Dreary days—Defence organ;zed—Strange weapons of war—
Patriots—An arrival—Bad news—Battleford burnt—A fighting rig—Dead
disfigured—Fighting corrals—Rumours—A sortie and a countermarch—Ice
breaks up—Frog Lake massacre-Retreat from Fort Pitt—Leave barracks—Fish
Creek—A Jingo Bishop—The Zoo—Battle of Batoche.
would be of little interest to my patient reader to tell him the petty
details of each miserable day of dull monotony, of the leaden-hued skies
with driving snow, or of the merciless sun beating down from the
cloudless vault above ; of the gradual death of winter and of the
struggling birth of spring; of the restless longing for news from home;
of the eternal wish for some movement to be made; of the daily lies
which were put in circulation ; of the harassing patrols.
days were literally spent in vain wondering as to what was coming next,
and nothing arose to break the sluggish stream of existence into a
merry, babbling rapid. We in Prince Albert, at that time,knew absolutely
nothing whatever of what was transpiring in the outer world.
was long after this that we heard of the relief columns ; and of the
excitement in the Dominion. For eight long weeks we did not see a
newspaper or a letter. An organized system of defence was now published.
No one was allowed to leave the town or go beyond the lines without a
pass. Mr. Hayter Reid, of the Indian Department, was appointed
brigade-major. The brigade office was in a disused beer saloon. All
able-bodied men were to bear arms in the ranks of the volunteers, or
their families would be denied the privilege of drawing rations. The
town was placarded with general orders : civilians were to remain
indoors after 8 p.m. Mr. Lawrence Clarke was selected to act as
quartermaster. The volunteers were divided into four companies, and the
whole were under the command of Colonel Sproat, a gentleman whose
martial ardour was of the fiercest description. He beamed with
satisfaction when saluted. I regret to say that No. 4 company of the
gallant colonel's infantry was armed with weapons of a very
heterogeneous order. They varied from shot-guns of an antique and
nondescript pattern, down to the useful, but unornamental club. One
hundred and twenty men mounted guard nightly. Outlying picquets and
vedettes were posted. There were inlying picquets along the river's
bank, and a service of scouts, which, after being weeded of the
uncertain element were to be depended upon.
found the different barrack-guards, and orderlies. Patrol was the most
dangerous and trying duty. At seven o'clock, each evening, a body of men
were turned out, mounted on bronchos, or native ponies. We were to ride
completely round the settlement; and this was anything but a pleasing
task, in all weathers, and in the murky darkness, when every thicket in
the outskirts might hold a prowling redskin. We were sixteen hours in
the saddle at a stretch, before being relieved for breakfast; after this
we continued the patrol again till night.
friendly half-breed, who had managed to penetrate the rebel lines, came
in one morning from Battleford. He was a great hulking fellow in a
ragged cap of beaver skin, and a greasy overcoat, bound round his waist
with a seedy sash. This garment had done duty as a nightgown in many a
solitary camp in the wilderness, and borne the brunt of many a wintry
storm. His moccasins were soaked with muddy wet, and threatened instant
dissolution, but the idea of boots is repulsive, somehow, to the native
mind. He bore tidings of sad disaster, but brought us no intelligence of
the doings in Canada. Poundmaker had let loose his hordes from among the
wooded couldes of the Eagle Hills; Tremont, Payne, and Smart had been
foully murdered by the Stonies; and a career of pillage and bloodshed
had been begun. They had sacked the village of Battleford, and gutted
the Hudson Bay stores, and -had then burnt the whole, indulging in wild
orgies and dances around the flames. After appropriating the contents of
the various trading posts, they had clad themselves fantastically in
tall hats, and gaudy shirts, with refulgent scarves.
garrison was shut up within the fort, where 600 townspeople had taken
There was no news of the little band of Mounted Police at Fort Pitt,
under the command of Inspector Dickens—son of the celebrated novelist.
luckily had abundance of supplies in Prince Albert. As our scarlet
uniform was too conspicuous and utterly unadapted for active service, we
were served out with a fighting rig, improvised from every clothing
establishment in the town. This consisted of a black slouch hat with red
puggarree, a brown Norfolk jacket of duck, moleskin riding pants, a
brown canvas bandolier holding forty rounds of extra ammunition, and a
brown haversack. This was a serviceable garb, but not showy, and a
contrast to our red and yellow. Each of us appeared a cross between a
Montana desperado, and a Sardinian chasseur. When wearing our long blue
cloaks, we resembled the students of a Catholic ecclesiastical seminary.
Nothing exciting occurred to enliven the tedium of the leaden-footed
days. There were constant parades and drills, whenever the state of the
weather permitted. Shortly after the commencement of the siege, we had
sent out a flag of truce to recover and bring in the dead from Duck
Lake. The bodies were unmolested, but the features were horribly
disfigured, from the fiendish revenge of the Indians. When the snow had
quite disappeared, and wheeled vehicles came into use once more, we were
daily instructed in the formation and defence of "fighting corrals."
These improvised entrenchments are to the great plains of the far
North-West, what the laager is to the veldts of South Africa, and the
zareba to the burning sands of Egypt. Our waggons were drawn up in a
circle, the poles inward, and roped together. The horses were tied up
inside, and the ambulance, bearing the red cross, placed in the centre.
Picquets and vedettes were thrown out all around this.
this time our headquarter staff were in receipt of reliable information,
but no fragment of this was imparted to us. The scouts were bound to the
strictest secrecy. On April 13th, General Middleton, with his relief
column, had reached Humboldt. From this place Messrs. McDowell and
Bedson ran the blockade of the rebel outposts, on horseback, and entered
Prince Albert. They communicated with Colonel Irvine, and rode back in
safety. We knew nothing of this until afterwards. On April 18th, Lord
Melgund, with Boulton's scouts, captured three Sioux of Whitecap's band,
on the South Branch. Sunday, the 19th, was a day of warm and brilliant
sunshine. We made a sortie that afternoon, and proceeded as far as
Scott's farm, on a lofty height, surrounded by undulating woodlands
about twelve miles from town. There were about 150 Mounted Police of all
ranks, and a long string of transport waggons.
farm buildings were of the usual type peculiar to this region,—a low
log-house, rudely thatched with straw, the sides plastered with mud, an
enclosure of dilapidated railings, a small haystack, a pile of manure,
and a few roughly-made sheds for the cattle. The whole was surrounded by
a large patch of coarse grass, while the forest trended away to the edge
of the deep Saskatchewan valley. The place was quite deserted, save for
a couple of young, half-tame black bears, who, with comic indifference,
were prowling round and performing acrobatic-feats on the telegraph
poles and trunks of the pine-trees. They were cunningly deaf to all our
blandishments. The evening was lovely, and from our eminence we could
see the sun setting in a gorgeous blaze of prismatic light. Far away
stretched the unbroken forest, along the verge of the dark ravine
through which flowed the lone and majestic river. The blue smoke from
our camp fires rose straight into the still air of the evening. Pipes
were indulged in as we lay on the ground inside our fighting corral, and
con-jecturcs were hazarded as to our intended destination. We fully
expected to move on to Batoche, but silently we mounted and rode away at
I a.m., and—countermarched! There was bitter disappointment as we again
entered the sleeping town, and passed the picquets. The mystery of this
abortive piece of strategy has yet to be solved ; but no doubt urgent
reasons prompted the retrograde movement. The ice, across the river,,
broke up upon the 21st, and in two days the mighty Saskatchewan was
careering down in waves of muddy foam. The breaking up of ice on
Canadian streams is a welcome sight. The great masses come whirling and
grinding in a rapid rush, hurling ""themselves in riot against the
sloping shores. The green buds burst forth as if by magic, the birds
sing joyfully among the boughs, the grass springs fresh on the prairie,
the wild flowers bloom, and summer comes tripping on the scene with
joyous laugh. But far away on the lone waters of Lake Winnipeg the last
sign of ice does not disappear till June, for the frost god makes a
stubborn fight before he relaxes his hold.
Frog Lake is a lovely sheet of water lying amid groves of trees and
surrounded by beautiful meadows. It is about thirty miles from Fort
Pitt, and some ten miles from the Saskatchewan. Here a corporal and five
men of the Mounted Police had been stationed during the winter. After
the fight at Duck Lake, Inspector Dickens recalled his men from this
outpost, and also advised the whites to come into the fort. There was a
church and village, but on every side were treacherous redskins under
that old scoundrel Big Bear. On the receipt of tidings that hostilities
had broken out, they at once went on the war-path in all the hide
jusness of semi-nudity and paint. From first demanding stores they
proceeded to make prisoners. Then on the 2nd of April, while the people
were in church, commenced that horrible scene of riot and bloodshed,
known as the Frog Lake Massacre. Gowanlock and Delaney were the first
victims to the rifles of the savages. Fathers Farfand and Marchand, the
two courageous priests, were killed also. The remainder, including the
tenderly reared ladies of this remote settlement, were marched off
captives. Quinn, Gilchrist, and Dill were then brutally shot, the latter
being chased by Indians on horseback. Williscroft was slain by Little
Bear. The church and every house was burnt to the ground.
Some kind-hearted half-breed prisoners purchased Mrs. Gowanlock and Mrs.
Delaney from the Indians, and took them to their families, and tenderly
guarded them during the remainder of their captivity. Fort Pitt was then
summoned to surrender. Here Mr. Maclean, the Hudson Bay officer, was
treacherously made prisoner during a parley. Big Bear guaranteed that if
the fort were delivered, he would protect the families. Thereupon
Maclean wrote for his wife and children to come to the Indian camp, and
counselled the others to do the same. Cowan and Loasby, of the Police,
who were out scouting, were shot on returning. Loasby escaped within the
palisades; but Cowan was killed as he lay wounded. His heart was cut out
and stuck upon a pole ; he was most terribly mutilated also by these
incarnate fiends. On April 15th the post was abandoned. A few extracts
from the diary of Corporal Sleigh, who was killed at Cut-Knife Creek,
will give a graphic picture of the escape of the detachment.
15.—Mr. Maclean at noon went on hill to parley. Three scouts came
galloping through towards Pitt. Constable Cowan shot dead, Loasby badly
wounded, and horse killed. Shots fired from loopholes; two Indians
killed. Quinn missing, and two wounded. Mr Maclean and Frangois Dufresne
taken prisoners Mr. Maclean .wrote down to his wife to come out and give
herself up, and all the Hudson Bay Company's employes to do the same.
The Hudson's Bay employees, twenty-two in number, gave themselves up to
Big Bear. Impossible to hold fort now, so we had to gracefully retire
across the river in scow, and camped for night, not forgetting to bring
colours along. Nearly swamped crossing, river being rough, and scow
leaking badly. General idea prevailing that we would be attacked going
down river. Took Loasby along. Thus ended the siege of Fort Pitt.
16.—Up at 4.30, after passing a wretched night Snowing fast, and very
windy. Several men frost-bitten. Clothing frozen on our backs. Had some
narrow escapes from ice jams. Camped at nine for dinner. Resumed trip at
18.—Started at 7 a.m. Day dull and cold. Much ice running.
19, Sunday.—Left Slap Jack Island at 7.13 a.m. Ran for five hours.
Camped on Beaver Island, number 35. Ran on three hours, and camped on
Pine Island for night.
20.—Here all day. Barricaded the scow. Inspected arms. Rough-looking
parade. Wounded man better.
21.—Left island at 7 a.m. 11 a.m. hailed interpreter Joseph Alexander,
and two policemen on South bank. They had despatches for us. They
reported Battleford safe, and troops expected daily. Ran all day and
stopped on Small Island for the night. River falling rapidly. Struck on
sand-bars. All slept on board scow. Two men on picquet.
22.—Started at 5.45 a.m., and reached Battle-ford at 9 a.m. Garrison
turned out and presented arms. Police band played us into fort.
Enthusiastic greeting. Ladies gave us a grand dinner.
Fort Pitt, of course, was thoroughly looted, the squaws being foremost
in the fight for annexation. Big Bear then moved off into the wild
morasses of the North. It is astonishing how his thirty prisoners, many
of them tender children, could have been dragged from camp to camp, from
April 16th to May 28th, and yet escape outrage and death. This was owing
to some Wood Crees who had been forced to join Big Bear, unwillingly.
They are very much superior to the Indians of the plains.
the 23rd of April there was a general parade at Prince Albert, when men
were picked out for service at the front, if it were found necessary to
co-operate with the relieving column. I was happy to find myself, among
the elect. On the following day we all, with the exception of a small
detachment, moved into camp near the church. Rifle-pits were constructed
on the side of the town most open to the attack.
this day—April 24th—General Middleton's advance was checked by the
rebels at Fish Creek. He sustained a loss of ten killed and forty-two
wounded. The General himself received a bullet through his cap from the
rifle of Gabriel Dumont. His aide-de-camp Captain Wise, had his horse
shot under him, and was wounded in the foot.
About this time stray scraps of information began to perforate through
the official net of reticence. Daily we expected to be led out against
the enemy. Camp rumours, however, are never to be relied upon. One of
the volunteers was shot, accidentally, by one of his comrades, as he lay
asleep. He awoke with a broken thigh,—rather an abrupt and
unsatisfactory method of rousing a man. The worthy Bishop used to hold
service every Sunday within the stockade. He took his stand beneath the
shadow of the flagstaff, and with many a proud gesture towards the Union
Jack, which floated bravely above him, he would preach the most
deliciously Jingo sermons, and deliver many a stately sentence with
reference to that "great and glorious emblem of a mighty empire." His
periods were adorned with many a rolling adjective in the strongest
accent of the granite city, Aberdeen. We always finished by singing, at
his request, "that magnificent anthem 'God save the Queen.'"
large empty store had been taken for the accommodation of thehalf-breed
women and children, and this paradise of houris we called the
"Zoo." Dusky beauties and wrinkled hags were to be seen, in every stage
lounging out of the open windows at all
hours. I never penetrated the mysterious recesses of this zenana ; but
it must have been a frightful abode of female warfare and liberty of
speech. The tents looked white and clean against the emerald of the
springing verdure. (Kissaskatchewan, by the way, signifies rapid
flowing.) The sky was blue, and flecked and ribbed with fleecy clouds;
The sunshine was warm and pleasant, and the many islands lay like gems
on the molten gold of the broad waters.
About the 9th of May, the officers were observed in frequent
consultation, and there was much galloping in and out of scouts. The
guards were doubled and more frequently visited, and extra picquets were
posted along the river's bank. On the 12th a sudden order was given for
the ambulance and some waggons to be sent over to the South Branch at
once. The steamer
Northcote had run the gauntlet of the rebels
at Batoche, and three of those on board had been wounded ; and she had
brought an eight weeks' mail! No words can tell of the wild rejoicing
that went through the tents!
ambulance very soon returned, and the wounded men held quite alev<£e.
Mr. Pringle, of the Medical Staff, had been shot in the shoulder, and
Mr. Vinen, of the Transport Department, had a flesh wound in the thigh.
One of the steamboat hands still carried a bullet in his ankle. The mail
was distributed as rapidly as possible, and most welcome it was. The
kits of "B." Troop arrived also, in a highly demoralized condition. The
bags had been used to fortify the boat, and, consequently the contents
had been mercilessly riddled with bullets.
"Never mind, lads, the Government will have to stump up for this," was
the consolatory cry.
the 14th arrived full tidings ofthe general defeat of the rebels, at
Batoche, after four days4 hard fighting. The loss on our side
was eight killed and forty-six wounded. The Catholic priest gave the
following list of the enemy's losses:—1st day, 4 killed and 5 wounded;
2nd day, 2 wounded; 3rd day, 3 wounded; 4th day, 47 killed 163 wounded.
Total, 51 killed and 173 wounded.
had been found impossible to shell the rebels from their ingeniously
constructed rifle-pits; and they were carried in a general charge, with
rattling cheers. The prisoners were released, unharmed, save for the
terrible mental agony they had endured. The defeat was a regular
sauve qui pent. Gabriel Dumont escaped to
Montana. Riel was found wandering in the woods and captured by two
scouts, Armstrong and Howrie, on the afternoon of the 15th. He was sent
under a strong guard to Regina, vid the South Saskatchewan and Medicine
Hat. Riel's diary came into the possession of Major Jarvis, who
commanded the Winnipeg-Field Battery, and who afterwards obtained a
commission in the Mounted Police. According to this semi-mystical
effusion, which mixed up religion and riot, prayer and pillage, murder
and meditation, in sweet confusion, the Sioux squaws were to receive the
white women of Prince Albert as their own private prisoners, and the
dusky ladies were to torture them according to their own pleasing
fancies. The red-coats—nous
autres enfans perdus—were to be utterly
exterminated, and no quarter offered. The rebel prisoners were brought
into Prince Albert on the 21st, by some of us, who had proceeded to
Batoche to receive them. One Indian was literally pea-green with terror.
They were all lodged temporarily in the church.