Colonel Williams Statue

from 'Victoria County Centennial History' - 1921.
The Saskatchewan Rebellion was the result of sheer stupidity on the part of the Canadian government. The Northwest Territories had been taken over from the Hudson Bay Company in 1870, and the Canadian Pacific Railway had been begun in the early eighties. The half-breeds or Metis along the Saskatchewan River asked that they be given a legal title to the land which they occupied. The government admitted the justice and reasonableness of this request but with criminal inertia allowed the matter to go unheeded, in spite of urgent solicitation by the North-West Council and others who saw the rising storm. At last the tempest broke. The half-breeds found that constitutional agitation was hopeless and began open hostilities.
On March 26th, under Louis Riel, the outlawed leader of a similar rebellion in Manitoba in 1870, and Gabriel Dumont, a resourceful half-breed, they defeated a detachment of Mounted Police at Duck Lake, killing twelve and wounding twenty-five. Two Indian chiefs, Poundmaker and Big Bear, at once went on the war-path, the former near Battleford and the latter at Frog Lake and Fort Pitt, farther to the northwest. The solons at Ottawa now awoke at last and ordered the mobilization of a punitive force. Part of the contingent thus called out was a "Midland Battalion" of infantry, consisting of two companies from the 46th Militia Regiment., and one each from the 15th, 45th, 47th, 49th, and 57th Regiments. The Officer Commanding this unit was Lt.-Col. A. T. Williams, of Port Hope; the Senior Major was H. R. Smith, of Port Hope; and the Junior Major Colonel Deacon, of Lindsay.
The personnel of the 45th detachment from Lindsay and the surrounding district was as follows:  Major John Hughes, Capt. J. C. Grace, Lieut. George E. Laidlaw, Color-Sgt. McMurchy, Sergeants Christie and Holtorf, Corporals McKee and Hall, Privates Barton, Bennett, Brown, Bunting, Charlton, Crawford, Fishley, Fryer, Gregory, Gain, Gamble, Galbraith, Henry, Hepburn, Higgins, Irwin, Jeffrey, John, Just, Kayley, Keegan, Keele, Latimer, Lee, McDonald, Moore, Moyse, Pratt, Porter, Savage, Skinner, Smith R., Smith S., Turner, Veitch, Williamson, Wilson J., Wilson W., and Woods. On April 1, 1S85, these troops left Lindsay to report at Kingston. Five days later the Midland Battalion, mustering 363 men and 34 officers, entrained at Kingston for the scene of action. The section of the C.P.R. lying to the north of Lake Superior was not yet complete, and on April 12th the battalion marched twenty miles in a blinding snow-storm across the ice of Lake Superior to cover a gap in railway service. They reached Winnipeg on the 14th and went into camp at Swift Current on the 15th. General Middleton, the Commander-in-chief in the North-West, now had a force of 4,380 infantry, 650 cavalry, and 300 artillery. He divided this force into three columns.
The first was to march under his own command to attack Riel and Dumont at their headquarters at Batoche. The second, under Lieut.-Colonel W. D. Otter, attacked Poundmaker near Battleford. The third, under Major-Gen. Strange, marched from Calgary towards Edmonton, near which Big Bear was supposed to be encamped. By the time the Midland Battalion arrived at Swift Current, General Middleton's column had already set out and had been severely singed by an ambush at Fish Creek. The Midland Battalion came down the river on the steamer Northcote and joined Middleton on May 5th. Four days later they faced the rebel position at Batoche. Here the enemy had established a strong line of rifle-pits across a scrubby ravine. Two days were spent in ineffectual skirmishing. On the afternoon of the 11th of May the force was brought out again, with orders to skirmish and snipe but not to charge the enemy's position. The troops were greatly exasperated by such warfare, however, and as soon as they got into touch with the enemy "C." Company (the Lindsay volunteers) of the Midland Battalion launched a charge against the rifle-pits. They were at once supported by their comrades and by the Grenadiers of Toronto, and swept down the ravine through the dense, scraggy underbrush. General Middleton accepted the situation and ordered all the rest of his force into action. Batoche village was soon captured and the backbone of the rebellion broken.
Riel was taken prisoner on May 22nd, and Dumont fled to the States. Meanwhile Colonel Otter's column had accepted heavy losses in an attack on Poundmaker at Cut Knife Hill on May 2nd. The object of this attack had been to prevent a junction of the forces of Poundmaker and Big Bear and their combined march to Batoche. At the cost of eight killed and thirteen wounded, Otter achieved this objective. Poundmaker thereafter remained inactive and soon surrendered to the joint forces of Otter and Middleton. General Strange, with his third column, the Alberta Field Force, was unable to come to grips with Big Bear, but succeeded in keeping that chief so continually on the move that he at last repented of his hostilities and gave himself up. The net results of the rebellion were that the half-breeds received all that they had originally sought and that Canada paid $5,000,000 for a campaign brought on by the stupidity of her politicians.

from Wikipedia
By May 12, 1885, Metis defences were in poor shape. Of the original defenders, three-quarters had either been wounded by artillery fire or were scattered and divided in the many clashes with the Canadians on the outskirts of the town. Those that still held their positions were fatigued and desperately short of ammunition. They resorted to hunting in the underbrush for bullets fired by government troops and firing them back and some fired nails and rocks, forks and knives, instead of bullets, out of their rifles.

Middleton's attack plan on this day was designed to mirror the success of the previous day's flanking feint, with one column drawing defenders away to the north and a second, under Colonel Bowen van Straubenzee, assaulting the town directly. At first, on the morning of May 12th, Middleton's plan went awry. Van Straubenzee and his men did not attack, because the wind was blowing away from them and they did not hear the sound of the north column's gunfire. Middleton, who had been with the north column, returned to the camp in a rage because van Straubenzee had not attacked. He shouted abuse at van Straubenzee and the Canadian colonels, and stalked off to lunch.

The previous night, some of the senior Canadian officers, exasperated by Middleton's caution, had discussed undertaking a charge. Now van Straubenzee was more amenable to this, as well. After noon, the Midlanders and Royal Grenadiers moved forward again, to a point near the Batoche Cemetery. No one knows precisely who ordered the wild mass Canadian charge which now ensued. Firing at will, and cheering, the Midlanders and Grenadiers, aided by the Winnipeg 90th Rifles, rushed at the Metis rifle pits. Many of the Metis fighters were still out of position, having been drawn away from the cemetery and church to the north-east by Middleton's feint that morning. Ammunition on the Metis side was very low. Nevertheless, they resisted bravely, aided by sharpshooters firing from across the Saskatchewan River at the charging militiamen.

However, the charge was irresistible. Middleton ordered the rest of the troops to assist by covering the flank of the charging men. Howard and his Gatling [Gun] were moved up. The charging militia stormed into the village of Batoche. Then their enemies rallied. Metis and Indians who had been drawn away to the east by Middleton's feint in the morning now appeared, and commenced a heavy fire from rifle pits in brush near the village. A senior Canadian officer, Captain French, was killed as he fired from a second story window. But the artillery and the Gatling were brought up to break this new resistance. The last defenders of Batoche surrendered.

Straubenzee's soldiers had performed brilliantly, charging into Batoche in the face of heavy fire and driving the remaining Metis clear of the town.

Middleton's plan, plus an impetuous charge by Canadian militia had seen the last defenders overrun, and resistance at Batoche ended.

Gabriel Dumont - the battle of Batoche
1885 May 9 Gabriel Dumont started to defend Batoche against more than 800 soldiers, the battle raged until May 12, when some troops disobeyed Middleton, stormed the trenches and slaughtered 23 Métis defenders, who had run out of ammunition and were firing stones and nails before giving up the fight; Dumont almost single-handedly held the troops back, allowing many to escape. He fled to the US when he heard Riel had surrendered, in 1886 hearing of Riel's execution he joined Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show as a crack marksman.
In 1888 returned to Canada after the amnesty for rebels; 1889 February 19 officially pardoned by Crown for role in 1885 Rebellion; 1893 returned to Batoche; will leave two oral memoirs of the rebellion.

Use the form below to comment on this article. A name is required, optional email address will not be revealed.