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The Battle at the Grand Coteau: July 13 and 14, 1851 [1]

by William Morton

MHS Transactions, Series 3, 1959-60 season

MHS Transactions were originally published by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make online versions available as a free, public service. As an historical document, Transactions may contain language that is no longer in common use and which may offend some readers. They should not be construed to represent the views of today’s Manitoba Historical Society.

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On 12 July 1851, a small band of Métis buffalo hunters from Saint Francois-Xavier on the Assiniboine River in the Red River Settlement encountered and on 13 and 14 July fought and defeated some hundreds of Sioux warriors on the first slope of the Grand Coteau of the Missouri southeast of Minot in what is now North Dakota. This was the most formidable, as it was the last of the encounters between the buffalo hunters of Red River and the Sioux of the American plains.

It is the purpose of this paper to assemble the surviving accounts of the fight and to narrate how this action came to be fought and in what manner it was fought. [2]

First, however, it is to be noted that the fight at the Grand Coteau is also the most remarkable military feat of the “new nation” of the Métis and exhibits the peculiar tactics of their plains fighting at their highest development. To tell the story of the battle is therefore to comment on the whole military history of the Métis from the “fur trade war” on the Assiniboine and the Red from 1815 to 1817 to their defeat by the Canadian militia at Batoche in 1885.

The Métis of Red River was a hunter and a trapper, a fisherman, a voyageur, by boat or cart brigade, even perforce a farmer, but above all, he was a horseman and a buffalo hunter. The buffalo hunt was his most characteristic occupation. As an occupation, particularly in the great summer hunt, it was highly organized and disciplined. [3] On the hunt, the Métis was a “soldier”. He called himself so, thought of himself so, and in his own manner so behaved. As has been often recounted, the hunt was organized at a rendezvous at Pembina or along the Pembina valley before moving out on to the plains by the election of a captain, or president of the hunt, of a council made up of ten captains, and by the choice by each captain of ten soldiers. [4] The captain of the hunt had complete authority on the march or in the hunt. Each of the captains acted in rotation as what might be called “officer of the day” and with his men policed the camp that day. All matters of regulation and discipline were settled in the council of the hunt, and a serious offence, such as running the buffalo alone or betraying the presence of the camp to the Sioux, might be punished by being turned loose on the plains without horse or bridle, a possible death sentence. Scouting for the Sioux and for buffalo, the conduct of the march, the making of camp, the approach to the herds and the running of the buffalo, were all carried out as an inbred drill, from which no serious departure was allowed, by a people naturally reckless and impatient of any restraint.

A Metis rifle pit at Batoche, 1885.
Source: Archives of Manitoba

The discipline and conduct of the great hunt on the buffalo plains of the Sioux was the first thing that made the Métis a “soldier”. But the first generation of the Métis had also been taught to think of themselves as soldiers and the teaching had pleased them. When the partners of the North West Company decided in 1814 that Selkirk’s colonists must be harried out of Red River, they turned to the Métis as their instrument. They had long used them, or their fathers, as bullies to harass rival traders. But to destroy the Selkirk colony was a bigger operation. The war of 1812, in which the Nor’Westers had recaptured Michilimackinac and the Wisconsin country as far as the Mississippi, gave them military ideas, some spare military uniforms and equipment and the chance to pose as military officers themselves.

There followed Duncan Cameron’s parading as a uniformed officer in Red River in the spring of 1815, and the deliberate harrying of the colonists until those who had not agreed to go to Canada were forced to leave. When Colin Robertson restored the colony that fall, the reply of the Nor’Westers was to proclaim Cuthbert Grant, the educated halfbreed son of a Nor’West bourgeois as “Captain-General of all the half-breeds of the northwest.” Young Métis were collected at Fort L’Esperance on the Qu’Appelle under Grant in the spring of 1816. After the capture of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s pemmican on the Qu’Appelle, Grant led his men in two bands under two “captains” to the capture of Brandon House and the collision with Governor Robert Semple and his men at Seven Oaks. [5] The whole operation was conducted roughly on military lines, and the Métis acted at Seven Oaks in two bands, one of which fought like the militia of New France, firing from the shelter of their ponies and throwing themselves on the ground to reload, [6] and the other from horseback, running the fleeing colonists like buffalo.

Even more striking, perhaps, in their military character were Grant’s operations against Fort Douglas after its recapture by Miles Macdonnell and the de Meurons in the winter of 1817. Twice Grant led expeditions down the Assiniboine, the first to try to force Macdonnell to surrender the fort, the second to await at the “passage” of the Assiniboine the coming of the North West partners. [7] But the Canadian fathers of Métis sons had heard of the Prince Regent’s Proclamation ordering a cessation of the fighting and were reluctant to have their boys join Grant. Grant accordingly had one of the young men court-martialled for failing to obey his summons. Heurter, the de Meuron sergeant who told the story, gives few details, but as an old soldier he would know a court-martial when he saw one. [8] One thinks at once of the Métis court-martial which tried and condemned Thomas Scott in 1870. Were there others in between those dates? It is to be presumed that the council of the hunt in fact acted as a court-martial to try infractions of the laws of the hunt, and punished offending “soldiers” as a military court and by what was in some sense a form of military law.

Thus the people who in 1869 and 1885 were to oppose in arms the annexation of the North West to Canada had by 1851 considerable of what may be called discipline and of what may even more properly be called military tactics. This nation in arms was the instrument Riel was to use to win provincial self-government for Red River in 1870 and which he was to try to use for some muddled version of the same in 1885.

In 1851, however, Canada had not yet looked beyond the lakes and the Pre-Cambrian plateau to the Red River valley and the prairies of the North West. The Métis were still pursuing their old occupation of the buffalo hunt and their hereditary feud, as sons of Cree and Saulteaux mothers, with the Sioux of the plains. From this pursuit of these established occupations came in 1851 the fight at the Grand Coteau.

In June of that year, the Saint Boniface, or “main river” party accompanied by Father Albert Lacombe going for the first time to the plains where he was to serve out his ministry, travelled south to a rendezvous with the Pembina party. From Pembina the combined parties set out west on 16 June to a rendezvous with the buffalo hunters of Saint Francois-Xavier. The parties numbered three hundred and eighteen hunters. With them were the able-bodied women, with children too small to be left in the settlement, for it was the women who cut up and dried the meat, made the buffalo hide sacks and prepared the pemmican. [9] The total number of persons was thirteen hundred with eleven hundred carts. [10]

On 15 June, the White Horse Plain party had left Saint Francois-Xavier, accompanied by its missionary, Rev. Louis Francois Richer Lafleche, grand vicar of Bishop Provencher and himself later to be famous as Bishop of Three Rivers. The party was small, numbering only two hundred carts and sixty-seven hunters, with an unknown number of women. [11] It was led, not by the chief of the White Horse Plain settlement, Cuthbert Grant, but by a nephew of his, Jean Baptiste Falcon, a son of the bard of the Métis. [12]

It seems evident that the Métis of Saint Boniface and Pembina and those of Saint Francois-Xavier were acting independently of one another, as Hind says they were in 1852. [13] It may be conjectured that the cause of the separation was the rejection by the Métis of Saint Boniface and Pembina of the leadership of Cuthbert Grant of Saint Francois-Xavier in the troubles surrounding the Sayer trial of 1849. [14] But the parties had to plan mutual support in the event of attack by Sioux. It was known that the Sioux were planning to attack the hunt and it was important therefore to give them no advantage. [15]

The rendezvous was kept safely on 19 June. A general council was held, not only for the usual election of officers, but also to discuss “the route the two ’camps’ would have to follow to keep apart sufficiently from one another so as not to injure each other’s hunt”. [16] The decision was made to divide, but to move, as a single camp moved in parallel columns, along parallel routes at twenty to thirty miles from one another. The parties were to keep in touch and come to one another’s help in the event of attack by the Sioux. There was an express agreement, clearly something novel, that no Sioux on whatever pretext would be allowed to enter either camp. [17]

After the council, both parties advanced out into the plains, towards the southwest, veering off a little from the lands of the Sioux in doing so. [18] According to Father Lacombe, they travelled and hunted together, or in close proximity, for some days, [19] until perhaps 28 June. When they did separate, it does not appear whether the White Horse Plain party was to the south or north of the main party. It would be natural to suppose that it would have taken the northern route, as the one less exposed to attack by the Sioux, and the rest of this narrative rests on that assumption, which admittedly could be erroneous. The main party did encounter some Sioux shortly after parting company, but according to the previous agreement with the small party, did not allow them into camp and chased them away. [20] The Saint Francois camp was warned at once.

For some days after that encounter, which must have taken place about 30 June, the two parties travelled and hunted without incident. Their parallel routes must have now been towards the land between the headwaters of the Sheyenne River and the big bend of the Souris. The main party was travelling near the Maison du chien, or Dog Den Butte, a well known land mark on an outlying ridge of the Coteau de Missouri, which was commonly called the Grand Coteau. They were on the march on Sunday, 13 July, by permission of Father Lacombe, in order that they might run on Monday some buffalo which had been reported to be near. While the camp was on the march, a small party of Sioux tried to cut off some stragglers. [21]

The evening before, Saturday, 12 July, the Saint Francois camp reached a spot on the Grand Coteau of the Missouri which cannot now be determined precisely. [22] On the assumption made above, that it had followed a northern route, and assuming also that the two parties had kept roughly parallel after their separation, it would be twenty to thirty miles northwest of the Doghouse.

The scouts had just topped the first “buttes” and the party had just climbed to the top of the first terrace of the Coteau when they sighted a large camp of Indians. They at once signalled a warning to the carts below. Falcon promptly ordered camp to be made on a spot which could be easily defended and sent five hunters forward with a spy glass. These rode boldly and carelessly, Métis fashion, to the top of the nearest high bluff. [23] There they saw that the camp was that of a very large band of Sioux (the number of warriors is estimated in the various accounts at from two thousand to twenty-five hundred). [24] These figures are no doubt greatly exaggerated, but serve to indicate how impressed all the Métis and their companions were by the size of the band.

The five scouts, having scorned concealment, now scorned any other precaution. They proceeded to ride towards the camp. At once a party of twenty Sioux rode out to meet them. When the two met, the Sioux surrounded the Métis and invited them to go to the camp in a way that left no doubt that they were considered prisoners. There seemed to be nothing for it but to go peacefully. But two Métis suddenly kicked their buffalo-runners into a gallop and broke away and escaped under fire back to the carts. Three, James Whiteford, one of the three McGillis boys in the party, and one Malaterre, [25] were held by the Sioux.

The Métis camp, when they saw the fugitives riding hard down the slope, sprang to arms. Falcon and Lafleche called the hunters together; with the boys of twelve years old, there were seventy-seven men who could handle a gun. [26]

The Sioux who had pursued the two Métis who escaped then approached the camp of the Métis, and parleyed with some of them. They insisted that they had no warlike intentions and that the three captives would be freed on the morrow. They protested that they were hard up, and in need of help. They would come the next day with the prisoners and only a small party, in the hope of receiving some presents. [27]

With that they rode off, but Lafleche and the Métis were convinced that they were insincere and meant trouble.

They therefore began to make ready to receive an attack and when three Sioux horsemen were seen approaching, they sent ten mounted men to meet them and keep them from observing the camp and its defences. The customary courtesies were exchanged, but the Sioux were kept at a distance and departed. The Métis were convinced that a surprise attack had been intended then and that they had foiled it. [28]

The decision was now taken to fight without further parley, even if this meant, as they feared it did, that the three captives would be killed. It was thought better to sacrifice them and save the party than to risk all. [29] While they did not know how many Sioux they faced, they knew the camp was a very large one; it seemed to them unlikely, careless as the Métis customarily were of odds in conflict with the Sioux, that they would be able to beat off the attack of hundreds of the boldest fighters on the plains.

They therefore resolved to sell their lives dearly, and if possible to hold out until succor came from the main party. The carts were placed in a circle, wheel to wheel, with the shafts tilted in the air. The poles carried to make the frames on which the buffalo meat was dried were run through the spokes to make the carts immovable. [30] Packs, hides, saddles, and dried meat was piled between and under the carts to complete the barricade. [31]

The purpose of the barricade of carts was not to form shelter behind which the hunters would fight. It was meant to fence in the cart ponies and oxen and to break up the charge of the Sioux horsemen. [32] The carts formed a corral, but gave little protection against gunfire or arrows. For that purpose trenches were dug under the carts and here the women and children took shelter. But the men dug trenches, or rifle pits (here one meets the rifle pits of Batoche) out in front of the barricade. Their purpose was to hold the Sioux out of range of the carts and of the draft animals. [33] The women and children were reasonably safe in their trenches, but if the draft animals were killed, the party would perish on the plains without further attack by the Indians.

After darkness two men were sent to carry the news of the threatened attack to the main party and to ask for help. The camp police kept an especial guard that night, but Lafleche and the hunters stayed up to watch the eclipse of the moon, of which he had warned them, spread its black shadow over the silver slopes of the Coteau. [34]

The next morning, Sunday, 13 July, “having exhorted and confessed all those who presented themselves, Lafleche celebrated Mass and distributed the sacrament to all who desired to die well”. [35]

When these final preparations were completed, the scouts were seen to signal that the Sioux were coming. When they appeared along the crest of the Coteau, it was not the few horsemen promised the night before, but an army, the whole man power of the great Sioux camp, their war ponies of piebald and pinto and chestnut vivid on the skyline, their gun barrels and spear points glinting in the fierce sunlight of the plains.

At a signal the Sioux host halted. Was it possible they did not mean to attack? The Métis had held their buffalo-runners ready in the cart circle for a sally. Now thirty of the hunters rode out to accost the Sioux and warn them to keep their distance from the camp. [36]

In the midst of the Sioux the three prisoners could be seen. McGillis, on seeing the thirty approach the front of the Sioux, suddenly kicked his horse into a gallop and escaped from the startled Sioux, and joined the Métis band. Daring as was his action, he was in terror and besought his friends not to laugh at his being afraid. There were, he gasped, two thousand Sioux who meant to attack them. [37]

The Métis rode up, however, to the advance guard of the Sioux, made them some presents and requested them to go away.

The Sioux ignored both the presents and the request. They could and would take all the camp had to yield, and brought out some carts to haul away the booty. They began to push forward.

The Métis at once wheeled away and rode hard for the camp. The Sioux tried to head them off, hoping to overwhelm the camp by entering with the hunters in their retreat. But they were too slow, and the hunters re-entered the cart circle, left their horses and ran for their rifle pits. [38]

The Sioux came charging in, hoping to brush aside the flimsy barrier of the carts and break up at the circle. At their head rode a young chief, “so beautiful,” Falcon said in after years, “that my heart revolted at the necessity of killing him.” [39] He shouted to the Sioux brave to turn away, but the Indian rode on, the war cry ringing from his lips. Falcon shot him off his horse, and the Métis hunters fired in volley.

Here and there a Sioux warrior whirled from his saddle and tumbled into the grass; the others pulled their ponies around and galloped back to the main body.

Inside the circle Lafleche had donned his surplice with the star at the neck, and had taken his crucifix in his hand. His tall white figure passed around the carts as he encouraged the warriors and soothed the children. All through the fight he prayed amid the fighting and exhorted his people from a cart rolled into the centre of the circle, a prairie Joshua. He did not, he told a friend later, take a gun himself, but he had a hatchet handy, resolved that if the Sioux reached the carts he would fight beside his Métis warriors. [40]

A brief pause followed the first charge, but was ended almost at once. Whiteford and Malaterre were guarded by an American living with the Sioux. [41] This man now told them to make a dash for it. He would, he said, only pretend to shoot at them. Whiteford suddenly put his horse, perhaps the best runner on the plains, to a run and rode, weaving and swaying through a poplar grove, down the slope towards the camp. Malaterre, knowing his horse was too poor to carry him clear, first shot at the nearest Sioux and actually hit three. He then rode for his life, but was soon brought down by a storm of balls and arrows. His body, bristling with shafts, was dismembered and mutilated and his remnants waved at the metis to terrify them. But Whiteford escaped unharmed; and with true metis bravado, he checked his flight and shot down a pursuing Sioux. Then he was welcomed wildly within the cart circle, where he joined the defenders. His old mother, who had been weeping for a son she believed doomed, ran to him and said: “My son, if you are tired, give me your gun and go and get some sleep. Let me fire a shot at those rascals out there!” [42]

There was no time for sleep for anyone. The mass of the Sioux now closed in and surrounded the camp, as Lafleche wrote, like a waistband. [43] Indian-fashion, they did not charge in a body. They crept forward, sniping; they made sudden dashes; now and then excited braves would come charging in on horseback, and swerve off shooting from the saddle, or under their horses necks. It was exciting, it was dangerous, but it was not the one thing that might have brought victory to the Sioux, the overwhelming of the metis by their numbers. The metis were therefore able to hold them off from the cart circle, firing steadily as targets offered, themselves offering no target. Most of the Sioux bullets fell short of the cart circle; all their arrows did. Only occasionally did a horse rear, or an ox bellow as a shot went home. And up the sun-scorched slope, the Sioux began to feel the bite of the telling metis fire. Warrior after warrior, “like choice game” writes Dugas, “was offered up with the sure hand of the priest practised at the sacrifice.” Some of the stricken warriors turned over quietly in death, some leaped in their death throes, “strewing the yellow prairie with their heaving bodies”. [44]

The fight was too hot for them. Indians, and even the warlike Sioux, would never suffer casualties as Europeans would. It was not a matter of courage, but of the conventions of warfare. In battle the Indian saw no merit in death, however brave. The Sioux now drew back to take account of the nature of the contest they had engaged in. Their shame grew as they viewed the small numbers of the metis and the fragility of their defences. Their shame turned to anger. Whooping and yelling, the infuriated warriors charged in on their straining ponies, swerving, checking, striving always to kill or stampede the stock in the corral. But their fury produced no giving way. Lafleche still cheered his people, from the cart in the corral. Falcon, steady, earnest, fired with his men, and moved among them to keep them steady. With him was his sister Isabella; when he went around the rifle pits, she took his gun and fired for him, not without effect. [45]

The second assault failed like the first, and still the Sioux had not used their numbers to make a mass charge and overrun the gun pits and the barricade of carts. Sullenly the Sioux began to withdraw, one by one or in small groups. The more stubborn or more daring kept up a sniping fire and tentative sallies from time to time. But after six hours all were wearied of the unrewarding battle. A chief was heard to cry: “The French have a Manitou with them. We shall never come to the end of them. It is impossible to kill them”. [46] Such was the effect of Lafleche’s courage. And in fact not a Métis had been killed in the action, although they had lost twelve horses and four oxen. [47] The Sioux had suffered losses they thought heavy, and now began to load their wounded into the carts they had brought to carry away the plunder of the Métis camp. They had also to regain their courage and replenish their ammunition. [48] A heavy thunderstorm completed their discomfiture, and it was followed by a mist which made it impossible to shoot. [49]

Moreover, their scouts, thrown out towards the main Métis body at the Doghouse, had brought in reports that had to be considered. [50] The two hunters sent on Saturday night had encountered the Sioux scouts and returned to camp. But two young Métis, had panicked and fled from the camp towards the main party. [51] Would they bring the main party to the help of the besieged camp?

The Métis themselves had the same question foremost in their minds. But when the Sioux withdrew, the hunters rode out over the battle field, where they saw many traces of the hurt inflicted on the attackers. Eight Sioux had been killed and many wounded, as was shown by the blood-stained grass and the waters of two nearby ponds. [52] They also found the mutilated body of the unfortunate Malaterre pierced by three balls and sixty-seven arrows. They buried him there on the prairie. [53]

On the next day, 14 July, the Sioux were expected to attack. A council was held and the decision was taken to try to join the main party as they had not withdrawn far, and kept raising the war whoop around the camp during the darkness of the night. [54]

It was a decision to retreat in the face of an enemy yet undefeated and in overwhelming numbers, one of the most dangerous operations of war. The Métis planned and executed it brilliantly. Four mounted parties were sent out a mile from the line of march, one ahead, one behind, and two on the flank towards the Sioux. They were to signal any approach of the Sioux by two scouts galloping past one another on a butte, the best known of all the plains signals of the buffalo hunters. The carts were to advance in four columns, so placed that by two columns wheeling quickly, one left and one right, a square could be formed rapidly. Then the cart corral could be formed, the barricade stiffened with the poles, and the hunters fan out for the fight. [55]

After an hour’s march, the scouting party behind was seen to make the signal of two horsemen crossing on a butte. The Sioux, who had been shouting around the camp during the night were in pursuit. At the signal the columns halted and wheeled into position, the ponies and oxen were taken out of the shafts, and the carts run into the circle. The metis had learned even more vividly from the loss of stock they had suffered in the first day’s fight the need to conceal their stock and hold the Sioux at a distance. The cart ring was now formed of two lines of carts, then at three chains from the barricade of carts the hunters hastened to throw up their rifle pits well out from the cartring. [56]

The Sioux were perhaps less numerous and less fiery than the day before, but they closed in none the less on the cart corral and pressed the attack for five full hours. [57] Once more Lafleche exhorted his people to remember their faith and their ancestry; once more Falcon and Isabella aided the metis marksmen in the heat and dust and drifting smoke.

Finally the firing slackened and the war cries died away. Once more a thunderstorm was rolling up over the Coteau. [58] A Sioux chief rode up, upraised palm out in the gesture of peace, and demanded to be allowed to enter the camp. He was told to leave quickly, if he did not wish to be left on the prairie. He replied with dignity, before retreating, that the Sioux had had enough, that they were going away; that, henceforth and forever, they would never again attack the Métis.

Then the whole war party, mounted and yelling a last defiance, war plumes flying and lances waving, put itself at a gallop, and charged in single file around the cart ring, firing a last tremendous volley of gun fire and arrows from the backs of their straining ponies. It was the heaviest volley of the two day battle. [59] Then the cloud of horsemen streamed over the shoulder of the Coteau and vanished. As they vanished the rain broke in torrents.

The weary metis thought that they must have suffered losses from the tremendous discharge, but as the men ran in from the rifle pits, it was found that only three were wounded and those but slightly. As they rejoiced, the first party of hunters from the main party, warned by the fugitives, came pounding over the prairie. [60] They had been despatched early that morning, fasting, by Father Lacombe. [61] The main body came up later.

With the three hundred and eighteen fresh hunters of the main party were as many Saulteaux warriors. With those of White Horse Plain camp, they numbered seven hundred men, a force sufficient to scatter the enemy. The Sioux, it was known from their increasing use of arrows, were short of ammunition as well as discouraged by their defeat. Many of the hunters demanded that they should be pursued and chastized. But Lafleche and Lacombe, with the majority of the hunters, were against further fighting. Better to be merciful and complete the hunt was the decision. [62] The Métis resumed their hunt, but first they raised a tall pole on the plain with a letter to the Sioux. What was in the letter, no one has recorded.

In the whole adventure they had lost only the unhappy Malaterre and in the two actions not one man, woman or child. They had lost, it is true, twelve horses and four oxen, but not enough to prevent them moving over the plains. The Sioux, it was reported later, had lost eighty men, besides many wounded and sixty-five horses. [63] By the standards of Indian warfare, this was a heavy defeat, and in fact it ended the long warfare of the Métis and the Sioux. [64]

The Métis thereafter were masters of the plains wherever they might choose to march. The action of the Grand Coteau showed that they could fight and move on the plains even in the face of superior numbers of Sioux, perhaps the most formidable warriors of all the North American plains tribes. Their conduct of the march of the cart brigade, their plains craft, their battle tactics, from the firing from the saddle to the use of the rifle pit, were brilliant by any standard of warfare. What wonder that the British officers who knew them spoke admiringly of their virtues as cavalry. [65] What wonder that veteran of Europe’s wars, Captain Napoleon Gay, after his service with Riel in 1870, tried to train his volunteer cavalry in the Franco-Prussian war as Métis mounted riflemen! [66]

A band of Sioux on the march, a sketch from the Canadian Illustrated News.
Source: Archives of Manitoba

The battle of the Grand Coteau was perhaps the proudest memory of the Métis nation. [67] It symbolized their highest achievement as a people. Nothing more conclusively proved their mastery of the plains by which they lived. It stands midway between the collision at Seven Oaks and the black day of Batoche, when the Canadian militia did what the Sioux had not, and overran the Métis rifle pits. And finally it demonstrates that the boundary of Canada and the United States was not a mere astronomical line, but a real boundary marked by the clash of peoples and cultures, the border of the park belt and the grassland, of the prairie and the plain, where the Métis of Red River continued the old feud of Cree and Saulteaux with the Sioux, and helped, in the blind and primitive working of history with geography, to prepare for the different histories in western North America of Canada and the United States.

Notes

1. As there is some doubt as to the year of the fight, I am glad to be able to say that there was, as Rev. L. F. R. Lafleche reported, an eclipse of the moon on the night of 12-13 July 1851.

2. The surviving accounts, so far as they are known to the author and to Mrs. A. N. MacLeod are as follows:

  1. A letter from Rev. L. F. R. Lafleche, dated 4 September 1851, and published by Arthur Savaete, Vers L’abime (Paris, n.d.), pp. 182-184.
  2. A letter of Father Albert Lacombe, O.M.I., dated 11 March 1852, and published in L’Echo de Saint-Justin, X (10), August 1931.
  3. To this, on pp. 193-201 of Vers L’abime is a supplementary account “based on the knowledge of” Abbe Georges Dugas.
  4. A passage in the “Journal of Rudolph Friederich Kurz” published in Bulletin 115, Bureau of Ethnology, Smithsonian Institute, pp. 191-192.
  5. A letter from Father Lacombe, dated January 1852, published in Les Cloches de Saint-Boniface, 1917, p. 61.
  6. Francois-Xavier Falcon’s account of a battle, seemingly that of 1851, but said to have taken place in 1853. This was written in 1940.
  7. The account of Abbe Georges Dugas in his Histoire de l’ouest canadien (Montreal, 1906), pp. 119-130. Dugas does not give his sources, but his abundance of vivid detail makes it clear he had talked to those who had been present.
  8. A. S. Morice, Dictionaire historique des Canadian metis (Quebec, 1908).

These will be referred to hereafter as: Lafleche, Lacombe 1, Lacombe 2, Dugas 1 (L’histoire etc.), Dugas 2, Kurz, Falcon.

3. See, for example, the admiring account in Isaac Cowie, The Company of Adventurers (Toronto, 1913) pp. 324-325.

4. The two best accounts are in Alexander Ross, The Red River Settlement (London, 1857), pp. 241-263, and in Henri de Tremandan, La Nation Metisse (Winnipeg, 1935) np. 438-439, an account by Louis Riel.

5. Authoritative accounts are to be found in Chester Martin, Lord Selkirk’s Work in Canada (Oxford, 1916) pp. 70-89 and in A. S. Morton, A History of the Canadian West to 1870-71 (Toronto [1939]) pp. 569-578. A more detailed study of the collision at Seven Oaks will appear in a forthcoming study of Cuthbert Grant by Margaret Arnett MacLeod and the author.

6. As their Canadian forebears did in the battle of the Heights of Abraham; see C. P. Stacey, Quebec, 1759 (Toronto, 1959) p. 147.

7. Archives of Manitoba, Selkirk Papers, microfilm.

8. Ibid.

9. Margaret Arnett MacLeod, “A Note on the Red River Hunt,” Canadian Historical Review, June, 1957, pp. 129-130.

10. Lacombe 1.

11. Lafleche; Dugas 1; Dugas 2.

12. Falcon. It is usually said that the captain of the White Horse Plain camp was unknown, but Falcon’s evidence is accepted here as probably true. It is certain that Cuthbert Grant was not present.

13. H. Y. Hind, The Red and Assiniboine Exploring Expedition, II, pp. 179 and 283-284.

14. See the author’s Introduction to the Letters of Eden Colville, 1849-1852 (Hudson’s Bay Record Society, 1957), pp. lxxxii-lxxxvi.

15. Dugas 2, p. 120.

16. Lacombe 1.

17. Ibid.; Dugas 1.

18. Lacombe 1. The movement of the two parties has been estimated as follows for this paper: Saint Francois-Xavier Party leaves Saint Francois on June 15 and reaches rendezvous in four days, i.e. on June 19. Saint Boniface and Pembina Parties leave Pembina on June 16 and goes to rendezvous. That is, the first marches three days and the latter four. Allowing a march of 15 miles a day. the parties would meet near the traditional rendezvous of Calf Mountain or Star Mound (Note that St. F. party was there first, i.e. the smaller party moved faster.) A council was held here; perhaps also later. This would consume 20 June, and perhaps another day later. The three parties then travelled and hunted together for some days, but had been separated, it would seem, for two weeks before 12 July. Say, then, they hunted and travelled together 22 June to 28 June. Allowing an average day’s march of 71 miles, hunting and travelling, this would take them 60 miles southwest from Calf Mountain. The St. F. party then separated from the two larger parties. The larger party had travelled and hunted 14 days to reach a point near the Dog House. At 7½ miles a day, this would be 150 miles further, a total march of 280 miles from the present site of Winnipeg (by Pembina). The distance from Winnipeg to the region of the Dog House is 200 miles. The St. F. party, not having gone by Pembina, would possibly be some miles farther west, having travelled 235 miles since 15 June, not having gone by Pembina. Thus the days and route of travel, so far as they are accounted for in the documents, roughly agree with the actual distance.

19. Ibid.

20. Dugas 1.

21. Lacombe 1; E. Coues (ed.), New Light on the Early History of the North West, I, p. 406—“At three o’clock we came to the ridge of high land, which runs from E. to W., and separates the waters between the Missourie and Riviere la Souris. This ridge adjoins the Dog’s House, which we could plainly see about three leagues eastward-supposed to be the highest hill for many miles. It stands nearly due S. from the S. E. bend or elbow of Riviere la Souris, and may be seen at a considerable distance. We could also discern the banks of that river to the N. about five leagues distant; and had the weather been clear, doubtless we could have distinguished the Snake’s Lodge, which bears S. about 20 leagues.”

22. Dugas 1.

23. Ibid.

24. Dugas and Lacombe say 2,000, Kurz about 2,500.

25. Dugas says Malaterre, Falcon says Whiteford.

26. Dugas 2.

27. Ibid.

28. Dugas 2.

29. Dugas 1, p. 123.

30. Ibid.

31. Kurz.

32. Ibid.

33. Dugas 1, p. 123.

34. Lafleche.

35. Dugas 2.

36. Dugas 1, pp. 123-4.

37. Ibid., p. 124.

38. All these details are from Dugas 1, pp. 124-5.

39. Falcon.

40. Dugas 1; Lafleche.

41. Falcon says a Frenchman.

42. Dugas 1, p. 126.

43. La fleche.

44. Dugas 2.

45. Falcon.

46. Dugas 1, p. 127; Lafleche.

47. Kurz; it is assumed they were lost on 13 July because better precautions were taken on 14 July.

48. Dugas 2.

49. Lacombe.

50. Dugas 2.

51. Dugas 1, p. 128.

52. Falcon.

53. Dugas 1, p. 128.

54. Ibid.

55. Ibid.

56. All details are from Dugas 1, p. 129, and show how he must have got them from an eye-witness who thoroughly appreciated the significance of every feature of the metis defence.

57. Ibid.

58. Lacombe.

59. Ibid.; Dugas 1, p. 129.

60. Ibid.

61. Lacombe 1.

62. Ibid.; Dugas 1.

63. Kurz; Lacombe 2 says that only eighteen Sioux were killed. It is probable the Métis never really knew. To the Indian mind even eighteen was a heavy loss.

64. Falcon; but not of the Sioux and the Saulteaux.

65. See Cowie’s reference, Company of Adventurers, p. 170.

66. AM, Riel Papers, Gay to Riel.

67. See the account in Henri de Tremandan, La Nation Metisse (Winnipeg, 1935), pp. 143-145.

Page revised: 15 July 2012

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