Refugee Cri­sis

When thou­sands of Sioux peo­ple from the Dakota ter­ri­tory es­caped into Canada with the Amer­i­can army hot on their heels, an in­ter­na­tional cri­sis soon fol­lowed.

Canada's History - - CONTENTS - By Gar­rett Wil­son

When thou­sands of Sioux peo­ple from the Dakota ter­ri­tory fled to Canada with the U.S. army hot on their heels, cross-bor­der com­pli­ca­tions fol­lowed.

ON DE­CEM­BER 17, 1876, TWELVE SIOUX CHIEFS, clad in buf­falo robes, crowded into the cramped quar­ters of a log trad­ing post on the east­ern side of Wood Moun­tain in what is now southern Saskatchewan. Af­ter en­sur­ing they were safe, they in­tro­duced them­selves to Que­becborn trader Jean-Louis Lé­garé as Amer­i­can refugees. The next day they re­turned in larger num­bers, seek­ing sup­plies and am­mu­ni­tion. Lé­garé sent word of their pres­ence to the North West Mounted Po­lice (NWMP) de­tach­ment at Fort Walsh, about 288 kilo­me­tres away.

It was just the be­gin­ning. Over the next few months, thou­sands of Sioux refugees would pour over the bor­der, seek­ing to es­cape ret­ri­bu­tion from the United States Army af­ter its de­feat at the Battle of the Lit­tle Bighorn — also called the Battle of the Greasy Grass or Custer’s Last Stand. Lé­garé and Walsh tried to help them while of­fi­cials on both sides of the bor­der ar­gued over how to re­solve the sit­u­a­tion.

The in­flux of refugees was not un­ex­pected. In Ot­tawa, Cana­dian of­fi­cials had been keep­ing a close eye on the ac­tiv­i­ties of the United States Army and its treat­ment of the many Amer­i­can In­dian tribes on the western plains. In Fe­bru­ary 1876, in clear vi­o­la­tion of the 1868 Laramie treaty, Amer­ica had de­clared war on a large num­ber of Sioux, de­mand­ing that they sur­ren­der to reser­va­tion life.

It seemed likely that the Sioux would choose to es­cape into Canada. Hugh Richard­son, deputy min­is­ter of jus­tice in Ot­tawa, warned that they might use Cana­dian soil “as a base for preda­tory and hos­tile op­er­a­tions.” He even pre­dicted with un­canny fore­sight where they would cross. On May 26, 1876, Richard­son sent a warn­ing to NWMP As­sis­tant Com­mis­sioner A.C. Irvine at Fort Macleod (lo­cated in what is now south­west­ern Al­berta) sug­gest­ing that “the place to which these es­cap­ing par­ties … would make, might be some­where in the vicin­ity of Wood Moun­tain.”

The Wood Moun­tain up­lands would not be a small tar­get any­where but on the vast western plains. It has many buttes and benches with deep, spring-fed coulees, and stretches some 160 kilo­me­tres from east to west, ex­tend­ing per­haps 30 kilo­me­tres north of the forty-ninth par­al­lel. The up­lands lie roughly 160 to 320 kilo­me­tres east of the Cy­press Hills and the NWMP post at Fort Walsh.

What prompted the United States to turn against the Sioux and cause them to flee into Canada? In 1874, an army ex­pe­di­tion un­der Lieu­tenant Colonel Ge­orge Arm­strong Custer ex­plored the Black Hills and re­ported the wide­spread pres­ence of gold. There was no hold­ing back the white prospec­tors, and they swarmed into the hills by the thou­sands.

The Black Hills be­longed to the Sioux. Sioux own­er­ship of the hills was first agreed upon in 1851. The 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie went fur­ther, re­quir­ing the Amer­i­can army to prevent white en­croach­ment into the hills. It also provided that no sale of the hills would be valid with­out the writ­ten ap­proval of three fourths of the adult males of the Sioux na­tion.

The Amer­i­can gov­ern­ment tried to buy the Black Hills from the Sioux, but the tribal lead­ers re­fused. Then it tried to change the terms of the treaty by pay­ing an­nual rent to the Sioux in ex­change for safe pas­sage for prospec­tors and settlers. This too was re­jected by the chiefs. The ed­i­to­ri­al­ists of the news­pa­per Yank­ton Press & Dako­ta­ian were among many who ex­pressed frus­tra­tion with the treaty and saw it as a bar­rier to devel­op­ment. “What shall be done with these In­dian dogs in our manger? They will not dig gold or let oth­ers do it.”

Fi­nally, in Novem­ber 1875, in a se­cret meet­ing at the White House, U.S. Pres­i­dent Ulysses S. Grant in­structed his mil­i­tary com­man­ders to dis­con­tinue any fur­ther pro­tec­tion of the Black Hills. The fol­low­ing Fe­bru­ary, the Amer­i­can gov­ern­ment il­le­gally de­clared war on the Sioux — the army was or­dered to at­tack any who were found off the reser­va­tion, even if they were on tra­di­tional lands to which they had hunt­ing rights.

In June 1876, the army planned a three-pronged at­tack on a large gath­er­ing of Sioux and Cheyenne at the Greasy Grass River in the Bighorn Moun­tains in present-day Mon­tana. Lieu­tenant Colonel Ge­orge Custer, com­mand­ing the 7th Cav­alry, jumped the gun, ex­pect­ing the war­riors and their fam­i­lies to scat­ter and run, but in­stead ran into a hor­net’s nest of re­sis­tance. Custer and 265 mem­bers of his com­mand were killed in what is pop­u­larly known as “Custer’s last stand.”

Amer­i­cans, con­ve­niently ignoring the fact that they had been the ag­gres­sors, re­acted first with shock and then with fury di­rected against the Sioux and their cho­sen leader, Sit­ting Bull (Ta-tanka Yotanka). Sit­ting Bull is be­lieved to have been forty-five years old at the time of Lit­tle Bighorn, an el­der who took a lesser part in the en­gage­ment. Crazy Horse, Gall, and other chiefs were far more ac­tive, but the Amer­i­can army and pub­lic sin­gled out Sit­ting Bull as the prime vil­lain.

Sit­ting Bull cer­tainly stood out as a strong leader. He was born to a fam­ily of re­spected Hunkpapa Lakota Sioux war­riors and medicine men around 1831 (some sources say 1836). Sit­ting Bull emerged as a fear­less war­rior at a time when atroc­i­ties were be­ing com­mit­ted against his peo­ple.

Sit­ting Bull emerged as a fear­less leader at a time when atroc­i­ties were be­ing com­mit­ted against his peo­ple.

“I hardly sus­tain my­self be­neath the weight of white men’s blood that I have shed,” Sit­ting Bull told Pierre-Jean De Smet, a sym­pa­thetic Je­suit priest, dur­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions lead­ing to the Laramie treaty (which Sit­ting Bull re­fused to sign) on June 20, 1868. “The whites pro­voked the war; their in­jus­tices, their in­dig­ni­ties to our fam­i­lies, the cruel, un­heard of and wholly un­pro­voked mas­sacre at Fort Lyon … shook all the veins which bind and sup­port me. I rose, tom­a­hawk in hand, and I have done all the hurt to the whites that I could.”

Af­ter Lit­tle Bighorn, the U.S. gov­ern­ment was de­ter­mined to have the Black Hills, and Congress di­rected that ra­tions due un­der the Laramie Treaty were to be with­held from those Sioux who had sur­ren­dered to reser­va­tion life un­til they ceded own­er­ship of the hills. Dis­re­gard­ing the three-quar­ters sig­na­ture re­quire­ment of the Laramie treaty, just ten per cent of the Sioux men were rounded up and forced to sign. Among them was Red Cloud, the great Sioux leader whose suc­cess in the Pow­der River War of 1866–68 had caused the United States to agree to the Laramie treaty. Broken by star­va­tion, upon sign­ing over the Black Hills he plain­tively asked: “When do we eat?”

In Fe­bru­ary 1877, Congress rat­i­fied the deal, and Amer­ica had the Black Hills. The con­sid­er­a­tion for the hills was minis­cule. In ex­change for ra­tions, the United States seized an im­mensely rich ter­ri­tory. Just one of its many mines, the Homes­take, would re­cover some 1,245 tonnes of gold be­fore shut­ting down in 2002.

A cen­tury later, the takeover of the Black Hills by the U.S. gov­ern­ment was con­sid­ered by the Amer­i­can courts in lit­i­ga­tion brought by the Sioux na­tion. The Court of Claims was frankly crit­i­cal when mak­ing a judg­ment on the case in 1975: “The du­plic­ity of Pres­i­dent Grant’s course and the duress prac­tised on the starv­ing Sioux, speak for them­selves. A more ripe and rank case of dis­hon­or­able deal­ings will never, in all prob­a­bil­ity, be found in our his­tory, which is not, taken as a whole, the dis­grace it now pleases some per­sons to be­lieve.”

Promptly af­ter the first wave of Sioux refugees ar­rived in Canada, NWMP In­spec­tor James Mor­row Walsh rode out to Wood Moun­tain in re­sponse to Lé­garé’s call. Walsh, a bold per­son­al­ity who be­came some­what of a le­gend in his own right, found nearly 3,000 men, women, and chil­dren crammed into 109 lodges (teepees), plus some 3,500 horses and 30 U.S. gov­ern­ment mules. They were camped next to White Ea­gle’s band of San­tee Sioux, who had es­caped into Canada af­ter the Min­nesota Up­ris­ing of 1862 and had lived qui­etly on the Cana­dian plains ever since.

The new ar­rivals ex­plained that they were in flight from the Long Knives, as they called the U.S. Cav­alry, and wished only to live in peace. Walsh as­sured them of sanc­tu­ary but warned that slip­ping across the bound­ary to at­tack units of the Amer­i­can army would not be per­mit­ted and would for­feit their right to live in Canada. The in­spec­tor au­tho­rized Lé­garé to sell the des­per­ate Sioux enough am­mu­ni­tion for hunt­ing only and not enough for mil­i­tary use.

In early March, a sec­ond band of Sioux crossed the forty-ninth par­al­lel into Canada. The group of fifty-seven lodges of Hunkpapa Lakota was led by Four Horns, a chief who was se­nior even to Sit­ting Bull. Walsh found them camped on the French­man River, 190

kilo­me­tres east of Fort Walsh. They had been so hard-pressed by the Long Knives that they were un­able to hunt and had been forced to slaugh­ter their horses.

Four Horns ex­plained that they sought only peace and free­dom from the Long Knives. He re­minded Walsh that his peo­ple had sided with the Bri­tish dur­ing the War of 1812. In recog­ni­tion of their loy­alty, they had been given Ge­orge III medals and had been promised that they could choose at any time to live in Canada. Walsh re­peated his ear­lier lec­ture about Cana­dian law, horse theft, and the to­tal pro­hi­bi­tion against cross­ing the bor­der to do battle with the Amer­i­can army.

On May 16, 1877, Crazy Horse, the pri­mary mil­i­tary leader at the Battle of the Lit­tle Bighorn, sur­ren­dered. That left Sit­ting Bull and his fol­low­ers as the only hold­outs still on the run from the Amer­i­can army. Later that week, Sit­ting Bull fi­nally made his move. His band of about a thou­sand men, women, and chil­dren, crammed into 135 lodges, crossed into Canada and set up camp at Pinto Horse Butte on the north­west­ern flank of the Wood Moun­tain up­lands, 225 kilo­me­tres east of Fort Walsh.

Once more In­spec­tor Walsh sad­dled up and rode out to de­liver his stan­dard mes­sage on Cana­dian law. Like the Sioux refugees be­fore him, Sit­ting Bull claimed his right to be in Canada through an early Bri­tish con­nec­tion and in­sisted he was in­ter­ested only in peace.

At first, Walsh did not re­ally be­lieve Sit­ting Bull’s as­sur­ances of peace. The NWMP sus­pected that the Sioux planned to use Canada as a base for at­tack­ing their en­e­mies across the bor­der. But over time, and as Sit­ting Bull’s fol­low­ers drifted away, the two be­came friends.

With Sit­ting Bull’s ar­rival, there were now some five thou­sand Amer­i­can Sioux camped from Wood Moun­tain to Cy­press Hills, roughly one third as many as the Cana­dian bands the gov­ern­ment was bring­ing un­der treaty. The refugees, tra­di­tional en­e­mies of the Cree and Assini­boine, had set­tled on Treaty 4 lands, not far from the home­land of the Black­foot, also a tra­di­tional en­emy and not yet un­der treaty. The Metis buf­falo hun­ters, also long­stand­ing en­e­mies of the Sioux, re­sented the com­pe­ti­tion provided by the in­trud­ers. As long as there were enough buf­falo to go around, strife might be avoided, but al­ready there were signs that the once-great herds were fail­ing.

Also wor­ri­some was an NWMP re­port from the pre­vi­ous fall that told of a meet­ing be­tween the Sioux and the Black­foot in Canada in Au­gust 1876. The Sioux had pro­posed join­ing forces to drive the white in­trud­ers from both the Amer­i­can and Cana­dian plains. The Black­foot had re­fused the of­fer, but they were not yet un­der treaty and were known to be a fierce, war­like, and volatile na­tion.

With only three hun­dred mem­bers of the NWMP scat­tered from Fort Walsh to Fort Edmonton and North Bat­tle­ford, plus a few mili­tia at Fort Garry, ru­mours of an “In­dian war” in the West were guar­an­teed to keep the gov­ern­ment awake at night.

The pres­ence of the Amer­i­can Sioux on the Cana­dian plains pre­sented the gov­ern­ment of Prime Min­is­ter Alexan­der Macken­zie with an ex­plo­sive sit­u­a­tion. Canada needed to have the United States re­cover its es­capee Sioux, and quickly.

The gov­ern­ment’s dilemma was com­pli­cated by the fact that Canada was still a colony of Great Bri­tain, and its af­fairs were con­ducted by the Colo­nial Of­fice in Lon­don. Thus, although Washington was only about 730 kilo­me­tres south, pro­to­col de­manded that all com­mu­ni­ca­tions with the Amer­i­cans pass through the of­fice of Gover­nor Gen­eral Lord Duf­ferin, to the Colo­nial Of­fice in Lon­don, then back to F.R. Plun­kett, the Bri­tish chargé d’af­faires in Washington, a process that took sev­eral weeks.

Fi­nally, a frus­trated Prime Min­is­ter Macken­zie and In­te­rior Min­is­ter David Mills de­cided on di­rect ac­tion of the sort ap­pro­pri­ate to a fron­tier na­tion, made eas­ier by Gover­nor Gen­eral Duf­ferin’s ab­sence from Ot­tawa. Ignoring pro­to­col, Mills headed for Washington. On Au­gust 8, 1877, Mills met with Plun­kett, and the two men went on to meet with U.S. Sec­re­tary of the In­te­rior Carl Schurz. Af­ter lis­ten­ing to Mills, Schurz took the two men to the White House and in­tro­duced them

to Pres­i­dent Rutherford Hayes. There, a meet­ing was ar­ranged for the next morn­ing to in­clude Schurz, Sec­re­tary of War Ge­orge McCrary, and, again, the pres­i­dent.

How­ever, a so­lu­tion to the prob­lem of the Amer­i­can Sioux now en­sconced in Canada was dif­fi­cult to iden­tify. Schurz thought Canada was obliged to dis­arm the Sioux and send them back across the bor­der. Mills did not ex­plain that it might be beyond the ca­pac­ity of the three hun­dred NWMP to dis­arm sev­eral thou­sand Sioux and force them out of the coun­try.

Find­ing a so­lu­tion was dif­fi­cult. Schurz re­peated his be­lief that Canada was obliged to dis­arm the Sioux and send them back across the bor­der. Mills ex­plained, as diplo­mat­i­cally as he could, that the Sioux home­land had been in­vaded and they had been at­tacked with­out jus­ti­fi­ca­tion. Per­haps the Amer­i­can gov­ern­ment could make a gen­er­ous of­fer that would in­duce the Sioux to will­ingly re­turn and sur­ren­der, he sug­gested. The Amer­i­cans made it clear that if the Sioux re­crossed the bor­der they would have to sur­ren­der their horses and ri­fles first — a de­mand that would cer­tainly meet with re­fusal.

In the end, Pres­i­dent Hayes pro­posed send­ing a com­mis­sion into Canada to meet with Sit­ting Bull and to of­fer terms of sur­ren­der. At the least, they might learn what the Sioux would ac­cept. It wasn’t much, but fi­nally Mills had the Amer­i­cans think­ing about his prob­lem, and hope­fully think­ing of it as theirs, too.

The Sit­ting Bull Com­mis­sion, as it was called, was crip­pled from the start. The U.S. cabi­net re­fused to fund it, and there were no vol­un­teers will­ing to travel more than three thou­sand kilo­me­tres into the western wilder­ness and back with­out pay. The gov­ern­ment was forced to ap­point a man less than ideal for the job — Gen­eral Al­fred Terry. Terry had been Custer’s com­man­der at Lit­tle Bighorn and was un­likely to be greeted warmly by Sit­ting Bull.

Also ap­pointed to the com­mis­sion were A.G. Lawrence, a for­mer diplo­mat from Rhode Is­land, and H.C. Corbin, a brevet lieu­tenant colonel with the Amer­i­can army. In ad­di­tion, a stenog­ra­pher, an

News­pa­pers were filled with as­ton­ish­ing — and mostly un­true — claims about Sit­ting Bull, such as that he was a grad­u­ate of West Point.

in­ter­preter, and two news­pa­per re­porters with the New York Herald and the Chicago Times trav­elled with the com­mis­sion.

In the United States, pub­lic in­ter­est in Sit­ting Bull was huge. News­pa­pers were filled with as­ton­ish­ing — and mostly un­true — claims about him, such as that he was a scholar and grad­u­ate of West Point, a Métis flu­ent in French, and an ad­mirer of French Gen­eral Napoleon Bon­a­parte. Oth­ers sim­ply saw him as a cruel, bloodthirsty “sav­age.” The Na­tional Repub­li­can, which was al­most a gov­ern­ment or­gan, likely echoed the true feel­ings of the Amer­i­can ad­min­is­tra­tion when it stated, “In fact, it would be pleas­ing to this gov­ern­ment if the propo­si­tion did not suc­ceed, as Sit­ting Bull is not a denizen to be de­sired by any coun­try.”

High drama was now build­ing on the western plains, with three prom­i­nent play­ers ap­proach­ing Fort Walsh from widely dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions, each fac­ing se­ri­ous dif­fi­cul­ties in mak­ing the pro­posed meet­ing.

NWMP Com­mis­sioner James Macleod had been in­structed by Ot­tawa to do his ut­most to make the Sit­ting Bull Com­mis­sion a suc­cess and to get the Sioux leader and his peo­ple out of Canada. The prob­lem was that the gov­ern­ment had also ap­pointed Macleod, to­gether with North-West Ter­ri­to­ries Lieu­tenant-Gover­nor David Laird, to ne­go­ti­ate a treaty with the Black­foot na­tion in what is to­day Al­berta. That meet­ing was sched­uled to take place at Black­foot Cross­ing on the Bow River, about 255 kilo­me­tres north­west of Fort Walsh, at about the same time the Sit­ting Bull Com­mis­sion was ex­pected in Canada. Macleod would do his best to take in both events but left the Amer­i­cans to In­spec­tor James Walsh if he was tied down at Black­foot Cross­ing. Walsh was com­pe­tent, but it would be un­for­tu­nate if the Com­mis­sioner of the NWMP could not be present at the meet­ing of the Sit­ting Bull Com­mis­sion and the great Sioux leader.

Walsh’s re­spon­si­bil­ity to see that Sit­ting Bull made it to the meet­ing was not a sim­ple task in view of the Sioux’s ha­tred and dis­trust of the Amer­i­can army, not to men­tion the fact that the Sioux leader was camped at Pinto Horse Butte, 225 kilo­me­tres east of Fort Walsh.

At Pinto Horse Butte, as ex­pected, In­spec­tor Walsh at first met with an out­right re­fusal from Sit­ting Bull but fi­nally man­aged to con­vince him that no harm could come from lis­ten­ing to the Amer­i­can of­fer. Slowly, and with much sec­ond thought, Sit­ting Bull and a party of some twenty prom­i­nent chiefs set out for Fort Walsh.

Sit­ting Bull and his fel­low chiefs fi­nally ar­rived at Fort Walsh on Oc­to­ber 12. Gen­eral Terry and his party did not make it through for an­other four days, and the meet­ing did not be­gin un­til midafter­noon on Oc­to­ber 17. The de­lay en­abled Com­mis­sioner Macleod to make the gath­er­ing.

The meet­ing did not last long. Terry out­lined Pres­i­dent Hayes’ of­fer: sur­ren­der, amnesty for all of­fences, and the Sioux to give up their firearms and am­mu­ni­tion at the bor­der but keep their horses un­til they reached their as­signed reser­va­tion.

Sit­ting Bull com­pletely re­jected the of­fer: “You come to tell us sto­ries and we do not want to hear them. I will not say any more; you can go back home…. I shake hands with these peo­ple; that part of the coun­try we came from be­longed to us, and you took it from us, now we live here.”

Terry had noth­ing more to say, and he and his group with­drew. There was, af­ter all, lit­tle in­cen­tive for the Amer­i­cans to in­vite the Sioux back into the United States. Be­fore the Amer­i­cans left Fort Walsh, the re­porters trav­el­ling with the com­mis­sion man­aged to ob­tain sep­a­rate in­ter­views with Sit­ting Bull. Their sto­ries, filed and syn­di­cated all over the United States, made Sit­ting Bull even more fa­mous than he had be­come af­ter the Battle of the Lit­tle Bighorn and fu­elled his mys­tique. The cor­re­spon­dent for the Times noted Sit­ting Bull’s high sta­tus: “Sit­ting Bull is a ‘Medicine Man.’ He is the prophet and seer of his vil­lage. And be­ing some­thing more than an av­er­age sav­age has great in­flu­ence among his peo­ple and is vir­tu­ally their leader.”

The fail­ure of the Sit­ting Bull com­mis­sion caused no dis­tress in Washington. The Amer­i­cans be­lieved that they had made a sin­cere ef­fort, and now the Sioux were Canada’s prob­lem.

The Sioux’s first year in Canada was not only peace­ful but bountiful. The win­ter of 1877–78 was mild with lit­tle snow. Buf­falo were plen­ti­ful. Lodges were re­paired and re­placed, food stores re­plen­ished, and robes pre­pared for trad­ing. There was no sign that the buf­falo would van­ish. “God Almighty gave us lots of buf­falo to live long. I wish there be lots of buf­falo for a long time to come,” Sit­ting Bull had told Macleod when warned that they would dis­ap­pear.

The buf­falo range was in fact shrink­ing. Over­hunt­ing was killing off the herds in Canada well be­fore those in the U.S. In the foothills of the Rock­ies the Black­foot found few an­i­mals on their tra­di­tional hunt­ing grounds. North to the val­leys of the Saskatchewan and Qu’Ap­pelle rivers the Cree fared even more poorly.

In Oc­to­ber 1878, Prime Min­is­ter John A. Mac­don­ald re­turned to of­fice and as­sumed re­spon­si­bil­ity for In­dian Af­fairs and the NWMP. Mac­don­ald’s of­fi­cials ad­vised him that the buf­falo herds would likely last no more than five years, an im­pos­si­bly op­ti­mistic es­ti­mate as it turned out. The Cana­dian herd was all but gone the next year. In the spring of 1879, newly ap­pointed In­dian Com­mis­sioner Edgar Dewd­ney toured the West and found star­va­tion ram­pant, es­pe­cially among the Black­foot. Dewd­ney was sup­plied with food to be dis­trib­uted among suf­fer­ing peo­ple who were un­der treaty. But he was un­der ex­plicit in­struc­tions that noth­ing be given to the Sioux.

Mac­don­ald’s pol­icy was firm: “Sit­ting Bull and his peo­ple, see­ing that the buf­falo is fail­ing them in our ter­ri­tory, will go back to their own coun­try, the only other al­ter­na­tive be­ing star­va­tion for them­selves, their wives and fam­i­lies.” Mac­don­ald’s heart­less edict aptly de­scribed the fu­ture.

In 1878 and 1879, the herds in the Wood Moun­tain up­lands shrank, mak­ing it nec­es­sary for the Sioux to fol­low the an­i­mals

across the bor­der. The pres­ence of Sit­ting Bull’s peo­ple made the Amer­i­cans ner­vous — to them, a hunt­ing party looked a lot like a war party. The short­age of buf­falo wors­ened over the win­ter of 1879–80. Deep snow pro­hib­ited graz­ing, and most of the Sioux horses died, many from a plague of sca­bies (mange). Eat­ing an­i­mals taken by sca­bies made peo­ple sick and caused many deaths.

Their suf­fer­ing was hard on Walsh and the rest of the NWMP de­tach­ment at Wood Moun­tain. They saved table scraps and, in de­fi­ance of or­ders, raided their own stores in aid of the hun­gry. In spite of the bit­ter win­ter cold, many Sioux, ill-clad and on foot, hob­bled away, across the bor­der and over wind-hard­ened drifts down to Fort Peck and Fort Bu­ford on the Mis­souri River. Sur­ren­der was bet­ter than cer­tain death from star­va­tion.

The sit­u­a­tion was not much bet­ter for the peo­ple un­der treaty who were en­ti­tled to ra­tions. Mac­don­ald strug­gled to feed them at the low­est pos­si­ble cost. At Fort Walsh, NWMP sur­geon Dr. Nor­man Kitt­son thought the ra­tions sup­plied were woe­fully in­ad­e­quate: “Gaunt men and women with hun­gry eyes were seen ev­ery­where seek­ing or beg­ging for a mouth­ful of food — lit­tle chil­dren … fight over the tidbits. Morn­ing and evening many of them would come to me and beg for the very bones left by the dogs in my yard.”

In July 1880 came an­other blow — Sit­ting Bull lost his one true friend in Canada. Walsh, whose brash, in­de­pen­dent spirit ran­kled his su­pe­ri­ors, was trans­ferred away from Wood Moun­tain. It was Mac­don­ald who en­gi­neered Walsh’s re­moval. The prime min­is­ter had come to be­lieve that Walsh was con­tribut­ing to Sit­ting Bull’s stub­born­ness in re­fus­ing to leave Canada. Mac­don­ald had Walsh trans­ferred to Fort Qu’Ap­pelle and later that year pulled him back east on med­i­cal leave, as far away from Sit­ting Bull as pos­si­ble.

Be­fore leav­ing Wood Moun­tain, Walsh promised the wor­ried Sit­ting Bull that he would speak di­rectly to the U.S. pres­i­dent on his be­half, provided the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment would ap­prove. When he re­turned to east­ern Canada, Walsh man­aged to se­cure an au­di­ence with Mac­don­ald, who, of course, had no in­ten­tion of al­low­ing a ju­nior of­fi­cer to med­dle in diplo­matic af­fairs. In fact, he re­solved to fire Walsh as soon as the Sioux ques­tion was re­solved.

By the spring of 1881, time was run­ning out for Sit­ting Bull and his shrink­ing band of fol­low­ers (only forty-three lodges) and they be­came vagabonds for real. Driven from Wood Moun­tain by Walsh’s re­place­ment, In­spec­tor Leif Crozier, they moved over to Wil­low Bunch and threw them­selves on the mercy of Jean-Louis Lé­garé, the trader they had met on their ar­rival in Canada. Lé­garé fed them at con­sid­er­able per­sonal cost. He also ad­vised his un­in­vited guests that their only hope was to sur­ren­der to the Amer­i­can army.

To counter the Sioux’s dis­trust of the Amer­i­cans, Lé­garé pro­posed a small in­spec­tion trip 208 kilo­me­tres south to Fort Bu­ford, lo­cated in present-day North Dakota. This was done in April of 1881, but, con­firm­ing the Sioux sus­pi­cions, the Amer­i­can army ar­rested them on ar­rival. Only Lé­garé’s rep­u­ta­tion for fair deal­ing and his in­sis­tence that he would not re­turn with­out his charges saved the day.

Mean­while, Sit­ting Bull and a few fol­low­ers trekked up to Qu’Ap­pelle. He har­boured a fu­tile hope that the San­tee Dakota of the Stand­ing Buf­falo re­serve at Qu’Ap­pelle might take him in, but he was met with out­right re­fusal. He also hoped to see Walsh. In­stead, he met with Dewd­ney, who was very tough on the Sioux leader, re­fus­ing him even any food ra­tions, much less a re­serve for his peo­ple. Dewd­ney of­fered to pro­vide an armed es­cort out of Canada, but Sit­ting Bull re­fused and, em­bit­tered, re­turned to Wil­low Bunch.

At Wil­low Bunch, Lé­garé had just re­turned from a sec­ond in­spec­tion trip to Fort Bu­ford with a pos­i­tive re­port. He con­vinced Sit­ting Bull’s fol­low­ers to re­turn to the United States and or­ga­nized a car­a­van to carry them. Sit­ting Bull, still dis­trust­ful and fear­ful, was re­luc­tant to ac­cept his fate and made the jour­ney dif­fi­cult.

Fi­nally, on July 19, 1881, Lé­garé led Sit­ting Bull and 188 bedrag­gled fol­low­ers into Fort Bu­ford and sur­ren­der. They turned over their few horses and firearms, but Sit­ting Bull with­held his Winch­ester ri­fle un­til the next day. Then he handed it to the Fort Bu­ford com­man­der, ex­plain­ing: “I wish it to be re­mem­bered that I was the last man of my tribe to sur­ren­der his ri­fle.”

And with that, Sit­ting Bull was out of Canada. Mac­don­ald could fi­nally re­lax.

True to form, the Amer­i­can army re­neged on its prom­ise of amnesty and ar­rested Sit­ting Bull, plac­ing him in open con­fine­ment at Fort Ran­dall for two years be­fore al­low­ing him to join his peo­ple at Fort Yates on the Great Sioux Reser­va­tion (later called Stand­ing Rock). He spent one sea­son with Buf­falo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show in 1885. In the fi­nal years of his life, he be­came as­so­ci­ated with the con­tro­ver­sial ghost dance move­ment — which of­fi­cials feared be­cause they thought it would lead to a gen­eral up­ris­ing. On De­cem­ber 15, 1890, dur­ing a trumped-up ar­rest, Sit­ting Bull was shot and killed.

When news of his death reached his old friend James Walsh in Canada, Walsh — who had been forced to re­sign from the NWMP seven years ear­lier and had launched a ca­reer in busi­ness — re­marked: “I am glad to learn that Bull is re­lieved of his mis­eries, even if it took the bul­let to do it. A man who wields such power as Bull once did, that of a King, over a wild spir­ited peo­ple can­not en­dure ab­ject poverty, slav­ery and beg­gary with­out suf­fer­ing great men­tal pain and death is a re­lief.... Bull’s con­fi­dence and be­lief in the Great Spirit was stronger than I ever saw in any other man. He trusted to Him im­plic­itly.... His­tory does not tell us that a greater In­dian than Bull ever lived, he was the Mo­hammed of his peo­ple, the law and King maker of the Sioux.”

Sit­ting Bull in 1885, as pho­tographed by Wil­liam Not­man of Mon­treal.

NWMP In­spec­tor James Mor­row Walsh in his buck­skin jacket. His su­pe­ri­ors com­plained about his non-stan­dard ap­pear­ance.

NWMP of­fi­cers at the site where a Sioux war­rior mor­tally wounded at Lit­tle Bighorn re­ceived the hon­our of a tra­di­tional air burial at Eas­tend, North-West Ter­ri­to­ries. His horse was placed be­low him.

The King Ge­orge medal was given to chiefs for their loy­alty to the Crown.

The Buf­falo Dance of the Sioux at Fort Qu’Ap­pelle by Syd­ney Prior Hall, circa 1881. The San­tee Dakota who set­tled in the Qu’Ap­pelle area of present-day Saskatchewan were among a num­ber of Amer­i­can Sioux bands who fled to Canada in the 1860s.

A New York Graphic en­grav­ing of the Sit­ting Bull Com­mis­sion meet­ing with Lakota chiefs at Fort Walsh, North-West Ter­ri­to­ries, on Oc­to­ber 17, 1877. Sit­ting Bull is de­picted with his arm raised. Com­mis­sion head Gen­eral Al­fred Terry stands fac­ing him.

Sit­ting Bull, left, ded­i­cates a sa­cred rock, rep­re­sent­ing a wo­man and child, at the Great Sioux Reser­va­tion, Dakota Ter­ri­tory, 1886.

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