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John Tanner: Growing Up a captive, Part XL

As the winter became more severe John Tanner returned to his “sunjegwum” where he had cached a supply of meat and was expecting to live on it for the remainder of winter. It was empty, it had been broken into and every pound of meat was gone. Hunger near he was compelled to go in pursuit of Buffalo which because of the sternness of the winter drove them to the woods so fortunately in a few days he killed a number of them.

It happened one night, Old Woman and others of his family dreamed of a bear close to their lodge, the next morning John searched for him and found his hole and shot him. John waited until the smoke cleared and saw the bear laying at the bottom, headfirst he entered the den to pull it out the light low, he did not perceive that he was still alive until he put his hand upon him. The bear turned and in John’s words “sprang upon him,” he retreated as fast as he could and all the while the bear was snapping his teeth so near him he felt the warmth of his breath, he iterated that the bear may have seized him at any time, but it didn’t. He caught up his gun as leaped from the mouth of the den the bear pursuing him very closely, as soon as he thought he had gained a tad of distance he fired behind himself and broke its jaw and it soon fell dead, afterwards John had second thoughts about going down into a bear’s den. Late in the winter the Buffalo were so plenty about them that they killed them with bows and caught some of the younger ones with nooses of leather.

As the sugar season came on they went to Buffalo Hump Lake two days journey from the head if the Pembinah River to hunt beaver taking their wives but left Old Woman and the children to make sugar. It was their intention to kill enough beaver to enable them to each purchase a good horse intending to join a war-party against the Sioux the ensuing summer. In ten days, John killed forty-two large and fine beaver and with those he traveled to the Mouse River Trading House to buy a horse, the Trader had promised to sell him a very large and beautiful horse and John was very much dissatisfied to find that the horse had been sold to The North West Company. John told the trader that since the horse went to the North West there was no reason the beaver shouldn’t go there too so crossing to the other side he bought a large gray mare for thirty skins, it was a good horse in some respects, as good as the other but it did not please him as well. John returned to the Great Wood River to look for Old Woman but she had gone to Red River, he followed.

They remained for some time at the mouth of the Assinneboin with many Indians gathered around them including several of his wife’s relatives who he had not met. Among them was an uncle who was a cripple and had not been able to walk for years. He had heard that John was a white man and that convinced him that John could not hunt, he commented to John’s wife, “Well my daughter I hear you are married, does your husband ever kill any game?” Yes, she replied “if a moose or an elk has lost his road or wants to die and comes and stands in his path he will sometimes kill it”. Her uncle requested that if John went hunting and he killed anything will you give me the skin to make some moccasins, this was said in derision. John killed an elk that day and gave it to him and continued to be successful, he gave game to all of his wife’s relatives and soon heard no more ridicule. After some time the game became exhausted and they found it necessary to disperse in various directions, John and family went about ten miles up the Assinneboin where they found two lodges that were relatives of his wife and when they first arrived were offered food and would have been provided more had her husband not arrived, after that they gave them nothing even though they had plenty of meat, John did not suffer his wife to buy meat from them as they wished.

The next morning he prepared to hunt.


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