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The Battle of Loon Lake

Scene of Steele's Fight By May, 1885, the efforts of the Dominion of Canada to suppress the First Nations during the Northwest Resistance had been unsuccessful, with Cree victories at both the Battle of Cut Knife Hill and the Battle of Frenchman’s Butte. But the Aboriginal warriors did not have any real hope of resisting government forces for much longer. Many of the Aboriginals lost their desire to fight when the government sent them relief in the form of fresh flour, beef, tea, tobacco, and other supplies. The Métis, under the direction of Louis Riel, had been defeated at the Battle of Batoche, and it was only a matter of time before the rest of the resistance was quelled.

After their victory at the Battle of Cut Knife Hill, Poundmaker (Pitikwahanapiwiyin)'s force of Cree and Nakoda (Assiniboine or Stoney) people were led by war chief Fine Day to join the Métis at Batoche. Poundmaker and many others were opposed to Fine Day’s plan, and hearing that the Métis had been defeated, they promptly halted their journey. Poundmaker subsequently made a peace agreement with Major General Frederick Dobson Middleton, and on May 26, 1885, Middleton accepted the peaceful surrender of Poundmaker near Battleford. Poundmaker’s involvement in the Northwest Resistance had come to an end.

The Woods and Plains Cree led by Big Bear (Mistahimaskwa), however, had retreated north with their white and Métis hostages after their victory at the Battle of Frenchman's Butte. Their journey was a difficult one, and they trekked through rugged country with very few provisions. One prisoner reported that every effort was made for their care: “Indians began running to us with little gifts of food, some flour, dried meat, and tea. We rested and ate while the Indians themselves were starving." The Cree stopped to rest at Loon Lake, 95 km northeast of Lloydminster, a spot known today as 'Steele Narrows.'

On June 3, 1885 Major Samuel B. Steele’s force of 65 North West Mounted Police and local recruits — including those known as “Steele’s Scouts” — caught up with the Cree at Loon Lake. At approximately ten o'clock in the morning, they attacked. Fierce fighting ensued, but the Cree were almost out of ammunition and soon resorted to firing stones from their guns. After a brief exchange of gun fire, all of Steele's men had survived but Cree losses were heavy. Realizing the hopelessness of their situation, the Cree released the prisoners and fled. These would be the last shots fired in the Northwest Resistance, and the last battle ever fought on Canadian soil.

Demoralized, most of the Cree surrendered over the next few weeks. Some of Big Bear’s Cree — including Wandering Spirit (Kapapamahchakwew), the war chief who had led the Cree military campaign — circled back to Fort Pitt where they surrendered. A few of the others, including Big Bear’s son Imasees, fled to safety in the United States. Big Bear evaded capture until July 2, when, after searching for food at a camp near Fort Carlton and travelling for a hundred miles with his twelve-year-old son Horse Child, he was finally taken prisoner by the police.

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