Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Pemmican War

There have been some strange instigators for war over the course of human history. In North America, for example, a small war was fought over a food called Pemmican...and part of it was fought in our neck of the woods...

For a brief period, the momentum was with the HBC, who in 1816 rashly seized and captured the NWC post at Pembina, and later the NWC Fort Gibraltar at The Forks. This continuing conflict eventually led to the massacre of Hudson’s Bay Company Governor Semple and twenty of his men at Seven Oaks on 19 June 1816.

From the 1814 Pemmican War

Largely because of the threatened hostilities, on 7 November two boat-loads of Selkirk Settlers were sent south to Fort Daer on the Red River at the present site of Pembina, immediately south of the 49th parallel. (Fort Daer, built in 1812 by the first group of Red River settlers, had been named for Lord Selkirk, Baron Daer.)

From The Sacking of Peter Fidler’s Brandon House, 1816

January 8: Miles MacDonnell, (1769-1828) of the Hudson Bay Company, under authority of the British/Scots, prohibited the export of provisions from Pembina (Red River). No persons whatsoever shall take any provisions, either flesh, fish or vegetables procured or raised within the said Territory, without a license from the Governor, and whosoever shall be detected in attempting to convey shall be taken into custody and prosecuted as the law in such case directs. As an example, he seized the pemmican at the Canadian North West Company Post of La Souris. It is noteworthy that he also seized some pemmican stored at a nearby Hudson Bay Post. Most of the suppliers of pemmican at Red River are free trader Metis. Miles also served notice to quit on the other Canadian North West Company Forts, including the Canadians at River Winnipeg, Turtle River, Brandon House, Carlton House, Fort Dauphlin Portage des Prairies and River Qu Appella. It is amazing that the 'Pemmican War' did not breakout on this very day, based on British arrogance. The Metis Nation had an instinctive hostility towards Englishmen, Orkney men and Scots of the British Hudson Bay Company (or the North West Company for that matter). They formed the first Canadian Mounted Cavalry Division of the Red River Metis Nation, who watched, with increasing resentment, the actions of Miles MacDonnell (1769-1828). Miles MacDonnell (1769-1828) prohibited the running of buffalo by horsemen near the settlement because it drove the herds out of reach of the colonists. It would appear that Miles MacDonnell (1769-1828) had been commissioned to instigate a war so as to draw British armed forces into the region to secure the Hudsons Bay Company's fragile claim to the region. The Metis of Red River are angered by the British pemmican proclamation. Miles MacDonell (1769-1828) ordered the arrest of the Metis for running the buffalo with horses, and those who defied his authority included Bostonnais Pangman and Cuthbert Grant. It is noteworthy that the running of buffalo with horses is a tradition that predates the arrival of the H.B.C. in this region of Metis Country.

From the amazing website of Canadian history, particularly Metis history, by Richard Garneau

It all started this way:
In January 1814, Miles Macdonnell, the governor of the colony issued the "Pemmican Proclamation" stating that no provisions could be taken out of the boundaries of the territory. This action was needed because there were no guarantees that the next crop would be good, and another group of settlers were expected that year. The NWC and local Métis considered this a direct attack to their livelihood. It was tantamount to a declaration of war! The chief partners decided that it was imperative that the settlement fails for the Company to survive.

In 1814, the NWC and Métis started a campaign of terror. There were many shootings, skirmishes and fires to try to pursuade the colonists to give up and leave the country. Duncan Cammeron, one of the NWC partners came to the Red River settlement in the winter of 1814-15, played on their fear and convinced 133 settlers to relocate to Upper Canada. The NWC even offered them free passage in the spring. Jean-Baptiste Desautels dit Lapointe was returning to Canada himself in 1815 as his first contract had expired. Maybe he helped to transport these families?

In June of 1815 the remaining settlers were driven away by force and treat of violence. Archibald Norman Macleod of the NWC arrested the governor, Miles Macdonnell, and sent him to Fort William. The settlers fled to Jack River at the north end of Lake Winnipeg where the HBC had a trading post. The Métis moved in, razed Fort Douglas, looted everything of value, and burned the settlement.

In August, Colin Robertson, a Bay man, led the settlers back to Red River. He quickly worked to calm the Métis, seized the Nor’Wester’s Fort Gibraltar, and rebuilt Fort Douglas.

In the fall of 1815, a new governor, Robert Semple, arrived in the colony with a new group of settlers. The NWC continued to harass the settlers that winter. When the residents started hearing rumours of an attack being planned on the colony, the majority of the settlers sought safety within the walls of Fort Douglas.

In the winter of 1815-16, Jean-Baptiste Lagimodière, an independent trader and friend of the settlement carried letters by snowshoe from Red River to Lord Selkirk who was in Montreal. The letters told Selkirk of the atrocities and deportations of 1815 and convinced the Lord that the settlement needed protection or it would be destroyed once again. Selkirk recruited 30 voyageurs and 104 discharged soldiers of the War of 1812 to come with him to Red River to protect the colony. These soldiers were mostly Swiss mercenaries from the regiments of Des Meurons and Watteville. Selkirk promised them free land at Red River, or free passage back to Europe in return for their services.
From Jean-Baptiste Desautels dit Lapointe, by Marc Jolicoeur (February 2000)