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John Tanner: Growing Up a Captive, Part IV

In the Fall the corn was gathered and disposed of in Ca-ches where they hid it for winter and afterwards went to hunt. John accompanied them in the woods, and it seemed like he always was much distressed with hunger. He saw the Indian’s eating something and he tried to discover what it was but they carefully concealed it from him and it was some time before he accidentally found some beach-nuts and though he didn’t know what they were he was tempted to try them and found them very good, he showed them to the Indians and they laughed letting him know that that’s what they had been eating all along.

Snow fell and he was compelled to follow the hunters and often had to drag a whole deer to the lodge though it was with great difficulty. At night John always had to lie between the fire and the door and when anyone went out or came in they commonly gave him a kick and whenever they went for a drink they made a practice to throw some water on him. The old man constantly treated him with much cruelty and his ill humor showed itself more at times than others. One morning, the old man put on his moccasins, went out, returned and caught John by the hair and dragged him outside rubbing his face for a long time in a mass of recent excrement and then tossed him into a snow bank, he was afraid to go back into the lodge but at length his mother came out and gave him some water to wash. They were about to move their camp and John was usually made to carry a large pack but as he was not able to wash his face clean the other’s perceived the smell and asked him the cause and with the aid of signs and a few Indian words he could now speak he made them comprehend how he had been treated, some of them appeared to pity him and assisted him in washing and gave him something to eat. Often when the old man would begin to beat him his mother who generally treated him with kindness would throw her arms about him and the old man would beat them both together.

Towards the end of winter, they moved again and at this time some of the young men went on a war party, the old man also collected a few men and made his own war party. John had now been captive a year and could understand a little of their language. The old man when about to start said to him “now I am going to kill your father and your brother and all your relations.” The old man returned a few days afterwards bringing an old white hat which John knew to be that of his brother, he said he had killed all his father’s family, the slaves and the horses, he had brought the hat so that John could see he was speaking the truth. John now believed that his friends had all been eradicated and was less anxious to return and that had been precisely the object the old man wished to accomplish of which only a small part turned out to be true. John questioned one of the young men who went on the war party about what the old man had related to him and was told that it was not true, and that the old man had returned to the same field where he had abducted John, watched people planting corn and when all but his brother, who was then nineteen and stayed ploughing with a span of horses, went into the house the Indians rushed upon him causing the horses to run. Having the lines around his neck his brother became entangled in them and was thrown down when the Indians caught him. They killed the horses with their bow and arrows and took his brother away into the woods. At night they left his brother securely tied to a tree his hands behind him and there were some cords around his breast and neck. His brother managed to bite off some of his cords and was able to get a pen knife from a pocket, cut himself loose and immediately ran reaching his father’s house about sunrise. The Indians had been roused by the noise and pursed him, but the night was very dark and he escaped. The hat had been left and the old man had used it to make him believe his story.


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