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The Story of Manitoba
Chapter XXXV The Red River Expedition


The first steps toward the establishment and organization of the new province had been taken, but further organization was scarcely possible until peace was restored. Even before parliament had passed the Manitoba Act, the Dominion government had commenced preparations for sending to Red River a force of regular soldiers and volunteers strong enough to restore and preserve order there. It had informed the secretary of state for the colonies that it would be necessary to send a military expedition to the disturbed colony, and on March 5th, the day on which Riel proclaimed Winnipeg as his capital, Earl Granville cabled to Sir John Young, the governor-general of Canada: "Her Majesty's Government will give proposed military assistance, provided reasonable terms are granted Red River settlers, and provided your Government enable Her Majesty's Government to proclaim the transfer of the Territory simultaneously with the movement of the force."

The Canadian government agreed to the conditions, and preparations went forward under the direction of Lieutenant-General Sir James Lindsay, the officer appointed in April to command Her Majesty's troops in Canada. The general had resided in the country for considerable time and possessed the confidence of all classes of people. It was important that the command of the expedition should be given to an officer whose ability and prudence were equal to the somewhat difficult task set for him, for the expedition was not to be one of conquest. Earl Granville has said, ""Troops should not be employed in forcing the sovereignty of Canada on the population, should they refuse to admit it!" The right man was then serving in the country as deputy-quarternaster-general. and there was much satisfaction when this popular officer, Colonel Garnet Wolseley, was chosen to lead the expedition. As it was to be sent by the Canadian and British governments, acting in concert, Sir Clinton Murdoch was appointed by the latter to act with the governor-general and General Lindsay in arranging details.

On April 23d the colonial secretary sent the following dispatch to Sir John Young:

"On the following conditions the troops may advance:

"1. Rose to be authorized to pay 300,000 at once, and Her Majesty's Government to be at liberty to make transfer before the end of June.

"2. Her Majesty's Government to pay expenses of British troops only, not exceeding 250, and the Canadian Government the rest, sending at least 500 trained men.

"3. Canadian Government to accept decision of Her Majesty's Government on dispute points of the Settlers' Bill of Rights.

"4. Military arrangements to be to the satisfaction of General Lindsay."

This dispatch shows that, at the time it was sent,' the Dominion government had not paid the sum necessary to complete the transfer of the territory of the Hudson's Bay Company, although the company's officers had signed the deed of transfer more than live months earlier. However, on May 4th Sir John Rose was instructed to pay over the sum specified, and the payment was actually made a week later, or just one day before the Manitoba Act received the assent of the governor-general. On May 6th Earl Granville cabled that the expedition might start.

The force was to be made up of a detachment of regulars, two battalions of Canadian volunteers, and about 400 boatmen and teamsters. The regulars included a battalion of the 60th Royal Rifles, 350 strong, commanded by Colonel Eielden, detachments of the Royal Artillery and Royal Engineers, 20 men each J and a number of men from the Army Service and Hospital Corps. A battery of 4 seven pounder brass mountain guns was taken. One battalion of volunteers was enlisted in Ontario, and so eager were men to join it that places could not be found for all who asked for them. This battalion was commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel S. P. Jarvis. The other battalion was to be-made up in Quebec; but the French people were not eager to join a force which might be used against men of their own blood in the North-West, while English people were- reluctant to serve under French-Canadian officers, and so the battalion drilled up slowly. The command was given to Lieutenant-Colonel Cassault. The Ontario men were to rendezvous at Toronto, and as fast as the Quebec men enlisted, they were sent to the same point and formed into companies.

It had been decided to send the expedition to Fort Garry by the route which had been followed for so many years by the fur traders of Canada. Men and supplies would be transported to Port Arthur by .steamer, and from that point they would be sent forward in boats. Contracts for the building of these boats were let, and Mr. S. J. Dawson, C-. E., was instructed to proceed to Port Arthur with a force of workmen and construct a wagon road from the landing to Lake Shebandowan, over which supplies might be carried. He was also authorized to engage a number of voyageurs to act as boatmen. Of the men secured as boatmen about one hundred were Caughnawaga Indians, who were experienced men; but most of the others had little practical knowledge of the work which they had engaged to do. Horses, oxen, and wagons for the transport of material of war over the road to Lake Shebandowan were purchased.

On May 3d the Algoma sailed from Collingwood with supplies for the expedition and a number of workmen and voyageurs on board. She was allowed to pass through the United States canal at Sault Ste. Marie and- proceeded to Port Arthur without hindrance-; <, but when the Chicora arrived at Sault Ste. Marie a few days later, with more men and supplies on board, the United States officials would not allow her to carry them through the canal. There was nothing to do but unload the supplies on the Canadian side of the river, haul them to a point on Lake Superior above the rapids, and load them on the Algoma when she returned. The Chicora went back to Collingwood, where Colonel Wolselev and a part of his force embarked on May 21st and set sail for Port Arthur. The Frances Smith sailed about the same time with more troops and supplies. When the Chicora reached the canal, permission to pass through it was again refused, and some delay occurred before the United States government was induced to grant the desired permission. The Frances Smith was late in reaching Sault Ste. Marie, and then her captain declined to proceed further unless he were paid an exorbitant sum; so her cargo and passengers had to be disembarked. In this way a large quantity of provisions had to be stored on the Canadian side of the St. Mary's River until it could be hauled over the road leading past the rapids; and as Fenians on the American side had threatened to seize these supplies, several companies of soldiers were detained to guard them against possible raids. Finally the stores were carried across to the landing on Lake Superior and placed on several small vessels for transport to Port Arthur.

Other unexpected delays occurred after the expedition reached Port Arthur. The construction of a road to connect the port with Lake Shebandowan, fifty miles distant, had proved more difficult than had been anticipated, and little more than two-thirds of it had been built. Forest fires had destroyed parts of the road, and then heavy and frequent rains made its repair and completion almost impossible. Yet in spite of all obstacles the expedition advanced. Colonel Wolseley was tireless in his efforts to get forward. His officers caught his energy and cheerfulness and communicated them to their men. Forgetful of the toil, the rain, the mud, and the incessant plague of flies, volunteers and regulars vied with each other in willing response to the enthusiasm of their officers. Wolseley had nothing but praise for the men who went with hiin to the Red River. It was regarded as a very difficult expedition by all military experts, and some had pronounced it impossible; yet the spirit of his men enabled Wolseley to carry it out successfully.

While Colonel Wolseley was at Port Arthur. Mr. Donald A. Smith, who had succeeded Mr. William Mactavish as governor of the Hudson's Bay Company, reached the lake port on his way to Norway House. The colonel asked Mr. Smith to be the bearer of a proclamation to the people of Manitoba and to place copies of it in the hands of Bishop Tache, Bishop Machray, the chief factor of the company at Fort Garry, and other prominent gentlemen. Tie also asked these men to take such steps as would ensure the early completion of the Dawson Road from the Northwest Angle of the Lake of the Woods to Winnipeg, a distance of about ninety miles. The proclamation was as follows:

"To the Loyal Inhabitants of Manitoba:

"Her Majesty's Government having determined upon stationing some troops amongst you. I have been entrusted by the Lieutenant-Genera I commanding in British North America, to proceed to Fort Garry with the troops under my command.

"Our mission is one of peace, and the sole object of the expedition is to secure Her Majesty's sovereign authority.

"Courts of law, such as are common to every portion of Her Majesty's Empire, will be duly established, and justice will be impartially administered to all races and all classes ; the loyal Indians and Half-Breeds being as dear to our Queen as any other of her loyal subjects.

"The force which I have the honor of commanding will enter your province representing no party either in religion or polities, and will afford equal protection to the lives and property of all races and all creeds.

"The strictest order and discipline will be maintained, and private property will be carefully protected. All supplies furnished by the inhabitants to the troops will be duly paid for. Should any one consider himself injured by any individual attached to the force, his grievance shall be promptly inquired into.

"All loyal people are earnestly invited to aid me in carrying out the above-

"(Signed) G J Colonel,

Commanding Red River Expeditionary Force.

"Prince Arthur's Landing, Thunder Bay,

June 30, .1870

Colonel Wolseley sent a copy of this proclamation to General Lindsay for approval, but that officer, considering that the men in charge of a military expedition to Manitoba had nothing to do with the courts of the country,1 requested the gentlemen to whom the proclamation had been sent, to delete its third clause before making it public, and this was done.

When it was found that it would take a great deal of time to cart the heavy boats over the poor road to Lake Shebandowan, some one suggested that they could be poled, tracked, and portaged up the Kaministiquia and Matawan rivers. The experiment was made, and ill spite of the labor involved, it proved successful. Many of the boats were then taken up to the lake by that route, and consequently more teams were available for hauling supplies. Finally a short water route for the transportation of these supplies was found, and it was not necessary to complete the last few miles of the road. Colonel Wolseley had reached Port Arthur on May 25; but it was the 21st of June before all his men and his supplies reached that point, and it was the middle of July before enough supplies and a sufficient number of men had reached Lake Shebandowan to warrant a further advance.

"Hurrah for Fort Garry!" was the farewell which came floating over the waters of Lake Shebandowan from the men in the first brigades of boats as they passed westward out of sight on the evening of July 16. One of the most difficult tasks of the expedition had been accomplished, and the real advance had commenced; the weather was beautiful, and the men were in nigh spirits. A week later their commander set out from Lake Shebandowan in a light canoe to overtake his leading companies, and by August 1st the last brigades had started from the lake, and the expedition was then stretched along 150 miles of lakes and rivers. It was August 4 when the leading boats reached Fort Frances and at that point Lieutenant Butler, who had arrived that morning from Fort Garry, brought Colonel Wolseley the latest information about conditions in Manitoba. The countre was "full of anarchy and confusion, the French and English settlers were mutually afraid of one another, both parties in dread of an Indian outbreak, and Riel very anxious about an amnesty. The next day Dr. Joseph Monkman. the loyal half-breed who had guided Dr. Schultz to Duluth during the preceding winter, reached the Rainy River, bringing Colonel Wolseley letters from Bishop Machray and others. All urged that the expedition should advance as quickly as possible, as the conditions prevailing in the new province were alarming. Monkman reported that six boats, provided and manned by some of the loyal settlers, were on the way up the Winnipeg River to co-operate with the expedition. He had come through the woods to the Northwest Angle and thought that route practicable for the expedition, but reports from other sources convinced Colonel Wolseley that the road was not in such a> condition that he would be warranted in attempting to take his force over it. So he felt obliged to take the longer and more toilsome route by way of the Winnipeg River, Lake Winnipeg, and the Red River. He reached Hungry Hall at the mouth of the Rainy River on August 11, and there he received letters, asking him to send all available regulars and two cannon to the Red River at once, as there was great danger of an Indian outbreak. Other letters told him that the boats sent by the Red River people had reached Rat Portage.

With all possible speed the expedition crossed the Lake of the Woods, and after a short delay at Rat Portage, it commenced the descent of the Winnipeg River. Paddling over the long stretches of smooth water, running the rapids, and portaging around the numerous falls, the advance companies of the 60th Rifles reached Port Alexander on August 20. Here Colonel Wolseley met Mr. Donald A. Smith, who had come up from Norway House to await his arrival and accompany the expedition to Fort Garry.

The latest news from Fort Garry was to the effect that Riel had called a meeting of the Metis and had urged them to make an armed resistance to the entry of the troops. It was said that several hundred men had attended the meeting, but the majority of them had no desire for a continuation of the rebellion and refused to have anything to do with the mad schemes of their leader. Believing that no serious opposition would be offered to the force, Colonel Wolseley decided to push on with the men of the 60th, without waiting for the brigades of the Ontario Rifles, most of whom were on the river behind him; and on the afternoon of the 21st the men embarked for the sail across the lake to the mouth of Red River. The river was reached about noon the next day, and that night the force camped a few miles below Lower Fort Garry. Early in the forenoon of the 23rd the fort was reached, and here all superfluous supplies were stored. With four days' provisions the men pushed forward, hoping to reach their destination by nightfall. Horses were procured for some of the men, and an advance guard and flanking parties on the left bank and scouts on the right bank kept in touch with the brigades of boats on the river. Strange to say, no definite information about the position of the expedition seems to have preceded it, and all persons likely to carry news of its arrival to Fort Garry were detained. The advance up the river was somewhat slow, and when the men camped for the night on the western bank, they were still six miles from Fort Garry.

The Red River Expedition, dispatched to bring peace and order to a small and newly organized province in the centre of North America, may have seemed a matter of minor importance to most of the world, for during those weeks of July and August, when Wolseley and his men were making their toilsome way over lakes and rivers to Fort Garry, events, destined to change all the subsequent history of Europe, were following one another with incredible swiftness there. War between France and Prussia had been declared on July 15, the day before Wolseley's first boats set off on Lake Shebandowan, and in the succeeding weeks reverse after reverse had overtaken the. French armies. Before Wolseley reached Fort Alexander, Marshall MaeMahon's army had been completely crushed at Woerth, Marshall Bazaine's force had been shut up in Metz, Strasburg had been invested, and the Crown Prince Frederic, with an army of 150 000 men was on the march to Paris. The series of desperate battles around Sedan the terrific bombardment of that fortress, the capitulation oi the place and the great French army cooped up in it, and the surrender of the French emperor himself, all occurred within ten days after Wolseley reached Fort Garry. We need not wonder, then, if people in the world at large paid little attention to the advance of Wolseley's expedition.

Put to the people of Manitoba the early arrival of some force, strong enough to bring peace and order to the little prairie province, seemed a matter of far more import than any question at issue between the Emperor of France and the King of Prussia. The good government of the country, the security of their property, the safety of their homes, perhaps their very lives, depended on it. For nine months all that they prized most had been in danger; and as the weeks passed, the strain of anxious waiting grew more severe. The suspense was harder to bear because they were so few in number and so far removed from the rest of Canada. Strangely enough, none of the people seem to have known just where the relieving force was or when it would arrive.

Perhaps no one had felt the suspense more than Rev. Mr. Young, who had attended Thomas Scott to his execution, whose son had been one of Riel's prisoner's, and whose wife's health had compelled him to send her out of the country at a very dangerous time; and no one looked more eagerly for the coming of Wolseley's men. Did he have some premonition of their approach, or had some rumor that their commander's scouts had been in Winnipeg during the night of August 23rd reached his ears? We are not told; but early on the morning of the 24th he rose in great agitation and said to his son, "I am sure the troops are close at hand. Go to Burke and get two of his best horses. Take Willie Burke with you, make your way through Riel's pickets somehow, and ride down the river to meet the troops." Undeterred by the heavy rain and the danger, the two young men set off at once. Some of Riel's pickets, wdio had been stationed on the trail a short distance north of the village of Winnipeg, challenged them as they approached; but they-rode down to the bank of the river, as if to water their horses, evaded the pickets, and galloped on to meet Wolseley's force, which had commenced the last stage of its journey to Fort Garry.

Captain G. L. Huyshe, one of Wolseley's staff officers, has told us the story of that last advance in the following words:

"The camp was pitched on the left bank, six miles by land from Fort Garry, the distance by water being eight or nine. Outlying picquets were thrown out on both sides of the river, and a chain of sentries posted around the camp. Captain Wallace's company established itself in a farmhouse about 600 yards off, with an advanced party on the main road, so that all communication between Fort Garry and the settlements in the rear of the force was cut off. It had been Colonel Wolseley's intention to march at a very early hour the next morning upon the fort, but about 10 P. M. a violent gale of wind sprung up from the N. W., accompanied by torrents of rain, which continued without intermission all night, rendering the roads nearly impassable. The unfortunate picquets and sentries looked more like drowned rats than human beings, and the men were so done up with cold and wet, that Colonel Wolseley was obliged to change his plans and continue the advance in the boats. Breakfast put a little life into the men, though everything was so wet that it was difficult

to get the fires lit, and at 6 A. M. the men re-embarked and rowed up the river, the rain still falling in torrents. Spies had been sent into the town of Winnipeg during the night to find out the actual state of affairs, and brought news that up to that evening the rebel flag still waved over Fort Garry, and though vague rumors were afloat of the force being somewhere on the river, yet these were discredited by Riel, who with a few of his adherents still kept possession of the fort; also that Bishop Tache had arrived that day under a salute of twenty-four guns.

"At 8 A. M. on the 24th the troops disembarked at Point Douglas, two miles from the town of Winnipeg, and formed up in open column of companies. The flanking party had brought a few horses and carts, so that there was sufficient transport ready for the ammunition, engineers' tools, and hospital. The guns were limbered up behind a. couple of country carts, and a few wretched ponies served to mount Colonel Wolseley and his staff. Covered by Captain Wallace's company behind as a rear guard, the force marched straight on the village of Winnipeg, the roads being ankle deep in thick mud, and the rain still pouring in torrents.

"Passing round the flank of the village, the fort appeared in sight about 700 yards off, across the open prairie. A few stray inhabitants in the village declared that Riel and his party still held possession of the fort and meant to fight. The gates were shut, no flag was flying from the flag-staff, and guns were visible, mounted in the bastions and over the gateway that commanded the approach from the village and the prairie over which the troops were advancing. It certainly looked as if our labours were not to be altogether in vain. 'Riel is going to fight!' ran along the line, and the men quickened their pace and strode cheerily forward, regardless of the mud and rain, M. Riel rose in their estimation immensely. The gun over the gateway was expected every moment to open fire, but we got nearer and nearer and still no sign; at last we could see that there were no men standing to the guns, and, unless it were a trap to get us close up before they opened fire, it was evident that there would be no tight after all. 'He's bolted!' was the cry. Wolseley sent forward some of his staff to see if the south gate were also shut; they galloped all around the fort, and brought back word that the gate opening on to the bridge over the Assiniboine river was wide open, and men bolting away over the bridge. The troops then marched in by this gateway, and took possession of Fort Garry after a bloodless victory. The Union .Jack was hoisted, a royal salute fired, and three cheers given for the Queen, which were caught up and heartily re-echoed by a few of the inhabitants who bad followed the troops from the village. It was still raining in torrents, and the whole place was one sea of black, slimy mud; the men were drenched to the skin, and had been so during the previous night. Officers and men were therefore temporarily housed inside the fort, instead of pitching tents on the soaking wet ground.

"Inside the fort were found several field guns, some of which were mounted in the bastions and over the gateway, a large quantity of ammunition, and a number of old-pattern muskets, many of which were loaded and capped, showing that the intention had been up to the last moment to resist the entry of the troops. It is evident that Riel would have fought it out bad his men stuck to him; he is reported to have said that very morning, that 'it was as well to be shot defending the fort, as to give it up and be hung afterwards!' The house that he and his 'Secretaries of State' had occupied was found in a state of great confusion; the breakfast things on the table not yet cleared away, documents of all kinds, and the private papers of the ex-President lying about, betokened a hasty retreat. It appeared that Riel had refused to credit the report of the approach of the troops, until he actually saw them marching around the village, and had then hurriedly galloped off about a quarter of an hour before their arrival, taking the road to Pembina accompanied by Lepine and O'Donoghue^"

The advance companies of the Ontario Rifles reached Winnipeg oil August 27. and the others, with the exception of one company left at Fort Frances, arrived soon after. They were quartered in Upper Fort Garry. The Quebec battalion followed closely and was stationed at the Lower Fort. The purpose of the expedition having been accomplished, the regular soldiers were sent back, the first detachment starting on August 29 and the last on September 3. One company, under Captain Buller, was sent over the Dawson Road as an experiment; the others returned over the route by which they had come. Colonel Wolseley left Fort Garry on September 10, traveling by the Dawson Road. By the first week in October all the returning troops had reached Port Arthur and embarked for Collingwood. The company of the Ontario Rifles detained at Fort Frances was sent forward to Winnipeg, and the two battalions of Canadian volunteers, under command of Colonel Jarvis, settled down to garrison duty in the two forts on the Red River.

It was not a light undertaking to move a force of 1400 men, with arms and provisions of war, over a distance of 1200 miles, when the route led through a pathless forest for about one-third of the distance; yet the task was accomplished in three months without the loss of a single life and without serious accident. Considering the difficulties to be overcome, the cost of the expedition 400,000, seems remarkably small. The British government paid one-fourth of the expense; the remainder was borne by the Dominion.

His Royal Highness, the Field-Marshal Commanding-in-Chief, issued a general order from the Horse Guards, London, complimenting General Lindsay, Colonel Wolseley, and the men upon the way the arduous task imposed on them had been carried out; and Governor Archibald wrote to the colonel, expressing his appreciation of the difficulties of the long march and the manner in which they had been overcome. But Colonel Wolseley himself generously gave most of the credit for his success to the men of his force, whose energy and good spirits made light of difficulties. They were the very men needed for the development of a new province, and it was fortunate for Manitoba that so many of them remained in the country when their term of service expired. Previous to the departure of the 60th Royal Rifles from Fort Garry, Colonel Wolseley issued the following order of the day, congratulating his troops on the success of the expedition.

"To the Regular Troops of the Red River Expeditionary Force:

I cannot permit Colonel Fielden and you to start upon your return journey to Canada without thanking you for having enabled me to carry out the Lieutenant-General's orders so successfully.

You have endured excessive fatigue in the performance of a service that or its arduous nature can bear comparison with any previous military expedition. In coming here from Prince Arthur's Landing yon have traversed a distance of upwards of 600 miles.

"Your labours began with those common at the outset of all campaigns, namely, with road-making and the construction of defensive works; then followed the arduous duty of taking the boats up a height of 800 feet, along fifty miles of river full of rapids, and where portages were numerous. From the time you left Shebandowan Lake until Fort 'Garry was reached, your labour at the oar has been incessant from daybreak to dark every day. Forty-seven portages were got over, entailing the unparalleled exertion of carrying the boats, guns, ammunition, stores, and provisions, over a total distance of upwards of seven miles. It may be said that the whole journey has been made though a wilderness, where, as there were no supplies of any sort whatever to be had, everything had to be taken with you in the boats.

"I have throughout viewed with pleasure the manner in which officers have vied with their men in carrying heavy loads. I feel proud of being in command of officers who so well know how to set a good example, and of men who evince such eagerness in following it.

"It has rained upon forty-five days out of the ninety-four that have passed by since we landed at Thunder Bay, and upon many occasions every man has been wet through for days together.

"There has not been the slightest murmur of discontent heard from any one.

"It may be confidently asserted that no force has ever had to endure more continuous labour, and it may be as truthfully said that no men on service have ever been better behaved, or more cheerful under the trials arising from exposure to inclement weather, excessive fatigue, and to the annoyance caused by flies.

"There has been a total absence of crime amongst you during your advance to Fort Garry, and I feel confident that your conduct during the return .journey will be as creditable to you in every respect.

"The leaders of the banditti who recently oppressed Her Majesty's loyal subjects in the Red River Settlement having fled as you advanced on the fort, leaving their guns and a large quantity of their arms and ammunition behind them, the primary object of the expedition has been accomplished. Although you have not therefore had an opportunity of gaining glory, you can carry back with you into the daily routine of garrison life the conviction that you have done good service to the State, and have proved that no extent of intervening wilderness, no matter how great may be its difficulties, whether by land or water, can enable men to commit murder or to rebel against Her Majesty's authority with impunity.

'Ht. J. "Wolseley, Colonel,

Commanding Red River Expedition.

"Fort Garry, 28th August, 1870."


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