Riel and Dumont had stirred the Indians into going on the warpath late in March 1885. The war drums, keeping up a continual beat day and night, were heard as far west as Edmonton. The situation in Edmonton was critical because its only defenders were thirty volunteers armed with muzzle-loading muskets used in the Indian mutiny of 1857. There was no ammunition, so they had to make their own lead balls and gun-powder.
It was essential to get word to Calgary and ask for help, but the telegraph line had been cut. James Mowat volunteered to ride to Calgary on horseback, and left early on the morning of April 8. Sneaking out of Edmonton was dangerous. The Indians were camping all around and Mowat had to make his way so quietly that even the dogs would not bark. Somehow he managed to get through and ride the two hundred miles to Calgary in thirty-six hours, with no sleep and little food.
Fortunately, General Strange was at Calgary with six hundred men and their march to Edmonton began on April 20. Meanwhile, with copies of the Calgary Herald, containing news to April 13.
When the Indians heard that General Strange was coming with a large body of troops, they stopped beating their drums. The Edmonton Bulletin reported: “Since the Indians heard that troops are on the way, their desire to get on with their farming is always marvellous.” Nevertheless, it had been a close call for Edmonton.
On another sector, General Middleton was leading a strong force from Qu’Appelle to attack Riel’s centre at Batoche. It wasn’t easy-going. The temperature at Qu’Appelle on April 8 was twenty-three below zero! James Mowat’s ride from Edmonton to Calgary that day and night, must have been through similar, bitterly cold weather.
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To learn more about James Mowat, you can start at City of Saskatchewan‘s page about Mowat Park.