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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

 TR HomePage 

a note on tenses
  a note on style

orignal tapes information

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

17 16
River Life and Fishing

Mississippi River near Remer State Forest above Grand Rapids.

Mississippi River near Remer State Forest above Grand Rapids, 1951.

Photographer: Kenneth M. Wright Studios

Photograph Collection, 1951
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Accession Number: YR1966.3645
Negative No. 15301
We lived by the river, the Mississippi, so we always had a lot of fish whenever we wanted it. We also got a lot of experience, in my day, living on the river. We'd camp all along the Mississippi, anywhere a campsite was suitable. The Mississippi was quite an issue, quite an item. It was where we got fish. When we lived next to the Mississippi we were sure we were going to get something to eat every day.
When the rivers weren't frozen we'd often travel on them from place to place. I liked traveling with my folks when they were going places. We'd troll along and catch any amount of fish we wanted. When I was a boy I'd look down at the bottom of the river. I'd lie over the boat, just along the side of the boat, and look at the fish on the bottom of the Mississippi. You could see the fish lying on the bottom of the river. Nice pike and everything. How clear the water was! There'd be four, five northerns traveling in the schools. We called those northerns gi-nö-zhay -- that means a long fish. Those were the days -- on the Mississippi. Paddling along the Mississippi, going up the streams, you'd wonder what you're going to see on the next bend.

Maybe you come around a bend and see a bear; maybe you'll see a big blue crane -- or two or three of them; maybe you'll see those beautiful birds -- jacksnipes; maybe you'll see a mushrat setting along the banks; maybe you'll see a woodchuck. Around the next bend maybe you'll see a deer; how nice they look, looking at you so bright. All of those things were very interesting as we went along the river.

   Bear in the forest

Black Bear.

(Ursus americanus.)

   Creators: John and Karen Hollingsworth
  Source: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service National Image Library

And then, when you get in the lakes, you wonder what you're going to see next along the shore. All the time you're looking for something ahead. There are a thousand things to see in this great woods. There are beautiful things to see. How the trees and plants grow! It would be a pretty spot to build a house. Oh, a lot of things come to your mind, come in your mind, when you're paddling. You wish you lived there, you wish there was a road there. You wish a road would be there, because that was way out of the way. How wild it was!

   Coyote in the cattails.

Coyote in the cattails.
(Canis latrans.)

  Creators: John and Karen Hollingsworth
  Source: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service National Image Library

But after dark it was quiet and lonely. You could hear the coyotes, sometimes. You could hear the owls -- "hoo hoo." That sounded good. You were right to home when you heard that. At least I am. I like the sound of those animals. My friend and I heard an owl the other day. That's what he said, "hoo hoo." My friend, he looked at me, "Wow that sounds good. It sounds just like the olden days. I never heard that for a long time."

"Well," I said, "he must come from a long way. That sounds good."

"Ya," he said, "and when you heard that, it would make you think."(1)

 Screech owl. 

Screech owl.
(Otus asio.)

Creator: Dr. Thomas G. Barnes / University of Kentucky
  Source: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service National Image Library

We used to live along the river, and when you heard that, "hoo hoo," everything'd be so quiet. Everything was asleep. Then, all at once, somewhere on that point you'd hear a wolf: "wuk, wuk, wuk, wuk, wuk, wuu-u-u-oo-oo-o-o- . . . "! Oh, it'd give you the chills. "Wuk, wuk, wuk, wuk, wuu-uu-oo-oo-o-o. Wuk, wuk, wuk, wuk!" It would sound like a thousand wolves, but there's just a few that makes all that noise. There'd be only a couple, maybe. They can make funny noises. Boy, when you hear that, you feel like crawling in bed.

You'd hear a lot of things like that. You'd hear the birds, the ducks, -- "kraa, kraa"; frogs -- "grook, grook." You hear nature at night. You hear the creeping animals squeaking and screeching at night.

But when it's good old morning the sun would rise again. I feel good to see the daylight come. You're ready for it. It's a beautiful day. It isn't going to rain.

We play along the river for short periods in the summer,(2) then there's a fall period which comes,(3) then there's a winter that comes.(4) We always have something to occupy our minds. It seems like we're always getting ready for something else. In the summer we're supposed to get ready for the winter. We should know that. And then you'd be out in the fields preparing for winter. Our short season is summer. The long season here is the winter. But here you're used to it. That's the main thing people should know: get ready for the winter; get ready with spring. That's a big thing. You are prepared for it now. We should know when winter comes. And we always know to get ready with spring. Next to maple sugar the first thing we'd think of in spring was fishing. But we would go fishing anytime we got the chance -- summer, autumn, winter, or spring. I love fishing, and I love to eat fish.(5)

Toward the end of the summer we'd start thinking about fur. We'd start tracking animals, checking on them, looking for signs of mushrat fur or mink fur. We'd find out what the fur crop is like that would be sold the next fall. We'd figure out what the fur harvest might be like.


(Ondatra zibethicus.)

  Creator: R. Town
  Source: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service National Image Library


All we had to do was to check on the production, the natural production of the land we live on. And that was natural production too! There were no chemicals, no pollution. It was pure. There was nobody there to pollute it. There were not enough people in that area to hurt the air. Everything was pure. The animals, game, fish, and all that enjoy their playground as well as the people who lived on it. In those days we felt at home. We were free; everything in a seasonal way came to us for our living.

That Mississippi was a great river to travel on, to move from place to place on, to go visiting on, to go look for a new camp site on. We'd go look for a crop of berries, and a crop of wild rice along the Mississippi and Leech Rivers. We'd go along the rivers and look while other things were growing in the big fields of this land of ours. We'd be checking it out to see if there was going to be any crop of blueberries or cranberries. We were checking on everything. We were checking all the time to see if those blossoms were not frozen, to see if there was going to be plums, to see if there was going to be highbush cranberries. Everything was well! There was everything there. We didn't have to check them, but we liked to see them. How beautiful they look; "look here," we'd say.

I traveled with Indian canoes.(6) We had four and five canoes traveling together -- sometimes. In spring one of the men would look at the river. "Ya," he'd say, "the fish are runnin'. Let's go on a little trip." Then he'd load the canoe. It was big enough for four.

Ojibway women in canoe on Leech lake, 1896

Ojibway women in canoe on Leech lake, 1896.

Creator: Edward Augustus Bromley

Photograph Collection, 1896
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.35 p16 Negative No. 17318

So we'd shove off. We'd take a cooking kettle, salt, bread, and tea with us. We went down there to the river to cook fish, the best eating fish -- one of the best eating fish. We knew we would get fish there.

We'd stroll along and look at the animals in the water swimming. It was just like cruising along in July. The wild hay crop was interesting to look at. "The crop is comin' good for hay." I'd paddle quite a ways on the river with my family, and they would help paddle too. We'd look as we'd go along. That air out in the waters, boy that makes you hungry quick.

      Mallards, male and female.

Mallards, male and female.

(Anas platyrhynchos.)

Creator: George Gentry
  Source: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service National Image Library
  Creator: R. Town

When we'd get up across Mud Lake to the river banks up there by the high bank, we'd find a good place to camp -- one with water and everything. We used to camp pretty much around the corner from the points of the lakes. The points made good windbreaks. Most generally the wind would blow from the west, so we would generally camp on the east side of the points. The points made pretty good windbreaks, and while we camped there we looked at the forest to see where the deer were in there. We'd never go way back in the woods and camp. It was hard to get water back in the woods. We wouldn't drink that swamp water much, unless we dug a well with a shovel by a spring or something. We knew when there was a spring. We'd camp anywhere along the Mississippi where the campsite was suitable. A suitable campsite has plenty of wood and a good landing. Suitable is where the wood is easy to get, and where the water is easy to get. We needed deeper water, or water where it runs good in the rivers -- to dip our fresh water for drinking. When we found a good camping place somebody would say, "Why don't we camp here?" Then we'd get wood and build a fire.

In the spring we'd go down to the lake and fish. It was fish spawn time in the spring and you'd see some nice big northerns(7) crawling in through the timber of a little dock we had down there. We could count three and four great big northerns in the bunch there. When the wild fish are mating, they mate under the water. And when they meet their mate underwater -- which they're looking for -- that's when they gang up. It's a gathering, and we call that a gathering má-m^-o-táa-waag. The whole bunch of them goes together. The leader is the one they're following after. That's natural wild life.

They didn't mind us because we didn't bother them much. We just looked at them to see the biggest ones. Those days we were so used to them we didn't bother them. There were lots of shiners -- small fish -- around the dock, and the northerns would come in there to eat them.

We'd fish with hook and line around those big eddies. We'd bend wire or something, tie a string on it, and put a frog on there just the same as they do now. There were hooks and lines those days. Sometimes we'd bank-fish along the river, and sometimes we'd troll. Bank-fishing used to be good anywhere. Oh, geez that was great!

We trolled along with trolling hooks and easily got enough for a mess.(8) "Well," one of the old folks would say, "we'll have fish for supper, or whenever we get there." He'd unravel his fish line and spoon hook.(9) Right now! . . . he'd catch pike -- a northern or anything we wanted.

Yes, there were a lot of fish. We'd go along and see another two, three, more fish. We'd go by them, then the troll would come by, and nothing would happen. "No," the old man says, "they ain't hungry." But you'd keep on a-going, because they'd still hit at times -- even if they were't hungry. Yes, those were good days. You could get all you wanted to eat just by catching game.

We liked to fish for those big "red horses." A "red horse" -- wah-pah-gayss -- is a big fish that has really good flavor. It's pretty near like a whitefish, but there's a lot of meat in it. They're kind of fat on the side and on the back. A "red horse" is almost built like a big sucker, but they're a little redder. If you get one, you get a big kettle full, because they're big fish. They have a good flavor. It's a big fish with big bones in it that comes at a certain time of the year.

   Red Horse (fish)

Red Horse.
(Moxostoma macrolepidotum.)

Prepared by: Ellen Edmonson and Hugh Chrisp
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

 High Resolution Photo

We had many fish besides the northern and "red horse." We had muskellunge -- maa-ski-nö-zhay -- and bullhead -- a-wáa-sI-síi. A-wáa-sI-síi means a skin is shiny. We call bullheads that because they reflect; their body shines. A reddish and brown color, with stripes is o-sáa-wáynss -- perch. O-sáa-wáyss also is crappie. That signifies the color of them -- and they're very, very small, tender, and active on the hook. They're easy to catch -- sáa-wáynss. O-gáh-o means a needle down his back. That's a pickerel. They're hard to handle. The long fish -- the northern -- is gi-nö-zhay. The sunfish is a-gw^-dáa-shI'$ -- under -- because he's under the shade mostly, away from the sun. A big, big, heavy, chubby, fish that goes to the net is ah-dI'k-a-mIg. That's a walleye. My mother used to catch quite a bit of whitefish at Leech Lake. The ones that hide in a fast river, a fast creek, or in the rapids are a-gwa-dáa-shI$. That's bass. Trout is maa-naa-nöess. We just call sheepshead "sheephead" -- ma-nIs-tán-Ish-tIg-wáan. A small fish which is going to be a big fish but right now is a small fish we call gii-go-shI$'nss. That's a minnow.

A "red horse" won't hit a hook because his mouth is round. All he does is pick up food on the bottom. There he picks up the worms. Sometimes we hook "red horses" with shallow nets, because when they're running upstream they travel almost on top of the current of the rivers -- two, three, to a bunch. It's more fun to get them by spearing, so I would generally go spearing.

Fishing spear, not later than 1981.

Fishing spear, not later than 1981.
(One prong tip is broken.)

26-49/64 X 1-19/64 inches

3D Objects: Not later tahn 1981.
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Identifiers: 1981.4.178

We'd spear fish about two, three, miles down the Leech River -- by John Smith's old place. I never had a fish pole, so the only thing I took was a spear. There were times that we would build a little fishing rod, but we usually just used a hook and line, or a spear. This was a short-handled spear, so I put a handle on it made out of a pole.

Indian spearing fish, 1925

Indian spearing fish, ca. 1925.

Creator: Roland W. Reed

Photograph Collection, Postcard, ca. 1925
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.32F r9 Negative No. 62678

We'd station ourselves by Six-Mile Lake -- by Snake Creek. The "red horses" run that time of the year -- in July -- and they run with their fins sticking out. It's more fun to spear them that way. The fish don't always run all the time, but you find them once in a while in spots. There I'd be. "Here they come! There's two coming right in the center of the river, just their fins sticking out." We'd be drifting along and I'd get the biggest one. They're quick too. I'd get the biggest one -- one big one. Boy that was fun. We'd want to continue spearing, but didn't, because the boat was loaded; we might tip, you know.

Red Horse (fish)
Black Bullhead.
(Ameiurus melas.)

Prepared by: Ellen Edmonson and Hugh Chrisp
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

   High Resolution Photo

This is our way of fighting for a betterment year after year, to live for what we eat, to live to keep happy, to keep firm, to keep healthy, to keep working. We always had something to do. We had time to go out fishing. There was more fun in fishing bullheads -- ah-wa-say-sii. And those bullheads were good size. When the young folks fished we always went in a group, late in the evening. Oh, it was fun for young folks just to be out there in the canoe. Some of them would tip, but there was always somebody there to help them. If you knew how to ride a canoe, you wouldn't be afraid. But a lot of them get too careless and they tip.

Chippewas working on fish nets, 1946

Chippewas working on fish nets, 1946.

Photograph Collection, 1946
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.32F r1 Negative No. 65767

We also fished a lot using nets -- gill nets. My Grandma Smith said that they always had a net and would throw it in by their campsite.(10) They'd get them through trading with Canada, or they'd build their own nets. When they were camping along the lakeshore they pretty much always made their own nets. Sometimes they'd get the material from Canada to make them. Canadians always had good netting materials. They always had strong cotton cloth. We'd make the nets as long as we want them, or as short as we want them.

Maude Kegg with wiigob, Mille Lacs, 1947

Maude Kegg with wiigob, Mille Lacs, 1947.

Creator: Monroe P. Killy

Photograph Collection, 1947
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.34 p25 Negative No. 35205

We had rocks that we used for the net sinkers. We tied rocks for the nets with that wiigob. And there was plenty of rock for sinkers, plenty of wood for floaters. When we wanted fish we'd just go set our nets out there. We always had fish enough to dry and to smoke.
Ojibwe stone fish net sinker, no later than 1930.

Ojibwe stone fish net sinker, no later than 1930.

3-3/8 X 2-1/2 X 2 inches

Collected by Frances Densmore.
3D Objects, No later than 1930
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Identifiers: 6874.42

Ojibwe stone fish net sinker, no later than 1930.

Ojibwe wood fish net float, no later than 1930.

16-1/2 X 1 inch

Collected by Frances Densmore.
3D Objects, No later than 1930
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Identifiers: 6874.43.E

Ojibwe fish net float, Mille Lacs, no later than 1920.

Ojibwe fish net float, Mille Lacs, no later than 1920.

5-3/4 X 1 inch

Collected by: Jacob Vradenberg Brower

3D Objects, No later than 1930
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Identifiers: 3971.A2938

Mrs. Rozer drying fish nets, 1910

Mary Razer (Papagine) drying fish nets, White Earth, ca. 1910-1918.

Creator: Frances Densmore (1867-1957)

Photograph Collection, 1910
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.34 p12 Negative No. 13197

We are always very careful with our nets. A lot of people set nets, and when they go out and look in the net there's nothing there. Why? Because the fish smell that net. They might smell your hands, or your hands might have a scent from something else you touch. You might have a scent the fish don't like. Fish know scent too. Fish are good with scent. To purify the net from its scent you have to use that bark medicine and then tap the net with those cedar boughs. They used cedar boughs too, in any church, beforehand. Before they got that big flatgrass(11) they used cedar boughs in church. To get rid of the scent we also take the net and smoke it with cedar-bough smoke. Gii-pI-gI-nI-máa o-gii-b^-kwáy-zI-nIss-da-w^'n o-na. We use the boughs because they're purified. The boughs are scented, and that drives the other bad scent away. We put our hands on the boughs, we rub our hands and clothes on them, and then we throw the boughs in the fire. That clears the net up from evil. It isn't magical! That purifies the net. It purifies the scent of the net. Then we can catch fish.


Northern white cedar foliage.

(Thuja occidentalis.)

Courtesy of Superior National Forest, Minnesota.

 Original file

How clean they were in those days!

On the top of that, I've seen other things.

The Indian says that if a man is laying down, the woman with excess(12) isn't supposed to get close to him. If a woman with excess walks by the man who is lying down, she has to make sure her dress doesn't flop over the man's eyes. They'd get cut off right there if they tried to walk by without doing that. A woman would catch the dickens if she walked by a man and didn't hold her dress down. An old lady, an old doctor -- an old medicine woman -- would tell her, "You're not supposed to do that. You're not supposed to walk by that gentleman's eyes. He might be purified and you're going to disapprove his appearance. He's had a purification. He's already pured, and we want to keep it that way. Next time you be careful." Sometimes the man would tell that to the lady. He'd tell her, "No. Shii-báash-k^-wáa." A woman with excess is not supposed to step over a man's hat, or his clothes either. That's how particular they were, because the germs live on the excess. The women have germs at that time, and those germs would start to work on your eyes, ears, or anything.

For sure I know that when they set nets, if a man steps over that net, they don't catch fish. If a man accidentally steps over a net the woman has to then step over that fish net so that it will catch fish again. She has to untie the mistakes that a man did. The woman steps over the net because she's the leader of purification. I don't know why they did that, except that it's a dust and a germ that keeps the fish away from the net. When she walks over the net the skirt blows it away. It goes. We believe in the germ on water and land, but the germ doesn't sink right away. And water purifies.

It's the same way with a dog. A dog isn't supposed to lay by the net. He's supposed to walk by the net. If he lies by the net you won't catch fish.

So after we caught the fish I pulled ashore and built a campfire. You'd pull ashore and build a big fire right by the river, being careful so that the fire doesn't run. Then you'd hang the kettle on the fire, and clean the fish, water it up, rinse out the fish, clean it, and cut it into big hunks. The kettle was a great big kettle -- big enough for one fish. You might say it was water-pail size -- the size of a fourteen quart pail, a cooking tin.

Cooking fire, Nett Lake, 1946.

Cooking fire, Nett Lake, 1946.

Creator: Monroe P. Killy

Photograph Collection, 1946
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.32 p11 Negative No. 35316

Then we'd put the fish in there. Ho, we'd watch that boil. It makes you hungry to watch that meat -- that fish -- boiling. Fish don't have to be cooked very long, so it didn't take us very long to cook up a meal. We mostly boiled everything because there wasn't too much lard around. The only grease we had came from the slab pork the government issued out for rations, and the little bit of pork fat we traded for with our wild rice. That's where we got our grease -- our white lard, wah-bIsh-kii bI-mI-day. But we got some other fat out of the tallows that we picked up from the animals that we got by hunting. We'd save the tallow for frying, seasoning, cooking, and boiling. And -- sometimes -- we used grease alone.

Boy, how we put that out on our lunch plates, and, boy, that looked good. We ate them with salt and pepper, which we took with us. We had pepper that we'd trade for at the Flemming Store.(13) We didn't eat much "red horse" fish, but when we cooked fish we put a lot of seasoning on them, pepper and all. Then we get out that bread and make tea. We liked that boiled fish, and it's just as good as fried.

Before we had pepper we used roots. We seasoned our food with wild potatoes, roots, and bark -- elm bark. These were all dried up, all cut up. We call it ah-paah-bo-wan -- that means "put-together flavoring." All that stuff was dried and then put away. Then, later on, we put it in our food -- ground up for flavoring. That's partly medicine for your blood, and body too. That meditates your food. That meditates your way of life. It makes you feel good. It's not a habit form; it's just a form to make flavoring -- seasoning.

It was natural cooking, cooking by water and by boiling it. Sometimes we baked fish, but mostly we boiled it. When we bake it we opened them up in the back, then lay the blanket -- the double slab slit down the back -- out by the fire. We boil fish in the cooking kettle, and the water is the soup. We drink the soup. Boy, I'll tell you that soup is good. If we have a little corn meal -- m^n-dah-mIn -- we throw it there. That makes corn soup -- m^n-dah-mIn náah-buu. Náah-buu means a liquid soup of the corn. We generally always had corn meal. That corn meal and fish -- gii-gö -- is really good. We generally had a little flour along too. That made a good plate. That's how we got along.

Mrs. Rozer drying fish, ca. 1910

Mary Razer (Papagine) drying fish, ca. 1910

Creator: Frances Densmore

Photograph Collection, ca. 1910
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Identifiers: Reserve Album 96, page 22. Negative No. 15177

We ate all the fish we wanted. We'd eat fish pred'near every Friday in our home.(14) But we'd eat fish whenever we wanted. And fish was a pretty good thing to eat. We ate fish to get the necessary food requirements for the body. Your body requires a certain amount of food from waters. It needs lime -- lime food. Lime food is fish -- or anything in the water, like clam shells. Well, we don't use clam shells, but I know people that use them. Anything that has lime in it -- a little lime -- is good for your blood. Eat a lot of lime food for the flu. It's good for you. Fish is a requirement. We eat fish to get our requirements.

The water is a great thing. Without water we can't live. And when the wind blows into the water, the water will purify the air. Nothing is better than water.

We ate fish any time we wanted, but sometimes it's better not to. When we get a weakness, we know the fish not to eat. We know what not to eat when you get weakness. We know the meat you shouldn't eat. A certain kind of animal, a certain kind of fish, you shouldn't eat when you have weakness in you, because of the reaction to that. The sucker and the "red horse" are the worse things to eat if you have a weakness.(15) The sucker is a heavy fish -- too heavy for the stomach -- and there's a reaction if you have weakness. And the partridge(16) too has a reaction if you have weakness. If you have an ailment fever you shouldn't eat a partridge. They'll make you worse and you'll feel tougher. It'll make you worse because that bird eats everything. The partridge eats everything. The same way with the sucker and the "red horse." They eat anything under water.

Oohh, shucks, there's a lot of that stuff that stand's sound. It's reasoned and makes sense.

   Rufous-throated Partridge

Ruffed Grouse ["partridge"(17)]
(Bonasa umbellus.)

Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada.

Original file (adjusted)

'Course a person gets tired of fish, you know, and you want something else to eat too. Sometimes we'd go out and get a partridge or a bird or whatever we wanted to eat to flavor our stew. We'd get a partridge -- a bird. There was plenty of game, and we didn't have to go far to get this game. We'd just go out nearby to wherever we were and get a bird to flavor our stew. Maybe we would get a duck or something along the river. I've seen that too. Then we'd cool off the body heat(18) of the bird. If we were hungry, we'd put it in cool water. By the time we'd get it cooled off we'd be ready to cook it up. Before too long it'd be all fixed up. Boy, would we have a stew! Then we're satisfied.

Then we'd sit there, and talk. "This is a great land. This is a great country we live in. How do you like this land? We're free; we're free while we're here."

We'd always put some fish up for the winter, even though we fished all year long. When we wanted to go fishing in the winter, we shoved a net under the ice. About 1908, 1909, we had a good winter, so we used to go fishing a lot that year. We didn't use fish houses; we used nets. That way we got all the fresh fish we wanted. We always got along good; very well. But later on, they limited that.(19) In freezing time, and when we were storaging for winter, the fish just froze. In cold weather the fish didn't spoil when they were outside. They froze! At Mille Lacs they'd cord the fish up by piles. They'd cord fish at Mille Lacs. That's pretty good. In the summer, we smoked them -- dry-cured them. During the meantime of warm weather we smoked and dry-cured fish for winter use. We dried the fish by baking it and smoking it.

When it turns warm, the fish are dry-cured on poles and racks. We just hang the prepared fish on a pole, or we make a rack with poles across. For a rack we put two long poles tree to tree, and then we put other shorter poles across them. Then we punch a hole in the tail of a whitefish -- or of any kind of fish -- and we hang them upside down with little pegs. We have a little peg -- a whole lot of little pegs -- and we shove that peg through the fish far enough to reach the pole. We just put that little peg over the shorter poles. We hang the fish with the head down.

Drying fish, Lake of the Woods, 1912.

Drying fish, Lake of the Woods, 1912.

Creator: Carl Gustaf Linde

Photograph Collection, 1912
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.32 m2 Negative No. 10237-A Accessiion Number: AV1986.108.23

Dried fish is bay-táy-gii-góo, ik-k^-náa-b^-zó gíi-góo. Dried fish and smoked fish are all the same. A smoked fish has to be cured. A smoked fish has to be cured before it's dried. So the cureness and smoked part of the fish is on the surface of the meat. When you boil the dried fish again you get good fish food to eat out of the dry fish. And boy that tastes good when it's smoked and cured with hardwood. And boy that's good with a little salt-bread bannock. And they'll keep.

Smoking suckers (fish), Nett Lake, 1946

Smoking suckers (fish), Nett Lake, 1946.

Creator: Monroe P. Killy

Photograph Collection, 1946
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.32F p11 Negative No. 35194
Accession Number: AV1981.193.388

Oohh!! Some of those Indians that caught whitefish had five hundred. They had four or five or six racks, and each rack was six or seven feet long. They were smoking them on the racks. Altogether they would have about five hundred fish. Some might have five hundred to a rack. I know that because one year we had five hundred fish hung up when my mother asked me how many we had.

 Lake Whitefish

Lake Whitefish
(Coregonus clupeaformis.)

Prepared by: Ellen Edmonson and Hugh Chrisp
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

 High Resolution Photo

In the olden days the fish were pretty good size. We ate whitefish and any kind of fish. Northerns were heavier and were well-matured. We had northerns that were ten, twelve, sixteen pounds. And the bullheads and the other fish were all prepared the same; those fish were taken care of! They were well taken care of, and cured.

The Indian always tested the fish.

"When did you catch them?"

"Today, this morning. And last night."

"Very well. Everything's inspected."

When we dry fish we clean the slime and the scales off first, then we open the fish. If we are going to smoke the fish we sometime cut the head and tail off and just lay them on the racks. Either way, we scrape the lime and the scales off. We leave the surface of the body of the fish on. Then we clean them out, wash them, and dip them in salt water -- a little bit. We dip them in salt water before we smoke them -- then they're really cured. Before we had salt they dipped them in a solution made from the bark the trees. We used oak and maple, but maple is the best. And then, after that's done, we put them over hot coals or a fire, but not too close. The fish have to be covered, so the smoke goes after them. We put the birch bark cover right on top of the fish, so the smoke hits up there. The smoke hits that cover then it flares back into the fish. We used to use birch bark for the cover, but later on we used canvass too. Slime dripped from their mouths while they were being smoked and cured. That way we gradually baked them into a cure. That way we cure it. We cured them according to their size. When you cure fish like that, the flavor is there. And when they cool off, we put them away.

We naturally put fish up like this for the dogs too. Yes! They get hungry. We'd cut chunks of fish for the dogs. They know how to spit the bones out.

If you didn't have any of your own fish you always got fed by your neighbors. They'd always make a big kettle-full of whatever they were making. The neighbors would give one another free food. Well, it didn't cost them anything. Anyone that set a net would have enough fish for most everybody. Maybe one or two netters would feed their neighborhood. They wouldn't waste that. We used game and fish for our requirements, but we took just what we wanted to use. Whenever we needed it, we went and got it. By using only what we needed, there was always more. We always brought home what we got and used it up. We didn't waste it. There was no food wasted. We didn't go out for sport; we went out for our living. There was enough to go all around. If we got enough, we'd share. And if we didn't get enough, we'd divide it up anyhow -- somehow.

That's pretty good, eh?

That's the way we lived.

Camp store, Camp Number 5, near Deer River, 1910

Camp store, Camp Number 5, near Deer River, 1910.

Photograph Collection, Postcard, 1910
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. HD5.7 r41 Negative No. 12910

About 1907, '08, we began trading fish for things at the trading camp, the logging camp. In 1904 loggers were talking about having a few camps here and there. After a while loggers came in and we would trade the fish to the logging camp and we'd get other food: flour, white sugar, and everything. We'd trade for food. So that's the way we lived.

Ojibway women carrying groceries, Leech Lake Indian Reservation, 1896

Ojibway women carrying groceries, Leech Lake Indian Reservation, 1896.

Creator: Edward Augustus Bromley

Photograph Collection, 1896
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.1 p39 Negative No. 47909

We had our privileges. We'd go along just like a wind blowing. Later on the pressure came. Whites came and the Game and Fish Department set in. After the whites arrived we got a little bit more leery about killing game.(20) Of course there wasn't too much pressure on us; we had a leeway. Then slowly, gradually, we left our only means of living.

Chippewa Indian camp on the Rainy River, ca. 1915.

Chippewa Indian camp on the Rainy River, ca. 1915.

Photograph Collection, ca. 1915
  Collections Online
Minnesota Historical Society
Location No. E97.31 r129 Negative No. 5470

Bank-fishing isn't what it used to be, but I still love fishing. At times now it's getting so that in the surrounding area fishing is very slim. At least it seems to be at the time you go. You have to be well-equipped now and go out into the deep waters to get fish.

Bank-fishing now isn't what it used to be. The fish aren't there, and the fish that are there are well polluted. The fish have pretty well been destructed. The natural resources are going too. The Conservation Department adjusts the water level now and sometimes they get the water level way up too high. And then, when they lower the water, the fish are gone. Sometime the river is so swift that probably the fish don't lay around in those logans(21) like they used to. There's no feed for them there -- when the water's high and moving fast. Now they have no feed. The fish need frogs and all that stuff. They need that vegetation they used to live on. When they had logans -- on the rivers, up and down -- they had feed.

But I believe that wasting is the worst part of the problem! The thing that the Indians began driving at most was that the wasting of meat was just a dirty habit. I don't blame some of the Indians for hunting and fishing out of the seasons that were later set up -- because they were using what they got for their families. If you use it for your family, that's a good answer. The Indian tries to make it. What is he going to have to do next to make the country he lives in pleasant? We try to be good to the white people. We try to work with the white people. Still, some whites drill against us!

The whites disregard the Manidoo. The whites fish for whatever fish they can get -- even when they have plenty of food! The whites don't always think of God when they come in this country. All they want to do is kill, kill, kill. The poor fish, the poor animals, are not respected. They disregard Manidoo's proof of love. They disregard who Manidoo loves and what the Manidoo has done for us. God made all the berries, all the crops, all the fish, all the natural resources good for us to live on because He knew we could use them. We don't waste them. If the whites can use them, it's all right -- but they often take the best and leave the rest go to waste.

And now! . . . they catch fish just to throw them away!!!(22)

And if the fish are too small, the whites throw them away!

Some whites throw everything away -- all the fish they catch! Small fish included!

That's against the will of God! You don't last long if you act like that!

Eat!! . . . what's fit to eat! When you catch a fish, eat it! Use it good. Clean it! A lot of them now go out fishing just for the sport of it, and they throw the fish away. Now-a-days you can see the dead fish floating on the water.

"Why is that dead fish floating?"

"He's been hooked. His mouth is sore."

Anybody would wonder about that -- the way those hooks are dragging up and down in the water -- dragging up and down, trying to hook a fish.

You know what?

The whites are trying to catch the biggest fish that they could tell about. They don't care to eat it; they want to tell about it!

And I bet they take a lot of fish home and their wives won't even clean them! The man has to clean them! But the women will eat them though . . . when they're fried! That's the only way the white people like fish -- fried.

The Indian will tell you what's what. Do something right, and it's good for all. It's good for the berries, and it's good for the wild life, and it's good for nature. The wild life is there for you. If you need the meat, go and get it. But take only what you need. Don't waste food. Don't take it just to throw it away. Don't take it just to be bragging about it. Use wild life good and it'll use you good. Live for what you eat. Eat to keep happy, to keep healthy.

That's what the Indian believes.

And that's what's been proven in my day . . . to all who live by this great river.


1. Often the owl would be a sign of things. Cf., Ch. 33, "Messengers and Unusual Events."

2. See Ch. 10, "Blueberry Time," Ch. 11, "Campfire Talks," and Ch. 12, "Inbetween Time."

3. See Ch. 13, "Manoominike-Giizis, 'Wild Ricing Moon.'"

4. See Ch. 17,"Winter Wood and Wigwams," and Ch. 18, "Late-Autumn Winter Camp."

5. Cf. Sister M. Inez Hilger, "Chippewa Hunting and Fishing Customs," Minnesota Quarterly, 1:2-3 (1936), pp. 17-19; and Charles E. Cleland, "The Inland Shore Fishery of the Northern Great-Lakes: Its Development and Importance in Prehistory," American Antiquity, 47:4 (1982), pp. 761-784.

6. Cf., Ch. 3, "Canoe Days," and Ch. 12, "Inbetween Time."

7. Northern pike (Esox lucius).

8. Enough fish for a meal.

9. An artificial metal bait for larger fish, such as a Daredevil® or Red Eye Wiggler®, which has the general appearance of the bottom end of a big metal spoon, with one or more treble hooks on it.

10. Cf. Ch. 41, "Talking with the Old Folks: Recollections and Predictions."

11. The palms currently used in Roman Catholic churches on Palm Sunday.

12. Menstruating.

13. For more on Flemming's Store see Ch. 36, "Jack Nason, 'My Dad, My Step-Dad.'"

14. Paul Buffalo and his mother and siblings were at least nominally Catholic, and in the early days they usually made it a point to eat fish on Friday (as prescribed in those days by the Roman Catholic Church's cannon law). However, they often also ate fish any other time, and generally whenever they wanted. And they ate it a lot. Paul Buffalo was baptized a Catholic by his grandfather, and because of a dream that his mother had. See Ch. 2, "Bena Childhood."

15. The sucker and the red horse fish will "eat anything," and the "partridge" [ruffed grouse] will "eat anything." Thus, if you have a weakness, that is, if you are ill, you should avoid both the sucker and the red horse fish, and the "partridge."

16. Paul is talking about ruffed grouse (Bonasa umbellus) when he talks about "partridges." Ruffed grouse, native to Minnesota, are commonly, although incorrectly, called "partridges." Partridges (Perdix) were introduced to North American from Europe in the early 1900s, and are unrelated to ruffed grouse. In North America "true partridge" territory is more typically west/northwest/southwest of northern Minnesota. The Ojibwa People's Dictionary translates "partridge" as "bine . . . a partridge; a ruffled grouse [ruffed grouse: Bonasa umbellus]" Accessed 19 June 2018.

17. Ibid.

18. For a discussion of animal body heat the importance of cooling off an animal before cooking and eating it, see Ch. 12, "Inbetween Time."

19. The State of Minnesota established fishing limits which, earlier on, they maintained also applied to Anishinabe peoples. In recent years American Indian peoples have again been able to reassert their treaty-based fishing rights. See, for example, Rick Whaley and Walter Bressette, Walleye Warriors (Milwukee, WI: New Society Publishers, 1993).

20. Especially during those years when it was thought to be illegal.

21. Shallow small water holes generally off to the side of the rivers.

22. Paul is here referring to the practice in recreational fishing of "catch and release," a practice of which, as you can see, he strongly disapproves.

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