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Trooper and Redskin In the Far North-West
Chapter XIII

Battle of Cut-Knife Creek—Painted horses—Capture of transport —General Middleton enters Prince Albert—"Gophers"—An invidious comparison—Martial music—Saskatchewan steamers —Departure of troops—A strange coincidence—Pursuit of Big Bear—Hot weather—Mosquitoes—Fish—Big Bear captured— Return of Green Lake column.

The chief, Poundmaker, after thoroughly looting and burning Battleford, withdrew his braves into the Eagle Hills, where they indulged in feasting and merrymaking over their spoil. They pitched their camp at a place known as Cut-Knife Hill, above a creek of the same name, where the Crees had gained a victory, some few years previously, over the Sarcees. Thus, they knew every advantageous point of the position which they occupied. Colonel Otter, with his column, had reached Battleford on April 25th ; and on May 2nd he engaged these Indians, with the Mounted Police, Queen's Own Rifles (Canadians), a battery of Royal Canadian Artillery, "C" Company of regular (Canadian) Infantry, the Ottawa sharpshooters, and Battleford Rifles. To give my readers some idea of the general method of Indian tactics all through this rebellion, I take the following description of this engagement from Major Boulton's "North-West Rebellions."

"The rattle of musketry and fusillade of the Gatling were soon heard, and the startled Indians opened fire upon the advancing line. (Colonel Herchmer, with Mounted Police in skirmishing order.) The guns and the Gatling were brought promptly into action; and, as in the battle of Batoche, the Indians made a determined charge to try and capture them, dreading the destructiveness of their fire, which they were powerless to silence. They advanced, holding their blankets in front of them, running in a zigzag manner to puzzle our riflemen. Major Short called for volunteers to protect his guns, and made a gallant charge upon the advancing enemy, which caused them to fall back. In this charge Corporal Sleigh, of the Mounted Police, who had passed safely through the Fort Pitt danger, was killed, and Lieutenant Pelletier and Sergeants Gafifney and Ward were wounded. Major Short received a bullet through his forage cap, coolly remarking, 'It's a new one, too.' This charge was made before the remainder of the column had got into position.

"The Indians, who now came pouring out of their encampment, were not long in taking up the positions they had thoroughly studied, in anticipation of a prairie fight. . . . The Queen's Own were extended along the crest of the gully to the left to protect that flank; "C"' Company and the Ottawa Sharpshooters were extended to protect the right flank; the Battleford Rifles protected the rear, while the Mounted Police and the Artillery attacked the front. Not many minutes had elapsed before Colonel Otter perceived he was , being attacked on all sides, the enemy, under cover of the gully through which the column had approached, having even gone round and menaced his rear. . . . Their thrilling war-cries, intermingled with the roar of the guns and the rattle of small arms, made the scene a peculiarly impressive one, and likely to strike terror into the hearts of raw and inexperienced troops.

"Death was dealing destruction all around. As soon one flank was attacked and repulsed, another flank came under fire, and the rear was menaced. But the Indians gained no advantage, and got as good as they gave, although the clever way in which they are accustomed to take cover made it difficult for our troops to get a fair shot at them.

"Colonel Otter, an hour after the action opened, finding that his rear was in danger, instructed the Battleford Rifles to clear the enemy from that position —a work which they admirably performed under Captain Nash and Lieutenant Marigold.

"The artillery supported the various corps, from time to time, by shelling the enemy, occasionally dropping a shell into their encampment some fifteen hundred yards away. . . . Colonel Otter, surrounded as he was by these precipitous gullies filled with savages, did not change his original intention of coming out to make a reconnaissance, to punish the turbulent tribes, and then to retire. He maintained the fight, which may very properly be termed an unequal one, until noon, when he determined to withdraw and return to Battleford with his tired troops."

So far, Major Boulton. The Indians made a desperate rush when they observed the troops retreating ; but the sweeping fire of the guns and Gatling held them back. Thus the little force was enabled to form up upon the open prairie, where the Indian will not attack, and return to Battleford.

Corporals Sleigh and Lowry, and trumpeter Burke, of the Mounted Police, were among the killed. Poor Talbot Lowry I mourn as a friend ! One of our fellows informed me that the redskins had their horses painted in this engagement. Major Boulton is about the fairest of those scribes who have taken up the pen, after laying down the sword, in order to blazon forth the deeds of the Canadian Militia. But he does not mention in his account of this action, that, had it not been for the Mounted Police, one of the guns would undoubtedly have fallen into the hands of the Indians.

After the battle at Cut-Knife, Poundmaker captured a whole transport train. The sixteen teamsters would have been shot by the warlike Stonies had it not been for the presence of some half-breeds. They were afterwards released, when Poundmaker had made up his mind to surrender.

On May 20th General Middleton's column marched into Prince Albert, arriving about noon, having performed the last eighteen miles that morning, with only half an hour's rest. The scarlet of their tunics was a dingy purple with exposure to all the storm and sunshine of their march, and the smoke and work of battle. Their war-worn features were bronzed with weather and over this "shadowed livery of the burnished sun," the dust of the trail had spread a coat of black. With their old forage caps and swarthy faces, they resembled Sepoys of the time of John Company. Their uniforms were out of date, about the time of the Crimean War. It is a pity these Canadian militiamen spoilt the good work they had done by never-failing bluster. But for pure and unadulterated brag I will back the lower-class Canuck against the world. The Yankee is a very sucking dove compared to his northern neighbour. I regret to say we had donned our purple and fine linen as a compliment to the arrival of our comrades in arms. But our brilliant scarlet had the same effect upon the General as a rag of the same colour generally has upon a male member of the bovine species.

"Look at my men, sir," he said to our Colonel, "look at the colour of their uniforms, sir!"

Of course, as Sir Frederick Middleton is a G.C.M.G., a C.B., and a Major-General, I must speak of him with bated breath. But I wish mildly to state that our Colonel was not such a fool as to permit his men to do all the worst work of a campaign in review order.

An immense transport train followed the infantry. This, of course, is a necessity in such a country as this. Civilians were hired for this duty with their teams; being paid at the rate of ten dollars (2/1) per diem, with forage and rations thrown in.

Boulton's scouts and the Intelligence Corps, who formed the rear-guard, were a fine body of young fellows, the majority being old countrymen. They wore slouch hats and the general garb of the western plains, and were armed with repeating rifles.

General Middleton had dubbed the mounted police in Prince Albert, "gophers." This is an animal of the ground-squirrel type, who burrows on the prairie, and who retreats to its hole on any approach of danger. This wonderful feat of intellectual ingenuity on the part of their commander had taken immensely with the rural Canadians under him, who could only understand a simile that related to the soil. The gentlemanly and accomplished members of the Midland Battalion, for instance, thought it the very highest order of wit; and one of them, to show his appreciation of it, just mentioned it casually as our troop sergeant-major happened to pass down their lines on the evening of their arrival. He had been under Burnaby in the Blues, and was a first-rate man with the gloves.

"Did you make that remark to me, young fellow?" he asked. "Because if any of you want satisfaction, I will take you all, one after the other."

The invitation was declined in silence by these backwoods braves, and their sergeant-major afterwards offered an apology. We got on splendidly with the 90th Battalion from Winnipeg, who wore the dark green of the 6uth Rifles. They were a rattling good lot of fellows. We volunteered en masse to accompany the General on his departure up the river ; but our services were declined. I verily think that had we been permitted, and an engagement had taken place, not one of us would have come out alive. We were all smarting under the keenest sense of marked and stubborn injustice. Just one word, and then I am done with those self-complacent warriors, the Midland Battalion. Mind, I don't deny their pluck ;—that they inherit and cannot help. But I want to show that they are not the flower of the armies of the earth, as they vainly imagine.

I have seen the Prussian in pickelhaube loafing about the cities of the Fatherland; and I have been amused in Amsterdam, watching the Dutch conscripts, like a school of boys, playing at soldiers. I have also observed —at a safe distance—the extraordinary gyrations of the Belgian sentries in the Place de la Monnaie at Brussels. I have studied the manoeuvres of a whole French army of observation, at Bayonne. It has been my lot to follow, for a time, the fortunes of the Carlists among the rugged passes of the Pyrenees. I have stood in a street of Stamboul while the Sultan went to mosque, and a regiment of wiry Turks, who had fought at Plevna, presented arms. Also have I envied the nonchalance of the sentinel in front of the arsenal facing the Bosphorus on one blazing day ; slouching along with one hand in the pocket of his baggy pants, and his rifle at a sort of inverted slope, his bayonet pointing to the ground in his rear. I have seen Tommy Atkins in many lands in the glory of scarlet and white; so that a sort of civis Romanus sum feeling went through one with a glow. "The boys" of Uncle Sam have also passed before me. To crown all, I have visited the Canadian militia-man "at home," in camp, at Gananoque—I refer to the rural battalions—and I must confess that for dirt and general slovenliness and demoralization, they, in their own elegant language, "take the cake."

General Middleton pitched his camp upon a level plateau, near the residence of Mr. Lawrence Clark. What a luxury it was to us poor exiles to hear the bands discoursing the latest tunes at night while the headquarters staff were at dinner. There was an enclosure roped off; and on the outside were gathered the military, and the rank, and beauty, white and dusky, of the Prince Albert settlement. Every one was there. The broad river looked lovely in the evening light; the green islands with their rich foliage mirrored in its still bosom. A small bear was tied in front of the General's tent. At the first signal of the drum this shaggy little ball of cinnamon-hued fur would stand upon his hind-legs, and dance wildly till the last note of the music had died away.

During his stay here the General held a pow-wow with the Indian chiefs in this neighbourhood. They came to his tent in all the glory of war-dress. Those who had remained loyal—Mistawasis and the rest—he rewarded with tea and tobacco. Beardy was degraded from his rank of chieftainship, and his medal, stamped . with the counterfeit presentment of the erstwhile First Gentleman in Europe, was taken away.

The steamers were now in the river. The flotilla consisted of the North-west\ Northcote, and Marquis. They are all flat-bottomed boats, or twin scows, and only draw two feet of water. They have often to be warped over the shifting sand-bars which form so serious a drawback to navigation on this river. Owing to the melting of the snow and ice among the towering glacier peaks at its source, the Saskatchewan continues still to flow with ample stream in the blazing heat of the short torrid summer. But in the early autumn it dwindles down, and the steamboats cease to run. Starting from Grand Rapids, where a tramway connects them with the Winnipeg steamers on the lake, they pass up by Cumberland House and Fort a la Corne to the Forks. Thence, one yearly trip is possible as far as Medicine Hat, on the south branch. By the other waterway the course is practicable as far as Edmonton until the beginning of September. Lake. Winnipeg is never navigable until about the 6th of June ; and the lake boats do not go higher than Selkirk on the Red River. These Saskatchewan steamers possess broad stern paddle-wheels; and their general build is similar to such craft on American rivers, and familiar to all, either by experience or illustrations.

On May 22nd General Middleton departed for Battleford. The craft were crowded, and gay with flags. Horses and guns occupied the lower decks, among which the Swampy Indians, who formed the crew, ran and climbed, and scrambled with the agility of monkeys. The balconies running around the many windowed saloons on board were filled with officers, in service forage caps and patrol jackets. The General was to be distinguished by a white helmet, with a grey tweed shooting suit on his portly form, and long boots and spurs. Mr. Henty, of the Standard\ was visible among the staff. There was some delay in getting away from the moorings ; and the strains of the "Girl I left behind me" came from the band stationed on the poops. This was varied by the men singing "Sailing" in chorus. Then came a shriek from the whistles; the paddles splashed, and the expedition steamed away gaily to the stirring tune beloved of soldiers, and were soon lost to •view among the lovely islands.

The Winnipeg field-battery, under the command of the genial Major Jarvis, remained as an additional garrison in the town. They removed their camp to the vicinity of the little wooden English church, and it was laid out in the form of an open square. A smart sentry, in white helmet and the familiar blue of that branch of the service, paced in front of the guns. These men were superior to the average lot of the Canadian militia. Among them I found one who at ( one time had resided a short distance from my home. Another was a member of the English bar, who had been at school with one of our fellows at Dulwich. But I think that the most extraordinary meeting that I have ever heard of was that of poor Lowry and Sleigh. Both of these had been together at the same school, under the eye of the same dominie. Both went forth into the world their different ways ; for we know what Kingsley tells us happens, when all is young, our lass a queen, and every goose a swan. It is "Hey! for boot and horse, lad," and young blood must have its way, and every young dog must enjoy himself. From the commissioned rank of the Galway militia, which is a jovial school of good fellowship, Lowry drifted into the North-West Mounted Police. Sleigh reached the same goal by a widely different path. Neither knew of the other's proximity. They met again at Battleford after all these years, and both were shot in the head in the same action.

The authorities in the plenitude of their wisdom, from some dim idea that I had a remote knowledge of the mysteries of medicine, saw fit to place me in charge of seven wounded men ; and also considerately gave me the comic man of the corps as an orderly. The laughter which he brought to the faces of the recumbent sufferers will, I trust, be placed to the credit side of his account. A large kitchen was erected in the rear for his special use, and this, with a few choice spirits, he would nightly transform into a music hall.

These men are to have whatever they want/' said Authority, in the shape of field-officers and surgeons ; and I kow-toed accordingly. Of course I lived in clover until August, when my shattered warriors were removed, and I found my occupation gone.

The prisoners to the number of about thirty were taken heavily ironed to Regina, in waggons, surrounded by a strong escort of our men. We celebrated the Queen's birthday by a general holiday, and indulged in military sports of various kinds. On the General's arrival at Battleford, Poundmaker and his braves surrendered themselves at an imposing pow-wow.

Big Bear with his captives had wandered into the wild and trackless regions beyond the Saskatchewan. Major-General Strange was operating against him from his base at Edmonton, and Major Steel with his mounted police had followed up this wily savage's trail, which was impassable for wheeled transport. This column had engaged the enemy at Frenchman's Butte on May 28th. The redskins were fully six hundred strong, and attacked on every flank, even firing on the waggons which were coralled in rear. The white prisoners escaped. While the Alberta field-force were scouring the country to the west, an expedition advanced from Fort Pitt to Loon Lake. Colonel Otter was ordered to move to Turtle Lake, and Colonel Irvine marched out of Prince Albert to Green Lake, where the Hudson Bay post had been plundered. There were about 150 mounted police on this expedition. Green Lake is seventy miles north of Carlton. The intervening country consists of dense bush with lovely open glades and beautiful lakes.

We began to have some blazing weather in June.

On the 7th—Sunday—as I went up to dine at the Sergeants' mess of the Winnipeg Field Battery, the sun beat fiercely down from a cloudless sky, the broad bosom of the river shone like molten silver. My quarters near the water were haunted by mosquitoes. The mosquito is a species of humming-bird, for whom I do not entertain the least affection, and his nocturnal melody is anything but a sedative to exhausted nerves. No doubt he is fearfully and wonderfully made, and his architectural wonders are an interesting study— theoretically. Perhaps Sir John Lubbock will take him in hand, and answer the conundrum,—why was he built ? He possesses a lance, two meat-saws, a pump, a small Corliss steam engine, a poisonous syringe, and a musical box, in his diminutive interior economy. After he has experimented with his toxicological supply on the wound he has inflicted—having first practised phlebotomy—he sets his orchestra going, and dances round in glee.

The fish which inhabit the Saskatchewan are not up to much. Some lazy half-breeds used to take up a daily position in front of my window, with an antediluvian outfit, and sit on the bank for hours without catching anything. When cooked, these delicacies resemble in taste what I should imagine boiled blotting paper would be like. Trout is plentiful in the Bow River at Calgary, and is most delicious. There is also a fish, in the lesser lakes, which they az//sturgeon, and which is fairly good.

Big Bear after he had been abandoned by the Wood Crees, wandered off with a handful of his councillors and his youngest son. He crept, by Indian paths, between the forces of Colonels Otter and Irvine, and was finally captured, near Fort Carlton, by Sergeant-Smart and three men of the mounted police, who had been detailed to watch the crossing at this point, liis son, a copper-hued boy with small, black, bead-like eyes, and one councillor, who rejoiced in the modest title of "All-and-a-half" accompanied him. They were brought to Prince Albert and entered the town in the early morning of July 3rd. A non-commissioned officer reported the fact to Captain Gagnon, who was in bed, and very much surprised at this unexpected intelligence. Big Bear was in a pitiable condition of filth and hunger. He was given a good scrubbing in a tub at the barracks, though this was anything but pleasing to him. A new blanket and a pair of trousers were procured him from the Hudson Bay store. His arms consisted of a Winchester, and he stated that his only food, for eleven days, had been what he was enabled to secure in the woods. A cell was placed at the disposal of himself and staff in the guard-room, and his skinny ankles were adorned with shackles. A little shrivelled-up looking piece of humanity he was, his cunning face seamed and wrinkled like crumpled parchment. Ever since the advent of the mounted police he had been in trouble, and when he finally agreed to take treaty he wished to have the extraordinary proviso inserted that none of his band were ever to be hanged. The Indians of his tribe were all disaffected. Little Poplar, one of his sons, escaped to Montana with some of the worst of the gang, leaving a trail marked with blood, and was finally shot by a half-breed at Fort Belknap in the summer of 1886. Captain Gagnon could now send a despatch to the General, announcing this welcome news, and the campaign of the rebellion was ended.

On Sunday, the 4th of July, in the evening, the Green Lake expedition returned. A heavy thunderstorm had just passed over the town, and black clouds were rolling their dense battalions sullenly away above the pine-forest to the north-west. The rain was falling in torrents as the column rode slowly down the street, and the waggons rumbled in their midst.- The men certainly looked haggard and worn. Their long blue cloaks were muddy and torn, their slouch hats out of shape, their spurs red with rust, and their boots indescribable. They had been away in the wilderness for more than a month, without blankets, tents, or change! Food had been so scarce that for four consecutive days each man had received nothing but one biscuit a day. Thin, bronzed, and with beards of scrubby growth, they were a grim, hard lot to gaze on ; each man armed to the teeth, and carrying a small magazine of ammunition. On horseback, they surrounded the waggons on all sides, which contained sixteen evil-looking savages of Little Poplar's cutthroats. They were heartily glad to be back again from ceaseless hardships. They had unearthed the "cache" of plunder taken by the Indians from the Hudson Bay store at Green Lake. The spare waggons were piled with loot, and there was a brisk market for every kind of goods, in town, for a day or two. Pipes, tobacco, copper kettles, hats, stuff for dresses, furs, blankets, and every imaginable article even to patent medicines, wrere among the cargo. One man made 150 dollars out of his package of lynx skins. The country through which they had struggled was rough and infested with flies. There was no trail to speak of, and they had been obliged to make their way over stumps and fallen logs as well as they could. The ambulance had been "bust," and the astonished doctor, who was riding therein, hoisted into the bush, where he lay dispensing frequent blessings to the universe.

Big Bear's "war bonnet" had been discovered in a deserted camp. This head-dress of the mighty chief was of skunk skin, adorned with feathers. To secure "plunder" seemed a great object in this campaign. Gabriel Dumont's house was sacked, and his billiard-table taken by one of the General's commissariat officers.

One lovely morning, the North-West, which made a special short trip from Fort Pitt, came steaming- into the open water from the maze of islands to the west, and came to her moorings opposite the centre of the* town. She brought the Maclean family, who had been prisoners with Big Bear. They were the observed of all observers. It was a blazing hot day, and Mr. Maclean carried his coat and waistcoat over his arm as he came ashore. In his white shirt and black clothes, with dark beard and portly form, he reminded me most forcibly of a merchant skipper in "shore-going togs." The girls were pretty and dressed in bright costumes, as though they were enjoying a yachting trip, or going to a fashionable watering-place. Mrs. Maclean, a thin woman with Indian blood in her veins, carried an infant in her arms. The young ladies could speak Cree like natives, and were taken to see their former captors, by Major Crozier, at Goshen. Here they gave the imprisoned aborigines a good telling off in their own tongue, and, in fact, performed a sort of secular general commination service. The braves were in irons, seated on the floor of the big room in our brick barracks under a strong guard.

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