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The story of Riel's revolt. Canada: 1885 Part I by Major General T. Bland Strange

The story of Riel's revolt.
Canada: 1885
Part I

by Major General T. Bland Strange

IT was the early spring of 1885. Canada was still covered with her mantle of snow, pure and unsullied on the vast prairies of the west and the farms of the east; and like tufts of cotton-wool on a child's Christmas tree, it still rested on the dark branches of the pines and the hemlocks of her pathless forests, where the axe of the lumberman and the tap of the woodpecker alone awakened the silence of winter.

  Less beautiful, the snow was piled and dirty in the streets of her great cities, which were just waking to trade and to the opening navigation of the mighty rivers, whose fleets of ice floes surged slowly to the sea. In the far north the tributary rivers still bore upon their frozen breasts a wealth of piled logs, to be floated to the huge saw mills of the Ottawa and St. Lawrence, or shipped as squared timber across the Atlantic from the stately old city of Quebec.

  The rosy-cheeked, light-footed Canadian girls and athletic young men were getting tired of the fun and frolic of winter carnival. Snow-shoe and skate and toboggan would soon be laid aside for the canoe and tent and fishing-rod, among the Thousand Islands of the St. Lawrence, or on the shores of Rivière du Loup and Tadousac. But the tinkling sleigh-bells were not yet silent, and gay picnic parties still frequented the leafless maple groves, and disturbed the stolid Habitan at his sugar harvest.

  The seven provincial Parliaments and the Federal Parliament at Ottawa still debated on every subject, including woman-suffrage (which the Dominion Parliament discussed at an all-night sitting), till daylight dawned upon the corpses that strewed the battlefield of Fish Creek. Though a free hand had been given by the Cabinet to the minister, no one thought war imminent, except the lonely settler on his ranche hard by the Saskatchewan, where the Indian was fast becoming dangerously insolent, and the French half-breed was sullenly nursing his discontent at the delay of the Government in legalising their claims to the scattered log huts and half-tilled prairie farms.

  The pioneer white settlers were also working themselves into wrath over similar delays in granting homestead rights. The prairie Indians had no tangible grievance against the Government beyond their natural dislike to sharing their country with white men. They had been, given ample reserves and daily rations of beef and flour, blankets, and a small sum of money annually. But with the buffalo had disappeared not only food and clothing, but happy hunting. The transition from hunter and horse-thief to rationed loafer was too sudden. Work they would not, to beg they were not ashamed; so they mounted their kyuses (ponies), and, rifle in hand, left their reserves, followed by their women bestriding the ponies that drew the travoises--a trailing contrivance of tepee poles that carried tent, papooses, puppies, and cooking-pots. As the ration-issuer could not follow their peregrinations, they frequented the small towns that spring up along the Canadian Pacific Railway, with the usual demoralising results. Rifles they had from the old buffalo days, ammunition they craved, though there was little to shoot but the white man or his cattle. For cartridges they would sell anything, from squaws to medicine pipes.

  The Wood Indians, Crees, and Chipwayans, in the far north, lived on fish, game, and barter of furs with the Hudson Bay posts. They also had been relegated to reserves, a system they disliked. The great chiefs "Big Bear" and "Poundmaker" had collected bands they could not feed. The emissaries of Riel were busy among them, with promises of a millennium of pork and flour from the plunder of the Hudson Bay stores and settlements--"no police, plenty whisky." These blessings were to be obtained with the aid of their brethren from the United States and the evergreen Fenian Brigade. They were also told King George's red soldiers could not help the Canadians, as they were fighting the Russians.

  At Frog Lake an Indian had been imprisoned for stealing beef (said to have been put in his way by the Indian agent). While undergoing imprisonment his squaw became intimate with the prosecutor. When the Indian had served his imprisonment he returned, and the agent was shot, as well as two Roman Catholic priests at the mission and some equally innocent settlers. Three Government officials were murdered, and the rest, with all the women and children, taken prisoners; the church, saw-mill, and the whole settlement plundered and burnt by Big Bear's band, his son, "Bad Child," being conspicuous. And so the curtain rose on the first act of the tragedy.

  After the last fight of Steele's scouts at "Loon Lake," the squaw was found hung on a tree in our line of march, also the agent's dog. With this last minute protest the Indians released all their white prisoners, and surrendered themselves and their arms.

  But we are anticipating, as the Canadian government did not anticipate did not anticipate. The cloud no higher than a man's hand that hung over the great lone land suddenly spread and burst. The news was flashed to Ottawa that a detachment of the North-West police--fifty strong, with a 7-pounder gun and a company of loyal volunteers from Battleford, sent out to collect supplies--had been forced to retire to Fort Carlton with heavy loss; that the fort had been abandoned and burnt; and that the police and volunteers had fallen back on Prince Albert. The rebels had taken cover in a coulee, or depression of the prairie; and when the advancing mounted police and volunteers showed themselves, they were met by a withering fire from the half-breeds and Indians, under Gabriel Dumont, a celebrated old buffalo-hunter. Before the mounted police and volunteers, who were in sleighs, could properly extend, their losses became so heavy that retirement was found necessary, and, to add to their difficulties, the first shell was jammed in the bore of the 7-pounder M.L. gun, rendering it useless.

  Captain Morton and eight men were killed, Captain Moore and four men wounded. The large proportion of killed, and the picking out of officers, shows the deadly accuracy of the half-breed aim. It was unfortunate that police-inspector Crozier allowed himself to take the initiative, when he knew that Colonel Irvine, commissioner of police, was within a day's march with a reinforcement of 100 men. The latter officer had marched from Regina with unexampled rapidity--291 miles in seven days, 42 miles per day, the thermometer often below zero. He had marched through hostile country and evaded Riel, who, with 400 men, desired to present his passage of the Saskatchewan river and junction with Inspector Crozier. Colonel Irvine got scant credit for the swift strategy with which he opened the campaign, or for the efficiency of the North-West Mounted Police, which could make such marches and yet were left shut up in Battleford and Prince Albert.

  Then the fact was brought home to the Government that a police force was not sufficient to cope with so formidable an outbreak.

  The long familiarity between police, Indians, and Métis had bred mutual contempt. The fact that Louis Riel, who fifteen years before had seized the government of the Red River country, proclaimed himself president, turned the governor sent by Canada out of the territory, imprisoned all those opposed to him, and after a mock trial executed Scott, a sturdy Orange Loyalist--and yet had been amnestied, allowed to return from the United States, and for many months to hold seditious public meetings, caused the half-breeds to hold the Government in profound contempt, so much so that the Indian name for the then Premier, on account of his policy of procrastination, was "Apinoquis"--"Old To-morrow." On the other hand, the Government thought that because Louis Riel had fled, and his force collapsed without firing a shot against the Red River Expedition under Colonel (now Lord) Wolseley, that the outbreak of 1885 would also be a flash in the pan.

  It was fortunate at this juncture that a young French-Canadian gentleman, Mr. (Sir) Adolphe Caron, was Minister of Militia and Defence.

  He did not hesitate, but wisely left the executive to General Middleton, commanding the Militia, who acted with equal promptness, and left for Winnipeg the day after the receipt of the telegram of the disaster at Duck Lake. He picked up on his way to Winnipeg the 90th Battalion Militia Volunteers (Major Mackeand), 268 rank and file, and Major Jarvis's Militia Field Battery. Orders were sent for the immediate entraining from Quebec and Kingston of "A" and "B" Batteries Royal Canadian Artillery, consisting of two field-batteries (two guns of each only were taken, under Majors Short and Peters, and a detachment of gunners acting as infantry, the whole commanded by Colonel Montizambert. From Quebec also came the Cavalry School Troop (Colonel Turnbull), 50 sabres; from Toronto "C" School Infantry Company (Major Smith), 90 rank and file.

  The Royal Canadian Artillery and the so-called, "Schools" of infantry and, cavalry are the regular disciplined troops of Canada, whose duty in peace time is to instruct the Militia of their respective arms--an excellent system, but puzzling in nomenclature.

  Every province and city sent its quota. The 10th Grenadiers, strength 250 (Colonel Grassett), the Queen's Own Rifles (Colonel Miller), 274, and the Bodyguard Cavalry, 81, under Colonel Denison, from Toronto; from Ottawa the picked marksmen of the Governor-General's Foot Guards, 51 (Major Todd), the Midland Battalion, 340 (Colonel Williams). The French-Canadian rifle regiments--the 9th (Colonel Amyot) the 65th (Colonel Ouimet)--from Quebec and Montreal respectively, were pitted against the Western Indians rather than the French half-breeds. All answered with alacrity. Officers and men left the law-courts, the House of Commons, the office desk, the store, the plough, the workshop, the forest, with no experience of war and but little training. They proved themselves enduring and gallant soldiers, eventually overcoming a force of half-breed hunters and good shots as the Boers; as brave, as wily, and as skilful as those Transvaal "commandoes" who inflicted upon British arms one of the few reverses they have sustained.

  The most noticeable feature of the whole campaign, a feature which makes its study of the greatest value to British militia and volunteers, is the extraordinary facility with which the young Canadian volunteers became converted into excellent marching and fighting soldiers. It may also be a matter of pride to young Englishmen that their brothers and cousins settled in Canada! many of them "army competition" failures, vied with the young Canadian. In their eagerness to go to the front they left their farms to take care of themselves. Though indifferent farmers, they made excellent scout cavalry. Bolton's, French's, Dennis's, Steele's, Stuart's scouts, and the Alberta Mounted Rifles were a mixture of young Canadian and English settlers, Western men, surveyors, and cowboys mounted on the toughest of bronchos. Many of the cowboys of the Western Column were American citizens. A difficulty was anticipated as to their taking the oath of allegiance to Her Majesty, but a cowboy, will swear to anything for the sake of a scrimmage with the Redskins; always to the front, never grumbling or giving trouble to anyone but the enemy.

  In peace-time Canada has no organised transport, commissariat, or field medical department. Within four weeks all three were improvised, mainly with the aid of the great Hudson Bay Company and the supervision of General Laurie at the central base.

  The astonishing rapidity with which Canada carried through the campaign speaks well for her volunteer militia system, and for the inherent military qualities of Canadians. It is not impossible that in the future the martial spirit of the Old Dominion of Canada, and what some of us hope will soon be the New Dominions of Australasia and South Africa, may be a source of strength to the Old Country and save us from the need of foreign alliances.

  A glance at the map shows the Canadian Pacific Railway stretching across the continent, 4,000 miles from ocean to ocean. The western part was not completed, and ended in a wilderness country that supplied nothing but wild horses, beef on the hoof, Indians, cowboys, cayotes, and gophers. Unfortunately, the railway was also not finished further east. There was a gap of 400 miles along the north shore of Lake Superior, which Riel believed would be an impassable barrier to the passage of troops at that season. Parallel to the railway, and for 800 miles, about 200 miles north, rolls the mighty North Saskatchewan. Upon it were three settlements (our objectives), surrounded by the enemy, and held by small garrisons of police:--(1) Prince Albert, with Batoche, the half-breed head-quarters of the rebels; (2) Battleford; (3) Fort Pitt, with Edmonton beyond it. Opposite to these objectives were our bases at Qu'Appelle, Swift Current, and Calgary, from each of which marched a column--the eastern, under General Middleton, from Qu'Appelle; the central from Swift Current, under Colonel Otter, a Canadian officer; and the western column, under General Strange, from Calgary.

  From his own account, General Middleton concentrated his attention on Batoche, and intended to take the central (Colonel Otter's) column with him, the southern branch of the Saskatchewan being between them. He tells us he doubted the strategic necessity of considering the other objectives, and that "nor'-westers" were his pet abhorrence! Yet the nor'-west had eventually to be taken into consideration. Perhaps it was difficult for a man who had never been beyond Eastern Canada at once to grasp the strategic geography of a new continent. He, however, believed in himself--an excellent quality in a general. Fortunately for General Middleton, Riel, who, as he naïvely wrote, "did not like war," had evidently not studied that subject at the University of Montreal, where he was educated. Riel chose to take his stand in the fork of the North and South Saskatchewan, navigable for General Middleton's armed steamers, which could take him in reverse. He also exposed his line of retreat at Prince Albert to Colonel Irvine and the North-West Police, who were to attack him in combination with General Middleton.

  With a river at his back, therefore, both branches of which were navigable for his enemies' steamers, and a telegraph line behind the latter, Riel awaited the attack of the best regular troops of Canada, with field-artillery and Gatling guns. The houses he occupied were mere shell-traps, and some were not even Gatling-proof. A half-breed knows just enough to take up a faulty strategic position; an Indian does not.

  As the three columns, when once started, could not communicate till their objectives were reached, they acted independently, and must be treated separately. So much for the strategy which forced itself on the general, owing to the geography of the country. Now to consider its execution by his subordinates. The initial difficulties of bringing up troops across the railway gap are best set forth in Colonel Montizambert's report:--

  "Here began the difficulties of passing the gaps on the unconstructed portion of the road, between the west end of track and Red Rock or Nepigon sixty-six miles from Port Arthur. About 400 miles had to be passed by a constantly varying process of embarking and disembarking guns and stores from flat cars to country team sleighs and vice versâ. There were sixteen operations of this nature in cold weather and deep snow. On starting from west end of track on the night of the 30th, the roads were found so bad that it took the guns seventeen hours to do the distance, thirty miles, to Magpie, and from there to east end of track by teams, and march further on; then on flat cars for eighty miles, with thermometer at 5° below zero. Heron Bay, Port Munroe, McKeller's Bay, Jackfish, Ibster, and McKay's Harbour were passed by alternate flat cars on construction track and teams, in fearful weather, round the north shore of Lake Superior, the roughest region in the world, and Nepigon or Red Rock was reached on the evening of the 3rd April. The men had no sleep for four nights. This command was the first that passed over this route from the east."

  Having collected troops at Qu'Appelle, General Middleton began his march on 6th April, with a force of 402, all told, consisting of 90th Winnipeg Rifles, 2 guns Winnipeg Field Battery and French's Scouts. The regular cavalry, under Colonels Turnbull and Denison, were left to guard his communications at Touchwood Hills and Humboldt respectively. On the 8th General Middleton was joined by Colonel Montizambert and the "A" Battery regular artillery, 100 strong, with two-horsed guns, 9-pounder M.L.R. Men and horses appeared none the worse for their long journey of 1000 miles by rail and trail, including the passage of the gaps previously described. On the 9th General Middleton received news of Frog Lake massacres, and telegraphed General Strange to raise a force, assume command of it and of such troops as might be sent, relieve Edmonton, and then to move on Fort Pitt, where General Middleton would meet him with troops coming up the Saskatchewan by steamer, after the relief of Prince Albert and Battleford. General Strange (who will have to speak later on in the first person) was an ex-artillery officer settled on a ranche near Gleichen, who had volunteered his services. On 10th April Major Smith, "C" School of Regular Infantry, 40 men, overtook General Middleton, and Major-General Laurie, a retired Crimean veteran living in Halifax. Also joined, and, though senior to General Middleton, volunteered to serve under him.

  The march generally followed the telegraph line, which was tapped at every halt, and was of the greatest service, for Riel had contented himself with cutting the wire only between Batoche and Prince Albert. When a prisoner he told General Middleton: "I only wanted to cut off Prince Albert, as I thought I might want the wire, after defeating you, to communicate with Ottawa, and make terms with the Government." On this march the Indian "Day Star" and his people on the Indian farm were met and a "pow-wow" was held: they expressed loyalty in proportion to the tea, tobacco, bacon, and flour with which they were presented.

  On the 11th the great salt plains had to be negotiated in bitter cold, through wind, snow, and slush; there were also several streams which took the infantry above the knee. As firewood had to be carried, fires were limited; although the alkaline water was only drinkable as tea, and even then was conducive to dysentery.

  On the same day, when nearly through the salt plains, a despatch was received from Irvine stating he had 180 mounted police and ninety volunteers at Prince Albert, plenty of ammunition and beef, but only flour enough for a month; and also one from Superintendent Morris, holding Battleford with forty-seven North-West Mounted Police and thirty-five settler volunteers, asking urgently for help, Chief Poundmaker's large band of Indians being in the vicinity. General Middleton telegraphed to Colonel Otter, at Swift Current, to march at once, with all the troops he had, on Battleford. He left on the 13th, General Laurie leaving simultaneously to take command of the base at Swift Current.

  It was very necessary to communicate with Colonel Irvine, and the services of Captain Bedson (transport officer) and Mr. McDowell, who volunteered for this duty, were accepted, as the general did not wish to send a written despatch. It was unfortunate for Colonel Irvine that these orders were verbal, as a difference of opinion has arisen as to the precise date of his co-operation. He states in his report that he had orders from General Middleton to come out of Battleford and co-operate in cutting off fugitives, and that the attack on Batoche would be on the 18th or 19th of April, on which day Colonel Irvine marched twelve miles towards Batoche; but as his scouts did not hear anything of Middleton's advance on Batoche, he returned to Prince Albert, dreading an attack on that place in his absence. General Middleton, in the United Service Magazine, says he informed Irvine he would attack Batoche on the 25th of April. But as he was engaged at Fish Creek on the 24th, where he was detained, it was not till the 9th of May that the attack on Batoche commenced; so that Colonel Irvine would have had a longish time to wait, and is hardly to be blamed under the circumstances for returning to Battleford. It is only in theory that war combinations work like clockwork.

  Middleton's force had now marched 124 miles in eight days (including a day's halt) over a bad trail in terrible weather--good work for untrained men. The food supplies were good, and the knapsacks throughout the campaign were carried in waggons. On the 15th he pushed on with a small force to Clark's Crossing. The rebels had not molested the ferry and not even cut the telegraph wire. The force remained at Clark s Crossing till the 23rd. In scouting, three Indians were run down and brought to bay, standing back to back in a gully. Lord Melgund was unwilling to shoot them, and two or three scouts who spoke a little Indian tried without effect to get them to surrender; finally Captain French walked down alone and unarmed, in spite of their covering him with their rifles, and insisted upon shaking hands with them; they then smoked the pipe of peace together and surrendered themselves. They were found to be part of a band of American Sioux from across the border. One was released and sent to Batoche with a proclamation in French, offering pardon to those who would surrender: he was promised a reward on his return. The man never came back, and at the taking of Batoche his body was found in the front, lying on his back in full war-paint, with a bullet through his head.

  The persuasive coolness of Captain French was characteristic. He was a gallant, genial Irishman, and had been an Inspector of North-West Mounted Police, under his brother, the first Commissioner, Colonel French, R.A. He left his farm and his young wife for fighting-sake, raised a troop of scout cavalry, and was killed at their head in the rush on Batoche.

  During the seven days' halt at Clark's Crossing, Bolton's scouts and 10th Grenadiers joined the force. Forage was very scarce, and the teamsters refused to advance without oats the horses being their own property. Colonel Houghton, D.A.G., suggested bayonet persuasion; but the general, perhaps wisely, declined this drastic measure, and oats arrived on the 22nd. A further supply was secured by a night raid made by Colonel Houghton in advance with a handful of scouts.

  The ferry had been put in working order, and General Middleton divided his force of 800 men. Crossing a column on the 21st and 22nd, under Colonel Montizambert, to operate on the opposite side of the river, the columns keeping abreast, the ferry barge was floated down between them.

  The left column was composed of 10th Royal Grenadiers, strength 250; Winnipeg Militia Field Battery, two guns, 50; detachment "A" Battery R.C.A., under Lieutenant Rivers, 23; French's scouts, 20; detachment Bolton's scouts, 30; total, 373.

  The right column consisted of the 90th Regiment, 268; "A" Battery R.C.A., two guns, 82; "C" School Company, 40; Bolton's scouts, 50; total, 440.

  Signals by bugle notes were arranged between the columns, but it was found impracticable to work in the noise of battle.

  On the 23rd, news came of the surrender of Fort Pitt by the police garrison under Inspector Dickens (son of the novelist). They made their way by boat to Battleford. Mr. McLean, the Hudson Bay factor, left the fort to parley, and found himself in Big Bear's grip. He was induced by the wily savage to order his family (three very pretty girls) and the other officials and their families to join him. When these were secured, the police were allowed to depart unmolested. They broke the stocks of the rifles left in the fort; but these were ingeniously repaired by the Indians, and used against us at "Frenchman's Butte." A large supply of provisions and stores and a quantity of ammunition fell into the hands of the Indians, who had a good time in the fort until the arrival of the Western Column.

  On the 24th, Middleton marched for Dumont's Crossing. Mounted scouts extended in front, the supports under Major Bolton 200 yards in rear. The general, as was his custom, rode at the head. On approaching some clumps of poplars (bluffs, in prairie phrase) a heavy fire on the left was opened, but did not do much damage, as it was delivered in a hurry.(1) Bolton instantly directed his men to dismount, and let loose their horses some of which were immediately shot, as well as a few men, the flankers and files in front falling back on the supports, and the wounded crawling; back to the line. The enemy were kept in check till the advanced guard of the 90th came up. Captain Wise's horse was shot in going back for them. Meanwhile, amid the rattle o rifle fire and the "ping" of bullets, could be heard the oaths, shouts, and jeers of the excited Métis. mingled with the vibrating war-whoop of the Indians but the English scouts spoke only with their Winchesters. One brave, alone, in full war-paint, dashed boldly out of cover, shouting his war-cry. He was immediately shot, and his example was not followed. When the advanced guard of the 90th came up, it was extended on the right of the scouts; Captain Clarke (in command) and several men were wounded. The main body were brought up by Colonel Houghton, and Major Mackeand (90th) and two more companies extended to the right. The two guns of "A" Battery, under Major Peters, came into action; but as the enemy were too well covered, the general withdrew them. Subsequently they dashed into the fight at close quarters, which was necessary, as the men in the rifle-pits could not be reached from a distance. The guns took up various positions on both sides of the coulee. Captain Drury and Lieutenant Ogilvie at last ran their guns up by hand to within twenty yards of the edge of the ravine, and giving extreme depression, fired case shot into the bush which concealed the pits, whose whereabouts were only seen by the puffs of smoke, and the presence of the enemy felt as gunner after gunner fell in the act of ramming home (the guns were muzzle-loaders, and the men completely exposed).(2) About this time the enemy's fire slackened. They were seen moving down to their right. Major Boswell (90th) was sent to seize a farm-house on the left front, to check this movement, and the enemy fell back down the creek towards the pits.

(1) Gabriel Dumont's despatch to Riel, found at Batoche, says, "I had a place to ambush them at Fish Creek. It was frustrated by a fool in a buckskin coat, who, seeing a milch cow on the prairie, rode after her, and instead of driving, her into the enemy's cortège, drove her right on to me. Seeing I was discovered, I fired at him, in the hope that the shot would not be noticed, as he was always firing shots himself at birds and rabbits. as my scouts have frequently reported. I unfortunately missed him; and my shot being mistaken for the signal, all my men began firing, and exposed their position before the enemy had fallen into the trap I had laid for them." It will be seen fools have their uses, even the irrepressible sporting British tenderfoot.

(2) Some day we shall have shields for our B.L. field-guns.

  The firing-line of infantry had in the meantime pushed up to the edge of the ravine, suffering severely, the men in their eagerness exposing themselves to the fire from below: any man raising himself showed against the sky-line, and many were shot through the head. The rebels now attempted a turning movement on our right, along the bottom of the coulee, and set fire to the prairie, to cover the movement and check and embarrass our men the wind blowing towards us. The general had previously sent his two aides to extend three companies of the 90th, Captain Buchan and "C" School Company, Major Smith, to the extreme right, the remainder of the 90th, under Major Mackeand, were held in reserve near the field hospital, where the waggons were corralled. Things looked critical, but from general to bugler every man and boy did his duty. The plucky old general was everywhere; a ball passed through his fur cap, his horse, "Sam," was also grazed.

  His two aides-de-camp, Captain Wise and Lieutenant Doucet, were both wounded, the former had two horses shot under him; and above the din of the battle might be heard the shrill treble of the boy-bugler, Billy Buchanan, of the 90th, as he walked up and down the firing-line: "Now, boys, who's for more cartridges?" The bandsmen were busy bringing the wounded to the doctors, under Surgeon Major Orton, an old army hand; and the teamsters were brought up, led by Bedson, the transport officer, and under the enemy's fire beat out the blazing prairie with branches.

  Captain Drury shelled the farmhouse and buildings occupied by the enemy on the right, and cleared them out. Colonel Montizambert, commanding the left column, hearing the firing brought down his force and guns to the edge of the river, though the banks were a hundred feet high, with no sort of a roadway. Unfortunately, the scow had been sent for forage, and was not at first available; eventually 250 men and two guns and horses were crossed over, and the Grenadiers were immediately extended in support. By this time the enemy's fire had almost ceased, and they had retired along the ravine, except a determined handful, who still held the pits. Major Peters got permission to try the bayonet: he made a desperate rush followed by a detachment of garrison gunners of the "A" Battery; some of the 90th followed Captain Ruttan, and Lieutenant Swinford, and Colonel Houghton. After making several gallant attempts, they remained in the ravine until ordered to retire by the general, with the loss of three killed and five wounded, including Lieutenant Swinford and a gunner, whose body was found within ten paces of the pits. The general refused to allow any further attempt, considering it a futile waste of life.

  The Grenadiers were left extended along the ridge, while the rest of the force retired about a mile to pitch camp--a difficult task, as a blinding snow-storm had set in. As the Grenadiers were moving off, a considerable body of mounted men showed themselves on the opposite side of the ravine. They had probably been sent to bring off the gallant fellows in the pits, for on the Grenadiers facing about they disappeared.

  General Middleton had about 400 men actually engaged; the rebels 280, most advantageously posted. Our casualties were fifty--ten killed or died of wounds. The Indians only left three dead on the field, but were subsequently found to have had eleven killed or died of wounds and eighteen wounded; about fifty of their ponies were shot, as the poor brutes were tied up in the wooded ravine. The steamer Northcote not arriving as expected, the wounded were sent to Saskatoon in extemporised ambulances, the settlers taking them into their houses. Surgeon-Major Douglas, V.C., had paddled two hundred miles alone in his canoe to give his aid, and Deputy-Surgeon-General Roddick arrived with a complete staff, and Nurse Miller, pleasant, kind, and skilful, as nurses are wont to be.

  The steamer Northcote had been delayed by low water, but she propped herself over the sand-banks with her long legs like a great grasshopper, as Western stern-wheel steamers manage to do, and arrived on the 5th May with supplies and reinforcements. Colonel Van Straubenzie, a veteran of the Crimea and India, Colonel Williams, M.P., commanding 100 men--"Midlanders"--a Gatling gun with Captain Howard, late U.S.A. agent of the Gatling Gun Company.


  Leaving General Middleton to bury his dead, let us turn to the Central and Western Columns. The Central Column, under Colonel Otter, when organised for the relief of Battleford, was composed of: Personal staff, Lieutenant Sears, I.S.C., and Captain Mutton; Major Short, "B" Battery, R.C.A., 2 guns and 1 Gatling; garrison gunners, Captain Farley, 113; "C" Infantry School, Lieutenant Wadmore, 49; Governor-General's Foot Guards, Captain Todd, 51; Queen's Own Rifles, Colonel Miller, 274; North-West Mounted Police, Superintendent Herkmer, 50; scouts, 6; total, 543.

  Their march was very rapid after crossing the South Saskatchewan: 160 miles were covered in five days, with a long waggon-train carrying the infantry, twenty-five days' rations, and wood-fuel. On the evening of the arrival Colonel Otter did not enter the settlement, and deferred doing so till daylight. The Indians utilised the delay to burn and loot the suburbs on the south side of the river. Next day he marched into Battleford, and on the 29th April learned from his scouts that about 200 Crees and Stoneys were encamped with Poundmaker about thirty-eight miles distant. It was decided to make a reconnaissance in force and surprise their camp. On the 1st May Colonel Otter marched out of Battleford with 325 of his force, including the Battleford Rifles, and forty-eight waggons to carry the men and rations, Major Short's two 7-pounder M.L.R. guns.(3) Halting at 8 p.m. Colonel Otter waited till the moon rose, and then pushed on through the night. Daybreak showed the Cree camp on a rise, partially surrounded by wooded coulees; Cut Knife Creek ran across the front. The advanced scouts had crossed the creek and mounted the rising ground before they were discovered and the alarm given. Scarcely had the scouts gained the crest of the hill than they were met by a sharp fire; the police extended on the brow, and the guns, pushed forward into the same line and supported by the garrison gunners as infantry escort, opened with shrapnel fire on the camp. An Indian, on emergency, makes a short toilet and dispenses even with fresh paint so that in a short time they were running down through the brushwood coulees and almost surrounded the force, pouring in a destructive cross-fire upon our men, who at first exposed themselves carelessly, but soon learnt their lesson. The whole force had to be put in the fighting line to meet the attack, the Battleford Rifles guarding the rear and the ford. The police horses and waggon-train were well sheltered in a slight declivity, where only two casualties occurred--a waggon-horse and Major Short's charger being shot.

(3) At the last moment, and contrary to the wish of the artillery officer, the equipment was changed--7-pounders, the carriages of which had been rotting in store since the last Red River expedition, being substituted for 9-pounders.

   Shortly after the fight became general, a desperate rush was made by the braves to capture the Gatling, which had jammed for the moment.(4) The two 7-pounders had broken their rotten trails with the recoil, and were being lashed up and spliced by Captain Rutherford and the gun detachments; but Major Short, calling on the garrison gunners and police, advanced at their head to meet the onset of the braves, repulsed them with loss, and drove them back on the run--a pace an Indian very seldom adopts with his back to the foe. A tall brave, retiring slowly, turned and took deliberate aim at the major, who was about twenty feet in front of him men; the bullet passed through the top of the jauntily-cocked cap, and cut a crisp curl from his head. He drew his revolver and shot the Indian through the side. He rolled over, jumped up, staggered a few paces, dropped, and drew his blanket over his head, to die decorously, as Cæsar might have done. Alas! a moment after a blow from a rifle-butt in the hands of an excited French-Canadian gunner sped him to his happy hunting-ground. The major took his scalping-knife but left him his scalp--a compliment the Indian might not have returned had things gone the other way.(5) Repulsed from the front, the Indians strenuously tried to surround the force by working through the wooded coulees from both flanks.(6) The right rear and ford were menaced, but the coulee was cleared of the Indians by a party of Battleford Rifles under Captain Nash, Ross, chief of police-scouts, and individuals of other corps, for the fighting had-got mixed, from the nature of the ground and the character of the attack. In a similar manner, the left rear was cleared by parties of the Queen's Own and Battleford Rifles. There remained, however, a few braves who doggedly held their ground until outflanked by the scouts, making a long détour, towards the end of the day.

(4) Maxims were not then so well known for never jamming.

(5) In this action "B" Battery had Lieutenant Peltier, Sergeant Caffney, Corporal Morton, and Gunner Reynolds severely wounded. After literally hairbreadth escapes in battle, Major Short died doing his duty in peace-time, from an explosion of gunpowder in blowing up a house to stop a vast conflagration in the city of Quebec.

(6) Colonel Otter puts the strength of the Indian braves at fully 500 and 50 Métis.

  After six hours' fighting, the flank and rear were clear, but the position was not tenable for the night. The guns could only be fought by lashing up the broken trails with splints after each round. Colonel Otter had accomplished his object by handling Poundmaker and his braves so roughly that Big Bear did not care to join his discomfited friend, but preferred to try conclusions with the Western Column in the forest swamps north of the Saskatchewan. Colonel Otter returned to Battleford the same night, fearing a counter-attack on that place. The retirement was effectually covered by the artillery, crippled though it was, Short--first in advance and last in retreat--bringing up the rear with the Gatling. The dead and wounded were brought over the creek safely--8 killed and 14 wounded. The body of Private Osgood, of the Guards, alone could not be recovered. The force made a rapid return march to Battleford. General Middleton has left on record that he did not approve of the dash made by Colonel Otter, nor, indeed, of the action of any of the commanders whom distance made it impossible for him personally to control.

  So far, we have followed the fortunes of the Eastern and Centre Columns, up to the battles of Fish Creek and Cut Knife. Should the reader so desire, he may at no distant date follow also the wilderness march of the Western Column, with its fights at Frenchman's Butte and Loon Lake in pursuit of "Big Bear," and read the story of the four days' battle at Batoche, where the brave but misguided half-breeds were lured to destruction by the foolish fanatic Riel, who paid the penalty of the folly that becomes crime.

(End of part one.)