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Flying Bird Image

When Everybody Called Me Gabe-bines,

Teachings from Paul Buffalo

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

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a note on tenses
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Table of Contents

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

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

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Buffalo Image

Boarding School Days(1)

School Record, Indian school, Tower.

When I was a youngster people more or less stayed to themselves pretty much. Ya, they were alone most of the time. They didn't like to mix up too much. They'd fear that they weren't good enough, and they'd feel that they didn't want to bother anybody. They didn't want to nose around because they didn't want to get a blame for anything.

And when the uprise(2) came they all stayed to themselves, just keeping a-moving, and saying nothing to nobody. They'd just get the berries that were there for them to get,(3) and they'd just get the rice because it too was there for them to get.(4) That's all they had. And the other Indians did the same.
We pretty much stayed in groups.(5) The relatives -- son-in-laws, daughter-in-laws -- came along with the canoes when we traveled in groups. And if a smaller group were alone somewhere, they knew where their relatives were. Sometimes they'd join them. Maybe the relatives were near, or had a little log house in the area.

As I remember there weren't very many settlers in our country in the canoes days up on the Mississippi.(6) Near Winnibigosh, and White Oak Point, and the Leech River Forks, there mostly weren't many white people -- in my younger days.

As a boy I played most generally by the Leech River and Mississippi Forks, but to get what little English I speak I had to leave there and go to school. The government -- the Indian Department -- had superintendents that went out and picked up kids -- children -- to go to a government school. We kind of hated to leave our folks in those days, but when we got in our bigger groups during certain times of the year(7) we saw other children going to school, and we wanted to go too -- some of us.

As I remember way back when I was about four years old -- before I was six anyway -- I commenced to pick up my memory. I wanted to go to school, just the same as the others. We had government schools already by then. The government schools were cutting in, and both the boys and the girls would go to school. I had a sister that was old enough to go to school. She was older than I am and didn't want to go to school, but I wanted to go to these government schools.

So I went to school right here in Ball Club.(8) I walked from the Mississippi, down there by the fork, two miles and a half to the public school in Ball Club. We lived at the fork,(9) on the Cass County side, and I walked up to school in Ball Club. It was a foreign school . . . I suppose it was a public school. I don't think I ever completed the year at Ball Club because the winter was so rough. It was hard with the cold and snow.

But If we had it a little rough at the Ball Club school, we never noticed -- even though I had to walk in the cold, through the snow, breaking a path. We didn't even have a road. The truth of it is that when we lived at the Leech-Mississippi Fork I had a poor chance to go to a public school. I might as well say that we were pretty near froze out in cold mornings on the cold days going to school in Ball Club.

Now . . . boy! . . . I think of these school buses. Now the younger class have public schools and they drive them up to the school now. They drive the school buses up to Deer River and take the students home after school, right up to the door. I think that way it's nice and warm up here in the North. That way they use kids good. They get hot lunches now too. We had to carry our lunch when we went to the public schools here. And I had to walk pred'near three miles in the cold, in the snow, to go to a public school. And I was pretty young at the time too.

So I finally got to around six, seven years old and I went to school in Bena, Minnesota. I went right there and stayed in the next town from Ball Club, west of Ball Club. As I remember, I went to Bena school and my folks(10) kept the place at home on the Leech River. My mother was alone at the time, and I went to school and she kept the place.

Classroom in an Indian boarding school, location unknown, ca. 1900.

Classroom in an Indian boarding school, location unknown.

Photograph Collection, 1900
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. Collection I.65.46 Negative No.

Most of the time, if the children wanted to go to school, they left home to go to school. When they were six years old children had to go to school and that's when I left for Bena. When I was six years old the superintendent showed up across the river here(11) with a horse and buggy. They had a wagon and boat that use to go around picking school kids up, and when the school wagon came by, I got in the wagon to go to the government school.

Two men and horse drawn sled at an Indian boarding school, location unknown, ca. 1900.

Two men and horse drawn sled at an Indian boarding school, location unknown, ca. 1900.

Photograph Collection, ca.1900
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. Collection I.65.50 AV1992.43.56

"Paul Buffalo," he called.

My mother said, "Oh, it's pred'near ricing time. . . . Paul, Mary, there's the government team. There's a superintendent of the government school here. They've come to get you now. Everybody leaves."

They had the "U.S." on them. So we packed up right now!

The man with the superintendent, the interpreter, came across the river. The police came across with him. He was the police in that area, the Indian police. They took us back across the river. We bid good-bye.

"After ricing we'll come over to see you," they told us as we left.

They had a government school at Bena, Minnesota, and that's where we went at first. That was about nineteen-six. There we were at Bena, at the Indian school. After we got in school we had so much fun that we thought we were better off there. We had three meals a day, and a good place to sleep. We were going to school and playing games. We had work details to help clean the yard. We learned how to keep ourselves up, and to patch our clothes. We had a long time to go in the Bena Indian school.

Young girls playing at an Indian boarding school, location unknown, ca. 1900.

Young girls playing at an Indian boarding school, location unknown, ca. 1900.

Photograph Collection, ca. 1900
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location no. Collection I.65.39

They had a pretty good government school at Bena that held a lot of children -- I presume . . . about two, three, two hundred children; I think so. The school was made of just common sheeting, lumber and siding, and it was up on the hill, right by Lake Winnibigosh.

They put up a nice set-up for the Indian, the government did. We had a good school, a school where we stayed right there. They had good employees and I got kind of interested in them. I pick up lots from them.

I was finding my way of life by learning ball games and sports and all those other games we played. In the spring of the year the boys used to play ball. In Indian, bak-I-tay means "when you hit." We called a ball player bak-I-tay jii-i-gay wIn-In-nii. That's a "two-legged who is hitting."

Baseball game at St Mary's Mission School, Red Lake, 1956.

Baseball game at St Mary's Mission School, Red Lake, 1956.

Photograph Collection, 1956
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. GV3.11 r66 Negative No.

It was an interesting life. So that's how I got in with a lot of schooling. I was happy. I went to school. I spent most of my time in school, in the younger days. Then I was troubled with my eyes. I couldn't read too much.

They had one big dormitory upstairs and then on the second floor they had a playroom. It wasn't very big. It must-a been about 20 x 20. And they had a basement for our washroom. But the school held quite a few kids; there must have been about fifty -- twenty-five, fifty of them -- living in that school. That government school had boarding, so naturally they called it a "boarding school." See, we ate right there. We didn't come home at night. We stayed there. We stayed there all winter -- a year or two in a row.

Young boys eating in the dining hall, Indian boarding school, location unknown, ca. 1900.

Young boys eating in the dining hall, Indian boarding school, location unknown, ca. 1900.

Photograph Collection, ca. 1900
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. Collection I.65.37 Negative No.

In the spring they'd let some of the boys go home on weekends -- those who wanted to go. But not everybody went since in the spring we had the ball games to pass the time on weekends. Then, in June -- when summer came, when the school was out -- they let us go home for a vacation and they'd close the school. Just the superintendent and the employees would watch the school during the summer when we'd come home.

We'd leave to go down home and help our folks to garden. In the meantime, while we were away at school, some whites came in and settled amongst us, and we became friendly to whites. We have picked up a lot from them. We have learned how to plant a garden with the whites' help. My folks were gardening on Leech River and Mississippi Forks. I helped with the garden.(12) After we planted a garden in the spring I would go back to school in the fall. Then, as usual, I would go home again in the spring.

I must have been about eight years old, when I was still going to the Bena school. From about the time I was six until I was eight years old I went to the Bena school during the fall and winter, and then I'd go home in the summer, and then in the fall I'd come back to school. That's the way we went on.

Young boys seated by wood stove, Indian boarding school, location unknown, ca. 1900.

Young boys seated by wood stove, Indian boarding school, location unknown, ca. 1900.

Photograph Collection, ca. 1900
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. Collection I.65.38 Negative No.

They heated the place with wood. Ya, they heated the place with regular old wood. They had a night watchman -- at times -- who would watch the fire. It was kind of hard to keep that building heated up with wood. Later on they got coal. They took the woodstoves out and put furnaces in some of these government schools later on in years, but this Bena school was a kind of small school. It wasn't too big. It was just a grade school, but it was a boarding school.

Splitting wood at an Indian boarding school, location unknown, ca. 1900.

Splitting wood at an Indian boarding school, location unknown, ca. 1900.

Photograph Collection, ca. 1900
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. Collection I.65.58 Negative No.

All year long we'd have chores to do and details to work on, but on Saturday afternoon we just had time off. On Saturdays and Sundays we'd pick up rubbers(13) and bottles, and sell them for a nickel. They used to buy them in town, so we'd pick them up and sell them in town, then go inside Flemming's store and buy our candy. Ooh, we had a lot of friends then.

That was when the railroad was coming through and lots of men were working on the railroad, the Great Northern.(14) They had foreigners working -- "Dagos" they'd call them -- and they'd work all day long. We couldn't understand them, but it was fun watching them work. Boy how they worked! Those days they really worked! We had hot summers too, like we do now. Still, they'd be out there working all day on the tracks.

Section gang, Italians from St. Paul, at Fargo, North Dakota, 1919.

Section gang, Italians from St. Paul, at Fargo, North Dakota, 1919.

Photograph Collection 1919
Location no. HE6.42 p8
  Collections Online
  Minnesota Historical Society
Negative no. 32973

A little after my sister Mary and I left for the Bena school -- and after ricing was over with -- my mother moved to Ball Club. To climb that train and ride from Bena fourteen miles to go to Ball Club was a big thing for us in those days. Now-a-days I figure it's like going home to New York. It was so far those days, but now, with those high powered cars, in just ten minutes, fifteen minutes, you're home from Bena. Those days it was slower. Yes, that's something!

Passenger Train, ca. 1900.

Passenger Train, ca. 1900.

Photographer: Minneapolis Journal

Photograph Collection, ca. 1900
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. Collection HE6.2 p5 Negative No.

In the winter, when it was nice mornings, while we were at school doing our chores on Saturday mornings we'd look out and see a bunch of lumberjacks coming across the lake with pack sacks on their backs. "That's big loggers across there," somebody'd say. You could see them coming all the way across the lake. They came from lumber camps on the other side of Winnibigosh. Those days there was usually a crew going, a crew in the camp, and a crew coming. When it was time, a crew would just quit and leave for town. They'd exchange like that. From Bena some of them would go right across Winnibigosh up towards Third River on the northwest corner of Winni.

Lumberjacks at their camp in the Third River area, northwest of Deer River, n.d.

Lumberjacks at their camp in the Third River area, northwest of Deer River, n.d.

Photograph Collection, n.d.
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. YR1971.6058 Negative No.

We used to sit and watch them, and wonder if they could ever make it across walking. They would though. In time they'd gain, and finally we'd see them go out of sight. Sometimes some of them would get caught in a blizzard. That's a wide lake, that Winnibigosh, but they walked across it.

Lumberjacks returning from a day's work, ca. 1930.

Lumberjacks returning from a day's work, ca. 1930.

Photograph Collection, ca. 1930
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. HD5.7 r20 Negative No.

Then sometimes early in the morning you'd get up and you'd see a pack of wolves going across on that lake. Four, five, six, seven wolves'ed be portaging across the lake in packs. Wolves did that, right out on the middle of the lake. The schoolhouse was right on top of the hill, right near the lake, and we could see all of that. We have some boys living now who can verify that.

Some of the Tibbitts's boys -- like Tommy Tibbitts -- went to school there. I remember that he and his brother and friend had traps -- just a little way from the school building. He set trap for wolves, and he'd catch 'em right there. You could almost see his trapping ground from the schoolhouse.

They used those wolves for fur those days. Ya; they used them for fur. There wasn't much money in them, but traders bought the fur anyway. We had a trading post there in Bena, and old Flemming was buying then. That's where the boys got rid of their fur. There were muskrats down by the lake, and they trapped them too.

Yes, we'd look out on the lake in the winter and we'd see a pack of wolves. There's a lot of interesting things in life up here in the north. I just can't get out of here. I had a lot of chances to go to big cities and see a little city life. I think I learn more by living up here. And I enjoy life, you know, and I'm more free.

About 1908 -- in there somewhere -- we went to a sister's school, where it was a boarding school . . . . I don't just remember what year, but anywhere somewhere in that neighborhood, I think. I was pretty young anyhow when I went to the Red Lake sister's school.

The boarding school at Red Lake was a nice school. I enjoyed boarding at the sisters' school, and I think I began to learn the religion both from life and from the religious. I was always happy, and I obeyed the sisters and tried to do what they told me. I studied hard.

Then my eyes kind of started to bother me and after a little while I came back home. I'm a little defected besides that,(15) but still, I did pretty well, I think. I learned a little more English, enough to get by with the whites anyway. I think I was always happy in life. 'Course we had doctors, wonderful schooling, wonderful teaching, and wonderful development amongst our Indians at that time.

Man in a medical supply room at an Indian boarding school, location unknown, ca. 1900.

Man in a medical supply room at an Indian boarding school, location unknown, ca. 1900.

Photograph Collection, ca. 1900
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. Collection I.65.25 Negative No.

Government schools started keeping you all year about 1908, or something like that. Maybe it was around '07. You could go to school for three years then. They had three years of school available for quite a few years after that, but I think they quit operating in our area in 1918. School was the most important thing in 1910 and 1912. It was more important than the doctor and priest -- at that time.(16)

If the priest wouldn't have come, the Indians would have gone to school eventually, and lost the Indian way of life by going to school. But I think by the time the children went off to school year round most generally a lot of people couldn't understand Midewiwin anyway.(17) And by the time we had year-round school the other schools had already destroyed much of the Indian way of life; that's why people are now going around picking it up. That's why they come from the University now, picking up Indian cultures. Schooling has a lot to do with the Indian history‑cal loss.

A lot of our people in my days knew that the way they were taking our way of life was by sending the children to boarding schools. The government has always asked the Indian to get an education. And they had boarding schools. We were invited to go to school. And when we were still at home getting Indian lectures(18) to go out into the world, we knew we had to change our mind. Some of the old folks -- a few of the old folks -- were at that time already saying, "We can not stay home and learn this new experience of life altogether by ourselves. We no longer can learn only through lectures on the experience of life by the elders. We have to have a learning by others. We have to follow the road forward, and leave home."

And when you leave home, you know you have to stick with the directions -- the instructions -- given to you.

We knew that.

The school changes your way of life when he takes your hand for better education. You're leaving the Indian lectures, yes, but the lectures are still in your mind from a little boy up. Then, when you go learn in school, and when they're training you, you'll feel better and stronger. Then, when you finish with schooling, you are really willing to go out into the world and learn more about life, and you're well equipted to go. The trail is cut out for you then.

If you're cut out for a certain position that you make up your mind to do, you know how you're going to do it. You have to learn to start to work, or you have to learn more about certain other parts of education that you need to get there. Education holds your hand and says, "Come on. We'll show you the road." You know you're going to make it. You got help by the training. That's true. But if you don't take the advantage of the best offer they have for you to learn, then you might have a hard time making it in this world. You have to have interest in what you are doing, and when you practice the interest by joining for better education you commence to see that you can do it. You can get up there. You can do whatever it is you put your mind to. It isn't too late. If you're young enough, you're going to go wherever you want to go. That's what I say. If you practice -- you practice your mind, you practice your way, you practice the job -- it's always perfect. If you practice, it makes perfect.

When you learn that way of doing things the mind is set. See? That's how they changed from home learning. But if a party has no interest deepening, and if they want to stay with only their Indian lectures and don't move, the boarding school won't do them any good. Without taking interest in all angles of education it's just like saying you don't want to go ahead in life; it's like you want to hear the lectures too much. And by that you show that you aren't interested in life.

Lectures are telling you how to go. Sure. Lectures never never quit. Lectures, they stay. "Remember, respect the other guy." That's the lectures they give us. But you have to work your mind at the same time too. You can't just depend on somebody else to pull you along. No! You have to be willing to put two and two together. And when they see you're willing to learn like that, it's easier for this guy that's training you.

We'd sit and talk at the boarding schools. We agreed that it was a good thing they had taught us some things. We are trained, and we can do better at making a living in the way things are going. 'Course now-a-days -- at my age -- I can not do much, but I'm not afraid to try; I'm willing. That's the biggest part; be willing. Be willing to help work. By working that way, I think today that's why I feel good. I didn't expect anything for nothing. For my part I enjoyed work and felt good that I made a little money for myself or a little for the house. I spent it, a little for here and there. I was proud of it.

But now, at this age, I wish I would-a listened to my Father and Mother more. And I heard my sisters and brothers say the same. I wish we would have had more of that pointing out things through the lectures of life. Today I see we have a chance to work, to produce. The elders years ago told us, "Later on it'll be crowded. They're(19) coming in fast." And I always wondered about that. The old folks told us, "Everybody has to help themselves; dealing with the in-comers will be a little easier for those that help themselves." I think that's a big word; boy, it is! I wish I had a little more of that talk and kept it. Now I know what they were talking about. And I heard that over and over from other people too.

Our family and the other children were all trying to help one another, but still when the time came, we had to go to school. But in that short time that we had together whenever we were home from school we tried to help. That's the way we got along so well. We felt good about it . . . in a way.

The mixed-bloods usually wanted to send their kids away to school, but the full-bloods didn't want them to go away. The full-bloods like to have their kids near them. They were afraid if they sent them away that they might not have money to go see them if they get really ill. "But if they kept him home," they thought, "we could take care of him if he got sick."(20) That's why the full-bloods like to have the children at home.

And besides that, the traditional Indian was afraid to go anywhere because he might not make it back before he passes away.(21)

But the mixed-bloods know how to raise their children right -- for this day and age. And they're able to borrow the money anywhere to go somewhere where their kids are going to school. We've seen a lot of mixed-bloods in school in my time.

The older Indian(22) had a hardship, but the kids shouldn't be the blame. Later on, the younger generation of the Indians had a better understanding of handling their own affairs. So they helped their father and mother. They helped the old people. The old people really started putting their kids to school then.

People now-a-days have more interests. That changed their ways of living. They have more interest in life. They're looking for the betterment. They get a better education. We didn't accept education years ago. The traditionals thought they didn't need it. There were so many speaking their language that they stuck together as a group. They were not used to talking to people or to meeting different people. So they stayed to themselves. They didn't mix. They didn't bother anybody.

Many Indians didn't understand English. They didn't take interest in the white man's ways and they still lived the Indian way, by the old hand-picking blueberries, fishing, and everything else. And the white folks let the Indian do that. They let the old typicals(23) do that. The old full-bloods can't help not understanding, because they didn't go to school in the olden days. They had a little schooling, sometimes, but they didn't have the chance the young folks have now.

They had to walk to school. They didn't have the clothes. They'd miss school because they had to stay home and help their folks. And they didn't have doctors like they have now. There's no excuse now not to go to school. But time before, there was always some excuse. Something would arise before them, like difficulties, and they couldn't go to school. They had reasons for not going to school. And they were financing their own. The government schools came later on. Those that did go to school went to a government school later on. Afterwhile, the government schools became for everybody. The government schools, as I think now, were taking in a lot of money for that.

But not everybody who could go went to the government schools. What I think is that some of the Indians were also afraid of the buildings, the structures. You know, if four or five hundred Indians were in a school and it caught fire, it wouldn't be very good. That's what we were drilled about.(24) Otherwise we wouldn't know what to do if we were in there and the building caught fire. It was hard to wake some of these young Indians up. So if we'd lose a big bunch of Indians in that big school, if a storm hit them or killed them, if there were damages that would crippled them, that wouldn't be so good. I think that's one reason they stopped having the Indians go to those government schools. If they had a real fireproof building, and if it was well equipted for fire protection those days, I think they would have kept right on a-going to those government schools. At least that's the way I look at it. But anyway, I think it's a good idea to stop having big boarding schools just for Indians and open the public schools so that the Indians can go to school along with the white.

Then too, some of the old traditionals were worried about Windigo. We heard about Windigo, but I don't remember anyone in my time that saw one. That must have been before my time. Windigo is story‑telling from a-way back. I think Windigo comes from the giant stories of the whites.(25) I think it's from the white direction of language. I think it comes from the white's stories about the giant, the big man, the powerful man.

The way the Indians got it, Windigo is a man who will eat anything. Even people! It's hard to fill him because his food pocket is so big and it takes a lot to feed him. He has power, and he can make high winds. He can do anything. Windigo is an overpowered person and he eats most everything that he sees raw. But he cooks little boys in a big kettle!

I remember a day when I was eight years old. I was going to go north to school, to Tower, Minnesota, that fall, and an old lady about eighty, ninety, years old came to my mother's place. She said, "Where's the kids going?"

"I'm sending them off to school."

"How long are they going to be there?"

"Three years."

"O-o-o-u, ooh!! What school are they sending them to?"

"A school close to Canadian border, north."

"O-oh-oh!!, my daughter!! The people eat one another up there!"

That's what she said.

"In the history, years ago, there used to be Windigo. They call them Windigo because they eat one another. And he's up there."

That's what she said.

My mother laughed at them. "Maybe that was true in the olden days, but they don't now," my mother told her. But the old lady had that in her head all the time. The story‑tale‑ing of the history, way back, was empowered.

My mother told me later on, "No, it couldn't be that. Times have changed. You can believe only half of the stories you hear. Most of that is a story to fear the younger class."(26)

Government Indian school, Tower, ca. 1910.

Government Indian school, Tower, ca. 1910.

Photograph Collection, Postcard, ca. 1910
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No.YR1967.3856 E97.7V r1 Negative No.

Now things have changed! What I really think is that the younger class are telling more stories than the older class. Why now, the older class wants to listen to the younger class. The older class feels they're repeating the school's teaching, and they like to listen to the young ones talk about school.

By the sufferage of going to school in the cold winters and working at home when we had short vacations from local school, I decided that I would do better in the government(27) boarding school -- in a boarding school like we had in the past, the one at Tower, Minnesota, on Lake Vermillion. Pretty soon my family had things ready; they had been working and getting ready for me to winter in the Tower school. Locally they had a chance for logging, selling a few sticks of logs, bolts; that helped. And there was a little price in fur, and that helped. There was always something where they could earn a little money, and I think this was great. That's the way it kept going.

So one year I was transferred to Tower, Minnesota. I was there for a few grades. I think it was in 1909 that I was transferred to Tower, Minnesota. And that was a nice big government Indian school.(28) We called it "government school" because it was run by the U. S. government. It had more children than the other schools I went to, and a lot of Indians were with me up there -- about 400 Indians(29) -- and we were friendly. We never, we never gave one another hard feeling as we might have, as we were all strangers when we came in. They helped me, along with the other children. Boy, that was a life! I enjoyed that, and they had the best meals and the best cooks they could get for the boarding school. The government had done that for the Indians. I suppose at this time I should appreciate it -- which I do. It is a great thing you know, the experience of life.

Two women in kitchen at Indian boarding school, location unknown, ca. 1900.

Two women in kitchen at Indian boarding school, location unknown, ca. 1900.

Photograph Collection, ca. 1900
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. Collection I.65.28 Negative No.

Well when I went in the Tower boarding school, that helped both me and the family. That released the family from providing food and clothing. In school we were in training and that helped later on. We were trained farming. We were trained how to take care of the animals and crops, and how to keep the home fires burning. And then when we got back home, we knew something about farming. That helped, and things kept getting better.

Boys working in the field at an Indian boarding school, location unknown, ca. 1900.

Boys working in the field at an Indian boarding school, location unknown, ca. 1900.

Photograph Collection, ca. 1900
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. Collection I.65.20 Negative No.

Children planting a garden at an Indian boarding school, location unknown, ca. 1900.

Children planting a garden at an Indian boarding school, location unknown, ca. 1900.

Photograph Collection, ca.1900
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. Collection I.65.21 Negative No.

The white people didn't have the government school like we did -- like the Indian did -- but the white people had public schools and they worked at home.

So I went away for three years. I left the reservation in 1909, 1910, and 1911.(30) Three years I stayed at Tower Indian School without coming home. I learned lots. I learned how to work. Later I learned how to farm. I learned firing steam boilers, keeping heat for the building at certain hours. They taught me lots of things, and I helped out at the school at the same time. By that way I helped myself to learn all this.

When I went to the Tower government school I thought I was leaving my people. My folks signed for three years, and I stayed up on Vermillion Lake, at the Tower Indian School at Tower, Minnesota, all that time. When I got up there I thought I was losing my Indian way of life, my Indian learning. But they were sending me off for a better education, with schooling and everything.

When I got there, I found out that if I talked Indian and I was caught by an employee, I got punished from the employees. They told me, "You're not supposed to talk Indian here. You're supposed to talk English." So that's what I got . . . punishment. So now I was thinking, "Am I losing? Am I going to lose my Indian way of life?"

But it wasn't long before I commence to see Indians, Canadians -- or at least they were from pretty close to the Canadian border. And I heard them talk Indian, but they had a little slang(31) in their language. They had a Canadian slang, northern.(32) But I learned their pronunciation pretty fast, and the little slang of their language didn't bother me. I understood them. They have the same language as I have, but they have a slang on the end. That's just how they put out the sound, so I didn't laugh -- but I was looking at them and studying them all the time. And I noticed the way they carry themselves.

Some of that comes in from France too, you know. There was some French coming in there. Sometimes when the Canadians or Near-to-Canadians talk they get so far away from the Indian that they start using the French part -- A-pan. With the Minnesota Indians(33) we sometimes have the same thing.

The Nett Lake Indian School at Tower is pretty near -- pretty close to -- Canadian Indians, and I met a lot of Canadian people there. There's where I was first puzzled talking Indian to them. When they said, "Where'd you come from?" I said, "Ball Club."

And they were talking Indian.

"Is your father living?"


Then they'd ask me, "Is your mother living?" In Indian they'd talk. They would say that in Indian. So I got puzzled because they didn't say my "mother" in Indian, "do-du." Un uh. You know what they said?

"nI -maa-mA$."

"Is your nI -maa-mA$ living?"

I couldn't figure that out.

do-du, do-du means a breast of your . . . a breast of any that live off of the breast and are nursing for milk. That's do-du. If you hand a baby a bottle with the nipple of the breast of a woman, you say, "that's your do-du," "that's your 'mother.'" You feed from there. do-du is that.

But the way they put it up there is, maa-mA$, ma-mA$. Geeze that falls back, a long ways back.

But the only way to say it really is do-du. That's plain, do-du, gI-doo-du$ and gI-doo-du$. That's the old Indian way of saying it.

Your father is day-deI$. See, that word gets you way way back down there in the past; ya. But when it comes to the new -- the same as the new, the latest -- it is pA-pa.

See, the French or the whites come in and then their talking changes to pA-pa, baa-bA, and mA-ma, $n-maa-mA. That's not in the old way. But reverse that and from the Indian, if it's your dad, it's day-de$, day-day. See, that's your father, or great, or day-te-naa$, de-de-nA$. Well that's the leader of the family. And then your ma is do-du$ and grandmother is no-ko-mIss. We use that. We never use "mA-ma."

In the olden days we never used ma-mA, maa-mA$ or baa-bA, but we understood that though in the later years. I think it comes in more with the white language. We pick up a lot of that English talk in Indian.

I think Orr -- up by Nett Lake -- talks pretty much Canadian. They're pretty close to Canadian. You see, the way we say the language is different. From a long time ago, we say, nay-wi-j-ah? We say it clear. And you know what they say? They say, "ah-I-j-ah." "ah-I-j-ah." "ah-I-j-ah."

"Did you go feed the mishtadim?"

"Did you go feed the horse?"


"I already did it. I already fed him."

There's no difference in slang between White Oak Point and Winnibigosh. No, there's no difference; that's in one group. Cass Lake and Winnibigosh is OK too, but if someone is from Tower, you would know right away they were from close to the Canadian border. They talk more like Canadians -- Cannuks(34) -- but they are Chippewas . . . and you could still understand them too. They also have a little sly(35) that sounds like Wisconsin Indians when they talk in their Council.

My dad, Jim Buffalo's from Wisconsin, and I still have relatives there. My relationship is through the Chief -- the Buffalo head Chief of Duluth. At the Tower school I'd say, "See that guy from Wisconsin? He knows some Buffalos there. That's where my dad's from. I have cousins and aunts down there that I have never seen. I should go down there sometime."

And my sister said, "Ya, I met Margaret Buffalo. I told her about you. Geeze she's been around, for her age. She said she likes to meet you. She's my aunt -- my cousin-like aunt. She likes to meet you, and everyone else of your relation. You have claims down there,(36) a lot of claims."

I do have claims down there in Wisconsin. And I have a claim in Duluth that I never pressed.(37) Buffalohead Chief of the Great Lakes was my grandfather,(38) so I have claims over there.

My Mom's from Leech Lake, nearby to Onigum. Leech Lake, Winnibigosh, and White Oak Point Indians have a little sly too, but we can understand other Chippewas and we know where they are from by the way of their language. It isn't so bad at other parts of the Leech Lake Reservation because we're neighborly(39) and it's too close to notice much difference. But if someone from Nett Lake, Red Lake, or Wisconsin comes in and starts talking, we know right away where they're from.

That's what also makes for a lot of dispute in writing and trying to clarify the Indian language. You can't write the Indian language very easy. It can't be done by using the alpha-bats(40) because the Indian language is different. You might have too much trouble trying to put into letters what I say in Indian because we use different ways of saying things.

So if you're going to be with the Leech Lake Mississippi Bands(41) you have to understand clearly their meaning and what they say.

And if you go farther west, their pronunciation begins to slip altogether. Groups further west talk with a sly too, but they can't help it.

A lot of Canadian Indians live near Canada on Vermillion Lake. There's quite a tribe in there, and they're a little shorter than the original Leech Laker. They are a little shorter people. Those days we didn't know who they were or what they would do.(42) But we believed they were Indian, so we tried hard to talk to them.

The three years we were up there we would often go visit certain old Indians. The first time we went to see one of them they laughed at me when I went up and asked about "mother." Every time we talked to them the old lady would look at the old man, "What'd he say?" she kept asking. So it'd take a long time to understand us.

"I'll say it over again, 'wah-nag-ah-du-du-!'"

"I don't know what du-du is."

I was with a boy from the school. The boy I was with had enough education and he said, "that's 'your mother.'" He'd interpret their language and I'd interpret what I meant with him. So that's the way I broke in to understand them.

Red Lake is just about the same as Nett Lake. Red Lake is pretty clear though. They use the same language, the same song.(43) They're still pretty clear. Their language is coming back to them too. Probably they're practicing more. But Red Lake must have mixed with Canadians too. You can tell that the way they say "horse." "mis-tah-din," that's a "horse" of Nett Lake. They'll never say bay-hay-jI-go-gah-jay. That's too long for them. They say "mish-tah-din." That describes the way the horses' feet clydes -- you know, clicks -- when they're running. Mish-tah-din, yah.

Well, you see that Nett Lake way of speaking doesn't confuse me any because I can understand what they mean. I know how they're going to use slys and languages and everything. Nett Lake would be all right with me because I went to school with a lot of them and they all know me. I went to school at Red Lake too. They all know me.

I think the best years of my life were 1911, '10. I had better learning, and the boys that were with me were trying hard to learn our languages. We told them a lot of stuff too that taught them the way we use our Indian language. But the old people, boy, could they talk to one another in Indian!

Most Everybody my age went to government schools. There was a line-up and in the line-up they called roll. I was in "A," that's the tall ones. There were also "B," that's the middle-sized ones, and "C," that's the little fellas. "A," "B," "C," were the line-ups, and they'd call roll. We'd stand in a good line. It was pretty. And there were about forty big boys, and there were about thirty -- thirty of 'em -- middle-size, and the rest were the little ones.

I enjoyed the boarding school where we stayed. I stayed there three years without going home. I didn't want to go home. I just wanted to stay there because they had good schooling. We had night watches -- night watchmen -- to take care of us. In my times we were dressed good. We went to school good. We had good teachers. I could name quite a few schools I went to. I think I appreciated everything I went through, because I enjoyed it. I worked with them, and I thanked them.

Teacher and student (?) at an Indian boarding school, location unknown, ca. 1900.

Teacher and student (?) at an Indian boarding school, location unknown, ca. 1900.

Photograph Collection, ca. 1900
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. Collection I.65.23 Negative No.

I was trained in government schools. I stayed with the government schools three years because I loved the way they treated the Indian. It was good. It was the best. It had to be, because everything was ruled out.(44) It was ruled the way it should be ruled. We lived on rules and regulations. Everybody lived by rules and regulation -- or somewhere near them. That way everybody is feeling good.

That's what I lived. I lived by the rule and regulation of this big building. That's education. And they were drilling it in my head, over and over. If I don't learn it, they'll tell me to study. See? I've seen that. Now I can go out in the world anywhere and get along with other people. Why? If I didn't have the education I'd-a stayed in the brush. They got me out of the brush.

But even though I went to quite a few schools I'm not very well educated -- because I had eye trouble. I went to the school doctors with that eye trouble so they could clear up my eyes. That's what delayed my education. I was almost snow blind, you might as well say. They call what I had "snow blind" -- s^s's-s^-kín-gway-g^-gií-bín-gwày in Indian.(45) So I was excused from school because I had hard eye trouble.

"I recommend that you may go home," they told me.

When I got home the field nurse came. "How's your eyes?" she asked me.

I said, "I could see."

In the history of the Indian we had roots and barks we used for eye medicine. We use blackberry -- the blackberry bush -- and it grows right out there behind my house . . . but you can find them almost anywhere if you know where to look. Whites don't see it -- they don't see that medicine much either -- but if you have normal eye trouble, in about a week or so it'll clear up. I saved two of them from blindness with that.(46)

We also use that blackberry root for colic, for stomach distress, and upset and cramps. It's a root of a bush blackberry that we use for medicine. Boy that'll straighten you right up. We use blackberry roots more straight -- direct . . . without mixing -- for doctoring internals. If that doesn't do it there's something else that we use, but then we have to use different things with it.  Blackberry roots are really good if you catch them at the right time -- when they're through growing and thoroughly matured. You get three, four of them and then let them boil. Then drink that. You'll straighten right up.(47)

But when you get that "snow blind" it hurts you for longer periods of time and that blackberry medicine doesn't work very well. That "snow blind" delays your ability to go to school, and your ability to support yourself. My other eye has a little cataract now. That could be taken out. They have little hooks now to do that, but they didn't at that time. An eye specialist said, "I don't want to monkey with that. We don't know too much about it. Disturbing that might pull the tissue off of the next part of the eye and make you worse again." 

So that's why I left Tower Indian School.

I was eight or nine years old when these government schools were really active. They were learning us -- learning the Indian child -- how to play games like ball games on ball teams. They had bands -- musical bands(48); and they were educating the Indians so that the Indian could understand English.

Childrens Band, Drexel Indian School, White Earth, ca. 1910.

Childrens Band, Drexel Indian School, White Earth, ca. 1910.

Credit: The Archives of St. John's Abbey.

Photograph Collection, ca. 1910
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. N5.9 r14 Negative No. 56342

So whether or not we believed in Grand Medicine, whether or not Grand Medicine was a part of our Indian beliefs, they would have us go to the white man's church at these schools. The old Indians didn't know that there was church going on in these government schools! A Catholic priest came there, and they had Episcopal priests come, and we heard their lectures. They used to ask us, "Do you want to go to church? Do you want to hear a good lecture?" The disciplinarian of the boys -- the superintendent -- said, "When you want to go to church you have the privilege." And we said, "Yes," and we put on our uniforms with the buttons with eagles on them, and we went over to the chapel. Yea, we had to be clean to meet that clean person. So when the boys went to those churches, we all dressed up for church, and we had learned English enough to understand those churches and lectures and preachings from the priest. In church they have a certain preaching that they have to do every season.(49) The top director there is the priest. These all meant well, but we began to lose the old Indian way of life.

oung boy standing in doorway of a church at an Indian boarding school, location unknown, ca. 1900.

Young boy standing in doorway of a church at an Indian boarding school, location unknown, ca. 1900.

Photograph Collection, ca. 1900
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. Collection I.65.9 Negative No.

Priest posed with children in front of church, Indian boarding school, location unknown, ca. 1900.

Priest posed with children in front of church, Indian boarding school, location unknown, ca. 1900.

Photograph Collection, ca. 1900
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. Collection I.65.12 Negative No.

As we came along in my class -- the younger class -- years ago, we saw that the Indians were failing in their way of life. See? When our Indians were getting schooling they didn't stop for these old Indian ways of life, these Indian lectures. So we were losing it. The Indian way of life began to be drifting: Indian teaching, Indian beliefs, Indian churches all were drifting. There weren't Indian churches -- church buildings; in our Indian gatherings we talked out in the open, the way we should.

Father Buh(50) from Duluth used to go up there to the Indian School and serve. He had whiskers. He had long whiskers. He was an old minister -- a priest -- so he talked good to the Indian. He made lots of tracks with Indians. We met him as a group. We met him in a community hall of the school. "Chapel" is what they called it. That was when I was there in nineteen-nine, -ten, -eleven. I was there three years. Father Buh was an old guy. I think he came from a foreign country, but he was a wonderful priest! He would say, "My child. . . ." That attracts the Indians. I think they gave him meals there and everything.

When we came out of those schools we were getting along a little better in life with our education, and we felt we should go to church to gain any headway in our life. But in going to church, we had to have good clothes. Now-a-days too, you have to be clean, you have to be shaved up, you probably have to have a nice car. Church is all right if you . . . if you . . . believe deep enough in it! Going to church is the same thing as looking for Christ. Maybe you even put money in for Him.

We didn't talk very much English in school at first. I'd say I knew "no" and I knew "yes yes." But after a while I was pretty good. English came to me because I had people that taught me a little English at the Sister's school at Red Lake. I could hear it. I could make out what they were saying. Then when I went to the Tower school -- the first year -- I just took to it just like that.

I feel happy about it. I feel satisfied about it. I feel that's a good way to learn. I wish I had that chance longer. In my school days we didn't have the things they have now. Of course there were the government schools, but it was so hard to learn everything because half -- you might as well say half -- of the school wouldn't take interest in what they were coming into in the world. All they knew was the old way. Right off of the Chippewa language we had to learn English. After we learned English, then we'd study how to read and how to figure. We studied different things, like geography and all that, but it all came too fast, you know, particularly for those having difficulty with English. They'd be teaching us other things in English even before we learned English! Well, if nothing else we'd get the English and go home and teach our children English.

That's why our children have a better chance now. And those that wanted a schooling in those days now have a better understanding of their children, that's what I mean. Their children got a better chance too, because they understand their folks, since most of their folks now talk a little English.

They didn't allow Chippewa in school, and before I knew it I was talking English more or less more than Chippewa. But for three years I didn't forget the Chippewa. The school was all English, but for three years I didn't forget the Chippewa. I came back and I could talk just as good in Chippewa. And they all wondered about that.

"Geezes, for three years you were in the government school studying hard. How could you talk Indian yet? Because at your age you should lose that Chippewa when you stay in English."

"No, I couldn't lose it."

As soon as I got back home I understood it. I started to talk Indian right away. They laughed at the way I talked Chippewa when I returned.(51) I could talk English and Indian both. That's what I liked about life. The Chippewa never left me. I know a lot of them lost it. But it comes back. When they hear it, it comes back to them. But I didn't lose it. I knew everything, even though I went to the government school three years straight. I was one that hardly ever heard a word of Chippewa when I went to the government school. When I came back I started to talk to my folks in Indian. They were surprised. Everybody told them, "All he'll hear is English. You won't be able to understand your children." My sister was the same. She had really good Indian explanations. They were surprised!

But those that went to different government schools, like Haskell and all over,(52) oh geeze!, they didn't know anything about the language when they got back. A lot of them from my area went to Haskell, and Pipestone. A lot of them. I went to Bena and Tower and I was supposed to learn English there. But I was also supposed to go along with the Canadian Indians; I was supposed to get along with all of the Chippewas at the same time, and they talked Chippewa. That's why, maybe, I talked so much Indian when I got home.

A few years after I returned home from the Tower Boarding School, one of the old folks visiting said, "Is that ku-Irz-zi-bAn-i's boy? From Wisconsin?"


"Who's his mother?"

"May-giid, Margaret Nason. Mah-giid, that's his mother, his home mother."

And the Indian turned around to me, and shook hands with me.

"You're smart. You went away to school for three years. You studied three years in one of the government's schools. You are smart. You could talk right up, right up to us. When we spoke to you right after you came home, you were cute -- 'course you were young. And you were more active. You could talk plain Indian, and we all wondered how you didn't lose a word of Indian."

1912, '13, '14 was the best way of life. Then things came in and changed us. It was too rough, you know, in those days that followed. There was a time when we had a "free way," for if you wanted anything you could go out and get it.(53) In '12, '13, '14 we had a very good "free way." Now in old age I'm forced to follow the social changes in the country. I can't follow the old way anymore at my age. So I just go along with the rest.

When I was about twelve years old I went away to school again. . . . When I was twelve . . . or fifteen years old . . . I was in these government schools. . . . About '12 -- in there -- I started school at Onigum School.

There was a nice bunch of boys there, which I know are still living. We had engineering and public divisions, and we had supervisors there that would look after the school. That was quite a set-up. Charlie Gahbow and I were chief engineers. He would go on in the morning one week and I would go on in the morning the next. We'd take turns. We ran the water pump for the school.

They had the best meals, and Oh!, I enjoyed that!

Charlie . . . Charlie Cloud . . . Budreaux . . . Charles Budreaux . . . Robert Budreaux, and Ellis were all there. Ellis, of course, was living there years ago. I don't remember that Ellis went to school at Onigum when I was there, but I think he had been there to school before we got there. There are a lot of Indians who went to Onigum school.

Oh geeze, that was a big school, nice! They had a lake, skating rinks, ball diamond. And they were all cared-for. We all done up chores.

I think that I did pretty well in the boarding schools. And we'd come home and we'd feel that we should get to work and help at home with what we picked up in school. We'd help them learn. When we set-in the garden we'd tell the Old Man about the way we'd do in school. We'd tell him about the way we'd carpenter in school, and about the way we'd do other things. That's the way we'd help.

School gardens, Indian boarding school, ca. 1890 - 1900.

School gardens, Indian boarding school, ca. 1890 - 1900.

Photograph Collection, 1890
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. L4 r156 Negative No. 45530

That's a big issue from the government to the Indians -- to go out into the world. And you'd learn not only one trade, but you'd learn everything -- or at least enough to get by on anyhow . . . in labor. And I tried. I enjoyed that all the way through! About 1914, '15, '16 I moved to Federal Dam for two or three years with my own wife.(54) And when I became around eighteen years old I decided to quit school altogether.

So when I got to be around eighteen I wanted to sign up for the U.S. Army. But I was defected and I was only getting to be around eighteen years old. I wasn't able to sign up for the Army because of my defection and because I was too young. I was only getting to be eighteen; see? I wanted to sign anyhow.

"No" he says, "you gotta be 18."

So when they found that I was defected and they weren't going to take me anyway I kept on going to school -- for a while.

And then I began the labor.

When I was eighteen years old I didn't believe in anything, but then I commenced to study more about the Indian way of life and I learned some things. I was too young then and I thought that I didn't need help. I was eighteen years old and I was capable of doing any job I wanted because I thought I knew everything. I went to school for a long time and I was able to help anybody. I was glad to help anybody, with whatever I could do. I'm defected a little -- in my right leg and arm -- but I get along all right.

But when I was eighteen years old I knew there was enough food and enough local work, timber works. By that time I already had a job in the lumber camps,(55) and I already got jobs wherever I went. So I left school and stayed in the camp where there was better food, better living. And we worked. There wasn't much money in timber work, and the money wasn't valued too much, but anyhow we enjoyed a good living. Lots of them also worked with me in the woods. My people could understand that kind of work, and they enjoyed it. So it was a great thing.

The U.S. sent me out to a government school to understand things, and I'm proud of the U.S. for doing that. How wonderful I was used in that government school at Tower, Minnesota. That's where the Uncle Sam sent out many boys and many girls on their own. We had nice lectures and nice books of the great American way of life. They taught us that we should respect the Old Glory that waves, and keep it up there. That's what I like, and so do the other people in this country. When we respect the Old Glory, we like that. Why did they put that up? We should all know that Pledge of Allegiance to my flag. That's what I say when I see Old Glory. We should all know that!

Young girls studying at a table at an Indian boarding school, location unknown, ca. 1900.

Young girls studying at a table at an Indian boarding school, location unknown, ca. 1900.

Photograph Collection, ca. 1900
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. Collection I.65.41 Negative No.

Friends, people, at my age I've seen many days. Now I see the younger class with their fast education drilled into their minds -- but they're forgetting the experience of life! I hope they don't forget that altogether. With the experience of life, and with better education, they'll have two ears on their heads and two ways of thinking in their great minds. Study, but with two eyes. What you hear and see is a big thing for this world. It's a better understanding when you combine experience of life with better education. You're made individually. Your mind works, your ears work, your eyes work, your body works, and you feel good when you see the picture in many views. You can't help feeling good when you shut your eyes and picture a great world we live in.

Children studying in a classroom at an Indian boarding school, location unknown, ca. 1900.

Children studying in a classroom at an Indian boarding school, location unknown, ca. 1900.

Photograph Collection, ca. 1900
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. Collection I.65.44 Negative No.

Intermediate students in an Indian boarding school at Beaulieu, Minnesota, ca. 1900.

Intermediate students in an Indian boarding school at Beaulieu, Minnesota, ca. 1900.

Photograph Collection, ca. 1900
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. Collection AV1992.43.54 Negative No.

How many go out for this country? How many go out to protect our country? It belongs to us. It belongs to U S. It belongs to the people that live here. They're American, U S. With better education, better ears, better eyes, and better minds, we feel well. We're strong. We're able. We have strength. We have strength and we feel it.

We believe our own mind. We use our own mind. I can't use your mind. I can't tell you what to do. But, you . . . you see things, you hear things, and you work with your own hands and feet. And you walk in the great great land that's producing the strength of your life . . . and you feel that strength.

Everything grows in this world, and it grows every year. It grows naturally with sunlight and the moon. With the sun, vegetation grows. Your mind grows too, with the vegetation. After the vegetation's gone you still have your mind, strength, power.

You know why?

It'll come again. The vegetation will come again. It lays down to rest, but you're still there. In this northern part of the country we know that it'll come again the next season. And if we use our ears and mind and sight to respect what we expect for the future, we have strength! We do our work seasonally. It's rough, but we don't complain. We sit tight. We look. We feel good. We hear. We hear things worth thinking about.

In my time, in my past, I went to school, but I had trouble with my eyes so I was lack of education. Ever since then I've been very sorry that I could not help my people more. I could not help my people because my eyes weren't very good and they disturbed my ability to learn and to go to school.

But I felt sure that the government was going to educate my people enough to help me to live in peace in my country and work for a better way of life. The improvement has proven out, for we now have better equipment, electricity, and all that. We have had help for a better living, better education, better housing.

Now it's getting even better. We have better education now and it's still improving. I think our government is pushing hard for more teaching for the younger class as well as the older class. With all of that education, we have a better living.

And I always dreamt about that improvement when I was going to school. I dreamt that the people -- the Anishinabe -- are going to be advance educated. I felt that those that were educated will never leave their people behind who lost their chance for education. So we trust -- I trust -- that those that have an education will live in this area and will have spoken for betterment for us all.


1. For further information see Berg, Carol J. 1981. "Agents of Culture Change: The Benedictines at White Earth." Minnesota History, 48:4:158-170; Beaulieu, David. 1971. The Formal Education of Minnesota Indians: Historical Perspective Until 1934. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, Training Center for Community Programs. 38 1. maps ERIC ED050873; Coleman, Sister Bernard, O.S.B. Where the Water Stops: Fond du Lac Reservation. Duluth, MN: College of St. Scholastica, 1967); Crawford, Dean A., David L. Peterson, and Virgil Wurr. 1967. Minnesota Chippewa Indians: A Handbook for Teachers. St. Paul: Upper Midwest Regional Education Laboratory. ERIC ED017383; Ebbott, Elizabeth. 1985. Indians in Minnesota (4th ed.). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press; Fruth, Alban. 1958. A Century of Missionary Work Among the Red Lake Chippewa Indians, 1858-1958. Red Lake, MN: St. Mary's Mission; Visenor, Gerald. 1984. The People Named the Chippewa: Narrative Histories. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press; Kegg, Maude; and John D. Nichols, 1983. Nookomis Gaa-inaajimotawid, What My Grandmother Told Me, with Texts in Ojibwe (Chippewa) and English. St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Archaeological Society.

2. Paul grew up close to Sugar Point of Leech Lake, the site of the locally famous "Battle of Sugar Point," which took place there on 5 October 1898. That is sometimes referred to as "The Last Indian Uprising in the United States," or, locally, simply as "the uprise." It is also sometimes known as "The Battle of Leech Lake." Cf., Louis H. Roddis. 1919/1920. "The Last Indian Uprising in the United States." Publications of the Minnesota Historical Society, ed. by Solon J. Buck. Minnesota History Bulletin, 3:273-290, and Pauline Wold. 1943. "Some Recollections of the Leech Lake Uprising." Minnesota History, 24:2:142-148.

3. Cf., Ch. 10, "Blueberry Time."

4. Cf., Ch. 13, "Manoominike-Giizis, 'Wild Ricing Moon.'"

5. Paul also refers to the groups living together in a camp settlement as "bunches." See Ch. 3, "Canoe Days," and Ch. 24, "Courtship, Marriage, and Living in with the In-Laws."

6. See Ch. 3, "Canoe Days," Ch. 16, "River Life and Fishing," and Ch. 39, "Leech and Mississippi Forks."

7. People got together in larger groups at certain times of the year, particularly for maple-sugar-making and for harvesting and processing wild ricing. They would also occasionally get together in larger groups for celebrations (for e.g., feasts/powwows) and for religious gatherings (for e.g., Midewiwin). Cf., Ch. 6, "Spring Move to the Sugar Bush," Ch. 7, "Skigamizigewin, Maple Sugar Time," Ch. 23, "Niimi'idiwin: 'Come and Dance, Come and Sing--Living and Spirits Alike,'" and Ch. 29, "Midewiwin: Grand Medicine."

8. Information from a formal interview includes the following:

"How far did you go in school?"

"Oh, I went through sixth. And . . . fifth, sixth. And in foreign [federal] schools in Bovey in '19, about 1919."

"And were they public or government schools?"

"It's a public school; it's foreign [federal]. I suppose it's public. It's foreign; the foreign school's the last school I went to. Before that I went down to school at Ball Club, Tower Minnesota, and Bena Minnesota."

[The schools Paul went to include: Ball Club, when he was age pre-6 (not full year); Bena Indian School (age 6-7-8); 1908 to "Sisters School," Red Lake; 1909-1912 (three years, for the school years "2010," "2011," and "2012"), at the Tower Indian School; 1911 Ball Club School (temporarily); 1912-1914 Onigum Indian School.] Cf. footnote #30.

Keep in mind that Paul was though to have been born twice, once in about 1900 and again on 4 or 5 July 1902. Cf., "Introduction," footnote #3.

9. Paul lived by the "Leech-Mississippi Fork," the meeting point of the Leech Lake River and the Mississippi River about two and a half miles southeast of Ball Cub. Later on, while Paul Buffalo was away at Tower School, his mother and step-father, Jack Nason, returned to the Leech-Mississippi Fork. About 1909 they moved. Paul notes in Ch. 39, "Leech and Mississippi Forks": "When I was at Tower School I heard that my mother and Jack Nason got married. By the time I returned from Tower school my folks had already moved down to the Leech and Mississippi Forks. . . . I moved [there] when I came home from Tower School. When I left for Tower school we were still searching for a living. We were moving according to the seasons, pretty much just living off of the land." Cf., Ch. 2, "Bena Childhood," Ch. 36, "Jack Nason, My Dad. My Step-Dad," and Ch. 39, "Leech and Mississippi Forks."

10. When Paul talks about his "folks" in this context he generally means relatives in general, not just his mother and father. And when he says "my mother was alone at the time" he means not married to (or living with) her future husband, Jack Nason. Cf., Ch. 36, "Jack Nason, 'My Dad, My Step-Dad."

11. At this point in time Paul, his mother, and sister were still moving around seasonally, spending part of the time in Bena. Cf., Ch. 3, "Canoe Days." "Across the river here" refers to the Leech [Lake] River where they would sometimes stay prior to wild ricing time.

12. Cf., Ch.39, "Leech and Mississippi Forks."

13. They young folks would pick up old-style "canning jar rubbers" and turn them in for small change. Heritage canning jars had reusable canning jar rubbers (also called "canning rings," "jar rubber gaskets," "canning jar rubber rings") to seal solid screw-top lids onto the "canning jars," the "fruit jars." More modern "Mason Jars" or "Ball Jars" use a metal ring (a "band") to secure a single-use tin-platted metal disk that has a rubber seal built into the underside of the disk. For more on Flemming's Store, where Paul and his friends generally sold "rubbers" and purchased candy and sundries, see Ch. 36, "Jack Nason, 'My Dad, My Step-Dad.'" When Paul was young and living in Bena he and other children used to go into Flemming's Store just to look at the canning jars: "When we'd go into Flemming's Store in Bena just to look at [the canning jars], 'What did you want?' they'd ask. We were shy them days and didn't want to tell that we just wanted to look at fruit jars. So we generally just took a look, then left." See Ch. 10, "Blueberry Time."

14. Cf., Ch. 37, "Finns, 'The Sweatbath-Men.'"

15. Paul had paralysis in his right leg and arm, from childhood on.

16. See Ch.44, "Churches and Missionaries," and Ch. 48, "White Medicine."

17. See Ch. 29, "Midewiwin: Grand Medicine."

18. Cf., Ch. 11, "Campfire Talks."

19. The olds folks predicted that whites and others from outside of the area would be moving in fast.

20. What Paul is saying is that the very traditional individuals wanted to be close enough to their children [and other relations] to be able to treat them in the Indian way with Indian medicine should they get sick or otherwise need meditation. They knew white medicine did not even recognize some of the things that they were prepared to treat. Cf., Ch. 27, "Power," Ch. 29, "Midewiwin: Grand Medicine," and Ch. 48, "White Medicine."

21. People wanted to die in their own, familiar, territory so that when they began the four-day journey to the next world they would not get lost. Cf., Ch. 50, "Dying," and Ch. 27, "Power," footnote #25.

22. Indians in earlier times, including the "full-bloods" and "traditionals" mentioned above (and below).

23. The old typicals are traditional Indians; and when one old timer says another is "a typical Indian," that is intended to be a great compliment.

24. They were in fire drills at school. Even so, generally speaking, the old timers were leery of large concentrations of people. In the 1960s I wanted to take Paul Buffalo to Minneapolis. For years he would not go, indicating that he had passed through there on a train in the 1920s and there were "just too many people there, in one place." Eventually he agreed to go to Minneapolis, but only to visit the University of Minnesota Minneapolis, because he was curious about what it looked like. But even for him to go on that trip I had to promise that we would not sleep in Minneapolis, and that we would go to my small hometown village fifty miles west of Minneapolis and sleep in my parents' house for the night (and not in a motel or hotel).

25. Cf., Ch. 21, "The Windigo Cannibal and Other Life Trials and Adventures of Gwashun, the Boy Who Did Not Obey His Father and Mother: Our Favorite Story."

26. Cf., Hay, Thomas H. (1971).

27. Federal government.

28. Federal Government Indian School.

29. In the statement ". . .  a lot of Indians were with me up there -- about 400 Indians . . ." Paul is likely referring to all of the Indians that he went to school with during his three years that he was there. Linda LeGarde Grover (2002, p. 227) notes, "Recruiting efforts at Vermillion school were successful. By the 1906-07 school year there were 40 pupils. This number peaked at 120 in 1909-10 [the year that Paul first attended] and leveled off at 100-115 pupils for the next decade." LeGarde Grover notes elsewhere (2002, p. 225) that some schools did have more pupils: "In Minnesota, boarding and reservation day schools for Indian children had increased in number and scope from the small mission schools of the 1830s [like the one Paul attended at Red Lake] to campuses that could house more than 400 boarders and serve more than 1,700 children." See also the "A," "B," "C," line-up information that follows in Paul's narrative for estimates of the size of groups.

30. These are for the school years of 1909, 1910, and 1911; i.e., Paul left in fall of 1909 for the 1909-1910 school year, and returned spring of 1912 when the 1911-1912 school year ended. Cf. footnote #8.

31. The Canadian speakers had a slang, an accent, a dialect difference. Sometimes Paul refers to this also as a "sly."

32. "Northern" is relative to Ball Club and Bena, MN; it is not northern Canada; that is, basically, northern Minnesota, except that Red Lake speakers have a similar but distinct "slang." See Paul's discussion on dialects that follows.

33. Minnesota Chippewa/Ojibwa/Anishinabe peoples.

34. Paul uses this term without any ill intent or innuendo, as do most of the people in this region, and certainly all of the regional folks of his age. However, the usage of the term is more complicated than it might seem at first glance; for a clarification see Zorn (2010). For modern-day usage it would, in general, be a good idea to heed Zorn's advice: "In short, given the potential for confusion, it's probably best for us Yanks to avoid the term unless referring to the [Vancouver] hockey team."

35. A "sly" is another term Paul uses for an accent, a slang, a dialect difference.

36. Land claims from treaties. With Paul and his relations "down there" in the context of treaties usually refers to Duluth, MN, or to the Ashland area in Wisconsin.

37. Cf., Paul Negri (n.d.).

38. In everyday conversation male grandparents in general, and often other male elders in a group, are called "grandfather." Terms like "great-grandfather" and "great-great-grandfather" are sometimes used in English when specifically describing particular relations. The same is true for the term "grandmother." Older people were called "grandpa" or "grandma," even if they were not related. "Great-" or "great-great-" was not used when speaking to an elder. Pezeke, Gichi-waishke, of La Pointe on Madeline Island in Wisconsin, was Paul Buffalo's great-grandfather.

39. Neighbors.

40. When Paul was recording this, the Anishinabe language could not be written in any standard way with the normal characters used in writing the English language because there are sounds in Ojibwe that are not easily represented by the normal combinations of the twenty-six letters of the English alphabet. A "Double-Vowel Alphabet" and system of orthography has since become the standard writing system for the Chippewa/Ojibwe language in the United States and parts of Canada. For details see "Sounds and Orthography," Ojibwe People's Dictionary. Accessed 12 June 2018. The Double-Vowel Alphabet is the system used in this work, thanks to the invaluable assistance of Dr. Brian McInnes.

41. Two political divisions defined by the U.S. Government (for e.g., in past treaties) include the Chippewa of the Mississippi and the Chippewa of Lake Superior. Here Paul is talking about the former group.

42. See for example the story above of the elder woman's fear that there were Windigo cannibals up north by the Canadian border.

43. Paul is saying that the speakers from Red Lake use the same intonation pattern as the speakers from the Tower-Nett Lake area.

44. Everything was set out by rules, not that things were prohibited.

45. Snow blindness is known also as photokeratitis and is caused by exposure of insufficiently protected eyes to ultraviolet (UV) rays.

46. For more information on one instance where Paul treated an individual for eye trouble see the story about Mrs. Littlewolf, at Orr, MN, in 1932 or 1933, in Ch. 32, "Medicine Men / Medicine Women."

47. For more detailed information on preparing and using medicines from roots and inner barks see Ch. 27, "Power," and Ch. 32, "Medicine Men / Medicine Women."

48. Some of the boarding schools had musical bands.

49. The Roman Catholic Church and other Christian churches follow a "liturgical calendar" prescribing certain themes and rituals and feast days to be celebrated throughout the liturgical year which begins with the First Sunday of Advent and ends with the feast of Christ the King in November. This includes, in the Roman Catholic Church, an annual cycle of honoring selected saints.

50. This is Father Joseph Francis Buh, a young Slovenian priest who had been recruited by fellow Slovene Father Xavier Pierz in 1864 to serve as a “traveling missionary” to American Indian populations. In 1888 he was reassigned to the Iron Range after iron ore production began there, and served the area as missionary and pastor of St. Martin's Church, which he established in Tower, MN. As part of his pastoral work on the Iron Range, Father Buh founded the Slovene paper Ameriški Slovenec (The American Slovene). His fellow Slovenians subsequently “poured into the area.” Father Buh spent twenty years among the Anishinabe tending both to them and to "the spiritual needs of his countrymen in the mines of Northern Minnesota." (Fruth, 1958, p. 12.) Father Buh died in 1926.

51. They were highly amused with how Paul talked Chippewa when he returned from boarding school in Tower, not that they were actually laughing at him. I would guess that in his three years at the Tower Indian School, Paul picked up a little accent as he was talking "Indian" mostly with Canadians and "Near-Canadians." See Paul's earlier discussions of accents.

52. The Haskell Institute (as it was known from 1887–1970) was a major federally operated American Indian boarding school in Lawrence, Kansas, founded to further the education of American Indian and [now] Alaska Native children. Many from the region went there to school. Some also went to the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and Pipestone, Minnesota. Pipestone housed children from Ojibwe, Dakota, Oneida, Pottawatomie (Bodéwadmi), Arikara, and Sac and Fox (Sauk and Meskwakwi) tribes. Cf., Lajimodiere (2018).

53. You could go out and hunt, pick berries and other foods, collect medicines, make maple sugar, etc.

54. Paul said that in 1917 or 1918 his first wife left for Mille Lacs. The few times he talked about this marriage, a "blanket marriage," he still talked about their married life with affection, and concern about her well-being after she left. Paul did say on occasion that he was "broken-hearted" over it. He said once that she died of pneumonia, after catching cold. He didn't like to talk about it.

55. See Ch. 38, "Timber Days."

Appendix A: "Application for Enrollment for Paul Buffalo, 1910" to "Indian school, Tower."

School Record, Indian school, Tower.

School Record, Indian school, Tower.

School Record, Indian school, Tower.

School Record, Indian school, Tower.

School Record, Indian school, Tower.

Indian school, Tower.
National Archives Catalogue


Record Hierarchy

Record Group 75:
  Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, 1793 - 1999

  Applications for Enrollment, 1910 - 1918

Application for Enrollment for Paul Buffalo, 1910

National Archives Identifier:



Department of the Interior. Office of Indian Affairs. Vermilion Lake Indian School. 1899-1919  (Most Recent)


Series: Applications for Enrollment, 1910 - 1918
Record Group 75: Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, 1793 - 1999


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