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The Frog Lake Massacre

Frog Lake Massacre, 1886 By the spring of 1885, it seemed inevitable that militants in Big Bear (Mistahimaskwa)'s band at Frog Lake, thirty-five miles northwest of Fort Pitt, north of modern-day Lloydminster, would rise up. Big Bear's son Imasees, along with war chief Wandering Spirit (Kapapamahchakwew) and Little Bad Man (Ayimisis), commanded the growing hostility among Big Bear's followers.

When the news came that the Métis had won the Battle of Duck Lake, triggering the Northwest Resistance, a warriors’ lodge was erected in Big Bear’s camp. According to Plains Cree tradition, once a warriors’ lodge was established the war chief, not the chief, was thereafter in control.

On the night of April 1, Big Bear’s warriors ventured into the settlement at Frog Lake, where they proceeded to plunder the contents of a store and steal government horses. They gathered all the white and Métis settlers into the local church, taking them prisoner. Looting another store, they discovered some alcohol and began drinking.

Engraving of the Frog Lake Massacre The morning of April 2, Thomas Quinn, the town's Indian Agent, was killed by Wandering Spirit after he refused to go to the Cree camp. Big Bear tried to stop the violence, but the warriors followed the example of their war chief, killing two Roman Catholic priests, the government farming instructor, an independent trader, a miller, and three other men. Of the nine civilians killed, all were white except for Quinn, whose mother was Métis. Three more civilians, including two women, were taken prisoner but later released.

Throughout the skirmish, Big Bear remained opposed to the bloodshed. He convinced his warriors to take hostages to be used for bargaining instead of spilling blood. Unfortunately, many of his followers took advantage of his reputation, spreading rumors of his victory at Frog Lake and issuing statements in his name. Thus, Big Bear, the man most opposed to needless violence, became a feared figure. It was rumoured t hat Big Bear had joined Louis Riel and was sending out riders to stir up all the bands he could. His name struck fear and panic in the hearts of those in the surrounding countryside, as news of the Frog Lake massacre spread like wild fire.

Christensen, Deanna. Ahtahkakoop: The Epic Account of a Plains Cree Head Chief, His People, and Their Struggle for Survival, 1816-1896. Shell Lake: Ahtahkakoop Publishing, 2000.
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