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ALONG the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains lies the
prairie Province of Alberta, a country bigger than England
and Wales, with a population of some 10,000 Indians and but
few whites. In the immediate vicinity of the then small
settlements of McLeod and Calgary there were about 2,500
braves--Bloods, Blackfeet, Peigans, and Sarcees--armed
chiefly with Winchesters. The settlers, few in number, were
unarmed, scattered over the country, and panic stricken. The
half-breeds mixed with the white men were disaffected, and
had already joined or instigated the Indians to plunder and
ill-treat missionaries and solitary ranchers. The armed
force at the disposal of her Majesty's Government in these
parts consisted of a police inspector and four constables
already in charge of five prisoners in the otherwise empty
police barracks of Calgary, the rest of the force having
marched East with Colonel
On the 29th March I received the following telegram from the Minister of Militia:--
"To Major-General Strange.
"Can you get up corps? Would like to see you to the front again; trust you as ever. Arms and ammunition will be sent up upon a telegram from you.
In reply I put my fastest team into my buckboard (a light prairie contrivance on four wheels) and started for Calgary. As my half-broken bronchos were plunging to be off, the foreman, Jim Christie, making a long-forgotten military salute, put a paper into my hand. It was a list of volunteer troopers, to furnish their own horses, arms, and appointments. Heading the list were both my boys, one of whom sat by me on the buckboard, and with the twinkle of a merry brown eye he said, 'It's all right, governor; the boys will stick to you--every man on the ranche is down.' He let go the horses, and I shouted back, 'All right, boys! Sergeant Christie, take charge.'"(1)
(1) I have been obliged in the course of this narrative to draw upon my autobiography, "Gunner Jingo" as well as upon official despatches and an article in The United Service Magazine.
On my way I was met by an Indian who handed me the following telegram:
"Gleichen March 30.--To General Strange--Latest report Fort
Carltonburnt. Crozier retiring to Prince Albert. Slight skirmish--2 mounted police killed, 10 wounded 7 civilians. Not known how many Breeds. Great fright in Calgary Sunday night. Report Blackfeet going to take the town. People all assembled in hall. Great excitement. Women very much frightened. There will be a train going west to night or early a.m.--J.E. FLAHERTY, Stationmaster."
The Mayor of Calgary called a public meeting. Men, and fine ones too, were forthcoming, but of arms, ammunition, and saddlery there were not enough; of wild horses from the prairie ranches there was, of course, no lack.
Captain Hatton, an ex-militia officer, volunteered and obtained the command of the corps. A detachment of troopers, mostly cowboys, were posted on the Blackfoot Reserve to watch the braves and protect the railway. The military colonisation ranche was only seven miles from the Blackfoot Reserve. In my absence the family (until they could be taken to a place of safety) were left in the charge of my second son, only eighteen, and Jim Christie, an old hand with Indians. I left directions to put things in a state of defence, without alarming the ladies or letting the Indians see we were afraid. The six plucky fellows on the ranche were well armed. Jim Christie loopholed the cellar about the level of the ground, under the plea of ventilation: the house being plank, was not bullet-proof. The men's quarter--a log hut detached from ours and flanking it--was defensible. A band of Indians were camped in the brush near the river, without women or impedimenta, which meant mischief. They tried to run off our horses, but one of our men dropped the leading Indian; his comrades carried him off, but not our horses.
Major Steele's detachment of twenty police was withdrawn from the mountains. He added to this number a body of forty excellent scout cavalry, under Captain Oswald. Major Walker, an ex-police officer, was put in command of the volunteer home guards. Major Stuart raised the Mounted Rangers at Fort McLeod to patrol the frontier. But the main difficulty was transport, supplies, camp equipage, and field hospital. The first was got over by using Government survey carts and hiring settlers' waggons. Supplies were sent by the Hudson Bay Company from its Eastern branches--most of their posts in the North were already plundered. The two last, with arms, ammunition, and militia infantry, had also to come from the East, where the pressure was great--the West had to wait. General Middleton and the Militia Department at Ottawa were doing their best to meet the strain. The first troops to reach Calgary (April 12), were the 65th French-Canadian Voltigeurs--2,000 miles by rail--from Montreal, 248 rank-and-file, Major Hughes in command, Colonel Ouimet, M.P., being invalided. The majority were recruits who had never fired a rifle. It was found that few trained men could be taken from civil employ. During the week that elapsed before sufficient transport, etc., could be collected, Mr. Hamilton (Police) worked hard as supply officer. The Voltigeurs were encamped and drilled incessantly, target practice, outpost instruction, and their arms overhauled. Officers and men were cheery and active, for the French-Canadian has a touch of the gaieté de cur of the soldier of Old France; they were armed with Sniders, and uniformed like the Rifle Brigade--spruce little men they looked when they started. I got the whole force supplied with the Western broad felt hat, looped to the left with the regimental button: it could be worn to the sunny side at will, and gave them a jaunty, devil-may-care aspect, except when the thermometer dropped below zero and a muffler was tied over it: anyhow, it was better than the spiked pot. Three days after the arrival of the first detachment of militia the advance was made under Lieutenant Corryell,(2) with fifteen mounted scouts, to escort back the settlers who had abandoned the Red Deer Settlement. I armed them with the first lot of Sniders received, and transformed the Rev. M. Beatty (nothing loth) into a sergeant The Rev. John McDougall, a Methodist missionary, born in the country, volunteered to accompany this force with four faithful Indians. He pushed on, carrying despatches to Edmonton: the Citizen Committee of Defence had sent to me for help. Corryell had a rough experience: there had been a snowstorm, the glare of the sun producing snow-blindness. Corryell and seven of his men were so smitten; but not to be daunted, he got a leading-rein attached to his bridle and was led by a trooper. He so continued his advance to the Red Deer, where he loopholed the log houses and waited for the rest of the column. The few days' rest restored their sight. On the evening of the 17th, Colonel Osborne Smith reached Calgary with his newly-raised Winnipeg Battalion--326 of all ranks. The men were far superior in physique to a modern British regiment; the officers, except the colonel and a few others, had little military training, but all were eager to get to the front. He left a company at Gleichen to relieve the detachment of Alberta Mounted Rifles guarding the railroad and workshops, and watching the trails from the North, which centre at Crowfoot. The rest of the battalion was camped at Calgary Next morning Captain Valency's company set out to garrison Fort McLeod, a hundred miles south, from which a detachment of twenty mounted police, Inspector Perry, with field-gun, had been withdrawn for the Northern column.
(2) Corryell was a land surveyor, who was trained at the Canadian Military College, an institution invaluable to Canada and the Empire: its pupils have already made a red mark in the annals of the British Army.
On the 20th April the first column marched, Major-General Strange commanding, Lieutenant Strange, A.D.C.; Scout Cavalry, Major Steele; 20 Police, 40 Scouts, Captain Oswald; 65th, 160 men, Colonel Hughes; supply and transport officer, Captain Wright; medical officer, Surgeon Paré (six stretchers), 175 waggons and carts, with fifteen days' provisions and forage, reserve ammunition, tents, and the men's packs.
As I rode out of Calgary at the head of my command, an elderly man with a tired look in his face and wearing the Lucknow clasp and medal, took hold of my horse's mane and implored me to give him one more chance of a fight before he died. He was an old Indian comrade I had long lost sight of. He became a settler in Manitoba. I made him baggage boss on the spot, and as he performed the distressful duties satisfactorily, and as the only staff officer I had was my son, who was A.D.C., I appointed my veteran friend, Dale, brigade major. During the campaign he showed unwearying assiduity and pluck, though his old-time British-officer habit of damning militiamen in general and Frenchmen in particular was productive of much frictional electricity, which required all my best French and most oleaginous manner to neutralise.
We were entering a wilderness country from which no supplies could be drawn; the Indians had burned the prairie to the Red Deer River, beyond was forest and swamp. The second and third columns were to march when transport was available. The early spring of 1885 was most unfavourable to the advance. A few days' warm chinook (as the wind from the Pacific called) melted the snows, flooded the rivers and coulees, and made Sloughs or Despond in which waggons sank to the axletrees. Then the warm wind ceased the thermometer fell, and blizzard snow-storms obliterated the trail. The first obstacle was the Bow River--three feet deep, with an icy current. It had to be forded: there was neither bridge or ferry. Nose Creek, its tributary, was a second obstacle the same day: thus the first march was of necessity a short one.
21st.--The column marched to and camped at McPherson's Coulee. A snowstorm came on, and continued next day. The tents were frozen stiff the ropes like rods, and the pegs had to be chopped out of the frozen ground with axes. But the march was not much delayed. As we came into brush-wood country, numbers of white hares tempted the sporting proclivities of our medico, which had to be repressed for fear of false alarm.
The regimental officers were busy imparting what instruction was possible on the march. At every short halt they taught judging distance and aiming drill.
On the 25th the column reached Red Deer River, swollen and rapid with melted snows. There had formerly been a ferry run across by a wire rope. It had been cut adrift by "hostiles." As we neared the Red Deer dense clumps of poplar and alder clothed the north side of the river; the bush was too thick for cavalry to scout with effect. The Voltigeurs were sent across in waggons raised on their axles by blocks of wood. The infantry advanced in extended order. They were not opposed, though the Indian signal-smokes (sent up in long and short puffs on the Morse system) showed they were watching our movements. They also used the heliograph. There is nothing new under the sun. An Indian brave wears a small looking-glass on his breast, which he uses for flashing signals as well as for adornment--his vanity may be put on a level with that of Tommy Atkins wishing to captivate his best housemaid. Their vedettes on a subsequent occasion were seen on a rising ground signalling our advance by circling right and left, just as laid down in the red-book. The cavalry under Steele forded the river, then the transport waggons. A few carts were swept away, but were recovered, the provisions they contained scarcely damaged, as flour in sacks only wets to a depth of about an inch, the interior, from the caking of the outside layer, remaining dry. The consumption of supplies had left waggons available to return to Calgary for the second column, and as the grass was sprouting, it was no longer necessary to carry forage.
27th.--The force camped on south bank of Blind Man's River, a deep but sluggish stream. The bridge had been partially burnt by "rebels," but was rapidly repaired by the pioneers. Canadians are axemen par excellence, and can build a house or make a toothpick with an axe.
29th.--At Battle River camp Fathers Lacombe and Scullen met us. They brought with them the now penitent thieves--"Ermineskin" and "Bobtail"--who plundered the H.B. store and Protestant mission, and who wanted to shake hands; but I put mine behind my back, saying I would shake hands on my return, provided they behaved themselves in the interim. Otherwise---- I left a blank for their imagination to fill. I was told the Indians were not impressed by my little French-Canadian soldiers, who they declared were not King George's men, because they did not wear red coats, and talked French like half-breeds; but when the Winnipeg Light Infantry, in scarlet, and swearing in English, marched through their reserves, they began to feel that the long arm of the Great White Queen could reach them.
The plundered Protestant missionary families came into camp. The Rev. J. McDougall, my avant courrier, wrote to Corryell from Edmonton on April 5th:
"I am sending the accompanying despatch. Please forward by first opportunity: The 'hostiles' are still at Frog Lake. The white women are in their hands worse than murdered. This is the latest Indian report sixteen days since--Fort Pitt was still all right, our mission Indians at White Fish Lake and Saddle Lake loyal, and this has influenced others to be so. I hope the advance will be quick to relieve Fort Pitt and rescue prisoners. There is still a feeling of insecurity about here. My regards to the boys."
There was also a despatch from Inspector Greisbach, who was holding Fort Saskatchewan, about twenty miles east of Edmonton, with ten police, who wanted help. The settlers from Beaver Lake had taken refuge with them. A company of the 65th were left as garrison. As the column neared Edmonton the settlers came out with waggons for the tired soldiers;. but the Voltigeurs, after their two hundred miles' march, were toughening, not tiring. That this little column, with its long line of waggons, reached its destination unmolested was due to the careful scouting of Steele and his men, who also guarded the horses at night. The march of two hundred miles was accomplished in ten days.
The approach to the little town of Edmonton, peeping through clumps of pine and poplar, the blue sky and brilliant sunshine gilding the grey stockades of the Hudson Bay fort, with its quaint bastions and buildings crowning the steep bank over the broad sweep of the Saskatchewan, made a picture that lingers in the memory.
As I neared the opposite bank white puffs of smoke wreathed rom the little guns of the fort, and the echoes of a salute reverberated across the river. The dear old flag floated over the citadel of the far North, its folds displaying the wondrous letters H.B.C. (Hudson Bay Company), which are a history of two hundred years of British pluck and trading energy.
"Hullo! What's them letters on the flag?" asked a young English scout.
"Why, I guess that's 'Here before Christ,'" was the ready reply of his Canadian comrade.
The force crossed the Saskatchewan, and on May 1st encamped under Fort Edmonton, which was rapidly put into a state of defence, and provisions collected. The chief factor anticipated a famine in the district, as many H.B.C. stores had been raided and communications interrupted. A large flat-bottomed boat, 100 feet long by 25 feet beam, and four smaller ones, were patched and strengthened, as it was my intention to float down half my force and the bulk of the provisions, the other half and cavalry marching. All transport that could be spared was sent back to assist the second column, the remainder prepared for the forward march to Victoria. While waiting for the rest of the force incessant drill and target practice were again carried on.
On the 5th, Steele's scouts were to march; but the teamsters refused to budge without arms. They knew that General Middleton's teamsters were supplied with rifles, and I only induced them to move by a promise (pie-crusty) that arms should be given at Victoria: they had been wired for before leaving Calgary. One was sick of worrying the wire and being worried by it. It was a relief that it went no further than Calgary, with which communications were established by couriers, and kept open by detachments of the 65th at Red Deer Ferry, Battle River, and Peace Hill Farm. The trail was also patrolled by a detachment of Alberta Mounted Rifles, and no convoy or courier was molested. It was otherwise with the other columns: a convoy was captured and looted by Poundmaker's men. Colonel Osborne Smith pushed forward the two remaining columns from Calgary, which marched simultaneously.
Inspector Perry arrived on the 5th with left wing of Voltigeurs and the field-gun. He had stretched a wire rope across the Red Deer and repaired the scow sufficiently to transport the gun, etc. As the artillery ammunition had been twelve years in store, it was necessary to try it and give the gunners practice. On the 8th, Colonel Hughes with the rest of 65th marched along north bank of Saskatchewan to Victoria, preceded by Steele's scouts. On the 10th, the third column arrived--Colonel 0. Smith, W.L.I., Alberta Mounted Rifles, with further convoys of provisions. All the waggons and horses, except six for the guns, were sent on to Victoria under escort.
Some half-breeds from the settlement of La Boucan were arrested by Captain Constantine of the police, who knew them to have been concerned in Riel's first rebellion. Compromising letters from Riel's camp were found upon them. Half-breed pilots were the only men acquainted with the river, but such a scare was established as to the certainty of boats and men being destroyed, that it was difficult to obtain boatmen: indeed, it was evident that where the river was narrow, a few trees felled into the water, and carried down by the current to some of the numerous shallows, would effectually detain the flotilla under fire.
I made the best provision I could against plunging fire from the banks. The boats were not decked, but had a narrow platform running round. Barrels of salt pork and sacks of flour were arranged along the sides above and below the gunwale, giving a double tier of fire, loop-holes being formed by intervals between the sacks and holes cut under the gunwale. A high traverse was raised along the centre of the boat.
The gunboat and horse-boat were stouter than those for infantry, and protected by bales of pressed hay. The sketches (on p. 732) indicate the arrangements. My flour-clads, carried along by the current and steered by sweeps, did not inspire the same confidence as the steam flotilla of General Middleton. To add to my difficulties, some of my officers took to foolscap, "condemning the construction of the boats, requesting permission to try experiments on the penetration of flour sacks by rifle bullets, and finally condemning the ammunition issued to the troops, the defects of which had been brought to light by target practice." The protest against the boats was met by ordering a board of officers to take the evidence of the boatbuilders. The experiments on flour-sacks were left to the enemy, and officers objecting to the quality of ammunition were advised to restrict the fire of their men to short range.
A snowstorm delayed the embarkation till the 14th. The flotilla consisted of five infantry boats, a gunboat, a horse-barge, and a ferry scow, carrying a coil of wire rope, to span the river and establish communication, enabling the troops to act on either bank. The flotilla was preceded by river scouts in canoes, men of the type one finds on all the wilderness waterways of the West, who can navigate a log or balance a portly Englishman as he plays a salmon from a birch-bark canoe.
The weather cleared, the tall pines rustled overhead, and the swift, yellow gold-bearing waters of the Saskatchewan swirled beneath us for many a mile, for it was three hundred to Fort Pitt.
Il dolce far niente after hard marching was enjoyable, but a sharp look-out was kept, and the Winnipeg men pulled lustily at the sweeps, cheered by the lively boat songs of the French-Canadian pilots, with which one had become familiar in many a lumber camp in days gone by:
"C'est l'aviron qui nous monte qui nous mène,
C'est l'aviron qui nous monte en haut.
"Il y a longtemps que je t'aime,
Jamais je ne t'oublierai."
I had not the heart to stop them, though they might have attracted the attention of prowling Indian scouts. But the song dropped towards dusk--the men knew it was dangerous.
Passed Fort Saskatchewan on the morning of
the 15th. The
Major Butler begged to accompany my force. As he had some experience as a settler, I put him in charge of the road-repairing party. The ladies volunteered as hospital nurses, but of this offer I did not feel able to avail myself.
The composite character of volunteer service was added to by a telegram from an ex-hussar, my old friend Captain Palliser, who wired thus:
"OTTAWA--Minister consents. Am off to join you as captain, but will serve with pleasure as full private."
He made his way to the front, riding courier's horses, which was rough on both parties, for he stood about six and a half feet, and rode over fourteen stone. Finally, he paddled down the Saskatchewan in a canoe with a half-breed, and restored communications which had been interrupted, rendering important service.
The church militant was strong in the force. With the leading scouts as interpreter was Canon McKay, of the Anglican church. He, like Mr. McDougall, was born in the Indian territory. The son of an old Hudson Bay official he had a university education and the gift of tongues--Indian. Mr. McKenzie, a young Presbyterian minister, marched from Fort McLeod with the mounted police, and the 65th had their chaplain, Father Prevost.
All these gentlemen were well armed and mounted, except the latter, who rode in an ambulance, and carried no weapon but a crucifix, with which he went under fire to administer the rites of his church to the mortally wounded. These reverend scouts were men as well as missionaries, and eagerly desired to rescue the English women from the Indians.
Fort Victoria was reached on May 16th. Settlers, after the Frog Lake massacre, had crowded within the half-rotten palisade, and were without food. The young children looked wretched, and many died. I left rations in charge of the Methodist minister, Rev. Mr. McLachlan, and a small detachment of the 65th as garrison.
The horse-boat sank near Fort Saskatchewan. The drivers swam the horses across the river and marched. The boat was raised by pumping, and towed in rear. All this caused delay. On 17th Steele's scouts were pushed on to Saddle Lake. Peccan, a Cree chief, who had not joined Big Bear, sent messengers asking the inevitable "Pow-wow." I reluctantly consented as it was important to get some of his men as scouts. My cowboys were on new ground and in wooded country, very different from the open prairie.
Corryell's scouts had not been heard of, and must be short of provisions. There was a report of their capture, and no news of Hattan with Alberta Rifles. Peccan came into camp on the 20th, and said that his people would not consent to act as scouts, so I marched from Victoria to Vermillion Creek with the Winnipeg Infantry and field-gun. The 65th, under Colonel Hughes, embarked in the boats, and dropped down the river, touch being kept between the land and river columns by mounted scouts. To encourage the others, who objected to the boats, I had embarked in one myself with my staff, but I had no intention of being caught floating. The tussle with Big Bear I knew must come off on land, and I wanted the stiffest part of my force with me--the dogged English-Canadians.
Leaving the English of the Western Column to plod through forest and swamp while the French-Canadians floated in their flour-clads, we must return to the Eastern Column, to General Middleton's steam flotilla and the coming battle of Batoche. It must be borne in mind that the two columns were operating with about eight hundred miles of wilderness between them, and as yet without communication, hoping to concentrate at Fort Pitt. After the battle of Fish Creek, General Middleton was delayed, waiting for the steamer Northcote with supplies and reinforcements from his base at Qu' Appelle. On her arrival she was made, as far as practicable, bullet-proof, and "C" Company went on board, fifty strong, Major Smith in command, with orders to move abreast of General Middleton's shore column, 724 strong.
Lieutenant Freer (of the Canadian Military College) was appointed aide-de-camp; Colonel Strawbenzie, brigadier of infantry; and Captain Young, of Winnipeg battery, brigade major.
On the morning of the 7th May, leaving camp standing with a small guard, the column marched on Batoche, scouts in advance. As they neared the river a rattling fire and the steamer's whistle showed she was already engaged. The houses and village church were found to be held by the enemy, who opened fire. The part taken by the artillery is best described by the man who commanded it--Colonel Montizambert.
"On the morning of the 9th the welcome command came, 'Guns to the front!' A three-mile gallop brought us there,(3) and the two guns of 'A' Battery came into action, Major Jarvis's two guns being held in reserve." The enemy retired behind the church and a large wooden house beside it, from which shots were fired as the advance continued. The gatling was turned on the house without effect. A white flag was waved at a window. General Middleton stopped the firing and rode up. Within were found some Catholic priests, Sisters of Mercy, and half-breed women and children. The advance was continued without molestation of the occupants.
(3) The Canadian Field Artillery are, for short distances,able to move at a rapid pace, as they carry the gunners on the off horses, gun-axle seats, and limbers, like the old Bengal Horse Artillery.
The scouts were checked by a fire from brush-wood about two hundred yards in front--they retired behind the church. "A rush was made on the guns by the half-breeds and Indians, but Lieutenant Rivers's gatling was of service in the absence of any infantry escort, which was necessarily left far behind. Captain Howard (an American volunteer), acting as a gun number, turned the crank and poured in a fire which enabled the guns to be retired without serious loss." After the infantry came up, the guns attempted the shelling of the pits from the same point, but the nature of the ground, consisting of rolling prairie and heavy bluffs, made it necessary to come to too close quarters for effective work. "Gunner Phillips was wounded at the edge of a ravine occupied by the enemy, and rolled down into it. Gunners Coyne and Beaudry went down and brought up their comrade, who was lying in front of the rebel pits not a hundred yards off; Phillips was shot the second time and killed while being carried up; the rescuers escaped unhurt." The wounded were put in the church, where the priests and the sisters gave their aid to the doctors. On this day the casualties were two killed and eight wounded.
It was getting late, and though our men were holding their own, the enemy had been reinforced by those who had been engaged with the steamer, and the general did not think it advisable to attempt an advance through thick cover surrounding the village. He decided to retire a short distance and bivouac for the night.
Bolton's scouts, with Secretan (assistant transport officer), were sent to bring up the camp. The waggons were corralled on an open space about 1,000 yards in rear. No tents were pitched, except for the wounded, as the horses were inside the enclosure. The troops were gradually withdrawn, the enemy following until checked by a fire from the waggon corral. They kept up a desultory fire till darkness fell, killing two horses and wounding one man. The men lay down by their arms. The steamer's whistle not being heard, a rocket was sent up to show the whereabouts of our force.
Orders were telegraphed from Humboldt to close up the troops on the line of communications, and Lord Melgund was sent to Ottawa with special despatches. The steamer Northcote had three men wounded. The captain, pilot, and most of the crew lost their heads and control of the steamer: she swept on to the wire ferry rope, which carried away her smoke stacks and steam whistle.
It was impossible to steam back against the current, towing the barges. It was decided to drop down to Hudson Bay Ferry, leave the barges there, take in firewood, and return to Batoche; but they ran aground at the Hudson Bay Ferry, where they found the steamer Marquis with a party of police. Both steamers started with the reinforcement, but the Marquis's machinery broke down, and the Northcote took her in tow. They did not reach Batoche till late on the 12th. No doubt the approach of steamers had a dissolving effect on the rebel forces, and prevented Riel's escape across the river. On May 10th, General Middleton received valuable reinforcements--the Land Surveyors Scouts, 50 strong, Captain Dennis. Many of the men had surveyed the country in which the struggle took place.
When the force moved out they found the positions captured the day before occupied by the enemy, who had also made fresh rifle-pits.
During the day the guns shelled houses occupied by the enemy. Our men constructed pits out of sight of the enemy to cover the evening retirement. When the force withdrew they were followed, but the enemy were stopped by the unexpected flank fire. They tried a few shots at long range. The casualties this day were one killed and five wounded.
On the 11th, French's scouts having reported open prairie north-east of Batoche, General Middleton, leaving Van Strawbenzie to command the infantry, went with Bolton's scouts and the gatling to the right, where the enemy had rifle pits. The gatling, supported by dismounted scouts, was advanced to a slight rise: the enemy were too well covered to be impressed, and the general brought the party back to camp. During his absence, the artillery had shelled the cemetery and rifle pits, from which the fire slackened. Seeing this, Colonel Williams, with his Midlanders, rushed the Indian post at the cemetery, and held it till the usual evening retirement, which was unmolested. The casualties were four wounded, including Captain Manly, Grenadiers.
On the morning of the 12th--General Middleton, with all the mounted men, one gun ("A" battery) and gatling, took up the former position to the right on the prairie--Messrs. Ashby and Jackson, two of Riel's white prisoners, brought a letter from Riel to the effect that "if his women and children were massacred, he would massacre the white prisoners." An answer was sent that if he would put the women and children in one place and indicate the exact locality, no shot would be fired at it. Mr. Ashby honourably returned with the answer. The prisoners were shut up in a cellar, the trap door of which was kept down by heavy weights. Mr. Jackson declined to return. The general retired, the gun and gatling covered by the dismounted scouts, who here lost Lieutenant Kippen, shot through the head. On his return to camp, the general found to his chagrin that, owing to a high wind blowing from the camp, the firing had not been heard, and no simultaneous advance made. He naïvely tells us he lost his temper and his head, and hurried off alone to the front. As he neared the church he was discovered, and so hot a fire opened that he had to indulge in exercise to which he was not accustomed--running away. Fortunately, he reached one of our rifle pits, into which he dropped, till Captain Young, who had been watching the solitary reconnaissance with some anxiety, advanced a party and brought back the general. Meanwhile the men dined, and Strawbenzie was ordered to take up the old position and "advance cautiously." The latter part of the order he disobeyed. The Midlanders, under Williams on the left, again carried the cemetery with a rush, the Grenadiers, under Grasset, prolonged the line to the right beyond the church--the 90th, at first, in support. But the Midlanders and their colonel were sick of advances and retirements, and swept the enemy out of the pits right down to the river. The Grenadier advanced and drove the enemy from the ravine.
The whole line, led by Strawbenzie, gave a rousing cheer, which brought the general from his tent with his mouth full of lunch and expletives, disgusted that there had been any fighting he had not had a hand in. He found the line had pivoted on the centre and was now at right angles to the river, having turned the whole position. The gatling and guns were blazing away at the village and the ferry by which the enemy were escaping, the steamer not having yet come up. The 90th were extended on the right, and the scouts dismounted beyond them again on the extreme right. Ashby again appeared, running the gauntlet of fire from both sides, to bring another letter from Riel, who, he said, was "in a blue funk." Outside the envelope was written, "I don't like war. If you don't cease firing, the question will remain the same as regards the prisoners." The answer was an advance of the whole line, with ringing cheers, and officers well to the front. The place was carried, and the prisoners released: resistance had collapsed. About 6 p.m. the steamers appeared. Blankets and food were sent up from camp, part of the men bivouacked in the village, pickets were posted, and the men rested content with a good day's work; but it had been paid for--five killed, of whom four were officers: Captains French and Brown, of the Scouts, Lieutenant Fitch, grenadiers, and Lieutenant Kippen, Surveyor Scouts; twenty-five wounded, including Major Dawson, Grenadiers, and Lieutenant Laidlaw, Midlanders. Total casualties for the four days were eight killed and forty-six wounded. Twenty-three dead rebels and five wounded were left on the field. A Roman Catholic priest gives the rebel loss during the four days as fifty-one killed, one hundred and seventy-three wounded.
A camp of Indian and half-breed women and children was found under a cliff by the river, left by their owners. They were soon camping about the bivouac. Some of the ladies spoke in unparliamentary terms of the leaders who had brought the trouble upon them and them abandoned them. The following days the half-breeds kept coming in with white flags to surrender, sometimes accompanied by their priests. The general was given a list of the worst rebels, who were made prisoners, the remainder being released with a caution.
On the 14th the force marched to Lepines. The search continued for Riel and Dumont. On the 15th the former surrendered to three police scouts--Howrie, Deal, and Armstrong, producing a letter from General Middleton, which guaranteed his life until handed over to the civil power. Gabriel Dumont, the wily old hunter, made his escape to the States, from which, it is said, he visited England with Buffalo Bill's circus. Riel, with others, was sent a prisoner to Regina, and handed over to the civil power.
On the surrender of Riel, General Middleton's force crossed the Saskatchewan, and went on to Prince Albert in three steamers. Prince Albert was reached on 20th May, and Battleford on 24th.
We have now to return to Big Bear.
At Saddle Lake Corryell's scouts came in. They had opened communication with the boats which had been fired on, and returned it, but none of Mark Twain's "good Indians" were found. I was anxious to open communication with Otter's column at Battleford, and thus with General Middleton.
Sergeant Borradaile and Scout Scott volunteered to go in a canoe down the Saskatchewan to Battleford. Hiding themselves by day and paddling by night, they duly reached General Middleton. Eventually he sent them back to me with a letter for Big Bear, demanding his immediate surrender. This letter for various reasons--among others, the deficiency of pillar-post boxes--failed to reach that gentleman.
The morning of the 22nd we collected stores of grain and potatoes, plundered and then abandoned by Indians. Struck camp, and marched at noon. The long-expected rifles having arrived, the teamsters--Western men, and mostly good shots--were at last armed, as I had promised, much to their content and mine, relieving the infantry from guarding the convoy.
23rd.--Camp near Dog Rump Creek. The Alberta Rifles at last overtook the force.
24th.--Camped at Moose Creek near Frog Lake. Queen's birthday, but not Queen's weather. Three cheers were given for her Majesty, and being Sunday, the first verse of the Old Hundredth was started by some Puritan soldier, and sung by everybody, and the march resumed amid terrible surroundings of massacre. The settlement consisted of the Roman Catholic mission, a mill, and eight or nine settlers' houses. The church, parsonage, mill, and every settler's house was burnt and levelled with the ground. In the cellar of the parsonage, guided by the terrible smell, a painful sight was witnessed--four headless bodies huddled together in a corner. Two of the bodies had been Father Fafard and Father Marchand another was that of a lay brother, and the fourth someone unknown. The corpses were horribly mangled; all four heads were charred by fire beyond recognition. The bodies of the priests were recognised by their beads. The remains of Delany, Quinn, and Gilchrist were discovered in the woods near by. A body, supposed to be that of Mrs. Gowanlock, was found in a well. Both legs were severed near the thigh, and the arms above the elbows.
The following is condensed from the statement of an eye-witness, W.B. Cameron, H.B.C. employé, the only man spared in the massacre: When news of the disaster at Duck Lake reached Frog Lake, the "Bear" Indians were loud in their assurances of friendship; but before daylight they came in a body to the house of the Indian agent, Quinn, and two of them--Big Bear's son, "Bad-Child" or "King-Bird," and another Indian--went into his bedroom, intending to shoot him. Quinn was married to a Cree woman, and his wife's brother, "Lone-Man," followed "Bad-Child" upstairs, and prevented him from murdering his victim. Meantime, the Indians below had taken the guns from the office, and "Travelling Spirit" called out to Quinn to come down. "Lone-Man" told him not to go. He obeyed, however, and was taken to Delany's house. Before this the Indians had seized all the Government horses.
"Lone-Man" and "Travelling
Spirit" went with the others to the H.B.C. storekeeper
Cameron, and made him give them all the ammunition in stock.
Big Bear now appeared, and said, "Don't take
the things out of store. Cameron will give you what
The Indians demanded beef. It was Good Friday. The priests went to the church without hindrance, and the white people were allowed to assemble there. Big Bear and "Miserable-Man" stood near the door, while all the others knelt. During service "Travelling Spirit" entered, kneeling in mockery in the centre of the church, rifle in hand, war hat on head, and face painted yellow. Without a pause or tremor in his voice the undaunted priest continued the service. When it was finished, the people were all taken to Delany's house, where the two priests and all the men except Cameron were killed.
Cameron, the women and children were kept close prisoners. They were not otherwise badly treated. During the action at Frenchman's Butte they were taken away by Indians some twenty miles into the woods, and then left. They were subsequently found by Major Dale, and brought into camp.
While the bodies of the murdered were being hastily buried, a report came in from Oswald, scouting in advance, that the Indians were in force near Fort Pitt, and that he required immediate support. I pushed on with the cavalry, the gun, and one company infantry in waggons leaving Colonel 0. Smith to follow with the rest of his regiment and the supply train. Orders were sent to the 65th to drop down in their boats parallel to us. Starting after mid-day, we reached Fort Pitt, thirty miles distant, before evening, finding Oswald's scouts posted in a poplar bluff, where they could observe the enemy without being seen. The Indians had retired, leaving a small part of the building intact. We camped for the night on a plateau above the fort, throwing out strong pickets.
At daybreak on the 26th, working parties cleared out what remained of the fort. One large room was found knee-deep in flour; our approach had evidently interrupted a carnival of riot and waste, the whole neighbourhood was littered with the débris of broken furniture and articles for which an Indian has no use, a mass of religious books and tracts. Among them was a curious commentary on the Gospel: the mutilated body of a policeman, whose heart had been cut out and stuck on a pole close by.
On 27th, my scouts had a skirmish with the Indians, and I found another commentary, written this time by a white man on a red one the body of an Indian chief bereft of his scalp lock. À la guerre comme à la guerre.
The whereabouts of Big Bear being unknown, it was an open question, first, whether he had crossed the river and travelled east to join Poundmaker, of whose discomfiture we had not heard; second, whether, after crossing the river, he would go west, and fall on my communications; third, whether he would strike north into forest and swamp that stretches to the Arctic circle. Scouts were sent in the three directions indicated.
Inspector Perry, with twenty police; accompanied by McKay and McDougall, were ferried across the Saskatchewan. They found the track of Cree carts opposite Fort Pitt, and the prints of white women's slippers. Perry, was ordered to follow the tracks for ten miles, where I knew the trail divided into three, and report along which the white women had been taken. The half-breed scouts who followed the trail west along the south bank found it unused and returned. Steele, with the rest of the cavalry, was sent to reconnoitre west and north. He found a recent trail, indicating the movement of a large party. After travelling about thirty miles, he found himself at nightfall in thick brushwood on the river bank, within three miles of where he started. Steele, six shooter in hand, was himself leading, followed closely by one of his men. Their advance was noiseless. There is no jingle about the accoutrements of a Western scout; his horse's unshod hoofs are muffled in the soft soil, and--to use an Hibernianism--his stirrup-irons are wood, and for head-collar chain he has a raw-hide rope.
The movements of the red men are equally noiseless. Suddenly an Indian challenged in a low tone, not knowing friend from foe in the gathering gloom. Sergeant Butlin, the white scout with Steele, answered in Cree, "Keeka!" ("Wait"), but the native gentleman promptly fired at Steele, missed him, and received in return Steele's bullet and the scout's. A few scattering shots were exchanged in the twilight, and the Indians retired. Two ponies were captured.
The Indian cayuse--beau-ideal beast to carry a rifleman--browses while his master fights: any other sort of rest only makes him tired. The fallen Indian was the chief who had started the outbreak at Saddle Lake: he wore the Queen's medal supplied by the Canadian Government--an ornament about the size of an agricultural trophy for a prize pig. These medals are solid silver, and much valued by the chiefs, who hand them down from father to son. Some of them bear the image and superscription of good King George III. Next morning, on passing the spot where he fell, I noticed the tall, athletic figure of the dusky warrior as he lay like a bronze statue overthrown by some iconoclastic hand, and clothed only with a grim smile and a breech clout, the usual full-dress fighting uniform of the red man. He had lost his medal and his scalp.
In the meantime, the infantry had been busy putting what remained of the fort in as defensible a condition as possible--for the site, like that of most police posts, was chosen regardless of military necessity, and was commanded by an adjacent plateau, from which the Indians shot fire arrows into the wooden roofs, their rifles commanding the path to the river, which was the only water supply. It is not surprising that Inspector Dickens and his men quitted the fort.
The wire cable had been stretched across the river, so that the force could act on either bank. On getting Major Steele's report that he had found the enemy, I immediately marched with all available men: 200 infantry, the field-gun, 27 cavalry, leaving a company of the 65th to garrison Fort Pitt. Only three days' rations remained. We were already on a reduced scale, officers and men sharing alike. No supplies had reached us since I left Edmonton. The situation was serious, some 300 men, including teamsters, in a wilderness country, and destitute of supplies. I decided to take my three days' rations and attack Big Bear and the Indians in the hope of making them drop their prisoners.
Unfortunately, Inspector Perry, with his twenty police, who were trained gunners, McKay and McDougall, the only reliable men who knew the country, had not returned. Their absence caused me anxiety, until I heard that they had run down General Middleton instead of Big Bear. I did not know the exact whereabouts of either, not having heard of Batoche, and my couriers were like the raven sent from the ark--they did not return.
Steele told me that his half-breed scouts had been badly scared: they fell into ambush, and only escaped by hard riding and good luck. The waggons were corralled, and we advanced in fighting formation about four miles through difficult country. We found the enemy occupying an advantageous position on the slopes of a thickly wooded ridge, intersected with ravines. The summit of the ridge to our left was bare. Upon this we could see a number of mounted men; some were circling and signalling our approach. The gun, which I had put in charge of Lieutenant Strange and Sergeant Conner of the police, and a volunteer detachment of Winnipeg men, opened fire: a few rounds of shrapnel cleared the ridge.
The scouts and one company of Winnipeg Infantry were extended to the left, and the remainder to the right. We advanced thus to the crest of the hill without serious opposition.
It was difficult to maintain connection in the dense bush. The gun, which had to follow the trail, was the only portion of my small army which could not break away from me in this big country. The Voltigeurs, who had dropped down the river parallel to us, left the boats and their uneaten dinners, and advanced with alacrity at the first sound of the firing. We followed the enemy's trail till dark through dense wood, where space could scarcely be found to corral the waggons, which had been brought up. After scouting a short distance in advance, we bivouacked round and inside the corral under arms. The Voltigeurs had neither blankets, greatcoats, nor rations; their comrades, the Winnipeg Infantry, had but short rations to share with them. The fires were extinguished after cooking. The darkness of the night, and the black shadows of the forest which surrounded the corral, rendered objects invisible. The horses were brought into the corral and tied up to the waggons. In the event of attack the men were cautioned against wasting ammunition. Night-firing, as a rule, is not effective, except on friends.
On the morning of the 28th the force was roused at daybreak without bugle, and after a scanty breakfast, again moved forward, scouts on foot extended and flanking each side of the trail. The Voltigeurs formed the advanced guard, the Winnipeg Infantry the main body, the gun following, and the supply waggons bringing up the rear. The whole column was confined by the thick wood to a narrow trail. Suddenly we came to an open space on which numerous trails converged. It was the camp-ground where the braves had held their last sun dance. The poles of the sacred lodge, with leafy garlands still hanging from them, showed a batch of young warriors had been lately initiated with the usual rites of self-torture, while the old warriors recounted their achievements in murder and horse-stealing.
The great number of lodge fires confirmed the report of the scouts that we were opposed by about seven hundred braves. We halted, and I rode on with the advanced scouts. On the edge of a wide open valley, right across our line of march, we came upon a fire still alight, an abandoned dough-cake in the ashes. The valley stretched for over a mile in length, and, about six hundred yards wide. Along the bottom ran a sluggish creek, widening into a swamp and fringed here and there with willow-brush. The descent into the valley on our side was abrupt--a wooded slope, down which in zigzags ran the trail. The opposite crest was thickly wooded, and sloped in a bare glacis to the stream, a tributary to the little Red Deer, which flows into the Saskatchewan. From tall trees on the opposite crest hung streamers of red and white calico, the spoils of Fort Pitt. There was no sign or sound of movement: the banners drooped in the still morning air. Our old Indian fighters were nonplussed at so wanton a departure from the traditional Indian tactics of concealment.
Leaving Steele and his men behind the brow, I rode down into the valley with scout Patton. We reached the bottom and were close to the little stream when his horse suddenly sank to the girths. I reined back, and he scrambled with difficulty to solid ground, followed by his sagacious broncho. It was evident we could not cross, so we returned to the crest of the hill overlooking the valley, where some Cree carts were seen in the distance to the left. Word was passed to bring on the gun, which came up at a gallop, the infantry clearing off the narrow trail and cheering--they thought it meant business. A round was fired at the retreating carts. Hardly had the echoes died away when the opposite crest was outlined in a fringe of smoke, followed by the rattle of small arms: the Indian position stood revealed.
Steele's police and scouts rapidly extended to the left; dismounting, they descended the hill to a fringe of willows along the edge of the creek. The Voltigeurs, under Colonel Hughes and Major Prevost, went down the hill at the double, and extended on the right of the dismounted scouts. Two companies Winnipeg Infantry, under Major Thibaudau, prolonged the line to the right; the remainder, under Colonel Smith, formed the reserve withdrawn from the edge of the valley. The Alberta Rifles, dismounted, were extended on the right flank, where the wood was very thick. The waggons were brought up and corralled in the only space about two hundred yards in rear.
The gun was in the open, and the rifle bullets "pinged" rapidly round it. The officer made his men lie down after loading, and laid the gun himself. The shrapnel bullets tore through the branches, but did not seem to touch the men in the pits. But a few percussion common shell, passing through the loose earth, exploded in the pits, and silenced some of the largest. The mangled bodies of the occupants were afterwards found hastily buried.
Meantime, the infantry were trying to cross the swamp: they sank waist deep. I saw the advance checked, and rode along the ridge to the left, and descended to the position occupied by Steele and the Voltigeurs. I saw for myself it would be impracticable to carry the position by direct assault. Constable McRae and two of the 65th were here severely wounded. I ordered Steele to withdraw, mount and move up the valley, to find a crossing by which the enemy's right could be turned and their retreat pushed towards the river up which I was hourly expecting General Middleton. After an hour or more a report came from Steele "that the enemy's position extended about a mile and a half, and he could find no means of turning it." In reality, the Indians kept moving parallel to Steele up the opposite side of the valley behind the screen of trees, and so prevented his out-flanking them. I had tried to join Steele, to judge for myself; but the half-breed scout led me in a circle through the woods, and I found myself in the spot whence I started. He said he had lost his way. While we were trying to turn the enemy's right, they were trying to turn ours, creeping through the thick wood which closed that end of the valley. A few rounds of case fired over the heads of our skirmishers stopped the attempt, and a heavy fire was opened by Hatton's men on the wood to our right.
It was now late in the day, and we had eaten nothing since 3.30 a.m., and but little for the last twenty-four hours. Only one day's rations remained, and no signs of General Middleton's steamers. I decided to retire to open ground to graze the horses and cook there the men's dinners. The advance line was withdrawn from the valley, and the force re-formed on the high ground. It was found that Private Le Mai, of the 65th, had been left severely wounded where he had fallen. Covered by a sharp fire of case shot, Surgeon Paré and a stretcher party of the 65th, followed by Father Prevost, went down. They were exposed to a hot fire. But the dying man (shot through the lungs) could not speak. He was carried to the ambulance in a stretcher.
By this time the enemy had ceased firing. The gun remained in position to cover the retirement. A party of scouts were left to watch the enemy, who did not molest us. On reaching open ground about six miles distant, the waggons were corralled, the horses left to graze, and the men to cook. Our difficulties were aggravated by the boats of the 65th dropping down the river behind an island for concealment. They could not return against the current. With them went the remainder of our food supply, and the blankets and greatcoats of the 65th. There was nothing for it but to return to Fort Pitt, five miles distant. Fortunately, our long-looked-for convoy of provisions reached us next day by boat. The Alberta field force had received its baptism of fire, and taken it well.
On arrival at Fort Pitt I sent two scouts in canoes to look for the barges of the 65th with a despatch for General Middleton. When the scouts arrived within forty miles of Battleford, they met a steamer with a large contingent of newspaper correspondents, Mr. Bedson, supply officer, and provisions, but no troops. My messengers were taken on board, and the steamer returned to Battleford.
On 30th May, with a full commissariat, we again marched for Frenchman's Butte, which the half-breed scouts had been told to watch--a duty they had performed in a perfunctory fashion, for we found the position abandoned. We had to make a detour two miles to the north of the old position to avoid the swampy ground. Here we found ourselves in a cul de sac, surrounded by dense forest impassable for wheeled transport. The scouts found no less than seven trails on which the enemy had dispersed. They eventually converged into two. Along one of these the scouts found traces of Mr. McLean and the ladies of his family, who, with true woman wit had knotted bits of coloured worsted to twigs, and dropped a piece of paper saying they were all well and being carried north-west. At this juncture a message reached me from General Middleton that he had passed up the river to Fort Pitt, and would be in my camp next day with reinforcements. The Indians had abandoned twenty-five waggons and forty carts in their flight, together with tools, sacks of flour, furs, and odds-and-ends of all sorts, the plunder of Fort Pitt. As the trail could only be followed by mounted men in single file, with any prospect of overtaking them, I sent on Major Steele with all my cavalry.
They carried nothing but ammunition, tinned meat, and biscuits in their haversacks. The smaller trail was followed by McKay, H.B.C., with ten Alberta Mounted Rifles. They captured thirty-six of Big Bear's band, and released Mrs. Gowanlock (who we were thankful to find had not been barbarously murdered), Mrs. Delany, and several other prisoners. On June 2nd Major Dale brought into camp Rev. Mr. and Mrs. Quiney, Messrs. Cameron, Halpin, and Dufresne, and five half-breed families who had escaped during the attack on Big Bear's position. Next day General Middleton arrived in camp with 200 mounted men. I told him Steele had been sent in pursuit, and required support. He decided to await Steele's report, but I obtained permission to march towards Beaver River, a Chippewayan settlement, where there were large H.B.C. stores for which Big Bear appeared to be heading. At 2 a.m. a courier arrived from Steele, reporting an engagement and three men wounded. He was falling back.
The following is his condensed report:-- "Marched twenty-five miles; halted at noon for dinner. While cooking, was alarmed by two shots fired by McKay at Indian scouts.(4) These men hid in the bush further on, and shot scout Fisk, who was leading the advance, breaking his arm. We continued our advance, and camped forty-five miles north-east on Big Bear's trail. Fisk pluckily rode on without a murmur. Marched next day at daylight. Found a note from McLean, 'All's well.' On topping a hill, came on Indian camp of previous night. Two teepes were occupied. The main body were crossing a ford about 1,200 yards off. We counted fifty-three camp fires the previous night, and knew the enemy must be too strong for us to attack. I only intended to parley with them through McKay. They, however, fired on us, and seeing them retiring to an inaccessible place on an island, the horses were put in cover and the men extended on the brow of the hill. The chief called to his men to go at us. We were very few. The Indians crawled up the hill under cover of the brush. The leader was killed by teamster Fielders within ten feet of him. Two more were shot. We then fired a volley into the teepes and at the Indians taking cover, and charged to the bottom under strong fire, the left taking the hill commanding the position, the right taking the swamp along the lake. Sergeant Fury was shot through the breast while going up the hill. The scouts were on the brow in a few minutes. We had cleared the whole ridge half an hour after firing commenced, driving the enemy into the ford. We then showed a white flag to parley. McKay, who exposed himself freely, told them to surrender the prisoners. The answer was a volley. A second attempt met with no better result. They shouted back; that they could fight and clear us out. The chief tried to rally his men to re-cross the ford, unsuccessfully. Three of our men were badly wounded and twelve Indians killed. We destroyed the ammunition found in the teepes, and burnt them, capturing four horses, which we brought away. We then retired twenty-four miles to the first feeding ground for the horses. Next day returned to camp. Fourteen of our horses were disabled. All under my command behaved steadily, and were well led by the officers."
(4) Some allowance must be made for my reverend scout's eagerness. His destined bride was among the captives for whom he so freely risked his life.
On going over the ground at Frenchman's Butte 300 rifle pits were counted, and two large and deep trenches, 50 feet long and 8 feet deep, with loopholed logs for head cover, and a ledge to stand on and fire from, the whole concealed by branches stuck in the loose excavated earth. These large trenches were on the left flank of their position, and formed an ambuscade commanding the trail approaching it. Here the red rags were invitingly displayed to tempt the British bull. From what I saw I could well, believe my half-breed scouts, who were familiar with the defenders, that many of the latter had, experience in Indian wars against the United States troops, who found, as we did, that one dead Indian counts for two or more white men.
On June 6th we were nearing the Beaver River. The infantry were dead beat from incessant marching. The Voltigeurs having been in the first advance had tramped the soles off their boots. Some were literally barefoot, others with muddy, blood-stained rags tied round their feet.
Yet Goldwin Smith (professor of veracious history) writes, "No French regiment went to the front." Their commanding officer told me the men could march no more. Outwardly I thanked that officer, and rode up to the battalion: they presented a grotesque yet pitiable aspect in their tattered uniforms, "the remnants of their trousers being patched with flour sacks bearing alarming legends, such as 'patent self-raising,' etc., but a little French officer remarked, 'N'importe, mon général! l'ennemi ne voit jamais un Voltigeur par derrière.'
"Addressing the battalion in French, as was my habit, I said: 'Mes enfants, votre commandant m'a dit que vous demandez quand vous pouvez retourner chez vous? Mais je n'ai qu'une réponse--celle de votre ancien chanson:
"'Malbrook s'en va-t-en guerre-a!
Ne sait quand reviendra!'"
It had the desired effect. The weary little Voltigeurs shouted: 'Hourra pour le général! En avant! Toujours en avant!' And they stepped out to the refrain of their ancestors,
"'Malbrook s'en va-t-en guerre-a!' etc."
Queer whirligig of time, that an English general should be cheering the soldiers of New France by a couplet in which their ancestors unconsciously enshrined the memory of Marlborough! But the shade of Marlborough could not carry my exhausted infantry, to say nothing of a field-gun, through some thirty miles of swamp and forest, in time to head off the swiftly-moving remnants of Big Bear's band, who were making for the H.B.C. provision store on the banks of the Beaver River.
I left orders for Colonel Osborne Smith (whose men were in better condition than the 65th) to push after me as fast as he could, but the Voltigeurs would not be outmarched by their English comrades. Captain Perry, who had returned to me with his detachment of police gunners, said that the 65th not only kept up, but dragged the gun and horses with ropes through a long and deep muskeg.
The infantry marched all night and overtook me by daybreak at the H.B.C. store, which I reached by riding ahead with my staff and fifteen mounted men: all I had--the remainder were with General Middleton. We reached it just in time to secure eighty sacks of flour and a supply of bacon. It was nightfall when we arrived; and we saw a party of Indians making for the same goal, but they turned back into the woods. We indulged so freely in a supper of fried bacon and dough-cakes, that I for one fell asleep on the floor of the H.B.C store, pipe in mouth. I was awakened by my A.D.C., to whom I had set fire as well as to myself. The sentries seem to have been more vigilant, for we were not molested.
Next morning, June 7th, the infantry having rejoined, a party were left to guard the provisions and watch the trails, and I moved on to Beaver River, following the trail of the Indians seen the previous night. They crossed the river in canoes, this being their own reserve, to which they returned after Frenchman's Butte The Roman Catholic church and mission had been plundered, and his flock had carried off Father Le Goff when they joined Big Bear at Fort Pitt. At a second H.B.C. store near the mission a hundred sacks of flour were secured and a couple of boats. On June 9th Father Le Goff came into camp to plead for his flock. I sent him back to the Chippewayans with an ultimatum for unconditional surrender "within twenty-four hours, otherwise they would see the smoke of their log houses, as I would burn every building on the reserve except the chapel, the priest's house, and the H.B.C. store." They surrendered within the time, and forty-four braves came into camp with rifles and guns, the women and children following on the next day.
On the 11th I held a court of inquiry on the Chippeweyan prisoners: Father Le Goff, and Messrs. Halpin and Cameron gave evidence. The former, with true pastoral love, would gladly have exonerated his flock, but the proofs were too strong: all the young men had fought against us. General Middleton afterwards held a "pow-wow," and told them not to do it again. The majority had acted through fear of Big Bear, and all were tempted by plunder. The most curious thing revealed by the inquiry was that the Indians were largely swayed by the belief that North-West Canada would be sold to the United States, and only those who joined the outbreak would receive any portion of the purchase money.
Scouts reported that the Wood Crees had taken the McLean family to Lac des Iles, where fish are abundant. Big Bear himself abandoned his prisoners and turned in his tracks after being pressed by Steele at Loon Lake. At this place General Middleton was obliged, by impassable muskegs, to give up the pursuit and to follow my trail to Beaver River, which he reached on the 14th with his own cavalry and mine. In the meantime my men were repairing, and constructing boats. I proposed to descend the Beaver River. Osborne-Smith volunteered, with a hundred of his men and McKay as guide, to rescue the McLean girls; but at this juncture their Indian captors released them: they had all along treated them with a certain respectful chivalry, and "Tall Poplar" was désolé at their refusal to marry him. They were met by Bedson, who took them to Fort Pitt, where they found repose and sympathy for the courage with which they had endured their privations. Constantine had also scouted in search of them until his provisions ran short, and he made his way to Fort Pitt in a semi-starved state.
The release of the captives, the surrender of
the tribes and
This campaign had been carried through without the aid of a British bayonet or the expenditure of a British shilling. Except the Winnipeg infantry left to garrison Fort Pitt, and the Alberta cavalry, who, with the Western transport train, retraced their long march to Calgary, the force was broken up and sent down the Saskatchewan eight hundred miles to Winnipeg in steamers, and thence to their homes by rail.
I accompanied them to settle the teamsters' and farmers' claims for supplies, transport, etc. On my way down at Battleford I saw my old enemy, Big Bear, in durance vile. His appearance indicated natural intellect; he had a massive head: his own people said of him that he had a big head but a small heart. I felt no animosity towards him for the many weary miles he had led me. After evading all the columns, and travelling almost alone, he made his way to Fort Carlton ferry, where he was arrested by Sergeant Smart, of the police--about the only man in the force who had never gone after him, as he had been left in charge of the ferry.
Big Bear was sentenced to imprisonment for life for having made war upon her Majesty's Government. I, for taking up arms in her defence, "under a Colonial Government," was deprived of a pension for thirty years' service.
Soon after, Big Bear was set at liberty by her Majesty, and the King of Kings gave him a fuller release. My pension was restored, and I also await my fuller release, when we shall both find wherein we both erred.
"The irony of fate" is a favourite phrase. The humours of a constitutional monarchy are occasionally as startling. Riel was tried, condemned, and hanged. Had he been released after a term of imprisonment, he would perhaps have been elected a member of the Canadian Parliament, where his oratorical talents might have gained him the dignity of knighthood.