The North-West Rebellion (or North-West Resistance or the Saskatchewan Rebellion) of 1885 was a brief and unsuccessful uprising by the Métis people of the District of Saskatchewan under Louis Riel against the Dominion of Canada, which they felt had failed to address their concerns for the survival of their people. Despite some early victories at Duck Lake, Fish Creek and Cut Knife, it ultimately resulted in the destruction of all Métis and allied Aboriginal forces, the hanging of Louis Riel, and increased tensions between British Canada and French Canada.
After the Red River Rebellion
of 1869-1870, many of the Métis moved from Manitoba
to Saskatchewan, then part of the Northwest Territories
, founding a settlement at Batoche
on the South Saskatchewan River
. However, as in Manitoba, settlers from Ontario
began to arrive, and land began to be arranged in the square concession system of English Canada, rather than the seigneurial system
of strips along a river that the Métis learned from their French-Canadian
ancestors. In addition to this the buffalo, for generations the Métis' chief source of food, were being hunted to extinction by the Hudson's Bay Company
and other, unaffiliated hunters.
In 1884, the Métis (including the Anglo-Métis) asked Louis Riel to return from the United States, where he had fled after the Red River Rebellion, to appeal to the government on their behalf. The government gave a vague response. In March 1885, Riel, Gabriel Dumont, Honoré Jackson (a.k.a. Will Jackson), and others set up the Provisional Government of Saskatchewan, believing that they could influence the federal government the same way they had in 1869. However, there was now a railway line reaching from Ontario as far as the southeastern part of what is now the province of Saskatchewan, and the North-West Mounted Police (NWMP) had been created. Riel lacked support from both the English settlers of the area and many of the non-Métis natives, and due to his belief that God had sent him back to Canada as a prophet, the Catholic Church no longer supported him either. The Catholic priest, Albert Lacombe, obtained assurances from Crowfoot that his Blackfoot warriors would not participate.
Battle of Duck Lake
On March 26
defeated a small group of Prince Albert Volunteers
and North-West Mounted Police
led by their superintendent Leif Newry Fitzroy Crozier
at Duck Lake
, outside Batoche. In response, the federal government sent 3000 troops under Major General Frederick Middleton
to the area, where Middleton incorporated the 2000 English volunteers and NWMP who had organized themselves.
Frog Lake Massacre
On April 2
, near Frog Lake, Saskatchewan
(now in Alberta) a Cree
uprising led by Wandering Spirit
attacked a small town.
Angered by what seemed to be unfair treaties by the Canadian government and the dwindling buffalo population, their main source of food, Big Bear and his Cree decided to rebel after the successful Métis victory at Duck Lake. They gathered all the white settlers in the area into the local church. Thomas Quinn, the town's Indian agent, was killed after a disagreement broke out. The Cree then attacked the settlers. Nine people were killed and three were taken captive.
The massacre prompted the Canadian government to take notice of the growing unrest in the North-West Territories. The rebellion was eventually put down, and Wandering Spirit, the war chief responsible for the Frog Lake Massacre, was hanged.
Battle of Fish Creek
On 24 April 1885
at Fish Creek, Saskatchewan
, there was a major Métis victory over the government forces attempting to quell the rebellion. The reversal, though not decisive enough to ultimately alter the outcome of the war, halted Major General Frederick Middleton's advance on Batoche, where the Métis would later make their final stand.
Battle of Cut Knife
On May 2, 1885 Lieutenant Colonel William Otter
was defeated by Poundmaker
's war chief Fine-Day
at the Battle of Cut Knife
. A flying column
of Canadian militia
and army regulars
was defeated despite their use of a Gatling gun
Battle of Batoche
On May 9, 1885 Middleton attacked Batoche
itself. The Métis ran out of ammunition after three days of battle and resorted to firing nails and pebbles from their guns, until they were forced to retreat. Riel was captured on May 15, while Dumont and other participants escaped across the border to the Montana region of the United States.
Battle of Frenchman's Butte
May 28, 1885 Major General Thomas Bland Strange
brought an NWMP detachment from Calgary
, but they were unable to defeat a Cree force under Big Bear
at Frenchman's Butte at the end of May.
Battle of Loon Lake
On June 3, 1885 a small detachment of North-West Mounted Police under the command of Major Sam Steele
caught up to a band of Cree under Big Bear who were moving northward after their victory at Frenchman's Butte. The Cree were almost out of ammunition, and were forced to flee after a short exchange of fire.
Demoralized, defenceless, and with no hope of relief with the surrender of the Métis and Poundmaker, most of the Cree surrendered over the next few weeks. Poundmaker surrendered first. Big Bear surrendered later after a chase by the Mounties and after running out of food. The government was able to pacify the Cree and Assiniboine by sending them food and other supplies; Poundmaker and Big Bear were sentenced to prison, and eight other Aboriginal leaders were hanged. Riel was tried
and hanged as well, sparking a national controversy between French and British Canada.
The Canadian Pacific Railway played a key role in the Rebellion, transporting federal troops to the area in a fraction of the time that it took to send troops in response to Riel's previous rebellion. The successful operation gave the floundering and incomplete railway enough political support to receive sufficient funds to finish the line completely.
In what is now Saskatchewan, the first modern style election followed shortly after the fighting with the Northwest Territories election of 1885. A Scrip Commission was also dispatched to the Saskatchewan Valley to finally address the problem of Metis land claims.
Stewart Sterling's Red Trails
(1935) depicted the pulp
hero Eric Lewis, a Mountie of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police. Throughout the book he is engaged in "keeping peace and order" during the North-West Rebellion, helped by Sergeant Tim Clone and by Tim's daughter Genevieve Clone, who is Lewis's beloved (see
).There is also a young adults novel called Battle Cry at Batoche
written by B.J Bayle that portrays the events of the North-West Resistance in a Metis perspective
Barkwell, Lawrence J. Batoche 1885: The Militia of the Metis Liberation Movement
. Winnipeg: Manitoba Metis Federation, #0-9683493-3-1, .