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John Tanner: Growing Up a Captive, Part XXXI

John had hunted with the other members of the family, it took nearly all day but they had literally run down a herd of Elk killing four. The flesh of the Elk was dried and shared but by no means equally divided between them in proportion to the size of their respective families. John made no complaint as he opined that “I was a poor hunter and had aided but little in their harvest”. He directed his attention more to the hunting of beaver, he knew of more than twenty gangs of them in the country around their camp, he proceeded to break up the beaver lodges but was much surprised to find nearly all of them empty. John at last found that some kind of distemper was prevailing and was destroying them in vast numbers, he found them dead and dying in the water, on the ice and on land. He found one that having cut a tree half down was dead at its roots, many of them that he opened were red and bloody about the heart, those in large rivers and flowing water suffered less, almost all of those that lived in ponds and stagnant water died. John’s family were afraid the eat those that died but the skins were good.

The camp was again suffering from hunger, once after a day and night in which they had not tasted a mouthful they went to hunt and found a herd of Elk, killed two and wounded a third which they pursued until night when they overtook it. They cut up the meat and covered it in snow, they were far from home and could not get moving until the next day. Their hunger became what John described as “extreme”, in the morning they had a little meat but did not stop to cook it. It was afternoon when they arrived at home, they immediately cooked part of an Elk to assuage their hunger, the meat was completely gone in two days. John knew of two gangs of beaver that had escaped the sickness and in a day or two caught eight and gave two away.

Sometime in the course of the winter a son of a celebrated Ojibbeway Chief came to their lodge, he was one of those who make themselves women and are called women by the Indians. They are commonly called A-go-kwa a word that is expressive of their condition, John iterated there were several of these Indians among most if not all the Indian tribes. This creature called “Yellow Head” was nearly fifty years old and had lived with many husbands, John didn’t know whether she had seen him or had only heard of him but she soon let him know that she had come a great distance to see him with the hope of living with him. She offered herself to him and not being discouraged with one refusal she repeated her advances until he was almost driven from the lodge. Old Woman was perfectly well acquainted with her character and only laughed at the embarrassment and shame that John evinced whenever she addressed him, Old Woman seemed rather to encourage Yellow Head in remaining in their lodge, at length she disappeared for three or four days during which John began to hope that he would have no more issues with her but she came back loaded with dry meat and also brought back an invitation from Old Woman’s brother for them to join him and being glad for this invitation they started immediately where upon arrival they ate as much as they wished. Here John also found himself relieved from the persecutions of A-go-kwa which to him had become intolerable. A resident Indian who had two wives married her, this introduction into the family occasioned some laughter and produced some ludicrous incidents but was attended with less uneasiness and quarreling than would have been the bringing in of a new wife of the female sex.

John began to become dissatisfied at remaining with large bands of Indians and when he signified his intent in leaving Old Woman’s brother was afraid he should perish of hunger, he refused to listen to the advice and persuasion to remain and at last agreed for Old Women’s brother to accompany him to see the place John had selected and judge whether he could support his family finally telling John where he would be camped and if he found himself pressed by poverty he was welcome to return.


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