John Tanner

John Tanner

John Tanner was born in 1780. At the age of nine he was kidnapped by a band of Shawnee. In 1791 Tanner was sold to sold to Net-no-kwa, an Ottawa Indian. He was given the name Shaw-Shaw-Wa Be-Na-Se. He was well looked after and he accepted his life as a hunter.

Tanner lived with the tribe for over thirty years. For a while he worked as a trapper for the Hudson's Bay Company. He also worked as an interpreter for the United States government at Sault St. Marie.

In 1830 Tanner published his book, A Narrative of the Captivity and Adventures of John Tanner during Thirty Years Residence Among the Indians.

It is believed that Tanner murdered James Schoolcraft in 1846. He fled from his home and was never seen again. His son, James, became a Unitarian missionary.

Primary Sources

(1) John Tanner, A Narrative of the Captivity and Adventures of John Tanner during Thirty Years Residence Among the Indians (1830)

After a few days, we started to go up the Red River, and in two days came to the mouth of the Assinneboin, where we found great numbers of Ojibbeways and Ottawwaws encamped. As soon as we arrived, the chiefs met, to take our case into consideration, and to agree on some method of providing for us. "These, our relations," said one of the chiefs, "have come to us from a distant country. These two little boys are not able to provide for them, and we must not suffer them to be in want among us." Then one man after another offered to hunt for us; and they agreed, also, since we had started to come for the purpose of hunting beaver, and as our hunters had died on the way, that each should give us some part of what they should kill. We then all started together to go up the Assinneboin river, and the first night we camped among the buffalo. In the morning, I was allowed to go out with some Indians who went to hunt buffaloes. We killed one of four bulls which we found. We continued to ascend the Assinneboin about ten days, killing many bears as we travelled along. The Assinneboin is broad, shallow, and crooked, and the water, like that of the Red River, is turbid; but the bottom is sandy, while that of Red River is commonly muddy. The place to which we went on the Assinneboin is seventy miles distant by land from the mouth; but the distance by water is greater. The banks of the river, on both sides, are covered with poplar and white oak, and some other trees, which grow to considerable size. The prairies, however, are not far distant, and sometimes come into the immediate bank of the river. We stopped at a place called Prairie Portage, where the Indians directed the trader who was with them, to build his house, and remain during the winter. We left all our canoes, and went up into the country to hunt for beaver, among the small streams. The Indians gave Wa-me-gon-a-biew and myself a little creek, where were plenty of beaver, and on which they said none but ourselves should hunt. My mother gave me three traps, and instructed me how to set them by the aid of a string tied around the spring, as I was not yet able to set them with my hands, as the Indians did. I set my three traps, and on the following morning round beavers in two of them. Being unable to take them out myself, I carried home the beavers and traps, one at a time, on my back, and had the old woman to assist me. She was, as usual, highly gratified and delighted at my success. She had always been kind to me, often taking my side, when the Indians would attempt to ridicule or annoy me. We remained in this place about three months, in which time we were as well provided for as any of the band; for if our own game was not sufficient, we were sure to be supplied by some of our friends, as long as any thing could be killed.

(2) John Tanner, A Narrative of the Captivity and Adventures of John Tanner during Thirty Years Residence Among the Indians (1830)

I walked a few paces into the open place, resembling a path, when I unexpectedly fell up to my middle into the snow. I extricated myself without difficulty, and walked on; but remembering that I had heard the Indians speak of killing bears in their holes, it occurred to me that it might be a bear's hole into which I had fallen, and looking down into it, I saw the head of a bear lying close to the bottom of the hole. I placed the muzzle of my gun nearly between his eyes, and discharged it. As soon as the smoke cleared away, I took a piece of a stick and thrust it into the eyes and into the wound in the head of the bear, and being satisfied that he was dead, I endeavoured to lift him out of the hole; but being unable to do this, I returned home, following the track I had made in coming out.