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Song Catcher: Life Story
Frances Densmore and an Indian Spell


A STORY ABOUT Frances Densmore, written by Rose Bluestone on February 25, 1959, as heard from her Grandmother Susan Windgrow, Prairie Island Dakota Reservation near Red Wing, Minnesota.

Something happened to Miss Densmore when she was young and she was never the same. It was after she got back from Wisconsin, and my grandmother said those Winnebagos had used some magic on her. Her sister Margaret was worried about it. Margaret and Frances could not talk Sioux. We got to know Margaret so well because of the thing that happened.1

My grandmother knew a man [who] could fix such spells. So Margaret got Frances down there without knowing why. The old man was there and he had his little gourd and some medicines. He sang a song and they told Frances it was something different.

After that she wouldn't have callers. When my grandmother went to the back door, Margaret said Frances was resting, and she knew what she meant. I guess she had a bit of a nervous breakdown. This was long ago.

She was a good looking girl and perhaps one of the Winnebago men wanted to make her fall in love with him and stay there, but she didn't. So he was angry and put the spell on her. She was there a long time and maybe she swallowed something.


SOURCE: From a hand-written original in the personal collection of Karen Petersen, St. Paul, MN. Susan Windrow was one of Densmore's informants at Prairie Island.

1. Frances Densmore reported that she worked among the Winnebago Indians 12 times in her career. It is unclear when this spell might have been cast. Her first trip among the tribe was in 1910, when Densmore was 43.


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