The Seven Oaks affair was the most
shocking episode that ever occurred in North-Western history. The
standing of the victims, including a Governor appointed by the Hudson's
Bay Company, his staff men of position, the unexpectedness of the
collision, the suddenness of the attack, the destruction of life, the
cruelty and injustice of the killing, and the barbarous treatment of the
bodies of the dead, by the Bois-brulés war party, fill one with horror,
and remind one of scenes of butchery in dark Africa or the isles of the
This is the more remarkable when it
is considered that so far as known in the whole two hundred years and
more of the career of the Hudson's Bay and Nor'-Wester Companies not so
many officers and clerks of these two Companies have altogether perished
by violence as in this unfortunate Seven Oaks disaster. No sooner was
the massacre over than the Bois-brulés took possession of Fort Douglas
and were under the command meantime of Cuthbert
Grant. There was the greatest hilarity among the Metis. This New Nation
had been vindicated. About forty-five men under arms held possession of
the Fort. The dead left upon the field were still exposed there days
after the fight and were torn to pieces by the wild birds and beasts.
The body of Governor Semple was carried to the Fort.
Word was meanwhile sent to Alexander
Macdonell the partner who had brought with him the Qu'Appelle contingent
and had waited at Portage la Prairie while Cuthbert Grant with his
followers, chiefly disguised as Indians, had gone on their bloody work.
Macdonell on receiving the news showed great satisfaction. He announced
to those about him that Governor Semple and five of his officers had
been killed; and becoming more enthusiastic shouted with an oath in
French that twenty-two of the English were slain. His company shouted
with joy at his announcement. Macdonell then went to Fort Douglas and
took command of it. But what had become of the Eastern Company from Fort
William? Of this a discharged non-commissioned officer, Huerter, of one
of the mercenary regiments which had fought for Britain against the
Americans in the War of 1812 was with them, and gives a good account of
the journey. We need only deal with the ending of the expedition. Coming
from Lake Winnipeg
they reached Nettly Creek two days after the fight at Seven Oaks,
expecting there to get news from the Western levy and Alexander
Macdonell. But no news of that Company having reached them they started
in boats up the Red River to reach the rendezvous agreed on at "Frog
Plain," the spot where Kildonan church stands to-day. From this point
they expected to meet with their Western reinforcement, and to move upon
Fort Douglas and capture it, as Governor Semple had done with Fort
Gibraltar. Their commander Archibald Norman McLeod was the senior
officer and would later take command.
They had on the 23rd of June gone but a
little way when they were surprised to meet seven or eight boats laden
with men, women and children. These were the fragment of the Colony
which had refused to go with Duncan Cameron down to Upper Canada. They
had been sheltered in the Fort during the time of the fight and now were
rudely driven away from the settlement, according to the announcement of
McLeod ordered the convoy of boats
to stop and the Colonists to disembark. Their boxes and packages were
opened, including the late Governor Semple's trunks, and examined for
papers or letters which might give important information to the captors.
The Western levy now
joined them, and gave them full news of what had happened.
The Colonists were then ordered to
re-embark and to proceed upon their journey to their lonely place of
banishment whither they had gone the previous year—Jack River, near
Norway House. One of the Bois-brulés followed after them to make sure
that they went upon their long voyage. McLeod's party then pushed on
with great glee to Fort Douglas and were received with discharges of
artillery and firearms. McLeod now took command of the captured Fort.
Huerter, the discharged soldier, formerly
mentioned, went to the field of Seven Oaks about a week after the fight
and confirmed Pambrun's account.
A.N. McLeod now became the superior
officer in the Fort and made preparation for defending it. He himself
occupied the late Governor Semple's quarters and passed out compliments
to white and native alike, praising them for their daring, their
adroitness and their success. A great meeting was then gathered in the
Governor's apartments and a levee was held at which all of the servants
and employees of the Company were present, and in a speech McLeod told
the audience that the English had no right to build upon their lands
without their permission—a new doctrine surely.
Leaving Fort Douglas McLeod with his
officers and the Bois-brulés all mounted, made an imposing procession up
to the site of old Fort Gibraltar. Here Peguis, now the chief of the
Saulteaux who had shown such kindness to the settlers was camped, and to
him and his followers McLeod showed his great displeasure. The Indian
always loved the British-man, whom on the west coast he called, "King
Shautshman," or King George's man.
The Indian is taciturn, unemotional, and
cautious. He knew that the Bois-brulés had assumed their garb and
committed the outrage of Seven Oaks, and therefore the tribe were
unwilling to be under the stigma being thrown upon them. When McLeod had
failed in his appeal, he laid many sins to their charge. They had
allowed the English to carry away Duncan Cameron to Hudson Bay, they
were a band of dogs, and he would count them always as his enemies if
they should hold to their English friends. Peguis, who was a master
diplomat, looked on with attention and held his peace.
It was now about a week from the
time of the massacre. Huerter, the discharged soldier spoken of, rode
down with a party from the Fort to the field of Seven Oaks. He saw a
number of human bodies scattered on the plain, and in most cases the
flesh had been torn off to the bone, evidently by dogs and wolves.
Far from discouraging the talkative
half-breeds, whose blood was up with the sights of carnage, McLeod and
his fellow-officers expressed their approbation of the deeds done, and
the Bois-brulés became boisterous in detailing their victories. The
worst of the whole, old Deschamps, a French-Canadian, who murdered the
disabled even when they cried for quarter, drew forth as he detailed his
valorous actions to Alexander Macdonell, the exclamation, "What a fine,
vigorous old man he is!" On the evening of this Red-letter day of the
visit to the Indian encampment and to Seven Oaks, a wild and heathenish
orgy took place. The Bois-brulés bedecked their naked bodies with Indian
trinkets and executed the dance of victory, as had done their savage
ancestors. The effect of these dances is marvellous. By a contagious
shout they excite each other. They reach a frenzy which communicates
itself with hypnotic effect to the whole dancing circle. At times men
tear their hair, cut their flesh or even mutilate their limbs for life.
The "tom-tom," or Indian drum, adds to the power of monotonous rhythm
and to the spirit of excitement and frenzy.
To the partners McLeod and the
others, however much in earnest the actors might be, it afforded much
amusement, and gave hope of a strength and enthusiasm that would bind
them fast to the "Nor'-Wester" side.
The struggle over and the battle
won, while leaving the garrison sufficient to hold the fort, ten days
after the fight the partners and those forming the Northern brigade, who
were to penetrate to the wilds to Athabasca, departed. They were
following down the Red River and Lake Winnipeg, in the very path which
the fleeing Colonists had gone, but they would turn toward the "Grand
Rapids" at the spot where the great river of the West pours into Lake
Winnipeg, and by this way speed themselves to the great hunting fields
of the North. The departure of what was called the Grand Brigade was
signalized by an artillery salute from Fort Douglas, which resounded
through the wretched ruins of the houses burnt the previous year, and
over the fields deserted by the Colonists and left to the chattering
blackbird and the howling wolf. Almost every race of people—however
small—has its bard. Among the Bois-brulés was the son of old Pierre
Falcon, a French-Canadian, of some influence among the natives. This
young poet was a character. He had the French vivacity, the prejudice of
race, the devotion to the Scotch Fur Company and a considerable rhyming
talent. Many years after Pierre Falcon won the admiration of the buffalo
hunter and was the friend of all the dusky maidens who followed his song
of love or war alike. He it was who sang the
song of his race and helped to keep up the love of fun among the French
people of the Red River. It was reminiscent of victory and also a
forecast of future influence and power. Various versions of Pierre
Falcon's song have come down to us celebrating the victory of Seven
Oaks. We give a simple translation of the bard's effusion:
Pierre Falcon's Song.
Come listen to this song of truth!
A song of the brave Bois-brulés,
Who at Frog Plain took three captives,
Strangers come to rob our country.
When dismounting there to rest us,
A cry is raised—the English!
They are coming to attack us,
So we hasten forth to meet them.
I looked upon their army,
They are motionless and downcast;
So, as honor would incline us
e desire with them to parley.
But their leader, moved with
Gives the word to fire upon us;
And imperiously repeats it,
Rushing on to this destruction.
Having seen us pass his
He had thought to strike with terror
The Bois-brulés; ah! mistaken,
Many of his soldiers perish.
But a few escaped the slaughter,
Rushing from the field of battle;
Oh, to see the English fleeing!
Oh, the shouts of their pursuers!
Who has sung this song of triumph?
The good Pierre Falcon had composed it,
That the praise of these Bois-brulés
Might be evermore recorded.