Following the Trail of 1885 – Louis Rîel
Fort Battleford and the North West Mounted Police Post
On the next part of our journey, we travel to Fort Battleford and the North West Mounted Police Post.Via Magic Carpet Journals. Story and Photos by M. Maxine George
It was here at Fort Battleford that the pieces to this puzzle began to fit together for me. Previous to arriving here, most of the stories I had heard, explained the motivation of the early inhabitants of this area. Being unhappy because of a lack of their necessities of life is motive enough for anyone to understand. But what motivated the North West Mounted Police and the Militia to suddenly turn deaf ears to the pleas of the natives for supplies?
Fort Battleford is a well preserved Fort. It was established for the North West Mounted Police in 1876. It was close to Battleford, which had recently been named capital of the Northwest Territories. The railway was expected to go through Battleford, however when the route was changed the capital was moved south to Regina.
Although the Fort was abandoned in 1924, there are still five of the original North West Mounted Police buildings in Fort Battleford, which is now a National Historic Site. The Crozier Home, the Officer’s Quarters, several Barracks and the Guardhouse all can be seen, furnished as if ready for use today.
As we have seen before, the opening salvo in the Rebellion of 1885 occurred at Duck Lake. The original skirmish involved the newly minted Major Lief Crozier, commander of the Northwest Mounted Police at Fort Battleford, and Gabriel Dumont, commander of Riel’s Saskatchewan Provincial force.
What set the wheels in motion? Rîel’s declaration of the Provisional Government of Saskatchewan was a major concern to the Canadian Government in Ottawa. They were anxious to exercise control over the unrest in this territory. After the Duck Lake confrontation, they were even more anxious to prevent escalated violence in the area. Crozier called for reinforcements.
Alarmed when they heard that Chief Poundmaker and the Indians were coming, four to five hundred people fled Battleford and sought refuge at Fort Battleford. Seems that terror must have gone straight to the hearts of the pioneers, military and settlers, when word of the resistance at Frog Lake had been received. Before the reinforcements could reach Fort Battleford, Chief Poundmaker’s delegation arrived to see the Indian Agent. After several days, one of the men inside the fort, slipped out and infiltrated the Indian encampment to act as a spy. He discovered that the Indians had only peaceful motives for being there. He returned to the Fort to report this information. After camping outside the Fort for two days without a meeting taking place, a few young braves helped themselves to provisions without their chief’s knowledge. No violence is said to have occurred. Chief Poundmaker and his group departed for home. It is said that the people from Battleford remained in the Fort for another month after the Indians departed peacefully for home.
One has to go back in history to understand the reaction of the residents of Battleford. The earlier settlement of some of the American states was fraught with battles between the Indians and the Army or settlers over the previous two hundred years. They did not start out that way. The Indians tried to welcome the newcomers who came to Virginia, with gifts of food. Their kindness was not reciprocated in kind by the newcomers. However, the American Indians had suffered oppression at the hands of the Spanish also, so they were wary . Fights soon broke out and cruelties occurred on both sides. Word got back to Europe about the atrocities that were being committed by the native population of the new world. You can be sure the reports were one sided. One only has to read the accounts of history to realize that the British and French settling in Canada, were well aware of the difficulties encountered by those people trying to settle the country to the south. As a result they were cautious and not necessarily fair in their treatment of the Indian people. I was told by one historian in Saskatchewan that one of her female ancestors, coming to Canada from France, was terrified of the “blood-thirsty Indians” she had heard about. However, the ones she met in the Northwest territory had been very kind and helpful to her family. One particular incident was held forever indelible in her memory. She had gone out in a blizzard, one cold winter day and got lost. It was the Indians who found her and knowing what to do, saved her life.
In retrospect, if reasonable heads had prevailed in the first place and the Indian people had been helped, this whole fiasco might have been prevented. The key to the puzzle in my mind was to be found in the North West Mounted Police office at Fort Battleford – a simple telegraph key. Seeing that key, I realized that communication east-west could be quick. With that key, the puppet masters in Ottawa were trying to control the situation remotely. They were using cryptic telegraph messages to issue orders. They could not have paid serious attention to Riel’s attempts to get help for his people and therefore sent orders which instigated the uprising. It just goes to show that the Federal Government needed to have good local advisors and listen to them. Canadians could all learn from the history of the Rebellion of 1885.
The Golden Eagle Lodge
Our stay in the north was spent at the Golden Eagle Lodge. This hotel is owned by a consortium of several local First Nations tribes, who also own the Casino next door. It is a popular place for people throughout the province to visit. The Lodge was an excellent place to stay. I was very comfortably ensconced in a lovely two room suite with all the amenities. The staff were all friendly and efficient. Later that night I had a tummy upset and needed some medication. I phoned down to the desk to see if they happened to have any there. One of the evening desk clerks, went out to the drugstore and got the medication for me and returned it to my room. That was really going above and beyond the call of duty.
Address: 12004 Railway Avenue East, North Battleford, SK S9A 3W3
Western Development Museum
For a view of Pioneer life in Saskatchewan, we went to the Western Development Museum in the Battlefords. There we found a great collection of early buildings including one of the few grain elevators left on the prairie landscape. They were an integral part of many prairie towns. Some buildings have been preserved from the Ukrainian settlements in the area. Inside the museum many articles used by the homesteaders could be found. I was particularly taken by a pioneer pantry like the one my grandmother had. Also, there is an iron lung that was used during severe polio epidemics before polio vaccine was discovered. One can find so many artifacts from the pioneer’s lives, I could not begin to itemize even a small portion of them. Lots to see and do there. A tour of that museum brought back memories of how difficult lives were before many of the modern day conveniences were available.
We finish Following the Trails of Louis Riel – 1885 with:
The Last Day on the Trail of 1885 – Canoeing in the South Saskatchewan River and a visit to Batoche, scene of the last battle of the resistance of 1885
Last updated December 4, 2020 by Matthew George – Webmaster
Article and photos by M. Maxine George