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John Tanner: Growing Up a Captive, Part IX

John was rising in the estimation of the Indians and becoming one of them but silently intended at some future time to return and live among the whites. John’s mother wanted to continue their journey to the Red River and as an added inducement she heard that the husband of one her daughters had been killed by an old man in a drunken frolic. Her daughter was in the Rainy Lake area and got word to her mother that she wished to join them and when they arrived at the east end of Rainy Lake they found her in the care of some Indians but very poor. They continued on by canoe to the Rainy River arriving to The Lake of the Woods, the lake was called by the Indians Pub-be-kwaw-waumg-gaw Sau-gi-e-gun “The Lake of the Sand Hills,” John didn’t know why the whites called it Lake of the Woods as we saw very little wood. On the Lake they were very much endangered by high winds the waves dashing into their canoes so fast that they were scarcely able to throw out the water as fast as it came in using a large kettle.

It wasn’t until the fall of the year that they arrived at the Lake of the Dirty water called by whites Lake Winnipeg. Here John’s mother, down cast by the misfortune of the losses she had encountered, began to drink which was unusual and soon became very inebriated. John and his brother being foolish and unaccustomed to directing their own notions saw that the wind rose fair and decided to place the old woman in a canoe and cross to the other side of the Lake, traders advise against it but they wouldn’t listen to them and pushed off and raised their sail. The wind was blowing directly off the shore and there was very little wave action, but they had only been out a short time when the waves began to dash with great violence into the canoe. They found it to be more dangerous to attempt to turn about than to continue on directly before the wind, the sun went down, and the wind became even more violent. They looked to each other and realized they were lost and began to cry and about that time the old woman began to wake from her drunken fit and became conscious of the situation, she sprang up and addressed a loud and earnest prayer to the Great Spirit then she applied herself with what according to John was with surprising strength used her paddle at the same time encouraging and directing them to help and steer for the shore. At length they neared the shore and she raised an alarm and said to them, “My children it appears we must all perish for this shore before us is full of large rocks and our canoe will be dashed to pieces and we can do nothing but to run directly on and though we cannot see where the rocks are we may possibly pass between them,” and so it happened the canoe being thrown violently high landing upon a spot of smooth sand where it stuck. They immediately sprang out and dragged the canoe up out of the reach of the waves, sought a campsite and kindled a fire and then started to laugh at the old woman for being so drunk. As morning came, they soon recognized that where they had landed not even the boldest Indian would venture under any conditions. They remained at this camp drying out their baggage for a great part of the next day when the weather turned calm and fair and towards evening embarked and ran for the mouth of the Red River. Arriving late at night they perceived a lodge and landed, laid down without kindling a fire or making any noise as to not disturb the people as they did not know who they were. In the morning the Indians from the lodge woke them and it was found that they were a relative and some of the very people they had set out to find. After a few days they started up the Red River and in two days came to the mouth of the Assinneboin where a great number of Indians were encamped and as soon as they arrived the chiefs met to consider and agree on some method of providing for them.

Next up, how are they welcomed and what were the deliberations?


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