John Tanner: Growing up a Captive, Part XIX
John Tanners family’s prospects were so discouraging that they lightened some of
their baggage in order to make their journey more tolerable. They killed their last dog who was getting too weak to keep up with them and for some reason that John didn’t understand the Old Woman would not eat it. In this emergency the Old Woman who always seemed more capable of making great exertions than any of the rest of them brought a large pile of wood to keep a fire then tying a blanket around her took her tomahawk and went off as John well knew to seek some method by which to relieve them of their present distress. She came back on the following day and tried to rouse them to greater action telling them, “my children I slept last night in a distant and solitary place after continued prayer." She continued on telling them that she dreamed that from where she stopped for the night it was no great distance from another road that would lead directly to a Traders house. In her dream she saw white men so let us not lose any time for the Great Spirit is now willing to lead us to a good fire. They departed immediately. They passed a considerable distance beyond where she spent the night without seeing any sign of other humans and started wondering about the dream with some even ridiculing the Old Woman, but to their great joy they found a recent hunting path which they knew would lead them to the Traders house. They redoubled their efforts and arrived on the next night and here they encountered the trader from whom they had a credit of one-hundred and twenty beaver skins at Rainy Lake and he was willing to send out and bring the packs back. They paid him his credit and had twenty beaver skins left and with them John bought four traps for five skins each, he also gave the Old Woman three kegs of rum and after resting for a few days they decided to return in the direction from which they had come. For some distance they followed a large hunting path of the people from the trading house and when they reached the point where they must leave the road the Old Woman gave the three little kegs of rum to Waw-be-be-nais-sa and told him to follow the hunters path until he found them and then sell the kegs for meat and then return. After he left, John accompanied the women to where they had told him that they would wait for him but he did not come back even though his children had that day been compelled to eat their moccasins. Luck happened, the hunters had set them an invitation to come and live with them, but it was necessary to go get their lodge and the property they had left. On their way back extreme hunger accompanied them having subsisted for some time almost entirely on the inner bark of trees particularly of a climbing vine and that led to their strength much reduced. It became impossible for one Brave to walk at all and every one of the family had failed more than the Old Woman, she could fast five or six days and seemed to be little affected, it was only because she feared that some of the family members would perish she consented to let John go and try to get some assistance from the trading-house which was believed to be nearer than the camp of the hunters. John was in a weak condition, he left very early the next morning, the weather was cold and the wind high, he had a large lake to cross and the wind blew more violently where he suffered the most. He gained the other side a little before sunset and sat down to rest, he began to feel the cold and tried to get up but found it difficult and thought it a good idea not to rest again, the night was not too dark and there was less wind, he continued on all night and arrived early the next morning, as soon as he opened the door they knew from his face that he was starving and immediately asked after his family and soon sent a swift Frenchman with a load of provisions for his family. He had been at the Traders only a few hours when he heard the voice of the Old Woman. How?