Friday, January 13, 2017

Jim Paishk: pipe maker, master storyteller

Jim Paishk making soapstone pipes in the doorway of Old Cabin 10
Whenever Old Jim started a sentence with "Seebada" you knew a great story was soon to follow.
Jim Paishk was the most elderly Ojibwe or Anishinaabe man ever to work at Bow Narrows Camp. Jim was born on the north shore of Pipestone Bay but the exact date was uncertain. He appeared to be an elderly man when he started working at camp in the '60s and he worked with us off and on, I believe, until his death in the early '80s.
He was a favorite fishing guide, as much for his story telling as his ability to find fish, especially lake trout.
Although his exact age may not have been known, his life experiences told you he had been around a long time. For instance, Old Jim remembered seeing a white person for the first time. "All the kids ran and hid. We were scared," he once said.
He also remembers that his father's gun was a muzzle loader and that curious fact came up in one of his stories.
"Seebada, one time Big Albert was heading to his trapline in the fall. (Big Albert was Jim's brother.) He was just getting ready to carry his canoe over the long trail from Pipestone (Bay) when he sees a big bull moose right next to the trail. Big Albert wanted to shoot that moose because he needed meat for the winter but he couldn't because he had no shot for his gun (a muzzle loader). He had powder but no shot.
"Growing right beside the trail were pin cherry trees that had lots of cherries on them. So, Big Albert thinks maybe the cherry pits would act as shot and grabs handfuls of them and rams them down the barrel. He shoots and there is a big cloud of smoke." Here Jim would often start laughing so hard he had to wipe tears from his eyes with his handkerchief. Eventually he would regain his composure.
"When the air cleared the moose was gone. So Big Albert just carried his canoe over the trail and went to his trapline cabin.
"In the spring he comes back the same way and when he carries his canoe back down the trail to Pipestone he sees something moving. It is a tree! It is a pin cherry tree growing out of the side of a moose!"
Old Jim might tell you this and other "Big Albert" stories while he carved soapstone pipes. The soapstone came from the shore of Pipestone Bay. He was the only person I knew who made such pipes and from what I have found out since, he was the last person to do so on Red Lake. Pipestone Bay, just north of Bow Narrows Camp on Red Lake, got its name from this activity. Ojibwe people would traditionally come there to get the stone for pipes. Yet no one but Jim still had the skill to do it by the 1960s.
I don't know Old Jim's Anishinaabeg name and this is a pity because it is how Red Lake elders today would remember him. He did also have the name Peepsite. That had come from when he was either a boy or young man and shot at what he thought was a moose. It turned out to be his father's black hat but the bullet luckily passed above the old man's head. The incident scared Jim so much that he never shot a gun after that.
Old Jim was a kind, grandfatherly man who would always go out of his way to help and befriend children.
When I was a boy I would often ask the Ojibwe guides for the "Indian" names of things as we all sat at the table for supper. One time I asked a question which nobody seemed to be able to answer.
Finally someone said, "You should ask Jim, he speaks High Indian."
High Indian was apparently the old form of the Ojibwe language. Although some of the men at the table were in their 50s and maybe even as old as 60, none of them spoke it. But Old Jim did.
As I remember it, the question I asked was if any of the guides had ever seen a Sasquatch. They discussed this in Ojibwe among themselves and finally Old Jim said something. One of the younger guys turns to me and said, "Yes."
I was thrilled and was going to ask for more details when the man added, "It's an owl."
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Anonymous said...

I never heard Jim tell stories, but you should come in a close second! Great story!

Ray G said...

Another great story. As I sit here drinking a cup of coffee from my Bow Narrows Camp coffee mug, I can't help but wondering how many of these kinds of stories will be lost if they can not be saved in a book or the museum.

Ray G