Prairie War Spreading

Charles Dickens (1812-1870)
Charles Dickens (1812-1870) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On April 3, 1885, the Prairies were aflame with revolution and the Indians were beating their tom-toms as far west as Edmonton.  News of the defeat of the Northwest Mounted Police at Duck Lake on March 26 was spreading like a prairie fire.  The Indians’ hunting grounds were disappearing and they were starving.  Many of the Métis had sold their land holdings for bottles of whisky. This looked like the opportunity to seize supplies and force the federal government to give them better deals.

The Northwest Mounted Police had to abandon Fort Carlton and leave it in flames while they galloped through the night to Prince Albert where many families were in danger.  Settlers in the Battleford area left their homes and sought refuge in the fort.  Wearing war paint, the Crees, under Big Bear and Little Pine, burned their homes and charged into Battleford itself.  The five hundred people in the fort on top of a hill could see them raiding every building, looting and destroying.

Similar scenes were taking place in other areas, as far west as Battle River Crossing between Calgary and Edmonton.  The one bright spot was Qu’Appelle where the newly constructed C.P.R. line brought militia from Winnipeg on April 2.  The Blackfoot in Alberta heard about this and did not go on the warpath, although they were restless.

In the thick of the trouble was Inspector Francis Dickens, son of the famous author Charles Dickens.  When the Crees raided Fort Pitt, they found the watch that had been given to him by his father.  It was recovered later, still containing a picture of his mother and a lock of her hair.

Louis Riel, who went into battle holding a crucifix, did not like bloodshed, but he was in favour of the Indians’ going on the warpath.  After Duck Lake, he wrote to Poundmaker saying: “Praise God for the success he granted us.  Arise, Face the enemy.  If you can take Fort Battle, destroy it.”

In the little Crimson Manual it’s written plain and clear; Those who wear the scarlet coat shall say good-bye to fear. — Robert W. Service, 1909


  1. The picture of Charles Dickens caught my eye enticing me to read this particular bite. One of my volunteer activities involves our Dickens Victorian Village, which brings busloads of visitors to Cambridge, Ohio during the Christmas season. It was interesting that his son still had his father’s watch with a picture and traditional lock of hair inside. I may have to use that information on a bus tour next season! Thanks for checking out Gypsy Road Trip.


  2. It’s sad how First Nations people became so dependent on alcohol because of the introduction of white people. When did the Prairie war end?


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