Battle of Grand Coteau - The Days Before
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It was the smaller hunt from Saint Francois Xavier that, on July 12,
encountered the Sioux. They had been successfully hunting and travelling
without incident, even though the large camp had encountered a small
party of Sioux earlier. Then on Saturday, July 12, as they were moving
on the first terrace of the Coteau, the scouts, having just topped the
first butte, spotted a large First Nations camp. They signalled a
warning to the rest of the camp below them with the carts. Jean Baptiste
Falcon, Captain of the hunt (and son of Pierre Falcon, the Métis bard
and best friend/brother-in-law to Cuthbert Grant) ordered camp to be set
up in a spot which could be defended and ordered five hunters with a
spyglass to move forward to the nearest high bluff. From there, the
hunters saw that the camp was that of a very large band of Sioux,
estimated to be between two thousand and twenty-five hundred.
The five hunters, having boldly ridden up the bluff, then apparently
decided to continue actively investigating the camp. They proceeded
toward the camp. They were met by a party of twenty warriors who
surrounded them and "invited" them back to the Sioux camp. It looked as
if they were prisoners and had best go peacefully, but that was not the
Métis way. Two of the five Métis hunters suddenly kicked their buffalo
runners into a gallop, breaking away and escaping under gun-fire back to
the carts. Three of the hunters— James Whitford, one of the McGillis
boys, and Malaterre— were held by the Sioux.
The Métis camp, when they saw the fugitives riding down the slope
back to the camp, riding for their lives, sprang to arms. Falcon and
Father LaFleche called the hunters together. Counting from boys twelve
years old to old men, there were seventy-seven men who could handle a
gun. The Sioux who had pursued the fugitives approached the camp and
parleyed. They insisted that there were no warlike intentions, and that
the captives would be released the next day, protesting that they were
hard up and in need. They would come the next day with the prisoners and
only a few men to receive presents. They then rode off. Everyone was
certain that they did have bad intentions and no doubt meant trouble.
They began to prepare the camp for attack. When three Sioux
approached, they sent ten armed men out to keep them at a distance so
they could not see the camp and its defences. Again, the Métis were
convinced that a surprise attack had been planned and that they had just
foiled it. They decided to fight with no more talk, even if it meant
losing the captives. If they prepared immediately, they might save the
members of the camp. They knew the Sioux camp was very large. They
decided to make the Sioux pay for every life they took, and to hold out
until help came from the big camp.
They made a corral to hold the oxen and horses by placing the carts
wheel to wheel in a circle with the shafts in the air. Poles carried to
make meat-drying frames were run through the spokes to immobilize the
carts. Then, hides, packs saddles and dried meat were piled between and
under the carts to completely barricade the camp. Next, they dug
trenches under the carts for the women and children and rifle pits for
the men out in front of the barricade. They hoped to keep the Sioux out
of range of the carts and draft animals.
After dark, two men were sent to carry the news of the coming attack
to the main camp. The camp police were especially vigilant that night,
but the priest and hunters stayed up to watch the eclipse of the moon.
One wonders what kind of portent they viewed it. The next morning,
LaFleche celebrated Mass.