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John Tanner: Growing Up a Captive, Part XXI

John Tanner used to take with hook and line a great number of fish from the River called Kocheche-se-bee (Source River) which fed Rainy Lake. One day a large Sturgeon got into the shallow waters and John killed it with a stone and it became a reason for a feast.

They traveled with a considerable band of Ojibbeways across Rainy Lake and when it came time to separate from them and disperse in different directions they stopped to drink and in the course of the drunken frolic they stole all of John’s family corn and grease leaving them destitute of provisions. It was the first time in John’s Indian life that he ever joined them in drinking and when he recovered the Old Woman reproved him sharply though she herself had drank much more than he had. As soon as John had recovered his wits and perceived the condition that they had put themselves in he put Old Woman in a canoe and went immediately to a place where he knew was good fishing, the Ojibbeways had not left them a mouthful of food. John soon caught three dory so they did not suffer hunger, the next morning he stopped for breakfast where the fish were very abundant and while Old Woman was making a fire and cooking a freshly caught dory he took nearly a hundred. They were nearly ready to re-embark when some traders’ canoes came along and the Old Woman not having entirely recovered from her drunken frolic sold his fish for rum. The Traders continued to pass during the day and John had hid away so many fish from Old Woman it enabled him to trade for a large sack of corn and grease. The Old Woman was much pleased after she sobered up.

In the middle of Lake of the Woods they came to a small but high rocky island nearly devoid of any trees or bushes but was covered with young gulls and cormorants of which he killed as he put it “great numbers” knocking them down with a stick. They selected One Hundred and twenty of the fattest and dried them in smoke, packed them in sacks and carried them along with them. They traveled by way of The Muskeeg to Red River and in their passing John shot a large bear that screamed out in an unusual manner than ran down into the water and sank. The place was called Pembinah near the Red River and they expected a trading house but found no people whites or Indians and as they did not have plenty of provisions they went on all night hoping to meet some people, after sunrise the next morning. Old Woman while collecting wood for a fire discovered some buffaloes in the woods. Upon learning this John ran up and killed a bull and while perceiving it was very poor crept a little farther and shot a large fat cow, she ran a distance and fell in the open prairie. A bull that had been following the cow no sooner saw John enter the open about three or four hundred yards from him that he ran at John with so much fury that he thought it prudent to retire into the woods. They remained there all day and made several attempts to get at the cow but the bull vigilantly stood guard so the John was compelled to leave her. The next day traders came by and they gave them part of the meat from the bull and then without delay went on too Prairie Portage where they found other members of their family whom they had long been separated from.

Old Woman soon found that the girl who had been brought up in their family and who she had treated like a daughter had been turned away by her husband who had wanted to return to his first wife but then found out she had re-married. Old Woman was furious and told the husband that she “wished nothing more to do with him” and told him to go and provide for his own calling him “a miserable hunter” and turned him out. He went off by himself for a few days but soon became destitute and Old Woman admitted him again into the lodge. John thought it was probably from fear of Old Woman that he became a better hunter than he had been before.

The following winter John hunted for a Trader called Aneeb which meant elm tree and as the winter advanced it became terribly, terribly cold.


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