By March 18, 1885, there was no hope of turning back the forces of rebellion in the Northwest. At Mass, the previous Sunday, Father Fourmand had announced that anyone taking part in revolt would be deprived of the sacraments. Riel, in one of his rages, told his armed Métis that the spirit of God had left the church of Rome and the Pope. He said that he had appointed Bishop Bourget as Pope, and he (Riel) would be their priest.
This caused a division among the Métis, many of whom were devoted to the church and on March 18, Riel and Dumont arrested a number of men as hostages. To regain support, Riel shouted that Inspector Crozier was leading a force of the Northwest Mounted Police from Fort Carlton to attack them.
The first bloodshed came when Crozier sent his interpreter, Thomas McKay, to Duck Lake (Prince Albert, Saskatchewan) to bring back rifles and ammunition from Mitchell’s trading establishment. McKay and his police escort were suddenly surrounded by a force of Métis led Riel and Dumont who demanded surrender. They refused and returned to Fort Carlton.
Crozier then took action, Instead of waiting for reinforcements, he and fifty-seven police and forty-one members of the militia, set out for Duck Lake.
Dumont set up an ambush for Crozier’s approaching force. When it was over, Dumont’s brother Isadore, and an Indian approached Crozier waving a white blanket. Crozier went forward with McKay to meet him. The Indian tried to snatch McKay, rifle and a struggle began.
Meanwhile, Dumont had his men begin a flanking movement to encircle Crozier’s men. Dumont said later that he only intended to force the police to surrender and hold them as hostages. This would make it necessary for the government at Ottawa to negotiate.
Crozier dashed back to his men and both sides opened fire. Isadore Dumont and the Indian were killed. The police had twelve men killed and eleven wounded before Crozier ordered them to retreat to Fort Carlton. The Northwest Rebellion had begun in earnest.
“Had I been born on the banks of the Saskatchewan, I would myself have shouldered a musket to fight against the neglect of governments and the shameless greed of speculators.” – Sir Wilfrid Laurier, 1885
To read more about the battle at Duck Lake, I suggest clicking on the following: Wikipedia; Canada’s First Peoples does a good job writing about it; there’s the Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan; for an interesting transcript of Thomas McKay words at Louis Riel’s trial, I recommend a visit to School of Law – University of Missouri-Kansas City
- Thomas Scott Executed (tkmorin.wordpress.com)
- Riel Wouldn’t Leave … (tkmorin.wordpress.com)
- Outcasts of River Falls (2012), by Jacqueline Guest (karynskidlitreviews.wordpress.com)
- Rare Manitoban photos of Louis Riel found in Australia (cbc.ca)