Theresa Gowanlock Story

1RWiconweb_19.gifThe first and longer part of the book was written by Mrs. Gowanlock. In her introductions she tells that after her escape and return to the East she came to realize how diligently she had been sought, and she learned that a whole continent had cared about her. She had almost given up hope of escaping when, as she said, "God, in His inscrutable way, calmed me, and in less time than it took to write I was suddenly free."

The book was not written to bring the author fame. There were many and various versions of the happenings at Frog Lake. Her aim was to give a truthful and accurate account of what had happened. She included a bit about the country itself and about Indian customs. She also wrote her thanks to the half-breeds who befriended her during her captivity.

On October 7, 1884 Mrs. Gownalock left Tintern, Ontario to visit friends of the man she had married six days earlier. From there she and her husband proceeded via C.P.R. to Port Arthur, Winnipeg, Regina and Swift Current. Provisions were purchased, and they began the one hundred and ninety-five mile trip to Battleford by buckboard, over prairie and parkland. Accompanying them was a Mr. Levalley from Ottawa.

They spent four nights under canvas. Once a prairie fire began from one they had lit to make tea. Near Battleford squaws came seeking food, but they had none left, as it was now October 19.

Mr. Gowanlock had a store on the north bank of the river. The settlement had a few fine houses. Especially prominent was an Industrial Home for Indian children and Judge Rolleau's residence.

Later John went to Frog Creek, where there were thirteen men working on the house and mills. Theresa stayed behind, and during the time began to learn of Indian ways. Their women were very adept at tanning. She saw them apply a substance to the hide before laying it in the sun for a few days. A small, sharp iron on a long handle was used to scrape the skin, which was later greased, put in the sun, and pulled to soften.

The Indian children went tobogganing downhill on earthen plates, which kept breaking. A friend of Theresa's, Effie Laurie, amazed the children by sliding down the hill on a tin plate. They were surprised that a white woman would do such a thing!

Once when two men were crossing a bridge, a horse fell through and was killed. The Indian women skinned it and took the meat home. One husband said they would boil the meat and keep changing the water to remove any impurities there might be in it.

When the squaws went to the bush for wood they would tie a rope around the load and lift it onto their backs. If they had a dog they would tie two long, crossed sticks together and fasten them to the dog's collar, which was connected to a strap around the dog just behind the front legs. A piece of cloth was tied around the bundle of wood and fastened to the poles where they crossed. The squaws performed all the manual labor, while the men were idle.

When John returned they set out for their new home in the company of a Mr. Ballentyne from Battleford. At the end of their first day they stopped at a half-breed's home. It had a mud fireplace like a solid piece of stone. The meal consisted of bannock, fried white fish, potatoes boiled in a pot that swung over the fire, and tea. The family gave them a clean bed, while the parents slept on the floor. In the morning four children emerged from under that bed!

The group reached Fort Pitt on December 10. The Gowanlocks said goodbye to Mr. Ballentyne and stopped at Mr. McLean's. The next day they proceeded to Onion Lake, where they were met by Mr. Mann. December 12 saw them at Frog Lake. Theresa stayed at Delaney's while John fixed furniture for their house about two miles further on, southwest of the lake.

On Sunday morning they went with Mr. Quinn, the Indian agent, to see the new home. The men at the mill were singing, and Mr. Gilchrist was in the tent cooking for the fourteen men. After a dinner of rabbit soup, bread and coffee, they returned to Delaney's. Five days later the Gowanlocks moved into their house.

Theresa described the site as "a pretty valley, a simple house, a store, a brook, and a mill." There were poplar, spruce and berry-bearing shrubs - "a beautiful and enchanting location."

At the little settlement of Frog Lake the nearest white neighbors were two miles away. The Crees seemed very friendly, and twice a week brought white fish to trade for sugar, tea and prints. They dressed up for Christmas and New Year's and went from house to house with greetings. As the Gowanlocks walked along the creek on that Christmas Day of 1884, the Indians were snaring rabbits and ice fishing. The women wore brass beads in their hair and carried their smallest children slung on their backs. They could squat down in a way that would soon tire whites.

The Indian boys were wild, untamed, full of mischief, and cruel to those they hated. They laughed only at others' mishaps and were of low morality. They were skilful with the bow, of keen sight and hearing, and adept at pony riding.

The next two months were busy ones. The men wanted to finish the mill before spring. The temperature ranged from 0 to -60. Williscroft and the other men were discharged, and Gilchrist stayed to assist John. On March 17 two strangers came to the mill seeking work. They had left Duck Lake, where trouble was brewing. These two, Gregory Donaire and Peter Blondin, worked until the massacre. They moved among the Indians continually, and Mrs. Gowanlock believed that they were "fully aware of all that was going on and responsible in a great degree for later murders."

Theresa commented that Indian ways did not entice them to change theirs. The Woods Cree were all peaceable and industrious, and becoming "proficient at husbandry." They spent winters in log cabins, moving into tents for the summer. There were about two hundred Crees altogether. They did not take part in the massacre and were not responsible for it in any way, she wrote.

The Plains Cree, on the other hand, were dissatisfied, revengeful, cruel, and idle. These same ones, who were constantly fed by Mr. Delaney and Mr. Gowanlock, killed them.

Big Bear's people were sent to Frog Lake, it was said, by Governor Dewdney, who told them they would never be hungry. They went from home to home for food. Mr. Delaney gave them rations, often paying out of his own pocket. The government wrote and advised him to stop, but he continued providing them with rations until the outbreak. Big Bear was Chief in name only, as the ruling power was in the hands of Wandering Spirit, "a bad and vicious man, a crafty and cunning freebooter."

On March 30 news came from Duck Lake. Mr. Quinn sent a letter to them at midnight by John Pritchard. He told them to go to Delaney's Tuesday morning to accompany his wife to Fort Pitt. If they saw any excitement, they (the men) would follow. At Delaney's they learned that the police had gone to Fort Pitt. Big Bear's men said that Poundmaker, chief at Battleford, wanted them to join him, but Big Bear wouldn't do it.

On April 1 those Indians were shaking hands with the whites and "making April fools of them." Theresa remained at Delaney's while John went to the mill. He returned in the evening with Gilchrist. They talked with Mr. Dill, who had a store at Frog Lake, and Mr. Cameron, who was a Hudson Bay clerk. Those men believed that the government would come to terms at Duck Lake. A young chief and a man named Isodor promised to warn them of trouble in Big Bear's group. That night Big Bear's men watched the two and prevented them from warning the whites.

At 5:00 a.m. John Pritchard and Big Bear's son, Ibesies, reported trouble. They said the horses were gone. They believed the Indians had taken them, but that group blamed half-breeds from Edmonton and said they'd taken the horses to Duck Lake.

Big Bear's men came in the house and took all the arms, saying they would use them to protect the people against the half-breeds. All the men were taken to Quinn's. Later they returned for breakfast, and everyone set out for church.

The priests were holding "Holy Thursday" mass. As they entered the door, Wandering Spirit, his face painted, sank to his knees with his gun in hand. The service was not finished. After going back to Delaney's they were told to come out again.

The Indians were going through the stores. The whites were to be taken uphill to the camp. They had only gone a short distance when shots were heard. They believed the firing to be into the air to scare them, but Quinn, Dill and Gilchrist were dead. Mr. Williscroft, about seventy-five years old, ran by them, but an Indian shot at him and knocked off his hat. He turned and said, "Don't shoot, don't shoot!" A second shot was fired; he ran screaming, and fell in the bushes. As John turned to comfort Theresa, an Indian behind them shot him. She sank down beside him, expecting to be next, but an Indian pulled her away. Delaney and a priest were shot, and Mrs. Delaney was taken away. Right then Mrs. Gowanlock would have preferred to die.

She was taken through a pond, in water nearly to her waist, then on to a tepee. She was given a rabbit robe to sit on and was offered food, but was not allowed to see Mrs. Delaney.

About thirty of Big Bear's braves in war paint were yelling and waving long wooden clubs with three sharp knife blades at one end. Some men were wearing her husband's clothing. A baby in a moss bag appeared to be dead. Pritchard's little girl, who spoke some English, came in and said her father was putting up a tent nearby.

Later, in that tent, she saw Mrs. Delaney. Blondin returned from the mill with a horse and gave it, along with thirty dollars, for the women. Perhaps the cash was a part of Gowanlock's own money. When Mrs. Gowanlock refused to go with him, he became abusive, and Pritchard intervened. Blondin said if she would go, they would leave secretly in the night. Her reply was that she wouldn't leave unless everyone did.

Late at night a French-Canadian, Pierre, came to hide in the tent. He'd been given a horse and the protection of the Woods Cree. He had worked all winter with Louis Goulet and Andre Nault getting out logs thirty miles from Frog Lake.

On April 3 Big Bear came to say that he was sorry, but that he had no control over some men. He told them to eat and sleep plenty. The white man, he said, took prisoners, starved them, and cut off their hair. After a consultation with Pritchard, he stood up and said, "We promise, by God, that we will not hurt these white women; we will let them live."

On Saturday, April 4, the Indians came in saying "Where is the Monias squaw? Pritchard and Adolphus Nolin gave them blankets and dishes, and they left. The Woods Cree said they should be made to return the articles, but Pritchard said it wasn't much.

The bodies of the slain men had not been buried. The half-breeds dragged them off the road, and the "renegades" dragged them back on. The bodies of the two husbands were put under the church, but the half-breeds were not allowed to move the others. Later the Indians set fire to the church, and they heard the bodies were burned beyond recognition.

On Easter Sunday there was a thunderstorm, The Indians said they saw in the heavens a church and a man on a large black horse. The man's arm was out, and he looked angry. They said God must be angry with them for doing such a thing.

On April 6 there was excitement among the Indians. They were dressed in full war attire - naked except for a girdle about their waists, painted and wearing headdresses of feathers. Those who had killed a white wore quills - one for every man slain. They carried tomahawks, clubs and guns. At the command to head for Fort Pitt, they forced some half-breeds and squaws to accompany them.

On April 15, the Indians returned victorious. They had captured Fort Pitt, killed the policeman (Cowan), taken prisoners, and allowed the police to escape downriver - without losing any of their men, they said. The prisoners brought in were Mr. and Mrs. Quinney, the McLeans and the Manns.

Camp was moved about two miles from Frog Lake. The new camp was built in a circle with the center for dancing. Donaire wore some of her husband's clothing and laughed in her face about it. He wouldn't give her any of the garments to wear. She and Mrs. Delaney were to do the baking. They lived on bannock and bacon for two months, and were thankful for it. The sight of a whole rabbit in a pot spoiled her appetite. There were fifteen in the tent to cook for, besides the Indians, who came about thirty at a time. Mrs. Gowanlock and Mrs. Delaney also cut wood, carried water, and sewed for Pritchard's nine children. She was to see her treasured family keepsakes played with and broken, and photographs torn up.

After the Fort Pitt incident one Indian found the glass eye of Stanley Simpson, a prisoner. He brought it back for another Indian, who was blind in one eye. Big Bear's daughter-in-law died. She was wrapped in a blanket and put into a hole with sacks of beans and flour placed on top, so she couldn't get out. All this was covered with earth and watched for some time.

Little Poplar dressed in women's clothing and whipped those who lagged in the dancing. The white women were invited to a "dog feast" but declined. One day an old, insane squaw was killed because the Indians were afraid of her. She had told them to kill her before sundown or she would eat up the whole camp. She was tied and carried to a hill, where a half-breed struck her on the head and an Indian shot her three times in the head. Then her head was cut off and set on fire.

On the way to Fort Pitt a letter came from Reverend J. McDougall of Calgary, saying troops were coming from Edmonton. The Indians set a watch on the hills after that. The group passed a short distance from the Delaney home but saw only the bell of the Catholic mission. Some of the buildings at Onion Lake had been burned before, but now the rest were set on fire. At Fort Pitt the flour had had kerosene and machine oil poured on it. Blondin and Henry Quinn went to the river to escape. Blondin knew if even one prisoner escaped all the rest would be killed. The half- breeds brought the two back and would have killed Quinn, had Pritchard not intervened once again.

For the "Thirst Dance" (called Sun Dance by the whites) a green bough was brought to the dancing place, and all the Indians shot at it. The squaws were taken with them on horseback as they went to get sticks. A long pole was put up. The things tied to it to give to the sun were never taken down. Five-foot high poles were placed around a large circle, with the tops slanted in to the center pole. Green boughs were placed over this framework, and small stalls were partitioned off. For three days and three nights there was no eating or drinking during the entertainment. The squaws blew on bone whistles, and tom-toms were played. They were delighted to have whites come and observe.

When it was reported that the police were on the north side of the river, the tents were torn down. They heard a cannon, and it was sweet music to the prisoners' ears. From seven to ten in the morning General Strange's troops confronted the Indians, who claimed to have killed twenty policemen. All soldiers were called policemen. Two Indians were killed. One of them was Worm, who had killed Mr. Gowanlock.

The people in camp were ordered to dig pits. Pritchard and Blondin dug a large one about five feet deep and placed flour sacks around it. Water came into the bottom, so brush was placed there. About twenty people could fit into the pit.

Again they were on the move. The new camp was used for nearly a week, when again the tents were torn down. They travelled all day until eleven at night. Nault helped make Mrs. Gowanlock comfortable in camp, but she still disliked him. On Monday, May 31, General Strange's scouts were seen, and many rumors were flying. A quick move was made by the Indians, leaving the half-breeds behind. Pritchard and five other families fled in the opposite direction through the woods in wagons. On the night of June 3, scouts rode in.

There were tears at the moment of rescue. In the company of William McKay and Peter Ballentyne of Battleford, they proceeded to Fort Pitt. There they were welcomed and put on a steamer for Battleford. The Reverend Mr. Gordon accompanied them. They were taken to the residence of Mr. Laurie. All along the North Saskatchewan River they had seen Indians waving little white flags to show they desired peace.

The trip back east was begun. On July 12 Theresa Gowanlock was back in Parkdale, Ontario, It was there that the book was printed the same year. In the months that followed her rescue, she had many thoughts. "Is it best for mankind not to know the future? As for the situation in the west - if there was discontent, there must have been grievances to lead to the 'suffering, evils and excesses.' The dispensers of law and order did not remove the grievances in time."

"The facts show that Indians are not treated properly. No distinction is made between good and bad Indians. They would be, in many cases, better off without the missionary. There is need for agreement on a non-sectarian basis for their efforts. Evangelization would be quicker, better for Indians, and more honorable for the Christian Church. Give the Indians the Gospel in its simplicity without the ritual of the denominations." Mrs. Gowanlock included this hymn for her readers:

Once I thought my cross was heavy,

And my heart was sore afraid,

Summoned forth to stand a witness

For the cross of truth betrayed.

"Send, 0 Lord, I prayed, some Simon

As of old was sent to Thee."

"Be a Simon", said the Master,

"For this cross belongs to me."

Still is crucified my Saviour

I must, myself, a Simon be,

Take my cross and walk humbly

Up the slopes of Calvary.

John Gowanlock (1861 - 1885)

In ill health at nineteen, John was advised by his doctor to change climate. He ran a store at Battleford where he was well liked. The government wanted mills for four reserves in the Frog Lake area, so with Mr. Laurie and twenty-eight hundred dollars he went to Ontario for machinery. There he took care of the purchasing and supervised the shipping. He was a temperance man of the Battleford Presbyterian Church.

William Campbell G. Gilchrist

This Ontario postmaster's son died at the age of twenty- four. He was a clerk for McTavish of Lindsay, Ontario, and later a clerk and telegraph operator. After meeting A.G. Cavana, a surveyor to the Territories, he signed on as a bookkeeper and assistant surveyor. He left the East, arriving in Winnipeg in the spring of 1882, and coming on west in 1883. In the fall he met John Gowanlock, a member of the Presbyterian Church. He had intended to enter Manitoba College as a theology student.