Frog Lake Massacre 1885
The Frog Lake Massacre took place on April 2, 1885. It was part of the North West Rebellion uprising that threatened the northwest. Prior to the time of the massacre, the Canadian government was unsympathetic to the Indian and Metis problems. The buffalo, the Indian's main source of food, had disappeared, their land was rapidly being taken over by the white man, and the fur trade was no longer as profitable to them as it had been in the past. There was a lot of unrest at the time and the entire west was like a powder keg waiting to be blown up. Many of the Indian tribes had already signed Treaties and were placed on reserves but not all tribes signed and many hesitated to do so; especially the younger warriors, and a few agitators.
Big Bear, the Cree Indian chief, signed a treaty in 1882 because his people were starving, however he delayed choosing a reserve and-his followers were not too happy with the thought of giving up their freedom. During the 1884-85 season Big Bear and his band of Crees wintered on the Frog Lake Reserve. There was decided unrest at the time, however Big Bear himself did not want to make trouble with the white man. His war chief, Wandering Spirit, and Big Bear's son, Imasees, thought differently. The chief of the Frog Lake Reserve at the time was Ohneepahoa. He was a peaceful man but found it difficult to control Wandering Spirit and Imasees.
On April 2. 1885, Wandering Spirit and his young warriors collected all the guns from the white men stationed at Frog Lake. The six members of the North West Mounted Police who were stationed at Frog Lake left the reserve shortly before as a good will gesture. It was thought the Indians would not attack the Frog Lake Settlement if the NWMP left the scene. Later on April 2, most of the white people were herded into the Roman Catholic Church, and after a short service, Wandering Spirit decided to move all the white people to his camp. A disagreement arose and soon Thomas Quinn, the Indian agent, was shot and killed near his home by Wandering Spirit. At this time, shooting began in earnest and when the smoke cleared, nine white people had been massacred. John Gowanlock, John Delanev and Father Fafard were all killed in the same area. Father Marchand lay a little beyond and William Gilchrist's body was found still further in the direction of Big Bear's camp. George Dill had been shot near a clump of willows nearby. Others who died at the scene were Charles Gouin and John Williscroft. There were four white survivors: William Cameron, the Hudson’s Bay store clerk who was saved by some of the Indian women; Edward Dufresne, an interpreter who was married to an Indian woman and was spared; and two white women, Theresa Delaney and Theresa Gowanlock, who were both taken prisoner and were later released.
Soon after the massacre, the Canadian government became involved, and the Indians at Frog Lake and the Metis at Duck Lake, Saskatchewan soon found themselves fighting the Canadian Army, the North West Mounted Police and a hastily raised militia from western Canada. Big Bear's band of warriors fought several inconclusive engagements; notably at Frenchman’s Butte but the decisive battle was fought at Batoche, Saskatchewan. Louis Riel, the Metis leader, led his troops against the Canadian Army but was defeated in the end. Some of his warriors fled to the United States however most of his men were captured and tried for their part in the uprising.
Wandering Spirit, Miserable Man, Manichoos, Walking The Sky, Napaise and Apischiskoos were all hanged at Battleford, Saskatchewan on November 27. 1885. Big Bear, the Chief of the Crees, went to prison for his part in the uprising. He didn’t want war however he was helpless in trying to control his warriors, especially Wandering Spirit. Imasees, the son of Big Bear, was a shadowy figure who urged the killings at Frog Lake but didn't take part in them. He escaped retribution as did Gabriel Dumont who was Louis Riel's right hand man. The Metis leader, Louis Riel, was also tried and hanged at Battleford. Thus ended the Northwest Rebellion and the Frog. Lake Massacre, an uprising that threatened the entire Canadian northwest.
In later years, William Bleasdell Cameron, one of the lone white survivors of the Frog Lake Massacre wrote a book about this uprising. It was called “On The Trail Of Big Bear”. Later this book was revised and renamed "Blood Red The Sun”. He was also the author of a third book titled "When Fur Was King”. Mr Cameron spent many years inVermilion and surrounding areas. At one time he operated a small store in Heinsburg, selling patent medicine books and a variety of goods. Mr. Cameron visited Elk Point on numerous occasions and on one occasion I had the privilege of meeting him. Although he was an old man at the time, he was still able to recall many interesting events that took place during the Frog Lake Massacre.