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Walsh Meets Bull

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Sitting Bull - The Most feared name in all buffalo country - made an indelible impression on both American and Canadian history. Sitting Bull
The Years in Canada
Copyright 1973 Hurtig Publishers
165 pages,
ISBN 0-88830-73-5.

If the powerful Sioux tribe with 40,000 or more adherents across the country had a chief of chiefs, he was Sitting Bull, the warrior, orator, medicine man and prophet. The muscular, slightly lame and unsmiling leader was acknowledged by Indian and whites as having been the mastermind in the Indian victory at Little Big Horn. He was now the most fear-inspiring man on the continent. Relentlessly pursued by United States force, he moved northward, aiming at the Canadian buffalo country to which he laid at least some moral claim. Mounted police feared that he would try to use the Canadian territories as a base from which to raid the United States.

Superintendent James Morrow Walsh was ju t back from the meeting with Chief Four Horns when scouts reported that Sitting Bull and another thousand refugees mio-ht not be far behind. They had crossed the Missouri River intending to cross the Boundary and escape from the Long Knives who, a the Sioux realized,were not supposed to step over the "Medicine Line" or "Big Road". The police lost no time in starting out toward Pinto Hore Butte which marked the westerly end of the low, sprawling Wood Mountains. With Walsh were four member of the force and two guides, Louis Lavallie and Gabriel Solomon. It was May, travel was easy, and night camps on the open prairie were pleasant.

Reaching Frenchman' River (Whitemud Creek), Walsh discovered a fresh trail and beside it a new grave. The trail, he suspected, was made by the newcomers he wanted to meet and the grave, as he learned later, was the burial place of an Indian who died from wounds suffered in the Custer engagement and whose body was carried for days for the sake of interment in friendly Canadian soil. The force first spotted the Indians camping in the Frenchman's River (Whitemud Creek) valley on June 2, 1877. The border crossing, according to Father Chabot, was "along the Frenchman River," below the present villages of Val Marie and Mankota. "Their first camp was established in the ravines of Pinto Horse Hills."

A minor chief, Spotted Eagle of the Sans Arc, rode forward to warn the strangers that they were approaching the camp of the highest ranking chief and that they approached at their own peril. The officer received the message courteously, but responded by asking the Sioux emissary to point out Sitting Bull's tipi. Walsh rode straight to his goal with neither halt nor change of pace. Nothing like this had ever happened before: a white man riding unannounced and apparently unafraid into the presence of the most feared native leader on the continent. The war-weary Chief gazed in astonishment as this mounted man in immaculate police uniform led his little group to the tipi entrance at a bold gait. .

The Indian had a reputation as a ruthless killer and the police officer was making a reputation as one of the most fearless figures of his time. It was a tense moment, a crucial confrontation in Canadian history. As defenseless traders and settlers scattered across the prairie country knew very well, any act of violence could have explosive repercussions. The Indian held all the physical advantages. Behind him, within mere minutes travelling time, were more than 5,000 unhappy Sioux, including a thousand warriors. Immediately behind the police officer were six supporters. The officer halted a few paces from the Chief's tent, bringing the Indian to his feet. For an instant, both men remained motionless, gazing at each other like bulls measuring each other for a fight. Superintendent Walsh broke the spell by dismounting and passing his reins to one of his constables. Striding confidently toward the Chief, he offered his hand in greeting. With surprise bordering on shock, the Chief responded and the two shook hands.

"You and I must have a conversation," the officer began. "You know you are now on British soil." Walsh beckoned to his faithful interpreter and guide, Louis Lavallie, who translated. The Chief nodded reluctantly and at once laughed at the ridiculousness of this situation - a man with six followers telling a powerful chief with a thousand braves what he must do. Walsh asked that the lesser chiefs and head men be brought together so that he might instruct them on how they must conduct themselves if they were to remain on the Canadian side. Still visibly surprised, Sitting Bull condescended to call his Council.

The scene was one worthy of an artist' attention. Scouts on the nearby hill held dutifully to their pots. Leather-covered tipis with poles projecting at their tops filled the valley beside the slow-moving tream, just a short distance north of the International Boundary. Other Indians, becoming bolder as they became relaxed, crowded around, their eyes fixed upon the splendid figure of Major Walsh. The thirty-five-year-old officer, well built, athletic, agile and the ideal personification of the spirit of the new force, was studied intently. His thick brown curly hair showed clearly below his cap and his heavy mustache and well-trimmed imperial whisker fascinated the Indians. His expression was sober; nothing escaped his sharp eyes. If Walsh's fine physical presence was not enough to captivate the Indians, his colourful uniform would have done it. In the selection of police clothing he departed often from the prescribed styles. He demanded perfect fit but had no objection to individual colours and styles. With his riding breeches he wore cavalry boots extending above his knees. His cap bore a heavy gold band and his crimson coat was like nothing the Indians had seen before.

Facing Sitting Bull and all the assembled chiefs, Walsh spoke slowly. It was important for the Sioux to understand. He assured them that General Miles of the United States army who had followed them to the boundary, would not be continuing any farther. And the Sioux must not, under any circumstances, conduct acts of warfare across the border and hope to use the Canadian side as a refuge. To this Sitting Bull showed surprise and disappointment.

"If you cross," said Walsh, emphatically, "you will not be permitted to return to this side. You are now in another country and you must live by the laws of this country. People who break the laws of this land, whether they be whites, blacks or browns, will not escape punishment. There is no place here for lawless men who think it fun to hoot and kill Indians. And Indians must learn to respect the property of other people. There must be an end to the widespread practice of stealing horses or stealing anything belonging to others. Canadian law will be enforced uniformly for people of all race. If you are prepared to obey the Canadian laws, the police will protect you. If you are not prepared to obey, you can expect to be jailed or forced to leave the country."

Sitting Bull liked the idea of justice for all but found it hard to understand why he should be prevented from raiding south across the "Big Road". He became oratorical, told of treaties broken by United States officers, about attacks on Indian women and children, about Indians being hunted like wild animals. While loathe to give up all thought of striking back to square some old accounts with the Long Knives, he admitted most of his people wanted peace. Perhaps his people would find that peace in Canada where he had a hereditary right. He brought out the old medals. He might have added that the Sioux knew something about diplomacy as well as warfare. After the fall of New France, the Sioux gave their friendship to the British conquerors. Their loyalty persisted and in both the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 they sided with the British. Whenever it suited his convenience, Sitting Bull declared himself a British Indian and displayed the George III medals given to his grandfather.

"Yesterday," he said, "I was fleeing from them [the white men] and cursing them as I moved. Today they plant their lodge by the side of mine and defy me. Have I fallen? Is my reign at an end?"

Walsh and his men, to demonstrate their good faith, remained in camp overnight. Before departure the next day, there occured an episode which served to show the great Chief how the "law he had just promised to respect was maintained". Just as the Mounties were about to leave three Indians leading five horses rode in. One of the police scouts, Gabriel Solomon, identified the Indians as United States Assiniboines from the Missouri district. One in particular, White Dog, had a bad reputation. He had been a great warrior, so great that Sitting Bull was said to have offered him three hundred horses as payment if he would join in the Sioux war campaigns. The police scouts recognized three of the horses as those belonging to a Catholic priest, Father De Corby, living in the Cypress Hills.


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