ZHAUWUNO-GEEZHIGO-GAUBOW (meaning “he who stands in the southern sky”; in HBC records called Maisaninnine or Mesnawetheno, a Cree name meaning “a stylish person,” and Jack Fiddler), Ojibwa shaman and headman of the Sucker people at Sandy Lake, in what is now northwestern Ontario; b. 1830s or early 1840s, son of Peemeecheekag*; had five wives over the years, Kakakwesic, Nakwasasive, Nocome, Kaopasanakitiyat, and Kayakatopicicikec, and they had eight sons and five daughters; d. 30 Sept. 1907 at Norway House (Man.).
Zhauwuno-geezhigo-gaubow belonged to the Sucker people of Sandy Lake, on the upper reaches of the Severn River. Members of this group had little contact with whites. By 1844 the Hudson’s Bay Company had closed its nearest post, at Island Lake (Man.), where they were accustomed to trade. In the period 1857–68 Zhauwuno-geezhigo-gaubow travelled to Big Trout Lake (Ont.) for hunting supplies. In the late 1860s, after the Island Lake post was re-established, he began to deal there and he continued to do so quite regularly for the rest of his life. At one time he probably worked on the York boats that carried goods between the post and York Factory (Man.). From 1887 he was often listed in HBC records as Jack Fiddler and his people were sometimes referred to as the Fiddler tribe, reportedly because they had started to carve fiddles like the ones they saw at company posts. After his father’s death in 1891 he became leader of the Sandy Lake people and allied groups nearby, some 100 or 120 individuals in all, and he was also influential among others who lived at a distance.
So isolated was the region that, even in the opening years of the 20th century, Western thought was quite alien. The first Methodist missionary to come to Sandy Lake, the Reverend Frederick George Stevens, had visited for only two days in 1899. Few of the people spoke any English. A headman’s talents as a shaman were crucial to his leadership. Stories recounting the shamanistic powers of Zhauwuno-geezhigo-gaubow have become entrenched in the oral history of his people. Many legends are told of his curing illness, but his most important power was his ability to confront and defeat the deadly windigo.
Belief in windigos was universal in the boreal forest. A windigo was thought to be a human being possessed by an evil spirit so menacing that its cry would leave people unconscious and helpless to repel the insatiable cannibalistic appetite of the creature. Its presence in an area would frighten all game away and thus threaten starvation. There are many documented instances of people who, feeling themselves losing control to this rapacious spirit, requested that family members kill them. Even the blood of a dead windigo was dangerous, so that often corpses would be burnt [see Abishabis*]. Zhauwuno-geezhigo-gaubow told the Methodist minister Edward Pau-panakiss*, a Cree, that he had defeated 14 windigos during his lifetime.
In 1906 word reached the Royal North-West Mounted Police of “a band of pagan Indians . . . [who] are in the habit of killing one another whenever one gets delirious through fever or other causes.” Early the next year a patrol was sent out to investigate, and as they approached Sandy Lake they learned from Minowapawin (Norman Rae), whose wife was one of the Sucker people, that Zhauwuno-geezhigo-gaubow and his brother Pesequan (Joseph Fiddler) had destroyed a windigo the previous year. The patrol continued on to Caribou (Deer) Lake and on 15 June 1907 arrested the two men on a charge of murder in the death of Wahsakapeequay, Pesequan’s daughter-in-law. They were taken to Norway House and by August the event had made newspaper headlines. “Dark Deeds of Keewatin Indians – They Strangle and Burn Sick Friends,” announced the Toronto Globe.
People more familiar with the situation viewed it in a different light, however. RNWMP superintendent Gilbert Edward Sanders recommended that the prosecution be dropped. “It appears that the evidence will not warrant a conviction,” he wrote. Sergeant David Bennett Smith of the Norway House detachment reported, “Jack Fiddler is very old. . . . He falls down and his heart and pulse are very weak on such occasions.” According to Methodist missionary Joseph Albert George Lousley, “He has not the slightest sign of enmity or hatred towards men nor God, no rebellion or unbelief, he is a quiet dignified man who has lived his life with a clear conscience.” On 30 September, after 15 weeks of captivity, Zhauwuno-geezhigo-gaubow walked away from the police constable who was on guard and strolled into the bush. Later that day he was found “lying on a rock with his sash tied in a large slip knot ‘round his neck. . . . The other end of the sash was attached to a tree. . . . He was dead.”
The case against Pesequan proceeded before a six-man jury on 7 October. The Department of Justice had advised Indian Affairs against retaining a lawyer for him, and HBC employee James Kirkness, who knew the Sandy Lake people better than any other outsider, was not called to give evidence as to tribal custom, although he sat through the trial as a translator. According to Minowapawin’s testimony, the victim was brought to a Sucker encampment very sick. She “would not be quiet,” and some of the women held her down to keep her under control. When Minowapawin saw her the next day, she was lying quietly. Zhauwuno-geezhigo-gaubow and Pesequan were placing a string around her neck, with which they strangled her. It was said that if she had not been killed she would have become a windigo. RNWMP commissioner Aylesworth Bowen Perry, who heard the case as a stipendiary magistrate, said in his charge to the jury: “What the law forbids no pagan belief can justify.” As to the accused’s ignorance of the law, “That is a matter for executive clemency.” The jury reluctantly produced a guilty verdict but made a recommendation for mercy. Perry sentenced Pesequan to hang.
During Pesequan’s incarceration at Stony Mountain Penitentiary, he spent most of his time in the hospital. Appeals for his release were eventually successful, but the order of 4 Sept. 1909 came too late. He had died of consumption three days before. In 1989 Chief Josias Fiddler told the Manitoba native justice inquiry of the ordeal suffered by Pesequan and Zhauwuno-geezhigo-gaubow when they were caught in an unfamiliar legal system.
[The author wishes to thank Dr Mary Black-Rogers for her comments on this biography, and the subject’s grandson Chief Thomas Fiddler for details concerning the family. j.r.s.]
NA, RG 13, B1, 1452, file 386A; RG 18, 324; 345, file 42, esp. pt.2; 347, file 42, pt.2. PAM, HBCA, B.93/a/2, 5–6, 8–9, esp. B.93/a/9: f.24d; B.93/d/13; B.156/a/10, 13; B.220/d/16b; 35b: f.2d; 38a: f.3d; 41b: f.3d; B.220/z/1. UCC-C, 3188, files 28–33; 3292, file 2. Manitoba Morning Free Press, October 1907. Thomas Fiddler and J. R. Stevens, Killing the shamen (Moonbeam, Ont., 1985). “The killing of Wa-sak-apee-quay by Pe-se-quan, and others,” Ont., Provincial Museum, Annual archælogical report; being part of an appendix to the report of the minister of education, Ontario (Toronto), 1907: 91–121; also issued in Ont., Legislature, Sessional papers, 1908, following no. 12.