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Indigenous Immigrants and Refugees in the North American Borderlands by Brenden W. Rensink, Texas A&M Press, 2018

Chapter 4, Note 24 (pages 76 and 240)

In the end, Big Bear was charged with treason and sentenced to two years in Stony Mountain Prison. Upon release he went to the Little Pine Reservation and died soon after of illness. In the words of one of Little Bear’s sons, Four Souls, “The shame killed him.” (p. 76)

Chapter 4, Note 24…for information on Big Bear’s relationship with Louis Riel and Riel’s connection to Frog Lake. (p. 240)

Complicating Big Bear’s legacy in the Frog Lake Massacre was the fact that many onlookers in Montana unduly linked Big Bear with Rebellion instigator, Louis Riel. Riel had long been campaigning among Plains tribes, the Crees included, to join in future rebellions. In 1884, Riel held council with Crees in Montana, seeking to gain the support of Crees to “help fight the British in Alberta,” promising that upon victory they would have “choice lands along the International Boundary with a promise of livestock and equipment so that they could live like white man [sic].”[1] There is no argument that various Natives, including Crees at Frog Lake, joined in a broad uprising. Indeed, the late March Métis victory at Duck Lake was the direct catalyst for the excitement among those at Frog Lake. Furthermore, Riel had been sending word to Métis to “stir up the Indians,” and “gather them from every side . . . murmur, growl and threaten.”[2] However, a clear distinction must be made between Riel’s broader rebellion and the events at Frog Lake. On the one hand, Riel clearly desired widespread Native involvement in his Métis uprising. On April 5, 1885, he wrote in his diary the following:

O my God! I beg You in the name of Jesus, Mary, Joseph and Saint John the Baptist, forgive the mistakes which I have made among the Crees, Sioux, Blackfoot, Bloods, Saulteaux, Sarcees, Assiniboines, Gros Ventres, Piegans, Nez Percés, Pend d’Oreilles and Flatheads. Deign to send them all to help me . . . O my God! Through Jesus, Mary, Joseph and Saint John the Baptist, let them arrive very soon, provided with good weapons and a large supply of ammunition.[3]

Riel’s hope for aid aside, there was no direct coordination between Crees at Frog Lake and Riel prior to the massacre. That is to say, the massacre of April 3, 1885, was not an event premeditated by Riel. Furthermore, as history would unfold, it is clear that Riel was unable to get ignite a broad Native to revolt, despite various accusations of the same.[4]

[1] Interview with George Denny, August 25, 1960, Dusenberry Papers, MSU, Box 6, Folder 11. Interviewed in 1926, Cree Fine Day made several references to Riel’s recruiting efforts among Plains tribes. See “Incidents of the Rebellion as Related by Fine Day,” in The Cree Rebellion of ’84: Chapters in the North-West History Prior to 1890 Related by Old Timers (Battleford, SK: Battleford Historical Society Publications1926), 11-18.

[2] Joseph Howard, Strange Empire (New York: William Morrow and Company, 1952), 406.

[3] Thomas Flanagan, ed., The Diaries of Louis Riel (Edmonton: Hurtig Publishers, 1976), 66.

[4] Flanagan, Louis ‘David’ Riel: ‘Prophet of the New World’, 137; and Reid, Louis Riel and the Creation of Modern Canada, 113.