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John Tanner: Growing Up a Captive, Part X

John’s family paddled up the Red River and in two days came to the mouth of the Assiniboine River where they found great numbers of Ojibway and Ottawa encamped. As soon as they arrived, the Chiefs met to take their welfare into consideration and agree on some method of providing for them. One of the Chiefs said, “Our relatives have come from a distant country, the two little boys are not able to provide for them and we must not suffer them to be in want among us.” One man after another offered to hunt for them as some of their hunters had died on the way and that each of them would give John’s family part of what they should harvest. They all started together to go up the Assiniboine and the first night they camped among the buffalo, in the morning John was allowed to go with some Indians to hunt, they killed one of four bulls they saw and then continued to ascend the Assiniboine for the next ten days killing many bears as they traveled along. The Assiniboine was broad, shallow, and crooked, the water, like the Red River, was turbid but the bottom sandy unlike the Red. The place to which they went on the Assiniboine was seventy miles distant by land from the mouth but much further by water. The banks on both sides were covered with poplar and white oak with some other trees that had considerable size though the Prairies were not far distant. They stopped at a place called Prairie Portage and there they left their canoes and went into the country to hunt for beaver among the small streams. The Indians gave John’s family a little creek where there were plenty of beaver and allowed only them to hunt it, his mother gave him three traps and instructed him on how to set them by the aid of a string tied around the spring as he was not yet able to set them with his hands as the Indians did. John set his three traps and the next morning found beaver in two of them, he was unable to take them out of the trap himself so carried them on his back one at a time and had his mother assist him, she was as usual highly gratified and delighted at his success. John’s Indian mother had always been kind to him often taking his side when the Indians would attempt to ridicule or annoy him.

They remained at their camp site for three months in which time they were well provided for and if their own game was not sufficient, they were sure to be supplied by some of their friends. At the three month mark, game began to get scarce and they all suffered from hunger and the main Chief proposed that they all move as where they were was exhausted and a date was set to depart, but before that their necessities became extreme. The night before leaving John went to sleep early but was awakened by his mother praying and singing loud and she continued her devotions through the great part of the night. Early the next morning his mother roused them and were told to be ready to move and then told them “my son last night I sung and prayed to the Great Spirit and when I slept there came to me one like a man and said tomorrow you shall eat a bear” and gave directions as to where it was to happen but did not know who was to kill it. The men left first each carrying some article of baggage and when they arrived at camp set out to hunt, the boys remaining with the baggage until the women should join them. John, who had his gun, respected his mother’s dream and resolved to go in search of the place she had spoken of and without mentioning to anyone what he was thinking loaded his gun for bear and set off to explore, he found what appeared at some former time to have been a pond now grown up with grass and small bushes. He was confident that this was the place and he awaited expecting adventure but after surveying the area at length he walked into an open space and unexpectedly fell into a hole though extricated himself without much trouble and walked on remembering that he had heard the Indians speak of killing bears in their den and reciting his mother’s incantations.


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