Role of the Militia and Police
PRELUDE TO THE NORTH-WEST CAMPAIGN 1885
While the Militia took no active part in the Frog Lake portion of the rebellion the importance of military aid in controlling and finally quelling the uprising should not be underestimated and it is fitting that their involvement be included in this book.
Prior to 1885 there had been no necessity for military organization in the District of Alberta (Alberta had not yet joined Confederation). Due to the delays encountered by the troops on the way from Eastern Canada, and because the Indian and Metis rebels were already active, it was obviously impossible for the government troops to reach Alberta's troubled area in time, recruits were gathered locally. It is mentioned in "The North-West Campaign, 1885" that the Minister of Militia and Defense had authorized Major General Middleton to recruit men from the prairies.
The troops gathered from Alberta worked in conjunction with the North-West Mounted Police. If the police asked for assistance they were in charge of the operation and when the militia asked for aid they took over the responsibility of being in charge.
The St. Albert Mounted Riflemen kept things under control in the Edmonton area.
The Rocky Mountain Rangers were comprised, mainly, of cowboys recruited from ranches in the southern part of the district of Alberta. This unit never fought against the rebels, but played an important part by patrolling two hundred miles of frontier along the Montana and Alberta border, acting as a buffer that prevented four thousand Alberta and three thousand Montana Indians from joining the rebellious bands. They also protected ranchers from the rustlers who were active in that area. These rustlers were not necessarily all Indians.
Steel's Scouts accompanied Major General Strange's Military Convoy from Calgary to Edmonton in April 1885. From Edmonton they travelled by flat bottomed steamers down the North Saskatchewan River. They skirmished with the rebels at Pipestone Creek and tangled with them at Loon Lake. The barge Northcote was made into a gunboat and, with her upper deck sandbagged, crashed the blockade set up across the river by the rebels.
The whole force met at Frenchmen's Butte and finally brought the rebels under control.
Major General Strange did eventually reach Frog Lake and is accredited with giving the victims of the massacre a Christian burial.
After the danger of further trouble from the Indians was over the barges continued to ply the river. After 1886 railway competition became serious and in 1897 the flat bottomed steamers were taken from the river and put up for sale but, their usefulness being over, no one purchased them.
To the established, well organized and highly trained Canadian Armed Forces of this last quarter of the twentieth century, after having taken part in two major world wars and keeping of the peace in other war-torn countries the North-West Rebellion understandably seems insignificant.
To the individual civilian, few of whom are trained to cope with hate, bloodshed and death in the impersonal manner so necessary to the militia, it was a traumatic experience as evidenced in memories written by the survivors which are read and discussed in all parts of Canada.
We acknowledge with thanks the attached articles submitted by the Department of National Defense.