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MacKenzie, Selkirk, Simpson
Lord Selkirk


IN the attack made on the colonists' quarters by the Bois-brules a worthy gentleman, John Warren, of the Hudson's Bay Company service, had been killed. Blood had been shed, and it was the general expectation that other victims would follow. The total removal of the colonists, by deportation or expulsion, for a time gave an ominous peace. But the news of expected trouble had found its way down the fur-traders' route, and Colin Robertson, formerly a Nor'-Wester officer, came to the rescue under engagement to watch over Lord Selkirk's interests, and brought with him twenty Canadians. Finding the settlers had one to Lake Winnipeg he followed them, and succeeded in leading them back to their deserted homesteads.

About ninety new settlers from Scotland, mostly from Helmsdale in Sutherlandshire, came in a single season, as we have seen, and Governor Semple's control gave hope of better things. Several of the demolished buildings were rebuilt, the governor's house was improved, others were erected beside it, and Fort Douglas began to assume a more military appearance.

The Hudson's Bay Company and colony under the leadership of Governor Semple, a military man, and Colin Robertson, an experienced officer, became more aggressive. Fort Gibraltar, in its turn was captured by Robertson, and the field-pieces and other booty taken by the Nor'-Westers were restored to their rightful owners. Duncan Cameron was likewise seized as a reprisal for the arrest of Miles Macdonell, but he was given his liberty again.

The greatest anxiety now prevailed on both sides. For a few months Governor Semple had, with the colonists, made the usual winter visit to Fort Daer to hunt buffaloes, which this year were very abundant. Shortly after the New Year (1810) Governor Semple returned to the Forks, and he and Robertson now determined to tact with decision on account of the threatenings of the boil-brines as to their purposes in the spring. Fort Gibraltar was captured, and Cameron, the commandant, was arrested, and taken by Colin Robertson to York Factory. On account of the ship from the bay not departing as usual, Cameron did not reach England for seventeen months.

Governor Semple now determined to dismantle Fort Gibraltar and take the material down to strengthen Fort Douglas. Before Colin Robertson's departure with Cameron in charge the destruction of Fort Gibraltar had been discussed with the governor, and Robertson had disapproved of it. However, on the departure of Cameron the fort was dismantled, its stockades made into a raft, the remaining material piled upon it, and the whole floated down the Red River to Fort Douglas. Following out the same policy the officer commanding Fort Daer seized the North-West Company's fort at Pembina.

The new policy of "thorough" adopted by Governor Semple was, as events proved, a dangerous one. The Indians and "free-traders," the latter being French-Canadians with Indian wives, not attached to either company, were both inflammable elements. Fearing trouble the free-traders betook themselves to the plains. The Indians hearing the threats coming from the west, strange to say, offered the colonists their assistance. Governor Semple seems to have been living in a fool's paradise, not suspecting the danger by which he was surrounded. His late arrival in the country probably explains his want of prudent preparation. The cloud rising in the west grew darker and darker. From the east, too, came a rumour that a Nor'-Wester force was coming from Fort William to attack the settlement.

Cuthbert Grant wrote from the west to one of the Canadian officers that as soon as spring came the Bois-brules, the "new nation," as he now called them, would drive out the settlers, and would remain at Red River for the summer to ensure that the settlers did not return. His words were loud and boastful. Efforts were made to induce the Indians to join the western levies, but the redman was too astute to commit himself. Nitchtie, as the Indian is called in the west, always -wagers on the winning horse.

Coining down from Qu'Appelle and gathering his forces at Brandon and Portage la Prairie, Cuthbert Grant, with great spirit and bravery, swept down to overwhelm the English company and the helpless colonists. Mounted on fleet Indian ponies the party moved with great rapidity. Some four miles -vest of the Forks, the Nor'-Wester and half-breed contingent left the banks of the Assiniboine and crossed the prairie, probably to avoid Fort Douglas and to join forces with the eastern contingent.

It was on June 19tli, 1816—a sad and bloody day commemorated by a stone monument three miles north of the city of Winnipeg, at the side of the king's highway—that Cuthbert Grant's party was seen from the watch tower of Fort Douglas, and the governor with a party of twenty sallied out to meet them, largely unprotected and no doubt entirely underestimating the danger which lay before them. Frill of bravery, that all now see to have been the most fatal rashness, Governor Semple went on, sending back for a cannon which was in the fort.

The half-breeds on their horses approached Governor Semple's party in the form of a half moon at a point near the Red River called Seven

Oaks, and made a dashing and threatening display as they swept forward.

The colonists had betaken themselves to Fort Douglas, and in the accents of their mournful Gaelic tongue made sad complaint. A daring fellow named Boucher came from the ranks of the attacking party and approached the governor. Gesticulating wildly, he called out in broken English, "What do you want? What do you want?" Governor Semple answered, "What do you want?" To this Boucher replied, "We want our fort." The governor said, "Well, go to your fort." At this juncture the governor unwisely placed his hand on Boucher's gun. Immediately a shot was fired, probably by accident, and at once the firing became general. It has generally been believed that the first shot, intentional or unintentional, was fired from the bois-brules line. In a few minutes the work was done. Semple, his staff, as well as others of the party to the number of twenty-two, fell—killed and wounded.

Governor Semple had his thigh bone broken by a shot, but was not killed. A kind French-Canadian undertook to care for the governor, but in the fury of the fight an Indian—the greatest rascal of the company—shot the wounded officer in the breast and killed him instantly. There were few Indians in the attacking party, but the half-breeds were many of them disguised in Indian dress and painted for the war dance.

Rarely does so complete a slaughter take place, and the plains of Rupert's Land had seen nothing approaching it in horror since the coming of the white man. Cuthbert Grant was full of. excitement. Before the skirmish was fairly over he declared that unless the fort were given up immediately, it would be taken by force and every man, woman and child would be put to death. This policy, seemingly as determined as that of "Old Noll," was effective, and led to a bloodless surrender of Fort Douglas. On the evening of the third day after the fight, after an inventory had been taken of the effects, the band of colonists mournfully filed out of their fort, again to betake themselves to Lake Winnipeg, their haven of rest in trouble.

The other party which had come from Fort William was to meet that of Cuthbert Grant before the attack was made. It was perhaps this feet that led the western leader to conduct his men across the prairie in the rear of Fort Douglas. The eastern contingent was under the command of A. McLeod and two Swiss mercenaries engaged by the Nor'Westers in Montreal. The length of the journey from Fort William-more than four hundred miles —is sufficient cause for their failure to reach the rendezvous promptly. the party was coming up Red River when they met the seven or eight boats loaded with colonists whom Cuthbert Grant had allowed to depart under the command of the sheriff of the Red River Settlement.

A very clear account of the latter part of this sanguinary episode in the fur traders' history is given by Sergeant Huerter, one of the Swiss mercenaries who had accompanied McLeod. After McLeod had challenged the retreating settlers he ordered them ashore, examined all the papers in their effects, took possession of all letters, account books, and documents of every kind, broke open Governor Semple's trunks, and indeed treated the poor colonists with needless severity.

Seven days after the fight McLeod's party arrived at Fort Douglas, and was received with volleys of artillery arid small arms. As senior officer on his arrival McLeod took command of the fort, and occupied the quarters lately used by Governor Semple. Huerter visited the field of Seven Oaks shortly after his arrival and saw a miserable sight. A number of human bodies lay scattered about the plains, and were nearly reduced to skeletons, very little flesh adhering to the bones. It was said that many of the bodies had been partly devoured by dogs and wolves.

The savage Indian blood did not fail to assert itself in the rejoicings and revelry that took place after the victory. The Bois-bules were painted, and danced naked after the Indian fashion. Riotous scenes took place day after day. Violent threats were freely made against the Hudson's Bay Company, Lord Selkirk—the founder—and even against the poor colonists themselves.

The poet of the French half-breeds—a rhymster named Pierre Falcon—celebrated the victory in his irregular numbers. The first stanza ran:—

"Do you wish to listen to celebrate a song of truth?
The nineteenth of June the boia-bules have arrived
As brave warriors,
They have arrived at the Frog Plain."

The last stanza has been versified:—

Who has sung this song of triumph?
The good Pierre Falcon has composed it
That his praise of these bois-brules
Alight be ever more recorded."

Alexander Ross, the historian of the early Red River days, has given a curious sequel to this deed of blood on the part of the bois-brules under their Nor'-Wester leaders. Of the sixty-five persons who composed Cuthbert Grant's party, he points out that no less than twenty-six met a violent or sudden death, and he gives the names and fate of the twenty-six in his work on Red River Settlement. Equally curious is the answer given by Joseph Tasse in his "Canadians of the West." "Ross would see in the miserable death of these men almost a chastisement of Providence, as if it was not unfortunately too often the lot reserved for these intrepid men, who pass their life in the chase, on the plains, or in the game forests of the North-rest, who are constantly exposed to the greatest dangers and to accidents of every kind."

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