(CANADA, 1851 to 1900 – continued)

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North-West Rebellion

photo of Louis Riel

Louis Riel, another divinely inspired Métis leader

Battle of Duck Lake

Battle of Duck Lake

Painting of the Battle of Fish Creek

The Battle of Fish Creek, with government forces on the left side of the ravine. Rebels on the right. government forces to strategic withdrawal?

Chief Poundmaker

Poundmaker on his prairie

Gabriel Dumont

Gabriel Dumont


Métis prisoners. Click for link to Wikimedia enlargement and details.

Following their rebellion in 1869-70, many of the blend of Indian and French called Métis left their homes around that area that was to be named Winnipeg, and they moved west. They founded a Catholic community at Batoche on the South Saskatchewan River, and there, in the early 1880s, they again felt harassed by settlers from the east. Also they believed that the Dominion of Canada was not protecting their rights and their survival as a distinct people.

In 1884, the Métis of Batoche asked the leader of their 1870 rebellion, Louis Riel, to return from exile in Montana. Riel remained a hero to them. While in exile he had been elected three times to the Canadian House of Commons but had never returned from exile to assume his seat. The Métis wanted him to appeal to the Canadian government on their behalf. Riel believed that he was their divinely chosen leader and prophet, and he joined them at Batoche.

In March 1885, Riel, Gabriel Dumont and others set up the Provisional Government of Saskatchewan and took control of the area around Batoche. Riel began to contact the local natives: the Cree and Assiniboine. They held in common a dislike of the buffalo having been hunted to extinction by the Hudson's Bay Company and by other hunters. The Cree were displeased by the federal government's occasional violations of treaty terms. And there was hunger among the Métis and Indians.

A group of Métis and Cree men seized the contents of a store at Duck Lake, seven miles northwest of Batoche. There was a confrontation with a police force. The following day another confrontation occurred. On the side of the Métis and Indians were 150 to 200 men. The police numbered about 90. The police suffered 12 dead and 11 wounded. The Métis-Indian side lost six. The police retreated to Fort Carlton a half-mile to the north and quickly again to Prince Albert, 32 miles to the northeast.

Settlers numbering around 500 at the town by Fort Battleford (about 100 miles west of Batoche) heard reports of large numbers of Cree and Assiniboine leaving their reserves and heading their way. They fled to the fort. The Cree chieftain, commonly known as Poundmaker, led a party that arrived there. Oral history describes Poundmaker as wanting to affirm his loyalty to Que, and authorities at the fort refused to talk to Poundmaker. For two days nothing happened. Then, according to reports, the frustrated Indians looted buildings of the nearby abandoned town and withdrew from the area.

Meanwhile, encouraged by what was perceived as a victory for the rebel Métis-Indians at Duck Lake, a Cree named Wandering Spirit led a party to a village by Frog Lake, and there they killed nine white settlers, including two Catholic priests – an incident on April 2 to be known as the Frog Lake Massacre.

Wandering Spirit and his band moved on to Fort Pitt, 167 miles WNW of Batoche. Fort Pitt was defended by a detachment of North-West Mounted Police. Surrounded and outnumbered, on April 15 the garrison commander, Francis Dickens (son of famed novelist Charles Dickens), agreed to negotiate with the Indians. Wandering Spirit let Dickens and others leave. He destroyed the fort and left with some from the fort as hostages. Six days later, Dickens and his men reached Fort Battleford.

A government force of around 900 men from Fort Qu'Appelle in the southeast of Saskatchewan was on its way to Batoche to put down the rebellion. On April 23 they rode into an ambush created by 200 or so Métis and Indian warriors led by the Métis leader Gabriel Dumont. The Métis lost four killed and the Indians lost two. The government force lost 10 dead and 45 wounded. The Métis and Indian force was famished and low on ammunition. They knew they could not hold their positions against a sustained enemy assault, and they withdrew. And the government force also withdrew.

On May 2 a column of Canadian militia and army regulars with a Gatling gun surprised Chief Poundmaker and other Cree at Cut Knife, near Battleford. The Cree were outnumbered and short of ammunition. They lost 3 wounded and 5 dead and the Canadian militia lost 14 wounded and 8 dead. The Cree fled. The Cree who directed the battle, Fine Day, fled to the United States. Poundmaker with starving Indians went to Battleford to make peace with the government, and there he was arrested.

The government force of 900 reached Batoche and began a battle there that was to last to the 12th. The size and firepower of the government force dominated. The Métis ran out of ammunition after three days of battle. Riel surrendered on May 15. Gabriel Dumont and other participants escaped across the border to Montana.

The Métis defeat at Batoche virtually ended the North-West Rebellion. Eight were hanged for their participation in the Frog Lake massacre and other killings. Riel was tried and hanged on November 16. Poundmaker was convicted of treason and sentenced to three years in Stony Mountain Penitentiary.] At his trial, he is reported to have said:

Everything that is bad has been laid against me this summer, there is nothing of it true... Had I wanted war, I would not be here now. I should be on the prairie. You did not catch me. I gave myself up. You have got me because I wanted justice. note83

Poundmaker was released from prison after seven months. Poor health led to his death in 1886.

Gabriel Dumont returned to Batoche in 1893 and was allowed to live out his life there to his death at the age of sixty-eight in 1906.



Copyright © 2015 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.