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John Tanner: Growing Up a Captive, Part XXXVIII

To become a warrior, rites of initiation take place for the young, they must constantly paint their face black, wear a cap or head dress, never precede an older warrior and must walk in his footsteps, never use his fingers to scratch himself and no one can touch his drinking vessel or his knife. The young warrior however fatigued during a march must neither eat or drink and cannot sit down by day, if he does halt for a moment he must turn his face towards his own country. All the warriors young and old sleep with their faces towards their country nor may any two be covered by the same blanket and in their marches if they ever sit down they must never sit upon the naked ground. The warrior if possible must avoid wetting his feet and if compelled to wade through a swamp or cross a stream keep his clothes dry and whip his legs with bushes or grass when they come out of the water. They must never walk on a beaten path if they can avoid it and if they cannot they must put medicine on their legs which they carried for that purpose, any articles such as a gun, war club, tomahawk or knife must not be stepped over as was the case for another warrior’s body whether sitting or lying on the ground. Should this custom be inadvertently violated it is the duty of the one who owns the article to seize the other and throw him to the ground even if the violator is much stronger. The vessels which they carry to eat out of were commonly small bowls of wood or birch bark and were marked across the middle, in going out from home they drank on one side and in returning from the other and when on their way home and within one day of their village they suspended all these bowls on trees or threw them away on the prairie.

During night encampments the chief sends ahead a party of young warriors to prepare the ground and when the site is ready sits down at the end opposite the enemy’s country then sings and prays for wisdom leading to an invitation to “come smoke”. At this place of divination offerings of cloth, beads and other articles are exposed during the night on pole for a variety of purposes including using it as a method of rousing or stimulating warriors to exertion.

The Muskego chief whom John accompanied called himself a prophet of the Great Spirit and became frustrated by the interference by He that Dodges Down a restless and ambitious Ojibbeway who overtook the war party with twenty men and was unwilling to see anyone other than himself to lead a war party against the Sioux as he did not want to be eclipsed by the Muskegoes who he despised. On first joining the war party they were friendly and prepared to aid their brethren and was treated with cordiality and pleasure. They journeyed on some days when in crossing some of the wide prairies their thirst became excessive and were compelled to violate some of the rules, some of the men knew there was water within a few miles but most of the older warriors being on foot were exhausted, in this emergency those that had horses would go forward and when they found water send a signal by firing their weapons that would inform all the others of what course to pursue. John was among the first to discover a place where water was available but before all the men could come the suffering of some of them had become extremely excessive. It was a difficult trek for some and as the stragglers came from different directions some were vomiting blood and some in a state of madness. As they rested at this spring an older warrior made a divination and afterwards pointed to a particular direction where he said a large band of Sioux warriors were located and they were coming directly towards them but if they could turn to the right or left and avoid meeting them they could proceed unmolested to their country and be able to do some mischief to the women in their villages and if they didn’t the Sioux would come upon them and attack, according the old man “they would be cut off to a man”. The Ojibbiways put implicit trust in this vision, the Muskegoes would not listen to it.


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