John Tanner: Growing Up a Captive, Part XXIV
Leaves were out on the trees, the bark peeled and John was killing Sturgeon in the rivers. It didn’t last, there came a snow more than knee deep with a frost so severe that the trees cracked as in the middle of winter, the river froze and many trees died.
At the Mouse River Trading House the Assinneboins, Crees and Ojibbeways were assembling to go join the Mandans in making war upon the A-gutch-o-ninnw-wug. John wanted to join them and told Old Woman “I will go with my uncles”, she tried to dissuade him but he was obstinate so she took away his gun and moccasins. Her opposition sharpened his ardor and he followed the Indians barefoot and unarmed trusting that someone would supply him but he was mistaken and they drove him back and in no way would they let him accompany them. John was irritated and dissatisfied but had no alternative but to return to the women and children. He didn’t ask Old Woman for his gun but taking his traps went left and did not return until he had caught beavers enough to purchase a new one, even though he now had a gun his anxiety to overtake the war-party had subsided. Many of the women now began to get hungry and it was not without great exertion on John’s part with the help of a few young boys and old men who were left that their wants could be supplied.
The war-party returned having accomplished little or nothing and John’s family left in the company of a relative He That Walks Along the Shore, this man had two wives and was accompanied by a distinguished hunter He That Starts Them All. Their course from Mouse River was very near due north and as they had six horses they traveled quite rapidly but it was many days before they reached the head of Elk River. It was here that He That Walks Along the Shore left them to go to the Missouri with a war-party but He That Starts Them All remained and always gave John’s family the finest and best game he killed, he directed John at some distance to a beaver dam and pond to which he went one day at evening, he found a road which the beavers were using to bring timber in. He scarcely had sat down when he heard a sound which he recognized as a woman in dressing skins, he was alarmed but determined not to return home, raising his gun he proceeded cautiously. He had not walked far when he saw a naked and painted Indian lying on his belly with his gun in a firing position. John’s no sooner saw him and he jumped to the other side of the path and pointed his gun directly at him and was soon met with hearty laugh and was addressed. The Indian like himself had supposed no other Indians were in the area but his own family and had been walking from his own lodge. To John’s surprise he found out the Indian was a relative of Old Woman, the family of this man remained with John’s family for about ten days and afterwards left to encamp by themselves at a distance.
John was faced with the prospect for the second time of spending the winter alone with the exception of his own family but before the commencement of cold weather there came seven Montreal hunters one of them a nephew of Old Woman. They remained with them in the Fall and the early part of Winter and according to John they killed great numbers of beaver. John was a bit puffed up as he surpassed five of them and though they had ten traps each and he had only six he caught more beaver than they did, two of them could beat John at almost anything. In the course of Winter two more joined them who were working for “The Chippeway Frenchmen” and soon the game became exhausted and hunger came calling. One day they all agreed to go in search of Buffalo, at night all returned except a tall young man and a very small described by John as an old man, the next day the tall one came back bringing a new buffalo robe and a handsome pair of new moccasins. He explained that he had met some friendly Cree and they showed a kind hospitality usually much practiced among Indians especially those who had little intercourse with the Whites.