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John Tanner: Growing Up a Captive, Part XII

John’s family decided to return to the Lake Huron area, times of revelry after a long winter saw a number of them trade winter hides for rum, six hides for a quarter of rum that was sternly cut with water, some used up their entire winters catch. They proceeded to build birch canoes but all the tribes in this part of the country that had made peace with the Mandan’s were invited to join in a war against the people called Ojibbeways A-gutch-a-ninne who lived two days away. John’s mother was told by the braves that they wanted to see the people who had killed their brothers, efforts to dissuade them were dismissed, the old woman was told “we wish you to wait at Lake Winnipeg where we will be in the Fall and you will not fail to have a keg of rum in readiness as we will return very thirsty” they left the canoes unfinished and went off with the war party. John was left with three women and three children; the remainder of the family did not wish to stay any longer at Mouse River and started for Lake Winnipeg compelled to use the old moose-skin canoe. A short time after they had left the trading post they discovered a Sturgeon which by some accident had gotten into shallow water and his back could be seen above the surface, John jumped out of the canoe and killed it with little difficulty, as it was his first Sturgeon the old woman thought it necessary to celebrate the feat.

The Mandan’s request had shown evidence of excitement and enthusiasm, but it ultimately waned and failed for the want of concert and agreement between the tribes some of which were hereditary enemies, quarrels were sure to erupt and the project was canceled and the A-gutch-a-ninne were eventually left in peace.

The mouth of The Assiniboine was a place much frequented by Sioux war-parties where they would lie concealed and fire upon those passing so they did not approach this spot until after mid-night and carefully avoided the shore, they floated silently out into the Red River. They had just entered when the silence was broken by the hooting of an owl on the left bank and quickly answered by another on the right bank and then a third. The old woman in a whisper said, “we are discovered” and they put to turn the canoe around in the utmost silence in obedience to her direction and they moved with the utmost caution endeavoring to keep in the middle of the River. John was in the bow of the canoe keeping his head as low as he could but carefully watching the surface of the water before them hoping to avoid any canoe or floating obstruction when he saw a little ripple on the surface of the River following a low black object which he took to be a man swimming cautiously across the front of them. John pointed it out to the women, and it was immediately agreed that they should pursue it and if possible kill the man in the water. For this purpose a stout Sturgeon spear was put into his hand and they commenced the pursuit with John readying the spear but the goose and its goslings soon became alarmed and flew away. As they perceived their mistake they retraced their way up the river with somewhat less fear but would by no means venture to turn about and go on their way. John wondered and was vexed at what he thought were groundless fears of the women, but he never did discover whether a war party of Sioux or three owls frightened them to back. They returned several miles and expected that in about ten days the Traders would be on their way down and determined that they should wait for them. Where they encamped they caught a great number of young geese, swans and ducks and John killed his first Elk which was a reason for a feast though there was only family to partake in it.

The Traders came according to their expectations and they went down to Lake Winnipeg where they remained for two months then purchased a bark canoe and a keg of rum that held about five or six gallons, the cost was six beaver pelts per quart. John had killed as many as one-hundred beaver in the course of a month but did not have any idea of the value of them.


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