The Patriotes/ Military/ Settlement Guard

[under construction]

upper fort garry interior

H.A. Strong, painting, “Interior of Upper Fort Garry,” showing the view as though from the back steps of the old ‘Main House’ (or as though it did not exist), the front of which faced the south gate of the fort (on the Assiniboine River). Note that the work was painted in 1880s, but was meant to depict the 1870s. Strong had never seen the fort, worked “from unknown sources,” [probably a photograph taken after the ‘Main House’ had been pulled down in 1873] and “arbitrarily” dated the painting. [Brad Loewen and Gregory G. Monks, “Visual Depictions of Upper Fort Garry,” Prairie Forum 13, no. 1 (spring 1988), 16.]

Academic historians have yet to make an in depth examination of the military force of the Provisional Government at Red River from 1869 – 1870. There is research, however — notably by Lawrence Barkwell of the Louis Riel Institute — that goes some way to addressing that gap. A brief and preliminary outline of the locally mustered military force at Red River is given below, followed by links to additional pages that list the officers and troops.

Both the Comité National des Métis de la Rivière Rouge and the first Provisional Government under President  John Bruce relied heavily on establishing an effective militaristic presence. Under the Comité National des Métis, Louis Riel was “Marshall” of the force, which consisted of men described as the “Patriot Army” and the “Red River cavalry” (who may have sported flags and who reportedly rallied to songs of resistance as well). Under the Provisional Governments of which Riel was President (in both phases), there was a settlement guard (referred to by  Canadians as the ‘French Guard’), commanded by Adjutant General  Ambroise-Dydime Lépine.[1]

The size of the military force is not clear. One account stated that there were “six hundred men rallied to the support of the Provisional Government” in late November and early December 1869.[2] Other observations were made of parties ranging from about 50 men to 300 men, some of whom were armed, who participated in various events at various times.[3]

There are two record books at the Archives of Manitoba that appear to list the names of the men who belonged to various versions of the provisional government guard.[4] The record books have yet to be thoroughly analyzed. A preliminary review (conducted in 2010), showed the journals to be somewhat cursory in terms of detail and slightly confusing because running back to front (they were also maintained in French). The earliest entries appear to be for October and November 1869.

Beginning in those months, names are listed along with provisions forwarded to each man — principally pemmican, tea, flour, and tobacco — up until 11 January 1870. Throughout the journals, successive columns of names continue to list such items, along with blankets, tea, candles, sugar, matches, envelopes, and knives. On 25 December whiskey and rum were distributed.

A.D. Lepine

Adjutant General Ambroise-Dydime Lépine.

On 22 January the list of names included Louis Riel and some members of the Convention of Forty (and later the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia), notably Baptiste/ Jean-Baptiste Beauchemin, Louis Lacerte, and André Beauchemin. The accounts running from 24 February to 1 March 1870 included Louis Schmidt, Thomas Harrison, Charles Nolin, Pierre Parenteau, Pierre Delorme, Pierre Poitras, and Xavier Pagé.

Surnames in the lists indicate that the guard was not exclusively made up of ‘French’ settlers — for example, Slater, Kennedy, McKay, and Turner figure among the surnames. References to members of the military in the New Nation likewise indicate there were ‘English’ participants.

Apparently a rumour circulated in early to mid February 1870 that some ‘French’ settlers had been recruited by Canadians and tasked with destroying property of, and assaulting “the families of the soldiers of the Provisional Government … in order to compel them to disband.” This was regarded as a “mad project,” and it “had the effect of strengthening the Provisional Government. Very nearly all the French hitherto opposed to that Government … rallied to the party. The Scotch and a great number of others did the same.”[5]

The headquarters of the military (and the entire Provisional Government), appears to have been in the Hudson’s Bay Company Office (in the north-centre of the fort, in front of Governor’s house when viewed from the south), the upper part of which served as a gaol for the Portage Party prisoners.[6] The Office building faced the old ‘Main House’ (or what remained of it) which in turn faced the south gate of the fort. The Office building was also known as Dr. William Cowan‘s house, the residence of the HBC Chief Trader (and wife and children), in Upper Fort Garry. The Cowans apparently moved into HBC Gov. William Mactavish‘s residence (where Commissioner from Canada and HBC officer, Donald A. Smith also resided, with the Mactavish family) and the vacant Cowan house became the “officer’s quarters” for the Provisional Government.[7] Riel occupied a room in the building, “first floor on the right hand side when you went in to the hall,” although he usually slept at the house of his relative, Pierre-‘Henri’ Coutu, in or near the town of Winnipeg.[8]

red river winter garb 1870

Red River fall/ winter garb, c. 1870.

Neither officers nor troops of the military force appear to have worn uniforms or attire that was in any way distinct from usual Red River wear (there is, however, a photograph of Colonel-commandant J.E. Norbert Gay in uniform, as well as one of Captain Hugh F. Olone in uniform during the American Civil War, though whether either uniform was ever donned at Upper Fort Garry is not known).

The precise organizational structure of the military and troops is not known. It is likely, however, that the military fit comparison to “the old custom of the country” whereby “when any difficulty arose in which it was necessary to take up arms, the inhabitants used to organize of their own accord, after the manner in which they organized for hunting on the prairies.”[9]

Traditionally, Métis buffalo hunts were tightly structured undertakings, quasi-military in style:

 “After the first day of travel through the dust raised by 1,240 carts and 1,630 Métis; camp was made.  The first organizational meeting for the hunt would be held and a President would be selected. A number of captains were nominated by the President and the people jointly. The captains then proceeded to appoint their own policemen, the number assigned to each not exceeding ten. Their duty was to see that the Laws of the Hunt were strictly carried out. Guides were responsible for the camp flag that remained raised until it was time to settle for the night. At the end of the day the captains took charge.

Hunting Camp

George Seton, watercolour, “Buffalo Hunter’s Camp,” dated 5 May 1858. Credit: Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. 1950-63-1.6R
Copyright: Expired.

At night the carts were placed in the form of a circle with the horses and cattle inside the ring. It was the duty of the captains and their policemen to see that this was rightly done. The Métis buffalo hunters camped in tipis. The difference between a Métis tipi and their Indian cousins was a lack of decoration. All camping orders were given by a flag signal. Each guide had his turn of one day. When the buffalo were spotted, all the hunters were drawn up in line, the President, captains, and police being a few yards in advance. No one would proceed until the President gave the signal, waiting for the buffalo to be in the best location possible.”[10]


William G.R. Hind, sketch, “Buffalo Hunter,” from the Overlanders Expedition Sketchbook, dated July 1862. Credit: Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. 1963-97-1.38R:A
Copyright: Expired.

There appear to have been at least eight captains in the Red River Settlement guard of the Provisional Government during 1869 – 1870, but the number of men each commanded is not clear. References in the local paper suggest there were men detailed to a cavalry, an infantry, and an artillery. Sometimes the term ‘soldiers’ is used (without reference to a particular unit, or to rank such as private or corporal). Often, however, the men are simply referred to as guards, whether stationed at Upper Fort Garry, overseeing prisoners, protecting members of the Provisional Government, or patrolling the settlement (mounted or on foot).

Bill Military Force

On 25 March 1870 the Legislative Assembly of the Provisional Government of Assiniboia formally passed a bill that sanctioned a modification to the military, which, by that date, was still “considered necessary for the protection of life and property.” The bill provided:

“That a body of fifty men be recruited from the different sections of the country, and that this body of men be regularly organised and retained at Fort Garry for the service of the Executive; that each man so recruited and organised shall receive a monthly payment of Three Pounds Sterling, and his Board, as compensation; and that the term of each man’s service shall be for two months.”


the greatest shot in the world

Illustration, adapted [meaning modified by me] from newspaper advertisement c. 1880, for ‘wild west’ display, captioned “greatest shot in the world.”

In late April 1870 the New Nation reported that during cavalry practice firing manoeuvers:

“Lieut. John Cyr, when armed with an old-fashioned double-barrelled gun, raced the half-mile course, and, before turning at the end, had discharged twelve shots, hitting the target each time. Without pausing a moment, he ran the course again, discharging an equal number of shots before drawing rein, and with like creditable results. If this is not splendid shooting, we do not know what to call it.”

Three unnamed mounted men displayed like accuracy. Reportedly, one “fired a common musket seventeen times during the mile-dash, hitting the target at each discharge,” another “scored eighteen shots in a similar run,” while “the third cavalryman fifteen.”[11]

The New Nation of 20 May 1870 reported that “A small battery of our artillery were out at ball practice a short distance below the the town to-day [meaning north of Winnipeg]. They were commanded by Col. Gay, and the shooting was very fair considering the short experience of the men as artillerists.”[12]

On 25 and/or 26 May, training exercises were held that demonstrated the men were very good shots at a full gallop; and would make “splendid troops for guerilla warfare.”[13]

“Some days before” 25 and/or 26 May, an infantry target practice was held and, reportedly, at 300 yards, out of 200 shots, 36 were centred on the target.[14]

de Salaberry

Colonel Charles-René-Léonidas d’Irumberry de Salaberry. Credit: Library and Archives Canada/C-008365. Copyright: Expired.

Additionally, there were 12 cadets at St. Boniface College, aged approximately 8 to 15 years old, who were  trained by one of the commissioners from Canada, Colonel Charles de Salaberry. The New Nation reported that (on or about 18 March) the boys demonstrated that,

“the Col. has certainly infused a good deal of military enthusiasm into the little fellows. The evening we saw them, they ran the gamut of the full Company’s manual of arms; including the bayonet exercise. They had small wooden guns, and the precision with which they marched and counter-marched, and went through all the various evolutions of military science, bordered on the marvelous, and elicited frequent applause.

According to statements of military men present, it usually takes nine months steady drill in ‘the regular army’ to reach the point attained by these youngsters in some six weeks.”[15]

A second show of skill at drill was given during the 24 May celebrations honouring Queen Victoria’s birthday.[16]

de SALABERRY and drummer boy

Portrait of Lieutenant-Colonel Charles-Michel d’Irumberry de Salaberry, victor at battle of Chateauguay (1813) during the war against the aggression of the United States in 1812-1814, and father of Commissioner from Canada, Col. Charles-René-Léonidas d’Irumberry de Salaberry, who trained the boys of St. Boniface in marching and military drill performed at the Queen’s birthday concert, 24 May 1870.

During the War of 1812, Lieutenant-Colonel Charles-Michel d’Irumberry de Salaberry was also the commanding officer of Charles Taché, father of Archbishop Alexander-Antonin Taché of St. Boniface at Red River.


Additional pages regarding the military commanded by Adjutant General/Adjudant général Ambroise-Dydime Lépine:

A preliminary list of men who acted as officers [taken from sources other than the archived journals]

A list based on Lawrence Barkwell, “Personalities of the 1869-70 Resistance, Laderoute’s Dicté,” Louis Riel Institute (2014).


[1] Oscar Malmros, quoted in Hartwell Bowsfield, ed., The James Wickes Taylor Correspondence 1859-1870 (Winnipeg: Manitoba Record Society, 1968), 100, 121. During the trial of 1874, some witnesses alleged that Lepine gave the order to fire at the execution of Thomas Scott, but the allegation was contradicted in other testimony. See [G.B.] Elliott and [Edwin Frederick Thomas] Brokovski, ed.s, Preliminary Investigation and Trial of Ambroise D. Lepine, for the Murder of Thomas Scott (Montreal: Canadian Press, 1874), 52, 65, for the contradictory testimony of William Chambers anf Francis Charette.

[2]The Winnipeg Revolution,” New Nation (4 March 1870), continued.

[3] Elliott and Brokovski, Preliminary Investigation and Trial, 79.

[4] Archives of Manitoba [AM], MG3 A1-31, Provisional Government accounts with Hudson’s Bay Company, Volume 1, 1869-1870, and  AM, MG3 A1-32 Provisional Government accounts with Hudson’s Bay Company, Volume 2, 1869-1870.

[5] Canada, Parliament, House of Commons, 37 Victoria, Appendix (No. 6), A. 1874, “Report of the Select Committee on the Causes of the Difficulties in the North-West Territory in 1869-70,” in Journals of the House of Commons of the Dominion of Canada, Vol. VIII, From the 26th March to the 26th May, 1874. [3rd Session, 1874] (Ottawa: I.B. Taylor, 1874), 22.

[6] Elliott and Brokovski, Preliminary Investigation and Trial, 60.

[7] Canada, Sessional Papers vol. 5, 4th session, no. 44 (1871), 28. Elliott and Brokovski, Preliminary Investigation and Trial, 48, 54, 70. Apparently the court martial of Thomas Scott was held in Cowan’s building.

[8] Elliott and Brokovski, Preliminary Investigation and Trial, 61.

[9] N.-J. Ritchot, quoted in  Frederick John Shore, “The Canadians and the Métis: the re-creation of Manitoba, 1858-1872,” Ph.D. diss. (Winnipeg: University of Manitoba, 1991), 31, dated 1874.

[10] Louis Riel Institute, “Buffalo Hunt,” (2011), accessed 21 April 2013.

[11]The Cavalry,” New Nation (3 May 1870).

[12]Artillery Ball Practice,” New Nation (20 May 1870), 2.

[13]Cavalry Exercises,” New Nation (27 May 1870), 3, the practice was overseen by Colonel-Commandant Gay. See also Alexander Begg, Red River Journal, 375,who mentions military exercises on the 12, 18, 20, and 25 May.

[14]The Cavalry,” New Nation (3 May 1870), 1.

[15]St. Boniface Band,” New Nation (8 April 1870), continued.

[16]The Queen’s Birth-Day,” New Nation (27 May 1870), 2.



red river rider

Illustration from Manton Marble, “To Red River and Beyond,” Part 1, Harper’s New Monthly Magazine 21 Issue 123 (August 1860): 202, depicting a mounted and armed Métis man of the early 1860s. The article includes a description: “The rider, a young McKay, who was captain of the train [of buffalo hunt brigade carts], was well mounted and sat his horse finely. His clear, bronzed face was set off by a jaunty cap. He wore a checked flannel shirt, and each shoulder bore its fancy wampun bead belt, that suspended the powder horn and shot pouch. He had upon his feet moccasins worked with beads and quills, and carried in his hand a short-handled riding-whip with a long thick lash of buffalo hide.”




Humphrey Lloyd Hime, photograph, ‘Wigwam’ Cullin, a Métis man at Red River Settlement, described as of part-Saulteux heritage. Note: the attire dates to 1858 — a decade before the Resistance.


Published: 10 April 2013


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