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Canada's last, true west story
The 1880s in Western Canada
was a time of growth, expansion, tension and tragedy. The plains bison were practically gone, and the way of life was changing quickly for many of the people who had lived there for generations.
As settlers moved westward...
both Métis and Plains First Nations became uneasy with what that meant for their way of life. The Métis in particular were concerned about the future of the lands they had settled along the South and North Saskatchewan Rivers.
Riel then named Gabriel Dumont as his military commander. Dumont was a multi-lingual famous buffalo hunter, and had operated a ferry across the South Saskatchewan River for a number of years, upstream from Batoche. He also owned two quarter-sections of farm land a few miles south of Batoche.
The Battle of Duck Lake
A Battle ensued between the Métis force and the North-West Mounted Police (NWMP). The Métis forced the retreat of the NWMP.
In the end, both sides suffered losses, with 18 dead, and 15 wounded.
March 27, 1885
The North-West Mounted Police abandoned Fort Carlton, fearing for their safety after the Battle of Duck Lake.
Chief Big Bear
March 29, 1885
(First Nations) Bands including Cree from Poundmaker Reserve (west of Battleford), and Assiniboine from the Eagle Hills (south of Battleford), were in need of food, supplies, and provisions promised for their people under Treaty. They sought assistance from the Indian Agent at Battleford, but failed to obtain the promised assistance.
This strategy helped the Prime Minister at the time, John A. Macdonald, by providing a rationale to fulfill his election promise to unite the country with a railway.
In addition, the Alberta Field Force was established at Calgary, comprised of NWMP, retired soldiers, ranchers and cowboys, and supported by newly recruited military volunteers from Quebec.
April 15, 1885
Chief Big Bear's Cree band besieged the fort. After a skirmish in which a NWM Policeman was killed, the defenders were overcome. Chief Big Bear permitted the fort's NWMP detachment (23 men) to flee downriver and then took the (44) civilian occupants prisoner. The post was looted and burned.
April 23, 1885
The Canadian militia moved carefully downstream from Saskatoon and Clarke's Crossing in the direction of Batoche. General Middleton split his forces, keeping half of them on each side of the river.
The Battle of Touround's Coulée
On the morning of April 24, before crossing the coulee, a Canadian cavalryman spotted the ambush, at which point both sides opened fire on each other. The Battle of Fish Creek/Tourond's Coulée left over 20 dead, and dozens wounded and was considered a Métis victory.
The Battle of Batoche
However, the defenders of Batoche were able to disable the Northcote by lowering the Batoche Ferry cable which sliced off the Northcote's smokestacks, rendering the ship powerless. The Northcote gradually drifted downstream, and out of the battle. In addition, the main body under Middleton was late in reaching the settlement, and the following action was scattered and inconclusive. The Militia eventually retired to a 'Zareba' (a fortified camp), for the night.
May 15, 1885
The Métis resistance was broken and on May 15 Louis Riel surrendered.
While fighting continued in what is now Saskatchewan, Major-General Thomas Bland Strange with his Alberta Field Force left Calgary and marched north and then east towards Fort Pitt, where they arrived on May 25.
June 3, 1885
The NWMP, led by Major Sam Steele, caught up with the Frog Lake Cree who had retreated from Frenchman Butte.
July 28, 1885
The trial of Louis Riel began. Riel faced six charges of treason for his role in what the government called a rebellion and which was viewed by the Métis as a resistance.
Life, without the dignity of an intelligent being, is not worth having.
I am glad that the Crown has proved that I am the leader of the Métis in the NorthWest. I will perhaps be one day acknowledged as more than a leader of the Métis, and if so I hope I will also have the opportunity to be acknowledged as a leader of good in this great country.
October 5 - 10, 1885
From October 5 to 10, the six Cree members of Big Bear’s band were found guilty of the killings at Frog Lake and the two Assiniboine warriors were found guilty of the deaths of a farmer and farm instructor near Battleford. They were found guilty and sentenced to death.
November 16, 1885
After numerous legal and political appeals, Louis Riel was hanged at the North West Mounted Police barracks in Regina, SK.
November 27, 1885
The eight First Nations men were hanged in Fort Battleford. This would remain the largest mass hanging in Canadian history.
The Aftermath of 1885
The Resistance of 1885 altered countless lives and was a time of great uncertainty and fear. The events resulted in many deaths on all sides including First Nations, Métis and government forces. Long lasting effects were felt by generations of First Nations and Métis in Saskatchewan, who were subjected to increased marginalization after the Resistance. Many challenges followed for the people of the plains as the settlement of western Canada continued.
In present times, we are hearing other perspectives on these events and fully acknowledge that the victors in any conflict are the first to tell the story and from their own points of view.