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Fort-Pitt_Areacopy





The Duck Lake fight, with its balance in favour of the rebels, encouraged Big Bear up near Fort Pitt to rebel and do all the damage he could, starting in with the massacre of nine white men, Government agents, etc., on the reserve and imprisoning the rest, including the Hudson's Bay factor and his family, who gave themselves up to the Indians at Fort Pitt....At Fort Pitt, in the Big Bear country, Inspector Francis Dickens, son of the famous novelist, with a mere handful of men, one of whom, young Cowan, was killed by the Indians, and another, Loasby, was wounded, held that Hudson's Bay post until the factor and his family and employees gave themselves up to the Indians, when Dickens, having no farther object in staying there, dropped down the river to Battleford and took part in the fight against Poundmaker. --Policing the Plains, by R.G. MacBeth (Primary source documents)



Perhaps, of all the acts of bravery recorded during this late Rebellion, not one stands out more prominently than that of Inspector Dickens, in resisting, with his little force, a large band of blood-thirsty Crees, till he would, with advantage and honour, retire from his ground. Fort Pitt stands in the centre of the Cree country, and was the scene of the treaty between the Government and the Crees, Chippewayans, Assinniboines and the Chippewas. There was great difficulty at the time in concluding the terms of the treaty. Big Bear, who reigns supreme in the district, and who was spokesman at the treaty, maintained that hanging ought to be abolished, and the buffalo protected. On the whole, he accepted the conditions of the treaty, but, as his people were not present, he would not sign it, although he did sign it in the following year. Big Bear is a noisy, meddlesome savage, who is never in his glory save when he is the centre of some disturbance. He has always shown much delight in talking about war; and he would go without his meals to listen to a good story about fighting. He has the habit to, when the reciter of the story has finished, of trying to discount what he has heard, and to make his auditors believe that some exploits of his own have been far more thrilling. When everything is peaceable, even when there are plenty of buffalo and peltry to be had, this savage is not satisfied; but still goes around asking if there is any news about trouble being about to take place anywhere. If he is told:

"No, everything is quiet; the Indians are all satisfied, because they are doing well." Big Bear will reply, while knowingly closing one eye:

"Me know better than that. There will soon be bloody work. Government break em treaty with Injuns. Lots of Injuns now ready to go out and scalp servants of the Government and white men." When, therefore, tidings reached the land of the Stoney Indians that the half-breeds, with Louis Riel at their head, had broken into revolt, Big Bear pulled off his feathered cap and threw it several times into the air. He went to his wives, a goodly number of which he is in the habit of keeping, and informed them that he would soon bring them home some scalps. He was so elated, that he ordered several of the young men to go and fetch him several white dogs to make a feast. So a large fire was built upon the prairie, a short distance from the chief's lodge, and the huge festival pot was suspended from a crane over the roaring flames. First, about fifteen gallons of water were put into this pot; then Big Bear's wives, some of whom were old and wrinkled, and others of which were lithe as fawns, plump and bright-eyed, busied themselves gathering herbs. Some digged deep into the marsh for roots of the "dog-bane," others searched among the knotted roots for the little nut-like tuber that clings to the root of the flag, while others brought to the pot wild parsnips, and the dried stalks of the prairie pusley. A coy little maiden, whom many a hunter had wooed but failed to win, had in her sweet little brown hands a tangle of winter-green, and maiden-hair. Then came striding along the young hunters, with the dogs. Each dog selected for the feast was white as the driven snow. If a black hair, or a blue hair, or a brown hair, was discovered anywhere upon his body he was taken away; but if he were _sans reproche_ he was put, just as he was, head, and hide, and paws, and tail on--his throat simply having been cut--into the pot, Six dogs were thrown in, and the roots and stalks of the prairie plants, together with salt, and bunches of the wild pepper-plant, and of swamp mustard were thrown in for seasoning. Through the reserves round about for many miles swarth heralds proclaimed that the great Chief Big Bear was giving a White Dog feast to his braves before summoning them to follow him upon the war-path. The feast was, in Indian experience, a magnificent one, and before the young men departed they swore to Big Bear that they returned only for their war-paint and arms, and that before the set of the next sun they would be back at his side.

True to their word the Indians came, hideous in their yellow paint. If you stood to leeward of them upon the plain a mile away you could clearly get the raw, earthy smell of the ochre upon their hands and faces. Some had black bars streaked across their cheeks, and hideous crimson circles about their eyes. Some, likewise, had stars in pipe-clay painted upon the forehead.

Now the immediate object of the warlike enthusiasm of all these young men was the capture of Fort Pitt, an undertaking which they hardly considered worth shouldering their rifles for. But when it came to the actual taking it was a somewhat different matter. There were twenty-one policemen in the Fort and they had at their head an intrepid chief, Mr. Inspector Dickens, already referred to in this chapter. It was useless to fire bullets at the solid stockades; massacre was out of the question, for keen eyes peered ever from the Fort. Big Bear now had grown very ambitious.

"Fort Pitt hardly worth bothering about," he said to his braves. "Plenty of big fighting everywhere. We'll go with Monsieur Riel. But we must have guns; good guns; and plenty of powder and shot and ball. So taking a number of his braves he approached the Fort and began to bellow that he wanted to have a talk. Inspector Dickens appeared, calling out,

"Well, what does Big Bear want?"

"We want guns, and powder, and shot, and ball."

"Pray, what does Big Bear want with them?"

"His young men are suffering of hunger, and they want to go shoot some elk and bear."

"Big Bear is talking with a crooked tongue. He must not have any rifles, or powder or shot, or ball. I advise him to return peaceably to his reserve; and if there is anything that the Government can do for himself, or his people, I am sure they will do it. He will only make matters worse by creating a disturbance."

"Ugh! The great police chief also talks with a crooked tongue; and if he does not give what the Indians ask for, they will burn down the fort, and murder himself and his followers, not sparing either the women or the children."

"If this be your intention, you shall not find us unprepared." Just at this moment two mounted police, who had been out upon the plains as scouts, came in sight, at once Inspector Dickens perceived that the savages meant mischief. A number of rifles were raised at the unsuspecting policemen, then several shots were heard. Constable Cowan fell from his horse dead, pierced by several bullets; Constable Lousby was hit by a couple of bullets, but got into the fort before the savages could prevail.

"Now, my men," shouted Inspector Dickens, "show these insolent savages that you can defy them." At once a raking fire was poured into the rebels. Four of the rebels fell dead, and some scores of others were wounded. The conduct of some of the savages who received slight wounds was exceedingly ludicrous. One who had been shot, _in running away_, began to yell in the most pitiable way; and he ran about the plain kicking up his heels and grabbing at the wounded spot, which, it is to be inferred, must have been stinging him very badly. I must not omit to speak that before the _recontre_, chief factor MacLean, who had always been held in high regard among the Indians, went out of the fort to have a parley with Big Bear. Arriving at the door of the chief's lodge, he knocked. Big Bear admitted him with the greatest pleasure, and after he had done so, said:

"Guess me keep you, since me's get you." So the chief factor found himself a prisoner. Then Big Bear informed his captive that if he would write a letter to the rest of the civilians in the fort, asking them to withdraw, and enter into the Indian lodge, he would treat them civilly; but that if they refused, he would set fire to the fort, and they would perish in the flames. This MacLean consented to do, and in a little while there went out from the fort to the Indian prison, Mr. MacLean's family, consisting of eight, James Simpson, Stanley Simpson, W. B. Cameron, one Dufresne, Rev. C. Quinn, and his wife, and Mr. and Mrs. Mann, with their three children. Since that date, these people have been prisoners in Big Bear's camp, and every now and again the tidings come that they are receiving barbarous, and even brutal, treatment. After Big Bear had got possession of all these, he said to his chief young men:

"'Spose we take em in, too, Mounted Police. No harm Get their guns. Keep them here for a spell, and then let 'em go." When he coolly presented himself before the stockades and proposed to Inspector Dickens to come right over to his lodges, assuring him that he would not allow the hair of one of his men's heads to be harmed, Inspector Dickens laughed:

"You are a very presumptuous savage." After the fight which I have described, Inspector Dickens, studying the situation, regarded it in this light:

"The civilians have gone to the Indians, so there is now no object to be attained by keeping my force here. In the battle with the savages I was successful. Therefore, may retreat with honour." Fitting up a York boat, he had it provisioned for the journey, and then destroying everything in the shape of supplies, arms and ammunition Which he could not take away, they started down the river, and after a tedious journey arrived at Battleford, worn with anxious watching, exposure and fatigue, but otherwise safe and well, save for the wounded constable. The brave Inspector was received at Battleford with ringing acclamations. Here, in a little, he was appointed to the command of the Police, superseding Lt.-Colonel Morris. Altogether there is not in the whole campaign an instance in which good judgment and bravery stand out so prominently as in this record of the conduct of the son of our great English novelist.
-The Story of Louis Riel: the Rebel Chief

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