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John Tanner: Growing Up a Captive, Part III

The Indians paddled on, it was about mid-day when they landed in a wooded area, they sought out a large hollow log open at one end into which they put their blankets, kettles and a few other articles and then made John crawl into it after which they closed up the end. He heard them for a few minutes and then all was still and remained so for a long time, he had relinquished all hope making an escape. He eventually heard them removing the logs which they had kept him in, it was very late at night or near morning. He perceived three horses, one a large iron-gray mare the other two small bays. They placed him on one and put their baggage on the others, they traveled rapidly and in about three days reached a village that consisted of several scattered homes where they borrowed a canoe in which they finally arrived at the old Indians house, it was a cabin or a hut built of logs. As soon as they landed, an old woman came down to the shore and after the old man had said a few words to her she commenced crying and at the same time hugging and kissing John and she led him into the house. The next day they took him to the grave where the old woman’s son had been buried where they were joined by family and friends and had not long been assembled when they began to dance dragging him with them about the grave. Their dance was lively and cheerful after the manner of the scalp dance. They presented him some of the articles they had brought but as he danced on the other side of the grave, they snatched them from him, the dancing continued the better part of the day after which they returned home.

It was the early part of spring and the leaves were small and the Indians were planting their corn, they managed to make him assist partly by signs and partly from a few words of English the old man knew. After the planting they left the village and went out to hunt and dry meat, there were many deer. They built a long screen like a fence made of green boughs and small trees, in this labor he was assisted by squaws and children, but at other times John was left alone. The weather began to warm and one day being left alone he was tired and fell asleep, he could not tell how long he slept but when he began to awake he thought he heard someone crying a great ways off, he tried to raise his head but could not. As he became aware of his surroundings he saw his Indian mother and sister standing near him and he felt that his head and face were wet, they were crying bitterly but it was some time before he realized his head was badly cut and bruised. The old man had seen him sleeping and had tomahawked him and thrown him in the bushes. When he returned to camp he told the Indian mother “old woman the boy I brought you is good for nothing, I have killed him and you will find him in such a place”, upon finding him the old woman and her daughter discovered some signs of life and had poured cold water on his head. In a few days he recovered in some measure and was again set work at building the screen fence and was much more careful not to fall asleep and he endeavored to assist them in their labors and to comply in all instances with their direction.

The tribe returned from hunting with John carrying a large pack of dried meat but though he was almost starved he dared not touch a morsel of it, his Indian mother seemed to have some compassion and would sometimes steal a little food and hide it until the old man would go away and would then give it to him. The younger men were engaged in spearing fish and they used to take him to steer the canoe which he did not know how to do very well and they commonly turned upon him, beat him and knocked him down with the pole, by one or the other of them he was beaten almost every day. Other Indians not of his family would sometimes pity him and when they could without being observed by the old man gave him food and take notice of him.


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