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

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

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"White Medicine"

Nurses posed outside the tuberculosis sanitarium at Walker, ca. 1930.

Nurses posed outside the tuberculosis sanitarium at Walker, ca. 1930.

Photograph Collection ca. 1938
  Collections Online
 Minnesota Historical Society
Location no. R2.2 r72

I like to smoke. Smoking is a great thing, and smoking maybe is a good pastime to me, even though I hear so much about it. I just enjoy smoking, that's all. And ‘course I use judgment to it too. There are times when you smoke too much; sometime you don't smoke enough. So it can be either way.

I think I feel I want to stand back at about the center of habits -- and it's pretty hard to do at times because I meet friends all over that offer me smoking. I've been watching the lumber camps over my years(1) and that's where you have to smoke tobacco. I started smoking regular after I left Tower Indian School,(2) about '14 . . . '13 -- whenever I earned a little money -- but I didn't care to have a cigarette in my mouth when I was working in the woods.

So I chewed tobacco too. I chewed small boxes of snuff down -- bIn‑dah‑kwan. I think they were “nickel boxes” when I started. The “ten cent boxes” were a little bigger than a half dollar. Then the big ones came out and we just laughed at them. We called them "wash‑tub boxes” of snuff. I chewed a big box of snuff a day when I was about nineteen years old. Oh geeze, I chewed all day in those days -- when I was in the woods.

It was too much.

I cut out that chewing just by using my willpower. See? It takes willpower in life if you're going to quit this kind of habit-form. It sets your mind, willpower. Your willpower helps; it helps you with just about anything, your willpower. That's the deal there.

In life you have to keep your moral work in your system at all times. You have to eat a certain amount a day . . . enough to keep you up anyhow. You should not lose weight, you should not lose faith in life, and you should do a certain amount of work in your life. And when you do a certain amount of work, that is good for your body and you will feel that you have accomplished something in life. And when you do that you feel you have gained something for the benefit of the people that's coming behind you in life.

Sometimes you try but others don't.

People don’t -- some people don't -- look and listen to all. They think it is a lot of BS . . . I feel. I feel that they think too much and talk too much. You just have to do a certain amount of talking, a certain amount of singing, and a certain amount of working on things in life. Too much is too much, and if you overdo you're going to be out. Same way with religion. Same way with belief. You have to have a certain amount. It has to be equal. Everything has to be equal. You need balance . . . a balanced diet, balanced food, balanced smoking.

But me, sometimes I didn't know the limit, because I was without eating at times too long. So I had to wake up; naturally; everybody does.

I've been without food a day . . . sometimes longer. When you go without food, even for one day, you get pretty hungry because nature calls for it. Your mind is working and that calls for food. But even when you're fasting you should take a little of something, even water. Now if you get too hungry, you take a lot of water; take water every now and then to help your system. I think it does a person a lot of good to slow down . . . on a certain diet.

If you eat grease food too much at warm weather, it isn't good for you. In cold weather it is all right; you resist that cold weather with grease food. There is heat in the oil and certain vitamins for cold weather conditions. We think of that vitamin as maš‑kI‑kii may‑no‑kah‑go -- medicine that’s a nourishment to your body; medicine that is beneficial to your body.(3) And there are some vitamins, there is some food, that will decay quicker than the others.

It's hard food -- meat and stuff like that -- that you should eat when you labor, where you're exercising. A little wii‑yahš -- a little meat -- wouldn't hurt at all. In the past I found that if you eat too much meat it's not good for you. You have to help your in‑digest by balancing it with wild rice. Wild rice will balance that meat out. You need to balance that; it needs to be equal. You'll starve if you eat too much meat. And wild rice will hurt you too, if you eat too much of it. Your brain will tell you what to eat . . . or what went wrong. Take care of that stomach of yours and you'll be all right. What you drink and what you eat is a main part of life. Milk is a good thing . . . do‑do‑šah‑bo. It is easy even to in‑digest, for the little ones. Milk is good for life. Milk is nature brought up to people in the world.

My favorite food is gii‑gõ -- fish. It is natural. I like natural food and meat -- wild game. My favorite is bread. Bread is given to me to eat. I feel that it's a good thing. But sometimes there's too much richness in what you eat; there's too much of everything. You have to balance what you eat in your diet.

When we were small we'd try anything. We'd take that pople tree and peel that bark off and eat that. Boy that was good; the juice would just run down during the certain time of the year. Little snacks like that are good; snacks mostly are good. They make you cheer up too.

And greens are good too. We used to go out into the waters to get bulrushes when we were little boys. I think there’s something to that. We’d pull them bulrushes up and they're white on the bottom. Then we eat that tender part. We had good teeth. Oh boy, how good that was. Lots of them would sit out there in the canoe and eat that stuff and paddle along. There's something to that too, you know. I believe it. Yes. It could be we got enough greens because we always went out there; we did not go out just to eat them, but we'd play around them. And when we were hungry we`d just pull them up and get a good sized one to eat; boy that's good.

Yeah, it's good, those bulrushes. I think it's good for you. It draws out the intestinal poison or something. I feel that it draws. And when you pass them, the excess in your body is gone. You have to keep your body regulated. That's the way I felt all the time. I would pay attention to body regulations and take care of injuries. You should always be careful not to fall down or something and wreck yourself.

You have to look after all of your needs. You have to take care of yourself in life. You have to watch, and ask the older class what is good for you because you come to face the balance of food question all the time. The older class is supposed to be responsible for teaching the younger class how to get along in the area you're living in. They'll tell you that so much of this, too much of that, is the limit. When a limit comes, and you go past the limit, then anything could happen. I believe it; I believe it's right.

So, that's the way I've lived in my times.

I'm talking about what's right and good, what's bad, and what we are scared of. Everybody's scared of bad things.

In my past, in about 1939, I was going too strong and I was forgetting my people; I was forgetting.(4) I was able. All I wanted is work. Work, work, work. And if I could grab a dollar, I'd grab it. But I did not use that dollar right. I didn't say “Thank You” to my body that I'm able to work. So I took sick; I was very, very sick. I took so sick I could not raise my hand to feed myself.

I caught cold. Besides piece‑cutting in the woods I chased cattle through wet meadows, herding them for milk. I was chasing them to bring them in so I could milk 'em. We had six, seven cows at the time. I came home and went to bed. Boy I went to bed! Something began to react on me. Talk about the fever I got! I took sick after I took a great fever. I had no resistance. I worked too hard. I had to walk in the cold and my clothes were always wet. Finally it caught up to me and I got run down.

That was a hard life. But I'm happy. I lived a life. I found my sickness with the doctors.

We had doctors -- m/\š‑ki kii wIn‑ni‑nii -- Indian doctors, medicine men.(5) And by then we also had white doctors with tests, and clinics that would go to the Indians. And some of the Indians would go to those clinics. When I broke down in ‘37 . . . ’39, I went in the hospital for a check‑up. It was just a small hospital, right around Walker. When I was there they couldn’t -- it seems as though they couldn’t -- find out what's the matter.

Ah-Gwah-Ching, Cottage C, State Sanatorium, Walker, 1913.

  Ah-Gwah-Ching, Cottage C, State Sanatorium, Walker, 1913.

Photographer: Charles J. Hibbard

Photograph Collection 1913
Location no. MC3.5 p8
Minnesota Historical Society
Negative no. 4378-B

The older people were afraid to go to the hospital them days because they felt that it was more of a “practice.” And in Indian they think of hospital as a "sick‑house" -- ah‑ko‑zii‑wi‑gham‑mIg, or aa-ku-zii-waa-kai-i-g^n. Well, they also believe pretty strong in their religion. They went to Indian doctors because they knew that the Indian doctor will work with them. They felt that the white doctor didn't understand the nature of the Indian, 'though they thought the hospital might be alright for the white people. They weren't all together down on the white doctor, but one would tell another, "Well, it doesn't do me any good to go to that doctor."

You would find that in many cases, with any nationality. They'll say, "I went to that doctor; he didn't do me any good." Well that ends that right there. To find out any different someone has to go and try it himself. And the doctors have to prove themselves right there in the hospital.

You always had privileges years ago. If you didn't like the doctor, you could go to any of the government doctors.(6) The federal government provided doctors, so the Indians went to the government doctors . . . if they wanted to. Right around 1915 some people stopped using Indian Medicine. They went to the government doctors. We had government doctors in 1915. That's when Dr. House was around Cass lake. Dr. House came, I suppose, about 1906 or 1907. He was jolly, happy. Ya. He married a breed. I don't know her! I forgot her name. She was from Cass Lake. He was a wonderful doctor. You weren’t sick around him at all. He made you laugh. He talked to you. And when he was going to doctor you, you had to take the medicine!

We had some good doctors in this area -- I'll tell you, they were good! They weren't all experienced, but they took interest in the Indian. I know they did 'cause they helped the Indians along. And they had so many different diseases and different cases to take care of in those days that it was difficult for them to doctor.


Doctor Dumas' office in Cass Lake, ca. 1911.

Doctor Dumas' office in Cass Lake, ca. 1911.

Photograph Collection, Postcard ca. 1911
Minnesota Historical Society
Location no. MC3.9 CL3.1 r1

At first, the doctors didn't have the equipment they had later on. It seems there were cases where they didn't have any equipment and didn't have the tests. They didn't have much equipment anyway. They only had medicine. See, they had the remedy, like aspirins, and x‑laxes, and all that stuff. That's all the doctors that practiced had in those days. And they didn’t always practice at a clinic those days; they had to travel. They worked hard. They traveled through hard snows when they were called. And, like I said, they didn't have the equipment then like they do now. Now you have to be well equipped to practice. Now they have offices, and they have everything there to put you through. And now they have shots -- m^š‑Ki‑Kii bah‑ĵiš‑Kah‑wah -- "medicine-pick-your-arm."

We know they came out here to practice. But it seems to me that by practicing they got to be good doctors in surgery, or bandaging, or sewing, or when people skinned themselves. They prove lots. A lot of them went to school at that time and they've passed certain tests. Well, when they pass certain tests to be a doctor, the government sends them out into the world. Then they have to practice -- and practice makes perfect. A lot of practice of anything will make perfect. Without practice, you won't make perfect. You might have the tests, you might have the tests to answer the questions about what’s bothering you and all that, but you have to practice in addition. You might have the answer, but you have the practice to prove your answer.


Ah-Gwah-Ching, Main building from southwest, State Sanatorium near Walker, ca. 1920.

Ah-Gwah-Ching, Main building from southwest, State Sanatorium near Walker, ca. 1920.

Photographer: Charles J. Hibbard

Photograph Collection ca. 1920
Location no. MC3.5 p27
Minnesota Historical Society
Negative no. 6468-B

In ‘39 I was in the hospital institution. I was in Walker, at the hospital. We had a health program there. They looked over me. They looked all over me; X‑ray, X‑ray, X‑ray. Well, anyhow, I was there about three or two months. They could not find anything. I didn't feel good, didn't improve.

"What's making me sick?"

I heard somebody say, "They cannot help you."

"They can't?"

"Well," he said, "your body has no nuri‑ser‑y; the food don't benefit you."

"Yes, I know that from a‑way back. I know it doesn’t benefit me. My food doesn't benefit me because my body warned me."

"How did it warn you?" the doctor said. "We X‑rayed you, we blood‑tested you, we did everything, but we cannot see any-thing."

I knew what I was sick about. I knew my ailment.

"Maybe you don't want to tell me?” I said to him.

He looked at me.

“I'm glad you told me that,” he said.

“So Doc," I said at the Walker Indian Institution, "you took me in here for a TB test.(7) We went over and over it and I'm negative. Why do I stay here? I've been here a long time: three, four months -- five, six, seven months, and you have given me nothing that'll help me. You test me and I'm negative. I’m not a positive. When you say ‘negative,’ that means you're all right. I would stay here if you knew the something that was bothering me. But I think I know I'm sick. You X‑rayed and X‑rayed; you had blood tests and blood tests. I'm glad that you doctors looked through me with tests on the instruments that you have. You have the best doctors here; you have a bunch of doctors here that are supposed to be good doctors."

"Yes; yes."

I said, "Doc, will you do something for me?"

I said, "If I don't help myself, and if you don't help me, I'm gonna make a request."

The doctor said, "What is it Mr. Buffalo? What is it you want?"

They tried hard to work with me and I worked with them. I knew there was a specialist in the University. I knew the specialists were up to the University, so I told one doctor, "Where is a specialist of this hospital? Have I got positive?"

"No. We just can't find what's the matter."

“Well, I want a specialist to go into me. Can you call a specialist in here? You have some at the University of Minneapolis. If the specialist can't find out what's wrong with me, I believe I know. Thanks."

I kept myself up with certain remedies. I knew what was wrong. If you can't move and are trying to sweat but can't sweat, or if you sweat too much when you don’t want to sweat, it's in the blood.

“My blood is poisoned,” I thought.

He said to me, "In a few days there's going to be a specialist going through this hospital and when he's here I will bring him in."

Well, when the specialist came down -- which happened, as certain specialists go around to different hospitals -- he went through the patients' files and read their charts. The doctor came in my room and picked up the chart.

"What's this boy got? What's wrong with him?"

"We're checking on him. He's got developments.”

Another one of them said, "This gentleman here sweats. Once in a while he sweats, and sweats hard; he's just wringing wet."

The nurse would stand there.

"How did he come in?" that university specialist asked them.

"He come in with rheumatism. He couldn't move. But now he's moving a little bit. We put him in hot water."

"Is that good? That helps you?"

"Ya, but I get them chills and I sweat. I get an itch in the blood."

"Well, what are you giving him?"

And that nurse that was standing there said, "Here's the big pink pills that he's getting."

"Uh, ah. Hmm. Did you try that other stuff?"

"No, this is all we give him."

The university doctor asked me, "Did you ever have any trouble before?"

"Yes, I did," I said. "I had high blood pressure, blood trouble and everything. And," I said, "I had trouble with my eyes too."(8)

"Uh huh."

Then he looked at my list; the doctor looked at how I've been acting up. The doctor read that list and said, "Open your mouth."

He looked at that nurse. "Give me that stick."

"Mr. Buffalo . . ."

He had a wooden blade and a metal instrument in his hands.

I looked at him.

". . . open your mouth."

And I opened my mouth. . . . Well, he opened my mouth. With that instrument he tapped my teeth. He put that stick up high and down low, and he turned around and told the nurse right away, he said, "This boy is poisoning himself by his teeth. He's got pyorrhea which he has caught with a cold. And he has to have those teeth out, right now. Sooner, the better."

That University special doctor that was down there said right off, he said, "This boy is poisoned. His whole body's poisoned. That's the reason for the sweats. This man is dying from his teeth. They are setting poison into his system. He has not enough blood to sweat like he does.”

He looked right at me, ”Right now we'll get you a dentist to pull the teeth out. Yes, you have blood trouble,” he told me. “And now your trouble has gone to your teeth. It's settling in your teeth. Your teeth are decaying, and they’re poisoning you. If you take your teeth out, you'll be a well man. You got some bad ones, and you got some good ones. But I suggest you take 'em all out," he said. “It'll come back on you if you try to save the few. Take 'em all out."

That's what the special doctor told me at that time.


"That's all you need so that you can run OK again."

Then he told me, "You've maybe had that since you were a little boy."

Then he asked me, "What did you eat? What do you eat?"

I said, "I don't know what I ate then, but I eat game now."

"You might've got a hold of a diseased animal. Maybe it's also tularemia from the animals. They carry that."

So that's what they told me. I might've had that too.

As soon as I heard that, as soon as I found out that they found out what was the problem, I thought, "Gee, I feel good already, right now."

I asked the Manitou to have a guy like that -- one that's working with the Lord -- to come and save me; I asked The Great to bring somebody that would tell this institution what's ailing me. That's the way I put it. I asked. I ask with a good way. I was not lost, “So where's my trouble?” I asked The Great. “They want to show good examples in the hospital. Help them out.”

With the Great Master and the university specialist I felt that I'm gonna get well.

When that special doctor talked everybody looked.

That University special doctor continued on, "I want this man out of this bed. If you can't get the dentist here, send him home and let him go to any dentist he wants."

"Well," I said, "I don't live in town. I live in the country."

"I'll tell that doctor in Cass Lake to give you a pass to the Raiter Brothers at the Cloquet Hospital; they'll get a dentist in there."

"All right."

I thank The Great. I knew at the time I told Him about my problem that I didn't want to be in the hospital because there were no tests that proved that I should be in there. But the head doctor of the Walker hospital wanted to keep me in there. And that specialist doctor from the university wanted to send me to the Cloquet hospital. The main doctor at the Walker hospital said, "We'll try to prepare you, but it may be too late to prepare for you for a dentist. I agree with that specialist that you should get the teeth out. But we need to prepare you first. But before that time comes for you to go what do you wish for?"

I said, "That certain medicine. I want that."

And I took that medicine one week straight until I was cleared. My vision kept clear and everything. I felt good. "Now I'm ready to go." One week after that I was ready to go. Finally I left the hospital.

That was all quite a while ago.

My teeth were killing me. And I knew it 'cause I had toothaches a long time. It was affecting my brains; it was blowing up headaches in the back of my neck. Earlier on I went to a dentist and he said, "Your teeth gotta be removed." But I never removed them; I kept on with them. Finally I got cold -- caught cold -- and that worked on my bad teeth. I knew when they didn't find anything on me against TB in the "san" that they would find that my teeth were killing me. It takes a lot of hard work by everybody to find those things.

The hospital was so busy, the business was so busy, that they couldn't take care of me right away. It was really only for the TB patients, so they got me out of there.

When they got me out of there they got me a release to go to any dentist I wanted to, which I did. But I lived far away from any dentist. The government tried to make it nice for me. Our own government doctor, the local here at Cass Lake, Dr. House said, "I'll give you a transfer to Cloquet and I'll have a rechecking of you. I'll have them put you in a dentist's care. They have a car that’ll go to the dentist at the Cloquet hospital.”

"O.K. Give me the transfer."

So I got the transfer. I went to Cloquet right away. I stayed there a day and the Raiter Brothers called on me, checked me. The Raiter Brothers' doctor said, "What did your doctors sent you here for?"

"Well, didn't you get a form? I must have a form from the Indian hospital. They say I have teeth trouble; that's what I got."

"Well if you got teeth trouble," he said, "we have no dentist here, and it'll cost us too much to haul you to town back and forth where they are equipted for that." So this doctor said, the Raiter Brothers' doctor said, "I'll give you a transfer and release you from here. When I release you here you go to any dentist you want. I'll give you a discharge to go back home. You go back. But take care of them teeth right away, before it gets too warm in the spring of the year."

So I went back to Cass Lake and I went to one dentist in Cass Lake, Dr. Bailey -- I guess Bailey was his name. He looked at me and looked at my teeth; he said, "I have been doing a lot of work on this problem. Why did they send you here this late?" He said, "You should have your teeth fixed up, cleaned out. My list reads that if you want 'em all out, you can have 'em out."

So I said, "If they're troubling me I want the worst ones out anyhow, right now."

"Yeah,” he said, "are you going to try and hold a few and put in a bridge or plate?"

"No," I said, "I haven't got the money to have ‘em all out, but if I have the worst ones out, I'd feel better."

"Well, I don't think so," the dentist said. "I don't think, Mr. Buffalo, you'd feel better with only the worse ones out."

"Well how come, Doc?"

And the dentist said, "If I pull these worse ones out, some of them are going to have abscess and some of the others will probably form abscess. And when I pull these out, the ones that are the worst, that teeth trouble will go into the good ones in your gums, and that's what's poisoning your system."

"Right now, if you can, pull 'em all out."

"I just can pull out what you can stand."

So they took my blood pressure and pulled four and five to a time. He was a very good dentist, and he pulled four or five teeth every time I went. And that blood was just like it was thick and black. And when I had my last teeth out they told me, "Removed."

I met a Spanish nurse there and when I first met her she said, "When you get them out you’re going to be a well man. You will feel good." The Spanish nurse went through college and she was out in the field. I didn't believe it, the way I felt. But she was sure of it: 'You'll be a well man in six months' time, I'm telling you, but don't look for it before six months. You go through that six months and life begins again with you."

That's how she talked to me. I wish I knew that nurse's name. Boy, I thank her a lot. I listened to her too.

Minnesota's first two Indian nurses, Elizabeth Sherer (left) and Josephine Parisien (right), ca. 1925.

 Minnesota's first two Indian nurses, Elizabeth Sherer (left) and Josephine Parisien (right), ca. 1925.(9)

Photograph Collection ca. 1925.
Location no. MC3.5 p8
Minnesota Historical Society
R2.2 p116 Negative no. AV1982.58.2; 40723

“Nurse” is “medicine woman” -- m/\s‑ki‑kii‑I‑kway¿. Some medicine women are midwives, like my mother. And some are also for internal injury; they are "one who knows the medicine."

Nurses are great things: they're taught; they have good education; they'll work with patients. I spoke to the nurse; they know how to answer a person. I laid there in bed and she said, "You're going home tomorrow Paul?"

"Yes. And I'm happy about it." I said, "Boy, won't I make up for the lost time when I get home!"

"Here!" she said, "you should think before you say something."


I looked at her.

"That's your trouble," she said. "You're trying to make up too much in your life. There's a limit to everything in life. You overworked. You caught cold. You have to take care of yourself."

My eyes just rolled that big.

I was listening to her. Boy, she went to school. She said, "You have to balance yourself any way you go, wherever you go. You're supposed to be equal in whatever you do.”

I looked at her, "You went to school, didn't you?"

You couldn't tell her anything she didn’t already know. I appreciate that, and I use that word what she said. That helped me a lot. See, that's the way I learned amongst the white people.(10)

"That's your trouble. You don't know the limit. There's a limit to any little thing in life." That’s what she told me.

“You have to have balance,” was what she was saying.


Woman carrying a pitcher, possibly nurse working for Minnesota Health Departments Indian health service, ca. 1930.

Woman carrying a pitcher, possibly nurse working for Minnesota Health Departments Indian health service, ca. 1930.

Photograph Collection ca. 1930
Minnesota Historical Society
Location no. R2.2 p152

Oh, you'd start thinking there.

Such a wonderful nurse; yea! I thanked her, and when I was leaving she said, "Mr. Buffalo you have been a wonderful patient. If all patients were like you have been in that Cass Lake Hospital," she said to me, "then it would be easy on us. You have been easy with us."

I did everything they asked me to do. I‘d fill out my orders, and take my medicine. Some of that medicine was hard to take too. Some of those tests were hard to go through, but I took it in a good‑natured way and was never owl‑y.

Yes, that's what she told me.

She walked me to the door. “Yeah, you have to go; you're well."

She took care of me though. She looked after me. She cleaned my table and talked to me. She talked to me about life, history. She was a little older that I was. She was telling me about the law too. She told her troubles too, in her time. She raised a family. “Well, that's my life,” she’d say.

I don't have any problems now. My teeth fits in; I got a new set. I got a new set put in. And when I got a new set, I eat with them with no trouble. I've only ever had one set. Dr. Pete Peterson of Deer River fitted me good with those. I have a difficult time to pull 'em out, but otherwise I don't have any trouble. Thanks for Dr. Peterson.

Yes, I get along good with those new teeth. 'Course when I monkey around the woods or fool around in the woods -- like cutting wood or one thing or another -- I'm a great guy to grab anything and jerk and lift, and I was always afraid when I grip my jaws and lift something that I'd bust them teeth. So that's why I leave my teeth home. But when I eat, they're good. They used me good. I like 'em.

That Dr. Peterson was a great dentist. He's an old experienced guy. He worked with me until the teeth fit good.

"I'll fit them good," he told me.

And he did.

I returned them twice to him and he ground out where they rubbed and now they just clamp right up. Oh, I think he's a wonderful dentist. It's too bad if he retires. He's experienced. He proves it. He's been through that. So that's the same way with life. He practices that. He can tell about teeth.

Those old doctors could tell about teeth; they're experienced. Those old dentists were very good, ya. Well this guy from the state university, the specialist that came down to the Walker hospital he was good, but then, he was kind of an oldish guy too. He was experienced. He could tell about teeth.

Later on I had a carbuncle and I went to the Cass Lake Hospital again. Dr. Kingston took that out. This was after I went to Walker with the sweats. It was about 1942. I felt that all the poison had to come out -- and it came out of the carbuncle. They took great care of me again that second time.

So aren't them doctors great, eh? I just think that they do wonderful work up here by practicing, and proving themselves by being out amongst the people.


Elizabeth Sherer Russell, a public health nurse for Minnesota, with a patient, Mrs. Jones, ca. 1928.

Elizabeth Sherer Russell, a public health nurse for Minnesota, with a patient, Mrs. Jones, ca. 1928.

Elizabeth Sherer Russell, a public health nurse for Minnesota, with a patient, Mrs. Jones, ca. 1928.

Photographer: Charles J. Hibbard

Photograph Collection ca. 1928
Minnesota Historical Society
Collection I.422.1
Accession Number: AV2011.17

Business card used by Elizabeth Sherer Russell during her time spent in the "Chippewa Indian Nursing Service," ca. 1923 - ca. 1931.

Business card used by Elizabeth Sherer Russell during her time spent in the "Chippewa Indian Nursing Service," ca. 1923 - ca. 1931.

Use: ca. 1923 - ca. 1931.
3D Objects
Use: Approximately 1923 - Approximately 1931
Minnesota Historical Society
Collection I.422.1
Accession Number: 2011.94.9

It is a big thing when you break down and get sick. When you break down you start to re‑collect your wrong doings, your mistakes. It gives you time to rest and re‑collect your life in general. When you're downfalled like I was, you promise, "I will try to do better, if the Great Spirit would let me up on my feet again."

And I've tried to do better because He let me up on my feet.

It's a wonderful thing to have an answer like I had. And I think it helps to slow down. It helps to think. It helps to consider there's somebody else living besides you, besides me, besides everybody else. You're not living alone; you're not living on your own power. There's another power with you. If you use it, you'll get through this world ok; but you have to use it right.

You have to believe in what is given to you. It's yours. Like, you have to stop and feed yourself; you have to stop for lubrication, water, and food. And when you do that then you'll live a life. So much balance is good. Each day is equal to you. You’re equal to everybody else. You have to think, "I'm not better than anybody else, and no one else is any better than me."

It comes right down to that by natural thinking. You're just a life, but you can always think; always think.

And one thing you have to think about is that when people are called, they're called.(11) There's nobody that'll stop you from going if you’re called. So be ready at all times. “There must be a next world.” That's what everybody thinks that believes in that stuff. There must be something else in reward for what good you do, and reward for what bad you do on this earth.

Life is a great thing. When you're living you have to carry your own life. You have to try to keep your health. Work with the doctor, work with the signs. Work with the people who are trying to work for a betterment.

I'm glad to hear a good lecture. I'm glad to hear a good speech. I'm glad to hear people debate. You learn and you listen. I sit there and listen just as if I didn't know anything. I don't know much, but I'm always looking for more to learn . . . and that means I can learn a lot. Then the answer is there when you're listening to people who are talking, to people that know something. When you have visitors, use them right. Then sunlight will be given to you.

There's always a better day ahead in your life, figure. If it gets rough, you figure everybody else has a rough time too. As to complaints, don't complain; just try to look for a betterment, for better times in life and for better life in this world. This world is something to go through. You don’t get tired if you have futures, if you think that you can be able to get out and look for provisions on your own. Figuring like that is a great thing. It's something that encourages your life. It's strength, it builds you, it builds you up, it makes you want to go and get there. But if you lose face by going on your own, why then you won't get anyplace. That's the way I studied. Oh, I got sorrows; I got hard knocks. But I think, "Some of these days it'll get better."

Sure enough, it gets better.

Sure enough, it's brighter.

Then in your life you'll always try to watch for something that's very clean. You'll try to watch for something with life, for a person that speaks well, for a person that's trying to learn. And he'll probably have something that will make you interested in learning more. You never learn too much. You're always learning, all the time as you go. I still learn things by listening to other people. The people you stop for, and look for, and listen to, will teach you something. You figure out when to stop. You figure out when to go. It's just the same thing as with the signs in nature . . . you figure that out.(12)

I live by stop and go signs in nature. I had times that I was alone. I traveled alone, through the timber. In my days I looked around for something to live on: wild game. I got enough to eat, then I went along for another few days. That's the way I live.

And what you're interested in doing -- in the line of getting the provisions of your life, and living -- and when you're interested in that line -- do it! If it turns out you like it, it will return a good -- a betterment -- to your life.

And if one line of getting your provisions doesn’t return you any good, try another one. Maybe you'll see something else that's better, something that you fit into. And when you get yourself fit into something that you like to work on -- something that you like to make your provision on -- it keeps getting better. It makes a betterment for you, and you feel well. You're satisfied after you've traveled, after you've looked forward.

I've seen people in my times try everything. But sometimes they're not cut out for what they’re trying to do. But they try this and that, they practice on it, and it makes them cut out into what is good for them. They feel it when they try out something and it’s good for them.

Then satisfaction sets in. You have to be satisfied as you go along. You have to be satisfied with each project you go on. I might as well say that if you're satisfied with a practice, then you'll enjoy it. Then, when you get tired of that -- that branch of labor or that branch of work -- you can try something else.

In my life, when I got tired of one thing I said, "Well, I want to try something else." Maybe I could. I could see everybody else making good on one thing, so I'd try it. Well, I go along pretty good for a while. And I'd try it some more. Then I'd begin to think, well, I'm not cut out for that. Well, then I'd try something else.

That's life. That's your privilege. That's one good thing . . . that nobody tells you what to do. You have to use your own mind, your own judgment. You have to use your mind.

You haven't got much time either, because you go fast through the stages of life. Then again after you pass 40s, 45, 50s, again you begin to slow down. Then you recollect what you did in the past, in your young life. At least I do anyhow. While I recollect I say, "Well, I should-a done better. I wish I knew at that time, when I was younger, what I know now. Maybe I'd be advanced a little more than I am.

I don't mean to say that I am advanced, but I sure lived a happy life.

But I think it could have been a better life if I'd‑a just considered that I'm going to get old someday, if I'd‑a considered I'd get to where I'm traveling at the old stage now.

Now I consider that maybe by listening to my history of life somebody else can pick up a word here or a word there that will help them in their own way of life. It's a great thing when they want to hear the experience of my life. It's a big history. I appreciate the way I was used. The Great Spirit that I believe in is always with me; thanks God.

If they study, I'll do all I can to help. They don't have to listen to me. They don't have to listen to what I say, but when they put people with stories together and listen to the bunch of them, then it will sound natural. That's what helps. That’s what would make a point.

“There's a point there this fellow's got,” they might think.

That's what the meetings are for. That's what discussion is for. I like discussions. I listen to discussions. Discussions are a big practice in life. This is the only country where you have free speech. You might as well say you can help one another with your discussions. I hope they keep that up. I hope they work together, respect one another, answer one another, ask one another. That's a big thing.

When you’re discussing, the world is bright. When you’re discussing, your country you live in is bright. Keep it that way. Don't start to tell that you have to keep it just the way I tell it, or that you have to do what I ask. In some cases you should have to do certain things; yes. Sometimes you have to do things; sure. But generally, keep it a free country. Keep it a free discussion.

Gees, this is wonderful; that's true in my life; that's just what I believe in. I stand pat to that same story. I repeat it over and over as I live, since that time I broke down in the 30's. I repeat about the poison in my teeth, and the pyorrhea going into my system. And how the doctor found that out. And how he figured out, "You're catching cold from your teeth. Your gums are bad. Your teeth are abscessed." I repeat about how they pulled them all out, otherwise I'd have been failing, failing, failing. And how, when I got them out, I thought, "Sure, that was it!"

Before that, all that saved me was sauna, the Indian sauna, the sweatbath.(13) The sweatbath kept purifying me. That's a main thing for a person, a sweatbath.

Now I get along pretty dang good.

I’m happy.

“Oh yeah,” they told me one time. “But you had that Spanish nurse, a practice doctor, another practice nurse, and the health doctor -- and all went through college -- working on you.”

“Yes,” I told them, “but it proved out that they were good at practicing, ‘cause I’m still here to tell about it!"

And after that time, I took care of them teeth. . . . I took care of my gums. Everything left my body. The sickness left, I'm glad to say, with the University specialists, the great doctors that helped me. That's why I respect those Minnesota University workers. And they learned lots from me. They learned by practicing on me. Look in my medical book. It proves what I say. It was back in 1939, I guess. That was quite a while ago. Those teeth poisoned me. I had terrible sweats then. Now I have the teeth out. I felt good ever since the teeth were taken care of by that specialist of the University, and I still thank him whoever he is.

I feel I owe lots of my life to the University. I improved. I mended, and ever since that time I felt good. Yes, I felt good from that doctor's orders. The University is the leading school and the last school to go to -- ni‑gah‑niy‑o‑Ik‑I‑nii‑nam‑o‑gah‑mIg. The university is the oldest thing by which we can learn a better way of life. They have good men and they're well trained, these men. I feel for them, and I ask them questions.

Course, I like to jolly around, to fool around with them. I like to get them stirred up to see what comes out of them. I'm built that way anyhow. I'm a talk . . . talk person, and that doctor from the University, what a wonderful doctor he is.

It was great work they did to the Indians in the hospitals. The white doctors and nurses know what they're talking about. I know they know something. Because they practice it, they know.

And I tell my people that now -- if they have any ailment and hate to go the hospital. I speak right out now. I say that it isn't like the olden days when they didn't have equipment. Nowadays, our doctors are sent out into the people with good instruments, with instruments that they can work with, instruments that make better health for the community.

"Don't be afraid," I said, "they can almost always pull you through in the early stage, but don't await ‘til the late stage." Nowadays you can always think that you should go to a doctor right now, if you can. Not to wait.

And you should know when your check-ups are. You're supposed to be working with your doctor to keep yourself informed.”

Nowadays most people go to the Indian hospital. Oh they can't get enough of that now in the Cass Lake Hospital. They are always going. Now if they have any ailment, right to the doctor they rush.

Do you know why?

Because, like I say, they have instruments now. They have things to work with. They have stuff to use that eases the pain you have.

Boy, we have good doctors! I always say we have good doctors and very good instruments to work with. We have fine, fine doctors. They are specialists, college graduates. You can always count on them for betterment. And that's for all the people, far and near.

I believe white medicine’s a great thing. I tell the people that pulling me through when I was downfalled with my teeth is the greatest thing that a white man did for me. I told that since that time I broke down, and still, to this day, I believe it.


1. Cf., Ch. 38, "Timber Days."

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

3. Vitamins were first identified in 1912 and became an increasingly popular topic in nutritional discussions throughout the first part of the twentieth century. Although Indian children from this over-all area generally entered boarding schools in good nutritional health, nutrition was poor in Indian Boarding schools through the years Paul attended them. Children would have had better nutrition and nutritional education at home -- from their grandmothers and mothers -- than in government institutions of the day. Paul's mother refused to eat canned foods. Cf. also the discussion of vitamins in Ch. 28, "What's Behind the Sun?: An Indian Sermon."

4.Cf., Ch. 36, "Jack Nason, 'My Dad. My Step-Dad,'" and Ch. 39, "Leech and Mississippi Forks."

4. Cf., Ch. 47, "Uprise in the Indian Office."

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

6. In addition to the apparent choice of doctors that individuals had, the Indian Health Service monitored the services doctors provided, and they at least occasionally formally responded to complaints. For e.g., in the case of Dr. Z. E. House (of whom Paul speaks kindly for his "jolly, happy" disposition and ability to get one to take their medicine), E. B. Linnen, Chief Inspector, and C. L. Ellis, Special Supervisor, of the United States Indian Service in Minneapolis, in a letter dated October 8, 1918, to Hon. Catto Sells, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Washington, D.C., relating to "An Investigation Made of the Cass Lake Boarding School ["situated about six miles from the town of Cass Lake, which is on the Great Northern and Soo line Railways" on the Leech Lake Reservation] and Reservation in the State of Minnesota, in the Month of September of 1918," reporting on a visit of August 13, 1918, recommended in part, the following: "For these reasons [listed above] we have by our letter to you dated August 24, 1918, requested that the services of Dr. Z. E. House be dispensed with, and that Dr. Smith of Cass Lake be employeed as contract physician, believing that this would give better and more satisfactory service to the school and the Indians in the vicinity of Cass Lake. Same will also prove a savings of the Chippewa funds. We trust this recommendation will be followed." (United States Congress, Committee on Indian Affairs, Indian Appropriation Bill: Hearings Before the United States House Committee on Indian Affairs, Sixty-Fifth Congress, Third Session, on Dec. 4-7, 9-11, Washington, D.C. U.S. Government Printing Office, 1918, pp. 473-474.)

7. A skin test for tuberculosis (TB), a infectious disease of ancient origins generally infecting the lungs, was developed in 1907, just shortly before Paul went off to Tower Indian School. TB was historically known as "consumption," which is the listed cause of death of Paul's father on his application to Tower Indian School. (Cf.,"Appendix A," Ch. 35, "Boarding School Days.") It has been estimated that over 100,000 Americans died from tuberculosis each year in the early 1900's. The Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, reports 941 TB deaths in Minnesota in 1912, the year Paul finished at Tower Indian School (Thirteenth Annual Report, "Mortality Statistics," 1912.) At the turn of the century hundreds of sanatoriums were built in the United States to treat TB by taking the patients out of their homes and treating them with rest, "fresh air, good food and sometimes surgery." Later on in Paul's narrative he referred to the Sanitarium as the "san," a commonly used term.

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

9. Elizabeth Sherer and Josephine Parisien are regarded as Minnesota's first two Indian nurses. “Elizabeth Sherer Russell was born on March 10, 1900 on the Cass Lake Indian Reservation. Her mother died in 1911 and shortly after, Russell and her sisters Emma and Ida were sent to Wahpeton Indian School, a boarding school in North Dakota. At boarding school they worked as maids in homes. She was given the option to become a nurse or a teacher and chose the nursing track. In 1923 Russell graduated from Northwestern School of Nursing in Minneapolis as a registered nurse. After graduation she worked as a Public Health Nurse at Cass Lake and was part of the Minnesota Department of Health’s Chippewa Nursing Service until 1932.” See also Elizabeth Sherer Russell photograph collection and additional artifacts of the Minnesota Historical Society. (MHS, 2018.)

10. When Paul says something like, "See, that's the way I learned amongst the white people," it should most probably be rendered, "See, that's the way I learned amongst the non-Indian people." In Paul's thinking "white" generally means "non-Indian," the way it would literally be thought of in the Ojibwe language. Paul quite often is thinking "in Indian" and translating the cultural and linguistic materials into "English." The term for "white man" in Ojibwe is gichi-mookomaan, meaning "big" -- gichi -- "knife" -- mookomaan (The Ojibwe People's Dictionary, 2018). The term "long knives" or "big knives" was borrowed from Iroquois and Algonquian peoples to the east. Gichi-mookomaan is almost always was translated as "white man" (rather than "big knife" or "long knife"), reportedly leading George Bonga (ca. 1802–1874), who is generally thought to be the first black man born in what later became the State of Minnesota, himself a translator, to at least occasionally quip that he was one of the first "white men" -- gichi-mookomaanag [but literally, "big-knife"] -- in northern Minnesota. Gichi-mookomaan would more accurately be translated "non-Indian-person," that is, someone who is not one of "the people," the "Anishinabe."

11. When God, the Manidou, calls you to the next world, you go. And no one can help you when your time is up.

12. Cf., Ch. 33, "Messengers and Unusual Events," and Ch. 34, "Fireballs, and the 'Black-Shadow-Man.'"

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

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