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John Tanner: Growing Up a Captive, Part XXXIV

According to John suicide was not infrequent among the Indians and was effected in various ways; shooting, hanging, drowning, poisoning etc. John also said the causes which made them desperate were various, he knew of a very promising and highly respected young man who shot himself. The young man had for the first time drank to extreme intoxication, he tore off his clothes and behaved with so much violence that his two sisters to prevent him from injuring himself or others tied his hands and feet and laid him down in his lodge. The next morning, he awoke sober, he went to his sister’s lodge borrowed a gun under the pretense of going to shoot pigeons but went to the burial grounds and shot himself. It was thought that he felt he had done something very improper and to relieve himself of the shame and mortification had ended his days by violence. Other reasons according to John included misfortune and losses of various kinds, sometimes the death of friends or perhaps disappointment in affairs of love. John began to feel ashamed of his attempt but were friends were considerate and never mentioned it to him.

The debilitating illness which swept through the Indians showed no favorites, Johns health soon became good but he did not recover his hearing and it was several months before he could hunt as well previous to his illness. He was not most severely impacted by this terrible infection and of the Indians who survived some were permanently deaf, others injured their intellects and some in the fury occasioned by the disease threw themselves against trees and rocks breaking their arms or otherwise maiming themselves. Most of those who survived had copious discharges from the ears or in the early stages had bled profusely from the nose. This disease was entirely new to the Indians and they attempted few or no remedies for it.

John heard that there had been white people from the United States at the Mouse River trading house and regretted that he had not seen them but then got the impression they were to stay in the area to some degree and he thought he would at sometime take the opportunity to visit them. He later found that the white men were some of the party of Governor Clark and Captain Lewis.

In the Fall they determined to spend the winter where they knew game was aplenty and here for the first time John joined and as he put it he “deeply” with other Indians in gambling a vice scarce less hurtful to them than drunkenness. One of the games they played was moccasin which could be played by any number of people but usually in small parties. Four moccasins were used and in one of them some small object such as a little stick or a small piece of cloth is hid by one the betting parties, but it was the game Bug-ga-sauk that they played with the most intensity and according to John the parties become much excited and was a frequent cause of quarreling as a side note he related that the old and more sensible were much opposed to this game. During that winter they experienced some success playing a near by band and they returned again and again until they were stripped of every thing. It rankled John and that other band bragged about their success and he wanted to regain their property and put an end to their “insolent boasting”. With friends they raised some property among them and again challenged the other band to again play with them and in the course of an evening re-took much of their property. They also decided to stake everything by shooting at a mark, the other band was loathe to engage them but could not decently decline. They fixed a mark at the distance of one hundred yards, John shot first and placed his ball nearly in center, neither of either band came near him and he won and thus the band regained the greater part of what they had lost during the winter.

Late in the spring John was again asked to marry but again relinquished the opportunity but one evening standing by his lodge he saw what he described as a good-looking young woman walking about and smoking, she asked him if he wanted to smoke and though he never had he consented. They became acquainted and he became as he put it “pleased with her”.


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