John Tanner: Growing Up a Captive, Part VII

John’s father had over indulged and was intoxicated and he caused a ruckus with a younger man who roughly pushed him down and then picked up a large stone and threw it at him hitting him in the forehead, alarmed for his own safety John took refuge in the woods. John being pressed by hunger returned to camp and discovered his mother calling him, she told him to go see his father. John’s father said to him, “I am killed,” and he made him sit down with the rest of the children, he said “now my children I have to leave you, I am sorry that I must leave you poor,” he said nothing about the Indian who had struck him with the stone.

The young man who had wounded him remained with them but was told that it would not be safe for him to go to Red River where John’s father’s relatives were numerous and powerful and were disposed to take revenge.

When John’s family reached Sault St. Marie, they put all their baggage on board a trader’s vessel which was about to sail to the upper end of Lake Superior and then went on themselves by canoe. The winds were light which enabled them to run faster than the vessel and they arrived at Portage ten days before their baggage. At last the vessel anchored and they retrieved their belongings, left their canoes at a trading house, and moved to the other side of the portage, there they were detained some days to make small canoes. When the canoes were nearly finished John was remanded to see his father as he was dying and wished to see him before he died, indeed when he entered his father’s lodge he found him gravely ill and in a few minutes ceased to breathe, beside his father lay the gun which he had planned to shoot the young man who had wounded him, his mother told him that his father had earlier in the day entered the lodge saying “I am now dying but since I have to go this young man who had killed me must go with me, I had hoped to live until I raised my children to be men but now I must die and leave you poor without anyone to provide for you,” then he passed. John’s mother procured a coffin and they brought his father’s body by wagon to the trading post where he was interred in the burial grounds of the whites. It was a short time after they started on their journey to Red River.

One of John’s brothers took a nasty fall and suffered stern injuries and had to be carried on a litter. They had carried him over two portages when he informed then “I must die here, I cannot go any further.” Some of the family chose to continue on to the Red River while some stayed to care for his brother. It was about the middle of summer and the small berries were ripe, they had stopped on the borders of what was called Moose Lake, it was cool and clear like Lake Superior though small and round. John was only one of two who were able to do much and John was apprehensive because he was so young and without any experience as a hunter, he thought that they may soon be of want. They had brought a net with them and set it the first night with the result that they caught about eighty Trout and Whitefish, after remaining there for some time they also harvested a half dozen beavers and some otters and muskrats. They had brought with them some corn and grease so that with the fish and game they killed they lived comfortably. The air of winter was approaching, and they decided that since they could not move on they were compelled to return to the Portage, it was slow going since his brother was getting sicker and weak. He lived about a month or so before he died, his mother burying him by the side of her husband, she hung one of her flags on his grave.

The weather became severe and they became poor, John was only thirteen and his brother seventeen were unable to kill as much game as they wanted, they moved from the trading post and set up their lodge in the woods so that they could get firewood easier. Next up their efforts at survival and the very real kerfuffles that befell them.


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