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History of Saskatchewan and The Old North West
Chapter XXI - Frog Lake Massacre


Danger of Indian Rising—General Loyalty of Indians—Attempts to Rouse the Tribes After the Battle of Duck Lake— Treacherous Conduct of Indians at Frog Lake—The Massacre —Siege of Fort Pitt—Dangers and Hardships Endured by White Prisoners—Last Resting Place of Victims of Massacre.

In the foregoing chapters we have frequently called to mind the unsleeping dread of an Indian rising, the danger of which was ever present. Thanks to the policy of the Hudson's Pay Company and the tradition it handed down to those who had directly to do with the management of the Canadian Indians, and thanks to the services of those men who brought about the peaceable surrender of the West by treaty, Canada had never seen an Indian war. In 1885 the census returns reported four thousand four hundred and ninety-two Indians in Assiniboia—more than one-fifth of the population; six thousand two hundred and sixty in the provisional district of Saskatchewan out of a population of only ten thousand seven hundred and forty-six; nine thousand four hundred and eighteen in Alberta, where the total population was only fifteen thousand five hundred and thirty-three; and in Athabasca and the Great North West, many thousand other red men roamed the wilds. Had a general conflagration broken out in this inflammable mass, few indeed of the settlers would have survived to tell the tale.

Fortunately, the tedious work of inducing the Indians to settle -upon reservations had just been all but completed, and in general the reserves were relatively small and scattered, as compared with the enormous reservations common in the western States. This rendered concerted action more difficult, on the part of disaffected bands. Moreover, the more intelligent chiefs realized the futility of any attempt permanently to expel the whites, not to mention the certainty of terrible reprisals when the armed forces of the Dominion would be seriously aroused. Consequently, the majority of the Indians everywhere remained loyal. Chief Mis-to-was-sis and At-tak-a-koop, the most important Indian leaders of the Carlton section. and Chiefs John Smith, James Smith and William Twatt of the Prince Albert district, and Moosomin and Thunder Child whose reservations were near Battleford, all withdrew their people from the scene of disturbance and attempted with almost entire success to keep them well in hand. Pecan, of White Fish Lake, even induced his band to take sides with the authorities. To these chiefs and others like them, especially the famous Blackfoot chief, Crowfoot, Canada owes a great debt of gratitude for difficult and unpopular duties well performed.

The disaster at Duck Lake produced such widespread excitement among the aborigines as, however, to render them almost uncontrollable, and for a time the whole Indian situation was perilous in the extreme. Many of the wiser among the French halfbreed rebels themselves were profoundly adverse to any attempt to arouse their Indian kinsmen to assist them in their quarrel. Others, however, and these the more influential, did all in their power to secure the co-operation of the red men. Letters addressed to the Indians were sent in all directions, the following, found in Poundmaker's camp, being a sample:

"Praise God for the success He has given us. Capture all the police you possibly can. Reserve their arms. Take Fort Battle, but save the provisions, ammunition and arms. Send a detachment to us of about a hundred men."

In another such missive (this time addressed to Halfbreeds), Riel said:

"Dear relatives and friends: We advise you to pay attention. Be ready for anything. Take the Indians with you. Gather them from every side. Take all the ammunition you can in whatsoever storehouse it may be. Murmur, growl and threaten. Stir up the Indians."

As a more or less direct result of this systematic agitation among the Indians, isolated depredations were committed by them in various quarters. Four days after the Battle of Duck Lake, an Assiniboin Indian murdered James Payne, an official of the Stoney Reserve, near Battleford, and another murdered Bernard Tremont on the following day. These were but samples of the deeds of blood and violence done in various quarters. The most serious, however, occurred at Frog Lake in the early days of April. This blood-curdling affair was a terrible object lesson of what a general Indian rising would mean, and as such it must here be treated of at some length.

Frog Lake was a little hamlet that had recently been established as a trading post and the headquarters for dealing with the numerous Indians of the vicinity. There were but two white women in the hamlet, Airs. Gowanlock, wife of the owner of grist and saw mills, and Mrs. Delaney, wife of the farm instructor for the adjacent reserves. From their narratives and the evidence given at the state trials, we learn the details of the sanguinary story.

On March 30th a message was received from Rae, of Battleford, announcing the Duck Lake Battle, and asking the officials at Frog Lake to keep the Indians of that district from leaving to join those who were contemplating or already engaged in rebellion. On the same day a letter was received from Captain Dickens, who was in command of a small detachment of police at Fort Pitt, summoning the whites to come to him for protection. The whites, however, were not seriously alarmed, and Indian Agent Quinn and Mr. Delaney felt that their duties required them to remain where they were. However, a message was conveyed at midnight by John Pritchard, a halfbreed interpreter, telling Gowanlock to bring his wife to Delaney's to accompany Mrs. Delaney to Fort Pitt. After a consultation among the whites, they decided to summon the Indians together next day and communicate the news of recent events, thinking it wiser that the tidings should come from themselves, rather than through the distorting medium of rumor.

When the Indians gathered on April 1st, however, the officials found to their dismay that the savages were already in possession of full particulars. The Indians of the local band were on good terms with the whites and no fear was felt or subsequently justified in that quarter. There was at Frog Lake, however, a considerable band of destitute and disaffected Plain Crees, nominally under the leadership of Big Bear. Unfortunately, that shrewd and peaceably inclined chieftain was absent on a hunting expedition. He did not get home till night, and was not seen till next morning. His absence facilitated the machinations of some of his rebellious sub-chiefs and helped them to get control of affairs. They assumed an apparently friendly attitude, however, and promised to defend the whites against any rebels. They reported that an attempt was to be made that night by halfbreeds to steal the horses belonging to the settlement, and insisted that the animals should be given to them for safekeeping. At dawn on April 2d they announced that in spite of their precautions, the horses had been stolen. This was untrue, but the removal of the horses rendered flight impossible 011 the part of the whites.

The Indians, with the exception of Big Bear, had by now assumed their war paint and were hour by hour becoming more dangerously excited. Big Bear warned Delaney that trouble was impending, though as yet the Indians had shown no ill will to the white people in the settlement. "It is hard to say how far they intended to go on with the bad work they had commenced," says Airs. Delaney. "So far from their manner seeming strange or extraordinary, I might say that I have seen them, dozens of times, act more foolishly, ask more silly questions and want more ridiculous things, even appear more excited. Only for the war paint and what Big Bear had told us, we would have had our fears completely lulled."

Early in the morning, however, one of Big Bear's sons had attempted to enter Quinn's bedroom to murder him in his bed, but had been prevented by the latter's Cree brother-in-law, Loving Man. Quinn was himself a Sioux halfbreed and consequently was recognised by all as being in special danger from the Crees. He was summoned downstairs and boldly went, in spite of the remonstrances of Loving Man. A group of savages, headed by Wandering Spirit, one of Big Bear's most troublesome subordinates, took him to Delancy's. After some discussion the Indians then went to the Hudson Bay Company's store, where they forced Cameron, the trader, lo give them additional arms. Big Bear appeared on the scene and forbade his men to take anything by force, but when he subsequently departed the stores were lotted. Meantime, the party of whites were being hurried from house to house by the riotous members of Big Bear's band, though Big Bear himself and his youngest son, King Bird, were evidently doing what they could to protect them from violence.

After breakfast the Indians, who still declared that they wished only to protect the whites against a possible attack by rebels, insisted upon their attending mass, but the services were cut short on account of the threatening and disorderly conduct of the red men. The whites, who had been deprived of all arms, were then compelled to march out towards the Indian encampment. Quinn demurred, however, and Wandering Spirit addressed him as follows: "You have la tcic dure. When you say no, it is no, you keep your word. Well, if you care for your life yon are going to do what I tell you. Go to the camp." "Why should I go there?"- said Quinn. "Never mind about that," answered the Indian. "I shall stay here," said Quinn, calmly. Thereupon Wandering Spirit cried out: "I told you to go!" and shot him dead.

The general massacre was an affair of but a few moments. A group of the Indians rushed upon George Dill, a trader. When pursued bv mounted Indians, he gave up an attempt at flight and was immediately murdered. The next victim was William Campbell Gilchrist, a bookkeeper and an assistant surveyor in the employ of Gowanlock. . lie fell close beside George Dill. The Gowanlocks Were toward the front of the little party of whites moving out from the village. Suddenly they were overtaken by Williscraft, an old man of seventy-five years, shouting, "Oh, don't shoot, don't shoot!" The Indians fired again, and Williscraft fell amid the bushes. "My dear wife," said Gowanlock, "be brave to the end!" With these words on his lips, he fell, dying.

The next victim was Delaney. When he was shot, the heroic priest. Father Farfard. who all the while had been endeavoring to restrain the Indians, threw himself between the wounded man and the savages and. kneeling beside him, asked if he could say the confiteor. Mr. Delaney repeated the prayer. As he finished it the priest said, "My poor brother,

I think you are safe with God." As the words left his lips he received his own death wound, and fell prostrate across Delaney's lifeless form. Another priest, Father Marchand, was endeavoring to protect the women and to rescue Farfard's body, but he also was assassinated a moment later. C. Gouin, a Sioux Halfbreed carpenter, was also killed.

Meanwhile, Cameron, the Hudson's Bay Company trader, was at his store under the protection of Big Bear. With his assistance, Cameron escaped to the woods, where the chief of the Frog Lake Indians gave him shelter. The widowed white women, the only other survivors of the fearful massacre, were torn away from the bodies of their husbands and dragged to an Indian encampment, through water waist deep. They were saved from a fate worse than that of the dead by Pritchard and other Halfbreeds, who ransomed them from the Indians by the gift of two horses and thirty dollars. "I fully trusted to Pritchard's manliness and good character," says Mrs. Delaney, "and I was not deceived. He not only proved himself a sincere friend and a brave fellow, but acted the part of a perfect gentleman throughout."

On April 3d Big Bear came to the tent of the white women and wept bitterly over the conduct of the evil men he could not control.

This was Good Friday. Next day some of the bodies—which had been mutilated—were placed in the church by the Halfbreeds, but the little sanctuary was soon afterwards burned down by the Indians. They also destroyed the other buildings at Frog Lake, and gave themselves up to savage revelry.

On the 6th the band of Indians went over to Fort Pitt and demanded its surrender. This was, of course, refused by Inspector Dickens, and Mr. McLean, a Hudson's Bay Company officer, went to parley with the savages. His efforts as a peacemaker were unavailing, however, and he was taken prisoner. He now believed the encampment to be safer than the fort, and sent for .his family, who were then added to the list of captives. Several days elapsed amid great anxiety. On the 15th the savages returned again to Fort Pitt with a prisoner, Tritchard, to act as interpreter. A number of settlers and others who were at the fort at the time were seized. On this day three scouts were fired upon as they returned to the fort, and one of them, Constable D. L. Cowan, was wounded and subsequently massacred. One of his comrades was also wounded, but escaped into the fort, while the other was made prisoner. All hopes of successfully defending Fort Pitt were now abandoned, and indeed, as was shown by the evidence at the subsequent stale trials, it was probably owing to Big Bear's influence that Dickens and his men were allowed to escape on a scow. They reached Battleford after terrible hardships, 011 the morning of April 22d.

Meantime, the white and Halfhreed prisoners, including Mrs. Gowanlock and Mrs. Delaney, were being held as hostages. Their captors were soon pursued by General Strange and Colonel Steele. During the skirmishes which followed, and the headlong flight of Big Bear's band through the morasses of the northern wilderness, the prisoners suffered great hardships, and were often in peril of their lives. The watch kept over them was vigilant—indeed, nerveracking. Mrs. Delaney writes, "I used to sleep in a sitting position, and whenever I would wake up in a startled state from some feverish dream, I invariably saw at the tent door a human eye riveted upon me." On May 29th the Indians contemplated forcing the white women away from their Halfbreed protectors, but they were saved in this desperate juncture by a report that the police were approaching. This caused a sudden panic and stampede. Pritchard and his protegees escaped two days later, on the first and only time that the Indians were not on close watch, falling into the hands of Mackay and Balentyne, two of Strange's scouts. At the moment preceding their rescue, their real danger was greatest, for the police had mistaken the refugees for a band of the rebellious Indians.

Such is the tragic story of the massacre of Frog Lake, which is fortunately without a counterpart in the history of Saskatchewan. Twelve years afterwards, the bones of the murdered men were removed from their first resting places to the little cemetery at Frog Lake, where small iron crosses mark the graves of the nine victims.


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