Magic Carpet Journals
The Last Day on the Trail of 1885 - Louis Riel
A Canoe voyage on the South Saskatchewan River takes us to Batoche
Maxine George takes us to Batoche to discover the end of the trail of 1885 and the story of Louis Riel
Petite Villa our launch site
Canoeing: Our last day on the Trail of Louis Rîel gave us the opportunity to experience a form of transportation that was important in this part of the world at the time of Louis Rîel. We met up with Cliff Speer of CanoeSki Discovery Company, with a trailer loaded with three canoes, accompanied by a small party of avid rowers. They launched the canoes at Petite Ville, the site where there had been an old settlement, on the South Saskatchewan River.
Canoes starting journey on South Saskatchewan River
Butch Amundson, Maxine George, Cliff Speer, Lori Mack and Katherine McIntyre
picture courtesy of Owen Einsiedler
I was at a distinct disadvantage to be participating in a canoe trip. After hearing that a canoe trip was on our agenda, the thought that "people must paddle their own canoes," came to my mind. I let the handlers know that I had my wrist in a brace due to an injury and would be unable to handle an oar. The decision was made that there were an adequate number of rowers without my active participation in the paddling. As a result I sat rather like a beached whale in the middle of the canoe.
Canoeing on the peaceful South Saskatchewan River
Three canoes were launched and together we drifted downstream, paddling gently along on a lovely warm, sunny day. Part way through our tranquil journey, we pulled onto the shore for a midday picnic. A tasty meal had been prepared for us. For our group it was a peaceful day, however there must have been many times when this method of transportation was not an idyll, but a necessity and in uncertain weather conditions may have been difficult. The scenery was pastoral. Just the occasional birds flittered amongst the stands of willow and aspen trees on the grassy shores.
South Saskatchewan River
The Battle of Fish Creek was another notable battle that was part of the Trail of 1885. Fish Creek was the first major confrontation between the forces of Middleton and Dumont’s much smaller band of warriors. Unfortunately we were unable to investigate that one site as the heavy rains had made the roads impassible. My research tells me that Fish Creek tested the mettle of both sides.
An American White Pelican shares the South Saskatchewan River with us
Major-General Frederick Middleton took the main column of his Northwest Field Force north from Qu'Appelle with the intention of squelching the uprising at Batoche. Dumont and Riel rode out from Batoche with 200 men. Middleton’s troops were proceeding along the South Saskatchewan river. Upon hearing a false report that the Canadian troops were heading directly to Batoche, Riel returned to Batoche with 50 men. Dumont quickly prepared an ambush at the Coulee. The ambush was spotted by a Canadian scout and the battle began. Despite the huge imbalance in the manpower, the smaller band of Métis warriors were able to hold their own and in the end claimed victory. They impressed Middleton with their fighting ability, especially Dumont’s tactics. As a result Middleton delayed the Canadian troop’s assault on Batoche for two weeks.
Landing and beaching the canoe at Batoche, Clifford Speer, Butch Amundsen and Lori Mack
Batoche: Our final destination was Batoche, scene of the last major battle between the Métis and the Government of Canada, during the Northwest Resistance. In all there were five significant battles and numerous skirmishes.
Painting of Buffalo being dressed out by an Indian woman and her family
Gabriel Dumont, was Chief of the Métis band at Batoche and had been named the military commander of the resistance force by Rîel. He was cunning and a master of tactics that would now be called guerilla warfare. He believe in keeping his force highly mobile, to strike quickly and to use an element of surprise.
Nine Pound Field Gun at the Batoche National Historic Site
Middleton attacked Batoche with 916 well equipped troops. They had nine pound field guns and a Gatling gun, borrowed from the US. Dumont held them off at first. After two days of battle, the 250 Métis were running out of ammunition and so began to use nails and stones to augment their dwindling ammunition. It took four days but Middleton finally brought an end to the resistance in Batoche.
Gabriel Dumont's pool table .
Dumont was a skilled pool player, but Riel was thought to be even better.
Batoche is now a National Historic site. Our tour of the Trail of Louis Rîel came to an end at Batoche. Rather than leaving me with all the answers to the history of Louis Riel, I came away pondering a lot of questions that still needed to be considered. I wish more Canadians would take the opportunity to look into Canadian history from the perspectives of those who lived through those days.
Sign at the Batoche National Historic Site of Canada
Gabriel Dumont escaped to the United States. Although there was a general amnesty in 1886, he did not return to Canada until 1888. Chief Poundmaker and his warriors surrendered voluntarily to the army at Batoche. Big Bear, a First Nations Chief gave himself up at Fort Carlton on July 2, 1885. Both Poundmaker and Big Bear were tried and sentenced to three years in prison. They both died shortly after they were released from prison, of failing health caused by their imprisonment.
Louis Rîel surrendered three days after the fall of Batoche.
He was tried for high treason and found guilty.
On November 16, 1885 Louis Rîel died by hanging.
Now I ask you, was he a hero or a villain?
Story and Pictures by M. Maxine George