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Grant soldiers of the Buffalo Hunt (3)
Garry under the chief La Terre qui Brule. They came in peace, to urge the Hudson's Bay Company to open a trading-post at Lake Traverseto afford some competition to the American traders there, Chief Factor Alexander Christie explained that the Company could not operate on American territory, and this satisfied the Sioux. The Saulteaux Indians of the colony, however, many of whom the Reverend George's Belcourt had persuaded to settle at his mission of Baie St. Paul west of Grantown on the Assiniboine, were excited by the presence of their hereditary enemies, and combined to cut them off. Christie and his officers resolved to protect the Sioux and to escort them out of the Settlement. They were leading the Sioux across the Assiniboine at Fort Garry, when Grant galloped up to the fort at the head of a party of Saulteaux. Both Sioux and Saulteaux bristled at once. Guns were pointed , and a fight seemed unavoidable. But Christie and his men supported by some Scots settlers and half-breeds intervened and got the Sioux away before there was violence. Thomas Simpson, Alexander Christie, and Governor Simpson were all extremely critical of Grant's action. Simpson, who must have got his information from Chritie, reported that Grant was inebriated.
He also pointed out that it was only with difficulty that Christie had kept the Scots from attacking Grant's party . They were resentful of many insults they had received from the Saulteaux from time to time and "it was evident that the Scotch had neither forgotten nor forgiven Cuthbert Grant for the part he acted in the lamentable occurrence of the year 1816.
These accounts of the reawakening of the memories of Seven Oaks and the belief of the Hudson's Bay people that Grant had acted in headstrong and even drunken folly have no offsetting records. In the existing sources Grant appears in a bad light . He indeed failed to keep his friends informed of his thoughts and doings. John Siveright had written of him:
"I corresponded with Cuthbert Grant, but his letters gave me little information and he writes but occasionally and with funny reluctance. Grant is a good fellow. I met with none who possessed more personal bravery and determined resolution in time of danger , but that is the best that can be said. Friendship or real regard for anyone beyond the moment, I don't think is in his nature or in that of many of his countrymen. But it is evident that Christie had endeavored to deal with the Sioux alone, without informing Grant. Grant , left without information may well have thought that it was for him to ride with all possible help against the traditional enemy.
Thus what appeared to Christie as a foolhardy intervention in a carefully conducted negotiation was most likely meant as a dash to the rescue. And if Grant had been drinking , it clearly was not to such an extent as to affect his seat in the saddle, or his judgment when the situation became clear. For the fact is that there was no fight, which means that Grant abstained from battle, as he need not have done, had he chosen to follow the Sioux southward.
Moreover , the episode obviously did not affect his status in Red River colony, and in later years there was little further comment on his private habits. In 1834 the Selkirk family sold Assiniboia back to the Hudson's Bay Company. Thus the company became responsible for the government of Assiniboia, or Red River. The government was reorganized by Governor Simpson in 1835. The Council of Assiniboia was enlarged and made more representative. Grant was made a member of the Council and attended a meeting for the first time on April 30. 1835, Grant was made Justice of the Peace for the Fourth District, of which White Horse Plain was the main settlement. Thus Grant was made Councilor and a Magistrate, in some sense the only representative of the half-breed people on the Council and the Bench at that time. These offices of trust showed the respect and esteem in which he was held. On both the Council and the Bench he was to serve successfully and to rise in rank. On June 16, 1837, he was made Magistrate for the Experimental Farm. On May 20, 1839 he was re-appointed Councilor of Assiniboia and one of the two sheriffs of Assiniboia, the other being Alexander Ross, the historian.
Grant was thus one of the chief men of the Red River colony, a legislator and an officer of the law. The gay young war leader of 1816 had come far.
Yet Grant's reputation as a warrior and the reputation of his men as fighters had spread far beyond the limits of Red River. Their fame was to lead to their services being sought by the American adventurer and freebooter, General Dickson.One of the most intriguing episodes in the history of the Canadian West was the invasion attempted by James Dickson, self-styled
"Liberator of the Indian Nations," and a picturesque character. In 1837 Dickson arrived in Red River from Washington and New York, hoping to recruit the Metis as soldiers in his army of liberation. His ambitious plan was to march from Red River to Sante Fe, "free" the Indians there, and found a kingdom in California of which he was to be the head.
He had introduced himself in Washington and New York as General James Dickson, and said he had lived for several years in Mexico. He also called himself "Montezuma II, Liberator of the Indian Nations."
He caused quite a stir as he proceeded to recruit officers for his army.
He had all the stage trapping: fine English tailoring executed with imagination, plenty of gold lace and gold braid, a handsome urn-scarred face with beard and mustache. He wore small arms and a British general's gold-inlaid sword. Dickson also had in his extensive military luggage a coat of mail for which he never found a use. He was well-bred, a convincing talker, and had command of money. The officers and aides whom he recruited were lavishly equipped, and some carried with them extra beards and mustaches. The major of artillery wore silver epaulets, gold lace on his chest, and silver lace down the sides of his pantaloons.
His preparatory organization complete, Dickson proceeded to Montreal where he recruited, as additional officers, some half-breed sons of Hudson's Bay Company officials who he felt would be useful in Red River when mobilizing his Metis soldiers.
In August 1863 , Dickson with his officers and attendants, numbering in all about sixty, embarked at Buffalo in a chartered vessel. They planned to traverse the Great Lakes on their way to recruit the soldiers of the liberating army at Red River, and thence proceed to Sante Fe-a trek of 5,000 miles or so.
Before they reached Sault Ste. Marie the party was shipwrecked. On arriving there, they were arrested on a trivial charge (the sailors had stolen a cow) so that American authorities could investigate the party.
The liberator had been talking too freely of his plans. Finally released, a much-diminished army proceeded to a certain point on the Mississippi.
They arrived there in boats and canoes, having lived on barrels of sour apples procured on the way.
Meanwhile Governor Simpson was traveling east from Red River.He was in Detroit when he learned of this newest threat to the settlement which he had nursed through so many vicissitudes. There he was startled by a newspaper account headed "Pirates on the Lakes," which gave a highly-colored version of the incident at the Sault, and of the invaders bound for Red River. The thing had ugly possibilities. With but the Metis of White Horse Plain the settlement could not survive. It might even be wiped out, or added to the Liberator's empire. An ominous note was that Dickson's "Secretary of War" was a son of the Hudson's Bay Company's dire enemy, Kenneth McKenzie, called the "Emperor of the American Fur Trade." Simpson quickly dispatched messages to company headquarters in London and to the War Office, and instructions to Governor Alexander Christie at Red River.
When winter descended, Dickson with his party still further educed started off by dog-sled and foot for Red River, and the frozen prairies took their toll. Guides deserted, men wandered and perished, and the remnants became separated. Finally , in December 1836, four months after starting off from Buffalo, the survivors (Dickson and eleven officers) straggled into the Red River settlement in a pitiable state.Simpson's plans to defeat the invaders, though supremely simple, were an example of his superb strategy. The Hudson's Bay Company an his orders refused to honor Dickson's drafts, and no army could be raised .Red River was saved. Also under Simpson's orders, the Hudson's Bay Company absorbed some of Dickson's half-breed officers by offering them good positions. The others dispersed and Dickson, a defeated, deserted and deflated man, was stranded in Red River for the rest of the winter. Thus rendered harmless, he cut a gay figure in the settlement; for evidently, in spite of the difficulties of the journey, Dickson managed to bring considerable equipment with him. The Reverend G.H. Gunn's mother used to tell of the various and resplendent uniforms in which he appeared. He spent much time with Cuthbert Grant at White Horse Plain, and when spring came Grant outfitted him and gave him guides to start south to Sante Fe.
In character to the end, Dickson staged his last scene at Red River with care. On that spring day in 1837, guides, horses, drivers, and carts were waiting beside the church at Grantown for him to begin his journey, and a crowd gathered to say good-bye. He made a last laudatory speech of thanks to Cuthbert Grant. Then he removed his ornate military hat, bowed ceremoniously to him and -according to family tradition-said; "You are the great soldier and leader; I am failure.
These belong to you, not to me." In grandiose manner he removed his epaulets, fastened them on Grant's shoulders handed him his sword, mounted and rode away. Thus ended the great invasion.For many years Dickson's sword had an honored place in Cuthbert Grant's home; and the epaulets were valued ornaments on the altar of the church at White Horse Plain. Unfortunately they were destroyed by fire.
The final scene in this drama, where Dickson bids a sad farewell to the Metis, seemed to Pierre Falcon a fit subject for a folk-song. A characteristic of his songs is their spontaneity, for they seemed to take shape in his mind in the enthusiasm of the moment. On this occasion one can imagine him leaving the group around the church, mounting his horse, starting for home, and composing his verses to the rhythm of his horse's hoof-beats.
By 1840 the career of Cuthbert Grant was at its apex. Still the "chief of the half-breeds " by right of their devotion to his person, he was by appointment of the company Warden of the Plains, Councilor of Assiniboia, Sheriff and Magistrate. For nine years more he was to enjoy these honors and fulfill the duties attached to them, then, after the Sayer trial his unchallenged position as leader of the Metis was lost to him and his importance in the Red River colony ended.
Of this nothing was evident in 1840. Indeed , Grant was now about to render his people as great a service as any he had done in the past.
He was to lead them in war with the Sioux and to make peace after victory with those proud warriors.The Sioux war of 1840-44 was an intensification of the old hostility, active since the days of La Verendrye, between the Sioux and the Saulteaux. The people of Grantown and the Red River half-breeds were usually of Saulteaux. or Cree, descent, as Grant himself probably was. Now the formation of the Saulteaux village at Baie St. Paul west of Grantown was tending to renew the old ties between the people of Grantown and the Saulteaux . It was this old enmity, inflamed by Sioux killing of Saulteaux, and this old tie, which had led to the intervention by Grant and the Saulteaux in the Sioux visit to Fort Garry in 1834.
Now, six years later, the enmity was to be inflamed by further clashes on the plains. The growth of the hunt was driving the buffalo farther and farther to the southwest. The hunts ranged deeper and deeper into Sioux territory. The Sioux became more and more resentful and hung on the flanks of the hunts watching for chances to strike. Alexander Ross, Sheriff to Assiniboia and historian of Red River, tells how he accompanied the hunt in 1840. (Grant was not at the hunt that year, for the captain was Jean Baptiste Wilkie of Pembina.)
Ross first tells how the hunt had grown from 500 Red River carts in 1820 to over 1,200 in 1840 .Clearly an expedition so large meant a very considerable number of buffalo would have to be slaughtered to load so many carts. The historian then proceeds to give his classic account of the organization and conduct of the hunt which has been drawn on by so many later writers. But Ross also describes the dangers from the Sioux, and relates how a Metis, Louison Valle, was killed by a dozen Sioux who caught him and his son working at cutting up their buffalo on the plain alone. The father's warning enabled the son to Get away, and ten half-breeds rode in pursuit of the Indians. Four of the Sioux escaped, but eight were shot down from the saddle like buffalo by the angry Metis.
This kind of crushing vengeance was, of course, the half-breed's chief defense against attack by the Sioux. But the half-breeds aggravated the danger from the Sioux by allowing bands of Saulteaux to accompany them to the plains. Ross does not make it clear that Valle was killed in 1840 , although he probably was, because the matter was settled that year by negotiation with the Sioux chief La Terre qui Brule. But he does describe as an eyewitness a skirmish between a party of Sioux and forty or fifty Saulteaux from Red River. The encounter took place on the banks of the Cheyenne on the return of the hunt to Pembina . The Saulteaux attacked, as they probably would not have done had they not had the presence of the Metis camp to encourage them. Six Metis watched the exchange of fire. Ten Sioux and seven Saulteaux were killed or wounded. It was later learned that a half-breed, one Parisien, was with the Saulteaux and actually fired the first shot.
It was as the outcome of this affair that the encounters between the Metis and the Sioux multiplied in the "war " which was ended in 1844.Grant, however , did not immediately take part in the war. As Ross does not mention him, and as Wilkie was captain of the hunt, it is to be assumed that Grant that year remained in Grantown. This he now began increasingly to do, if not for the summer hunt, then for the fall hunt. The chief responsibility of those who stayed at home was to tend the crops, to put up the hay for the buffalo-runners and the cart-ponies, and to support themselves. To accomplish the last, Grant now often undertook to care for the old men and others who were unable to accompany the hunters. They would go to camp at a nearby lake which is still named Grant's Lake, although very few people today know the origin of the name. There his guns supplied them with game for food, the best the land could furnish, and feathers to fatten pillows and warm comforters for the winter, until the hunters returned with the "plains provisions," for the season of the hunt was always one of shortage for those who were forced to remain at home.
Grant did not go to the hunt in 1841 either. In June of that year when the hunters were preparing to leave for the plains, Grant, with a party of his people, acted as a guide at the request of Governor Simpson to Lords Caledon and Mulgrave. Simpson reported:
"On the 19th I despatched my noble fellow travelers under the escort of Mr. Grant, who holds the office of Warden of the Plains, and a party of half-breeds "Grant, that is, took these sportsmen out on the plains to hunt buffalo. In this he was acting in a role in which another great plains man, the Honorable James Mackay, was later to win fame. But although Grant was eager to oblige Simpson, and always gave the Governor of the Hudson's Bay Company the same loyalty he had given to the Nor'Westers of old, this expedition surely indicates that the war with the Sioux was not serious that year.
In 1842, however, Grant was called to the plains. On July 30th. of that year Chief Factor Nicole Finlayson wrote to Hargrave that "Grant has not yet returned from the War. I dare-say you will hear the results before I can." The result no one can learn, apparently, for no record of it that year or the next has been found. But, as Ross recounts the events, "for the last four years up to 1844 the half-breeds suffered considerably." In the last year, however, they apparently struck out and killed eight Sioux, four Sistons and four Yanktons.Grant must have been with the hunt that year, for he writes of the event as an eyewitness. The Sioux sought compensation in the following communication.
White Bear's Lodge, 14th. November, 1844.Friends, - We hang down our heads our wives mourn our children cry.
Friends,- The pipe of peace has not been in our council for the last six days.
Friends,- We are now strangers, The whites are our enemies.
Friends,- The Whites have often been in our power; but we always conveyed them on their journey with glad hearts, and something to eat.
Friends,- Our young men have been killed. They were good warriors; their friends cry.
Friends,- Our hearts are no longer glad. Our faces are not painted.
Friends,- You owe the Sistons four loaded carts, they were our relations; the half-breeds are white men: the whites always pay well.
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