Some years ago, how many I cannot exactly say, a war party of thirteen Cree braves, led by Pish-eesh, or Little Link, a Saulteaux Indian and a noted chief, came on a foray to the plain of Medicine Hat from the direction of Qu’Appelle. They were, as usual, after the ponies and the scalps of the Blackfoot.
They came on a camp of their enemies, situated at a point about three miles from Medicine Hat, and succeeded in stealing all the ponies by daylight and got away without being discovered. There is no doubt but they could have secured such a start as to have easily distanced any pursuit, had it not been for an act of bravado on the part of a young Cree brave (afterwards a prominent figure in the rebellion of 1885) named Kit-u-way-py, or Jingling Thighs. He was spoiling for a fight and when the rest of the band started off with the horses, he lingered in the rear and fired off his gun two or three times to give the Blackfoot the alarm. He succeeded in producing the desired effect and soon every brave in the Blackfoot camp was in hot pursuit of the raiders.
They overtook them within half a mile of where the town now stands. The Crees were making hard for cover in a patch of timber that then grew along the bank of the river. They did not, however, succeed in making cover before their pursuers were upon them and a stubborn stand was made in a coulee, some distance from the timber.
Pish-eesh, seeing that his men would be soon surrounded and almost certainly either killed or captured unless they got into the timber, told them to make a dash for it. He said that he, together with Jingling Thighs and a warrior named Kin-u-sayo, or The Fish, would stand off the enemy from the shelter of the coulee until the others should reach the timber. The braves, accordingly, started for the cover, but before they reached it, three of their number fell by the bullets of the Blackfoot.
Pish-eesh and his two companions began to be sore pressed and were in momentary danger of having their retreat cut off when Kin-u-sayo, seeing that the rest of the Crees had reached shelter, told his comrades to break for cover and he would keep the foe in play until they were in safety. Very unwillingly they finally agreed, and started for the timber. They had only gone a short distance when a bullet broke Kin-u-sayo’s left thigh and he had to drop to the ground. Straightening the broken limb as best he could, and flinging his gun away, his ammunition being spent, he dumped his quiver by his side. Then, shouting to his friends that he would not travel alone to the happy hunting grounds but would have an escort of Blackfoot, he sent arrow after arrow with deadly aim, into the crowd of enemies. This discouraged them from making what was regarded as a great coup, namely, scalping him alive.
Three Blackfoot fell by the arrows of Kin-u-sayo, before he had exhausted the quiverful. Then he threw his bow aside and drew his knife. He shouted to his assailants that he had only that to defend himself with now, and that they had better come on and make short work of the affair, for they would never get his hair while he was alive. Then they shot at him from all directions. Such was the fear with which he had inspired them by his dauntless bearing that not one of them dared tackle him at close quarters, crippled though he was. At last Kin-u-sayo fell, literally riddled with bullets, and they took his scalp.
Pish-eesh and Kit-u-way-py reached the timber and joined the rest of their band. When night fell, they got safely away, taking the ponies of the Blackfoot with them. But they returned to their lodges without scalps and left those of the three braves who fell as they were making for the timber, and that of the dauntless Kin-u-sayo, in the hands of the Blackfoot.
Kin-u-sayo’s Death was last modified: July 27th, 2019 by Hammerson Peters
It was only a short time after the occasion on which Kak-she-wey, or Loud Voice’s medicine was marred by the rashness of a thoughtless boy, that he resolved again to set out on the warpath. He had between 60 and 70 warriors in his party and they took their line of march on the south side of the Cypress Hills, or Min-ach-ta-kan, making for the Sweet Grass Hills, Weech-ka-skotch-e-ya.
When they reached Milk River the young men asked Loud Voice to make medicine or conjure. This he did and, after he had finished, he announced that on the following day, when the sun would be half way through his day’s journey, they would find their foes on the north side of the westernmost butte in a certain valley which he described to them.
“If my young men,” added he, “do not wish to meet the enemy, they can avoid so by keeping away from that valley, and going around another way.”
Then one of the young braves, Ki-chap-a-ho-wess, or The Man that Picks your Eyes Out, arose and made a speech to the band of warriors. He said he did not see the use of going round that valley in which the enemy were, in search of whom they had come from home. That was the game that he had started out to hunt and, for his part, he was prepared to follow his father. Actually, Loud Voice was his uncle, but he always called him father. Thereupon all the party agreed, as one man, to follow Loud Voice into the valley, and share his fate whatever it might be.
They marched on throughout all that night, and at midday reached the valley, finding the enemy just where Loud Voice had said. There was a camp of over 100 lodges of Peigans. No time was lost in beginning the attack and the fighting continued without intermission until darkness fell. Loud Voice’s party came off victorious, having slain 20 of the Peigans, most of whom they scalped, and carrying off over 50 head of their horses. Loud Voice lost six men, three of whom where scalped.
Thenceforth, the skill of Kak-she-wey, as a great medicine man, high as it stood before, was considered as unequalled by that of any other conjurer of his own or any other tribe.
Loud Voice’s Raid was last modified: July 27th, 2019 by Hammerson Peters
Kak-she-wey, or Loud Voice, was one of the most noted chiefs that the Crees ever had. Certainly he was the most noted of those who led their young men on the warpath within recent years. He was distinguished no less for his bravery than for his sagacity and the sound judgment he showed in avoiding a contest where defeat was likely to be the result of battle. His particular following consisted of the Pot-eh-p’wayu-seepe-eh-new-uk, or Qu’Appelle Indians.
About the year 1857, Loud Voice left Qu’Appelle with a war party for the west. His band consisted of the chosen warriors of his tribe and they set out on the expedition full of hope of returning in triumph with the scalps of many Blackfoot at their belts. Not only was their leader a warrior of approved skill and courage and one well worthy to be followed on the warpath, but he was a great medicine man as well, and one whose divinations, when he made medicine, always came true. But on this occasion they were doomed to disappointment, even though the failure of the expedition was not due to any fault of Loud Voice’s, either as a warrior or a medicine man.
When the party reached Old Wives Lake, Loud Voice chose for his conjuring as medicine man, a spot on the east side of the North Lake, where a fine spring rises near the summit of a small butte and runs eastward in a little stream over the prairie. The spot is known to this day among the Crees as Ka-ke-mun-too-kasuchk, or “the place where the medicine man conjured”. The Canadian Pacific Railway runs today within half a mile of the place.
Having finished his medicine-making or divination, Loud Voice announced the result to his young men. It was to the effect that, as their Blackfoot foes were close at hand, none of the party should leave the camp next morning. If anyone should be foolhardy enough to do so, Loud Voice assured them that the man would pay the penalty with his life.
There were a few Assiniboines in Loud Voice’s band, and one of their number, a hotheaded young brave, either doubting the truth of the prediction made by the chief, or anxious to show his daring and disregard for the risk he ran, mounted his horse at daybreak and rode off from the camp. Striking out to the westward, he came to some buttes in the neighborhood of Rush Lake. Riding towards the nearest one with the intention of ascending to the top to reconnoiter, he suddenly saw the figure of a warrior shown on the summit. Instead of turning round and making all haste to the camp he had left, the young brave, trusting to the speed of his horse, approached nearer to the butte in order to assure himself of the identity and number of the enemy. As soon as he came within gunshot, the Blackfoot opened fire on him and one bullet broke the foreleg of his horse, bringing him, with his rider, to the ground. The Blackfoot braves then rushed at him and, before he could make any defence, dispatched him with their tomahawks. The spot where he was slain is called, to this day, by the Crees, Oop-wassie-mu-ka-ke-ouk-a-ma-hucht, or “the place where the Assiniboine was killed with the tomahawks”.
When Loud Voice learned of the fate of the rash young brave, he knew that his “medicine” was broken. He realized that his followers, even if he asked them, would not have the heart to advance on the enemy, so he retired with his party to Qu’Appelle. But, though this raid ended unsuccessfully, it is said that within a week after, Loud Voice was on the warpath again.
The Conjuring of Loud Voice was last modified: July 27th, 2019 by Hammerson Peters
White Elk Horn was the greatest chief and the bravest warrior among the Blackfoot. He was regarded as proof against arrows of the best marksmen of the Gros Ventres, Sioux, Crows, and Crees; it was even alleged that a great medicine man had predicted that he would not be dead until he had been five times slain. It was further foretold that he would be killed by the hand of a Saulteaux brave.
The Saulteaux Indians were a branch of the Chippewa tribe that had wandered to the west from their native haunts on the shores of Lake Superior, and between them and the Blackfoot there existed the deadliest kind of feud.
It happened, one day, that White Elk Horn, accompanied by only seven Blackfoot, camped for the night by a spring three miles below the forks of the Red Deer and the South Saskatchewan. They camped without discovering the fact that a band of Saulteaux, under the leadership of their chief, Goosefoot, were encamped behind the ridge which intervenes between the hollow where the spring is, and a deep coulee. The Saulteaux were equally unaware, of the proximity of their enemy.
In the dusk of the evening, a Saulteaux woman came to the spring to draw water and, on her way, met a Blackfoot brave, some say White Elk Horn himself. The brave addressed her in Blackfoot but she, recognizing the enemy of her tribe, made no answer. She passed on to the spring and, having filled her vessel, returned by a circuitous route to the camp of her friends, to whom she announced the presence of their archenemy at the spring.
Goosefoot and his braves, by careful reconnaissance, ascertained that White Elk Horn had only a handful of warriors with him. He speedily drew a cordon of his men around the little band of Blackfoot and, when morning dawned, the hitherto unvanquished chief found himself outnumbered and outgeneraled. He had no chance of escape and only the grim solace left him of dying, as an Indian chief should, fighting to the last, and sending as many as possible of his foes before him to the happy hunting grounds, as heralds of his coming.
The opposing chiefs parleyed, but Goosefoot, sure of his advantage, would listen to no terms of surrender by which his enemy might go free, and the two bands at last fell to. As may be supposed, the great war chief of the Blackfoot justified his reputation. Marvellous were the feats of valor he performed and many a Saulteaux brave trod before him the long trail to the happy hunting grounds. But against fate and numbers, even his mighty arm could not prevail, and at last he fell, pierced with many a wound, but unyielding to the last.
Only one of the Blackfoot braves was left alive when the chief fell. He managed to escape while the victors were congratulating themselves on the death of White Elk Horn, slain, as had been predicted, by the hand of a Saulteaux.
Goosefoot and his men gratified their hate by dismembering the body of their enemy and it is said that after they were severed from the bleeding trunk, the quivering limbs made spasmodic movements as if they would seek to be reunited with it. The victors then flayed him, and underneath the skin they found two live snakes, which they only killed after a prolonged struggle. They took out his brisket, and found his heart beating as regularly and as strongly as when he was alive and it continued to beat for a long time after they had hung it on the branch of a tree and stood watching it. Indeed, it was only when it had ceased beating that they became satisfied White Elk Horn was really dead and that there was not the slightest chance of his returning to life. They too had heard of the prediction that he would have to be killed five times before he would stay dead.
The solitary survivor of White Elk Horn’s little band made his way home to his tribe and when he told his sad tiding, there was grief in the lodges of the Blackfoot. Only the chief’s wives, of whom he had ten, refused to believe the bad news. Obstinately they persisted in the belief that he would return again to his lodge as strong, as brave, and as invincible as before. White Elk Horn was killed in the spring, but it was not until the winter had come that his faithful widows accepted the fact of his death and mourned for him whose return from the warpath or the chase they would never again greet with rejoicing and with pride.
White Elk Horn was last modified: July 27th, 2019 by Hammerson Peters
Imagine that it is the spring of 1876. You’re lounging on a bench on the deck of your family’s log cabin, which doubles as your family’s trading post, enjoying an evening smoke with your swarthy mustachioed brother-in-law. It is sundown in the Cypress Hills, and the lodgepole pines which crown the surrounding slopes are fading into dusky silhouettes against a crimson sky.
As you draw on your pipe, you and your companion spot a lone rider in the distance- an Indian approaching the palisaded walls of nearby Fort Walsh. The rider is hailed by the guards and ushered inside the fort. Just as you begin to replenish your dwindling bowl, he emerges again, this time accompanied by an officer of the North-West Mounted Police. Taking the lead, the policeman spurs his horse to a brisk trot and heads straight towards you.
The Indian, you soon learn, is the advance scout of an Assiniboine band which is in the process of making camp on Battle Creek about three miles to the southeast, at the edge of the prairie. Buffalo are harder to come by these days, and with their winter pemmican stores all but exhausted, the Assiniboine are in desperate need of food.
The band intends to camp outside the fort tomorrow, but refuses to complete the journey until morning. If they proceed up the trail any further, they will come to the spot at which several dozen of their kin were killed three years prior in the event which has come to be known as the Cypress Hills Massacre. Anyone who travels through that haunted valley at night, the Assiniboine believe, runs the risk of encountering those spirits of the dead who have yet to make the journey to the Great Sand Hills- the final resting place of all Plains Indian souls north of the Medicine Line.
The red-coated Mountie informs you that, although the band will be properly treated in the morning, he has been tasked with bringing some bacon and a few sacks of flour to them tonight as a gesture of goodwill. His own knowledge of the Assiniboine language is rudimentary at best, but doubtless most of the Indians speak the Plains Cree tongue- a language in which you are perfectly fluent. Would you consent to accompany him to the Assiniboine camp and lend him your interpretive services tonight?
You agree. You grab your rifle and your woolen Hudson’s Bay Company blanket and hitch your horse up to your two-wheeled Red River cart, the latter being less cumbersome than the heavy NWMP wagon which the Mountie might have otherwise employed. After taking on some provisions at the fort, you and your two new companions head down Battle Creek. The Red River cart is a two-wheeled all-wooden wagon invented by the Metis people of what is now Manitoba, and was originally used to transport goods associated with the 19th Century fur trade.
The journey takes about half an hour, bringing you past the charred remains of the American whisky forts outside which the aforementioned massacre took place. Mercifully, your excursion is devoid of any encounters with the spectral residents whom the Assiniboine say haunt those grounds.
From 1869-1874, dozens of fur traders from Fort Benton, Montana, established quasi-legal trading posts in what is now Southern Alberta and Southwestern Saskatchewan and began trading goods to the local Blackfoot in exchange for buffalo robes. One of the chief commodities peddled at these forts was a rotgut concoction consisting of diluted whisky, tobacco, molasses, red ink, and other ingredients, which many Blackfoot found irresistible. The destructive effects of this whisky trade on the Blackfoot Nations was one of the major impetuses behind the creation of the NWMP.
It is dusk by the time you reach the Assiniboine camp, situated as it is at the edge of the open prairie. In typical Indian fashion, the Assiniboine have pitched their smoke-stained teepees in a large circle, in the centre of which they have tethered their horses as a precaution against potential Blackfoot horse thieves. Half-starved Indian dogs bark as you approach the camp, and shy Assiniboine children peek out from behind their mothers’ skirts as your red-coated companion hands sacks of flour to their grateful fathers and brothers.
“It is too dangerous for you to return home tonight,” the band’s chief says to the Mountie after the last of the provisions have been unloaded. “The ghosts don’t know the difference between Red Coats and wolfers. They will shoot you with their night arrows all the same. You had better stay in my lodge tonight.
The Mountie, having anticipated such a request, had already secured permission from his superior to spend the night in the Assiniboine camp. As your red-coated friend would have some difficulty communicating with his native hosts without you, you also accept the chief’s hospitality.
Later that night, you find yourself seated cross-legged on a buffalo robe in the chief’s teepee next to your red-coated friend, sharing a pipe with a handful of Assiniboine braves. Aside from the crackling of the buffalo chips in the centre of the lodge, which have been set ablaze to drive away the spring chill, and the distant, mournful howling of a pack of prairie wolves, all is quiet.
Once every man in the lodge has had the opportunity to smoke, your taciturn host breaks the silence. Using soft tones so as to not wake the women and children who are sleeping behind him, he and his men begin to converse in Plains Cree for your benefit and that of your white companion. The conversation ranges from the agreement which the Great White Mother hopes to make with the Cree and Assiniboine nations in the near future to the war being fought between the Sioux and the blue-coated Long Knives south of the Medicine Line.
When talk turns to the rumour that the great Sioux chief Sitting Bull hopes to make peace with the Blackfoot Confederacy, his people’s ancient enemies, an old grizzled warrior seated to your left begins fingering a greasy scalp lock stitched to the shoulder of his buckskin shirt. “It is a good thing that our people made peace with the Blackfoot,” he growls. “They were powerful enemies. Even if I live to see a hundred summers, I will never forget that battle on the Belly River. They shot us down like so many buffalo.” Without further ado, the old warrior launches into the tale of the world’s last great intertribal Indian battle, fought six years prior on the shores of a westerly waterway.
This hypothetical scenario serves to illustrate the manner in which James Francis Sanderson, the author of Indian Tales of the Canadian Prairies, may have heard some of the tales he put to paper in 1894.
James F. Sanderson
James Francis Sanderson was born on March 23, 1848, in the fur trading town of Athabasca Landing, the site of the present-day town of Athabasca, Alberta, situated on the Athabasca River about 115 kilometres (72 miles) southeast of Lesser Slave Lake. His Scottish-Cree father, James Sr., worked aboard the Viking-style York boats of the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC), spending much of his time in York Factory, the Company’s headquarters, located on the southwestern shores of Hudson Bay. His mother Elizabeth, on the other hand, was the daughter of an Orcadian Scotsman named James Anderson- another HBC employee- and a Saulteaux woman named Mary.
Shortly after taking up residence in the Red River Valley, James Sr. drowned in a boating accident on Lake Manitoba. James Jr. and the rest of his family subsequently relocated to the Metis village of Portage la Prairie to the northwest, where Elizabeth’s family, the Andersons, had also decided to resettle. In addition to receiving a basic formal education there, teenaged Sanderson accompanied the local Metis men on a number of buffalo hunts on the eastern prairies in the late 1860s, during which he acquired both an insatiable appetite for frontier life and perfect fluency in both French and Plains Cree.
In 1934, 1935, and 1936, George William Sanderson, James’ elder brother, recounted his childhood experiences to his niece, Mary Sophia Desmarais Campbell, who published them in a piece entitled Through Memory’s Windows. Of the Metis buffalo hunt, in which he was unable to participate on account of a childhood medical condition, George said:
“Buffalo meat was our chief article of food. Every summer for weeks at a time the settlers moved to the plains and killed buffalo, dried the meat and made pemmican of some of it. They sold the robes to the Hudson’s Bay Co. I have been told that when the hunter first began to chase the buffalo any old horse would do, but in later years one had to have a very swift horse. It took a good rider and a man had to be quick too to kill a buffalo. The guns were all muzzle loaders and the rider carried a powder horn on his right side, a shot or bullet pouch on the other, and the gun caps in his waist coat pocket. The bullets for immediate use he held in his mouth. The horses were well trained and could be guided by the motions and gestures, or leaning of the riders’ body…”
The Red River Rebellion
In the wake of Canadian Confederation (1867), a large force of French Metis from the Red River Valley refused a Canadian government survey party entry into the region, fearful that Dominion agents would force them to abandon their homesteads on the Red River, which they did not legally own, and relinquish their Michif language and Roman Catholic faith, to which they strongly adhered. Immediately after repelling the survey party, the Metis rebels seized Upper Fort Garry- an old HBC trading post situated at the site of what is now Winnipeg, Manitoba- completely without bloodshed. This uprising, called the Red River Rebellion, was led by a well-educated Metis revolutionary named Louis Riel.
While Riel negotiated with Donald Smith- an HBC representative and future railway magnate who would come to be known as Lord Strathcona- hoping to transform the Red River Valley into a Metis province within the framework of the Dominion, fourty-eight pro-Canadian counter-revolutionaries, most of them of Scottish, Irish, or Anglo-Metis pedigree, plotted to overthrow the new provisional government that Riel had established. Before they could execute their scheme, however, they were arrested by Riel’s men and imprisoned at Upper Fort Gary.
Major Charles Boulton, a member of the Canadian government survey party that Riel had repelled, subsequently organized a militia with which to rescue Riel’s captives. Among the men he recruited were 20-year-old James Sanderson and his elder brother, George. Like the counter-revolutionaries before them, Boulton and his militia were captured by Riel’s Metis and imprisoned in Upper Fort Gary, where, according to the official history books, they languished in cold, cramped cells, forced to endure a month of privation and malnutrition.
Said George William Sanderson of the event of their capture:
“When we came near the Fort, a man on horseback shot out of the gate like an arrow, then another, and so on until ten or twelve came out. One rode towards us and stopped to speak. He held up a white handkerchief in his right hand… Old Mr. Pecha walked up to the rider and said in French, “Good day. What do you want?” The man answered, speaking in French also, “our leader, Louis Riel and his officers, wish you all to come into the Fort and have dinner with them.” Well, that was very acceptable. We wouldn’t dream of refusing such an invitation, as we had not too much to eat since we left home. We were all ushered into the Fort where we had to stay more than a month.”
Of their stay at Fort Gary, George Sanderson said:
“We were all put into a large room to sleep. There were no beds, so we just bunked on the floor and benches. Most of us had a buffalo robe of our own. My brother Jim… and I slept together. We would have been quite comfortable had it not been for that man [Thomas] Scott making such a racket. He would kick the board partition, yell and curse, and was most impudent to the guard.
“One night when Scott was especially troublesome and noisy, a guard walked in and asked what all the trouble was about. He said, ‘Now you fellows had better be quiet. If I have to come in again tonight, I will bring a billy with me, and the man who is making the noise will get it over the head’.
“On the whole, we were used fairly well. We had all the pemmican we could eat, and tea to drink. The Frenchmen themselves had nothing else except that they had sugar in their tea, and we had none…
“The Roman Catholic priest made a special intercession for us to Riel and his guards. He asked them to use us as well as they could as we were just poor natives like themselves and it was not our fault we were captives…
“When we were in prison a few days, some of the town folk came in and asked Riel if they could supply us with one meal a day. Riel told them they could do so. They could give us whatever they wished. They raised a subscription among the inhabitants as the town was very small. They must have all given something, for after that we got one good meal a day, cakes, pies, bread, and butter and sugar for our tea.
“Some years ago, I picked up and began to read a history of the Manitoba Rebellion, the story told of the great hardships we endured as prisoners and how we were starved. It must have been written by someone who knew nothing about it, for it was nothing but a lot of damned lies. We were well-treated.”
During the Sanderson brothers’ imprisonment, one of their fellow pro-Canadian counter-revolutionaries- the troublesome aforementioned Thomas Scott, who was a staunchly Protestant Irishman- was executed by firing squad on Riel’s orders, apparently for the sole purpose of forcing the Canadian government to take the Metis seriously. The Dominion responded by sending a military expedition west to the Red River Valley to enforce peace in the region, prompting Riel to flee south to Dakota Territory in the United States and ending the Sanderson brothers’ month-long incarceration.
In 1872, James Sanderson married Maria McKay, a Metis girl who belonged to a prominent Scots-Cree family. That same year, the McKay clan relocated to the Cypress Hills- a remote oasis nestled deep in the heart of the Canadian prairies, in the midst of a vast, wild, lawless domain known at that time as the North-West Territories. James Sanderson and his new wife accompanied their family west, where they lived the traditional Metis lifestyle, roaming the prairies in the summer months in search of buffalo and spending the winter in their cabin in the Cypress Hills, combatting hibernal monotony with music and dance. When they weren’t travelling or hunting buffalo, James and Maria helped Maria’s father, Edward, run the fur trading post that he established in the Cypress Hills.
The couple would go on to have four children: Caroline, Owen, Duncan, and Mary.
The Cypress Hills Massacre
The Sandersons and the McKays were not the only fur traders plying their trade in the Cypress Hills at that time. Not far from their store were two rival trading posts separated by a small creek, one of them owned by a New York Polish-Jew named Moses Solomon and the other by a Montanan named Abe Farwell. Solomon and Farwell had both established their posts in 1871, having heard of the tremendous profits garnered by the traders at Fort Whoop-Up, an American-run fur trading post established in 1869 on the banks of what is now the Oldman River, about 215 kilometres (134 miles) to the west. The traders at Fort Whoop-Up had managed to acquire a prodigious quantity of buffalo robes through the practice of selling rotgut whisky to the local Blackfoot- a commodity for the procurance of which the natives would undergo any hardship. Hoping to replicate Whoop-Up’s success, Solomon and Farwell ensured that their stores were amply stocked with firewater.
In the summer of 1873, twelve heavily-armed American wolf hunters rode up to Farwell and Solomon’s posts and generously helped themselves to the whisky traders’ eponymous wares. They informed their hosts that they were searching for an Indian raiding party which had stolen nineteen of their horses north of Fort Benton, Montana, several days prior, from whom they hoped to reclaim their animals. After engaging in idle banter with some of the forts’ employees, the wolfers became convinced that an impoverished band of Assiniboine Indians who were camped at the edge of the nearby creek were the horse thieves. The inebriated wolvers approached the Assiniboine camp with their rifles at the ready, prompting the natives, many of whom were similarly intoxicated, to take cover. Assuming that the Indians were preparing to fight them, the wolfers raised their guns and opened fire. After a brief exchange of gunfire, twenty-two Assiniboine- including several women and children- and one wolfer lay dead.
Since the year 1870, the Canadian government had been toying with the idea of sending a mounted police force west to suppress the illegal whisky trade in what is now Southern Alberta, the rumours of which they had learned from HBC employees stationed at trading posts along the North Saskatchewan River. Advocates of this western police force succeeded in passing a legislation allowing for the creation of the NWMP on May 23, 1873, coincidentally ten days before the aforementioned tragedy which has come to be known as the Cypress Hills Massacre. After learning of the bloody event, Canadian bureaucrats realized that they needed to form the police force quickly if they hoped to establish Canadian sovereignty on the western plains. The North-West Mounted Police was subsequently established, and less than a year later, its first officers made the long trek from Fort Dufferin, Manitoba, across the Canadian prairies to Fort Whoop-Up, located at the site of present-day Lethbridge, Alberta. A year later, the Mounties built Fort Walsh in the Cypress Hills not far from the site of the massacre, in the vicinity of the McKay trading post.
James Sanderson found work with the Mounties as soon as they established themselves in the area, serving the Force as a scout, hunter, and interpreter. The farsighted frontiersmen realized that, with the coming of the Mounties, the days of Canada’s Wild West would rapidly draw to a close. Cognizant of the possibility that the buffalo, which had dominated the North American Plains since time immemorial, might not be around forever, Sanderson rode south to Montana, purchased a small herd of cattle at the town of Fort Benton, and drove his livestock north to the Cypress Hills.
In 1878, Fort Walsh was made the new headquarters of the North-West Mounted Police (the former being Fort Macleod, built upriver from Fort Whoop-Up), its importance having been bolstered by the presence of Sitting Bull’s Sioux, who had fled into Canada and settled at easterly Wood Mountain following the Battle of the Little Bighorn. The influx of policemen to the new headquarters led to Sanderson’s acquiring a lucrative contract selling beef to the Mounties, through which he accumulated a small fortune.
In 1882, the NWMP headquarters was moved to the fledgling town of Regina, newly-established at a location to the east hitherto known as ‘Pile-o’-Bones’. The Sanderson and McKay families subsequently left the Cypress Hills and resettled at a lonely stretch of riverbank which the Indians called “Saamis”, or “Medicine Hat”, located about 80 kilometres (50 miles) to the northwest on the shores of the South Saskatchewan River. The frontiersmen knew that the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR)- Canada’s first trans-Atlantic railroad- was to cross the South Saskatchewan River at Medicine Hat, and surmised that the CPR worksite would grow into a thriving community. Sure enough, when the CP Railway reached Medicine Hat in 1883 and construction of the bridge over the South Saskatchewan commenced, a town sprang up in the vicinity of the work camp.
James Francis Sanderson quickly established himself as one of Medicine Hat’s most prominent citizens, working variously as a freighter and general contractor for the CPR, a buffalo bone collector (due to their high phosphorous content, buffalo bones were used to make fertilizer at that time), an interpreter for the local Mounties, an agent for a local coal mine, and a regional wolf inspector. Eventually, Sanderson operated a bull herd for local cattlemen, herding bulls from the surrounding ranches onto his own property every spring and fall. Later on, he established his own livery herd and his own cattle ranch on a flat bordering the South Saskatchewan River, which came to be known as Sanderson’s Point, and became an ardent proponent of horse racing.
In 1894, James Sanderson wrote a series of articles for the Medicine Hat News entitled “Indian Tales of the Canadian Prairies”, in which he recounted some of the stories he heard from his Metis and First Nations friends during his days as a trader and buffalo hunter on the Western Canadian frontier. Most of these stories appear to be based on events which took place from 1850-1870.
In 1896, Sanderson sent a shipment of cattle across the continent and the Atlantic Ocean beyond to England. A reporter for the Montreal Herald who encountered him during this journey described him as “a stalwart Scotsman with the frame of a Hercules, and the suspicion of a strain of the Cree chieftain’s blood in his bearing”.
James Francis Sanderson passed away in Medicine Hat, Alberta, on December 8, 1902, at the age of 54, leaving behind four children, a foster daughter, and an invaluable piece of Canadian literature offering a unique glimpse into the history, folklore, and character of Canada’s Wild West. He was buried in Medicine Hat’s Old Hillside Cemetery, where he lies today beside his wife and his son, Owen.
In the summer of 1965, Indian Tales of the Canadian Prairies was republished in the Alberta Historical Review, supplemented with eight excellent illustrations by Calgary-based artist William B. Fraser. That same year, the piece, complete with Fraser’s illustrations, was republished by the Historical Society of Alberta.
“Sanderson, James Francis” (2003), by L. J. Roy Wilson in Volume 13 of the Dictionary of Canadian Biography
The Andersons: A Hudson’s Bay Company Family (ca. 1985), by Theresa Schenk
James F. Sanderson (1957), by E.G. Luxton; from the Southern Alberta Research Project
Through Memory’s Windows, as told to Mary Sophia Desmaris Campbell by her uncle George William Sanderson in 1934, 1935, 1936
“About the Author” section of the 1965 publication of James F. Sanderson’s Indian Tales of the Canadian Prairies, issued by the Historical Society of Alberta
The Nine Years’ War in Canada- 1690: The Acadian Theatre
The Raid on Salmon Falls
Following Benjamin Church’s first Acadian raid, things were quiet in Acadia and New England for seven months. Then, in the spring of 1690, the governor of Canada ordered two military officers- Joseph-Francois Hertel and his son, Jean-Baptiste- with leading a raiding expedition against New Hampshire. On March 27, 1690, the two French officers, twenty six French Canadian soldiers, and a war party of Abenaki, Mi’kmaq, and Maliseet warriors surrounded the New English settlement of Salmon Falls (present-day Berwick, Maine). The warriors attacked the village and killed thirty four of its residents before burning the settlements’ buildings and their contents, including the livestock within them. The settlement’s remaining fifty-four inhabitants, most of them women and children, were captured and later carried off to Acadia.
The Battle of Falmouth (1690)
a.k.a. The Battle of Fort Loyal
After the raid on Salmon Falls, the Hertels and the Wabanaki war party waited for reinforcements, engaging briefly with a small militia from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, which had come to harry them. Within a month, they were joined by Jean-Vincent de Saint-Castin and several hundred Abenaki warriors. Their ranks swelled, the Acadians marched on the nearby village of Falmouth (also known as Casco)- the settlement which Benjamin Church and his Rangers had saved from Wabanaki warriors the previous autumn.
On May 16, 1690, the five-hundred-man French-Indian war party arrived at Falmouth and attacked the settlement, at which stood a palisaded bastioned called Fort Loyal. The New English settlers, who were hugely outnumbered, managed to hold off the attackers for four days, all the while enduring a withering barrage from the attackers, who took up position in a deep gully which sheltered them from New English musket fire. Knowing that they would incur heavy losses if they assaulted the fort directly, the besiegers dug a zigzag-shaped trench towards the bastion until they were close enough to lob cast-iron hand grenades over the palisades.
On May 20, the defenders finally surrendered. Despite promises of save passage given by the Frenchmen, the Wabanakis proceeded to mercilessly massacre the settlement’s inhabitants. When the slaughter was complete, the victors piled the corpses of the slain in a large heap outside the village. The fort’s commander, Captain Sylvanus Davis- one of the few New Englanders who survived the massacre- was captured and eventually brought to Quebec.
The fall of Fort Loyal gave the Wabanakis free reign to pillage and plunder with impunity throughout the countryside. In the week that followed the Battle of Falmouth, the Acadian Indians slaughtered forty New English settlers in various small-scale massacres that took place throughout the Acadian-New Hampshire borderlands.
The Battle of Port Royal (1690)
While the Hertels, Saint-Castin, and their native allies had been busy exchanging fire with the residents of Falmouth, another battle was taking place in the heart of Acadia.
Up until this point, all the Acadian operations in the Nine Years’ War had been coordinated from Fort Meductic, on the shores of what is now New Brunswick. The capital of Acadia, however, was the village of Port Royal, the second oldest French settlement in the New World, situated on the southwestern shores of the Acadian Peninsula (i.e. Nova Scotia) on the Bay of Fundy.
The settlement of Port Royal was no stranger to conflict. Back in 1613, the village had been razed by a party of intrepid New English raiders. In 1627, it had been captured by Scottish noble Sir William Alexander, who converted it into the capital of the short-lived colony of Nova Scotia. Throughout the 1640s, Port Royal- in French hands once again- was the setting of two battles fought during the Acadian Civil War. And in 1654, three hundred English soldiers, under the orders of Oliver Cromwell (leader of the Commonwealth of England) took the village by force.
On May 19, 1690, Port Royal was attacked for a sixth time by 225 New English sailors and 446 provincial soldiers under the command of Sir William Phips.
William Phips was considered something of a homegrown hero in New England. A lowborn shipwright and lumber merchant from the colony of Massachussets, he had allowed his hard-won livelihood to literally go up in flames in order to save the lives of the residents of a particular village during a Wabanaki raid that took place during King Philip’s War. More recently, he had been awarded a knighthood from King William III for salvaging the contents of a sunken Spanish treasure galleon in the Caribbean, becoming the first native New Englander to earn the honorific ‘Sir’. Despite Phips’ complete lack of military experience, the Massachusetts militia promoted him to the rank of Major General in the spring of 1690 and gave him command of the naval expedition against New France.
Upon approaching the capital of Acadia, Phips found, to his delight, that Port Royal’s ninety soldiers were actually in the process of dismantling their fortifications so that stronger ones could be built in their place. None of the fort’s cannons were presently functional, and to top it off, the village’s armory held a total of nineteen muskets at that time. The garrison surrendered without a fight.
For some reason, on which French and English accounts of the incident disagree, Phips perceived that the Frenchmen were attempting to withhold some of their town’s spoils from him and flew into a rage. He claimed that the French had breached the terms of their surrender before seizing not only the contents of the fort, but also the private property of the village’s citizens.
The Battle of Chedabucto
About a month after his capture of Port Royal, Sir William Phips tasked one of his officers, Captain Cyrian Southack, with raiding the Acadian village of Chedabucto, situated at the tip of the Acadian Peninsula just across the Chedabucto Bay from Ile Royale (i.e. Cape Breton Island). In addition to housing a French military post called Fort Saint Louis, Chedabucto served as the headquarters of the Company of Acadia, an important French fishing company.
On June 3, 1690, Captain Southack and eighty-eight New English soldiers stormed Fort Saint Louis. Although they were heavily outnumbered, the twelve Acadian soldiers who manned the fort put up a fierce six-hour defense. When the New Englanders began to firebomb the fort, the French defenders realized that future resistance would be futile. They surrendered to Southack, who allowed them to retreat across the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the colony of Plaisance, on the island of Newfoundland. Upon capturing the fort, Southack proceeded to destroy 50,000 crowns-worth of salted cod that had been garnered by the Company of Acadia, dealing a major blow to the New French fishing industry.
Church’s Second Expedition
In the fall of 1690, Benjamin Church prepared for his second expedition to Acadia. Several months earlier, he had been designated the sad task of burying the bones of the New English settlers who had been massacred at Falmouth- the same settlers whom he and his men had saved from Abenaki warriors one year earlier. Eager to avenge their deaths, Church and three hundred volunteers of both New English and aboriginal extraction set out for the ruins of Fort Pejepscot (present-day Brunswick, Maine), and English fort that had been abandoned in the wake of the Glorious Revolution.
Church and his men arrived at the desolate Fort Pejepscot on September 11, 1690. From there, they trekked forty miles up the Androscoggin River to an Abenaki village. The few warriors who resided in the village at that time became aware of Church’s presence and fled as his men approached the settlement. Some of the New English and indigenous marksmen fired at the braves as they rowed their canoe across the Androscoggin River and three of them received fatal shots in the back.
Upon taking the village, Church and his men found a number of women, children, and old Abenaki men huddled within the wigwams. Among the Indians were five filthy, half-starved New English prisoners. In a brutal act of psychological warfare, Church put a number of villagers to death, subjecting them to a cruel form of execution known in Italy as mazzatello- a method of capital punishment characterized by blunt trauma to the head which, in this case, was likely administered by war clubs or gun stocks. Two elderly women were spared the slaughter so that they might relate the incident to the Abenaki warriors when they returned, along with a message from Benjamin Church instructing them to bring all their English captives to Salmon Falls within two weeks if they ever hoped to see their wives and children again.
Church took the rest of the villagers captive and interrogated them, quickly learning that a major Acadian offensive was in the works. He proceeded to burn the settlement and its huge store of corn, leaving a small quantity of food for the two elderly women he chose to leave behind, and marched his prisoners down the river to vessels that awaited him there.
Church and his men spent the remainder of the day exploring the mouth of the nearby Saco River, where they rescued a New Englishman from his Abenaki captors. As the ships were crowded, three companies of the New English force decided to spend that night on shore at what is now Cape Elizabeth, Maine, known at that time as Purpooduc Point- a decision which would prove near-disastrous.
That night, one of the force’s Indian sentries heard a man cough in the bush, followed by the cracking of sticks. When he informed his companions that he suspected they were being watched, they laughed at him and said that the ‘cough’ he heard was probably the snort of a wild boar.
At dawn, the poor sentry was vindicated when a party of Abenaki braves rushed into the camp screaming war cries. Fortunately for the New Englanders, the morning mist had dampened the Abenaki’s gunpowder, delaying the timing of their first volley. The Englishmen retreated to the shore, where they were joined by the soldiers and warriors who had spent the night on the boats. Bolstered by these reinforcements, the New Englanders chased their assailants back into the woods. Church lost seven soldiers in this skirmish, and twenty four of his men were wounded. As was typical of the Nine Years’ War, the number of casualties the Abenaki sustained was a mystery since, according to the custom of the natives of the Atlantic Northeast, they had carried their dead and wounded with them into the forest.
Promises of a Prisoner Exchange
In October 1690, the Abenaki chiefs of the Androscoggin River appeared at the town of Wells (now Wells, Maine) under the white flag of truce and appealed to the town’s resident militia captain, asking that the New Englanders return the wives and daughters that Benjamin Church had taken during his second expedition to Acadia. The natives claimed that they wished to make peace with the English, and so a prisoner exchange was arranged for that November.
The scheduled meeting went as planned, although the Abenaki chiefs brought a only ten New English captives with them for exchange- a mere fraction of the prisoners they had taken during those first few years of the Nine Years’ War. After a six-day parley, the natives agreed to a truce which would last until the following spring. In May 1691, the two parties were to meet a second time, whereupon they would exchange all of their captives and agree to a permanent peace.
The Nine Years’ War in Canada- 1690: The Acadian Theatre was last modified: June 24th, 2019 by Hammerson Peters
The Nine Years’ War in Canada- 1689: The Acadian Theatre
Background: King Philip’s War
By the time the Nine Years’ War broke out, British and French colonists on the Atlantic Coast were spoiling for a fight. Over a decade earlier, a handful of Algonquin tribes had warred against the settlers of New England in a devastating three-year conflict called King Philip’s War (‘King Philip’ being the nickname of Chief Metacomet, a powerful leader of the Wompanoag Indians). The French Acadians took advantage of the conflict by incentivizing the Wabanaki Confederacy, an alliance of five Acadian First Nations with whom they were friendly, to attack the Englishmen. From 1675 to 1677, the Wabanaki tribes engaged in annual raiding campaigns against New English settlements, prompting a prominent New English leader named Richard Waldron to eventually retaliate with a strike on an Acadian Mi’kmaq settlement.
By the time King Philip’s War ended in 1678, the English and French colonists on North America’s Atlantic coast had grown to resent each other and their respective First Nations allies. One incident which starkly illustrates this sentiment took place in the summer of 1677, when a party of settlers from the village of Marblehead, Massachusetts, hazarded a fishing trip off the southern coast of the Acadian Peninsula (i.e. present-day Nova Scotia). Not far from shore, the fishermen were captured by a party of Mi’kmaq warriors who hijacked their boats and commanded them to sail for a certain Indian village off the coast of what is now Maine. When they learned that they were to be executed, the New Englanders overpowered their captors, throwing most of the Mi’kmaq into the sea and keeping two of them as prisoners-of-war before rowing for home. When they finally slipped into Marblehead with their captives, the fishermen were mobbed by a throng of New English ladies who had lost fathers, husbands, and sons in the war against the natives. Armed with sticks and stones, the furious women set upon the Indian prisoners, attacking any of the fishermen who tried to protect them. Left with little choice, the New Englishmen eventually relinquished their captives and watched in helpless horror as the women vented their rage upon them. According to one colonist who witnessed the atrocity, “we were kept at such distance that we could not see [the prisoners] till they were dead, and then we found them with their heads off and gone, and their flesh in a manner pulled from their bones.”
The Northeast Coast Campaign
When King Philip’s War finally ended in 1678, the Atlantic Northeast enjoyed ten years of relative peace, although the New Englanders and the Wabanaki tribesmen neither forgot nor forgave the atrocities they had suffered at each other’s hands. The Abenaki Nation- one of the five tribes of the Wabanaki Confederacy- finally broke the spell in early 1688, launching a series of surprise raids against New England. That spring, Edmund Andros, the widely unpopular governor of what was then the Dominion of New England, retaliated by launching a minor raid against Acadia, plundering an Abenaki village situated on the shores of what is now southern Maine. Significantly, this village was home to by Jean-Vincent de Saint-Castin, an eccentric French officer who lived as a chief among the Abenaki Indians, and who had almost singlehandedly convinced the Wabanaki Confederacy to go on the warpath against New England during King Philip’s War. Although he plundered the rest of the village, Andros was careful not to desecrate the small altar and religious artifacts that the Catholic officer kept in his home- an act for which he was criticized by his zealous Puritan countrymen.
Four months later, the New Englanders carried out a second raid against the fishing village of Chedabucto (now Guysborough, Nova Scotia), situated on the northeastern shores of the Acadian Peninsula. The Wabanaki Confederacy countered by raiding the New English villages of New Dartmouth (now Newcastle), Yarmouth, and Kennebunk. By the time the Nine Years’ War was declared in Europe, the conflict in the North Atlantic was already in full-swing.
The Raid on Dover
On June 27, 1689, an incident took place in the village of Dover, one of the oldest settlements in New Hampshire, which was more a legacy of King Philip’s War than a development of the Nine Years’ War.
Back in 1676, a band of Indian refugees had taken up residence in the forest surrounding Dover. The town’s leader, Richard Waldron, a Major in the Massachusetts militia, was ordered to attack these natives and turn any captives he managed to take over to them. Waldron, however, had recently made a peace pact with these Indians and had no desire to do battle with them. Instead, he fulfilled his orders through duplicity, disarming the natives by inviting them to discharge their firearms in a mock battle. The natives were subsequently captured and brought to Boston, where many of them were executed or sold into slavery in the Caribbean.
The natives of New Hampshire had not forgotten Waldron’s treachery, and thirteen years after the incident, they decided to take revenge. On the eve of June 27, 1689, a number of Indian women appeared at each of the houses in Dover and asked if they could spend the night. The residents of all but one home invited the women inside. That night, the native women quietly unlocked the doors of the houses they occupied, allowing Indian warriors to sneak inside, tomahawks and scalping knives in hand, and slaughter or capture the residents therein. The white-bearded Major Richard Waldron, now 74 years old, attempted to fight off the braves who entered his own home with his sword. He was eventually overpowered by his attackers and tied to a chair, whereupon the natives tortured him to death, severing his fingers, cutting off his nose and ears and stuffing them in his mouth, slicing him across the chest and belly as if to “cross out” their trading account with him, and finally forcing him to fall on his own sword.
The Siege of Pemaquid (1689)
A few months later, Jean-Vincent de Saint-Castin, the French officer-turned-Abenaki chief who had played a pivotal role in King Philip’s War, decided to personally lead his own offensive against New England. On August 2, 1689, Saint-Castin, a French missionary named Father Louis-Pierre Thury, an old Abenaki chief named Moxus, and a war party consisting of about 200 Abenaki braves surrounded Fort Charles, a palisaded English trading post located in the village of Pemaquid (now Bristol, Maine), killing or capturing any settlers they came across in the countryside. The few dozen defenders garrisoned in the fort exchanged shorts with the attackers throughout the day, and by sunset, most of them were wounded.
The following morning, the defenders surrendered, and the Abenaki allowed them to retreat to Boston. Many of the villagers, however, were kept as prisoners and eventually taken to Fort Meductic, a fortified Maliseet village located just outside present-day Meductic, New Brunswick. One of these captives was nine-year-old John Gyles, who would one day write of his experiences on the Northeastern frontier in his 1736 autobiography Memoirs of Odd Adventures, Strange Deliverances, Etc. in the Captivity of John Gyles.
As the defeated New English defenders limped away from Pemaquid, the Abenaki put the fort and the surrounding settlement to the torch.
The Battle of Deering Oaks
In response to the raid on Pemaquid, the government of Massachusetts tasked one Major Jeremiah Swaine with leading a 600-man militia to secure the Acadian-New Hampshire border. While Swaine and his men were patrolling the region, a party of Abenaki warriors audaciously attacked the village of Oyster River (present-day Durham, New Hampshire) right under their noses, killing twenty one settlers, including three or four children, and taking a number of prisoners. The natives retreated north without suffering any reprisals from Swaine, who had dispatched an unsuccessful scouting party to hunt them down.
Disappointed with Swaine’s performance, the government of Massachusetts recalled the Major and tasked a seasoned military commander named Benjamin Church with carrying out raids on Acadia.
A veteran of King Philip’s War, Benjamin Church had long since realized that the military tactics commonly employed in Europe- characterized by disciplined formations, ostentatious uniforms, and pitched battles- were ineffective on the North American frontier. Accordingly, he studied and trained his own soldiers in the guerrilla tactics of the natives, forming his own unit of special light infantrymen who constituted the first regiment of what would one day become the U.S. Army Rangers.
In the early fall of 1689, Benjamin Church and his 250 Rangers set out on their first expedition into Acadia. On September 21, Church and his men came upon a group of settlers who had been attempting to establish the village of Falmouth (now Portland, Maine), and who were presently under attack by Wabanaki warriors. Church and his men leapt to defend the settlers but discovered, to their dismay, that the musket balls they had been issued were too large for their guns. After hastily hammering the lead balls into crude cylindrical slugs, the militiamen drove back the natives, incurring 21 casualties in the process. The site at which the battle took place is where Portland’s Deering Oaks Park now stands.
After an unsuccessful attempt to locate hostile Indian encampments deep in the Acadian wilderness, Church and his men retreated to Boston, leaving Falmouth unprotected.
Back in 1688, the political landscape of Western Europe looked nothing like it does today. France was the world’s leading superpower, led by the powerful Catholic monarch Louis XIV. Although King Louis was on friendly terms with King James II of Great Britain, a fellow Catholic ruler, he was feared and mistrusted by much of the rest of Europe; many suspected that Louis harboured designs to one day rule all of Christendom, and dreaded the balance of power tipping in Louis’ favour.
To the east of France lay the Holy Roman Empire, a loose agglomeration of German states of both Catholic and Protestant persuasion, nominally led by Emperor Leopold I, another Catholic and a member of the House of Habsburg- one of Europe’s most powerful noble families. At that time, the Holy Roman Empire was at war with Turkey’s Ottoman Empire, and King Louis had done nothing to help his fellow Catholic ruler repel the Islamic incursion. His inaction fostered resentment not only in the Emperor, but also in the sickly King Charles II of Spain, another member of the Habsburg family who was plagued by congenital illnesses resultant of the Habsburgs’ practice of multigenerational intermarriage.
Last but not least of the major political players in Western Europe at that time was the fledgling Dutch Republic, which had, several decades earlier, emerged victorious from an eighty-year fight for independence from Habsburg Spain. The Dutch Republic was ruled in part by its stadtholder, the devoutly Protestant Prince William III of Orange, who considered King Louis XIV his archenemy. Sixteen years earlier, while Holland was busy fighting a naval war with England, King Louis had taken advantage of the distraction and marched his army right into the heart of the Dutch Republic, an incident which so enraged the Dutch people that they killed and ate their own Prime Minister (seriously). It had taken the Dutch six years to push back the Gallic invaders, and Prince William was determined to never allow the French King to get the better of him again.
At that time, the English Parliament- Protestant to a man- was none too pleased with the Catholicism of Britain’s King James II. Four decades prior, zealous English Parliamentarians had beheaded James’ father, King Charles I, in part because of his pro-Catholic leanings. Rather than repeat the mistake of their predecessors, which led to the bloody English Civil War and the disastrous Commonwealth of England that followed it, the Parliamentarians secretly plotted with William III, Prince of Orange, urging the Dutch stadtholder to seize the
British crown in a bloodless coup d’état. William acquiesced; in the winter of 1688, he and 40,000 mercenaries sailed through the Strait of Dover and across the English Channel, disembarked at Torbay, marched on London, and assumed the British throne in what the Parliamentarians dubbed the ‘Glorious Revolution’. While the Dutch prince was crowned King William III of Great Britain, the deposed King James II fled to France, where he and his descendants became known as the Jacobite pretenders.
While William III had been organizing his invasion of Great Britain, Louis XIV had invaded the western frontier of the Holy Roman Empire, hoping to acquire territory on which he could build defensive fortresses for the purpose of securing the French border. Alarmed by France’s military might and Louis XIV’s apparent expansionism, William III decided to join forces with his people’s old enemies, the Habsburgs, who were now fighting the French on their own doorstep. In 1689, Dutch Republic, Great Britain, Spain, and the Holy Roman Empire allied to form the League of Augsburg, more commonly known as the ‘Grand Alliance’, and promptly declared war on France. Thus the Nine Years’ War- sometimes referred to as King William’s War in Canada and the United States- commenced.
The North American Stage
When war broke out on the borders of France, England had France had a number of long-established colonies in North America.
New France, as French possessions in North America were collectively called, consisted of four colonies. The most significant of these was ‘Canada’, a territory along the St. Lawrence River, which included the cities of Quebec, Montreal, and Trois-Rivieres. Canada was the oldest European colony in North America, having been established by Breton explorer Jacques Cartier back in 1541 and reinforced by French explorers Pierre Dugua and Samuel de Champlain in the early 1600s. Despite Quebec’s having been captured by a band of English adventurers six decades earlier (and returned to France in 1632), Canada remained the stalwart seat of French power in North America.
East of Canada was Acadia– a territory consisting of what are now Canada’s Maritime Provinces and much of the state of Maine. This old French colony had fallen into British hands several times in the past, serving as a Scottish colony from 1629-1632 and an English territory from 1654-1670. In 1688, however, Acadia was firmly under French rule.
North of Acadia was Placentia, a French colony which comprised the Avalon Peninsula in southeastern Newfoundland. In 1688, France had two forts on Placentian soil, including Fort Plaisance, situated on the bay which separates Avalon from the rest of Newfoundland, and Fort Royal, built the previous year not far from Fort Plaisance.
West of Canada, from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico, stretched a sprawling, wild territory called Louisiana, officially established just six years prior by French explorer Rene-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle. Remote as it was, this newest territory of New France would not escape the destruction and carnage of the Nine Years’ War.
Neighbouring in uncomfortable proximity to the territories of New France were the colonial holdings of England. The most significant of these were the Thirteen Colonies. The northernmost of the Thirteen Colonies- namely Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire- were collectively referred to as New England, and were the only colonies to play an important role in the Nine Years’ War in Canada. South of New England were the Middle Colonies- namely New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and Pennsylvania. South of the Middle Colonies were the Southern Colonies- namely Virginia, Carolina, Maryland, and Georgia.
Although the former King James II had amalgamated the New English colonies into the unified Dominion of England back in 1686, the Glorious Revolution prompted the old colonial governors to reassert their former authority over their respective provinces, thus dissolving the short-lived Dominion. By the time the Nine Years’ War began, each New English colony operated under its own jurisdiction, preventing a united English campaign against the centrally-governed yet numerically inferior colonies of New France.
North of New England and Acadia beyond, the British shared the Island of Newfoundland with the French. Just north of the French colony of Placentia, the English had their own Newfoundland Colony, which had survived for nearly ninety years.
England’s third and final colony in North America was situated far to the northwest, on the southwestern shores of Hudson Bay. This newest of English colonies was not truly owned by the British Crown, but rather by the Hudson’s Bay Company- a recently-established fur trading enterprise. At the start of the Nine Years’ War, the land surrounding Hudson Bay was disputed territory, as a band of French soldiers had captured a number of the Company’s forts a few years prior.
Henry and his crew paddled over to the mainland and disembarked on the shores of Michilimackinac Country. They proceeded to Fort Michilimackinac, an old French fur trading post. No sooner had Henry’s voyageurs procured a room for their employer than, against his orders, they revealed his true identity to the fort’s French traders. The fur traders politely informed Henry that he had put himself in grave danger by coming to Michilimackinac, and advised him to make for Detroit while he still had the chance. Henry thanked the Frenchman for their concern but assured them that he resolved to stay, whatever the dangers.
The traders had hardly delivered their warning when Henry received word that the entire Chippewa (Ojibwa) band from Mackinac Island were on their way to the fort to welcome him and his voyageurs to their country. Henry hastily secured the interpretive services of a French trader named Farley, who was married to a Chippewa woman.
“At two o’clock in the afternoon,” wrote Henry, “the Chippewa came to my house, about sixty in number, and headed by Minavavana, their chief. They walked in single file, each with his tomahawk in one hand and scalping knife in the other.
“Their bodies were naked from the waist upward, except in a few examples where blankets were thrown loosely over the shoulders. Their faces were painted with charcoal, worked up with grease; their bodies with white clay in patterns of various fancies. Some had feathers thrust through their noses, and their heads decorated with the same.”
The natives silently entered Henry’s cabin and sat on the floor. Then, through Farley, Chief Minavavana revealed his knowledge of the fact that Henry was an Englishman, remarking that he must be a brave man to wander into the territory of his enemies. The chief and his followers proceeded to fill their pipes and smoke them silently. When they were finished, the chief stood up and made a long and eloquent speech in which he explained that the “father” of the Ojibwa people, King Louis XVI of France, had asked his children to make war on the English. Many Ojibwa warriors had perished in carrying out this request, and their spirits would only be satisfied by the spilling of English blood or the giving of gifts. Since the English had not yet given any presents to the Ojibwa, the two nations were still at war. Yet because Henry had arrived with much-needed trade goods and had no intention of warring with them, he was welcome in Michilimackinac and would not be harmed. With that, the chief presented Henry with a pipe of friendship. Henry took three puffs, whereupon the pipe was passed around and smoked by everyone in the room. The Englishman then shook hands with the chief and all the Ojibwa warriors.
When the ceremony had finally ended, the chief asked Henry if his braves might be allowed to taste his rum, which they called “English milk”. They were curious to know if there was any difference between it and the brandy which they had acquired from the French in the past. “My adventure on leaving Fort William Augustus,” wrote Henry, “had left an impression on my mind which made me tremble when Indians asked for rum; and I would therefore willingly have excused myself in this particular; but being informed that it was customary to comply with the request, and withal satisfied with the friendly declarations which I had received, I promised to give them a small cask at parting.”
Henry proceeded to make a speech of his own, in which he declared that he knew the Ojibwa were a people of good character, and that they ought to regard the King of England as their new father, as the King of France had surrendered to him. If they treated Henry well, then he would return home and tell his countrymen of the good treatment he received at their hands, and other Englishmen would be encouraged to bring their own trade goods to Michilimackinac. When the Ojibwa appeared to be satisfied by his words, he gifted them a present that he had prepared which, as he had promised, included a small quantity of rum.