Otter versus Poundmaker sounds like a fight between two Indians. Poundmaker was an Indian, chief of the Crees, but Otter was a colonel in the British army, serving with General Middleton in the Northwest Rebellion of 1885. Pleased with himself because he had relieved Battleford while his general was being pushed around by Gabriel Dumont and his Métis, Otter thought it would be a good move to attack Poundmaker before he could join forces with Big Bear, and go on to help Louis Riel at Batoche. Riel was pleading with both to get there in a hurry.
Instead of having his plan approved by General Middleton, Otter wired Governor Dewdney and was given his permission. He began his march from Battleford on the afternoon of May 1, with 325 men, including 75 members of the Northwest Mounted Police.
On the moonlit night of May 3, 1885, the force was spotted by an Indian scout. There was a race for the top of Cut Knife Hilll and the Mounties got there first. If Otter had attacked then, while the Indians were disorganized, he might have won his goal easily. Instead, he decided to station his infantry on the hill first, and this gave Poundmaker time to hide his men in fissures on the slope, behind trees and shrubs. Otter’s force was surrounded. The Gatling gun and the seven-pounders which the American army had provided fired aimlessly into the night. The hidden Indians would hold up bonnets or rags on sticks and then shoot the soldiers who exposed themselves to fire.
Although the Indians were outnumbered three-to-two, the fighting went on for seven hours. Otter’s men were exhausted. The gun-carriages had broken down. Reluctantly, Otter retreated to Battleford.
Father Cochin, who had been a prisoner in Poundmaker’s camp, said later that if Poundmaker had not restrained his Indians, Otter’s force would have been slaughtered. It is believed that the great Indian leader knew the rebellion would be crushed soon, and thought there was no point in being charged with the slaughter of government troops at Cut Knife Hill.
Interesting, isn’t it? So, to read even more about Chief Poundmaker and this battle, I have a few places to suggest: the University of Saskatchewan, the Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan, a new site I just found has a little on it, but you can spend much of your time just clicking around the site is The Loyal Edmonton Regiment Military Museum, the Order of Thelemic Knights is very interesting, the First Peoples of Canada. All good places to start.
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