Métis Nation History

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The region known as Prince Albert was the chief seat of the disturbance. It has been already pointed out in these pages, that the connecting link between the Indian and the whiteman, is the half-breed. It is not to be wondered at then, that as soon as the Metis began to mutter vengeance against the authorities, the Indians began to hunt up their war paint. The writer is not seeking to put blame upon the Government, or upon the Department delegated especially to attend to Indian affairs, with respect to its management of the tribes. Any one who has studied the question at all, must know that there is nothing to be laid at the door of the Government in this regard.

A very clear statement of the whole question of Indian management, and of the assumption of the North-West Territories, may be found in Mr. Henry J. Morgan's Annual Register for 1878; while the same admirable work, gives from year to year, a capital _resume_ of the condition of the tribes.

Some divines, recently in the North-west, have been discussing the Indian question in some of the religious newspapers of Toronto, but they have treated the question in the spirit of inexperienced spinsters. The Government has been most criminally remiss in their treatment of the half-breeds, but, let it be repeated, their Indian policy gives no ground for condemnation.

Yet when the half-breeds of Prince Albert, incited by Riel, began to collect fire-arms, and to drill in each others barns, the Indians began to sing and dance, and to brandish their tomahawks. Their way of living during late years has been altogether too slow, too dead-and-alive, too unlike the ways of their ancestors, when once at least in each year, every warrior returned to his lodge with scalp locks dangling at his belt. Les Gros-Ventres for the time, forgot their corporosity, and began to dance and howl, and declare that they would fight till all their blood was spilt with M. Riel, or his adjutant M. Dumont. The Blackfeet began to hold pow-wows, and tell their squaws that there would soon be good feasts. For many a day they had been casting covetous eyes upon the fat cattle of their white neighbours. Along too, came the feeble remnant of the once agile Salteaux, inquiring if it was to be war; and if so, would there be big feasts.

"O, big feasts, big feasts," was the reply. "Plenty fat cattle in the corals; and heaps of mange in the store." So the Salteaux were happy, and, somewhat in their old fashion, went vaulting homewards.

Tidings of fight, and feast, and turmoil reached the Crees, and they sallied out from the tents, while the large-eyed squaws sat silently reclining, marvelling what was to come of it all. High into the air the Nez Perce thrust his nostril; for he had got the scent of the battle from afar. And last, but not least, came the remnant of that tribe whose chief had shot Custer, in the Black Hills. The Sioux only required to be shown where the enemy lay; but in his enthusiasm he did not lose sight of the fat cattle grazing upon the prairies.

These, however, were only the first impulses of the tribes. Many of them now began to remember that the Government had shown them many kindnesses, given them tea and tobacco, and blankets; and provided them with implements to plough the lands, and oxen to draw the ploughs. And some of the chiefs came forward and said "You must not fight against the Great Mother. She loves the Indians. The red man is well treated here better than away south. Ask the Sioux who lived down there; they tell you maybe." Such advice served to set the Indians reflecting; but many hundreds of them preferred to hear Louis Riel's words, which were:--

"Indians have been badly treated. The Canadian Government has taken away their lands; the buffalo are nearly all gone, and Government sees the red men die of starvation without any concern. If you fight now you will make them dread you; and then they will be more liberal with you. Besides, during the war, you can have plenty of feasting among the fat cattle." A hellish war-whoop of approval always greeted such words.

At length the rising came. Gabriel Dumont, Riel's lieutenant, a courageous, skilful half-breed, possessed of a sound set of brains, had drilled several hundreds of the Indians and half-breeds. Armed with all sorts of guns, they collected, and stationed themselves near Duck Lake.

"My men," Dumont said, "You may not have to fight, for the officers may agree to the demand which I shall make of them on behalf of the Indians and the half-breed people. But if they refuse, and insist on passing, you know for what purpose you have taken arms into your hands. Let every shot be fired only after deliberate aim. Look to it that you fire low. After you have strewn the plain with their dead, they will go away with some respect for us. Then they will send out Commissioners to make terms with us. In the meantime the success of our attack, will bring hundreds of timid persons to our standard." This harangue was received with deafening cheers.

So the rebels posted themselves in the woods, and filled a sturdily built house near by, waiting for the approach of Major Crosier and his force. At last they were seen out upon the cold snow-covered prairie. A wild shout went up from the inmates of the house, and it was answered from tree to tree through all the wintry wood. In the exuberance of his delight, one Indian would yelp like a hungry wolf who sighted his prey; and another would hoot like an owl in the middle of the night. At last the police and civilians were close at hand. The meeting took place in a hollow. Beyond was the dim illimitable prairie, on either hand were clumps of naked, dismal poplar, and clusters of white oak. Snow was everywhere, and when a man moved the crunching of the crust could be heard far upon the chill air.

Signals were made for a parley, when some of the men from each side approached the line of demarcation. Joe McKay was the interpreter, and while he was speaking, an Indian, named Little Chief, grabbed at his revolver and tried to wrest it from him. A struggle ensued in which the Indian was worsted. Then raising his weapon McKay fired at the red skin, who dropped dead. This was the signal for battle. The voice of Dumont could be heard ringing through the hollow and over the hills. With perfect regularity his force spread out over a commanding bluff. Each man threw himself flat upon the ground, either shielding his body in the deep snow, or getting behind a tree or boulder. Major Crozier's force then drew their sleds across the trail, and the police threw themselves down behind it. Then came the words "Begin, my men," from the commander; --and immediately the crackle of rifles startled the hush of the wilderness. The police were lying down, yet they were not completely sheltered; but the civilians were standing.

"My God, I'm shot," said one, and he fell upon the snow, not moving again. Then, with a cry, another fell, and another. From the woods on every hand came the whistling shot, and the rushing slugs of the rebels. Every tree had behind it a rebel, with deadly aim. But the murderous bullets seemed to come out of the inanimate wilderness, for not no much as the hand that pulled the deadly trigger could be seen. The police had a mountain gun, which Major Crozier now ordered them to bring to bear on the rebels, but the policeman who loaded it was so confused that he put the lead in before the powder. In forty minutes the bloody fray was ended. Seven of the loyalists were dead in their blood upon the snow, two lay dying, eleven others were wounded and bleeding profusely, Then came the word to retire, when the Major's force drew off. From the bluff and out of all the woods now came diabolical yells and jeering shouts. The day belonged to the rebels.

When the police had moved away, the Indians and half-breeds came out from their ambush and began to hold rejoicings over the dead. They kicked the bodies, and then began to plunder them, getting, among other booty, two gold watches. Two of the fallen loyalists they observed still breathed, and these they shot through the head. So closely did they hold the muzzles of their murderous guns that the victims' faces were afterwards found discoloured with powder.

Then returning to camp, they secured seven prisoners whom they had captured, and, leading them to the battle-field, make them look at the stark bodies of the loyalists, at the same time heaping all manner of savage insult upon the dead.

A couple of days later the bodies of the victims were buried upon the plain, by the order of Riel. A little later the snow fell, and gave the poor fellows' grave a white, cold, coverlet.

When tidings of the battle, and of the defeat of our men, reached the east, the wildest excitement prevailed. At once the Minister of Militia began to take stock of his forces, and some regiments were ordered out. The volunteers needed no urging, but promptly offered their services for the front. Their loyalty was cheered to the echo, and thousands assembled at every railway station to see them depart and say "God speed." -The Story of Louis Riel: the Rebel Chief

(Primary source documents / Timeline)



Métis Nation History

Commemorating 2010 Year of the Métis Nation Anniversary

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