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John Tanner: Growing Up a Captive, Part XXXIII

It was in the Fall of the year, John estimated he was something more than twenty-one years of age. He traveled with the family and many other Indians to harvest wild rice, it was during this time that many became ill, as he put it “they were seized by a violent sickness”. It commenced with a cough and hoarseness and sometimes bleeding from the mouth or nose, in a short time many died and none were able to hunt. John’s symptoms were at first less violent than that of most others, some of the children had not been sick and those that had been sick began to recover and needed some food. There had been no meat for several days, there was only one other man beside John capable of exertion and he like John was still in recovery. They were both wholly unable to walk and could scarce mount their horses that were brought to them by the children and even if they had been able to walk they coughed so loudly and so incessantly that they could never have approached near enough to any game to kill it by still hunting. In this emergency they rode into the plains and were lucky enough to overtake and kill a bear, of the flesh of this animal they could not eat a mouthful but they took it home and distributed to every lodge an equal portion. Still John continued to get better and was one of the first to regain some of his health, in a few days he went out to hunt elk and killed two them in the space of a few hours, he had become somewhat fatigued but cut up the meat. Upon returning home he ate heartily of what had been cooked for him then laid down and slept but during the night we was awoken by as he put it “a dreadful pain in his ears”, it seemed to him that something was eating into his ears, the pain became more and more excruciating and at the end he became insensible. When consciousness returned two days had passed and he found himself sitting outside of his lodge. The first thing he saw were Indians on all sides of him drinking as some trader had come among them, some were quarreling and he saw a neighbor stab a horse with his knife. John immediately again became insensible and remained so for what he thought probably some days, when he came too the band was preparing to move back to the place they had lived prior to the wild rice debacle. John strength was not entirely gone, when he regained his senses he could walk about and he reflected on how long he had been among the Indians and that he had in the main been contented.

John looked at the commencement of his sickness as the start of misfortune which was to follow him through life. His hearing was impaired caused by abscesses that had formed and discharged in both ears, he could hear but as he put it “very imperfectly”. He could sit in his lodge and visit with his neighbors, he could recognize faces and see their lips move but didn’t know what they were saying. John would hunt but the animals discovered him before he could see them and if by accident he saw a moose or an elk and tried to get near them he found that his cunning and past success had deserted him. John soon imagined that the animals knew he had become like an old and useless man.

Under the influence of these intense personal feelings he resolved to destroy himself and as he saw it it was the only means of escaping the misery he saw before him. He remained back as the band left and as they moved out of sight he he cocked his gun resting the butt of it on the ground with the muzzle to his throat but the weapon would not fire. He found that his powder horn and pouch were gone as was his knife, he seized the gun and threw it away with all of his utmost strength then mounted his horse to overtake the band but soon found Old Woman who had concealed herself and who had been aware of his intentions when he had been insanely raving. They had been careful to deceive him of the most ordinary and direct means of ending his life.

According to John suicide was not very infrequent among the Indians.


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