John Tanner: Growing up a Captive, Part XIII
The Traders came according to their expectations and they had a good many Beaver skins, John Tanner’s family bought a bark canoe, a keg of rum that held five or six gallons, the cost was six skins per quart. John himself had taken many of the Beavers and had killed as many as one hundred in a month but he didn’t know the value of them.
The family was on the Assiniboine River one or two days above Prairie Portage where Indians frequently stopped, here they saw little stakes in the ground with pieces of birch bark attached to them and on two of them a figure of a bear and other animals on a few others. These totems had been left to inform them that their companions had been at this place and the directions to enable them to find them, they therefore set out and found their companions two days from the River, their companions having returned from an abortive war expedition and with them they descended the River to an area where they knew had held plenty of game including a great number of Beaver. Elk were numerous and the rutting season was in full swing, John was sent with two young women to bring the meat of an Elk to their camp that had been killed at some distance. They found that the Elk was large, and fat and the women determined to remain to dry the meat before they carried it home though John took a load of meat and started for home by himself. John had his gun with him and perceiving that there was plenty of Elk loaded it and concealed himself in a small thicket of bushes and began to imitate the call of a female Elk, presently a large buck came bounding directly towards him with such violence that John became alarmed for his own safety and dropped his load and fled. the Elk seeing him turned and ran in the opposite direction. John did not want to be ridiculed by the Indians for such conduct and was determined to make another attempt and hiding himself again, somewhat more carefully, repeated his call from time to time until at length another buck came by and John killed it, at this point a good part of the day had passed and it was time to hasten back to camp with his load.
John often referred to his Indian mother as the “old woman,” and she became uneasy at his long absence and sent a Brave to look for him. He was discovered as he was coming out of piece of woods into a large prairie area, the Brave had on a black capot which when he saw John turned over his head in such a manner as to make himself resemble a bear, at first, he took it to be a common black bear and John sought a chance to shoot it. As the Bear continued to advance directly towards John concluded that it must be a grizzly bear so John turned and began to run and the more swiftly he ran the closer the grizzly got and though much frightened he remembered the advice to never fire upon one of these animals unless trees were near into which he could escape and if needed never to fire until it got very close to him. Three times he turned and raised his piece to fire but thinking it was too far off turned and ran again, later he surmised that fear had blinded his eyes or he should have seen it was not a bear. At length he ran towards the lodge with such speed as to outstrip him and then he heard a voice behind him and then looked in vain for the bear and soon was convinced that he owned all his terror to the disguise which was only a black coat. Naturally, this affair was related to the old people when he came home, his mother reproved the Brave telling him that he could have been shot in the disguise and according to the custom of the Indians she would have found no fault with John had he shot.
They continued hunting Beaver and killed them in great numbers until the ice became too thick and then went to the prairies in pursuit of Buffalo. The weather became very cold and stormy, and the Buffalo came to take shelter in the woods where they had their camp, they thought John should not go out and they laughed at him when they saw him ready his gun.