want anything to go out from the Indian.(39)

Sweatbath is another thing they don't talk about much now-a-days.

Years ago we sometimes used a sauna to take blood pressure down. We always had a sauna for that.(40)

Did you know the Indian had the sauna?

The Finns didn't bring them. We had sweatbaths many years before the Finns came.

Where did the saunas come from?

We always had them.

The Indians used that beforehand. The Indian had saunas by using rocks -- heated rocks -- in a small wiigwaam.(41) Ya. I saw a lot of those Indians with rheumatism and everything use the Indian sauna -- the sweatbath. I've seen lots of them on the reservation, where they use them. I've seen where they left their rocks. They would just leave it stand. They would just leave the whole wiigwaam stand. The old ones were made of birch bark and wiigob.(42) Those Indian saunas years ago I've seen. I was a little boy when I first saw that. And I was a little boy when they were using them. We had a sauna that we built. We'd just build a little round one, for one man. You curled around the rocks, and took cedar boughs to put the water on the rocks. Boy, I tell you that'll make you sweat. That's a sauna -- Indian sauna, mah-dú-du. We call it "sweatbath" -- m^'-du-dú. It's the same name of the sweatbath they take in the Midewiwin(43) lodge.

Sweat lodge used in Midewiwin ceremony, Squaw Point, Leech Lake, 1946.

Sweat lodge used in Midewiwin ceremony, Squaw Point, Leech Lake, 1946.

Photographer: Monroe P. Killy

Photograph Collection, 1946
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.37 p49 Negative No. 35579

Then later on the Finns came in with their big sauna. We call the Finns ma-dú-du wI-ynIn-níi, "Ma-dú-du men" -- "Sweatbath Men."(44) That's all right. That's a fact. They're all right. When they came in this country and built a "sauna-for-all," that's OK, because we all have to sweat it out. The big saunas came just about the same time as the Finns. The Finns more or less had them. I never saw any big saunas at an earlier date. Before, all that I saw were those single ones, you know, those single saunas with one person going in there -- those little Indian sweatlodges.

And when the Finn sauna came in, that helped them keep healthy. All them Finns are healthy looking. And they live a life. They are spry. They are active. There's nothing wrong with a Finn sauna. And that's why we like that too. We had that before. And when they came in and made saunas, big saunas, laboring for a betterment, well that's good. We use them now. So this is something good. This is not against any rules and regulations. You're supposed to "sweat by the brow of your eye." You can work that out anyway you want to.

Finnish type sauna, Heiskanen Farm, Toivola, 1937.

Finnish type sauna, Heiskanen Farm, Toivola, 1937.

Photograph Collection, 1937
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. MS2.9 TV r6 Negative No. 66057

The sweatbath is something we use when the man has an excess. You drink a lot of water to purify the internals and to rinse out the sluggish and all that in your lungs. And by sweating that out you'll feel healthy. But you treat it good. And keep warm after.

We carry that bloodstream in our system a long time. Some of them don't sweat it out. Or do that blood-taking. What does it do inside when you don't purify your internals from time to time? Maybe it sours up, the same as sourdough. But purifying once or twice a year helps you in life. It makes your ticker work good. It makes your internals purified. It makes your bloodstreams all right. Ya. The clogs of the veins break open by the heat, by the sweat, and by the fresh water. The fresh water nurses the blood, nurses the veins.

This person had a fever, and was weakening. The medicine man said, "I advise you to go take a 'Finn bath.'"

But it wasn't a "Finn bath," it was a "sweatbath."

Each family had its own sweathouse, if they wanted one. If they wanted to, they had their own. It's up to them. But most generally, in the olden days, each household would have a sweatbath wiigwaam. They were about four, five, five-and-a-half to six feet long, all around. And they'd be about four feet high.

Our family generally put some rocks in a pail and built a little small wiigwaam around it. We built a little small wiigwaam that was covered up with bark. We used birch bark, or, later on, tar paper. We had a little round wiigwaam made with six, seven, tall stakes, which were tied together up on top. Between two of the stakes we left enough room for an entrance. We build it with room enough for one man to sit in. It was just big enough for one man to curl around the rocks and sit in there. It wasn't high, but they were enclosed tight.

There were no seats or platforms in there. Inside the sweatbath we just had hay and boughs on the ground. We only had the boughs and the straw. We call it "bath straw," in Indian. We put the boughs on the floor with hay -- lots of hay -- so you don't get next to the moisture in the ground. We laid cedar boughs on the bottom of the sweathouse, on top of the hay, and when we were ready, we dug that sand so that a pail with hot rocks would set in there straight and not tip. We have plenty of boughs on the floor for you to lay on. Boughs of the cedar purifies the blood, and when you lay on them they draw out what's ailing you.

The fire was built outside. We heated the rock outside and then we took shovels or sticks and put them in a pail, in a bucket. There were about ten rocks, about as big as your fist. Some were a little bigger, to keep hotter a longer time. After the rocks were heated, we put them in a galvanized pail, or in an iron kettle, and we took them into the sweathouse from the outside. That way we always had enough room inside.

Sweat Lodge, Squaw Point, Leech Lake, 1948.

Sweat Lodge, Squaw Point, Leech Lake, 1948.

Sweat Lodge, Squaw Point, Leech Lake, 1948.

Photographer: Monroe P. Killy

Photograph Collection, 1948
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. Collection I.69.94 Negative No.

In the sweathouse there's a little curtain that serves as a doorway. You slide in there after the hot rocks are in place, and right away you begin to sweat. Hot rocks were put inside the wiigwaam first, and then the man laid right beside them, curled up. He's only the one in the wiigwaam that's taking that treatment.

Before you sweat, you take lots of water. You drink a lot of water, a lot of liquid. Drink a little lukewarm water, or water that's a little bit on the cold side. Drink a little water before you go in, and then, when you're in there, spray a little bit on the hot rocks.

You can drink that medicine too. That medicine is made up of wild potato, ground up dry. To that the medicine man added bark that's powdered. Everything that we take is made from living things in the woods. That ground up medicine is the best medicine that you can drink. Mixing the powder with water makes medicine of that. It's just like coffee now-a-days.(45) You may have seen that medicine. You might as well say that medicine is sort of a ginger. After you drink it, you begin to sweat on that. You heat up, and what's ailing you comes out.

The sweatbath takes the blood pressure down. Sweatbath was also used for stomach aches. But you have to drink a lot of water. Then it starts working. Drink a lot of water before and the sweatbath will start working. Then you'll be regulated. The kidneys will start moving. That's a main part of your life. If your kidneys slows down, everything's going to slow down, right to the heart.

When they were sweating they'd crawl in there and they'd curl around the rocks. They warm their knees, they warm their backs, they roll over and warm everything. You would be sweating in the sweathouse for about twenty minutes. There was no danger of scalding. But one thing -- if you touch your balls on those hot rocks . . . you'll never sweatbath again!!

When it gets too hot in there he'll breathe through the air opening. When he gets too hot he'll spray water on the hot rocks with a little bough. The boughs are made out of cedar, most generally. The boughs used for spraying water on the rocks are wrapped up so that you can have a handle. It's just like a little broom. You dunk that bough in water and then spray the rocks with it. The guy inside sprays the rocks himself, adjusting the water he uses for the steam he wants. Occasionally the medicine man would do some spraying. And occasionally he'd reach in there to judge the moisture and the heat, but most generally the guy inside would help him spray the water on the rocks.

We also used cedar boughs to help dry off. When you come out of the sweatbath you know you're too hot. So you have to keep your eyes rinsed. Some would use cold water. Some of them rolled in the snow to close their pores. When you sauna, your pores are wide open, and by cold water they close up. If there's snow on the ground, go jump in the snow. Go jump and roll in the snow when you come out of the sweatbath. If there's a lake with cold water, jump in that. See, your blood is heated up. Cool it off by rolling in the snow or by jumping into cold water. That stimulates!

Then wipe off good.

When he comes out of there, he'll be limber. Rheumatism, anything rheumatic, and everything that's bothering him, gets out of him.

"Waah!! I feel good," he'd say.

"Wait 'till you get two, three, of them. Then you'll be better; you'll feel better. You'll be a well man," the doctor would tell him. "What you sweat out is what poisoned your blood. That sweat's gotta come out. You don't work hard enough. . . . You don't walk a long ways."

I gave my son,(46) Dave, a sweatbath not very long ago. He wasn't feeling very good. He was about forty-five.

Dave said, "Would you give me an Indian bath?"

"Yes! I will! Well . . . we have to make it first."

So I made it. I put canvas over it, over the Indian bath, and he got in there. Now I use canvas, or a blanket, or anything that will cover the stakes. In the old days they used to use birch bark.

A little ways from our sweatbath we built a fire to heat the rocks. I took two pails of heated rocks and set them in the sweathouse. I opened the door to check it, and I told him, "I figure it's ready for you." It doesn't have to be too hot, you know; you can burn out in there.

After he was in there for a little while I said, "How do you feel over there?"

"Whooh, that feels good!! I think everything'll come out of me."

"I think about the third time you take this, you'll be all right."

The last time I had an Indian sweatbath was about 1927, '26.

You know what I did?

I just took a chair in there, and left the rocks right under the chair. It was high enough for a chair. And we just put the canvas over the frame and sprayed a little water on the hot rocks. Oh boy! Boy that'll make you sweat, but you feel good. And then drink cold water. I was in there for rheumatism. It never bothered me since. But outside of that, it was my teeth that were making me sick.(47) I had my teeth out, but before that, all that saved me was sweatbath. It kept purifying me.

The last time I saw an Indian in an Indian sweatbath was about eight or nine years ago,(48) something like that, a while back anyhow. And before that, I was about eighteen when I saw the last one. A neighbor had one when I was about eighteen.

It would be better to take a sweatbath once a month, but most often we'd feel so good we didn't take one. We took one if we didn't feel good. We generally used the sweatbath to purify our internals. And to heal ailments. And when we're healing, they'd give a good "rub," with the wash, with the sweat.(49) But if our pores are clean -- closed -- we didn't need a sweat bath. A sponge bath with hot water was just as good just to get clean. The most they ever took a sweat bath was one once a week, maybe two or three times a month, through the summer.

Of course if you're doctoring, then you need to sweat. Afterwards, if the sweatbath doesn't remedy your ailment, they'd do that blood-taking. After the sweatbath the medicine man would say, "Well, you have another session to go through." Then they'd lay you down on a pillow. They take those horns -- the little short horns that I told you about -- and they'll cut you on each side of the head. They would cut you with flint, sharp flint -- or glass, or anything that worked. That would start the bleeding and then they'd put that horn over the cut and tap you.(50) They use the horn of the bull of any animal to pull out whatever's ailing you.

And if that didn't cure your ailment, then maybe you could get clarification through the spirit of your dreams.


1. Traditional Indian.

2. A man can sweat excess out by hard labor, or by the Indian sweatbath. Cf., Ch. 37, "Finns, 'The Sweatbath-Men.'"

3. Cf., R. E. Ritzenthaler (Chippewa Preoccupation with Health, 1953, pp. 212-213.)

4. A counterpart puberty ceremony for the boys was fasting in an attempt to secure a dream or vision. This is sometimes known to outsiders as a "vision quest." Cf., Ch. 26, "Dreams and Visions." The men also used the sweatbath for their "excess." Cf., Ch. 37, "Finns, 'The Sweatbath-Men.'"

5. Wiigwaam is the more traditional woodland rounded-top house. Tipi is a conical-shaped housing type more typical of Plains Indians. In northern Minnesota Anishinabe peoples used both types, although in some areas wiigwaams were the predominant house type. Cf., Ch. 17, "Winter Wood and Wiigwaams."

6. "A cold germ affected" is different than infected. You can have a cold germ in you, i.e., be infected with a cold germ, but if you are sound and healthy and not worn down, that germ will generally not have much of an effect on you. However, when you get run down -- physically or psychologically -- when you're weak, with "thin" blood, then the cold germ becomes active and one becomes affected.

7. The women are the relatives of the girl, with "relatives" culturally defined. Keep in mind that traditionally girls lived in a patrilineal society where clan (dodaim group) family membership, and other things related to the dodaim group, were reckoned or passed through male links only. A woman belongs to the family (dodaim group) of her father and her brothers and sisters. When Paul talks in English about "sisters" and "relatives" and people being related "relative-ly" that can include, to his way of thinking, "sisters" and relatives who are relatives because they are fellow dodaim group members. So, for example, a girl's father's brothers daughters (essentially clan "sisters", but individuals non-Indian western folks would likely call "cousins") can also be among those who support the individual undergoing purification.

8. Four days is more commonly reported in the literature. Frances Densmore (Chippewa Customs, 1970, pp. 70-71), for example, notes that a young girl was required to isolate herself for four days and nights in a little wiigwaam that her mother made for her at some distance from the main lodge. It was said that in old days she was allowed absolutely no food during this period, but that in later days an older sister or other relative brought a little food to the girl. Densmore also notes that during her isolation she was not allowed to scratch her hair or body with her hands, a stick being provided for that purpose.

9. The women gave her clean, washed clothes, clothes which also had been spiritually purified.

10. That is, they speak to the Creator of her spirit, which, as with the other times when they speak to the Creator Manidoo or to the spirits, can not be seen.

11. For more discussion on use and re-use of bark, see Ch. 6, "Spring Move to the Sugar Bush," Ch. 7, "Skigamizigewin, Maple Sugar Time," and Ch. 8, "Old Gardens and New Bark."

12. ah-ni-kii-mIg-w^n naeshii refers to female transition rites.

13. Your beliefs are thought to "carry you along" in this life. Believing in the Great Spirit is a great help to you in life. If you do not believe in a Great Spirit, then Paul Buffalo does not know "how long you'll last in this life."

14. The younger children, including Paul's younger sisters that arrived after Paul's mother re-married. Cf., Ch. 39, "Jack Nason, 'My Dad. My Step-Dad.'"

15. Cf., Ch.48, "White Medicine," and Ch. 35, "Boarding School Days."

16. In 1910 Paul Buffalo's sister Mary would have been about twelve years old. Cf., Ch. 39, "Leech and Mississippi Forks."

17. His sister, Mary Buffalo, is the last individual he really knows much about.

18. For more on blood-taking or blood-letting see R. E. Ritzenthaler (Chippewa Preoccupation with Health, 1953, pp. 193-194.)

19. Physical complaints.

20. Cf., Ch. 32, "Medicine Men / Medicine Women."

21. An animal horn, and a small wooden bowl.

22. The picture will often have an Indian looking forward, casting a glance fore-ward and off into the distance.

23. Cf., Ch. 35, "Boarding School Days."

24. Paul and his mother went to and Indian doctor and requested treatment. One does not actually "hire" a traditional medicine doctor. For discussions on how people approach medicine doctors asking for help see Ch. 30, "An Indian Curing Ceremony," Ch. 31, "Spiritual Doctoring, Tipi-Shaking, and Bone-Swallowing Specialists," and Ch. 32, "Medicine Men / Medicine Women."

25. The "white doctors" should have taken care of this at school. Cf., Ch.48, "White Medicine," and Ch. 35, "Boarding School Days."

26. "Old Lady" is a term of respect and endearment.

27. When Paul Buffalo says that Old Lady Drumbeater was his first doctor he means the first doctor who doctored him like that, using blood-letting. His mother, a medicine woman, obviously would have doctored him from time to time. He was also "doctored" by Old Man Ryan when he was a very small boy, about 1907 or 1908. See Ch. 2, "Bena Childhood."

28. Cf., R. E. Ritzenthaler (Chippewa Preoccupation with Health, 1953, illustration, p. 194.)

29. Cf., Ch. 27, "Power," Ch. 28, "What's Behind the Sun?: An Indian Sermon."

30. Going wrong, or living in a bad way induces sickness. Cf., Timothy G. Roufs 2016, "Anishinabe Curing." Accessed 03 August 2018.

31. She put some more of that ground-up medicine on the cuts.

32. Old Lady Drumbeater patted the medicine first on one side, and then on the other. Paul Buffalo uses both "tap" as in patting something and "tap" as in tapping trees for sap to make maple sugar, or tapping a blood vein.

33. All trees have medicinal properties, but certain trees are used only on or for certain groups ("divisions") of things.

34. The bad blood appearing will slow down when they're using the animal horn to suck out the bad blood.

35. This part was taped in 1968. That would be 1923, 1938, 1928.

36. The Christian god was buried; He was put in the tomb after His crucifixion.

37. Paul Buffalo has not seen blood-letting in recent times. He heard about recent practices, but didn't see them. It is very common for native-speaking individuals of Paul's age to distinguish whether they have actually seen or done things, whether they heard about something, or whether they know something to be true just because what they are talking about is part of the very nature or essence of the action or thing that they are talking about. That information would be conveyed linguistically when they were speaking Anishinabe. Paul Buffalo often clarifies that by saying something like, "I have seen that," or "I was told," or "I have done that lots of times," or "I was there," or "I know that."

38. What Paul is saying is that they don't remember to practice things like that anymore; they don't remember to do it, even when there are folks alive who still remember how to do it.

39. People often do not discuss certain practices. They don't want information on those practices to go out beyond the Indian communities. In the 1990s this was less often the case than it used to be.

40. In the original transcripts Paul Buffalo sometimes uses the term sauna when he's referring to a sweatbath. Sometimes he doesn't. It depended on who he thought the audience is. In Minnesota people are familiar with the sauna, especially in Finnish communities. If Paul Buffalo is talking in English with someone he knows or suspects is familiar with the Finnish sauna, he usually uses the term "sauna" and "sweatbath" more or less interchangeably. Otherwise, in English, if he is not sure of the audience, he talks about the Indian sweatbath or steambath. In general, unless otherwise clear from the context of the sentence, "sauna" and "Finn-bath" are used here to refer to the Finnish, frequently multiple-person, version of an Indian "sweatbath" or "steam bath." Sweatbath, steambath, and occasionally Indian sauna, are used to refer to the Anishinabe variety, usually single-person, sweat lodge.

41. Cf., R. E. Ritzenthaler (Chippewa Preoccupation with Health, 1953, pp. 196-198.)

42. Strips of basswood inner bark used for tying things.

43. See Chapter 29, Midewiwin.

44. See Chapter 37, "Finns, the 'Sweatbath-Men.'"

45. Instant coffee.

46. Stepson.

47. Cf., Ch. 48, "White Medicine."

48. That would have been about 1962 or 1961.

49. Frances Densmore (Chippewa Customs, 1970, p. 95) notes that with the Midewiwin sweat lodge, "There was no subsequent 'rubbing' of their bodies, as was done if the sweating were for medicinal purposes."

50. The medicine doctor will cut you and suck blood out of you using the little horn.

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