Following the Trail of 1885 – Louis Rîel

Poundmaker Museum

Searching for more understanding we visit the Poundmaker Cree Nation, on our discovery of the story of Louis Rîel. Part Four.

Via Magic Carpet Journals. Story and Photos by M. Maxine George
Vera Wee Nie Kasokeo explains the customs and history of the Poundmaker Interpretive Centre

Driving approximately 40 miles west of Battleford, we came to the Poundmaker Cree Nation. The dirt and gravel road curved around to the top of Cut Knife Hill, in the Poundmaker Reserve, Saskatchewan, where a neat bungalow sat. It was our destination, the Poundmaker Interpretive Centre. We were met by Vera Wee Nie Kasokeo, who kindly took her time to explain the customs and history of her people. Vera explained that there had been a roof leak in the Historical Centre, during the heavy rains Saskatchewan had been receiving, and the repair work had just been done. I was impressed with the effort she had made to lay out artifacts and pictures for us to see. Of particular interest were the pictures and artifacts relating to Chief Poundmaker, who was a peacemaker, negotiator and signatory of Treaty Six. His reserve consisted of 186 men and women at that time.

Chief Poundmaker’s picture with cultural objects

Vera told us this story about Chief Poundmaker. During the time of the Rebellion, he and a group of his people, joined with other First Nations people and travelled to Battleford to “pay their respects to the Queen” and ask the Indian Agent, Mr. Rae, for provisions. By treaty, the Indians were only allowed to bring their requests to the Indian Agent. The people of Battleford heard of their impending visit and fled to Fort Battleford. When the Indians arrived, they found the place deserted. They waited patiently to see someone who might help them, but were kept waiting for two days. When patience ran out, a few of the young braves helped themselves to some provisions, looted a few homes without the knowledge of their chief, then they all peacefully returned home. 

Chief Poundmaker and his wife, Little Beaver

History tells us that in late April, news reached the Northwest Field Force of the “Siege of Battleford.” Upon hearing this report,  Lt.Colonel W.D. Otter led a column of 543 militia, who marched from Swift Current to Battleford where they found the settlers all crowded into the police post. Otter took command of all military personal at the Fort. Otter believing there had been a siege, took it upon himself to lead 325 militia, with a Gatling Gun, two seven pounder guns, and 48 wagons to Cut Knife Creek where Chief Poundmaker and his people were camped. 

The Gatling Gun – Holding an old picture at the Poundmaker Museum

According to Vera, the Chief and his men went up onto Cut Knife Hill where they could watch the army approaching. Once within range the army started firing the Gatling Gun towards the hill. There was only one problem – that rapid fire, mounted gun, an early hand-cranked model, similar to a machine gun, could only shoot straight ahead. It could not be aimed upwards towards the top of the hill where the Indians were gathered, so basically the shot was going into the cliff-faced, front of the hill. The braves came down around the sides of the hill and began to surround the militia, who soon decided they should return to their home base, claiming their mission had been accomplished. Chief Poundmaker told his people to let them go. He did not want anymore bloodshed.  “They have come here to fight us,” he said, “and we have fought them, now we can let them go.” His words no doubt saved many lives that day. I would like to have seen Colonel Otter’s report. This is the story we heard on Cut Knife Hill and I suspect it is the true one. 

Owen Einseidler and Katherine McIntyre read a plaque on the Monument to Chief Poundmaker

After our visit in the Centre, Vera Wee Nie Kasokeo recommended we visit the grave and memorial to Chief Poundmaker, which is between the Interpretive Centre and the crest of the Cut Knife Hill. Chief Poundmaker lies there on the site where he and his braves had watched the militia approaching. In 1967 his body was exhumed from its original burial place in Alberta and returned here to Cut Knife Hill in the Poundmaker Reservation. Seems like the right place for him to spend eternity. 

Grave of Chief Poundmaker on Cut Knife Hill

While we were there a young local man came up on the hill with two visitors. As he gave his friends their guided tour, it was apparent that the young man was a Cree from the Poundmaker Reserve, who was justly proud of his ancestors and the site of their victory.

Continue Following the Trails of Louis Riel – 1885 with:
Visit to Fort Battleford and the North West Mounted Police Post

Article and Pictures by M. Maxine George

Last Updated on December 2, 2020 by Matthew George – Webmaster

Return to Canada