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John Tanner: Growing up a Captive, Part XVII

John Tanner's family has decided to leave the Red River area and head to Lake Huron. They felt very good about their prospects, they had 11 packs of 40 beaver each and 10 packs of other furs plus when they would get to Rainy Lake they had a cache that they had hidden very secretly because they did not have confidence that the Trader was honest enough to leave them in his care. With the addition of the Rainy Lake deposit the family felt that they could consider themselves wealthy.

Upon arriving at Rainy Lake and returning to the spot where they had their sunjegwun (cache) they found that it had been broken up and not a pack, not a skin was left in it. There was a pack in the Traders home which they believed to be one of theirs but could never ascertain whether the Trader or some Indians had taken them. The Old Woman was much irritated and did not hesitate to ascribe the theft to the Trader. The family moved on and when they reached the other side of the Grand Portage to Lake Superior traders urged them to put their packs in wagons and help them cross but the Old Woman would have none of it knowing that if once in the hands of the traders it would be difficult if not impossible to get them back. It took them several days to carry all the packs, not withstanding their caution the traders treated the Old Woman with much attention even giving her some wine inducing her to place all their packs in a room they gave her to occupy. At first they endeavored by friendly solicitation to induce her to sell the furs but she was determined not to part with them, they then threatened her and at length attempted to take them by force but a trader intervened not approving of using violence so the Old Woman kept possession of her property but the obstinacy of one of her own family interfered. They had not been many days at Portage when man called Bit-te-gish-sho (the crooked lightening) accompanied by his small band and though none of the Old Woman’s family knew it her son became intimate with one of Crooked Lightening’s daughters and when the family had made all of their preparations to start for Saut of St. Marie and the baggage was in the canoe’s the Old Woman’s son was not to be found. They sought in every direction for him and it was not until some days later that they heard from a Frenchman that he was on the other side of the Portage with the family of Crooked Lightening, John was sent for him but could by no means induce him to return with him. The Old Woman knew her son’s obstinacy and began to cry, “If I had two children I could be willing to lose this one but as I have no other I must go with him." The Old Woman was much dissatisfied at the misconduct of her son and disappointed of her hopes to return to Lake Huron began to drink, in the course of a single day she sold one hundred and twenty beaver skins with a large quantity of buffalo robes, dressed and smoked skins and other articles for rum and was her habit whenever she drank made drunk all the Indians about her at least as far as her means would extend.

Of John Tanner's family's large load of pelts, the produce of so many days of toil, of so many long and difficult journeys, only one blanket and three kegs of rum remained. John felt it was a needless and wanton waste and never understood the indifference with the Indians always seemed to feel.

The family determined to return with Crooked Lightening and some other Indians for the Lake of the Woods and assisted them in making a canoe and crossing portages. Soon some moved on and after they had left the Old Woman’s family they found their condition be be desolate and hopeless to remain by themselves as winter was coming on. They returned to Rainy Lake where they obtained credit from a Trading House amounting to one hundred and twenty beaver skins so they could buy some blankets, clothing and items necessary for the winter. There a man joined them who proposed to hunt for them but they soon found he was a poor hunter as John was always able to kill more than he did.


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