It is hard to say whether Selkirk had any real notion of the circumstances the Scottish settlers would find themselves in when they arrived on the banks of the Red River (modern-day Winnipeg) in 1812. The journey to that point had already been an arduous one. Not long after their arrival, they were met by men “painted, disfigured and dressed in the savage costume of the country”, employees of the Northwest Company who ordered them out. These were the “half-breeds” French and Scots. A new colony would block the company’s trade route to the northwest.
The new settlers, already exhausted, decided to continue on to Pembina, 69 miles away in North Dakota. Soon, they were followed by a group of Metis offering to guide them but this time working under their own egis. The language we now know as “Michif” did not seem to hamper negotiations and a rigorous trade was done leaving many of the colonists bereft of prized possessions including wedding rings and family heirlooms. In Pembina, the winter was spent living on the “products of the chase”. The next year, since no crops had survived, they returned to Pembina. This time they were surprised at the selfish behavior of the Metis and had to barter away some of their clothing to survive. They did not return back to the colony much better off than when they had left.
Out of this desperate situation, the Pemmican Proclamation arose, denying any outside trading of goods that were brought into or were a product of the colony. including pemmican. This started a type of civil war between the “Norwesters”, largely Metis and the Hudson’s Bay Company. It later became known as the “Pemmican Wars”. The trade in buffalo products would be curtailed, thus reducing the livelihood of the Metis. It became so bad that some of the colonists actually joined their enemies in order to survive. Hatred welled until their homes were eventually burned to the ground.
Under the leadership of an educated Scotch half-breed named Cuthbert Grant, an order was issued, “All settlers to retire immediately from the River and no appearance of a colony to remain.” It was signed by Cuthbert Grant, Bostanais Pangman, William Shaw and Bonhomme Montour.
My 4th great grandfather, Dugald Cameron, whom I have mentioned previously was a very willing participant in all of the events leading up to the of the “Battle of Seven Oaks”. Speaking the Gaelic tongue and using it to inspire dissension among the settlers, he sent many off to Canada (Quebec) with the promise of land and goods. The determination of the settlers was paid with violence and upheaval. Those that did not leave moved up to Norway House, then called Jack River. Cuthbert Grant seeing the way events were going, attempted to stop the bloodshed but most of the men with Robert Semple were shot down. There still remains controversy over who fired the first shot. Among the list of casualties, we find Toissant Vaudry another 4th great-grandfather who lost an arm. Alexander Ross states that it would have been better if Semple had gone out to talk on his own instead of displaying arms. The battle called Lord Selkirk back to the colony with a group of disbanded soldiers known as the “de Meurons” and led to actions on his part for which he would pay dearly.
Among my ancestors who may have been part of the uprising would be Charles, Jean and Pierre Beauchamp, Jean Baptiste Lagimodiere, Toussaint Vaudry, Louis Cyr, Joseph Daigneault and of course John Dugal Cameron through his wife Marie Lesperance.
Quotes are from Alexander Ross “The Red River Settlement: It’s Rise, Progress and Present State, Published 1856