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History of Saskatchewan and The Old North West
Chapter XIV - Unrest of Canadian Indians and Incursion of the Sioux


Discontent and Suspicion of Indians in Later Years of Hudson's Bay Company Regime—Sioux Refugees After Minnesota Massacres —Indian Respect for British Flag—Effects of Treaty of Peace Between Indians and Halfbreeds—Acute Danger of Indian-War, 1873—Second Incursion of Siouan Refugees, 1876— Famous Gatherings of the Triues in the Cypress Hills-Services Rendered by the Police—Conferences Petwicen Refugee Indians and American Commissioners—Depletion of Canadian Hunting Grounds—Surrender of Sitting Bull— Unrewarded Services of Louis LeGare.

Already during the latter part of the Hudson Bay Company's regime the Indians of the British West were developing a spirit of unrest which caused profound anxiety among all thoughtful men familiar with the facts. Even so long ago as 1837, petitions had been presented on behalf of the Indians, complaining of the non-fulfillment of the Selkirk treaty. As the prospect of settlement by the whiles increased, and buffalo and other game decreased, the spirit of opposition to any further influx of white men became steadily more and more pronounced.

In i860, Hind and his company were checked in one of their expeditions by the Indians, and lie reports the following speech delivered by a chief:

"The reason why we stop you is because we think you do not tell us why you want to go that way, or what you want to do with these paths. You say that all the white men we have seen belong to one party, and yet they go by different routes; why is that? Do they want to see the Indian's land? You gather corn in our gardens, and put it away. Did you never see corn before? It is hard to deny your request, but we sec how the Indians are treated far away. The white man comes; looks at their flowers, their trees and their rivers; others soon follow; the lands of the Indians pass from their hands, and they have nowhere a home."

At the close of the council the chief said to the interpreter:

"Let these men not think bad of us for taking away their guides. Let them send us 110 presents: we do not want them. We do not want the while men; when the white man comes he brings disease and sickness, and our people perish; we do not wish to die. Many while men would bring death to us, and our people would pass away. We wish to live and to hold the land our fathers won and which the Great Spirit has given us. Tell these men this, and the talk is finished."

Hind also reported that the plain Crees had in council determined that, in consequence of promises often made and broken by the white men and halfbreeds, and of the rapid destruction by them of the buffalo, they would not permit the while men and halfbreeds to hunt in their country, or travel through it, except for the purpose of trading for their dried meats, pemmican, skins and robes. Hind speaks of war with the northern prairie tribes as "something to be expected at a day's notice."

The dangers of the whole situation were most seriously augmented by the great incursion of warlike American Indians which occurred during the period to which this section of the present book is devoted. The Sioux bad been unfriendly with the French in old days for aiding their enemies, the Chippeways, and after the fall of the French power in America, they had allied themselves with the English. Indeed, in tbe troublous period of the seventies, it was not uncommon for refugees from American territory to claim that they were still British, and to produce, as naive evidence of the fact, old George III medals presented to their ancestors a century before.

In 1862 there occurred in Minnesota one of the most fearful outbursts of savagery of which modern history gives us a record. About' eight hundred men, women and children among the whiles died terrible deaths before this revolt was quelled. Many American Indians who had taken part in these outrages fled to Canada to escape the vengeance of the United Stales. In some cases the American authorities were allowed to pursue their Indian foes even upon British soil, but in general the refugees found themselves safe under the aegis of Victoria, "The Great White Mother." Consequently, even when peace was restored south of the border, many of those warlike miscreants persistently refused to return to their former homes. Some of them even obtained reserves, and the present representatives of these and other nomadic bands of Sioux still live under the British flag.

As a general rule, these refugee Indians have shown a grateful loyalty to the British Crown for harbor afforded them. The well-known missionary. Egerton Ryerson Young, in his work entitled "By Canoe and Dog Train," relates an incident interesting and illuminative in this connection. lie and his party entered the country via Minnesota. That veteran missionary, the Reverend George McDougall, acted as guide. The missionaries were warned by the settlers that it would be impossible for them, with their valuable horses and other property, to make their way through the Indian country without falling victims to the treacherous and bloodthirsty Sioux. "

"Yes, we will," said Mr. McDongall; "we have a little Hag that will carry us safely through an)' Indian tribe in .America." The prophecy proved true, for when, a few days later, the travellers met a band of Sioux, the sight of the Union Jack, fluttering from a whip-stock, caused them to throw down their arms and approach to shake hands with the Britishers. In passing through the Sioux country, on Mr. McDougall's orders, the white men stowed away their arms, and met the Indians as friends. At nights the camp-fires of these redoubtable warriors could be seen on the plain, but the missionary party travelled and slept in peace. Nothing was disturbed or stolen.

Nevertheless, it must never be forgotten that if an Indian war had really broken out in Canada, these stalwart savages would certainly not have been on the side of the white men. Their presence, therefore, was an important factor in hastening the consummation of the Indian treaties, the story of which will be related in the next chapter.

The Sioux were the hereditary enemies of the Canadian Indians and halfbreeds. In 1862, however, a great peace was consummated through the instrumentality of the redoubtable Gabriel Dumont. The remarkable treaty which brought to an end the regularly recurring war expeditions of the preceding century was signed at Lac du Diable. The Sioux declared that the country would belong to them, to the halfbreeds, and to their Canadian Indian friends in common; that all parties to the agreement should be permitted to hunt the buffalo in peace. This notable event reduced the danger of any immediate resort to hostilities on the part of the Indians. On the other hand, by the settlement of their own feuds, the native races were really rendered in some respects more dangerous, from the point of view of the whites. Should trouble arise, the struggle would not be with isolated bands, but with a confederation extending far and wide over the plains for hundreds of miles.

In 1873 the danger of war with the Indians was the subject of important correspondence between Lieutenant-Governor Morris and the Ottawa authorities, and the records of the old North West Council contain various evidences of the gravity of the situation as viewed by the members of that body. The Honorable Mr. Norquay, a prominent English Halfbreed. who subsequently became Prime Minister of Manitoba, the Honorable James MacKay, another Metis. who was also a prominent member of early Manitoba cabinets and subsequently speaker of the Legislative Council of that Province, and the Honorable Mr. Preland, a prominent French-Canadian, were appointed to investigate the situation and to extend promises of an early settlement of Indian grievances by satisfactory treaties. Mr. Preland's services in this connection were of special importance, as is indicated in the following extract from an official report written by the Lieutenant-Governor:

"I have the honor to inform you that I have arranged for Mr. Preland's immediate departure to Fort Fllice. I have authorized him to tell the Indians in the neighborhood of Fort Fllice that the Commissioner will visit them in the summer. 1 am much pleased with (he spirit displayed by Mr. Broland when he accepted this important and somewhat difficult mission. He was on the point of starting on a visit to his old home in the Province of Quchec, after an absence of thirty years."

The Commissioner of the Government amply corroborated the reports of the general anxiety which was indeed all too justifiable. Indeed, Mr. Norquay organized the people of Palestine settlement for the purpose of self-defense, and in various localities the settlers prepared themselves for a life and death struggle with the red men. For the fact that no such calamity occurred, Canada owes undying gratitude to the North West Mounted Police and to Messrs. Archibald, Morris, Laird and others who will be mentioned in the following chapter.

Though the topic belongs specially to the period covered in a later portion of this history, it will be most convenient to refer here to a second wave of Siouan immigration, which occurred almost simultaneously with the transfer of the Government from the Lieutenant-Governor of Manitoba and his North West Council to the resident Lieutenant-Governor and Council provided for in the Act which came into force on October 8, 1876.

Dakota was at this time the home of a large Siouan population. Into their midst suddenly came a throng of more or less lawless immigrants, greatly excited by the discovery of valuable gold deposits. The races clashed and the unpardonable brutality of the whites precipitated a serious Indian outbreak in 1876.

The Indians were under the leadership of a number of distinguished chiefs, of whom the most noteworthy was Sitting Pull. At the Battle of Little Big Horn of June 25, 1876, Sitting Pull outgeneraled his foes. He succeeded in cutting off a detachment of cavalry consisting of two hundred and sixty-four men, under the command of General John Armstrong Custer. This regiment was absolutely annihilated. To avoid further fighting. Sitting Bull and his warriors then withdrew to Canada, where he attempted to secure the support of the Canadian Indians, but the recent Indian treaties and the admirable conduct of the North West Mounted Police checkmated their plans. Indeed, Sitting Bull himself conceived the heartiest admiration for the Canadian police.

When Sitting Bull first came into the country there were with him only about one hundred and fifty lodges. He was presently followed, however, by many oilier bands until they totalled some seven hundred lodges, or about five thousand six hundred souls.

During this dangerous crisis a great gathering of the Indian tribes was held in the Cypress Hills. It was estimated that three thousand warriors were present, representing the Peigans, Blackfeet, Bloods, Assiniboins, Crows, Gros Ventres, and American Sioux. The eastern newspapers called upon the Government to send troops into the West, but those familiar with the circumstances recognized that any show of force, to be of value, must be overwhelmingly strong. It was therefore thought more discreet to leave the Mounted Police to deal with the excited Indians, as these representatives of law and order already enjoyed their friendship, and so well knew their character and customs. Accordingly. Major Irvine, with a subaltern and ten men, was instructed to attend the great Indian conference. In the Toronto Globe, July, 1876. the following amusing dispatch appeared. Between the facetious lines may be read a story of courage, shrewdness and successful audacity such as have so often and so honourably found a place in the records of our famous police force:

"Fort McLeod, July 1, 1876. While the American papers arc teeming with telegrams referring to the movements of General Terry's army of four thousand three hundred men, and of the advance of these troops in three divisions against the Sioux in the Yellowstone region, a similar movement of troops on this side of the line has been successfully made, of which no notice has yet. been taken. On July 18th last, .Assistant Commissioner Irvine, commanding the North West Mounted Police in this district, advanced on and completely demoralized a large encampment of Indians at Cypress Hills. The camp numbered over one thousand lodges, of which one hundred lodges were of Sitting Hull's band. Colonel Irvine advanced his troops in a mass of columns, the whole numbering ten men. Having successfully pierced the centre of the camp, he threw amongst the Indians, at close quarters, hand grenades of a new pattern, patented by an eminent firm in Canada. These missiles were composed of sea biscuits, tea, sugar and tobacco. The Indians never recovered from the first discharge. On the following day, the left wing of the right division, consisting of one man. was dispatched to a mixed camp of Indians, numbering one hundred and fifty lodges, with orders to seize a certain number of horses stolen by them from the South Peigans, peacefully, if possible, but in the case of resistance, to capture the entire band. The horses were recovered."

'Nevertheless, though the expatriated Sioux refrained from lawless violence, their presence in such large numbers greatly disturbed the Canadian Indians and settlers. In the Saskatchewan Herald of February 10, 1879, the following comment upon the dangerous situation occurred:

"The principal event that brought about the existing slate of things is undoubtedly the presence on the hunting grounds, formerly occupied by our own people, of the large bands of United Stales Indians who recently entered upon them. Their numbers are variously estimated at from six to ten thousand souls, and the buffalo killed amount to hundreds daily. This wholesale slaughter, and the exclusion of our Indians from their hunting grounds, are undoubtedly the cause of much distress that prevailed last summer, and gave rise to the rumors of coming trouble. Providentially, great bands of fat buffalo came down from the mountains in the autumn, and furnished a good supply of food for the winter, thus removing all cause of apprehension for the present. The incursion of these foreign Indians could not be foreseen, nor could it have been averted, so that it was impossible to guard against it or provide a remedy for the hardships it-brought in its train."

An American priest, Reverend Father Abbot Martin, and two companions visited Sitting Pull's camp in June, 1877, with a view to influencing him favourably to returning to American territory. Sitting Pull notified Irvine of their presence and the assistant commissioner visited their encampment, and presided at a conference. Speaking of Sitting Bull, Irvine reported as follows:

"His speech showed him to be a man of wonderful capability, and I was much impressed."

The following is a dialogue taken from the reports of the conference:

The Father: "I am not sent by the Government, but I am assured that what I promise will be carried out. Do you intend to return to the other side or remain?"

Sitting Bull (turning to Colonel Irvine): "If I remain here, will you protect me?"

Colonel Irvine: "I told you I would as long as you behave yourself."

Silting Bull: "What would I return for? to have my horses and arms taken away? What have the Americans to give me? Once I was rich; plenty of money; but the Americans stole it all in the Black Hills. I have come to remain with the White Mother's children."

On the 24th of August, 1877, David Mills, Minister of the Interior, wrote Commissioner Macleod that the United States had appointed General McNeil and General Terry commissioners to negotiate with Sitting Bull. The ensuing conference took place on the 17th. Sitting Bull shook hands warmly with Commissioner Macleod, but passed by the American commissioners in the most disdainful manner. He and his companions said distinctly that they would believe nothing the American commissioners might say.

In his report of the conference, Colonel Macleod writes:

"It is a matter of common notoriety all over the western country that the Indians are systematically cheated by the agents and contractors. The former on a salary of fifteen hundred dollars a year have many of them been known to retire with fortunes after two or three years of incumbency with their offices. The Indians know of these scandals and as a consequence have lost all faith in the Government under which all such frauds are perpetrated. I think the principal cause of the difficulties which are continually embroiling the American Government in trouble with the Indians is the manner in which they are treated by the swarms of adventurers who have scattered themselves all over the Indian country in search of minerals before any treaty is made giving title. These men always look upon the Indians as their natural enemies and it is their rule to shoot at them if they approach after being warned off. I was actually asked the other day by an American who has settled here, if we had the same law here as on the other side and if he was-justified in shooting any Indian who approached his camp after being warned not to advance."

In the course of the conference Sitting Bull arose, and, after shaking hands with Commissioner Macleod and with Inspector Walsh, spoke as follows:

"My fathers, you know well how the Americans have treated us, and what they have done for us. They take me for their son, but they have come behind me with their guns. When first our nation learned to shoot with the gun to kill meat for our children and women it was by the English we were taught; but since that time I have been in misery; i tell you the truth! since I was raised I have done nothing bad. The Americans tried to get our country from us: our country, the Black Hills country, was filled with gold; they knew that the gold was there. I told them not to go into it. I did not wish to leave my golden country; 1 had not given them the land any more than you would have given it. The Great Almighty and the Queen know that there is no harm in me and that I did nothing wrong. At the present time in my own country my people suffer from the Americans. 1 want to live in this country and he strong and live well And happy. I knew that this was our Great Mother's house when I came here with my people. Now I see plainly that there are no more deer, elk or buffalo on the other side of the line! all is blood. I don't believe you will help the Americans to do me harm, as long as I behave. Today you heard the sweet talk of the Americans. They would give me flour and cattle and when they got me across the line they would fight me. I don't want to disturb the ground or the sky. I came to raise my children here. God Almighty always raised me buffalo meat to live on. We will pay for what we want here. Wc asked the Americans to give lis traders, but instead of this we got fire balls. All of the Americans robbed, cheated and laughed' at us. Now 1 tell you all that the Americans have done to us and I want you to tell our Great Mother all. I could never live over there again. They never tell the truth: they toid me that they did not want to fight, but they commenced it."

Prolonged efforts were made by both the American and the Canadian authorities to induce Sitting Bull to return to the United States. Indeed, the American Government insisted in very emphatic terms that the Government of Canada should either compel the return of the refugees or oblige them to withdraw from the boundary so as no longer to be a menace. The Canadian authorities, however, refused to take either course so long as Silting Bull and his companions refrained from lawlessness. At the same-time steady moral pressure was applied and every effort made to restore confidence in the good faith of the American Government. This argument was powerfully seconded hy hunger. It was the policy of the Canadian authorities to prevent actual starvation 011 the part of the refugees, but to promise them nothing in advance and to make no permanent arrangement with them for their maintenance. In consequence, many of Silting Bull's followers kept returning south of the line from time to time. The following extract from a dispatch published in the Saskatchewan Herald of March 24, 1879, purports to be a copy of a message sent by Sitting Bull to some of his relatives at Standing Rock Agency. If it is authentic, it indicates that at this time the great chief himself was anxious to go back home, if favourable terms could be obtained:

"Once I was strong and brave and my people had hearts of iron, but now I will fight no more forever. My people are cold and hungry. My women are sick and my children are freezing. I will do as the Great Father wishes. I will give my guns and ponies into his hands. .My arrows are broken and my war paint thrown to the winds."

Nevertheless, the Sioux chief did not yet return to his reservation, and for some years to come the hands of the North West Mounted Police were kept full in the effort to look after him and his followers.

Superintendent Walsh, speaking of the conduct of the Sioux and of their relations with the police, wrote as follows in his report for 1880:

"The conduct of those starving and destitute people, their patient endurance, their sympathy, the extent to which they assisted each other, and their strict observance of all order would reflect credit upon the most civilized community. I am pleased to inform you, as no doubt it will give you pleasure to know-, that the greatest good feeling and consideration was extended to these poor sufferers by the men at Wood Mountain Post. The little that was daily left from their table was carefully preserved and meted out as far as it would go to the women and children. During.those five or six weeks of distress I do not think that one ounce of food was wasted at Wood Mountain Post: every man appeared to be interested in saving what little he could, and day after day they divided their rations with those starving people. I must further mention that the Indians received assistance from the halfbreeds."

Walsh also says that Sitting Bull promised not to place any obstacle in the. way of those people of his camp who wished to return to their agencies, and that he kept his word.

"If the White Mother," said Sitting Bull, "is determined to drive me out of her country and to force me into the bands of people who I know are but waiting like hungry wolves to take my life, would the Superintend-

cut not sec the President of the United Slates and ascertain the best conditions upon which I may be permitted to return Walsh replied that if the Canadian Government would permit him to do so, he would comply with this request. This proposed mission to the American capital is said, in police circles, to have been prevented only by the personal veto of Sir John Macdonald. In the summer of 1881, Sitting Bull came to Qu'Appelle with those of his band yet at large in Canada. He expected to meet Colonel Walsh, who was absent on leave, presumably in connection with the business alluded to above. He found Colonel Steele in command, and when he presented his request for a reservation such as other Siouan bands had obtained in the preceding seven years, Steele told him that it was not to be expected that the Canadian Government would assume this burden, when he had a reservation in his own country, awaiting his return. Sitting Bull then requested provisions. Steele told him that it was quite impossible for him to make any standing arrangements, but that since Sitting Bull and his band had hitherto been law-abiding Indians in Canada, he would give them one good feed, and strongly urged them to return to their homes. Shortly after this Lieutenant-Governor Dewdney came to Qu'Appelle and arranged to feed the Sioux on their way back to Wood Mountain, with a view to encouraging their early return to the Stales. On their arrival at Dirt Hills, provisions presently gave out, and Sitting Bull's Indians were in desperate straits.

The well-known fur trader, Louis Le Gare, of Willow Bunch, informs the writer that at his own expense he supported the starving Indians with a large amount of food, and that he had numerous serious conferences with Sitting Bull and his subordinates. In his store at Willow Bunch he induced many of them to surrender and return home, and ultimately succeeded in convincing Sitting Bull himself of the wisdom of following the same course. Sitting Bull then visited the late superintendent. A. R. Macdonell, who was in charge of the Mounted Police at Wood Mountain. To him lie renewed the requests previously pressed upon Colonel Steele and others, but with like unfavorable results. In his desperation he then even threatened to violently seize the food supplies of which his people stood in need. Macdonell told him that the police had been his friends and would continue to protect him and render him all the assistance that lay in their power so long as he and his followers refrained from violence. If they appealed to arms, however, or attempted intimidation, they would be treated as national enemies, blood would be shed, and Silting Bull's position would be rendered very much worse than ever.

Sitting Bull made a gesture of despair and cried out in Sioux. "I am thrown away!" Macdonell told him, however, that lie should not take any such view of the case, as he had been well treated in Canada, and would escape his destitution by an immediate return to the United States. To this, then, Sitting Hull finally agreed. Macdonell immediately accompanied the Indian chief to Poplar River, where they arrived next day, and met Major Brotherton, representing the American authorities. To him Sitting Bull gave up his rifle. Meantime, Le Gare had been collecting the Sioux whom his bounty had saved from starvation. They were taken by him. in carts, across the border and fed at his expense for a considerable time. Air. Le Gare states that his outlay in this connection amounted to eight thousand dollars. lie, of course, looked to the American Government for reimbursement, but received from that source after long delay, only five thousand dollars. The important part played by Le Gare in this entire episode seems never to have been officially recognized, and indeed, as far as I am aware, this is the first time that it has ever been made public.

However, the matter has been brought to the attention of the federal authorities on various occasions. In his annual report, dated February, 1882, Commissioner Irvine wrote as follows:

"1 also wish to bring to the favorable notice of the Dominion Government the good and loyal service rendered by Air. Louis Le Gare, the trader, who at all times used his personal influence with the Sioux in a manner calculated to further the policy of the Government. His disinterested and honorable course being decidedly marked, particularly when compared with that of other traders and individuals. At the final surrender of the Sioux, Air. Le Gare must have been put to considerable expense, judging from the amount of food and other aid supplied-by him."-

Two years after his return to the United States, in 1881, Sitting Bull settled at Standing Rock Agency. Rumors of a coming Indian Messiah, who would sweep away the whites, disturbed the Indians of Dakota for some years subsequent to this event. The Indian unrest was so acute that it was ultimately determined by the American authorities to arrest Sitting Bull as a precaution. This was done in December, 1890. An attempt was made by his companions to rescue him, and in the melee the unfortunate old warrior met his death.


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