John Tanner: Growing up a Captive, Part VI

John Tanner the Falcon requested permission to go and try to kill some pigeons with a pistol, his mother Net-no-kwa said “it is time for my son to begin to learn to be a hunter” and accordingly his father Taw-ga-we-ninne loaded a pistol and gave it to him saying “go my son and if you kill anything with this you shall immediately have a gun and learn to hunt.” The Falcon’s anxiety was never greater for success, he had not gone far from the camp before he saw pigeons, and some landed in some bushes near to him. He cocked his pistol and raised it bringing the breech almost in contact with his nose, he brought the sight to bear upon the pigeons and pulled the trigger and was in the next instant sensing a humming noise like that of a stone sent swiftly through the air. He found the pistol some paces behind him and the pigeon on the ground, his face was bruised and covered in blood. He ran back to camp carrying his pigeon in triumph. His face was speedily bound up, his pistol exchanged for a fowling piece, given a powder horn, furnished with shot and allowed to go after more birds, he killed three more pigeons in the course of the afternoon and did not miss a shot. Afterwards he began to be treated with more consideration and was allowed to hunt more often.

A great part of the summer and autumn passed before they moved and when they arrived at their next camp they found other Indians suffering from the measles and as his mother was acquainted with the contagious nature of the disease she was unwilling to expose her family so moved on to the next village. Notwithstanding her precaution they soon began to fall sick, of the ten people in the family only John and his mother escaped an attack from this ailment, some of them were very ill and he and his mother did what they could to take of them. In the village a number of them died but none of his family and as winter approached they began to get better and moved on to their wintering grounds. Here he was taught to make marten traps. The first day he went out early and spent the entire day not returning until nightfall having made three trap sites, at the same time a good trapper would have made twenty-five or thirty. Early the next day he visited his traps and found one marten, he continued this for some days, but his want of success and awkwardness exposed him to ridicule by the other young men. His father finally took pity on him and said, “My son I must go and help you make traps,” so they went and spent a day making a large number of traps and then he was able to take as many marten as the others. As the winter passed, John Tanner the Falcon became more and more expert in both hunting and trapping. He was no longer required to do the work of the women about the lodge.

The following spring, they went to the fort in Mackinac, his mother always carried a flag in her canoe, and he was told that whenever she came to Mackinac she was saluted by a gun from the fort. John was now thirteen and before they left the village he heard his mother talk of going to the Red River to see the relations of her husband, many others when they heard this were determined to go with her, in all six canoes. When they were ready to go they were detained by big head winds and subsequently the Indians began to get drunk, his father was drunk but was able to walk about and as he spoke to two young men they took a hold of the shirt sleeve of one of them and without intending to do so tore it. The young man became irritated and gave his father a rough shove sending his father on his back then took a large rock throwing it at him hitting him in the forehead. The Falcon ran made his escape as he feared for his own safety and hid for the remainder of the day and night. The following day, pressed by hunger, he returned but secreted himself for some time near their lodge and soon heard his mother calling for him. His father was gravely injured.

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