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Sample Minnesota's rich history, courtesy of a microfilm archive

Feb. 8, 1922: Indian reputed to be 137 years old dies at Cass Lake

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.

1920s: Girls' rifle team was bobbed and dangerous

The young ladies below were members of the Minneapolis Park Board girls’ rifle team. Little is known about the squad beyond what can be deduced from this Minneapolis Journal photo from about 1920. The girls met for training and perhaps competitions at the Armory southwest of the Basilica of St. Mary, which is visible in the distance. Crisp uniforms, matching socks and nicely bobbed hair were required. Gun safety training? This trio must have skipped that day, judging from the careless way they pointed their rifles.
 
Kenwood Armory

The Minneapolis Armory, built in a marshy area near Kenwood Parkway in 1906, was already showing cracks when this photo was taken. By 1929 the massive structure had settled so much in the soft ground that it had to be condemned. It was torn down in 1933. (Minneapolis Journal photo courtesy mnhs.org)

 
Kenwood Armory

The Armory in 1907, the year it opened. (Photo courtesy mnhs.org)

 
1909 auto show

The 1909 Minneapolis auto show, the city's second, drew about 45,000 car enthusiasts to the Armory. (Photo courtesy mnhs.org)