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John Tanner: Growing up a Captive, Part XIV

The night became very cold and stormy and the Buffalo came in to take shelter in the woods where John Tanner and family had their camp. The Indians crept out and took stations so as nearly to surround the herd, John would not suffer to go out and laughed at him when they saw him ready his gun but the old woman who was ever ready to befriend him led him to a stand after the hunters were gone not far from the lodge, her sagacity had taught her where the Buffalo would probably run. The Indians fired but there was nary a kill, the herd came past John’s stand and he had the good fortune to kill a cow which was his first much to the satisfaction of his mother. Later the Indians killed a considerable number of Buffalo and then left leaving John with the old woman, a young women and three children with no one to provide for them. They dried a considerable amount of the meat and this lasted for some time and John found that even though he was young he was able to kill Buffaloes and for some time they had no want of food. In one instance an older cow which John had wounded was enraged and ran at John and he was barely able to escape her by climbing a tree.

The family traveled about ten miles above the Mouse River Fort to make sugar and about this time they were endangered by the breaking up of the ice and the weather became mild with the beaver starting to show themselves through the holes in the ice and sometimes to go on shore. It was John’s practice to watch these holes and shoot the beaver as soon as they came up, once having killed one he hastily ran on the ice to get him and broke through and his snowshoes became entangled with some brush on the bottom and he was nearly dragged under and only by great exertion did he escape. Buffaloes were so numerous about their camp that John hunted them on foot and often killed them with a bow and arrow aided by dogs that were well trained and accustomed to the hunt.

As the leaves began to appear on the trees the men returned in birch canoes bringing many beaver skins and other valuable pelts and the decision was made to return to Lake Huron though the family was divided in this opinion and not all departed. One of the little girls in the family had been taken by a war party some time past and was now ten years old and had learned their language. They came to Rainy Lake and had ten packs of beaver of forty skins each, they sold some pelts for rum and a few were drunk for a day or two and there they met some Traders. One of the old woman’s sons decided he did not want to return to Lake Huron and was determined to go back with the Traders, the old woman did her best to dissuade him and he jumped into one of the Traders canoes as they were about to start off, even the traders tried to get him to leave the canoe but he would hear none of it. The old woman was so distressed that her son would leave her she determined to return with him. The packs of beaver she would not leave with the traders not having sufficient confidence in their honesty so they took them to a remote spot and made what they called a deposit and afterwards returned to The Lake of the Woods.

At the Lake of the Woods the Indians had a road to go to the Red River which the whites never followed, they went up a river called the Swamp River for several days, they even had to drag their canoes across a swamp for one day and then put the canoes in a small stream called by them Cow Parsley which grew upon it and then descended to a small pond that had no more than two or three feet of water and a good part of it not over a foot deep. The surface of this pond was covered with ducks, geese, swans and other birds and here they remained for what John described as a long time and made four packs of beaver skins. The leaves began to fall and they were quite alone with no Indians or white men within four or five day’s journey. It was time to leave.


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