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John Tanner: Growing up a Captive, Part V

John Tanner was a captive, the men were often drunk and whenever that was so John learned to run and hide in the woods and dared not return before their drunken folly was over. John had been taken and two years passed during which he was constantly suffering from hunger; and though sometimes strangers or those of his family fed him he never had enough to eat. The old woman known as “the Otter woman” treated him with kindness as did her daughters and her youngest son who was about his own age. While John remained with the Indians and saw white men but once when a small boat passed, the Indians took him out to it in a canoe rightly supposing that his wretched appearance would excite the compassion of the traders or whatever white men they were. They gave him bread, apples and other presents all of which but one apple the Indians took from him. By his family he was named “The Falcon” which he retained while he remained among the Indians.

He was among the Indians two years when a great council was called, this council was attended by the Sioux, the Winnebagoes, the Menomonees and other remote tribes as well as by the Ojibbeways, Ottawwaws and still others. When the old man returned he came back with the news that Net-no-kwa who, notwithstanding her sex, was regarded as the principal chief of the Ottawwawa had lost her son about John’s age and having heard of him wished to purchase him to take his place, the old Indian mother The Otter protested vehemently against it, John heard her say “my son has been dead once and restored to her and did not want to lose him again but she had little influence. Net-no-kwa arrived with considerable whiskey and other presents, she brought to the lodge first a ten-gallon keg of liquor, blankets, tobacco and other articles of great value. Objections were made to the proposed exchange until the contents of the keg and a few more presents completed the bargain and John Tanner “The Falcon” was transferred to her. This woman who was then advanced in years was of a more pleasing aspect than his former mother, she took him by the hand and led him to her own lodge, here he found he was treated more indulgently than previously, she gave him plenty of food put good clothes on him and told him to go and play with her own sons.

Net-no-kwa continued on their journey and in a few days and they came to a place where the corn was ripe and after stopping for a while they went another three days by canoe and then left the canoes and travelled over land camping three times before they came to the place where they set up lodges for the winter. The husband of Net-no-kwa was an Ojibbeway of Red River called “The Hunter,” he was seventeen years younger than Net-no-kwa, he was always indulgent and kind to him treating him like an equal rather than a dependent. When speaking to him he always called John his son. Net-no-kwa had the direction in all affairs of any moment and imposed on John for the first year some tasks, she made him cut wood, bring home game, haul water but she treated him invariably with so much kindness that he was far more happy and content than he had been with his previous family. She sometimes whipped him as she did her own children but not so severely and frequently beaten as he had been before.

Early the next spring Net-no-kwa, her husband, and the rest of the family started for Mackinac, they left John at Point St. Ignace as they did not want to run the risk of losing him, after returning they traveled twenty-five or thirty miles where they were stalled by big winds, here they camped with some other Indians and a party of traders. Pigeons were very numerous in the woods and the boys around his age were busy shooting them, John had never killed any game and indeed had never discharged a firearm. Net-no-kwa had purchased a keg of powder and John emboldened requested permission to go and try to kill some pigeons with a pistol and his request was seconded by her who said “it is time for our son to begin to learn to be a hunter,” and thus begun a new chapter in “The Falcons” life.


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