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The Story of Manitoba
Chapter XXIII The Need of Military Protection


The incidents connected with the Sayer trial showed that the courts of Assiniboia were powerless to enforce any decision which did not meet with popular approval, and they gave occasion for a renewal of the request that a military force, strong enough to keep the peace in times of excitement, should be sent to the settlement. At such times the local constabulary force was wholly inadequate.

Other circumstances had indicated, from time to time, the necessity of some military protection. When the first white settlers arrived in the colony, most of the Indian tribes showed themselves friendly, the genuine friendship and helpfulness of Chief Peguis and his band being manifested on many occasions. From the first Lord Selkirk recognized that the goodwill of the Indians was necessary to the prosperity of his colony, and the treaty which he made with the Ojibways and the Crees in 1817 was a measure intended to perpetuate their friendship. The friendly attitude of Peguis' Indians was always maintained, but there were occasional manifestations of hostility on the part of other bands which caused the settlers much alarm. Sometimes the enmity seemed confined to individual Indians, and may be explained by the uncertain moods of the savage; but at other times entire bands of Indians seemed animated by hostility toward the whites. In some cases the desire of plunder may have been at the bottom of their unfriendly acts; in other cases they bad persuaded themselves, or had been persuaded by others, that the whites had wronged them. The enmity between the North-West Company and the Hudson's Bay Company and the depredations and bloodshed which resulted from it must have exercised a mischievous influence upon the savages. Another source of danger lay in the number of Indian races found in the country, for their intertribal quarrels often threatened the peace and safety of the settlement.

Colonel W. B. Coltman wrote from his camp at the mouth of the Winnipeg River on July 2, 1817, as follows:

"I regret to have to state that early last month (June) ten persons in the service of Lord Selkirk or the Hudson's Bay Company, who had wintered on the upper part of the main branch of the Red River, were attacked, it is supposed, either by Sioux or Assiniboine Indians on their return, and five of the number killed and three wounded; each party wishes to represent it as the result of the intrigues of the other with the Indians; this appears to be the only instance of bloodshed which has occurred in the Indian territories since the appointment of the commissioners."

Colonel Coltman seems to have considered military protection one of the colony's greatest needs, although the difficulty of maintaining a body of soldiers in such a remote locality and the small number of people in the settlement were obstacles in the way of securing it. He therefore "recommended the appointment of constables, with the addition of a defensive force, under the name, and recognized in our old law books, of 'Watch and Ward,' to act under the chief constable, as being the best and perhaps the only legitimate mode that can be devised of providing for the security of the inhabitants, so long as they cannot participate in the direct protection of His Majesty's regular forces."

In the long struggle between the North-West Company and the Hudson's Bay Company for the control of the fur trade in Rupert's Land intoxicating liquor of the vilest quality was given and sold to the Indians more and more freely, and this practice led to many acts of violence on their part. Sir George Simpson said:

"During the baneful contest between the Hudson's Bay and the North-West Companies spirits were bartered on both sides, the Indians were demoralized, and there were continual riots and breaches of the peace."

Sir John Richardson noticed the same deplorable state of affairs. He said:

"In 1819, when I accompanied Sir John Franklin out on his first expedition, the two companies were at war. * * * The Indians were spending days in drunkenness at the different posts, and a contest altogether shocking to humanity was carried on. When we went out on the second occasion, the Hudson's Bay Company, having the sole trade of the country and the sole management of the Indians, there was an improvement; spirits were no longer carried to the north, or only in small quantities."

Finally the company ceased to give or sell liquor to the natives and prohibited its importation into the country by private parties. The beneficial results of this policy were apparent at once. In his evidence before a parliamentary commission J. H. Lefroy said:

"The best preservative for the peace of the country was taken by the Hudson's Bay Company about 1832, when they stopped sending spirits into it, almost entirely."

The Crees claimed the Red River country as their own and regarded the Saulteaux, who came to the country much later, as interlopers; but Lord Selkirk, by including the Saulteaux in the treaty which he made, seemed to recognize their title to the lands which his settlers had occupied. This angered the Crees, and for some years after the treaty had been signed they threatened at intervals to expel the Saulteaux from the country, unless the names of these new-comers were expunged from the treaty and all the payments of tobacco were made to themselves. If the Crees had attempted to carry out these threats, the settlers would have suffered, and so they were alarmed every time the Crees resurrected their old grievance.

Another cause of alarm lay in the enmity which existed between the Saulteaux and the Sioux. During the summer of 1834 a party of Sioux, led by a chief called Burning Earth, came to Fort Garry ostensibly on a visit. As Mr. Thomas Simpson says in his account of the affair, "All went on pleasantly till the evening, when a large party of Saulteaux galloped suddenly into the court. They were completely armed, and breathed fury and revenge, having lost forty of their relatives by an attack of the Sioux a year or two before. We instantly stationed a strong guard for the defence of the strangers who had thrown themselves on our hospitality. The great difficulty was now to get the strangers safely home again. We supplied them with provisions, some tobacco, clothing, and ammunition. * * 1'arisien and his half-breeds undertook to conduct the Sioux safely out into the open plains, where they might set their bush-fighting foes at defiance." Parisien and his fifty-three Metis got the Sioux safely across the Assiniboine River; but when some of the excited Saulteaux attempted to follow, Mr. Simpson and one or two other whites ordered them to return, threatening to shoot them if they did not obey. This action was misunderstood by both parties of Indians, and a murderous affray was narrowly averted. "If you are so fond of shooting," said one Indian to the whites, "come on, and we will tight it out."

Two years later a larger party of Sioux came north to Fort Garry. The leader, a chief named Ulaneta or Wanna I ah, had two hundred and fifty men with him; but when he came near to the fort, he left one hundred and eighty of his followers in ambush and entered with seventy only. They were received kindly and dismissed as soon as possible, and as none of the Saulteaux appeared, there was no trouble. Incidents of this kind, showing that hostilities between Indian tribes might break out at any time, fully justified the governor and his council m deciding to organize a volunteer force in 1835.

The Metis buffalo hunters were obliged to cross the country occupied by the Sioux in making the journey to and from their hunting-grounds, and so it was important that their relations with that fierce tribe should be as friendly as possible. This friendship between the half-breeds and the Sioux helped to prevent outbreaks between the latter and the Saulteaux. But in 1840 the Sioux became less friendly, and year after year some of the hunters were killed by them. At last the Metis began to retaliate, killing some of the Indians and plundering others. This went on for four years, but in 1844 the Sioux asked for peace. The correspondence over the matter, which has been preserved, was conducted by four chiefs—The Earth Which Burns, The Thunder That Rings, The Black Bull, and The Sun—on behalf of their tribesmen, and by Cuthbert Grant on behalf of the Metis. It resulted in an agreement between both parties to forget the past and to keep the peace in future.

To celebrate the conclusion of this treaty a party of Sioux came to Fort Garry early in the summer of 1844. The Saulteaux seem to have been a party to the treaty and did not molest their old enemies during their visit,

A second party of Sioux came down to the fort on August 31. The visitors were well entertained, and after a time they crossed the river to St. Boniface to view the new cathedral. While they were absent, the Saulteaux gathered at Fort Garry; but they showed no signs of hostility, and whites and Indians mingled in the crowd which gathered on the bank of the river to await the return of the Sioux. No sooner, however, had the Sioux landed than a shot was fired. The bullet killed the Sioux against whom it was aimed, passed through his body and killed a Saulteau grazing a white man in its passage. There was much confusion; but the Saulteaux dispersed at once, and the Sioux were lodged inside the fort. When an inquiry was instituted, the murderer was found to be a Saulteau. He had not sought safety in flight with the others and was soon found and committed to prison. He coolly admitted that he had fired the shot, saying, '' The Sioux killed my- brother and wounded myself last year; from that moment I vowed revenge; that revenge I have now taken and am satisfied. Do with me what you like."

Doubtless the action of this Indian was justified by the ethical standards of his people, but the authorities in the Red River Settlement felt the necessity of making the natives understand that they must conform to the law of the white man. So the Indian was tried before a jury, and as there was no question as to his guilt, he was condemned to be hung. The sentence was carried out on September 6, 1845, the first case of capital punishment in the history of the colony. It was feared that the Indians and their sympathizers might make a disturbance, and five hundred armed horsemen were called together to act as a guard. There was no disorder, however, and the lesson does not seem to have been lost upon the Indians.

It is possible that this affair had something to do with the sending of a small body of regular troops to Red River, although they were sent out with sealed orders and no one seems to know the purpose of the war office. Some have supposed that the British government feared that the attitude of the people of the United States in regard to the "Oregon Boundary" might lead to some overt act against the Red River colony, but there is little reason for this supposition beyond a line in the journal of the officer who commanded the force. This force consisted of three hundred and five men of the Sixth Royal Regiment of Foot, twenty-six artillerymen, and twelve sappers; and it was accompanied by seventeen women and nineteen children. Colonel John Crofton was in command. The expedition was embarked on the Blenheim and the Crocodile at Cork on June 25, 1846, and sailed the next day. The Blenheim reached York Factory- on August 8, and her sister ship arrived five days later. The force was sent up the Hayes River in four brigades, the first starting on August 16, and by September 19 all had reached Lower Fort Carry. The sappers and one hundred and fifty men of the Sixth were left there under command of Captain Sullivan, and the remainder of the force was stationed at Upper Fort Garry.

There does not seem to have been any occasion for employing these men in active service during their stay in the country; but their time was occupied with drills and amusements as far as possible. The colonel organized classes for instructing them in reading and writing during the winter months. He also aided Judge Thom in an attempt to establish a "Colonial Library." The winter seems to have been unusually long and severe, and some of the poorer people of the colony required assistance. The colonel's journal shows that he found the weather, the country, and its inhabitants very little to his liking, and that he looked forward anxiously to the coming of spring when he could be relieved of his command and return to England. Major Griffiths arrived and took over the command of the troops on June 15, 1847; and two weeks later Colonel Crofton left the Red River Settlement for Canada, going by the old route of the fur traders. During his stay- in the colony Colonel Crofton acted as its governor and occupied a seat in the Council of Assiniboia, and Major Griffiths succeeded to both these positions as well as to the command of the troops.

The soldiers of the Sixth Royals seem to have conducted themselves so as to win the respect of the settlers, and their presence in the colony brought a sense of security to its people. When the force was recalled in 1848 about a dozen of its members elected to remain in the settlement. At least three of these—Charles Lant, Richard Salter, and James Irwin—lived to be old men, the last having passed away in "Winnipeg only a few years ago.

Before leaving Port Garry Colonel Crofton wrote:

"It is obvious that veterans would, in a country like this, be the best force, and, by permitting them to settle in the colony, a loyal and martial feeling would grow up, and the colony would be able to resist any hostile attack."

Still later the colonel made the following suggestion:

"The officers and men of a regiment of the line, I am convinced, are less suited for Red River than colonial companies would be."

Both of Colonel Crofton's suggestions seem to have been adopted in turn. The Royals were succeeded by seventy pensioners under the command of Major Caldwell, who acted as governor for seven years. This force was wholly inadequate, even for suppressing local disturbances, as was shown in the Sayer affair a year after the old soldiers arrived at Fort Garry. Moreover the conduct of many of them was too much like that of the de Meuron soldiers, who came to the settlement thirty years earlier, to make them a desirable element in the community. After the Sayer trial nothing seems to have seriously disturbed the peace of the settlement until 1851, when Governor Ramsey of Minnesota visited Pembina and concluded a treaty with the Indians for the purchase of a large tract of land on the upper Red River. This treaty caused considerable excitement among the Metis of the Red River Settlement, who considered themselves the rightful owners of the disputed lands at Pembina because of their efforts to make a settlement there. The excitement seems to have spent itself in talk, however. The pensioners' term of service expired in 1855, and for the next two years there were no troops in the colony; but in 1857 the second of Colonel Crofton's suggestions was tried, and several companies of Canadian Rifles were sent to Fort Garry, where they remained for about four years. In August. 1861, these men were sent down to York Factory, where they took ship for a port in Canada.

In 1862 the peace of the Red River Settlement was again disturbed by the hostility of Indians, although on this occasion the Indians were living in the United States. The Sioux resident in Minnesota had ceded their lands to the government by a treaty and were entitled to certain annual payments of money in return Several thousands of the natives gathered at the usual places for receiving their "treaty money" a little in advance of the regular time for its payment; but for some reason the agents did not arrive at the appointed time. "Weeks passed, the Indians consumed the small quantity of provisions which they had brought with them, and having no means of securing more, they were on the verge of starvation. This was the culmination of a long list of grievances, and having waited six weeks, a band of Sioux under their chief, Little Crow, made an attack upon Fort Ridgeley and the neighboring town of New Ulm. The town was destroyed, and this outbreak was followed by a general rising of the tribe and the massacre of the white settlers along the Minnesota and Sauk Rivers. It is estimated that one thousand five hundred settlers were killed. Houses were burned, crops were destroyed, and the whole country was devastated. Of course the surviving settlers retaliated, and their acts were scarcely less barbarous than those of the savages.

The stage route which led from Fort Garry to the towns of the upper Mississippi passed through the district in which the enraged Sioux were committing their depredations. One of the stage coaches was attacked by them, and the passengers were killed; so communication by stage was suspended at once. Fort Abercrombie was besieged by a large body oi' Indians, although it held out successfully against them; and it was thought that they would capture Georgetown, where the Hudson's Bay Company had a post. Messrs. Murray and Kittson,^ the men in charge of the post, decided to put all their portable goods on a river steamer and leave the buildings to their fate. But the water in the river was so low that the steamer grounded, and then a part, of her cargo was transferred to a barge, and the rest was sent north in carts. The barge reached Fort Garry safely in due time, but the train of carts was not so fortunate. At the junction of Red Lake River and the Red River about seven hundred and fifty Chippewa Indians were waiting for the arrival of Mr. Dole, a commissioner sent by the United States government to make a treaty with them for the surrender of some of their lands. The goods which he had intended to distribute among them were in Fort Abercrombie, which was surrounded by the Sioux, and so were not available. When the disappointed Chippewas saw the train of carts loaded with the goods which Messrs. Murray and Kittson were taking to the Hudson's Bay Company's store at Fort Garry, they demanded from these gentlemen the supplies which Commissioner Dole was unable to give them. When their request was not granted, they pillaged the train and carried off goods worth about £2,000.

Fortunately these disturbances in Minnesota did not occur until quite late in the summer, and most of the season's freighting had been done; but nevertheless the interruption to trade and to communication with the outside world was quite a serious matter for the Red River Settlement. There was also danger that the Indians living north of the international boundary would be incited to acts of violence by the hostile movements of their friends south of it. The feeling of uneasiness was intensified by a rumor that the Sioux of Minnesota intended to pay a friendly visit to Fort Garry. So real did the danger appear to the people of Red River that Governor Dallas called his council together on October 30, 1862, to discuss the matter. It was decided to send a petition from the settlers to the colonial secretary, pointing out the danger of a disturbance by the Indians and asking that troops be sent for the protection of the colony. Meetings were held in different places throughout the settlement, and the petition was signed by (me thousand one hundred and eighty-three persons, more than half of them being French and half-breeds. Some of the more outspoken opponents of the rule of the Hudson's Bay Company took advantage of the occasion to aim a blow at that corporation by sending an independent petition for troops, with which they coupled a complaint in regard to the company's government of the colony. Both petitions were sent to the colonial secretary by mail, and both were disregarded, the colony being left to its own resources for protection against enemies to its peace, either within or without its borders.

The threatened visit of the Sioux was made in December. There were eighty-six in the party. They were housed in the court-house and treated well by the officials of Fort Garry, and after three days they returned to the neighborhood of Devil's Lake. This visit renewed the alarm of the colonists, and in the spring four hundred and fifty of them signed a petition to the Governor and Council of Assiniboia, asking that a local militia be established. Some preliminary steps toward the organization of such a force were taken, but the plan was not carried to completion. In August another band of Sioux, numbering eighty, came north under the leadership of their chief, Little Crow, and demanded food and ammunition from the authorities at Fort Garry. They received the former only, and after a few days they departed with the buffalo hunters for the plains. Father Andre, the priest who accompanied the hunters that summer, had considerable influence with the Sioux, and he tried to persuade them to submit to General Sibley, the officer in command of the force sent to subdue them; but he was not successful Later in the year Senator Ramsay of Minnesota concluded a treaty with many of the bands of Chippewas, by which they relinquished their claims to a large area of land in consideration of receiving a sum of money mounting into the millions; and this simplified the problem of dealing with the Sioux.

Late in 1863 the United States government placed a garrison at Pembina, Major Hatch being in command. Its presence scared the Sioux away from the vicinity, and some six hundred of them came north and camped at Sturgeon Creek, a few miles west of Fort Garry. They were most unwelcome visitors, for the crops of the summer had been very light and the winter was unusually severe, and the settlers could ill afford to feed six hundred starving Indians. There was talk of driving them away by force, and negotiations for their removal were opened with Major Hatch. Some of their chiefs were kidnapped and taken south; but Major Hatch's force was not strong enough to compel the others to follow their chiefs, even if international difficulties had not stood in the way of such a proceeding. The officials at Fort Garry gave the Indians some food, and they consented to go to Minnesota without compulsion and started away early in the new year. They went no further than White Horse Plains, however; and after enduring great privation there for a time, they scattered over the country in search of food, some going to Lake Manitoba to fish. The gifts of food made to the Sioux had roused the enmity of the Saulteaux, who were also on the verge of starvation, and it led to a collision between the two races at Lake Winnipeg. The Sioux killed a Saulteau, and in retaliation the Saulteaux attacked their enemies, killing six of them and fatally wounding fourteen more. The Sioux realized that they were not in a friendly country, and most of them went south with the buffalo hunters during the summer.

The departure of this band did not mean a cessation of Sioux visits by any means, for in August four bands of these savages, led by chiefs Standing Buffalo. Turning Thunder, Charger, and Leaf, came north to Red River Settlement. There were about 3,000 people in the four bands, and their presence in the country was a serious matter. Governor Mactavish met them at Portage la Prairie and endeavored to dissuade them from coming to Fort Garry; but in this he was only partially successful, for some persisted in making the journey. It was found that many of them were willing to follow the advice which Gover nor Dallas had given to a large number of their fellow tribesmen along the Missouri the year before, which was to make their peace with the government of the United States. They were given supplies of food, and finally they withdrew from the country, but not without committing some depredations. Their visit revived the agitation in favor of establishing a local militia, but nothing practical was done in the matter.

In June, 1866, Standing Buffalo came to Portage la Prairie on another visit. After he went back to the plains, some of his people who remained went to Fort Garry. They had started on the return journey when they were set upon by a band of Red Lake Indians and four of their number were killed and horribly mutilated. More of the Sioux would probably have been killed, if some of the settlers had not interfered. As it seemed likely that the Sioux would seek revenge, a special meeting of the Council of Assiniboia was called, and the governor was authorized to enroll an armed and mounted force of about a hundred men among the settlers, which would either escort the Sioux across the boundary or compel them to keep the peace if they remained in the country. It was not necessary for this force to take any action, for the Sioux did not attempt to revenge themselves upon the Saulteaux.


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