Agnes Christina Laut.

The conquest of the great Northwest: being the story of the ..., Volumes 1-2 online

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the Company servants on Lake Winnipeg. Fishing
failed. Winter closed the lake to travel. The men
went forward on foot along the east shore south-
ward for Red River. Daily as they tramped, their
strength dwindled and the cold increased. A chance
rabbit, a prairie chicken, moss boiled in water —
kept them from starvation, but finally two could
journey no farther and lay down on the wind-swept
ice to die. The third hurried desperately forward,
hoping against hope, doggedly resolved if he must

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perish to die hard. Suddenly, a tinkling of dog
bells broke the winter stillness and the pack trains
of Northwest hunters came galloping over the ice.
In a twinkling, the overjoyed colonist had signaled
them and told his story, and in less time than it takes
to relate, the Nor'Westers were oflF to the rescue.
The three starving men were carried to the North-
west fort at Winnipeg River where they were cared
for till they regained strength. Then they were given
food enough to supply them for the rest of the way
to the settlement. Plainly — if the Nor'Westers' op-
position to Lord Selkirk's colony had been confined
to trickery at the ports of sailing, there would be no
tragedy to relate; but the next year witnessed an
aggressive change of policy on both sides, which had
fatal consequences.



Notes to Chapter XXVI. — The data for this chapter are
mainly drawn from H. B. C. papers, minute books and memo-
rials. There are also some very important letters in the Canadian
Archives, namely on 1897 Report— State Papers of Lower
Canada — letters of Simon MacGillivray ; also in 1886 Report,
letters of Miles MacDonell to Lord Selkirk on the colony. I
had made in the Public Records Office of London exact trans-
cript of all confidential state papers bearing on this era. These
also refer to the hostility of MacKenzie and MacGillivray.
Donald Gunn who was one of the colonists of 18 13, is, of course,
the highest authority on the emigration of that year. Three
volumes throw sidelights on the events of this and the suc-
ceeding chapter, though it must be observed all are partisan
statements; namely, Narrative of Occurrences on the Indian
Country y London, 181 7," which is nothing more or less than a
brief for the Nor 'Westers; '* Statement Respecting Earl of Sel-
kirk's Settlements " London, 181 7, which is the H. B. C. side of

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the story: and ''Amos* Report of Trials" London, 1820; also
extremely partisan. The scope of this work does not admit of
ampler treatment, but in view of the coming centenary of
colonization in the West, it should be interesting to know that
the heirs of Lord Selkirk have some three thousand letters
bearing on this famous colony and its disputes.

I should not need to explain here that the novel, " Lords of
the North," was not written as history, but as fiction, to portray
the most picturesqueperiod in Canadian life, and the story was
told as from a Nor* Wester, not because the author sided wtth the
Nor' Westers in their fght, but because the Nor' Westers sending
their brigades from Montreal to the Pacific afforded the story-
teller as a Nor* Wester a broader and more dramatic field than
the narrator could have had telling it as a Hudson's Bay parti-
san. Let me explain why. The only expedition sent from
Montreal west by the H. B. C. at that time was a dismal fiasco
in a region where the story of the stolen wife did not lead. On
the other hand, the N. W. C. canoes that left Montreal in 181 5
led directly to the region traversed by the unfortunate captive.
Therefore, I told the story as a Nor Wester and was surprised
to receive furious letters of defense from H. B. C. descer^dants.
Apart from this disguise and one or two intentional disguises
in names and locale, I may add that every smallest detail is
taken from facts on the life at that time. These disguises I
used because I did not feel at liberty to flaunt as fiction names
of people whose grandchildren are prominent among us to-day;
certainly not to flaunt the full details of the captive woman's
sufferings when her son has been one of the most distinguished
men in Canada.

Robertson's letters — ^unpublished — contain the most graphic
description of the West as a coming empire that I have ever read.
There is no mistaking where Selkirk ^ot his inspiration — ^why
he decided to send settlers to Manitoba instead of Ontario. More
of Robertson will follow in a subsequent chapter.



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CHAPTER XXVn

1813-1820

THE COMING OF THE COLONISTS CONTINTJED — ^MAC-
DONELL ATTEMPTS TO CARRY OUT THE RIGHTS
OF FEUDALISM ON RED RTVER—NOR' WESTERS
RESENT— THE COLONY DESTROYED AND DIS-
PERSED — SELKIRK TO THE RESCUE — LAJDiON-
IERE'S long voyage — CLARKE IN ATHABASCA.

YEARLY the Hudson's Bay boats now brought
their little quota of settlers for Red River.
On June 28, 1813, more than ninety em-
barked in The Prince 0} Wales at Stromness. Ser-
vants and laborers took passage on The Eddystone.
On the third ship — a small brig — ^went missionaries
to Labrador, Moravian Brethren. More diverse
elements could not have made up a colony. There
were young girls coming out alone to a lawless land
to make homes for aged parents the next year. Sit-
ting disconsolate on all their earthly belongings done
up in canvas bags, were an old patriarch and his
wife evicted from Scottish home, coming to battle
in the wilderness without children's aid. Irish
Catholics, staid Scotch Presbyterians, dandified

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Glasgow clerks, rough,, grufif, blufif, red-cheeked
Orkneymen, younger sons of noble families taking
service in the wilds as soldiers of fortune, soft speak-
ing, shy, demure Moravian sisters and brethren —
made up the motley throng crowding the decks of
the vessels at Stromness.

As the capstan chains were clanking their sing-
song of "anchor up,'^ there was the sudden confu-
sion of a conscription ofl&cer rushing to arrest a young
emigrant. He had been the lover of a Highland
daughter and had deserted following her to Red
River. Then sails were spread to a swelling breeze.
While the young girl was still gazing disconsolately
over the railing toward the vanishing form of her
lover, the shores began to recede, the waters to
widen. The farewell figures on the wharf huzzahed.
Men and women on deck waved their bonnets — ^all
but the old couple sitting alone on the canvas sacks.
Tears blurred their vision when they saw the hills
of their native land fade and sink forever on the
horizon of the sea.

Two days later, there was a cry of "Sail Ho!" and
the little fleet pursued an American privateer towing
a British captive. The privateer cuts the tow rope
and shows heels to the sea. Darkness falls, and
when morning comes neither captive nor captor is in
sight. The passage is swift across a remarkably

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easy sea — good winds, no gales, no plots, no muti-
nies; and the ships are in the straits of Hudson's
Bay by the end of July; but typhus fever has broken
out on The Prince of Wales. Daily the bodies of
the dead are lowered over decks to a watery grave.
At the. straits Jthe boat with the Moravian mission-
aries strikes south for Labrador. August 12th, the
other ships run up the narrow rock-girt harbor of
Churchill, past the stone-walled ruins of the fort
destroyed by La Perouse to the new modem fur
post.

It is not deemed wise to keep the ill and the well
together. The former are given quarters under
sheeting tents in the ruins of the old stone fort. The
rest go on by land and boat south to York. The
forests that used to surround Churchill have been
burnt back for twenty miles, and when the fever
patients recover, they retreat to the woods for the
winter; all but the old couple who winter in the
stone fort whose ruins are typical of their own lives.
Fine weather favors the settlers' journey south,
though this wilderness travel with ridge stones
that cut their feet and swamps to mid-waist, gives
them a foretaste of the trail leading to their Promised
Land. Fifty miles distant from York, they run
short of food and must boil nettle leaves; but hunger
spurs speed. Next night they are on the shores of

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Nelson River round a huge bonfire kindled to signal
York Fort for boats to ferry the Nelson.

April, 1814, the colonists are again united. .Those
who wintered at Churchill sled down to York. On
the way over the snow, Angus McKay's wife gives
birth to a child. There are not provisions enough
for the other colonists to wait with McKay, but they
put up his sheeting tent for him, and bank it warmly
with buffalo robes, and give him of their scant stores,
and leave the lonely Highlander with musket and a
roaring fire, on guard against wolves. What were
the thoughts of the woman within the tent only the
pioneer heart may guess. June ist, all the colonists
were welcomed to Red River by Miles MacDonell,
who gave to each two Indian ponies, one hundred
acres, ammunition and firearms. Of implements to
till the soil, there is not one. There was no other
course but to join the buflfalo hunters of Pembina
and lay up a supply of meat for the year. Then
began a life of wandering and suffering. Those
families that could, remained at the Colony Build-
ings while the men hunted. Those who had neither
the money nor the credit to buy provisions, followed
hunters afield. The snow was late in falling, but
the winter had set in bitterly cold. There was neither
canoeing nor sleighing. Over the wind-swept plains
trudged the colonists, ill-clad against such cold,

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camping at nights in the hospitable tepee of wander-
ing Indians or befriended with a chance meal by
passing hunters. At Pembina log cabins with sod
roofs were knocked up for wintering quarters, and
the place was called Fort Daer after one of Selkirk's
names. No matter what happened afterward, let
it be placed to the everlasting credit of the buffalo
hunters; their kindness this winter of 1814-15 saved
the settlers from perishing of starvation. Settlers
do not make good buflFalo runners. The Plain
Rangers shared their hunt with the newcomers,
loaned them horses, housed men and women, helped
to build cabins and provided furs for clothing.

They had arrived in June. The preceding Janu-
ary of 1814, Miles MacDonell had committed the
cardinal error of the colony. He was, of course,
only carrying out Selkirk's ideas. What the motive
was matters little. The best of motives paves the
way to the blackest tragedies. Old World feudalism
threw down its challenge to New World democracy.
Selkirk had ordered that intruders on his vast domain
must be treated as poachers, "resisted with physical
force if you have the means." Conscientiously,
Selkirk believed that he had the same right to exclude
hunters from the fenceless prairies as to order
poachers from his Scottish estates.

On January 8, 1814, Miles MacDonell, in the
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name of Lord Selkirl^ forbade anyone, "the North-
west Company or any persons whatsoever," taking
provisions, dried meat, food of any sort by land or
water from Assiniboia, except what might be needed
for traveling, and this only by license. This meant
the stoppage of all hunting in a region as large as the
British Isles. It meant more. All the Northwest
brigades depended on the buflEalo meat of Red River
for their food. It meant the crippling of the North-
west Company.

MacDonell averred that he issued the proclamation
to prevent starvation. This was nonsense. If he
feared starvation, his Hudson's Bay hunters could
have killed enough buflFalo in three months to sup-
port five thousand colonists as the Northwesters
supported five thousand men — ^let alone a sparse
settlement of three hundred souls.

The Nor'Westers declared that McDonell had
issued the order because he knew the War of 1812 had
cut off their Montreal supplies and they were de-
pendent solely on Red River. Proofs seemed to
justify the charge, for Peter Fidler, the Hudson's
Bay man, writing in his diary on June 21, 1814, be-
wails "if the Captain (MacDonell) had only perse-
vered, he could have starved them (the Nor'Westers)
out."

The Nor'Westers ignored the order with the in-
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diflFerence of supreme contempt. Not so the Half-
breeds and Indians! What meant this taking of
their lands by a great Over-lord beyond the seas?
Since time immemorial had the Indians wandered
free as wind over the plains. Who was this "chief
of the land workers," "governor of the gardeners/^
that he should interdict their hunts?

"You are to enforce these orders wherever you
have the physical means/' Selkirk instructed Mac-
Donell. It will be remembered that the buffalo
hunter between Pembina and the Missouri came back
to Red River by two trails, (i) west to Pembina, (2)
north to Souris. A party of armed Hudson's Bay
men led by John Warren came on the Northwest
hunters west of Pembina — in American territory —
and at bayonet point seized the pemmican stores
of those Plain Rangers who had helped the wander-
ing colonists. Then John Spencer with more men
ascended the Assiniboine armed with a sheriflE's
warrant and demanded admittance to the North-
west fort of Souris. Pritchard, the Nor'Wester in-
side, bolted the gates fast and asked what in thunder
such impertinence meant. Spencer passed his war-
rant in through the wicket. Pritchard called back
a very candid and disrespectful opinion of such a
warrant, adding if they wanted in, they would have
to break in; he would not open. The warrant

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authorizing Spencer "to break open posts, locks and
doors," his men at once hacked down palisades and
drew the staples of the iron bolts. Six hundred
bags of pemmican were seized and only enough re-
turned to convey the Nor'Westers beyond the limits
of Selkirk's domain.

When news of this was carried down to the annual
meeting of Nor'Westers at Fort William, in July,
1 814, the effect can be more readily guessed than
told. Rumors true and untrue filled the air; how
Nortliwest canoes had been held up on the Assini-
boine; how cannon had been pointed across Red
River to stop the incoming Northwest express; how
the colonists refused to embroil themselves in a fur
traders' war; how Peter Fidler threatened to flog
men who refused to fight. Such news to the haughty
Nor' Westers was a fuse to dynamite. "It is the first
time the Nor'Westers have ever permitted them-
selves to be insulted," declares William McGillivray.
The fiery partners planned their campaign. At any
cost "a decisive blow must be struck." Cuthbert
Grant, the Plain Ranger, is to keep his hand on all
the buflfalo hunters. James Grant of Fond du Lac
and Red Lake, Minnesota, is to see to it that the
Pillager Indians are staunch to Nor'Westers. Dun-
can Cameron, who had worked so daimtlessly in
Albany region and who had title to the captaincy of

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a Canadian regiment, was to don his red regimentals,
sword and all, and hold the Forks at Red River to
win the colonists across to the Nor'Westers. And
on the Assiniboine — it is to be a MacDonell against
a MacDonell; he of the murderous work in the
Albany region with revenge in his heart for the death
of his brother at Hudson's Bay hands — ^Alex Mac-
Donell is to command the river and keep the trail
westward open.

^'Something serious will take place,^^ writes Alex
MacDonell on August 5, 1814. ^^Nothing hut the
complete downfall of the colony will satisfy some by
fair or foul means — So here is at them with all my
heart and energy, ^^ "/ wish^^^ wrote Cameron to
Grant of Minnesota, ^Hhat some of your Pilleurs
(Pillagers) who are fuU of mischief and plunder
would pay a hostile visit to these sons of gunpowder and
riot (the Hudson's Bay). They might make good
booty if they went cunningly to work; not that I wish -
butchery; God forbid^

Dangerous enough was the mood of the North-
westers returning to their field without adding fuel
to flame; but no sooner were they back than Miles
MacDonell served them with notices in Lord Sel-
kirk's name, to remove their posts from Assiniboia
within six months, otherwise the order ran, "i/ after
this notice^ your buildings are continued^ I shall be

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— — ^— —

under the necessity oj razing them to the founda-
tions.^^

As might have been expected, events came thick
and fast. Cameron spoke Gaelic. In six months
he had won the confidence of the settlers. Dances
were given at the Nor'Westers' fort by Cameron all
the winter of 1814-15, the bagpipes skirling reels
and jigs dear to the hearts of the colonists, who little
dreamed that the motive was to dance them out of
the colony. The late daylight of the frosty winter
mornings would see the pipers Green and Hector
MacDonell plying their bagpipes, marching proudly
at the head of a line of settlers along the banks of Red
River coming home from a wild night of it. If the
colonists objected to fighting, Cameron kindly advised,
let them bring the brass cannon and muskets from
the Colony Buildings across to Fort Gibraltar. Miles
MacDonell had no right to compel them to fight,
and the colony cannon were actually hauled across
in sleighs one night to the Northwest fort. Then
weird tales flew from ear to ear of danger from
Indian attack. Half-breeds were heard passing the
colony cabins at midnight singing their war songs.
Mysterious fusillades of musketry broke from the
darkness on other nights. Some of the people were
so terrified toward summer that they passed the
nights sleeping in boats on the river. Others ap-

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pealed to Cameron for protection. The crafty Nor'-
Wester oflFered to convey all, who wished to leave,
free of cost and with full supply of provisions, to
Eastern Canada. One hundred and forty people
went bodily across to the Nor'Westers. Is it any
wonder? They had not known one moment of
security since coming to this Promised Land. They
had looked for peace and found themselves pawns
in a desperate game between rival traders. Then
Cameron played his trump card. Before the annual
brigade set out for Fort William in June of 1 815, he
sent across a legal warrant to arrest Miles Mac-
Donell for plundering the Nor'Westers' pemmican.
MacDonell was desperate. His people were desert-
ing. The warrant, though legal in Canadian courts,
had been issued by a justice of the peace, who was
a Nor' West partner — ^Archibald Norman McLeod.
For two weeks the Plains Rangers had been hang-
ing on the outlskirts of the colony firing desultory
shots in an innocent diversion that brought visions
of massacre to the terrified people. A chance ball
whizzed past the ear of someone in Fort Douglas.
MacDonell fired a cannon to clear the marauders
from the surrounding brushwood. The eflfect was
instantaneous. A shower of bullets peppered Fort
Douglas. One of the fort cannon exploded. In the
confusion, whether from the enemy's shots or their

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own, four or five were wounded, Mr. Warren fatally.
The people begged MacDonell to save the colony by
giving himself up. On June 21st, the governor sur-
rendered and was taken along with Cameron's bri-
gade and the deserting colonists to Montreal for
trial. Needless to tell, he was never tried. Mean-
time, Cameron had no sooner gone, than the rem-
nant of the colony was surrounded by Cuthbert
Grant's Rangers. The people were warned to save
themselves by flight. Nightly, cabins and hay ricks
blazed to the sky. In terror of their lives, abandon-
ing everything — the people launched out , on Red
River and fled in blind fright for Lake Winnipeg.
The Colony Buildings were burned to the ground.
The houses were plundered; the people dispersed.
By June 25th, of Selkirk's colony there was not a
vestige but the ruined fields and trampled crops.
Inside Fort Douglas were only three Hudson's Bay
men.

The summer brigade from York usually reached
Lake Winnipeg in August. The harried settlers
camped along the east shore waiting for help from
the North. To their amazement, help came from
an opposite direction. One morning in August they
were astonished to see a hundred canoes sweep up
as if from Canada, flying the Hudson's Bay flag.

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Signals brought the voyageurs ashore — two hundred
Frenchmen led by Selkirk's agent, Colin Robertson,
bound from Quebec up the Saskatchewan to Atha-
basca. Robertson had all along advocated fighting
fire with fire; employing French wood-runners in-
stead of timorous Orkneymen, and forcing the proud
Nor'Westers to sue for union by invading the richest
field of furs — Athabasca, far beyond the limits of
Red River. And here was Robertson carrying out
his aggressive policy, with "fighting John Clarke"
of Astor's old company as second in command. The
news he brought restored the faint courage of the
people. Lord Selkirk was coming to Red River
next year. A new governor had been appointed at
£i,ooo a year — Robert Semple, a famous traveler,
son of a Philadelphia merchant. Semple had em-
barked for Hudson's Bay a few months after Rob-
ertson had sailed to raise recruits in Quebec. With
Semple were coming one hundred and sixty more
colonists, a Doctor Wilkinson as secretary, and a
Lieutenant Holte of the Swedish Marines to com-
mand an armed brig that was to patrol Lake Winni-
peg and prevent the Nor'Westers entering Assini-
boia.

Robertson sent Clarke with the French voyageurs
on to Athabasca. Clarke departed boasting he would
send every "Nor'Wester out a prisoner to the bay."

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Robertson led the colonists back to the settlement.
When Duncan Cameron, came triumphantly from
the Nor'Westers' annual meeting, he was surprised
to find the colony arisen from the ashes of its ruin
stronger than ever. The first thing Robertson did
was to recapture the arms of the settlement. On
October 15th, as Cameron was riding home after dark
he felt the bridle of his horse suddenly seized, and
peered forward to find himself gazing along the steel
barrel of a pistol. A moment later, Hudson's Bay
men had jerked him from his horse. He was beaten
and dragged a prisoner before Robertson, who coolly
told him he was to be held as hostage till all the can-
non of the colonists were restored. Twelve Nor'-
Westers at once restored cannon and muskets to
Fort Douglas, and Cameron was allowed to go on
parole, breathing fire and vengeance till Governor
Semple came.

Semple with one hundred and sixty colonists and
some one hundred Hudson's Bay men arrived at
Kildonan on November 3rd. Robertson was deeply
disappointed in the new governor. A man of iron
hand and relentless action was needed. Semple was
gentle, scholarly, courteous, temporizing — a man of
peace, not war. He would show them, he fore-
warned Nor'Westers, whether Selkirk could enforce
his rights. Forewarned is forearmed. The Nor'-

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Westers rallied their Plain Rangers to the Assini-
boine and Red River. "Beware," "look out for
yourselves," the friendly Indians daily warned.
"Listen, white men! The Nor^ Westers are arming
the Bois Bruits!" To these admonitions Semple's
answer was formal notice that if the Nor'Westers
harmed the colonists "the consequences would be
terrible to themselves; a shock that would be heard
from Montreal to Athabasca." Robertson raged in-
wardly. Well he knew from long service with the
Nor'Westers that such pen and ink drivel was not
the kind of warfare to appall those fighters.

Across the river in what is now St. Boniface, there
lived in a Uttle sod-thatched hut, J. Ba'tiste Laji-
moniere and his wife, Marie Gaboury. Robertson
sent for Ba'tiste. Would the voyageur act as scout?
"But Marie," interjects Ba'tiste. "Oh, that's all
right," Robertson assures him. "Marie and the



Online LibraryAgnes Christina LautThe conquest of the great Northwest: being the story of the ..., Volumes 1-2 → online text (page 35 of 50)