indian chiefs

Friends don’t let friends wear redface.

Chief John Smith (died February 6, 1922), also known as Gaa-binagwiiyaas (which the flesh peels off)—recorded variously as Kahbe nagwi wens, Ka-be-na-gwe-wes, Ka-be-nah-gwey-wence, Kay-bah-nung-we-way, Kay-bah-nung-we-way or Ga-Be-Nah-Gewn-Wonce—translated into English as “Sloughing Flesh”, “Wrinkle Meat”, or Old “Wrinkled Meat”. He was a Chippewa Indian who lived in the Cass Lake (Minnesota) area and is reputed to have died at the age of 137. He was known as “The Old Indian” to the white people. He had eight wives and no children, but an adopted son Tom Smith.

The exact age of John Smith at the time of his death has been a subject of controversy. Federal Commissioner of Indian Enrollment Ransom J. Powell argued that “it was disease and not age that made him look the way he did" and remarked that according to records he was only 88 years old. Paul Buffalo who, when a small boy, had met John Smith, said he had repeatedly heard the old man state that he was "seven or eight”, “eight or nine” and “ten years old” when the “stars fell”. The stars falling refers to the Leonid meteor shower of November 13, 1833, about which Carl Zapffe writes: “Birthdates of Indians of the 19th Century had generally been determined by the Government in relation to the awe-inspiring shower of meteorites that burned through the American skies just before dawn on 13 November 1833, scaring the daylights out of civilized and uncivilized [sic] peoples alike. Obviously it was the end of the world… .”. This puts the age of John Smith at just under 100 years old at the time of his death.

Portrait of two unidentified Pawnee chiefs probably taken at Mathew Brady’s studio in Washington, D.C., c. 1860. They were members of a large Native American delegation to visit the White House. By Mathew Brady.