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John Tanner: Growing Up a Captive, Part XXX

The Trader brought a large quantity of rum and encamped a few miles from his house so if the Indians over indulged any trouble would not be at his home. John Tanner had the foresight to purchase some of the most needful items for winter such as blankets and ammunition. Old Woman took ten fine beaver skins and presented them to the Trader and in return she was accustomed each year to receiving a chief’s dress with ornaments and a ten-gallon keg of spirits but when the Trader sent for her she was too drunk to stand. John stood in for her, he was not completely sober, he put on the coat with the associated ornaments and hoisting the keg on this shoulder carried it to their lodge. John placed the keg on its end and with an axe knocked out the head. John was reported to have said “I am not one of those who draw liquor out of a small hole in a cask, let all those who have thirst come and drink”, but he did take as a precaution to hide away a small keg and filled a kettle probably in all about three gallons. The Old Woman came with three more kettles and in about five minutes the keg was empty, this was only the second time that John had joined the Indians in drinking and this time he was guilty of much greater excess than before. John visited his hidden keg frequently and remained intoxicated for two days, he took the kettle he had reserved and went into his lodge to drink with an Indian he called his brother, he was not yet drunk but his wife who he described as “wearing a dress profusely ornamented with silver” had been drinking for some time and was laying by the fire in a state of absolute insensibility, it was late at night the noise of drunkenness heard in every part of the camp. John and his companion went out and drank wherever they could find anyone to give them liquor, after an excursion of some hours they returned to the lodge to find the woman still lying by the fire but her dress had been stripped of its sliver ornaments and John’s kettle was gone. The circumstances induced them to suspect who it was and the next morning John went to his lodge and asked him the whereabouts of his kettle which he directed his squaw to relinquish, the ornaments were also recovered. This unfortunate attempt at theft injured the Indians standing in the estimation of the camp and the affair was long remembered and afterward the Indian was mentioned with contempt.

Old Woman began to wake from her long continued drunkenness, she called John to her and was unwilling to believe that all the contents of the keg were expended without reserving some for her, after learning John had been drunk for two days she reproached him severely saying not only had he showed much ingratitude but was also a beast to be drunk. A few others told her she had no right to complain about John as she herself had taught him and that pacified her along with them contributing rum enough to again make her completely intoxicated.

As soon as their pelts were disposed of they were compelled to become sober and they dispersed to their hunting grounds. Cold weather had scarcely commenced the snow no more than a foot deep when they began to be pinched by hunger. They found a herd of Elk and chasing them for a day overtook them and killed four of them. When the Indians hunted Elk they would start after the herd at such a gait that they thought they could keep for several for hours, the Elk become frightened and outstrip them at first by many miles but the Indians followed at a steady pace and eventually come in sight of them, this leads to the Elk again responding by running, this is repeated over and over until the Elk become much fatigued, they slow down to a trot and at last to a walk. By this time the Indians are also becoming exhausted but they were commonly able to catch them and fire into the rear of the herd. There were among the Indians some but not many who could run an Elk down on smooth prairie, it was noted that moose and buffalo could rarely be taken by this method.

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