In 1834, the infant Red River Colony was surrounded on all sides by First Nations people. The Cree and Assiniboine on the west, the Saulteaux on the east, the swampy Crees on the north and the Sioux to the south. The general state was one of peaceful co-existence. The Sioux perhaps the most powerful tribe on the continent at the time, had begun to disperse and move west but was still large enough to pose a major threat to the colony. Problems arose from the competition between the Cree and Saulteaux for control of their land. The Saulteaux had been included in the treaty made with Lord Selkirk because they were present at the time but this was not their homeland The Cree very much resented the fact. They threatened to remove the Saulteaux along with the white settlers if their names were not stricken from the treaty. This at times would send the panicked colonists running for shelter to the forts and armed men out in scouting parties to search the settlement for any sign of trouble. Many of the settlers hesitated to sign their deeds until they were secure. The Saulteaux did not have a good reputation in the colony, spending much of their time annoying the colonists by begging. Education was lost on them and many were condemned for murder and theft.
The Sioux were the great warriors of the plains, occupying the huge region between Pembina, North Dakota and St. Peter’s, in the south. The center of their land was about 300 miles from the Red River colony. Many would travel north to the colony for the pure adventure of it where they would be given minor gifts to return with as well as a story of courage and bravery. The stories were always recited at gatherings where the gifts of tobacco or ammunition would be dispersed.
Two visits by the Sioux were recorded by George Simpson, governor of the HBC. In 1834, the Sioux chief, Burning Earth with 36 men arrived at Fort Garry. Things were going well until a party of Saulteaux rode in threatening revenge for the loss of their relatives by the Sioux. Simpson stationed a guard for the Sioux and escorted them back out to the open plains where they would be at greater advantage. When the Saulteaux pursued them across the river in canoe, the governor raised his gun to order them back. The colonists cried out in alarm leading the Saulteaux to think they wanted the shooting. There were 100 armed Saulteaux to 7 or 8 armed Sioux. Finally, one of the colonists struck down Simpson’s gun, preventing a full-blown massacre.
On another occasion, Fort Garry was visited by the great Sioux chief, Wanatah who arrived with 250 armed men. He left 180 warriors back while he approached the Fort with 70. Since they were received cordially there was no trouble. The Sioux visited the colony on 2 more occasions. Although Governor Simpson wrote that a lasting peace had been affected between the Saulteaux and the Sioux, the author, Alexander Ross then sherif of the colony did not believe such “deadly animosity” could ever allow the breach to be mended.
Relations like these from one who actually was there to see them adds greatly to our knowledge of the times. Not exactly what I grew up hearing!