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John Tanner: Growing Up a Captive, Part XV

The Indians had a road from Lake of the Woods to Red River which the white men never followed. John Tanner’s family had camped next to a pond, its surface covered with ducks, geese, swans and other birds where they remained for a long time. They were quite alone as no Indians nor white men were within four or five days away. They had packs to deposit and the ground being too swampy for burying they built a structure of logs so tight that a mouse could not enter, they left their packs and other property that they could not carry. If any Indians in this distant region came upon it in their absence, they would not break it up and they thought that the Traders would not penetrate to a so poor and solitary place. Indians who lived so remotely from the whites had not learned to value pelts so that they would not be guilty of stealing from one another and in the country that they were in John knew of a hunter who would leave his traps for many days in the woods without visiting them or feel any anxiety about their safety. It would often happen that one man having finished his hunt and left his traps behind him; another would say to him “I am going to hunt in such and such a direction where are your traps?” When he had used them another and sometimes four or five would take them in succession but in the end they were sure to return them to the right owner.

As the snow had fallen and weather began to be so cold that they could no longer kill beaver they began to suffer from hunger. There was a hunter who was their principle dependence and in one of his remote excursions in pursuit of game he met with a lodge of Ojibbeways that had plenty of meat but would give him nothing but an evening meal. John’s family were compelled to go and encamp with these Indians who proved inhospitable, whatever they procured from them was in exchange for their ornaments of silver or other articles of value, John mentioned the greediness because he had not seen such an instance among the Indians as they commonly were ready to divide what provisions that they had with anyone in need. They had been about these Indians for about three days when these Indians killed two Moose, they called upon John’s family to go after the meat but only gave them the poorest part of one leg and they had to buy some fat meat giving them silver ornaments. The patience of the Old Woman was exhausted, and she forbade them to purchase anything more from these people while during all of this they were suffering what John described as the “extremity of hunger.” One morning the old woman tied on her blanket, took her hatchet and went out, she did not return that night but the next day towards evening she came back and rousing her son said to him “get up my son, you are a great runner and now let us see with what speed you will go and bring the meat which the Great Spirit gave me last night, nearly all night I prayed and sang and when I fell asleep near morning the Spirit came to me and gave me a bear to feed my hungry children, you will find him in that little copse of bushes in the prairie, go immediately, the bear will not run from you even should he see you coming up.” The old woman’s son said, “No, it is now near evening, soon the sun will set and it will not be easy to find the track I will go in the morning and in the course of the day I may overtake the bear and kill him.” The old woman did not yield to this opinion and loud words followed and he ridiculed her pretensions particularly about the bear not running when he saw hunters. The old woman was offended and went out of the lodge and told the other Indians who had confidence in the old woman and they lost no time in following her directions. They found the bear where she had indicated and killed it without difficulty, it was large and fat. The old woman’s son received only a small portion and after John’s family had eaten their share of the bear hunger compelled them to move.

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