Louis Riel - The Rebellion

Over the winter of 1885, tension began to mount among the Indian tribes as they fell victim to hunger and disease and the Indian agents did not have the resources necessary to relieve their suffering. As of 1885, the Indians realized that their situation was similar to that of the Métis. Thus it was altogether natural that they turned to Riel. On March 19, the Feast of St. Joseph, Riel established a provisional government and took possession of the local church as his headquarters. Pierre Parenteau was chosen the first president and Gabriel Dumont was chosen adjutant-general. However, following the formation of the Provisional Government, Riel became aware that his authority was becoming weaker; the Church was hostile because the clergy played no role in the new nation and the English-speaking Métis and settlers refused to take up arms. Riel found himself again supported only by the French-speaking Métis and the Indians. He decided to capture Fort Carlton which he considered essential to his operations. He wanted to occupy it without violence, but the Mounted Police reinforced its garrison. Thus Riel could only negotiate or attack. Opting for negotiation, Riel sent Charles Nolin and Ambroise Lépine to demand that Major Crozier surrender the fort to him. In return he would let Crozier and his men go free. There was no time to conclude the negotiations since fighting broke out at Duck Lake on March 26.

Major Crozier had left Fort Carlton with 56 Mounted Policemen and 41 civilian volunteers to stop Riel. Led by Gabriel Dumont, the Métis met them at Duck Lake. Dumont succeeded in drawing the troops into a valley where Crozier was forced to come to a halt. Two horsemen, Isidore Dumont and Falling Sand, a Cree Chief, came forward to meet them. Believing they wished to parley, Crozier also advanced, accompanied by a guide named McKay. All four men stopped in the middle of the valley and Crozier extended his hand as a gesture of friendship. Thinking they had been betrayed, Falling Sand made a grab for McKay's rifle. The guide fired and Isidore Dumont fell dead from his horse. The battle of Duck Lake had begun. After forty minutes, with his force decimated, Crozier gave the order to retreat. Seventeen members of the government force had been killed and several were wounded in the battle. Further casualties were avoided when Riel intervened to prevent Dumont from pursuing and killing all the retreating soldiers.

This battle made the Indians and Métis realize that the Canadians were not invincible. Soon war whoops and cries of revenge rang out among the Indian tribes. Two hundred Cree Indians attacked Battleford and Fort Pitt, killing 6. At Frog Lake, Wandering Spirit and his Indians murdered the Indian agent, Thomas Quinn and two priests, Father Fafard and Father Marchand. The Frog Lake incident prompted the Canadian government to intervene. Up until this time, John A. Macdonald had not taken events in the West seriously, but the Frog Lake massacre quickly caught his attention. The government took two measures; the first was to increase the amount of money provided to the Indians for food. This was a wise decision for, their hunger satisfied, some of the Indians remained on the reserves. The second measure was to mobilize a military force of 5,000 men under the command of Major-General Frederick Dobson Middleton. Thanks to the newly-built railroad, the troops were in Winnipeg 10 days after the battle at Duck Lake. Three columns of troops were then dispatched to the centres of disturbance in Saskatchewan.

Gabriel Dumont and 350 Métis were to defend Batoche. Dumont believed that the only effective way of accomplishing this was through "Indian warfare," attacking quickly by surprise than immediately withdrawing. Riel was opposed to this plan. He wanted to avoid violence as long as possible, in the hope of carrying negotiations through to a successful conclusion. This attitude had disastrous consequences for the Métis, as it enabled Middleton to advance to Batoche in safety. Dumont then decided to set a trap for him at Fish Creek. On April 24, Riel and Dumont set out from Batoche with 200 Métis. As they arrived at Fish Creek, Riel changed his mind and wanted the Métis to return to Batoche. At that moment a messenger brought word to them that a Mounted Police detachment was approaching Batoche from the direction of Qu'Appelle. Dumont sent 50 men back to defend the settlement, under Riel's leadership. With Gabriel Dumont in command, the battle of Fish Creek ended in a stalemate which the Métis regarded as a victory because they had succeeded in checking the Canadians' advance.

Meanwhile, in Batoche, Riel was beginning to have doubts about the decisions he had made. Reports indicated that troops had arrived in the vicinity of Batoche. In despair, he appealed to Poundmaker and Big Bear for help, but they would not arrive in time.


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