The Theatre or the Rebellion—Riel
Alienates the Clergy and All Moderate Men—Nevertheless Xo Rebellion
Expected—Lawrence Clarke's Disastrous Interview With Halebreeds—Riel
Organizes Provisional Government—Rebels Very Few in Number. Prince
Albert Volunteers Reinforce Fort Carlton —Part Played by Hilliard
Mitchell and Thomas MacKav— Sergeant Stewart with Train on Sleighs
Turned Back from Duck Lake by Dumont—Crozier's Injudicious Sortie from
Carlton—Description oe Duck Lake Battle Ground—Joseph MacKay Fires First
Shot—Cannon Disabled—Casualties— Crozier's Retreat—Bravery ok
Volunteers—Dumont's Description of the Fight—Evacuation of Fort
Carlton—Events Immediately Following—Why Crozier Marched Against Dumont
Why Mr. Clarke's Responsibility Has Been Concealed.
If it should so happen that the reader is
not entirely familiar with the geography of our prairie Province, it
will be worth his while, before proceeding to the story of the
rebellion, to turn to the map. and impress upon his memory the relative
position of a few important points.
Some forty-two miles east from Regina
is the flourishing town of South Qu'Appelle Station, which in rebellion
days was known as Troy, or Qu'Appelle Station. Eighteen miles north is
Fort Qu'Appelle. nestling in the beautiful valley of the Qu'Appelle
River, and the Fishing Lakes, into which the stream here expands.
About two hundred miles due north from
Moose Jaw he will find the chief theatre of the rebellion. The city of
Prince Albert, then a town of about 700 inhabitants, lies chiefly on the
south bank of the North Saskatchewan, about thirty miles west of the
Grand Forks. Further up the river, and about forty-two miles away, is
Fort Carlton, then the headquarters of the Hudson's Bay Company and the
Mounted Police of this district. Just about opposite Fort Carlton, but
011 the South Saskatchewan, is Batoche, eighteen miles distant by trail,
and between these points lies Duck Lake. Adjacent to Duck Lake and
Batoche, and here and there in various parts of the surrounding
districts, lie will notice Indian reserves. The next important centre of
population to the west will he Battleford, situated where the Battle
River Hows into the North Saskatchewan. This is about one hundred and
seventy-five miles north of the main line of the Canadian Pacific
Railroad, upon which, and a little to the east, is Swift Current.
Several Indian reserves will be noted about fifteen miles south of
Battleford, and others a little west. Some of the latter He between the
Battle River and the Saskatchewan. Following the latter river still
further to the west and north, we reach Fort Pitt, near the western
boundary of Saskatchewan. Approximately twenty-five miles farther to the
northwest, a little stream flows into the Saskatchewan from Frog Lake, a
dozen miles distant, adjacent to which arc the important reserves, still
on the Saskatchewan ; and a third of the way across Alberta, is the
capital of that Province, Edmonton, and on the main line, almost due
south from it, is Calgary.
After this preliminary geographical
review, let us now return to Riel, and trace the story of the outbreak
of the Rebellion.
During the first months of 1885 a great
and deplorable change had taken place in Riel's attitude and policy.
-Mail}- loyal sympathizers had refused their support to the Halfbreed
agitation as soon as the former rebel chief had appeared upon the scene.
By the beginning of March, 1885, his increasing violence, fanaticism and
egotism had alienated all but a few score French Halfbreeds. While at
first representatives of the Catholic clergy had . supported Riel and
otherwise vigorously championed the undeniable rights of the Halfbreeds,
they by this time had entirely withdrawn from the movement. Indeed, the
impending insurrection was a protest against then-leadership and
influence, almost as much as it was against the policy and conduct of
the Government. Riel and his friends had practically established a new
church and throughout the unhappy events that followed, a naive but
genuine religious fanaticism is writ large in the records of their
Most people can be wise after the
event, and almost everyone who was not in a position to be acquainted
with the facts, afterwards claimed to have known that an armed outbreak
was impending. The writer has conversed, however, with many persons who
were living in the disturbed regions and who intimately knew practically
every man connected with the subsequent rising. These persons are almost
unanimous in confessing that right up until the twenty-sixth of March,
they fully expected that the trouble would be settled without firing a
shot. This also was the impression in the East. O11 March 16th, the
following paragraph appeared in the Toronto Mail:
"The report that Riel is inciting
rebellion among the Halfbreeds in the Saskatchewan district is started
from time to time, emphatic denials from Ottawa producing 110 effect
upon the energetic liar at the other end of the
wire. As a matter of fact. Riel could
not create trouble there if he were ever so much inclined, the
Halfbreeds being in a hopeless minority, and having too much good sense
to attempt violent measures."
On the following day. Acting Indian
Agent Lash reported from Carlton:
"I have the honour to state that I
visited Duck Lake yesterday, and remained over night in that
neighbourhood, and am pleased to report the Indians arc all quiet, and
not interfering with the Halfbreed movement. The latter are still a
little uneasy, but I trust the precautions taken by the police have
cooled their ardor, as they are starting on freighting trips, and I am
inclined to think their excitement will blow over."
How did it happen that even those in
daily and familiar intercourse with the French Halfbreeds did not
foresee armed rebellion? There is a reason and. as a generation has
elapsed since those troublous days, the truth may now be plainly told.
As a matter of fact, the actual resort
to arms was caused by an indiscreet remark of the Honorable Lawrence
Clarke. He had long and justly sympathized with the Halfbreeds. and
labored earnestly to secure redress for their grievances. Since the
arrival of Riel. however, his ardent spirit of loyalty had caused him to
withdraw his support. Nevertheless, he still enjoyed high prestige among
the Halfbreeds, and even those of their number who distrusted him had a
very exalted notion of his influence and familiarity with the counsels
of those in high authority. Early in the Spring, Mr. Clarke visited
Ottawa. On his return, while driving north from Qu'Appelle to Fort
Carlton, he met a group of Halfbreeds who inquired of-him what answer
the Government was going to make to their petitions. His reply-was that
the only answer they would get would be bullets, and that, indeed, on
his way northward he had passed a camp of 500 policemen who were coming
up to capture the Halfbreed agitators. While this incident had not
figured prominently in former English accounts of the rebellion, the
facts are common property to this day all through the Batoche, Duck Lake
and Prince Albert country.
O11 the seventeenth of March. Riel.
addressing a meeting of his excited Ilalfbreeds, referred to them as his
police, and spoke in terms threatening and contemptuous of the
Government police who wished to effect his capture. On the following day
he and a considerable party of his body guard were riding to St.
Laurent, where they intended celebrating a Metis religious festival in
honor of St. Joseph, their patron saint. Ostensibly on this occasion,
many of them had brought their guns. As the cavalcade passed St. Antoiue.
half a mile from Batoche. they were met by the party of their startled
kinsfolk that had just interviewed Mr. Clarke.
Their announcement of an immediately
impending attack by the police was like a burning match cast amid
tinder. A hasty council was held in which they determined to defend
themselves and their leaders to the death.
Those who were not already armed
hastened to get weapons, and the excited Halfbreeds turned into a
fortress the house of Rorbert Dolorme and seized all supplies available
in the stores of Messrs. Walters, Baker and Kerr Bros., of St. Laurent.
At this juncture Indian Agent Lash, who on the preceding day had written
the reassuring report quoted above, unfortunately appeared upon the
scene, in consequence of hearing a rumor that the Halfbreed agitators
were tampering-with the Indians. He was promptly surrounded by an armed
mob of about forty Halfbreeds, commanded by Riel and Dumont, who gave
orders to take him and his interpreter prisoners, which they remained
till released by Middleton's force on May 12th. Mr. Clarke's ill-judged
practical joke had suddenly transformed a passing gust of excitement
into an entente, which further folly at Fort Carlton was to turn into
genuine civil war.
Riel now undertook the organization of
a Provisional Government, making Batoche his headquarters. His council
he called The Exovidate (a word he himself had coined), and in his
subsequent correspondence he assumed the style of "Louis David Riel,
Well-informed loyalists, such as J. E.
Sinclair, of Prince Albert; the well-known legislator, scout and
interpreter. Honorable Thomas MacKay; the Honorable Milliard Mitchell,
and Mr. Louis Marion, a loyal French Halfbreed, who was for some time
detained by Riel a prisoner at Batoche, affirm that neither at this time
nor later did Riel have more than sixty or seventy Halfbreed supporters
really intent upon rebellion. Many others, however, were gradually drawn
into the movement against their wishes, by the exercise of intimidation
and by shrewd appeals to their racial feelings and religions fanaticism.
Others were in arms simply in an instinctive though hopeless effort to
defend their homes.
Father Morice and other careful writers
have placed the maximum fighting strength of Riel's forces at three
hundred and fifty. The affidavits of Messrs. Harold E. Ross, J. D. Lash
and John W. Astley, however, declare that by actual count there were
well over thirty Halfbreeds and Indians engaged in the Battle of Duck
Lake, and it is notorious that many of those subsequently associated
with the rebels joined Riel after that event. Rev. Father Moulin, parish
priest at Batoche during the rebellion, informs me that on the basis of
his personal observations and those of well-informed members of his
parish who were present from the start to the end of the insurrection,
that at one time Riel had under arms Halfbreeds and Indians to the
number of four hundred and sixty. Many of these soon abandoned him,
however, so that at the capture of Batoche there remained at the last
only ninety. Moreover, it is well known that Riel had occasion to
complain bitterly that many of his followers were so half-hearted in
their support as to be of little real assistance.
In Commissioner Irvine's report dealing
with the operations of the police in connection with the rebellion of
1885. he calls attention to the fact that the first official warning of
impending trouble was given by Superintendent Crozier on July 13, 1884.
In October a police was formed at Carlton, and the strength of the
Northern division was increased to two hundred of all ranks, their
number being distributed between Battleford, Carlton, Prince Albert and
On March 13th, Superintendent Gagnon
telegraphed the Commissioner that a Halfbreed rebellion was liable to
break out at any moment, and that large reinforcements were necessary.
On the 18th of March the Commissioner accordingly marched from Regina
with ninety men. Shortly before reaching the great salt plain, Irvine
received a dispatch from Crozier dated the 19th, advising him of the
arrest of Indian Agent Lash and others, and of the seizure of various
stores by the rebels. He also warned the Commissioner that it was the
intention of the rebels to seize any troops coming into the country and
to march them to Carlton and from there to Prince Albert.
Major Crozier was at this time in
command of the Mounted Police detachment at Fort Carlton. On March 19th,
he sent Mr. Joseph Mac-Kay, Jr., to Prince Albert with a dispatch to
Captain Moffat, desiring him to enroll eighty volunteers to come to
Carlton. At eight o'clock in the morning, a few hours after MacKay's
arrival, a mass meeting of the citizens of Prince Albert was held and
Captain Moffat read the-dispatch. Loyal speeches were delivered by some
of the citizens and eighty men were promptly sworn in to go to Fort
Carlton. Much excitement and enthusiasm prevailed, though the universal
impression was that nothing more than a show of force would prove
necessary. At half past two in the afternoon, the Prince Albert
volunteers left in sleighs to reinforce Major Crozier. Upon their
departure, the remaining men of the town were sworn in as a .home guard,
and at night sentries were placed on all sides, and scouts sent out to
report any approaching danger.
Meantime, Mr. Milliard Mitchell, whose
trading establishment really constituted the hamlet of Duck Lake and who
was on friendly terms with the disaffected Halfbreeds, was acting with
vigor and courage, in his efforts to effect a peaceable settlement. He
kept in close touch with Major Crozier, and also with Riel. whose
headquarters he visited no fewer than three times. Indeed, his activity
nearly cost him his liberty, and both Riel and Crozier were all but
convinced that he was acting as a spy for the other side, and he
narrowly escaped arrest in both camps. Riel tried to induce Mr. Mitchell
together with a priest bearing the cross to head a procession of the
Halfbreeds to Fort Carlton. Upon reaching that place, Mr. Mitchell and
the priest were to step aside, and Riel would seize the Fort. On the
Nineteenth, Mr. Mitchell reported to Crozier his interview with Riel,
and on the twentieth, he received the following letter from Major
Crozier, which clearly shows that, as yet, that officer did not expect
that any lighting would really take place.
Carlton, March 20, 1SS5.
Dear Mr. Mitchell:
I am much obliged to you for the
information. It is a great pity that there is so much unnecessary talk
and so many absurd rumors about. I will be greatly obliged if you will
keep me informed.
I saw Mr. Arkand this morning. I told
him of the absurdity of the rumors he mentioned. Faithfully yours.
IliHiard Mitchell, Esq., Duck Lake.
On the same day, Mr. Mitchell and Mr.
Thomas MacKay were sent by Crozier to Batoche in an endeavor to reach
some understanding. On this occasion Mr. MacKay was for some time in
imminent danger of losing his liberty if not his life. I escaped only by
virtue of Mr. Mitchell's influence. Indeed, he was actually tried and
sentenced to death by the rebel Council, at the instigation of Riel, who
was beside himself with insane rage and excitement. Fortunately,
however, some members of the Council were adverse as yet to the shedding
of blood, and when Kiel withdrew from the Council room, it was agreed to
allow the envoys to leave in peace. It was proposed that Riel and
Crozier should have a personal interview at an appointed rendezvous,
halfway between Batoche and Carlton. Both the Major and Riel preferred,
however, to send representatives, and Messrs. Thomas MacKay and Mitchell
met two Halfbreed delegates. Charles Colin and Maximc Lepine. The two
latter were armed with the following letters from Riel:
St. Antoine. N. W. Ter., March 21,
To Major Crozier.
Commander of the Police at Forts
Carlton and Battleford. Major:
The Councillors of the Provisional
Government of Saskatchewan have the honour to communicate to you the
following conditions of surrender: You will be required to give up
completely the situation which the Canadian Government placed you in at
Carlton and Battleford, together with all Government properties.
In case of acceptance, you and your men
will be set free on your parole of honour to keep the peace. And those
who choose to leave the country will be furnished with teams and
provisions to reach Qu'Appelle.
In case of non-acceptance, we intend to
attack you. when, tomorrow, the Lord's Day is over, and to commence,
without delay, a war of extermination upon those who have shown
themselves hostile to our rights.
Messrs. Charles Colin and Maxime Lepine
are the gentlemen with whom yon will have to treat.
KIEL'S COUNCILLORS IX ISM
.1. lohnny Sansregret.
2. Pieiriclie Parrantcau (a famous
3. Picric Gariepy.
4. Philip Oarnot, Secretary.
5. Albert Monkinau.
6. Pierre Vandal,
7. Baptiste Vaiulal.
8. Toussaint Limier (reputed to be the
strongest man in the North West).
9, Maxime Dubois.
10, Jimus Short.
11. — Touroiul.
12. Emanuel Champagne.
Major, we respect you. Let the cause of
humanity he a consolation to you, for the reverses which the
Governmental misconduct has brought upon you.
(Signed) Lot"is "David" Riel, "Exovede."
On the other side of this document was
To Messrs. Charles Colin and Maxime
Gentlemen—If Major Crozier accedes to
the conditions of surrender, let him use the following formula, and no
"Because I love my neighbour as myself,
for the sake of God, and to prevent bloodshed, and principally the war
of extermination which threatens the country, I agree to the above
conditions of surrender." If the Major writes this formula and signs it,
inform him that we will receive him and his men Monday. Yours,
Louis "David" Riel, Exovede."
On the other hand, Major Crozier's
representatives demanded the names of the leaders of the movement, whom,
they declared, would have to answer to the law, although those who had
been drawn into the insurrection unwillingly were promised lenience. The
proposal to surrender Fort Carlton was, of course, rejected without
After his third and last visit to
Batoche as a peacemaker, Mr. Mitchell received warning from a friendly
Halfbreed that Kiel intended seizing him forthwith as a hostage.
Accordingly, Mr. Mitchell determined to leave Duck Lake, and join Major
Crozier at Fort Carlton. The place was already practically in the hands
of the insurgents, hut before evacuating his stores, Mr. Mitchell
succeeded in having a - considerable quantity of powder and ammunition
removed. This was effected by John Paul, by a remarkable exercise of
pluck and audacity. The ammunition was placed in a "jumper" and over it
was thrown a few arm loads of hay, upon which the plucky driver sat as
he drove away from the village in broad daylight.
Most of Mr. Mitchell's effects,
however, were of course left behind him, and immediately fell into the
hands of the insurgents, who took possession of the deserted village
within a few hours of his departure. However, this was not known to
Major Crozier, and he accordingly sent Sergeant Stewart with teams and a
number of volunteers and policemen to get Mitchell's personal effects,
and especially to bring a supply of oats from his store.
About seven miles out of Carlton, this
convoy met Dumont with a party of Halfbreeds and Indians. They
surrounded the head teams. The foremost sleigh was driven by Mr.
Neilson, later Sheriff of Prince Albert, with whom was Mr. Thomas
MacKay. The volunteers and police came forward from the rear and the
situation was very tense during the excited interview between MacKay and
Dumont. A conflict was almost precipitated by the accidental discharge
of Dumont's rifle, the bullet passing through Mac-Kay's hat. However, it
was agreed between the leaders of the two parties that they should not
fight, for the present, at all events, but Dumont insisted that the
train of sleighs should at once return to Fort Carlton unless prepared
When Dumont and his men had come upon
the convoy, they were in pursuit of two Mounted Police scouts.. These
latter escaped and hurried back to the Fort to inform Crozier of the
plight of his teamsters and Sergeant Stewart. Of course, the Major had
no choice now but to move, out to the support of his men. However, his
force had just left the Fort when it was met by Sergeant Stewart with
the returning convoy.
In his notable march from Regina to the
relief of Prince Albert and Fort Carlton, Commissioner Irvine had eluded
the rebels by crossing the Saskatchewan at an unexpected point (Agnew's
Crossing). He had reached Prince Albert on the twenty-fourth, after a
week's march of nearly three hundred miles in severe weather and over
heavy trails. It had been Irvine's intention to proceed at once from
Prince Albert to Carlton, but the best informed people in the district
believed that the situation had already ceased to he immediately
dangerous. Moreover, his men were almost exhausted and several of them
were snowblind. Accordingly a delay was made to have the men and arms
inspected and the horses shod. On the morning of the 26th, Irvine left
Prince Albert at 2:30 A. M., taking with him twenty-five volunteers in
addition to eighty-three non-commissioned officers and men from Regina.
It was his hope to quash the rebellion before it could assume formidable
proportions. When but a short distance from Fort Carlton, he received a
dispatch from Superintendent Ciagnon of that post informing him of
Crozier's advance 011 Duck Lake, and shortly afterwards he received a
second message announcing that unfortunate officer's retreat. In his
subsequent report Commissioner Irvine wrote as follows:
"I cannot but consider it a matter of
regret that, with the knowledge that both myself and command were within
a few miles and en route to Carlton, Superintendent Crozier should have
marched out as he did."
If Crozier had obeyed what must have
been the dictates of his own judgment, the Cattle of Duck Lake would
never have been fought, and it-is extremely probable that the whole
insurrection would have subsided at once, without bloodshed. Under whose
influence Major Crozier made his fatal blunder we will see a little
All told, the force Crozier led out of
Carlton to chastise Dumont, consisted of fifty-six members of the
Mounted Police force and forty-three volunteers. They advanced in
sleighs. The snow lay deep and it was necessary to move in a long narrow
line along the trail that wound in and out among the innumerable copses
and extensive woods that cover the whole of that district, which for the
next few weeks was to become the theatre of war. It would be hard to
imagine, outside of a region of mountains, any locality better adapted
for guerilla warfare, and for purposes of defence. Fort Carlton, itself,
however, lay on the bank of the North Saskatchewan in a hollow commanded
on three sides by adjacent hills, and from these points of vantage a few
determined men, well armed and skillfully using their rifles, could have
bottled up a force of fifteen or twenty times their number. The snow was
deep, and the country thickly wooded and broken by numerous sloughs, a
large irregular lake, and numerous water courses, so that it was
practically impossible to move, in any force, except along the trails,
and at every turn these provided the choicest facilities for ambush.
This truth was presently enforced upon the minds of the loyalist party
with compelling emphasis.
Scouts Alexander Stewart and James
MacDonald rode some 300 yards ahead of the advanced guard of police.
They visited the house of Chief Beardy, about thirty yards off the road,
followed immediately after by Major Crozier and his body guard. Beardy
protested his loyalty, though, as a matter of fact, most of his braves
had already joined Kiel, and he himself did so afterwards. About three
miles out from Duck Lake, the scouts came upon a considerable force of
the insurgents, and when the caravan of sleighs swung around a wooded
bend in the trail, they saw the scouts retreating before pursuing
Indians, and probably commenced to realize that Dumont had succeeded in
entrapping them in a "place where they would be at the utmost
disadvantage. The front sleighs moved out, slightly, to the side from
the trail. The six rear sleighs advanced through this alley to the
foreground and were quickly drawn up across the road forming an
impromptu barricade. The horses were detached and taken to a bluff in a
slight depression to the left rear of Crozier's forces. The police and
volunteers occupied an open space, with wooded country on either hand
and with a slight hill perhaps sixty yards in front of them. In the
cover thus provided on three sides, the insurgents were concealed. To
the right of the trail and perhaps a hundred yards back was a log house
which proved to be occupied by some of the best sharp-shooters of
Dumont's forces. The police took up positions about the sleighs to the
centre and left, and Captain Morton, followed by the Prince Albert
volunteers, moved out at right angles to the trail toward the right.
Behind them was a bluff, and why it was not used for purposes of cover
is hard to understand. As a matter of fact, however, the Prince Albert
volunteers operated with practically no cover at all. unless the top of
a straggling rail fence almost buried in the snow could be so described.
While these preparations were in
progress, Major Crozier, with Joseph MacKay as interpreter, advanced to
parley with representatives of the opposing force, who came to meet
them. These were a half-blind Cree chief called Falling Sand, with a
couple of his counsellors. Crozier asked who they were, what they wanted
and why they were accompanied by such a force of armed men. These
questions. Falling Sand parried by returning them. As Joseph MacKay, the
interpreter, was carrying on his share of this exciting interview in
alternating Cree, French and English, one of the Indians caught hold of
his rifle, which he held in his left hand. As the interpreter wrenched
his weapon free, his assailant attempted to seize his pistol, which
MacKay immediately drew. Meantime, the second of Falling Sand's
counsellors, who was kneeling nearby at a fence, was endeavouring to
cover MacKay with his rifle, and the latter was keeping his immediate
assailant between him and the marksman. At this juncture, Crozier asked
what the rebels were saying, and MacKay replied that nothing could be
done with them, as they would not listen to reason. Thereupon Major
Crozier turned back toward the police and volunteers, and raising his
hand, gave the command: "Fire away, boys!" The first shot rang from
Joseph MacKay's pistol as he felled his assailant and followed Major
Crozier back to the loyalist lines. Almost at the same instant came an
exchange of volleys. The insurrection had become a rebellion indeed.
Blood had been shed, the first battle had commenced, and from that
moment it was apparent that the campaign would open with a rebel
In weighing questions of
responsibility, the details surrounding the opening of this first
engagement are of exceptional importance. The prevailing reports of the
affair cast on Dumont and his men the onus of firing the first shot. For
the facts in the present narrative, however, the writer has relied upon
the definite statements given by Joseph MacKay himself, and supported by
eye witnesses who were close at hand.
Perhaps the affair might have
terminated somewhat differently had not the only cannon been disabled
after firing but two shots. The gun and the men working it were the
special target of the Indians and Halfbreeds. Beside it, three men were
killed and two others wounded. Doctor Miller was also hit at this place,
but the bullet struck the case of surgical instruments at his belt, and
he thus escaped. In the excitement a shell was rammed home into the gun
before the charge of powder was put in, and the cannon was thus rendered
useless for the remainder of the engagement.
The rebels were firing from cover and
the police and volunteers had but little opportunity to use their
firearms with effect. Dumont, himself, however, received a severe scalp
wound, from the effects of which he never completely recovered during
the whole campaign. Several other rebels were wounded and four
Halfbreeds and an Indian were killed. Of the ninety-nine police and
volunteers some of whom necessarily remained with the horses, and were
therefore not in the firing, three policemen and nine Prince Albert
volunteers were killed.2 About twenty-five others were wounded, nine of
It is a recognized principle of Indian
warfare that an attacking force should never come to a stand, especially
in the open. The natives show an instinctive skill in making use of
every possible cover, and if given an opportunity will stalk their
enemies so cleverly as to involve them in almost inevitable destruction.
On the other hand, if the circumstances arc at all favorable to the
attacking party, it is, as a rule, relatively easy to dislodge them from
their position by direct attack". In the present instance, however, such
movement was out of the question. The snow was so deep that anything in
the form of a rushing charge was a physical impossibility, and even if
Crozier's forces had succeeded in driving the enemy from the rising
ground behind which those in front had taken cover, the position of
affairs would not have been improved. Dumont's main force would simply
have fallen back behind the next rise and the volunteers and police
would have been still more completely at the mercy of the sharpshooters
concealed to the right and left of the trail.
Accordingly, recognizing the
inevitable, Crozier ordered the horses to be attached again to the
sleighs and his men to retreat. The last sleigh to leave the
battle-field was that driven by Sheriff Neilson. In so far as possible,
all their fallen comrades who showed signs of life were carried away by
the retreating loyalists. The dead were left, however, and some of the
wounded. Only one of these, Charles Newitt, escaped assassination at the
hands of the Indians. There is some reason to believe that lie was saved
only by the personal interposition of Riel himself. Newitt was taken
back to Duck Lake as prisoner.
Alexander Stewart, in a letter written
while recovering from a wound received in the engagement, says: "If we
had not retreated when we did, we would all in less than five minutes
have been massacred." Already the enemy had advanced far around the
flanks of the loyalists on both sides. Indeed, had the rebels acted in
accordance with the wishes of Dumont, no successful retreat would have
The battle had lasted about thirty-five
or forty minutes, and from first to last the police and volunteers
displayed unwavering coolness and courage. Those who fell, fell as
became brave men, and there was no unseemly outcry. In tribute to these
defenders of the honour and dignity of Canada,
= The following; arc the names of those
members of Crozier's party who were killed at Duck Lake or died of their
wounds: Constable T. J. Gibson; Constable G. P. Arnold; Constable G. K.
Garrett; Captain John Morton of Prince Albert Volunteers; W. Napier,
private; James Bakie, private; Shefluigton Courier Elliott, private;
Robert Middleton, private; Daniel Mackenzie, private; Daniel McPhail,
private; Joseph Anderson, private; and Alexander Fisher, private.
let us quote some of their last words,
graven ineffaceably, henceforth, on the memories of their companions.
Said William Napier, a young Scot from Edinburgh, "Tell my Mother I died
like a man." "I am shot!" said William Baker, "God have mercy on my
soul." "Fight on, boys," cried Elliott, the policeman, "don't let them
beat us." When Captain Morton, second in command of the Prince Albert
volunteers fell, one of his men, William Harlan, raised him in his arms.
"You can't do anything for me," said Morton, "I am shot through the
heart. Take care of my wife and family and tell them that I died like a
man on the battle-field."
Nor were the sences of pathos and
courage confined to the ranks of the loyalists. The following picture of
events in the rebel lines is translated from the narrative of the
wounded Dumont himself.
"While we were fighting Riel was on
horseback exposed to the bullets and having no arms except a crucifix
which he held in his hand. Upon seeing me fall, my brother Edouard
hastened to me to drag me into the ravine, but I told him rather to go
to our people who seemed disheartened by my fall. He rallied them; they
cheered and commenced firing again. My cousin, Auguste Lafromboise, whom
I had been advising a few moments before not to expose himself too much,
then fell near me. A bullet struck him in the arm and passed through his
body. I dragged myself to him, creeping, saying to myself that I would
go to say a little prayer for him, but in trying to make the sign of the
cross with my left hand, my right being paralyzed, I tumbled over and
said to him, smiling, 'Cousin, I owe that to you.' I wished to say for
him the prayer I had composed when we received the blessing of the
priest at Belton in Montana—'Lord, reinforce my courage, my confidence
and my faith so that I may profit all my life from the benediction 3 I
have received in Thy Holy Name.' This is an invocation that I have
always recited after my prayers, morning and evening. . . . The enemy
then commenced to flee and my brother, who after my fall had taken
command, cried to our people to pursue and destroy them. Riel then
begged for the love of God that no more should be slain, saying that
already there had been too much blood spilt."
Some time after Crozier's return to
Fort Carlton, Colonel Irvine had arrived with eighty police and thirty
additional volunteers from Prince Albert. However, as we have already
pointed out, Fort Carlton lay in an utterly indefensible position; and
if the Halfbreeds and Indians, flushed from victory, had attacked it at
night, a still more serious catastrophy might have occurred. On the
night of the 27th, therefore, Irvine who was now in command, determined
to evacuate the Fort. While this movement was in progress, a fire was
accidentally started, and when the loyalists left the fort it was in
flames.4 Much ammunition and many valuable stores were destroyed. On the
28th the retreating forces reached Prince Albert.
At Duck Lake, on the day following the
battle, Riel drew tip his combatants in two lines and said to them:
"Vive Gabriel Dumont! and thank God for having given you so valorous a
leader." The rebels passed the day in praying for their dead, whom they
buried at St. Laurent. Dumont then suggested sending a prisoner to
Carlton to invite the enemies to come for their dead. This was done,
Dumont- sending a letter promising safe conduct. However, when the
messenger reached Fort Carlton he was seized as a spy and the evacuation
of the fort occurred immediately afterwards. Dumont wished to prepare an
ambush along the road which the police and volunteers would have to
follow. Had his advice been taken, a terrible massacre might have
resulted. However, as Dumont himself tells us, Riel forbade the project,
endeavoring all the while to moderate Dumont and his followers. Three
men were at last sent out from Prince Albert to recover the bodies of
the dead volunteers. The halfbreeds had placed them in an old house to
preserve them from desecration, and gave what assistance they could to
Crozier's emissaries. They also restored to them their wounded prisoner.
Shortly afterwards the rebels burnt all
the buildings at Dtick Lake except the mill, and retired to Batoche.
We have told of the part
unintentionally played by the Honorable Lawrence Clarke, in causing the
Halfbreeds to take up arms and seize available stores, and we referred
in passing to the mystery surrounding Crozier's rash sortie from Fort
Carlton. In causing it, Mr. Clarke again played a prominent part. When
Sergeant Stewart's convoy returned to the fort, and Crozier had quite
properly given tip the idea of making any onslaught upon the armed
rioters at Duck Lake, Mr. Clarke and other leading Prince Albert
volunteers 2 were so ill advised as, in the
hearing of different people, to challenge Crozier "to teach the rebels a
lesson if he were not afraid of them." Few men in the North West need
have felt less under the compulsion to disprove an insinuation of
cowardice than did Major Crozier, who was known far and wide through the
Territories for his dauntless courage. However, it is unfortunately true
that lie allowed himself to be so influenced by. the suggestions of the
volunteers that he ordered his men to turn about and proceed to Duck
Lake. This act transformed what might have been a passing riot into a
From these circumstances it is evident
that no source of information short of inspired prophecy could have
allowed the central authorities to foresee the events that actually
happened. That the country was in a state of dangerous excitement, every
one knew, but no one could foresee the ill-considered statement which
first induced the disaffected Halfbreeds to take up arms against the
Government, nor the foolish challenge, foolishly accepted, which was
responsible for the actual precipitation of the rebellion.
In view of the severe criticism to
which Mr. Dewdney and the Ottawa authorities were naturally subjected
for not foreseeing the rebellion, the question arises of why, in self-defence,
no public reference was ever made to Mr. Clarke's share in bringing it
about. No doubt, respect for that gentleman's ardent loyalty,
unquestioned courage and subsequent valuable services 0 would partly
account for this reticence. I believe, however, that I can point to a
still more potent factor underlying the silence of the authorities.
Among the sessional papers bearing upon
the rebellion, which were laid before the House, and published in 1885,
was the following letter. It will be noted that in the printed copy both
superscription and signature were omitted to prevent the identification
of the writer.
The French Halfbreeds on the
Saskatchewan River, and a section of the English Halfbreeds living
between the two rivers, have been holding meetings at St. Laurent, at
which meetings all the members were sworn to secrecy. Notwithstanding
this, enough has transpired to show that grave trouble will arise in the
country unless repressive measures are adopted by the Government.
A number of resolutions were passed of
a violent nature. Amongst others, Resolution No. 3—"That they, the
Halfbreeds, do not recognise the right of the Government to the North
West Territories," and appointed delegates to proceed to Montana, U. S.,
and invite Louis Riel to conic over and be their leader in any further
action that they may determine on.
The delegates so appointed—names:
Gabriel Dumont, Moise Oulette, Michel Dumas, and James Isbister—left
yesterday for Montana to carry out the objects of their mission. The
French Halfbreed race, living on the Saskatchewan, number about Seven
Hundred male adults, and are gathering force every year by immigration
from Manitoba and the southern part of the Territories.
These men are not farmers, merely
cultivating small patches of land little larger than kitchen gardens.
They live by hunting and freighting. Their occupation as hunters was
ended by the disappearance of the buffalo and there is not sufficient
overland freighting going on in the country to afford labor to one-third
of their number, hence they are getting poorer year by year.
This in reality is the real source from
which this agitation arises, although pretended grievances against the
Government are rushed to the front.
These men avow that the Indians are in
sympathy with them.
The French Halfbreeds are closely
related to the plain Indians and there is danger of the Halfbreeds
persuading the Indians to join them should an uprising take place.
The Indians have no arms or ammunition,
it is true, but both arms and ammunition in considerable quantities,
belonging to the defunct Saskatchewan Military organization, are
scattered throughout the country without protection and could be seized
at any moment.
These scattered arms and ammunition
should be collected and placed under police-surveillance at Prince
Albert, and the force increased to the extent of thirty men with an
officer in command. A strong detachment should also be stationed at St.
Laurent. I have an intimate knowledge of the character of these
Halfbreeds and, as you are aware, some influence over them. Many of the
men I have spoken to arc averse to any agitation leading to a breach of
the law, but a number of Riel's abettors in the Red River troubles are
resident in their midst and arc promoters of this movement, and candidly
state that they believe that if Riel is allowed to visit their
settlements serious disturbances will arise therefrom.
In my opinion, and it is also the
opinion of Rev. Father Andre, who is the superintendent of the Roman
Catholic Missions on the Saskatchewan, these delegates should be
shadowed and if Riel accepts the invitation and attempts to cross the
boundary line, he should be made prisoner.
The Rev. Father also agrees with me
that if Riel is not allowed to enter the country, the influence we can
bring to bear on the body of the people will counteract the influence of
that section of them who are leaders in this movement.
Any letters Riel might write would be
of little avail. This matter I thought of such importance that I wired
Lieutenant-Governor Dewdney, who arrived at Battleford on the 13th
inst., as follows:
"Are you coming cast? If not, like
speak you over wire; important."
Next morning I spoke to Governor
Dewdney over the wire, telling him it was important that I should meet
him if possible, giving him a mere outline of what had taken place. He
could not then state what his movements would be, but said he would wire
me in a day or two of his decision, since when I have not heard from him
on the subject.
It is therefore well, I think, that you
should put the Government in possession of these facts with as little
delay as possible, impressing on the Premier the necessity of prompt
This interesting communication I
brought to the attention of Mr. Joseph Parker, Regina, who, in 1S85, was
secretary to Mr. Clarke. Mr. Parker identifies it as one written by
himself at Mr. Lawrence Clarke's dictation. Had the Government acted on
Air. Clarke's wise and timely suggestion, and prevented Riel's coming
into the country, that ill-balanced agitator could manifestly not have
led a second appeal to arms against the Canadian Government, and if Air.
Clarke's advice regarding the grievances of the Halfbreeds had been
listened to. the discontent culminating in the outbreak would have been
removed. In view of these facts, therefore, it was entirely impossible
for the Government to criticize his subsequent words or actions, however
unfortunate their results. Hence the official silence regarding the real
immediate cause of the outbreak of an unforeseen insurrection.