Although it was not a military engagement, the incident known as the Frog Lake Massacre proved to be one of the most influential events associated with the NORTH WEST RESSISTANCE.
In the past, the Frog Lake killings were often viewed as a random, vengeful act, but the context is more complex. As history buffswill know, Big Bear, chief of the Plains cree in the region, band camped near the Frog Lake settlement in the spring of 1885. Big Bear sought improved conditions for Treaty Indians through peaceful means and unity among the tribes. However, the food shortage that followed the virtual extinction of the buffalo left his people near starvation and weakened his authority. Disaffection focused upon Thomas Quinn, an Indian agent who treated the Cree with harshness and arrogance.
On April 2, with Big Bear away hunting, Incited by hunger and mistreatment rather than political motives, a breakaway element of the Plains cree led by Wandering Spirit entered the settlement in search of food and took prisoners, including the detested Indian Agent Thomas Quinn. When Quinn refused to move to the Cree camp, Wandering Spirit shot him and, in the melee that followed, eight other settlers were killed.
History is full of loaded words and victor’s language. For instance, one version of events says the warriors “proceeded to plunder the contents of the store … and looted another one.” It’s true they tore apart the premises, says University of Alberta historian James Dempsey, but they were starving and looking for food. Their actions were hardly senseless vandalism.
Cree women hid a Hudson’s Bay clerk to save him and when Big Bear returned, he took other settlers as hostages — or rather he took them under his protection, as other accounts will tell.
Nine months later, six Cree men, including Wandering Spirit, were convicted of murder and hanged at Fort Battleford in Canada’s largest public hanging. The massacre prompted the Canadian government to take notice of the growing unrest in Western Canada. The rebellion was put down. Wandering Spirit and five other warriors responsible for the Frog Lake Massacre, were convicted and hanged. The warriors hanged were: Wandering Spirit, Round the Sky, Bad Arrow, Miserable Man, Iron Body, Little Bear, Crooked Leg and Man Without Blood. Although Big Bear had opposed the attack he was charged with treason because of his efforts to organize resistance among the Cree. He was convicted and sentenced to three years in Stony Mountain prison.
Reviewing this history will raise sensitive issues. But it’s an important task, and paves the way for better understanding of the present.
This write up was based on Wikipedia and John Chaput’s writing on this part of our history
1. Robert E. Gard, "Massacre at Frog Lake", University of Alberta Libraries, response to W.B. Cameron's "Massacre at Frog Lake", Edmonton Journal, 4 Apr 1939, accessed 2 Aug 2009
2. Robert E. Gard, "Massacre at Frog Lake", University of Alberta Libraries, response to W.B. Cameron's "Massacre at Frog Lake", Edmonton Journal, 4 Apr 1939, accessed 2 Aug 2009
3. Robert E. Gard, "Massacre at Frog Lake", University of Alberta Libraries, response to W.B. Cameron's "Massacre at Frog Lake", Edmonton Journal, 4 Apr 1939, accessed 2 Aug 2009