Autobiography of John Henry Bisonette

- nana'wigisik (middle sky or day)

Grandson of Little Pipe

Compiled in the 1940s by Robert Ritzenthaler, an anthropologist with the Milwaukee Public Museum.
The following is from interviews with individuals at LCO.

Donated by Timm Severud


I was born in Barron County Wisconsin in a place that later became Maple Plain, on August 10, 1882.  My father was a Frenchman from Monroe, Michigan, a lumberjack who came down here to work in the lumber camps.  He was what lumberjacks called a 'bull puncher'- a fellow who drives the ox teams.  They hauled the logs from the forest where they were cut over to the skid-way where they were piled.  After the ox went out they used horses and then he drove a horse team.  He was a lumberman all his life.  My dad met my mother, a full-blooded Chippewa Indian, near Cumberland, where there were several families of Indians.  He was about 25 or 30 and she was about 20.  They never got married, just lived together, but they never separated.  I never heard him speak of the church so I guess he wasn't a catholic although most Frenchmen are.  He never spoke French either - just English.  When he met my mom he could not speak a word of Chippewa and she couldn't speak a word of English, but each could understand a bit of the other's language.  My dad was well thought of and did a lot of singing for entertaining at the lumber camps on Saturday and Sunday nights.  He was a good singer.  He sang unaccompanied in the early days, but later he had a fellow playing a violin for him. I remember one song he used when they asked him to sing and he would ask them what song they wanted.  They said, 'anything.' So he had a song called 'Anything.'

His name was John Bisonette, but everyone called him Jack.  My mother's name was Maggie Littlepipe and her Indian name was nibowgisiqokwe, but everyone called her nibow for short (Standing Sky Woman).  Her dad's Indian name was opwaganes so he had it translated into English and took the name Littlepipe.  She had married a white man named Billy Robert before she married dad.  I have a half-brother in Chicago named Charley Robert.  My brother Jim and I are the only kids by her marriage to Jack.  Jim was two years older than I.  My parents never lived with her folks.  They built another wigwam right away.  I guess I was born in a wigwam, because we use to live in one, but the first house I remember was a one-room log cabin.  They never had doctors in those days, but an Indian woman helped with the births.  I don't know anything about my birth because they never told me what happened except that a woman helped in the delivery and the afterbirth was burned.  My mother carried me in a cradleboard, but I do not know anything else about my infancy.

I learned to speak Chippewa first because I was with my mother all the time, but I learned to speak English very early too.  All through life, we boys spoke Chippewa to our mother and English to our father.  A few days after birth my parents gave a first-day-on-earth feast for me, called in Indian sagasweiwed (giving them smokes - referring to the fact that everyone smokes tobacco at the feast.  This was always done with a new baby - I do not remember anything about this of course but I know I had one.  I don't remember anything about my naming feast either, but those are always given for a baby within a month of birth and I got the name nanawigisik, which is still my Indian name.

My first memories are of my boyhood when the other Indian kids and me use to go shooting squirrels, rabbits, birds and chipmunks with bow and arrow.  We would bring them home to eat.  My grandfather always made my bows and arrows for me.  Mostly hunted in the summer that way.

Every spring my mother, brother and grandparents would go to the sugar bush to get maple sugar.  My father worked in the lumber camps so he never went along.  We would camp in a big wigwam about 30 feet long and 12 feet wide with a long smoke hole down the center with a pole from which the kettles were hung, with a fire underneath to boil the sap.  We stayed there from the middle of March to the middle of April.  My grandmother would do the tapping and my mother would do some.  They would cut two parallel slashes in the tree diagonally.  A third slash was made underneath and a spout put in. The spouts were made of basswood cut from a green tree and just slashed off.  They would just tap a few trees the first day and collect the sap and boil it that evening and make sugar.  Then they would invite anyone else there in the bush to come over and they would pass the tobacco and smoke and Grandfather would offer that tobacco to gisimanido and ask him for a successful sugar season and not to let anyone get hurt with the ax.  Then each one would eat a little of the sugar and the little feast was ended.

We kids use to have to cut wood for the sap boiling and collect the sap that flowed from a tap into birchbark containers.  We poured them into a water pail we carried and when it was full we emptied it into the kettles for boiling, or if they were full we poured it into a barrel or a basswood log trough.

After we got through cutting wood and gathering sap, we could go out hunting with our bows and arrows.  In the evening sometimes we would take the stirring paddle and dip it into the boiling syrup and hold it up to cool and then lick it off.  Gee it was good and I always had my shirtfront full of syrup.  In the evening grandfather would tell us about Wenebosho.  Then we went to bed, which was a split basswood pole rack built along opposite sides of the wigwam and about a foot and a half off the floor.  My mother, brother and I would sleep on one side and my grandfather slept on the other.  My grandfather would trap muskrats besides helping with the sugaring.  He would run his trap line in the morning and get back about noon to help with the sugaring.  There were a lot of 'rats' in those days and he would get 20 to 30 every day.  He dried the skins on a board and he got a dollar for 7 of them.  We would bring back about 7 or 8 gallons of syrup - they did not care much about syrup - after the end of the season and about 8 or 10 big birchbark containers called makaks full of maple sugar cakes, which were molded, in tin cups or birchbark cone shaped cups.  Then we moved back to our home for the summer and lived there.  In summers we would pick berries and us kids would hunt with our bows and go fishing with our grandfather.

I remember when I was 5 years old and caught my first fish, they gave a feast for me.  They always gave a feast for the boys first kill.  I had caught a bluegill and my grandfather made me dry it.  I scaled it and cleaned it and dried it out over a fire.  He told my mother to save that fish and a few days later we had a feast.  Grandfather got my two uncles and their wives and a few others from the community and they came over to our house. Grandfather poured the alcohol into a bowl and put the dried fish right in there.  One of my uncles filled up the pipes of the others there and Grandfather got up and told them why they were having this feast.  He said the tobacco would be received by gisemanido (Great Spirit) and hoped that he would give me good luck in fishing and hunting in the years to come.  He then offered food in like manner.  He said we would first drink the nabob (soup) referring to the bowl of alcohol with the fish in.  He took a drink out of it and passed it around until it was all gone.  Then each one took a tiny bit of the fish until it was all gone and they threw the bones into the fire so that no dogs would get them and spoil my luck.  Then they ate the rest of the food and then one of my uncles got up and said he hoped that I would grow up to be a strong and good hunter and fisherman.  Then everyone went home feeling happy.  I never had a feast for my first deer, but most kids usually did.

In spring after returning from the sugar bush we would go after suckers. They started spawning about the time the popple leaves come out and we would go to small streams and look for holes where they lay.  We would just reach in and grab them by the tail and they are not slippery like other fish.  We would clean them right there and split them down the back and put them on a rack of small straight poles.  It was about 15 feet long and about 3 feet wide and about two feet off the ground.  A slow fire was built under the whole length of the rack and then we put the suckers on the rack skin side up.  When they were dry we would turn them over and dry the skin side.  They were packed in birchbark boxes, taken home and stored in a cool place.  They would last a long time that way.  I never did any of this but my grandfather told me about it.  I did help with pickerel drying which was done the same way.  My job when I was helping grandfather was to gather wood for the fire under the rack.

My grandfather was a trapper, he got muskrat and mink mostly.  He was a full-blooded Chippewa and could not speak any English.  He was an ugly looking old Indian, but everyone liked him.  He was a mide priest and his services were in demand at many communities down there and he would travel around to help them with the midewiwen.  He had a big yarn bag full of medicine.  He did a lot of curing but was not a tent shaker or a bone swallower.  He was a fierce looking fellow because one time he went up to Courte Oreilles and got drunk with a bunch of Indians and got into a fight with his own brother, who bit his upper lip right through near the nose. Some of the women who were pretty drunk too had enough sense to do something for him.  They wrapped him up in a blanket, carried him out and sewed up his lip, but they got it inside out i.e. his mustache would have been on the inside, if he had one.  His upper lip was still turned upward and he looked ugly.  When he came to and saw what had happened he wanted to kill himself and they had to watch him for quite a while.  He became known as 'cut-lip'.  He had 2 braids, and always wore a shirt when out of his house and he carried a long pipe in his hand and had a tobacco pouch about 2 feet long tucked into his belt.

Grandfather tanned in the spring too.  I never helped him trap, but I helped him eat the muskrat he brought home.  We never ate mink though, no one did.  They eat fish and you can taste it in the flesh.

During the summer I stayed around home and played with my cousins - there were 6 or 7 of them.  Sometimes we would build a little wigwam out in the woods and cover it with a blanket and play in there.  We never played any games.  About the only work I had to do was to get wood and water for my mother.  We did a lot of berry picking in the summer too.  My mother, grandfather and grandmother would go out and camp in the blueberry patch.  The other berries we could pick right around the home.  First we got strawberries in June, then blueberries in July, then raspberries and blackberries in late July and August.  Blueberries were dried on a rack with a fire underneath or else just put on a canvas on the ground in the sun and spread the berries out on it.  It was a lot of fun going berry picking.  We kids would pick for a while and then lay down and sleep.  Then we would get a bawling out.  We played too.

During the latter part of August my mother, grandparents, brother and I would go out to the rice field at Bear Lake.  The women first gathered elm bark and rolled it on their legs to make cord and then tied the rice stalks to make it ripen better and increase the yield because the wind could not knock it down then.  It was left for ten days and during that time they would knock rice in places where it was not thick enough to tie.  Tobacco was put in the water when they first started out.  When the tobacco was put in the water, grandfather would then talk to the water manido, telling him not to be offended and asking him not to harm the Indians.

We kids would sometimes go along in the boat for a ride, but we never helped.  I use to sit in the end of the boat behind my mother, just to be out of the way.  Grandfather would pole the boat and mother would sit facing the center of the boat. The rice was bought to camp and laid out in the sun to dry.

Then a rack was built, like a sucker rack and straw put on top and the rice placed on top of it and smoked. abajigan = smoked rice  Then the rice was placed in a barrel (half full) and 4 men would get together with 4 botaganak (pestles).  There were always a number of families from the community in a rice field.  They would stand around the barrel and pound the rice in the barrel with the pestles of ironwood to loosen the hulls.  There was no rhythm to the pounding.  Then the rice was placed in a hole in the ground lined with something but I don't know what and tramped.  They tramped it barefooted then but now everyone has ricing moccasins.  The women would do the winnowing.

We also made green rice, which wasn't smoked, just parched in a kettle, tramped and winnowed.  Some folks like green rice others prefer smoked rice.  They say that smoked rice is heavier and yields more.  I like green rice better.  Smoked rice is black in color and green rice is kind of green in color.  We always had a feast for the first rice.  We invited other people, not with tobacco, but by just saying 'gagasweigo' (come and smoke).  When the people came the tobacco was passed and smoke for a while and my grandfather would get the rice and offer the tobacco and rice to the manidos and he would say he hoped they would have a good harvest and no accidents would happen.

We stayed in the rice fields for about three weeks and then we would come home.  My father didn't mind our going away because he was working in the lumber camps and only got home about once a month.  He boarded in Cumberland so we did not see much of him.  Sometimes we didn't think we had a father we saw him so seldom.

Indian boys would be instructed by their father or grandfather and the girls by their mother or grandmother.  My grandfather instructed me.  He would keep me up all night long sometimes when he wanted to give me a sermon.  He told me to stay awake.  If you fell asleep your life would be short, but if you stayed awake and listened you would live long.  Sometimes the father would twist the ear of his boy when he fell asleep during such instruction.  My grandfather told me not to play around with girls until I was a man and then get married or I might catch a disease.  He told me not to masturbate and to leave women, especially older ones alone.

Then grandfather would do his fall trapping, but I never helped with that.  Then in the winter he would hunt deer and spear fish through the ice.  During the winter the Kasobins would come and build a wigwam near ours and we would play with those kids.  Our favorite sport was to cut a strip of basswood bark about 4 or 5 inches wide and two and a half to three feet long and then turn up one end like a ski and notch it and tie a string to it.  We would find the biggest hill and go to the top and stand on this ski, one foot behind the other and hold onto the string and slide down the hill.  If your foot slipped we would go tumbling down the hill, but it was deep snow and we never got hurt.  It was fun falling in the snow that way.  Sometimes we would cut a water hole and ice the slide so we could go faster.  We built snowmen and snow homes, built a big mound of snow and hollowed it out.  We played in it and stayed there.  We also made sleds out of boards with a bent up front and slid down the hills sitting.  One time one of the King boys hit a fence post while sliding and died a year later from it.

When I was 6 years old I started to go to school at Camp Dixon about a mile and a half from my home.  My brother started at the same time and we were the only Indians at the school.  Most of the others were Norwegians and I got to learn to speak Norwegian pretty well - especially later when I worked in the lumber camps.  I liked school and was good at history and spelling.  I spoke pretty good English so I wasn't troubled there.  I started out in the first grade and we had 'chart class', we learned our A, B, C's from a big chart on the wall.  I learned fast and I got through the 7th grade four years later and then quite school.  My brother was just the opposite.  He couldn't learn and had a hard time.  He quite when I did, but he got up to the fifth grade only.

(pages 18 & 19 missing)… go home and cut cordwood and take it into town and sell it.  We had Dad's team and we got about $4 a cord.  After that last summer we worked in the lumber camp my Dad died.  He took sick and they buried him near Cumberland.  I was 14 at the time.  After that my brother and I took care of the garden chickens and turkeys.  In the winter we cut cordwood and we made enough to get by on.  After a while we sold the place and moved back to my grandfather's place.  Four years after my Dad died my mother married Jim Hart an Indian a lot older than her and he came to live with us.  We got along good with him.  They never really got married white style they just lived together.

When I was 15 I got a job as swamper in the lumber camp.  I had to cut limbs off the cut trees and make trails to make trails so the oxen could haul them to the skidways.  Worked from October to March and got about $28 a month and grub.  Jim Hart was a sawyer in the same camp.  I liked lumber camp and liked to be with the men.

When Jim and I came out that March I came home and a few days later a neighbor came over and wanted to know if we wanted to cut basswood bolts (a headwood) for boxes.  We had to go a mile and a half on snowshoes.  We cut them in 42" lengths and peeled them and quartered them.  We set them up on end and split them in quarters.  Jim and I got to fooling around and we took our axes on one big one.  We had a race to see who could split it in half first.  We both came down at the same time and split it in half and I reached down to grab one half from falling, just then Jim came down with the second blow.  He cu the tip of my index finger on my left hand.  It was almost off so I laid it on the bolt and told Jim to finish the job.  He chopped off the bit of flesh that held the tip on and he tied a string around it for a tourniquet.  I put on my snowshoes and went home.  That was the end of my bolt cutting.  Just lost the end on my finger.

I laid around the rest of that winter and that spring I went on a log drive down the Apple River as a 'River Pig'.  First I had to round up the logs together on Round Lake in a boom.  When they had a bunch of logs collected in front of a boom it was attached to a windless which was wound by 8 men (two on each bar) to pull the boom to the outlet of the lake.  We had to feed the logs into the outlet with long pike poles.  We'd walk on the logs and shove them down to the outlet where the current would carry them down the river.  Walking the lake logs was easier than trying to stay on a moving log in the river.  We had "cork" shoes.  Big boots with 4 rows of spikes in the sole and 5 or 6 longer spikes in the heel.  I never had any trouble staying on the logs because Jim and I used to practice on our lake where there were lots of logs and we tried to imitate the lumberjacks when we were kids.  When all the logs were in the river, we were all assigned 'heats', stations along the river about a quarter of a mile where each would patrol a section of it to see that the logs didn't jam.  This was called 'watching beat'.  If they did jam, you would have to go out on the jam and find the key log and loosen that one and that would usually break the jam.  Then a big bateaux usually called a wanigan (supply boat) would follow the last of the logs down to the next dam.  We would camp down there.  Some logs were left behind and we did what was called, "Taking in the rear," releasing the stray logs trapped along the shore.  Two men would "Run Boat" in a bateaux.  They would help the men taking in the rear by taking them back and forth across the river, so they could loosen the trapped logs.  The drive usually took one and a half to two months, until all the logs were down to the saw mill at Amery.  I drove logs for four springs.  There were lots of Indians on the drive.  They were the best of anybody for cant hook work.  Sometimes we started while there was still ice on the lake.  We would get cold and wet and that is why all the Indians around here got rheumatism now. In taking in the rear we would have to wade in up to our waist and roll out the logs.

Then we would come home and work out for farmers, planting, haying or other jobs around a farm.

Log driving was the most exciting part of all and it paid the best.  We would ride a log right down through the white water going fast.  You had to keep the log pointing down stream, if it got to going sideways it was hard to stay on.  We took plenty of dunkings.  We rode the logs mostly when taking in the rear.  After cleaning out one pocket of logs we would ride a log down to the next pocket.  It was exciting to when we got down to Amery and got our pay at the end of the drive.  We got paid for the whole drive in one lump sum.  Everybody would get drunk and there was lots of fighting.  There would be broken glass and chairs all over the saloon.  Arguments usually started over someone remarking that another fellow was no good on a log.  It was all the pent-up hatred that had been building up all spring and would break out after a few drinks.  If an Indian got into a scrap other Indians would pitch in and help him and then there would be a free-for-all.  The French stuck together pretty well too and would help each other in a fight.  The French and the Indians got along pretty well, but some individuals got sore at one another. It was mostly Indians, French, some Irish and other nationalities on the drive.

I never ran around with women until I met my wife-to-be.  I was about 20 years old at that time.  I met her at Trego, Wisc., while I was out picking blueberries with the people from Sand Lake.  She was living at Trego then, but she was from Lac Courte Oreilles originally.  My mother went over to visit her parents and I went along and I met Mary Johnson.  I liked her a lot and I visited her several times.  We were camping near her place.  One day I asked her how it would be if we got married the Indian way and she said it was all right with her.  I told her that I was going back to work in the lumber camp when I finished picking blueberries and that she should come down in September.  She came down on September 28, 1903 and that was when we started living together.  I never asked her parents about it, but I suppose she talked about it with them.  I did not tell my parents anything about it until after Mary came down.  Then I told my mother, "Well I guess I got a woman."  Mother wished me luck and said she hoped we got along good and said she knew I was a good worker and hoped Mary was too.  We stayed with my Mother and Grandmother until I built a log cabin and then we moved in there.  She had been to Tomah Indian School and spoke good English and good Chippewa.  I worked a week in the lumber camp and then took off a couple of weeks and built the log-house 14x16 feet and just one room.  Then we bought some furniture and fixed up the place and then I went back to the lumber camp.  I had the job of loading logs on the sleighs pulled by 4 horses.  Four men did the loading in the wintertime.  They would make ice ruts for the sleigh by putting water in the ruts all the way down to the landing.  The four men were, one cross haul teamster, a top loader, a man 'to send up' and a man 'to tail down.'  The top and bottom man changed off.  We had 16 feet long bunks and the runners where 8 feet apart.  There were 2 skids leading up to the sleigh and the logs were rolled up those skids by a chain fastened to each log and attached to a team on the other side of the sleigh.  I was ground man sending up the logs.  I had a cant hook and had to guide the log so they would roll up the skids evenly.  If they fell off the skid by turning parallel to the skids that was called 'gunning a log', but that did not happen very often.  The first two logs were corner-bound with chains.

The logs would be piled about 12 feet high on the sleigh and in a box shape.  The driver sat on top of the load with 4 lines, 2 for the leaders and 2 for the pole team.

I worked on this from December to March and then went on the drive that spring and I got back home in June.  I worked for farmers that summer.  That fall, on September 30th Willie was born.  Two old women helped with the delivery.  I didn't see the delivery because I was on the road.  I came home a few days after the baby was born and we had the first feast for him.

Then we had a naming feast for him.

I was kind of glad to have a boy, but my wife didn't mind what sex it was.  Willie didn't gain any weight, so we tried cows milk and finally I went to the doctor.  He told me to try Eagle Brand condensed milk.  It was 3 cans for a dollar and it cost me $100 before he was weaned, but he picked up fast and gained a lot of weight.

I went back to the lumber camps in October and we would saw logs in the fall until loading time in December.  Sawing was done around the skidways.  The trees were not marked, we just cut everything over about 8 to 10 inches in diameter.  In those days it was all pretty big timber then, not much small stuff and it was all white pine.  First we cut a notch in the tree on the side in which we wanted the tree to fall.  Then we put some kerosene on the long crosscut saw so it would not 'pitch up' (get full of pitch).  Then we would start sawing on the opposite side from the notch.  Two men worked the crosscut.  You could swing the tree by cutting into the notch in one side, leaving the other to hold the tree thus swinging it around when it fell.  Then we measured it with an 8 foot measuring pole, cleaned away the brush so we could cut it into 12, 14, 16 or 18 feet lengths.  The swampers would come along and cut off the limbs then.  I was a sawyer for about 4 or 5 seasons.

I worked up at Grand View in Bayfield County during the spring of 1906 instead of going on the log drive.  They had a railroad up there and could log year around.  The first spring I was loading and I fell off a skidway of logs.  I hit my shoulder on the end of a log on the way down and I knocked it out.  I'd work winters down here and springs up there and in the summers I would hire out to farmers.  Around 1912 I took up carpentry during the summers.  I decided to try and quit my dancing around at different jobs and to try to learn that trade, so I bought a set of tools and got a job building a lean-to on a barn.  Then I did carpentry work for a resort and built them a bathhouse and I put in piling for piers.  I cut brush, repaired cottages and painted them.

I joined the Drum when I was a kid of about 16.  The Danbury community gave a Drum to my Uncle John Kusaben in our community.  They brought the Drum in the spring and I joined when they presented it here.  They had sent a fellow (a shabewis, a runner) with the Drum pipe.  He talked to my uncle and told him that there was a drum coming here and wanted to know if he would accept it.  My Uncle agreed, so the pipe was filled with tobacco and my Uncle smoked it to bind the agreement. (This was the first Drum in the community)  My uncle gave the fellow a package of tobacco to give the owner of the Drum at Danbury.  The fellow said it would come in about a week.  When that fellow came back, they held an evening dance and that pipe was smoked by the members and that fellow told them that the Drum had been accepted.

In a week they came bringing the Drum.  In the meantime my Uncle had selected the men and women to become members.  My Uncle asked me if I would join and I asked him where he wanted me.  He said I was to be Head Drum Heater.  It was an honor to be asked to join.  We all knew about the Drum Dance from seeing it done at other communities.  He also asked some people from Round Lake to join.  When the Danbury members got here in the evening we had an evening dance and some of our people joined in on the singing which some had learned from going to other Drum Dances.  They quite about 11 o'clock and the owner announced that there would be another Dance in the morning.

The next morning as level spot was selected and brush cut and stuck in the ground in a circle to make a dance ring.  The Drum Heaters then brought the Drum and set it up in the four stakes.  Then the people came inside the ring.  They sang some special songs and then an ogicida got up and spoke and said they would now start the special songs for their members.  The first song was for the first ogima or boss and he danced and then got a blanket and spread it on the ground.  As each member's song was sung that person got up and danced and then put a gift on the blanket.  There was a regular order in which each one danced.  When the songs were all sung, then each head singer took his drum leg out of the ground and set it down by the Drum, which was put on a blanket on the ground.  The Drum is never set on the bare ground or bare floor.  The Drum Owner then took my Uncle and set him down by the pile of gifts. And told my Uncle that they were through meeting the Drum and that from now on my Uncle had to watch over it.  My Uncle then got me and told me to take the Drum back to where it had been set up and told me to sit down.  He then got the 3 others he had selected as Drum Heaters and set them down.  Then he got the boss of the singers who sat by the southwest side (between 1st and 4th singers).  Then he got the 4 head singers and sat them by each of the 4 legs, then the pipe tender, then the tobacco tender, then the 4 women, then 2 ogimas who were seated away from the Drum as were the speaker and the hall tender and the 4 ogicidas.  Then he spoke and told the guests that he the men lined up and that they were ready to start.  He told the head ogicida to pass out the pile of gifts to the members.  Each member got one of the gifts: a blanket, moccasins, shirt, coat, etc.  Then they sang the Drum Owner's song and the Boss Singer gave the new owner a Drum Stick, but they didn't beat on the drum, just tapped on the legs and tobacco box.  The new Owner danced around and faked hitting the Drum 3 times and hit it on the 4th.  Then the four singers hit it once each and in order then the 4 Drum Heaters and then they started beating it at the same time.  The new owner took off his dance outfit and gave it to the old owner.  After that they sang and had a feast with the shahewis first dedicating the food.  After the feast the special song of each member of the drum was sung and that member danced and put a gift on the blanket.  The Owner then told the head ogicida to give the bundle to the owner who gave the Drum.  He could either take it home or divide it among the members' right there.  Then we had general songs and danced and the old Owner spoke and said he would divide the gifts right there among his members.  They dance a while and then quit.

That evening they had the old members teach the new members the songs or correct the way they had been singing them.  I knew my song already so I didn't go to a wigwam to get instructions.  The next morning they went back to Danbury.

I have been a Drum Heater on every drum, except one, that I have been a member of.  I'm a Drum Heater now on Pete Quapa's Drum.  We kept the first Drum about 5 years and then we gave it away to the band at Bad River Reservation, but I did not go up to that.  We kept a Drum Stick from that Drum so as to make a new one.  You always keep one part of the Drum when giving the Drum away.  We made a new Drum after giving that one away.  I was a partner to the 2nd Singer on the new Drum.  I tried to get out of joining the Drum because I was working away most of the time, and because I didn't care so much for that sort of thing, but Pat Rasolin asked me to be a partner so I joined.  That Drum is still down there now.  They have had it for about 40 years.  They aren't suppose to keep a Drum long.  I don't see why they have hung onto that one this long.  I guess I'm not a member of it anymore because I've been away from there so long.

I joined the midewiwin when I was about 22 years old.  I had a lot of bad headaches and vomited during those spells.  Once we went up to Cable to old John Roger's to find out what was wrong.  He was a tent shaker and a bone doctor.  I gave him tobacco and a blanket and he agreed to help me.  He swallowed 3 bones and looked my head over and sucked, but didn't get anything out.  He told me I yet could be cured by joining the midewiwin and that I should go through that spring.  I went back home and went to work in the lumber camp and bought calico, cotton batten, a cotton blanket and tobacco.  My wife made quilts out of the material I bought.  Then I bought some grub and invited Whiskey Jim (a mide priest) over and told him I wanted to join the midewiwin next spring.  Down there you only have 1 priest, his runner and 4 sponsors(?), but here they have 2 priests and 2 runners.  This was to inform the people I was to go through.  I didn't have to have any of those blankets there, but the next feast was given to show that I had all the stuff collected and was ready to go through.  I went through and got a mink skin.  They did not give me any medicine or try to cure me in anyway except by asking the midemonid to help me.  They invited the Round Lake bunch to this Dance by sending a runner there with a mide bag, tobacco and a bowl of rice.  The Round Lake people cooked up the rice, had a feast and there told the people that they had been invited.  I went through because I didn't belong to any church and thought that I should have some religion and someone to bury me. As long as I was living with Indians I might as well join the midewiwin.  I don't think it helped to cure me any though.  I went to a white doctor in Cumberland and he gave me some medicine before I joined and I think that cured me more than anything.  My wife told me to go to Cable to try that Doctor and she wanted me to go through the midewiwin so I did partly to please her too.  She was pretty strong on that stuff.

I went through the midewiwin the second time when I was about 23.  My mother died and I went through "on account of her dish."  My grandmother had the morning dish for her and at the end of the year she had a morning feast and gave me the dish and told me to get ready for the midewiwin.  After that midewiwin I had to take that dish to every midewiwin as long as I lived and fill the dish with food for my mother.  All those dishes are placed by the midewatig's before the midewiwin starts are for someone who has died.  I had to put my dish with food and a piece of tobacco and a blanket of calico by the stake for the 4th degree because my mother had gone through 4 times.  The midekiwesi then told the people to take any of the dishes and eat the food, and then he would take the tobacco and either keep it or pass it out to the people.  Then I would take the calico and give it to someone who could make use of it.  I got a fish hawk bag that time I went through.  The ceremony was the same as going through for the first time, except at the end of the ceremony in the big lodge a mide priest gave me that dish for good.  He told me to take good care of it and to take it to all mide feasts and to all ceremonies in the big lodge and to put tobacco and a gift with it and to set it by the stake for the 4th degree.

That dish can be given to anyone not necessarily in the family.  The dish might be given (at the morning feast) to a child that perhaps did not belong but all the others in the family did.  It was an excuse or method for getting a person to join.  Along with the dish a blanket might be given to help the person go through.

The third time I went through was around 1936, in the fall.  I had stomach trouble, so I decided to go through to try to help it.  My wife really suggested it and urged me to do it.  I got a fox and pine snake bag.

My wife went through 3 times too.  She went through because of sickness each time.  George has gone through 2 times for sickness.

Willy went through once.  I took him through with me my first time I joined.  People can join together like that.  I held Willy who was just a baby at the time.  Willy got a mink hide too (weasel can also be given for 1st and otter or beaver).

When I got up here to this reservation, I became a runner for a midekwe, Mrs. Perry, my mother-in-law.  She gave me tobacco and asked me if I would work for her.  She was one that juniagisik (a midekweri) would always take along for mide work.  When I was about 30 I had an experience with a jizikan.  Old Joe Rogers (not a jizikiwinini) would go into a trance every afternoon about 2 o'clock.  He would fall asleep and stiffen out as straight as a board.  He said he would hear bells from a jizikan before going into the trance and during the trance his soul was always taken into a big jizikan where he couldn't see the top because it was too tall nor the bottom because it was too deep.  He knew that a jizikiwinini up in Minnesota was doing this to him and was stealing his soul every afternoon.  One day he told Charlie Kasabis and me to build a jizikan for him.  He told us to build it out of six ironwood poles and to cover it with blankets and to take him in it when he fell into that trance.  He didn't dream he should do this.  We built the jizikan and that afternoon he began to hear those bells again and went into another trance.  Charlie and I picked him up in a blanket and carried him over to the jizikan.  He was stiff as a board and we shoved his feet in first, but we could not bend him enough to get him all the way in, so he was out from the waist up.  Then Charlie and I cut switches and started to whip the tent.  It started to shake.  As it shook Joe started to come to life again.  His legs bent and he raised up and crawled into the tent.  Then a voice spoke, it was Joe Rogers father.  He was at Round Lake at the time, but I recognized his voice easily.  He said, "What is going on here?"

Joe talked to his father's voice and told him that a fellow up in Minnesota was after him, but he did not know why.  The tent was shaking all the time after we stopped whipping it.  The father's voice said that he would find out and called his spirit to come and then came in making the tent shake hard.  The father's voice talked to those spirits and then they left while the tent shook.  Then he told Joe not to worry because Joe had more power than that jizikiwinini in Minnesota.  Joe came out of it after that and he never had any more of those spells.  He became a jizikiwinini then and he practiced it till he died a few years later.  I was not a runner for him, he got another fellow for that, so that was the only shaking tent I ever built.  I was right there and saw all of this happen.  It is hard to believe, but I saw it all happen.

Around 1910 our second child was born another boy.  He only lived 3 months.  He was healthy until he got diarrhea and then he died.  We had a first feast for him and then a naming feast.  We wanted old misiman to name him, but he was too far away to come, so we just gave the feast.  The other 3 wese were far away too so no one actually named him.  Whiskey Jim did the speaking and we ate, but we did not pass him around and call him by his name because the head wese didn't name him.  We called him misiman though because he was summoned to name him.  We did not invite people close by to be his wese because we had used them for Willy and did not want to ask them again.  Whiskey Jim said that the food and tobacco would go to the spirits of the four who were suppose to be there as wese and that those spirits would look after him from this time on.  He told us to take the boy up to misiman when we could and misiman would give him a feast and name him then.

Our third child was around 1916, another boy, but he only lived one day.  Old Cady Perry was midwife and she cut the cord but not quite through and then cut it above that and tied it there and the child finally bled to death.  Both kids were buried by the mide priest and we drew the eagle on the grave because that is my diadem because I am a white man.

George was born in 1923.  We had a first feast for him during the first week and his naming feast about a month later.  juniagisik was the head wese (my wife picked him).  The father names 2 relatives and the mother picks 2 relatives for wese's although you can have more than 4 if you want to.  Either the man or the woman can pick the head one.  junia named him oskabewis and we called him skab for short.  She also picked old lady Billyboy her cousin and I picked John Rogers and my Aunt okan (bone) from Sand Lake.  Just 2 were at the feast, but later we took George to Sand Lake and I handed him to John Rogers and this is your wese.  He had his wife cook up a feast and invited my aunt and a few more.  John talked and offered food and tobacco to asinabewinini (Rock Man)his spirit while holding George and named him niganigabow (Standing Leader).  Then they started eating and John handed the baby to my aunt who did not speak or name him.  Just called him… (missing pages 52 & 53)…

… I liked that job doing carpentry work best of all.  That finished around 1942, after 3 years of working on it.  Since then I have done odd jobs, worked in the lumber camps in the winter time and saw mills in the summer.  In the fall I go out and rake craneberries.  I also work for farmers and do odd jobs at carpentry.

They have been trying to get me to go out bean picking.  They want me along because in the evening coming home we all sing on the 'bean bus' and they want me because I know all the songs.  We have a great time singing on the bus.  Bean picking is hard work and I can't make much money at it, so I don't go out.  I went out one day this summer and only made $1.50.

In 1940 my wife died.  She had rheumatism and asthma.  I never had an Indian Doctor for her, but she wouldn't go to the hospital either.  Finally I talked her into going that August to the doctor in Hayward.  He told her to go right to the hospital and called a doctor there and made arrangements.  I took her there, but the next day when I came to visit her she had all her clothes on and was crying.  She told me that she would have walked home if I hadn't come.  So I took her home and got a doctor for her, but she died 10 days later.  She was in a coma most of the time the last week.  In the middle of the night on September 7th I was by her bedside and heard a gurgling noise in her stomach.  It came up to her throat and then she looked at me quivered and passed away.  She was buried by the Presbyterian Church because that last week Joe Parent came down during that last week and baptized her.

I think I am going to join the Presbyterian Church too.  I was talking to George about it the other day.  There is only 1 mide 'preacher' left here and that religion is dying out so who is going to throw dirt over Little John when I go.  That's about like Indian Religion anyway, you can talk to God in Indian if you want to.

Lucy Butler comes over here some weekends to help with the housework and does the baking and washing.  She is about 35 and that little she has she got when she worked at the hospital in Hayward.  I do not know who the father is but he must be an Indian because that little girl looks Indian.  I like Lucy a lot, but I don't think I will marry her.  Lots of people ask me why I don't get married again.  I just don't care to.  Then there is my boy, he gets these spells when he is short tempered and calls me all sorts of things.  I know he doesn't mean it and I just take it, but a woman might not understand him.

I never knew Lucy very well until one night some time after my wife died when I went to Couderay for a drink on Saturday night.  I do not drink much or often, but I like a few beers now and then.  I was sitting in a bar having a beer when someone tapped me on the shoulder.  I looked up and saw it was Lucy.  I asked her to sit down and have a beer, which she did.  She had come with a couple of fellows who were pretty drunk, so we sat and talked for a while.  Then they came and wanted to take her home, but she wouldn't go with them.  Finally they left and I took her home.  I still had my Ford then.  After that I saw her every once in a while.


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