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John Smith
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Birth: 1784, USA
Death: Feb. 6, 1922
Cass Lake
Cass County
Minnesota, USA

5th oldest person in the United States at 138 years old

The Minneapolis Morning Tribune obituary says 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, he sold postcards. In a 1971 interview, an Ojibwe named Paul Buffalo shared his memories of the man he knew as "Grandpa John." Here's the Tribune obituary, which appeared on page one with 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.

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 Untied 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.
Pine Grove Cemetery
Cass Lake
Cass County
Minnesota, USA
Created by: Zita Smerud
Record added: Aug 18, 2012
Find A Grave Memorial# 95577002
John Smith
Added by: Jim Childers
John Smith
Added by: Zita Smerud
John Smith
Cemetery Photo
Added by: david long
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what a life. I hope you are walking with your ancients
- River
 Added: Jun. 27, 2014
In remeberence of a man who appears tp have had a spirit and light that compared to few others. Oh the changes you must have seen in your lifetime. Remarkable. I have enjoyed readingthe short story of your life. You must have left a mark in your commu...(Read more)
- DeNita Emerson-Umland
 Added: Feb. 21, 2014

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