Agnes Christina Laut.

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

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"I am not mortally wounded! Take me to the
fort," gasps Semple. Grant turns to call aid. The
Deschamps stab the Governor to death on the spot.
The firing lasts less than fifteen minutes, but twenty
of the Hudson's Bay men have fallen, including all
the officers, four colonists, fifteen servants. Captain
Rodgers is advancing to surrender when he is hacked
down. Of the twenty-seven who followed out,
Pritchard, the former Nor'Wester, is saved by sur-
render; and five men escape by swimming across
the river. As for the cannon, Bourke is trundUng

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it back as fast as the horses can gallop. McLean,
the settler, has been slain. One, only, of the Plain
Rangers, Batoche, has been killed ; only one wounded
— Trottier of Pembina; and Cuthbert Grant at last
succeeds in stopping the infuriated rabble's advance
and drawing oflf to camp west of Seven Oaks.

No need to describe the blackness of the work
that night on the prairie. The Half-breeds wreaked
their pent-up vengeance on the bodies of the slain.
Let it be said to the credit of the Nor'Westers, they
had no part in this ghoulish work. The worst mis-
creants were the Deschamps of the Missouri, whose
blood-stained hands no decent Indian would ever
touch after that night. In camp, Pierre Faljon, the
rhymster, was chanting the glories of the victory, and
Pritchard was pleading with Grant for the lives of
the women and children. For years afterward —
yes, even to this day — terrible stories were told of the
threats against the families of the colonists; but let
it be stated there was never at any time the shadow
of a vestige of a wrong contemplated against the
women and children. What Indians might do, old
Chief Peguis had shown. What the Deschamps,
who were half-white men, might do — the mutilated
bodies of the dead at Seven Oaks revealed.

Pritchard was sent across to the fort with word
that the colonists must save themselves by surrender.

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Otherwise, Grant could not answer for their safety
among his wild Plain Rangers. The panic of the
two hundred people inside was pitiable. For a
second time they were to be driven houseless to the
wilderness, and yet the bolder spirits were for man-
ning the fort and resisting siege. If only they could
have known that Selkirk was coming; but Laji-
moniere lay captive in the butter-vat prison at Fort
William, and Miles MacDonell had not yet come.
Without help, how could two hundred people sub-
sist inside the palisades? A white sheet was tied on
the end of a pole, and the colonists marched out on
June 22nd, at eight in the morning, Grant standing
guard to protect them as they embarked in eight
boats for Lake Winnipeg. Before abandoning Fort
Douglas, Angus Matheson and old Chief Peguis
gather a few of the dead and bury them in a dry
coulee near the site of the old Cree graveyard at the
south end of modem Winnipeg's Main Street. Other
bodies are buried as they lie at Seven Oaks; but the
graves are so shallow they are ripped open by the
wolves. Grant rides along the river bank to protect
the colonists from marauders till they have passed
the Rapids of St. Andrew's and are well beyond
modem Selkirk.

Beyond Selkirk, at the famous camping place of
Nettley Creek, whom should the colonists meet but

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the Nor'West partners galloping their canoes at race-
horse pace to reach the field of action before Sel-
kirk.

"What news?" calls Norman McLeod; but the
news is plain enough in the eight boat loads of de-
jected colonists.

The Nor'Westers utter a war whoop, beat the
gun' els of their canoes, shout their victory. " Thank
ProvidencCy^ writes one partner, Robert Henry,
"//wrf the battle was over before we got there, as it was
our intention to storm the fort. Our party consisted
of one hundred men, seventy firearms, two field pieces.
What our success might have been, I will not pretend
to say; but many of us must have fallen in the con-
test.^^ The Nor'Westers have always maintained
that they had not planned to attack Fort Douglas
and that the onus of blame for the fearful guilt of
Seven Oaks Massacre rested on Semple for coming
out to oppose the Half-breeds, who were going to
meet the Montreal express. Such excuse might do
for Eastern law courts, whose aim was to suppress
more than they revealed; but the facts do not sustain
such an excuse. The events are now a century past.
Let us face them without subterfuge. The time had
come, the time was bound to come, when the rights
of a Feudal Charter would conflict violently with the
strong though lawless arm of Young Democracy.

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Therein lies the significance of what apologists and
partisans have called the Skirmish of Seven Oaks.

Norman McLeod, the Justice of the Peace, hails
the harried colonists ashore at Nettley Creek. They
notice among the Northwest partners several soldiers
dressed in regimentals — mark that, those who con-
demn Selkirk for hiring De Meuron soldiers! Two
can play at the game of putting soldiers in red coats
to bluflf the Indians into believing the government is
behind the trader. The settlers notice also, care-
fully hidden under oilcloth, two or three brass cannon
in the Nor'Westers' boats. Mark that, those who
condemn Selkirk for bringing cannon along with his
bodyguard!

As justice of the peace, Norman McLeod seizes
the dead Semple's baggage for incriminating papers.
As justice of the peace — though it was queer kind of
peace — he arrests those men who escaped from
Seven Oaks, and claps them in irons that prevent
Bourke, the storekeeper, from dressing his wounds.
The colonists are then allowed to proceed to their
wintering ground amid the desolate woods of Lake
Winnipeg at Jack River.

The triumphant Nor'Westers do not wait long at
Red River. McLeod goes on to rule like a despot
in Athabasca. The others hurry back to their annual
meeting at Fort William, for. they know that Selkirk

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is coming West. Bourke and the prisoners are
carried along to be thrown into the butter-vat prison.
Dark are the plots the prisoners overhear as they
journey up Winnipeg River and Rainy Lake down to
Lake Superior. Alex McDonell of the Assiniboine,
burning for revenge as usual, urges the partners
to make ^^his Lordship pay dearly for his conduct
coming west; for I will say no more on paper — but
there — are fine quiet places along Winnipeg River,
if he comes this wayP^ And one night in camp on
Rainy Lake, Bourke, the prisoner, lying in the dark,
hears the Nor'West partners discussing affairs. Sel-
kirk's name comes up. Says Alex McDonell, " The
Half-breeds could easily capture him while he is
asleep,^^ Bourke does not hear the other's answer;
but McDonell rejoins, ^^ They could have the Indians
shoot him.^^ Were they planning to assassinate Sel-
kirk coming West? Who knows? Alex McDonell
was ever more violent than the rest. As for Selkirk,
when word of this conversation came to him, he took
care neither to come nor go by Winnipeg River.

In passing back from Red River across Winnipeg
Lake, the Nor'Westers pause to destroy that armed
Hudson's Bay schooner, which was "to sweep North-
west canoes" from the lake. Down at Fort William,
the Hudson's Bay prisoners are flung into the prison

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along with the captured scout, Lajimoniere. "Things
have gone too far; but we can throw the blame on
the Indians," says William McGillivray.

"But there was not an Indian took part in the
massacre," retorts Dr. John McLougUin, always
fair to the native races, for he has married the Indian
widow of that Alex McKay of MacKenzie's voyages
and Astor's massacred crew.

In the despatches which were stolen from Laji-
moniere, Selkirk had written to Colin Robertson
that he was coming to Red River by way of Minne-
sota to avoid clashes with the Nor'Westers at Fort
William. By July he had passed from Lake Simcoe
across Georgian Bay to the Sault. Barely had he
portaged the Sault to Lake Superior when he meets
Miles MacDonell, his special messenger, galloping
back from Red River in a narrow canoe with word
of the massacre.

What to do now? Selkirk could go on to Red
River by way of Minnesota; but his colonists are no
longer there. At the Sault are two magistrates of
the Indian country — Mr. Askin and Mr. Ermatinger.
Lord Selkirk swears out information before them
and appeals to them to come with him and arrest the
Northwest partners at Fort William. They refuse
point-blank. They will have nothing to do with this

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quaxrel between the two great fur companies — this
quarrel that really hinges on feudalism versus de-
mocracy; English law as against Canadian. To
obtain justice in Eastern Canada is impossible.
That, Selkirk has learned from a winter of futile
bickering for military protection to prevent this very
disaster. Selkirk writes fully to the new governor
of Canada — Sir John Sherbrooke — that having failed
to obtain protection from the Canadian courts he
has determined to go on, strong in his own right —
as conferred by the charter and as a justice of the
peace — to arrest the Northwest partners at Fort
William, "/aw reduced to the alternative of acting
aloney or of allowing an audacious crime to pass un-
punished. I cannot doubt it is my duly to actj though
the law may be openly resisted by a set of men accus-
tomed to consider force the only criterion of right.^^

The Nor'Westers had forcibly invaded and de-
stroyed his colony. Now he was forcibly to invade
and destroy their fort. Was his decision wise? Was
it the first misstep into the legal tangle that broke
his courage and sent him bafiied to his grave? Let
who can answer! Be it remembered that the Ca-
nadian authorities had refused him protection; that
the Canadian magistrates had refused him redress.

His DeMeuron soldiers had not worn their military
suits. He bids them don their regalia now and

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move forward with all the accouterments of war — a
feudal lord leading his retinue!

^^ Between ten and eleven this mornings the Earl
of Selkirk accompanied by his bodyguard, came up
the river in four canoes,^ writes Jasper Vandersluys,
a clerk of Fort William, on August 12, 1816. ^^ Be-
tween one and two, he (Selkirk) was followed by eleven
or twelve boats, each having from twelve to fifteen
soldiers all armed, who encamped on the opposite
shore.^^ The afternoon passed with Selkirk's men
planting cannon along the river bank, heaping can-
non bails in readiness and cleaning all muskets.
Nor'West voyageurs and their wives rush inside the
palisades. The women are sheltered in a central
building upstairs above a trapdoor. The men are
sent scurrying to hide one hundred loaded muskets
in a hay loft. In the watchtower above the gates
stand the Nor'West partners — ^William McGiUivray,
the three MacKenzies — ^Alex, son of Roderick; Ken-
neth, and old drunken, befuddled Daniel — Simon
Fraser, the explorer; several of the McDonell clan,
and Dr. John McLoughlin, shaking his head sadly
at these preparations for violence. "There has been
too much blood shed akeady," he remarks.

Next afternoon comes a Hudson's Bay messenger
from Selkirk asking for McGiUivray. McLoughlin
and Kenneth MacKenzie accompany McGiUivray

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across the river. One hour passes; two hours! The
women, watchmg from the loft windows above the
trapdoor, began to hope that a truce had been ar-
i*anged. At seven in the evening the partners had
come from the watchtower to shut the gates when
two boat loads of some sixty soldiers glide up to the
wharf. Fraser and Alex McDonell and old drunken
Daniel MacKenzie rush to slam the gates shut.
One leaf is banged when a bugle sounds! Captain
D'Orsonnens of the soldiers, shouts "To arms, to
arms," plants his foot in the gateway and with
flourishing sword rushes his men into the court-
yard "with loaded muskets and fixed bayonets,
shouting, cursing, swearing death and destruction
to all persons." .One Nor'Wester rushes to ring an
alarm bell. The others have dashed for their apart-
ments to destroy papers. In a twinkling, SeUdrk^s
men have captured every cannon in Fort William
and are knocking at the doors of the central building.
Not a gun has been fired; not a blow struck; not a
drop of blood shed; but the trampling feet terrify
the women in the attic. They crowd above the trap-
door to hold it down, when, presto! the only tragedy
of the semi-farce takes place! The crowding is too
much for the trapdoor. Down it crashes spilling
the women into the room below, just as the aston-
ished De Meurons dash into the apartment to seal all

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desks and papers. It is a question whether the
soldiers or the women received the greater shock;
but the greatest surprise of all is across the river
where the three Northwest partners are received by
Selkirk between lines of armed soldiers and are
promptly arrested, bail refused, for complicity in
the massacre of Seven Oaks. Selkirk allows them
to go back to the fort on parole for the night and
orders the liberation of those Hudson's Bay prisoners
in the butter-vat prison — Lajimoniere and the sur-
vivors of Seven Oaks, who tell my lord a tale that
sharpens his vengeance. The night passes in alarm.
Soldiers on guard at the room of each partner detect
the Nor'Westers burning papers that might be used
as evidence; and the loaded muskets are found in
the hay loft; and furs are discovered stamped R. R.
— ^H. B. C- — ^which have been rifled from some Hud-
son's Bay post.

Day dawns in a drizzling rain. Across the river
comes my Lord Selkirk, himself, with the pomp of a
war lord, bugles blowing, soldiers in the boats with
muskets on shoulders, a guard to the fore clearing
the way. The common voyageurs are forthwith
ordered to decamp to the far side of the river. Lord
Selkirk takes up quarters in the main house, the
partners being marched at bayonet point to other
quarters. For four days the farce lasts. Lord Sel-

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kirk as justice of the peace examines and commits for
trial all the partners present. The partners present
scorn his assumption of authority and formally de-
mand that the voyageurs be sent West with supplies
for the year. Selkirk's answer is to seize the voy-
ageurs' canoes and set his soldiers to using the pali-
sades of Fort William for firewood. Then, under
pretense of searching for evidence on the massacre at
Seven Oaks, he seizes all Northwest documents.
Under pretense of searching for stolen furs, he ex-
amines all stores. On August i8th, everything is in
readiness to conduct the prisoners to Eastern Canada,
all except old Daniel MacKenzie.

Drunken old MacKenzie is remanded to the prison
for special examination. MacKenzie had long since
been incapacitated for active service, and he treas-
ured a grudge against the other partners for forcing
him to resign. Why is MacKenzie being held back
by Selkirk? Before the other partners are carried
oflf, their suspicions are aroused. Perhaps they see
Miles MacDonell and the De Meurons plying the
old man in his prison with whiskey. At all events,
they command the clerks left in charge to ignore
orders from Daniel MacKenzie. They protest he
has no authority to act for the Northwest Company.
It may be they remember how they had jockeyed
John Jacob Astor out of his fort on the Pacific by a

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forced sale; and now guess the game that is being
played with Daniel MacKenzie against them. The
partners' baggage is searched. The De Meurons
turn even the pockets of the haughty partners inside
out. Then the prisoners are embarked in four large
canoes under escort of De Meuron soldiers. The
canoes are hurriedly loaded and badly crowded.
Near the Sault, on August 26th, one swamps and sinks,
drowning seven of the people, including the partner,
Kenneth MacKenzie. Allan McDonell and Doctor
McLoughlin escape by swimming ashore. At what
is now Toronto, the prisoners are at once given bail,
and they dispatch a constable to arrest Selkirk at
Fort William; but Selkirk claps the constable in
gaol for the month of November and then igno-
miniously drums him from the fort. With Selkirk,
law is to be observed only when it is English. Cana-
dian courts do not count.

Fuddled with drink, cr3dng pitiably for more,
Daniel MacKenzie passed three weeks a prisoner
in the butter vat, three more a prisoner in his own
room. Six weeks of dissipation, or else his treasured
spite against the other partners, now work so on
MacKenzie's nerves that he sends for Miles Mc-
Donell on September 19th, and offers to sell out the
Nor'Westers' possessions, worth ;£ioo,ooo, at Fort

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William, to Lord Selkirk for £<^o down, £2^000 in a
year, and the balance as soon as the whole price
could be arbitrated by arbitrators appointed by the
Lords Chief Justice of England. "/ have been
ihinkingj^ runs his rambling letter in the hand-
writing of Miles McDonell, "//krf as a partner of
the North-West Company and the only one here at
present that I can act for them myself, that all the
company s stores and property here are at my dis-
posal; that my sale of them is legal by which I can
secure to myself all the money which the concern owes
me and keep the overplus in my hands until a legal
demand be made upon me to pay to those entitled.
. . . I can not only dispose of the goods but the
soil on which they are built if I can find a purchaser. ^^
Naturally, MacKenzie finds a purchaser in my
Lord Selkirk of the Hudson's Bay and almost at once
receives his liberty. Just as McDougall had sold out
the Americans on the Columbia, so MacKenzie now
sells out the Nor'Westers at Fort William.
■ Then the old man writes rambling confessions and
accusations which — he boasts to Selkirk — contain
evidence ^Hhat will hang McGillivray^^ for the
massacre of Seven Oaks. Selkirk decides to send
him to Eastern Canada as a witness against the
partners, but before he is sent he writes circular
letters to the wintering partners of the Northwest

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Company advising them to follow his example and
save themselves from ruin by turning over their forts
to Lord Selkirk. In October he is sent East, but
by the time he reaches the Sault, his brain has cleared.
He meets John McLoughlin and other Northwest
partners returning to the Up Country and confesses
what he has done. Instead of turning witness against
them, he proceeds East to sue Selkirk for illegal im-
prisonment.

If Selkirk's first mistake was trying to enforce
feudalism on Red River and his second the raiding
of Fort William, his third error must be set down as
using an old drunkard for his tool. For the first
error, he had the excuse that English law was on his
side. For the second, he claimed that ^'Fort William
had become a den of marauders and robbers and he was
justified in holding it till the NofWesters restored
Red River y^ but for the trickery with old MacKenzie
there existed no more excuse than for the lawlessness
of the Nor'Westers. To say that Miles McDonell
wrote the letters with MacKenzie's signature and
that he engineered the trick — no more clears Selkirk
than to say that paid servants committed the most
of the crimes for the Northwest partners. It is the
one blot against the most heroic figure in the colo-
nizing of the West. And the trick fo6led no one.
Not a voyageur, not a trader, flinched in his loyalty

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to the Northwest Company. Not a man would
proceed west with the canoes for the Hudson's Bay
oflBcers.

The Lords of the North had fallen and their glory
had departed; but not a man of the service faltered
in his loyalty. It W2is a loyalty strong as the serf
for the feudal baron.

From Fort William, Selkirk's soldiers radiated to
the Northwest posts of Rainy Lake and Minnesota.
Peter Grant was brought prisoner from Fond du
Lac for obstructing the Selkirk scout, Lajimoniere.
At the Pic, at Michipicoten, at Rainy Lake, the De
Meuron soldiers appear and the Northwest forts sur-
render without striking a blow. Then Captain
D'Orsonnens sets out in December with twenty-six
men for Red River. He is guided by J. Ba'tiste
Lajimoniere and the white man who had lived among
the Ojibbways — ^Tanner. They lead him along the
iced river bed to Rainy Lake, then strike straight
westward through the snow-padded forests of Min-
nesota for the swamp lands that drain to Red River
near the Boundary. All travel by snowshoes,
bivouacking under the stars. Then a dash down
Red River by night march on the ice and the Selkirk
forces are within striking distance of Fort Douglas
by the first week of January, 1817. Wind and

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weather favor them. A howling blizzard enshrouds
earth and air. They go westward to the Assini-
boine in the wooded region now known as St. James
and Silver Heights. Here in the woods, hidden by
the snowstorm, they construct scaling ladders. On
the night of January loth, the storm is still raging.
D'Orsonnens rushes his men across to Fort Douglas.
Up with the- scaling ladders and over the walls are
the De Meurons before the Nor'Westers know they
are attacked! As fell Fort William, so falls Fort
Douglas without a blow or the loss of a life. J.
Ba'tiste learns with joy that his wife, Marie Ga-
boury, has not been murdered at all but is living safe
under old Chief Peguis' protection across Red River,
and the French woman's amazement may be guessed
when there appeared at the hut where Peguis had
left her, the wraith of the husband whom she had
believed dead for two years. Tanner, the other scout,
stays in D'Orsonnens' service till Selkirk comes.

The dispossessed Nor'Westers scatter to Lake
Winnipeg. After them marches D'Orsonnens to
Winnipeg River, where Alex McDonell is trying to
bribe the Indians to sink Selkirk's boats when he
comes in the spring. The De Meurons capture the
post at Winnipeg River, and send coureurs to recall
the scattered colonists. Alex McDonell escapes to
the interior.

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The Compiest of the Great Northwest

All the while, from June 19th to January 19th, the
colonists had been wandering like the children of
Israel in a wilderness of woes. When they had been
driven to Lake Winnipeg by the massacre, they had
begged Mr. Bird of the Saskatchewan to forward
them to Hudson Bay, whence they could take ship
for England, but Bird pointed out there was no boat
coming to the bay in 1816 large enough to carry
two hundred people. To go to the bay for the winter
would be to risk death from starvation. Better win-
ter on the good hunting and fishing grounds of Lake
Winnipeg. It was well the majority took his advice,
for the Company ships this year were locked in the
bay by the ice. Cameron, the Northwest prisoner,
and Colin Robertson, his inveterate enemy, were
both icebound at Moose. The few settlers who
pushed forward to the bay like the widow McLean,
wife of the murdered settler, passed a winter of semi-
starvation at the forts.

Bird set the colonists fishing for the winter, and
they erected huts at Jack River. Here, then, came
De Meuron soldiers in the spring of 181 7, to lead the
wandering colonists back to Red River; and to Red
River came Selkirk by way of Minnesota in the sum-
mer. For the first time the nobleman now saw the
Promised Land to which he had blazed a trail of
suffering and sacrifice and blood and devotion

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for Earth's Dispossessed of all the- world! D'Orson-
nens had given out a few packs of seed, grain and
potatoes to each settler. Rude little thatch-roofed
cabins had been knocked together with furniture ex-
temporized of trees and stumps. Round each cabin
there swayed in the yellow July light to the rippling



Online LibraryAgnes Christina LautThe conquest of the great Northwest: being the story of the ..., Volumes 1-2 → online text (page 37 of 50)