Battle at Seven Oaks
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Battle at Seven Oaks
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Battle at Seven Oaks

When the first European farmers arrived at Red River in 1812, they soon found themselves at the centre of a conflict between two fur trading powerhouses.

The North West Company had bitterly opposed settlement around Red River from the start because this threatened its trading routes.
Richard Binsley portrayed Miles Macdonell, governor of Lord Selkirk's colony of Assiniboia, in Canada: A People's History.
Richard Binsley portrayed Miles Macdonell, governor of Lord Selkirk's colony of Assiniboia, in Canada: A People's History.
The North West Company's long expeditions from outlying trading posts depended on a food supply provided by Mtis buffalo hunters in the regions around the Red and Assiniboine rivers. Agricultural settlement would disrupt the buffalo hunt, they feared, and cut off their crucial food supply.

The land around Red River was controlled by the Hudson's Bay Company, which generally supported the European settlement. And the settlement was struggling to survive. Each year after 1812 more settlers arrived but too late to plant crops. The settlers were starving.

The tensions between the two companies had always existed but they reached a fever pitch when settlement's governor took measures to help the Selkirk settlers. Miles Macdonell issued the Pemmican Proclamation which banned the export of food from Red River and thereby prevented the North West Company from supplying its trading posts.
The Pemmican Proclamation, issued by Miles Macdonell, governor Assiniboia, in 1814, banned the export of food from Red River and thereby prevented the North West Company from supplying its distant trading posts. (As portrayed in Canada: A People's History
The Pemmican Proclamation, issued by Miles Macdonell, governor Assiniboia, in 1814, banned the export of food from Red River and thereby prevented the North West Company from supplying its distant trading posts. (As portrayed in Canada: A People's History)
Then Macdonell ordered the North West Company to leave the area, which was claimed by the HBC.

The North West Company's agent, Duncan Cameron, said the these actions would lead to violence.

"Macdonell is now determined not only to seize our pemmican but to drive us out of the Assiniboia district and consequently out of the north west. Hostilities will no doubt begin early spring."

Cameron rallied the local Mtis who lived in the area and supplied the North West Company with buffalo meat.

"You must assist me in driving away the colony.
An agent of the North West company, John Duncan Cameron encouraged the Mtis to destroy the Red River settlement following the Pemmican Proclamation of 1814. (As portrayed by John Dunn-Hill in Canada: A People's History)
An agent of the North West company, John Duncan Cameron encouraged the Mtis to destroy the Red River settlement following the Pemmican Proclamation of 1814. (As portrayed by John Dunn-Hill in Canada: A People's History)
If they are not drove away, the consequence will be that they will prevent you from hunting. They will starve your families, and they will put their feet in the neck of those that attempt to resist them. You can easily see how they mean to finish by what they have begun already."

The Mtis joined Cameron and soon the Red River settlement was under siege.

"They immediately began to burn our houses in the day time, and fire upon us during the night, saying the country was theirs, '' wrote John Pritchard, one of the settlers. "If we did not immediately quit the settlement they would plunder us of our property and burn the houses over our heads."

On June 19, 1816, the skirmishes, arson and terrorism finally culminated in bloodshed.
The Mtis pursued guerilla tactics, burning and looting the new Red River settlement in the years after 1814. (As portrayed in Canada: A People's History)
The Mtis pursued guerilla tactics, burning and looting the new Red River settlement in the years after 1814. (As portrayed in Canada: A People's History)
At Seven Oaks, near the HBC's Red River trading post, 25 Bay employees and settlers rode out to confront 61 Mtis and Indians.

"In a few minutes all our people were either killed wounded," reported John Pritchard, one of the few settlers to survive the confrontation. About 21 Baymen and one Mtis were killed. The remaining settlers left their houses the next day. Each side claimed self-defense, and a Canadian commission determined that it was a private war between two rival companies and condemned both sides.

In 1821, exhausted by the competition and violence, the North West Company and the Hudson's Bay Company, two long time rivals, joined forces. The long fight was over. The Selkirk settlers began a new era.

The west would never be the same.

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