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As these final preparations were completed, scouts signalled that the
Sioux were coming. When they appeared along the crest of the Coteau,
"the army, the whole man power of the great Sioux camp, their war ponies
of piebald and pinto and chestnut vivid on the skyline, their gun
barrels and spear points glinting in the fierce sunlight of the plains."
The Sioux paused. The Métis sent out thirty hunters to warn them to keep
their distance. (Remember that this was almost half their camp men.)
The thirty could see the three prisoners. When the prisoners saw
them, McGillis suddenly kicked his buffalo pony into full gallop and
escaped to join the thirty. After asking them not to laugh at his fear,
he reported that there were two thousand Sioux who meant to attack. The
Métis advance group, instead of fleeing back to the camp, rode over to
the advance guard of the Sioux, gave them some presents and asked them
to leave. (It seems that this was part of the formal language of Plains
democracy.) The Sioux ignored both the presents and the request. They
would take everything the camp had, not just some token presents. They
pushed forward. The Métis at once wheeled and raced for the camp. The
Sioux tried to cut them off, but were too slow. The Métis regained their
camp, left their horses and ran for their rifle pits.
The Sioux came charging in, led by a young chief. Falcon shouted,
telling the young man to break off his charge. The Sioux came on,
singing war cries. Falcon shot the young chief off his horse, and the
rest of the Métis fired in volley. They saw Sioux warriors tumble from
their horses, and the rest turned and galloped back to the main body of
Inside the circle Lafleche had donned his surplice with the star at
the neck, and had taken his crucifix in his hand. His tall white figure
passed around the carts as he encouraged the warriors and soothed the
children. All through the fight he prayed amid the fighting and exhorted
his people from a cart rolled into the centre of the circle, a prairie
Joshua. He did not, he told a friend later, take a gun himself, but he
had a hatchet handy, resolved that if the Sioux reached the carts he
would fight beside his Métis warriors.
There was a brief pause which was broken when Whitford and
Malaterre’s guard, a white man, urged them to make a dash for it. He
would only pretend to fire at them. Whitford, mounted on one of the best
buffalo ponies on the plains, put his horse into a run and rode "weaving
and swaying through a poplar grove, down the slope towards the camp."
Malaterre, knowing his horse was too poor to carry him clear, first
shot at the nearest Sioux and actually hit three. He then rode for his
life, but was soon brought down by a storm of balls and arrows. His
body, bristling with shafts, was dismembered and mutilated and his
remnants waved at the Métis to terrify them.
Whitford escaped unharmed. As soon as he knew he was free, he turned
and shot down one of his pursuers. Then he joined the defenders inside
the cart circle. His mother, who had been weeping, ran to him and said
"My son, if you are tired, give me your gun and go and get some sleep.
Let me fire a shot at those rascals out there!"
The mass of the Sioux closed in and surrounded the camp, as Lefleche
said, "like a waistband." This was not a European-style charge. It was
individual. They crept forward, they sniped, and they dashed.
Individuals came charging in on horseback and swerved off, shooting from
the saddle or under the horse’s neck. Because of this style of fighting,
they never did all attack at once. They did not use their sheer mass to
overwhelm the Métis. It was what saved the Métis.
The Métis were able to hold them off from the cart circle. They fired
steadily as targets presented themselves, while at the same time not
giving the Sioux any targets. The Sioux could not get close enough. Most
of the Sioux bullets fell short and all of the arrows did. Occasionally,
a bullet would find a target in a horse or ox. Meanwhile, up the slope,
the Sioux began to feel the bite of the Métis weapons.
Warrior after warrior, "like choice game" writes Dugas, "was offered
up with the sure hand of the priest practised at the sacrifice." Some of
the stricken warriors turned over quietly in death, some leaped in their
death throes, "strewing the yellow prairie with their heaving bodies."