City of Regina in 1883.

These are the Prairies

Chapter Five


Through my school friends I came to know some of the Prince Albert people. Two girls about my age were the daughters of Captain Jack Allen, a famous officer of the North-West Mounted Police. He was in command of the party that ran the notorious outlaw and murderer, Almighty Voice to earth in 1897 and was wounded in the ensuing affray. He was the idol of his men, who would have followed Captain Jack as they called him, into the nether regions.

The Almighty Voice affair caused a good deal of excitement in the country at the time. There were tragedy and pathos in it, and valuable lives sacrificed, but many of the published accounts of the incidents were ill-informed and distorted. My husband was then in the employ of the Indian Department in Regina and in a position to know the true facts and we learned from Captain Allen himself many details that perhaps were not available from other sources.

Almighty Voice.

Almighty Voice was a young Indian of One Arrow's band at the Duck Lake Agency. He was a famous long-distance runner, a skilful hunter, and a general favourite with the dusky belles of the region. He came from a family that clung strongly to the old Indian customs and mode of life. He was nurtured in the warrior tradition and chafed under the restriction of reserve life.

The winter of 1894-95 was a severe one, following three drought-stricken years, and famine rode the Indian country. At that unpropitious time, the Indian Department had one of its periodic attacks of parsimony, and stark starvation was facing the native people on many of the reserves.

Occasionally, the Department loaned a few cows to certain of the Indians, the increase of which they were allowed to retain with the idea of establishing basic herds, but the original stock remained the property of the Government.

Faced with near-starvation Almighty Voice killed a cow loaned to his family, and it was promptly eaten by the Indians. The Indian Agent, following the policy laid down by the Ottawa bureaucrats, who either did not know or did not care about the conditions existing on the reserves, had the young man arrested. Pending trial on a charge of cattle stealing, he was confined in the Mounted Police guardroom. Some way or other, he got the idea that hanging was the penalty provided for his offence, and he brooded over his position.

Watching his opportunity, he made his escape and was miles away before he was missed. It was winter and the country was well wooded, affording plenty of hiding-places for an Indian familiar with the region, and the Police parties looking for the fugitive were not at first successful. Then one day, Sergeant Colebrooke from the Prince Albert Mounted Police detachment, accompanied by a Metis scout, was rather perfunctorily beating up some poplar bluffs when he heard a shot and riding around the trees came upon a small Indian camp. A young woman was picking up a prairie chicken just shot, and a man, whom the Sergeant recognized as Almighty Voice, was reloading his gun. Seargent Colebrooke, only known Photograph. When he saw the Redcoat the Indian threw himself into a posture of defence and cocking his weapon cried out a warning. The scout, with a better knowledge of native psychology, warned Colebrooke that the Indian was determined and deadly, but the "Mountie" with the tradition of the Force behind him, spurred his horse forward. Once again Almighty Voice gave a warning cry and, when it went unheeded, he waited until the Sergeant was within point-blank range and then shot him. Colebrooke swayed for a moment and, as his horse leapt sideways at the explosion, fell dead from the saddle. The Scout, who had been the appalled witness of the tragedy, turned his pony and fled from the scene to carry the news to the detachment that one more Redcoat had given his life in the discharge of his duty.

When the news was received at Headquarters in Regina, orders were issued that the murderer had to be taken at all costs. Patrols rode the country in every direction, but Almighty Voice was on his native heath and knew many a secret lurking-place. Although most of the Mounted Police parties had Metis scouts with them who could read the signs of a cold trail like big print, no trace could be found of the fugitive. The hunt slackened and had to be abandoned for the time.

Two years elapsed and it seemed as if Almighty Voice and the tall girl who shared his wild wanderings had disappeared from the face of the earth. However, Captain Allen, who was in command at Prince Albert and thoroughly understood the Indian character, never relaxed his vigilance and patiently waited for the time when a nostalgia, that could not be denied, would bring the fugitive back to his birthplace.

It was summer and the Captain himself was heading a patrol in the vicinity of the Duck Lake Agency when he saw two Indians disappear into a poplar bluff. There was something so furtive about them that it awakened suspicion in his mind. He told his men to examine one side of the bluff while he, himself, rode round the other. A twig may have snapped or a leaf stirred, but it was enough to attract his attention, and he rode forward to investigate. Then he was aware of Almighty Voice, half in and half out of the shadow of the trees. Without a word, the Indian shot the Captain from his horse and, as he lay there, ran forward apparently to secure his gun and cartridge belt. Wounded and practically helpless Allen still kept the habit of authority and in the Cree tongue, with which he was familiar, ordered the Indian to put down his weapon and give himself up. Strange to relate, although he went through no motions of surrender, Almighty Voice lowered his weapon and disappeared into the bush as silently as a shadow, as the men of the patrol, attracted by the shot, rode up.

The command of the Police party then devolved upon Sergeant Raven and a rush was made upon the Indian Shelter. It was met by a fire from the trees which indicated that there were several Indians there and Raven was wounded. Another attempt was made on the position of the outlaws by the Police and one or two civilian volunteers under the command of Corporal Hocking, the son of a British Admiral. Hocking who was leading the party was hit and instantly killed at the edge of the bush. Kerr, another Redcoat, met the same fate while Grundy, the Duck Lake Postmaster, who had joined the Police party as a volunteer, fell mortally wounded before the deadly fire of the embattled Indians.

In the meantime a party of volunteers under the direction of James MacKay, afterwards a Judge of the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal, arrived from Prince Albert. Almighty Voice and his companions were thus kept at bay, but they still held their deadly sting and it was death to approach their lair.

While these tragic events were happening at Duck Lake, a dance was taking place at the Mounted Police Barracks in Regina. A picked contingent of Mounted Police had been selected to proceed to England to ride in Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee procession and the celebration was like a send-off for the members of the Force who were entraining the following morning.

My husband was at the dance, although he was not to be my husband for several years and I suppose enjoying himself according to his custom. The dance was in full swing and Colonel Herchmer, the Commissioner, who was a great votary of the "two-step", was charging in and out among the dancers with a pretty girl as his partner. Suddenly Sergeant Heffernan, in charge of the Regina town station appeared, booted and spurred, at one of the doors of the Ballroom. The Commissioner excused himself to his partner and said somewhat testily: "Well, Sergeant! what is it?"

Heffernan handed him a telegram. Casting his eye over it, the Commissioner advanced to the centre of the room and held up his hand. Instantly the music stopped. "Ladies and gentlemen," he said, "there is Indian trouble in the North. Captain Allen, whom you all know, has been wounded and there has been some loss of life. It looks like an Indian rising. The Mounted Police have something else to do besides dancing. Conveyances will be at the door to take you to your homes."

As the last guests were driving away the "boot and saddle" was sounding through the Barracks Square. A well-equipped party of "Mounties" under the command of Assistant Commissioner Mcllree proceeded north on the early morning train to Duck Lake. They had a field gun with them.

When the Police party detrained at Duck Lake and proceeded to the scene of the trouble, quite a number of people had collected on the elevation overlooking the embattled bluff. The field gun brought from Regina was quickly placed in position. A Mounted Police Corporal named O'Kelly had been examining the bluff through field glasses. The body of Hocking, who had been shot the previous day, lay at the edge of the trees. It would have meant almost certain death to anyone attempting to bring it in. O'Kelly picked it out with his glasses and thought he saw a movement. He reported this to Colonel Mcllree and asked permission to attempt a rescue. Just then Dr Stewart of Duck Lake drove up with a fine team and buckboard. Turning to O'Kelly he said: "If you think you can pick up Hocking, I will drive you."

Rather reluctantly, for instructions had been given that care should be taken to avoid any further loss of life, Colonel Mcllree gave the desired permission. Tugs and neck yoke were adjusted so that there might be no danger of harness coming loose, the Doctor cracked his whip and with O'Kelly, by his side, the team swept down the hill. So swift was the advance that the Indians did not realize what was happening until Dr Stewart was pulling up his horses beside Hocking's body; then they opened fire. In a moment the intrepid Corporal was out of the rig and had the body in his arms. As he was climbing back with his burden an Indian face materialized among the foliage and O'Kelly took a quick shot with his revolver. The horses were plunging at the firing and Indian bullets were taking splinters from the wheels and one struck the shank of O'Kelly's spur driving it into his heel. In a matter of seconds, the Corporal was in the rig with his burden and the horses were racing back up the hill. However, Hocking was cold and dead.

William Trant, a veteran war correspondent of the Franco-Prussian War then editing The Regina Leader, had accompanied the Police party from Regina. He witnessed this incident and said of it: "By Gad! that is the bravest thing I ever saw. Had that been pulled off in the face of the enemy in warfare, these men would have got the Victoria Cross."

Colonel Mcllree turned to the Interpreter and said: "Call out to the Indians that we are going to shell the bluff and they had better come out to surrender."

The Indians responded by singing their death song, which was taken up by the members of Almighty Voice's family who had been watching the proceedings. Turning to the gun crew the Colonel said quietly: "Very well! open fire."

Scarcely had he given the command when the lair of the Indians was swept by shell fire. The little poplars leapt into the air as if they had been shorn by a mighty mower. When the firing ceased silence brooded over the scene. After waiting a while and firing a few more shots into the bluff Mr MacKay with his volunteers and some "Mounties" advanced into the trees and there they found the dead bodies of Almighty Voice and his companions. It was evident that the two Indians had been killed by shell fire, but the body of Almighty Voice bore a revolver bullet wound, indicating that O'Kelly's shot had found its mark.

Thus ended a tragic chapter of the story of the old North West. Now the son of Almighty Voice is the Chief of One Arrow's band and is leading his fellow tribesmen far along the white man's trail.

Many years later, my husband passed a long evening in Winnipeg with Captain Allen who had fully recovered from his wound, and there was much talk of the old days. The Captain said: "You know, my arm was pretty well shattered by the shot, and after it had been dressed at Prince Albert, the Doctor said there were signs of mortification and it would have to be amputated. He told me to prepare for an anaesthetic. I replied that I would not allow him to carve me up unless I could see what he was doing. My father got a French Musket ball in his shoulder when he was with the rearguard of Sir John Moore's army at Corunna and had his arm taken off on the field. I said what was good enough for my father was good enough for me. Just give me a good slug of rum and go to work.

"The Doctor was horrified at the idea and refused to operate under these conditions, and," continued the Captain with a chuckle, "my wound started to heal right away and I think he was rather disappointed." He told my husband that his father had lived to a great age but the French bullet remained in his shoulder and at times bothered him. He called it his "Frenchman". It came out in his coffin after his death.

It was at Prince Albert that I became friendly with the members of the MacKay family, known and respected for three generations by every Indian tribe from the Qu'Appelle to the Athabasca, and named by them "Maqueyesness". Two daughters of Thomas MacKay were my classmates and two other girls, the daughters of William MacKay were also at the convent. To do justice to the MacKay family and the services which its members have rendered to their native West would take a volume of its own and I can deal here only in the barest outline with certain important incidents with which they were connected.

The first of the clan to obtain prominence in the West was John Richards MacKay, who early in the nineteenth century commanded the Hudson's Bay Company at Brandon House. His son, William MacKay, long ruled at Fort Ellice on the Assiniboine River near its junction with the Qu'Appelle. He was generally regarded as the best example of a fur trader and Indian administrator that the West has ever produced. He married a lady of the native blood and it was at Fort Ellice that most of their numerous family were born.

William MacKay died at Fort Edmonton in 1884 and had he lived it is possible the North-West Rebellion of the following year would never have taken place. Big Bear always declared that he would never have taken the warpath against the white man had William MacKay been alive. I often saw his widow at Prince Albert. She lived close to the convent.

Of course, when I knew Mrs MacKay she was a venerable lady, but when her husband ruled at Fort Ellice she was adept with shotgun and rifle and on occasion even rode on the buffalo hunt. Once her husband, who had been at Fort Garry and St. Paul, brought her a breech-loading shotgun, then quite a new weapon on the plains. She was delighted and took the first opportunity to go down in the Valley to test it on some of the wild ducks.

It was a lovely September day. The foliage was taking on the royal tinge of autumn and the landscape drowsed in the afternoon sun. Nothing stirred about the place as Mrs MacKay, carrying the new gun, walked towards the River.

That day two Blackfeet had entered the Valley. They were in hostile territory and kept themselves concealed along the riverbank, maintaining a watch upon the goings and comings of the people of the Post.

When Mrs MacKay appeared, they said one to the other: "Here is a white woman; when she is out of sight of the Fort, we will kill her and take her scalp. It will soon be night and before she is missed we will be far on our way."

Oblivious of the danger that threatened her, Mrs MacKay advanced to a cut bank at the edge of the river, the Blackfeet following her like creeping shadows.

Disturbed perhaps by the Indians, a flock of wild ducks rose from a pool and came swinging by. Quickly she fired both barrels, and two birds fell. Reasoning that her weapon now being empty she would have no means of defence, the Indians loosened their knives in the scabbards and prepared to leap upon their victim. Then they saw a strange thing. A solitary mallard came winging overhead. Mrs MacKay opened the breech of her gun and, loading and firing rapidly, killed the bird.

Astonished, the Indians dropped silently into the grass. "That woman is bad medicine," they said. "She shoots twice, then she breaks her gun and fires again. It is magic; we will leave this place very quickly."

Many years afterwards, when the Plain's Indians had become familiar with breech-loading weapons, one of the Blackfoot told the incident to Father Lacombe, the famous missionary, who in turn related it to Mrs MacKay.

Thomas MacKay, one of the other sons of the Master of Fort Ellice and the father of my two classmates, had a house close to the convent. "Tom" MacKay was like his father, an outstanding character. He had been at Fort Ellice at the time when it stood at the gateway of the buffalo ground and its master held undisputed sway over a sweeping prairie region that extended for more than four hundred miles to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. During the seventies of the last century, he moved to Prince Albert and exchanged the rifle of the plainsman for the implements of husbandry. Thereafter, most of his life was identified with the North Saskatchewan. When the Rebellion of 1885 broke out, he offered his services, and not only participated in the campaign but conducted important negotiations for the Government. Later he was elected to represent Prince Albert in the North West Assembly where he was an able and consistent advocate of the rights of the native people. He was also the first Mayor of Prince Albert.

When word was brought to Major Crozier in command of the Mounted Police Post at Carlton House on March 1885, of the raid by the armed Halfbreeds on Hillyard Mitchell's store at Duck Lake, he was urged by some volunteers who joined his garrison to march against them. Crozier was a brave and impetuous officer but without information as to the number or disposition of the rebels, he was inclined to await the arrival of reinforcements under the command of Commissioner Irvine then on the trail from Regina to Prince Albert. Thomas MacKay who was with him at the time pointed out the folly of attacking the rebels then as they were reported to greatly outnumber the men under Crozier's command. The only trail to Duck Lake was ideal for ambush for almost its entire length and a comparatively small party of Metis buffalo hunters could seriously harass a Mounted Police expedition at small danger to themselves. Mr MacKay said he believed that if emissaries were sent to the Halfbreeds and the situation explained to them, a number of them might be induced to lay down their weapons and return to their homes.

"But who would carry such a message," said Crozier. "These people understand nothing of civilized warfare and are as likely as not to shoot or hang the messenger."

Mr. MacKay said that he was prepared to go to Batoche himself and speak to the Metis under arms and their leaders if Crozier would undertake not to advance upon Duck Lake until his return. To this, the Police officer signified his agreement. Accordingly, Mr MacKay set out on a midnight ride to Batoche where Riel was known to be. It was coming daylight when he was halted by a rebel patrol, the members of which recognized him at once, and he entered into a friendly conversation with them. He said he had come to warn them about the result of armed rebellion, and advised them as a friend to get back to their homes before they were in for further trouble. He was making some impression when Gabriel Dumont rode up and sternly demanded his business. Mr MacKay said: "I will not talk to you, Gabriel, when you are bearing arms against the Queen. I came here to talk to some of my old friends whom you are leading astray."

"Do you not know that you can only talk to soldiers through their officers?" He ordered Mr MacKay to be disarmed and had him taken a prisoner to the house at Batoche occupied by Riel as rebel headquarters. Mr MacKay was held under close guard in a lower room of the building while a council was convened in an upper room to decide what was to be done with him. The partitions were thin and Mr MacKay could hear the discussion as to whether he should be shot or hanged.

He tried to carry off the situation with a show of indifference and asked his guards for some breakfast, saying he was hungry after riding all night. He was given some coffee and bacon and when he had finished he could hear the interminable discussion still going on and he felt it was time to do something. He told his captors that they all knew him, that he had hunted the buffalo on the plains with them, had sat around their campfire and shared their blankets. He had come there in an honest attempt to save them from the result of their folly and surely they were not going to allow bad men to take his life.

This moved them but he felt that it was not quite effective enough so he took another tack. He said: "Oh well! you will be remembering this day when the soldiers of the Queen are here with their cannons and their bayonets and their horses and your homes will be broken up and your families scattered and you will either be in prison or maybe waiting to be hanged or homeless wanderers; you will be thinking then that it would be a good thing if you had Tom MacKay there to say a good word for the poor misguided Halfbreeds."

This appeal was too much for the emotional Metis. His horse was quietly brought around and he was well on the way to Carlton before the council eventually decided what to do with him.

My husband and I learned this story from the lips of Mr MacKay himself years later, and nobody who heard that recital could doubt its sincerity. I do not remember the name of the man who insisted that Mr MacKay should go free, but if I am not mistaken it was an old buffalo hunter named Emmanuel Champagne.

Mr. MacKay got back to Carlton in time to take part in the disastrous expedition to Duck Lake.

William McKay was another of the Maqueyeness family whose daughter Mary was one of my schoolmates.

During the summer of 1884, he was in charge of the Hudson's Bay establishment at Battleford. There was a large Indian agency in the district and the tribes, scarcely a decade removed from the days of the war party were chafing under the restraints of Government supervision. Big Bear's Indians, always troublesome, were wandering about the country and infecting other bands with their discontent. They were then visiting Chief Poundmaker on his reserve in the Battleford agency, and dances, which to them had a religious significance, were being held.

Poundmaker's reserve was separated from that of Little Pine by the Cut Knife Valley and creek. The Indian Department Buildings were at Little Pine. During the progress of the dances, an Indian appeared at the Departmental storehouse and demanded food. The Farm Instructor refused, and the Indian, after chasing him off the premises with an axe handle, helped himself to flour, bacon and other supplies. The official hurried to Battleford, thirty-five miles away and reported the matter to Major Crozier of the Mounted Police, who, at the head of a party of his men went out to the reserve to arrest the culprit. In the meantime, the original celebration was being augmented by arrivals from other reserves and excitement seemed to be increasing.

Crozier felt that his party was not strong enough to deal with such a large body of armed and excited Indians and, taking up his quarters at Little Pine, sent to Battleford for reinforcements.

The Battleford folk saw with some apprehension Inspector Antrobus, with most of the effective men in Barracks, take the trail to join Crozier at Cut Knife Creek. Nothing was heard for a day or two of the situation; all kinds of rumours flew about, and something akin to panic began to spread among the people of the district. There were reports of mounted and armed Indians moving about, and some of the outlying settlers, fearing an Indian rising, were bringing their families into shelter behind the palisades of the Battleford Mounted Police post.

William MacKay undertook to go out to Little Pine and see what was the matter. He found that Crozier was prudently waiting until the dance was over before endeavouring to make the arrest. He had interviewed Poundmaker and the Chief had promised to do his best to obtain the surrender of the guilty man.

Accordingly, the following day, when the celebration seemed to be dying down, Crozier and Mr MacKay walked over to the Indian camp to see what could be done. There were several hundred Indians gathered there, all in a high state of excitement. Poundmaker and Big Bear told Crozier that the Indians refused to allow the arrest and were in fighting mood. Mr MacKay addressed them in their language and said that the law of the Queen had been broken, and the man responsible would have to be punished. The Indians responded by brandishing their weapons and crying defiance.

The scene was a wild one. The Indians wore the barbaric dress of the dance. Eagle-feathered bonnets were in evidence; many were stripped to breach clout and moccasins exposing their painted bodies; others wore gaudy blankets or tanned buffalo robes belted at the waist. All were armed, some with rifles, others with muzzle-loaders. There were bows and arrows among them and every Indian carried a hunting knife.

Crozier, through the Interpreter, told the Indians if they would not listen to reason he would have to employ other means and then walked off down the hill.

As William MacKay turned to follow, Poundmaker joined him saying: "The Indians will fight before they give up the man. I will offer myself in his place and perhaps that will save bloodshed."

Then Big Bear broke from the throng crying: "I will go too, it would be shameful to allow Poundmaker to face the danger alone."

The three men descended the hill in the direction of the Departmental Buildings. When they reached Little Pine reserve, Poundmaker went to seek Major Crozier while Mr MacKay remained outside talking to Big Bear. Presently Poundmaker came out and joined them. He said, dejectedly: "He will not take me; he says he must have the man who did the wrong."

Suddenly, Big Bear, who was keeping an observant eye on things, said: "Something is going to happen."

The "Mounties" had saddled up and were "standing to their horses". An orderly approached Mr MacKay and said: "Major Crozier's compliments, Sir; will you kindly detain the Chiefs? He is going to move against the Indians."

"Tell Major Crozier," replied MacKay with some asperity, "That I am no Policeman. These two men came here in an attempt to prevent trouble and I will be no party to keeping them against their will." "Come, Big Bear," said Poundmaker who was nearly six and a half feet tall, raising himself to his imposing height, "our place is with our people."

With no appearance of haste the two Chiefs walked up the hill and disappeared among the Indians who crowded the summit. Scarcely had they gone when Crozier rode out of the enclosure at the head of his men. He halted his horse for a moment and asked Mr MacKay to accompany him, which he agreed to do, in the hope, perhaps, of restraining Crozier's impetuosity.

Steadily the Police advanced up the hill. The Indians on the height were manifestly in a state of great excitement. Before Crozier and his men reached the summit, a party of mounted Stonies came from the rear of the Indian position, paused a moment on the height like a flock of wild birds and then shouting their war cries, made a hurricane circuit of the camp. When the Indian position was reached, Mr MacKay said: "Crozier, halt your men, and I will talk to the Indians in a last attempt to bring them to reason."

A sharp order was spoken, and the Police came to a halt facing the Indians who greatly outnumbered them. The men sat their horses as unconcernedly as if they had been on parade in the Barracks Square. Their carbines were advanced and ready and revolver holsters open. The only motion to be seen was when a charger tossed its head or pawed impatiently.

A perfect babel of sound rose from the Indian ranks. Here and there agitators were invoking those within the sound of their voices to attack the Police who had thus placed themselves in their hands and have done with them once and for all.

MacKay advanced into the space between the two opposing ranks and spoke. So strong was his habit of authority and so deep the respect the natives had for the members of his family that all ceased their shouting to listen.

Speaking in the Cree language he told them that only a few years had passed since their chiefs had put their hands to the "Treaty", and promised that in future they would live in peace with the white man and abide by the laws of the Queen. It would be a shameful thing to go back upon their written and spoken word. The law had been broken and the guilty person had to be punished. That was the rule of the white man and would be impartially invoked against offenders of whatever race. He concluded by calling upon them to surrender the culprit.

When he ended there were cries of refusal, and Poundmaker said: "I have ordered his surrender, but my people no longer obey their Chief."

"Let me see the man who has caused all this mischief," said MacKay.

Scarcely had he spoken when the Indian in question, glorying in his notoriety, bounded to the front. "You are a worthless fellow," said Mr MacKay. "To save yourself, you will cause the blood of your people to flow today." Then turning to Crozier he continued: "Here is your man; take him away. What are you waiting for?"

In response to a quickly spoken order, four "Mounties" detached themselves from the ranks and the Indian was seized and hustled off down the hill.

There was silence for a moment and then the Indians broke into a dreadful clamour. Weapons were brandished, guns pointed, arrows placed on strings and the voice of Wandering Spirit, afterwards to be hanged for his part in the Frog Lake Massacre, was heard above the tumult calling upon them to fire on the Redcoats.

Apparently cool and undismayed, MacKay continued to pace with steady steps in front of the now thoroughly infuriated Indians. It seemed as if nothing could prevent a bloody conflict, when Poundmaker, his tall figure dominating the scene, forced his way to the front. Turning to the Indians he cried: "Shoot if you will, but your first fire will kill the "Maqueyeness" who has your blood in his veins and whose people have been your friends since the time of your grandfathers. See! he walks unafraid before you."

"For God's sake, MacKay!" said Crozier, "keep walking. Perhaps we may yet save bloodshed."

"Withdraw your men," said Mr MacKay, "your work is done."

Crozier was quick to see the sense of this advice. An order was spoken and before the Indians had recovered from their surprise, the Police had wheeled about and were retreating down the hill.

Immediately Mr MacKay spoke to the Indians, counselling peace and moderation. Some then urged that rescue be attempted, but he told them such a proceeding would be foolish and futile. "Besides," he said, pointing to a cloud of dust on the Battleford trail, "he is now beyond your reach. He will get a fair trial and, if he is found guilty, will be punished. He will not be hanged or anything like that, and now," he added, "with all your dancing and nonsense you are likely hungry. If you will send someone down with me to the Indian Department warehouse, I will see if I can get you some rations."

William MacKay's wife, when she was young, had the reputation of being the most beautiful girl in all the Saskatchewan country. Years afterwards, when her daughter Mary had become the wife of William Peterson of Regina, an old friend of my husband's family, Mrs MacKay was visiting her. Four of us, Mrs MacKay, Mrs Peterson, my husband and I were sitting around the fireplace one winter's evening talking about the old days on the prairie. Mrs MacKay said:

"It is a pleasure for me to be here in my daughter's house, where she is happy with her children and has one of the finest men in the country for her husband. You know," she continued, "it is the best thing in the world to have a good husband and a happy home." Then she added reminiscently, her voice talking on that softness characteristic of women who have some of the native blood in their veins : "I have had a long and happy life with my William, but, once long ago, when I was a young girl, there was an officer who came to Fort Pitt. He was tall and very good looking, and he could talk so well. I thought then I could have loved him. He came out of the snow and storm one night like someone from a different world. He went on to Fort Edmonton and when he was away I thought of him often. Afterwards, he came back and I was glad. He spoke to me about his home in Ireland and asked me to marry him and go with him to the Old Country. I did like him very much, but I was a child of the North West and what would I do in other lands? Perhaps I cried a little, but I sent him away without me. After a while, I did not think about him so often and I have been happy every day since I married my William."

In 1870, Captain Butler was Intelligence Officer for Colonel Wolseley on the Red River Expedition. After the soldiers had returned East, Butler remained to enjoy some of the shooting the country afforded. He was asked by the Lieutenant-Governor to cross the plains to Fort Edmonton and report upon conditions as he found them. There had been a good deal of lawlessness and he was asked to make recommendations as to the best methods of establishing law and order in those distant places.

Butler took the long outward trail in the face of a gathering winter. He was a good campaigner and travelled fast, but winter came down early that year and travelling was difficult. He went by Portage la Prairie, Brandon House, Fort Ellice and Touchwood, crossed both branches of the Saskatchewan and pursued his way through the wooded country along the North Branch. Butler relates in his account of the journey that, as he neared Fort Pitt, the weather became bitterly cold and the party was assailed by a swirling blizzard. They struggled on hoping to reach the hospitable shelter of the Post. The guide lost his way in the maze of ravines that ran down to the valley of the river, but Butler took the lead and plunged doggedly through the drifts. At last, gleaming through the leafless trees, he saw a light. He made his way in its direction and found that it came from the upstairs window of a considerable building which, from its stockade and bastions, could only be the Fort.

He knocked loudly. After an interval, the door opened, and there appeared before him a dark-eyed girl with her shining black hair hanging in twin braids down her back and bearing a lamp in her hand. She bade him a gentle welcome, the Factor was summoned and soon Butler was seated before a blazing fire, discussing an excellent meal of buffalo steak and waited upon with gracious hospitality by the little native beauty.

The Factor was hungry for the news of the outside world and he plied his guest with questions. The German Army was beating at the gates of Paris; the nephew and namesake of the mighty Napoleon was a prisoner; Kingdoms were being set up, a dynasty had fallen. There was much to tell and they talked long into the night.

In his book The Great Lone Hand. Butler referred again and again to the comely maiden of Fort Pitt and she must have been much in his mind, but he then mentioned no name by which she might be identified. In due course he continued to Fort Edmonton, eventually returning to Fort Garry, where he made his report to the Lieutenant-Governor. This Report, which is still extant, was a model of observation and lucidity; and in it, Captain Butler recommended the establishment of a body of mounted riflemen to maintain law and order in the vast space of the North West. It was forwarded to Sir John A. Macdonald and, in 1873, the Canadian Prime Minister caused a bill to pass the House of Commons, providing for the establishment of the North-West Mounted Police.

Later, Butler made another western journey, perhaps lured forth by the soft dark eyes of the "little beauty of Fort Pitt", as he called her. Then he sought other lands and other scenes. He rose to eminence as a soldier and a great pro-consul. He was a South African governor at the time of the Boer War and drew some criticism for warning Britan not to underestimate the Boers. He married in England Elizabeth Thompson, a lady known by her splendid pictures of battle scenes in almost every portion of the Empire.

After Sir William Butler's death his autobiography, edited by his daughter, was published and there was a name in it that gave us the clue. When calling on Mrs MacKay, my husband said: "Did you know a Captain Butler long ago ?"

Her eyes, still bright and clear, softened with a mist of tears at the well-remembered name, and the memory of the fine old woman, surrounded by her grandchildren and still beautiful in spite of encroaching age, must have leapt across the years and she replied: "Oh, yes! Mr Hamilton, that was the officer of whom I told you."

Thomas MacKay is dead; William, who went to the wild north woods on an annual hunt until he was approaching eighty, has followed him across the Dark River and another brother the youngest I think, of that potent family who gave the great Laurier himself the hardest fight of his career in the Saskatchewan constituency, and whose life as a lawyer, member of Parliament and Judge of the Appeal Court of his native Province, was a fine and distinguished one, has passed from the scene; but their names will long be honoured in their native West.


Author: Webmaster -
"Date Modified - June 5, 2024."

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