The Spirit of Resistance 5

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

The Spirit of Resistance 2

After the rout of the North West Company at Red River in 1816, Governor Robert Semple had Fort Gibraltar torn down and the materials used to strengthen Fort Douglas (later to become Winnipeg).  The Nor’westers  inciting the Metis to regain a supply of pemmican that was being held at Brandon House , were gathering an army of Metis further up the Assiniboine.  Their leader was Cuthbert Grant the educated son of a Scottish trader.  Trouble started when they plundered  Brandon House  then headed for the colony. They struck off to the north-east planning to meet up with a company the HBC had promised from Fort William.  The company held back, leaving the onus on the Metis for any attack on the colony.  Semple, alerted to the arrival of the Metis, went out with thirty men to face Grant. The colony was in an uproar as people rushed for the shelter of Fort Douglas.

Seven tall oaks stood on Frog Plain where the two forces met on June 19, 1816 and the battle became the “Battle of Seven Oaks”.  Semple was approached by a man called Francois Boucher.  Semple asked what he wanted . The reply was “we want our fort”. Semple said  “Well go to your fort” and grabbed Boucher’s gun. A shot was fired from somewhere undetermined while fire continued from the other men.  Semple went down with 21 of his men. Only 1 Metis was lost. Again, the settlers ran for Norway House.  The event has been described by A.L. Burt,  ” A number of half-civilized Metis committed a crime at the bidding of a number of lawless Canadian merchants” (the Nor’westers). That opinion has been the source of much debate over the years.

Selkirk, in Montreal,  was heading to the colony with Swiss soldiers who had fought against the U.S. in the War of 1812. They were known as “De Meurons”. On his way, he was met by Miles Macdonell who told him of the attack at which point Selkirk decided to seize Fort William (now Thunder Bay). Several captives were being held there by the Nor’westers and he found orders for the attack on the Red River colony. After that he decided to stay on for the winter for lack of supplies. Macdonell was sent by snowshoe and sledge to Fort Douglas to regain control of the Fort.

InkedTrading_Posts_Canoe_Routes clip Ft.Will to Ft.Garry_Dot

Locations of Fort William and Fort Garry  (relative area of Fort Douglas)

In the spring of 1817, the colonists returned once again with Selkirk at the helm, planning and building the settlement. He had lost over half a million dollars do so but still forgave the settlers their debt to him. He had the first Indian treaty signed in the Northwest where they gave up claim to the land lying along the Red and Assiniboine Rivers. Things went well until Selkirk  was called to attend the lawsuits brought against him by the Northwest Company for his attack on Fort William and resisting arrest. He left the colony on September 9, 1817 and would not see it again. The rest of his ilfe was plagued by legal problems with no support to be found in Canada or Britain. He died in April, 1820.

The Northwest Company, though rich in furs, could no longer bear the expenses of the trial and expansion over the Rocky Mountains. Selkirk had effectively blocked a union with the Hudson’s Bay Company.  Now he was dead. In 1821 the two trading companies combined to form one of the largest controlling agents in the world under the HBC banner.