Ga-Be-Nah-Gewn-Wonce (variously known as Kay-bah-nung-we-way, Sloughing Flesh, Wrinkled Meat or plain old — well, really old — John Smith) was reputed to be 137 years old when he died. Whatever his precise age, his well-lined face indicates a man who led a long and full life. He had eight wives but no children. He fought, he fished, he counseled, he rode horses and trains, he appeared in moving pictures and he sold postcards. The Minneapolis Morning Tribune’s page-one obituary featured a two-column photo of Ga-Be-Nah-Gewn-Wonce:
 

137-YEAR-OLD CHIPPEWA INDIAN DIES IN NORTH MINNESOTA HOME

 

Oldest Man in Country Was Active Until Week Before Death.

Cass Lake, Minn., Feb. 6—Ga-Be-Nah-Gewn-Wonce, also known as John Smith, a Chippewa Indian reputed to be 137 years old, died here today after a week’s illness with pneumonia.

Smith, whose Indian name means “Wrinkled meat,” had been very active in late years. A year ago he became totally blind, but his mind remained clear to the last, and he often recalled the days when he was a scout for the Chippewas in the wars with the Sioux. He also remembered events of the war of 1812. One of his boasts was that he had never fought against the white man. 

John Smith

Ga-Be-Nah-Gewn-Wonce

Up to four years ago he had never visited a big city. His first trip of this kind was to the Twin Cities. Later he visited the Automobile show at Chicago.

A year and a half ago he returned to the north woods of Minnesota to spend his time fishing for sturgeon in Lake of the Woods, in the same waters that he fished more than a century ago.

Ga-Be-Nah-Gewn-Wonce had been married eight times. He had no children and the only survivor is Tom Smith, an adopted son at whose home he died.

The “old Indian,” as he was generally known among the white people, was active until six months ago, since which time he had not been seen outside his adopted son’s house. Before that time he had made it a practice to meet all trains entering the village and offer postal cards for sale.

He claimed to have met the Schoolcraft and Cass exploration party which passed through here about 100 years ago, and recalled the changing of the name of the lake, then known as Red Cedar Lake, to Cass Lake, in honor of one of the leaders of the expeditions.

Two years ago he took the central part in moving pictures taken of Indians, called the “Recollections of Ga-be-nah-gewn-wonce,” which have been exhibited all over the United States.

Soon after the prohibition was put into effect, some bootleggers sold “Old Indian” what they claimed to be a quart of whisky, but which proved to be water. “Old Indian” did not say anything, but three years later the same bootleggers purchased a hind quarter of “venison” from him. This turned out to be a portion of an old horse which had just died.

To illustrate his vitality, it is related that seven years ago, when 130 years of age, “Old Indian” was knocked down by a switch engine, while crossing the railroad tracks. His injuries confined him to a hospital for only three weeks after which he suffered no ill effects.

Pagan rites will be omitted at the funeral of John Smith. He will be buried from the Catholic church here, which he joined about eight years ago.

Older Post

1920s: Girls' rifle team was bobbed and dangerous

Newer Post

Nov. 3, 1968: A bad Jimi Hendrix experience