Rebellion on the Plains
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The North West Rebellion
Rebellion on the Plains
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Rebellion on the Plains
Violence erupts on the prairies and Canadian soldiers go west
The North West Rebellion was a brief conflict on the Canadian prairies in spring of 1885. But its outcome had a lasting affect on a nation.
Louis Riel watched the first battle of the North West Rebellion on horseback, holding a wooden cross and praying aloud. (As portrayed in Canada: A People's History)
Louis Riel watched the first battle of the North West Rebellion on horseback, holding a wooden cross and praying aloud. (As portrayed in Canada: A People's History)

The man at the centre of uprising - Métis leader Louis Riel - had returned from exile to lead the second uprising in Canadas young history.

On March 19, 1885, Riel formed a provisional government and armed force, centred in the small Saskatchewan town of Batoche. The strategy was to gain the Canadian governments attention regarding a list of grievances in the Saskatchewan Valley about land rights and political power.

A week later, about 100 North West Mounted Police and volunteers marched towards Batoche, They intended to intimidate Riel and his supporters; about 1,000 Metis and a few hundred white settlers. Most Métis communities on the prairies did not take part in the North West Rebellion.

The police met up with approximately 200 Métis south of the town near a village called Duck Lake.

A Métis and Cree approached the police waving a white blanket. An armed NWMP interpreter rode out to meet them. The Cree pushed the Mounties rifle away, an action interpreted as an attempt to grab it.

Fearing an ambush, the police and volunteers opened fire but were quickly cut down by the Métis and a handful of natives hiding in the bushes. The NWMP were forced to retreat with 10 dead and 13 wounded. Only four Métis and one Indian were killed at Duck Lake.

Riel watched the battle on horseback, holding a wooden cross and praying aloud. He hadnt planned a fight but interpreted the Métis victory as a sign from God that his cause was just.
Prime Minister John A. Macdonald mobilized a militia to suppress the North West Rebellion and he used the fledgling railway to quickly transport troops into action. (As portrayed in Canada: A People's History)
Prime Minister John A. Macdonald mobilized a militia to suppress the North West Rebellion and he used the fledgling railway to quickly transport troops into action. (As portrayed in Canada: A People's History)

The Battle of Duck Lake was costly for Riel. He lost the support of most of the white settlers who rejected armed conflict.

Throughout the prairies, the eruption of violence increased the threat of an Indian uprising. Settlers in Edmonton retreated to an old fort fearing 2,000 armed Cree warriors on the nearby reserves.

Lovisa McDougal helped other settlers prepare old guns and ammunition at the fort:

"We are living in the most intense excitement. We expect any hour to hear the Indians have broken out (...) Messengers have been sent from Riel to our Indians across the river ( ..) Word has been sent around to all the Indians north of us."

But the next flashpoint of the Rebellion was at an isolated Saskatchewan settlement called Frog Lake (near present day Lloydminster).

On April 2, 1885 Cree warriors rode to Frog Lake to demand food. When the local Indian agent (a non-native government representative) refused to give them food, he was shot. The warriors looted the settlement and murdered nine settlers, including two priests.

Louis Goulet witnessed the attack:

"I could hear gun shots and whoops coming from everywhere. The Indians were drunk with ferocity.

I saw Father Marchand, one of the two priests, fall on his knees, arms crossed, yes, raised to heaven. He was gunned down on the spot. I never saw him move again..."

The murders at Frog Lake grabbed newspaper headlines across the country. Although Riel did not have firm support among the prairie natives, the massacre sent a strong message to Ottawa.

Prime Minister Macdonald sought to pacify some native bands with increased food rations. In response, the powerful Blackfoot leader Crowfoot pledged to avoid the conflict. A full-scale Indian uprising was averted.

Macdonald also mobilized a militia and used the fledgling railway to quickly transport troops west. The quick mobilization of federal troops marked the beginning of the end of the Rebellion. About 800 men, lead by General Frederick Middleton, began a long march to Batoche, the centre of the rebel forces.
About 800 men, lead by General Frederick Middleton, began a long march to Batoche, the centre of the rebel forces. Other troops were sent to Edmonton and Fort Battleford to suppress the North West Rebellion.
About 800 men, lead by General Frederick Middleton, began a long march to Batoche, the centre of the rebel forces. Other troops were sent to Edmonton and Fort Battleford to suppress the North West Rebellion.

Despite their small numbers, the Metis put up a fierce resistance during the Rebellion lead by Gabriel Dumont, a brilliant military leader. He employed guerrilla warfare tactics throughout the conflict, demoralizing the government troops with quick strikes.

But eventually the numbers played against the Métis.

On May 9th, Middletons troops attacked about 350 Métis at Batoche.

The Métis put up a fierce struggle. Riel walked among his troops holding a crucifix and yelling "Fire, in the name of the Father! Fire, in the name of the Son! Fire in the name of the Holy Ghost!"

Finally the Métis were overwhelmed.

"We had no more ammunition; the troops advanced and our men came out of their trenches; it was then they were killed," said Gabriel Dumont. " The balance sheet of these four days of desperate fighting was for us three wounded, and twelve dead, as well as a child killed, the only victim ... of the famous Gatling gun."

Dumont escaped to the States. On May 15, Riel was found by two scouts and surrendered.


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Fury with Ottawa creates shaky alliances on the prairies
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Return From Exile
Louis Riel comes home to lead his people
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The Fate of Louis Riel
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