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The Battle of Frenchman's Butte

Steele’s Scouts When the Northwest Resistance broke out across the Canadian plains in 1885, the Dominion government responded by rushing troops westward on the new Canadian Pacific Railway. Among these troops was Major-General Frederick Dobson Middleton’s force, which fought the Métis, and Lieutenant-Colonel William Otter’s force, which fought against Poundmaker (Pitikwahanapiwiyin)’s Aboriginal warriors. To deal with Big Bear (Mistahimaskwa)’s Cree, however, a field force was formed under Major-General Thomas Bland Strange, a retired British officer living on a ranch near Calgary. The mixed force consisted of settlers as well as a unit of North West Mounted Police officers called Steele’s Scouts, named after their commander, Major Samuel B. Steele.

On May 28, 1885, the field force marched north from Calgary. They came to Frenchmen’s Butte — a coulee north of a prominent, nearby hill — where fighting began at roughly six in the morning, with the two sides firing at each other across the valley.

Some of Strange’s troops attempted to cross the valley, but found the ground covered in muskeg. Furthermore, the lack of cover made it dangerous to advance. Those that did found themselves easy targets for the Cree, who were hidding in rifle pits they had dug in the hillside the previous day. Some two hundred Cree warriors were stationed in the trenches and rifle pits under the authority of war chief Wandering Spirit (Kapapamahchakwew). Among the warriors was Imasees, Big Bear’s son who had been a leader in the Frog Lake Massacre. The rest were protecting the camp, some two miles away.

The Cree fired at Strange’s troops intermittently, giving them the impression that the battle line extended farther than it actually did. After nearly three hours of fighting, three of Strange’s men had been wounded, while three Cree were wounded and one killed. General Strange decided it would be safest to withdraw, and ordered his force to retreat. The Cree slipped away and headed north.

As with the Battle of Cut Knife Hill, the Battle of Frenchman's Butte was inconclusive, and failed to bring an end to First Nations involvement in the Northwest Resistance.

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