Perceptions and First Nations

Background to relations with ‘the Sioux’ at Red River:

In 1862, the U.S. – Dakota War/ Sioux Uprising/ Outbreak/ Conflict/ Little Crow‘s War began. Dakota and U.S. government settlement agencies collided over treaty violations in a series of violent encounters dubbed the “Minnesota massacre” by the press. Thousands of Sioux fled, while 2000 men, women, and children were taken captive. On the day after Christmas, 38 men were executed in the largest official public hanging in American history at Mankato, Minnesota.

[See Kenneth Carley, ed., “As Red Men Viewed It: Three Indian Accounts of the Uprising,” Minnesota History 38, no. 3, Special Sioux War Issue (September 1962).

In 1863, some 600 Dakota refugees arrived at Red River Settlement. According to Rev. N.-J. Ritchot:

“In 1863, when the Sioux made a descent upon the country, the Council of the half-breeds organized a meeting at St. Norbert, and met a deputation of the Sioux. Governor Dallas and Mr. McTavish also met the Sioux there along with the half-breeds.”

[Canada, Parliament, House of Commons, “Report of the Select Committee on the Causes of the Difficulties in the North-West Territory in 1869–70,” 69.]

The Dakota had deserted their winter camps in the U.S. out of fear of Major Edwin A.C. Hatch‘s detachment. Hatch was an ex-American Indian Agent who had organized a ‘maverick’ Independent Battalion of Cavalry, Minnesota Volunteers (over the objections of Brigadier-Generals of the Volunteers, John Pope and Henry Hastings Sibley). Hatch was determined capture Dakota whom he suspected of having participated in the revolt of 1862 – 1863.

Hatch had no authority to cross the international boundary, but was anxious to capture the Dakota who had fled to Red River. Hatch located his detachment at Pembina and contracted with A.G.B. Bannatyne, merchant at Red River, to have supplies delivered for his troops.

[See Trish Short Lewis, “Major Hatch: Pembina and the Indian Wars,” St. Vincent Memories,]

A.G.B. Bannatyne informed Hatch that only 9 among the Dakota at Red River had participated in the uprising and that they were willing to surrender if they were guaranteed a fair trial and if the rest of their people were fed. HBC Governor of Assiniboia, Alexander Grant Dallas, supplied £350 to £400 worth of food and ammunition for hunting to the Dakota refugees. On Christmas day they relocated from a camp next to Upper Fort Garry out onto Whitehorse Plain. Hatch demanded their unconditional surrender.

In the new year of 1864, although the majority of Dakota refused Major Hatch‘s demand, some 100 individuals surrendered to him at Pembina. They were not people Hatch was interested in capturing, but they were imprisoned anyway.

By way of a message carried by John H. McKenzie (previously of Montreal, then of Hutchison, Minnesota, and currently at Red River), and the promise of money, Hatch solicited fellow freemasons ‘Dr.’ John Christian Schultz and A.G.B. Bannatyne to carry out the abduction of Eatoka/ Shakpedan/ Zhaagobens/ Little Shakopee/ Sakpe/ Little Six (a leader of the Yankton Dakota in Minnesota), and Wa-Kan-O-Zhan-Zhan/ Wa-Kan-O-Zan-Zan/ Medicine Bottle.

A scheme was launched to effect capture. On the understanding that if the two men were delivered to Hatch all other Dakota would not be harmed — and that Bannatyne’s provisioning contract with Hutch would continue — Bannatyne supplied wine, which Schultz laced with laudenum. Two additional men were contracted: Mackenzie and Onisime Giguere/ George Guiers (of Canada West), who were ‘friends’ of the wanted men, having previously traded with them. Mackenzie and Giguere held a sham council at White Horse Plain with the Dakota. The false friends lured Little Six and Medicine Bottle into a trap — inviting them to journey that night to Red River on the pretense of arranging a meeting the next morning with HBC Governor of Assiniboia, Alexander Grant Dallas, and James ‘Wahan’/ ‘Bear Skin’ McKay (negotiator of a Métis – Dakota Peace after the Battle of Grand Couteau [1851] and an interpreter whom they trusted).

Little Six and Medicine Bottle were given shelter at the settlement, and plied with food and the drugged wine. No meeting with Dallas or McKay was arranged. When Little Six and Medicine Bottle fell asleep they were chloroformed, bound, and transported across the border where they were delivered to Hatch. (Other people allegedly involved included D.L. Kingsley and ‘Jaguish’ — who were apparently Americans at Pembina.)

The episode was described as “disgraceful” by HBC Governor Dallas.

Hatch and his brigade left Pembina for Fort Abercrombie with their two prisoners. Little Six and Medicine Bottle were then transferred to Fort Snelling. They were executed, hanged together, on 11 November 1865.

[See Alan R. Woolworth, “A Disgraceful Proceeding: Intrigue in the Red River Country in 1864,” The Beaver 48, no. 4 (Spring 1869): 54-59; and Carol Chomsky, “The United States – Dakota War Trials: A Study in Military Injustice,” Stanford Law Review 43, no. 1 (November 1990): 13-98. See also The Story of Manitoba; David G. McCrady, Living with Strangers: The Nineteenth-century Sioux and the Canadian – American Borderlands (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010), 17-23; and Waziyatawin, What Does Justice Look Like? The Struggle for Liberation in the Dakota Homeland (St. Paul MN: Living Justice Press, 2008).]

The Dakota who had remained in Assiniboia set up a permanent settlement at St. Mary’s la Prairie/ Portage la Prairie. By 1877 “there were 150 lodges in the vicinity of Portage. These Dakota were of the Wahpetons, the Wiyakatidan band. Many later moved to other reserves. Those who remained created Portage la Prairie Sioux Village No. 8a along the Assiniboine south of Portage. Their cemetery can be seen from the bypass.”

[MHS, See also MHS,;;]

Fears during 1869-1870 expressed by French Canadian migrants to Red River

A.-A. Taché reported that when he returned to Red River on 8 March 1870:

The Indians were in a very restless condition, and I regret very much to have to say that they had been driven to that excitement by Canadian officials.

When in Ottawa I was shown a letter of instruction given by Colonel Dennis to an English half-breed, of the name of Joseph Monkman. I found that the letter was exceedingly dangerous; not perhaps according to its very wording, but on account of the spirit and disposition of the Indians.

I took the liberty of observing to the Government that there was real danger for the whole North-West in the transaction entrusted to the care of Mr. Monkman.

So much weight did the Government at Ottawa seem to attach to my observations, that they abstained from publishing the letter in the Blue Book with the other documents which were furnished to Parliament.

I received instructions from Sir John A. Macdonald, in a letter produced yesterday [at the Committee hearing], to find out Mr. Monkman, and to try and get back the instructions given him by Colonel Dennis, and to induce him if possible to abstain from taking any action in the matter, assuring him that he would be rewarded, and his troubles paid for.

He had been promised ten shillings sterling a day by Colonal Dennis, if he should work among the Indians and excite them. Such were not the words of the instruction, but such was the result which necessarily would have taken place.”

[Canada, Parliament, House of Commons, “Report of the Select Committee on the Causes of the Difficulties in the North-West Territory in 1869–70,” 24.]

Taché quoted from a letter written to him by Macdonald and dated 16 February 1870:

You will be good enough to endeavor to find out Monkman, the person to whom, through Colonel Dennis, Mr. McDougall gave instructions to communicate with the Salteux Indians. He should be asked to surrender his letter, and informed that he ought not to proceed upon it. The Canadian Government will see that he is compensated for any expense that he has already incurred.

[Canada, Parliament, House of Commons, “Report of the Select Committee on the Causes of the Difficulties in the North-West Territory in 1869–70,” 19.]

In a letter written to Joseph Howe on 3 May 1870, Taché had written:

I have mentioned fear relative to the Indians, and I am sorry to say that such danger is really very great. Dennis, Mair, Schultz and Monkman have been amongst them. Some others are still busy exciting them, so it is possible that the wishes expressed by the Evening Mail may be realized, and then, most likely, mass meetings would be held [in Ontario] to congratulate the first authors of our troubles, on the mass massacres they would have caused.”

[Canada, Parliament, House of Commons, “Report of the Select Committee on the Causes of the Difficulties in the North-West Territory in 1869–70,” 28.]

In a letter to Howe dated 7 May 1870, Taché again brought up the image of hostile First Nations about the settlement:

I cannot but repeat how deeply I deplore the execution of the unfortunate [Thomas] Scott, but he is not the first British subject killed in this country. Many and many half-breeds have been killed by the Indians. They, British subjects, called for protection, but the voice of the unknown people was never strong enough to cause the slightest echo in Great Britain, nor in Canada. The half-breeds, when murdered by the Indians, never succeeded to move a feeling of sympathy in their behalf, and to-day the loud cries of indignation [from Ontario] that call for blood and vengeance are rolling through the deserts which still separate us from the rest of the world, and their echoes bring astonishment and sorrow to our midst, without even considering what might be the disastrous consequences of such proceedings.”

[Canada, Parliament, House of Commons, “Report of the Select Committee on the Causes of the Difficulties in the North-West Territory in 1869–70,” 28.]

On 18 June 1870, Rev. N.-J. Ritchot wrote to Sir George E. Cartier, Minister of Militia, Ottawa, that “Trappers who have come in from Rainy Lake state that there is a certain number of Indians rather badly disposed [towards letting the Red River Expeditionary force cross their territory]; but nevertheless they go to meet the troops in order to treat,” which suggests the people of Red River had some sympathy from First Nations and Métis to the east. [Canada, Parliament, House of Commons, “Report of the Select Committee on the Causes of the Difficulties in the North-West Territory in 1869–70,” 79.]

By 25 July 1870, in a letter to Sir John Young, Tache was of the opinion:

Dissensions, which it is hard to describe, have wrought the Indian tribes up to a state of excitement such, that the massacre of the white population would be, so to speak, but a natural result. The treaties made with the Indians necessitate the presence of troops; otherwise, the Government would be liable to be made the sport of these Indians who will necessarily lose their friendly dispositions when dealing with settlers, according as they see their lands taken up. The ‘loyalty’ of the Indians is a word void of sense, except for those who do not know them, and there is no reasonable ground for relying on that noble sentiment.

[Canada, Parliament, House of Commons, “Report of the Select Committee on the Causes of the Difficulties in the North-West Territory in 1869–70,” 43.]

Reports of Actual Behaviour of First Nations peoples [though sometimes through ‘othering’ lenses]

President Louis Riel, wrote from Fort Garry, Government House, 24 July 1870, to Taché with a much more relaxed, if perhaps harried tone about an influx of First Nations to the settlement:

 “The Indians have visited us in great numbers; they are as hungry as grasshoppers. The treaties engage their attention. What prudence must be employed when dealing with these people!”

[Canada, Parliament, House of Commons, “Report of the Select Committee on the Causes of the Difficulties in the North-West Territory in 1869–70,” 37.]

If reports in the press are taken into account it is somewhat easier to see why Taché might find the news of ‘Indians’ gathering at the settlement as alarming as he apparently did. Presumably, Riel’s intelligence was more reliable than what was published in the papers.

The Press and Rumours and the Sioux, 1869 – 1870

Anonymous Royal Engineer, photograph, “Group of Dakota (Sioux) Indians at Turtle Mountain,” dated c. 1873-1875. Source: Library and Archives Canada/PA-074652.

• 1869


Local news [murders of Sioux women and children camped at White Horse Plains], Nor’-Wester (22 January 1869), 3.



Excerpt, “Pemmican,” [International news] Nor’-Wester (5 June 1869), 1.



The Sioux! Winnipeg in Arms! The First Appearance of the Canadian Allies,” Red River Pioneer (1 December 1869), 2 [See also article, of the same title and content, immediately below]. The December article dates the rumoured activity to about 23 November; Alexander Begg, The Creation of Manitoba; Or, a History of the Red River Troubles (Toronto: A.H. Hovey, 1871), 146-149, alleges that the threats of a Sioux attack had been voiced earlier by George Racette Jr., alias Shawman. See also J.S. Dennis, letter dated 27 October 1869 in Great Britain, Parliament, House of Commons, Correspondence relative to the recent disturbances in the Red River Settlement, Accounts and Papers of the House of Commons, Colonies and British Possessions — Canada. Vol. 10 (William Clowes and Sons, 1870), 9; William McDougall, postscript dated 1 November 1869, letter ‘Enclosures in No. 5,’ in Correspondence relative to the recent disturbances, 5; William McDougall, letter to N.E. Nelson [Deputy Collector of Customs at Pembina], dated 8 December 1860, in Correspondence relative to the recent disturbances, 68, 69, in which McDougall refers to Racette/Shawman as “Sherman” and avows no knowledge of any plan to enlist any Sioux in an attack on Red River — though he relates that others firmly believed a Canadian partisan, John C. Schultz, had attempted to do so.


• 1870


“The Sioux! Winnipeg in Arms! The First Appearance of the Canadian Allies,” The New Nation (7 January 1870), 2.



Announcement, The New Nation (25 February 1870), 2.



The Winnipeg Revolution: Speech of Hon. A. Ramsey in the United States Senate,” New Nation (4 March 1870), 1, article’s columns 23.



“The Sioux,” The New Nation (8 April 1870), 2.

Announcement, The New Nation (8 April 1870), 2.

Excerpt, from “Interesting Revelations: One of McDougall’s Spies, Major J.W. One of the Pembina Detectives on Our Track,” The New Nation (15 April 1870), 1, article’s column 2.

Editorial comment on reprint from the New York Tribune, “The National Disgrace,” New Nation (29 April 1870), 1, an article justifying Sioux hostility and attacks on American settlements (while at the same time perpetuating a negative stereotype of racialized ‘Indians’).



Excerpt, reprint from Ottawa Citizen, “Hon. Mr. Archibald,” The New Nation (16 July 1870), 2.



Announcement, Manitoba News-Letter (8 October 1870), 2.


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