Ga-Be-Nah-Gwey-Wence also known as "John Smith" is purportedly 140 years old in this photo dated 1923.

John Smith, 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 140.

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. . . ." (Source: Wikipedia)

Up to four years ago of his last days 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 before dying 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. (Source)

Responses to "John Smith : Oldest Native American -140 Years old"

  1. Anonymous says:

    Another wonderful mystery. Great story. I can only imagine the things this great man had seen throughout his life span. He is a wonderful face one can read. I love the story and I just love the photos of one so great. Thank you.

  2. Anonymous says:

    It doesn't suprise me one bit that the wHITE folks are detesting this mans age. You are all ways going to have a white person (not all, because believe it, or not, there are some decent ones out there) trying to shed some type of controversy regarding The TRUE North American. We as Anishnabe Peoples know that your skin is a representation of the earth, the land... Some might say that, if GA-BEH-NA ..were OGLALA, his skin( especially at that age ) would repersent the BLACK HILLS...So i say to the disease factor that this white person is trying to push is like everything else we come to expect from these a LIE !!!! We are the keepers of the land ..Since Time Immemorial !!!

  3. Anonymous says:

    If he had been ten years old in 1833 for the meteor shower the he would have been born in 1823. The photo was taken in 1923, making him 100 years old. Regardless of if he was 97, 100, 140, or some age in between, living that long in those days was nothing short of a miracle.

  4. Anonymous says:

    He may have been over 200 years old. The Anishinabe had different ways of calculating time. That's because they lived much longer lives before white contact. Read the Seven Fires Prophecy! William W. Warren wrote that the Anishinabe counted one generation as being 40 years. When the old man claimed to be over 100, he may have spoken in regards to Anishinabe terms. So it would not be surprising if he was near 240 at the time of death. He seen the horrible events mentioned in the Seven Fires Prophecy. He was one of the last to live to an extremely old age.They are not fooling anyone. Before the whites invaded, Indians lived extremely long lives. Some may have lived for centuries. They are putting poison in our food and we can't stop it. They are using Plague Warfare to further kill off innocent people of all races. The whites are up to no dam good in Africa. Black African countries have the shortest life expectancy of any people. Between 35 and 45 is about the average life expectancy in most black African countries.Before the whites invaded Africa, the life expectancy probably equaled that of the Native Americans.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Wish you the best of luck.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Amazing,,,without diseases, which the white man brought, I truely believe life expectancy would have been much longer. No chemical additives, preservatives, hormones, or pesticides.,,,makes for a much healthier life !

  7. Unknown says:

    reading things like that makes me ashamed. I envy the lives they had. I unfortunatly was born into this lifetime where all races are fighting. and for what?? I respect the beliefs of all the cultures out there. I wish I could go and live in those times as o e of them

  8. Anonymous says:

    You did live in those times Rob...

  9. Unknown says:

    Wow , I would have loved to sit and talk to him for days

  10. Anonymous says:

    What disease? How is it that he could not have been that old? By whose standards? White men? Just remember the average life expectancy for white settlers was quite low during his lifetime...and diseases unknown to the Native people killed many of us....who knows how many of these old souls died during these times their age perishing along with them?

  11. Anonymous says:

    Well said, bro :) People needs to stop trying to impose their beliefs on someone else and start listening, respecting and understanding each other. When we achieve this, it will be the rise of a new and beautiful world. Unfortunately, the value system based on money unit will continue to produce negative effects as long as there are enough people who support it.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Nature is amazing as is God's creations and grace. God rest John's soul and he is no longer old and tired.

  13. Anonymous says:

    The only people in this country who Really have a right to bitch about being mistreated are the native americans. The rest of us are just interlopers who forgot what it was to live WITH nature instead of trying to control it. We are all so civilized now. HOWS THAT WORKING OUT AMERICA?

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  15. A great and inspiring story. Thank you for sharing it. I want everyone in the world to live long and peacefully together.

    A White Woman

  16. Anonymous says:

    I have a book and the history on him. We live in the area he lived and it's the story of Cass Lake, MN.

  17. Joy ONeill says:

    I don't find this so unusual. People in my family lived over 100. I knew my Great Grandmother and she was well over 100 when she died. They ate organic, avoided stress when possible, exercised..... Not everyone lived so long but it wasn't that unusual. We are Cherokee.

  18. My grandmother Black and Cherokee, told me often and was repeated by my mother thruout my life that we are the Long Livers!!!! Life is long for our people. My grandma left one week shy of 92... Long liver...

  19. wolfgar says:

    Our Great Father has welcomed him and said he was missed around the great fire. He will now entertain with great tales.

  20. It sounds like he was in good health for all but a short time at the end - I would have loved to sit and listen to his stories and learn from him. May he be at peace!

  21. Anonymous says:

    What is the name of the book on him/Cass Lake?

  22. Anonymous says:

    The world has stopped believing in good things and only in bad. Anything good is discreditted by the media, anything bad is painted as good.
    The loss of such a caring way of life, so true, so at one with nature, is heartbreaking, (I needed a bigger word there but can't find one strong enough). All the good things we destroy are killing this beautful world we live in. Us "civilized" people, need to learn more from tribes all over the world. The natural things ... but the powers won't let that happen. They would sooner convince us to take drugs that will kill us than take something natural. All money and greed :( What a world :(
    Mandy Fran Baker

  23. Anonymous says:


  24. Anonymous says:

    Those who do not believe that a Native American's life could surpass what is an exceptional lifespan, believe in the White man's Bible, that states Moses lived for 400 years!!!! This is, of course, the old "double standard". I say to you, who do not believe, you are hypocrites, if you believe that your ancestors lived for 400 years, and think no one else could be that privileged! And, all Native Americans are actually older than you think, for we have our ancestors living within each and every one of us!!!!

    I am Buffalo Woman

  25. wonderful. In Indian folklore human life is calculated up to 120 years ;life of a cocunet tree is calculated upto 120 years; life of elephant upto 120 years ; crow has 1000years and life of tortoiz is endless.

  26. Anonymous says:

    My 10 year old son had a book report on who discovered America. My son wrote that the Indians did. His teacher told him it was Columbus. My 10 year old asked the teacher who gave the white man corn seed to grow? The teacher was stumped, their were people already living here. She told my son to write his report over. He refused to do it over. He asked the teacher if she liked corn on the cob. She told my son that she loved it, to which my son replied that if it wasn't for the Indians, the white man probably would of starved, because the Indians gave the white man corn seed. She gave my son a F. Well, this proud mommy took it straight to the school board and my son was given a B+.

  27. Anonymous says:

    Per oral traditions, it was not uncommon at all to live to 150yrs pre-contact by Colonist Invasions. Statements by "Anonymous" are very very true...

  28. Unknown says:

    great story and pictures.....reading many of the posts here it is such a SHAME, WE mankind are still such racists and separatists it makes no sense to perpetuate our forefathers foolish ways....when will the wisdom/experience we have all experienced eradicate this fear and hate. JUST STOP YOURSELF, WE ARE MULTICOLORED and ALL connected. Calling names by culture has some sense, calling names by color has none.

  29. Anonymous says:

    It would have been very interesting to sit and talk with him.

  30. Anonymous says:


  31. Anonymous says:


  32. More details and very interesting reading can be found here...

  33. Teresa says:

    I cannot get over the fact that he had 8 wives and still no kids! It would seem birth control was better back then too!!!

  34. R2017 says:

    The one who was able to take the picture was blessed to be in his presents.His life and many others could have helped with medicine and Spirituality.I pray for my great brother.
    May the Political Tyrants that stagnant the evolution of humanity wake up from their dark greed of power and heal the earth from its long distruction.Before its to late!...

  35. Unknown says:

    Gaa-binagwiiyaas (John Smith) named my grandmother Kee-We-Tah-Kee-Shig-O-Quay in 1911 or 1912, but she went by Kee-We-Tah. A photo of she and J.S. was taken at that same time. I grew up looking at that Photo. I had no idea that he was known outside of my home. As a big ole white guy, I don't know the correct pronunciation of his name, I always pronounced it "Carmennogweeway." Im thankful for the Internet, because even though I am not native American at all, This man plays a large role in my family, and I wouldn't have found all of this fantastic information about him otherwise.

  36. Lurch says:

    How old could he really have been? We may never know.

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