Chief Poundmaker (1885)
near Battleford, Rupert's Land, British North America
|Died||4 July 1886 (aged 43–44)
Blackfoot Crossing, Alberta, North-West Territories, Canada
According to Cree tradition, or oral history, Pîhtokahanapiwiyin, known to English speakers as Chief Poundmaker, inherited his name from his grandfather, who had a special ability to attract buffalo into pounds; however, another source states that the name was awarded to him because of his own skill with the use of these pounds (and does not relate to his ancestry). A buffalo pound resembled a huge corral with walls covered by the leaves of thick bushes. Usually herds of buffalo were stampeded into this trap, or on other occasions, the buffalo were drawn in by a person like Pîhtokahanapiwiyin, who was according to tradition, gifted by spirit helpers to use a special song to lure in the buffalo. As he sang, he used a drum. The song enticed the lead buffalo cow to bring her herd into the enclosure.
Poundmaker was born in Rupert's Land, near present-day Battleford; the child of Sikakwayan, an Assiniboine medicine man, and a mixed-blood Cree woman, the sister of Chief Mistawasis. Following the death of his parents, Poundmaker, his brother Yellow Mud Blanket, and his younger sister, were all raised by their mother's Cree community, led by Chief Wuttunee, but later known as the Red Pheasant Band. In his adult life, Poundmaker gained prominence during the 1876 negotiations of Treaty 6 and split off to form his own band. In 1881, the band settled on a reserve about 40 km northwest of Fort Battleford. Poundmaker was not opposed of the idea of a treaty, but became critical of the Canadian government's failures to live up to its promises.
In 1873, Crowfoot, chief of the Blackfoot First Nation, had adopted Poundmaker thereby increasing the latter’s influence. This move also cemented the ties between the Blackfoot and the Cree, which successfully stopped the struggling over the now very scarce buffalo.
The shortage of bison left Poundmaker's people desperately hungry, and in 1885, they traveled south to Battleford. Oral history accounts suggest Poundmaker went to the fort to speak with the Indian agent, Rae, and reaffirm his loyalty to the Queen after a murder at the nearby Mosquito Reserve; however, the people of Battleford and some of the settlers in the surrounding area, hearing reports of large numbers of Cree and Assiniboine leaving reserves and making their way to Battleford, feared for their safety. On the night of 30 March 1885, townspeople began to abandon the town and seek shelter in the North-West Mounted Police Fort Battleford. When Poundmaker and his party reached the town, the first nation agent refused to come out of the fort to meet with them. He kept them waiting for two days. Telegrams sent by those barricaded in the fort indicated they believed it was an attack, but Peter Ballantyne exited the fort and, acting as a spy, checked Poundmaker's plans and found his intentions peaceful.
Looting of the abandoned buildings of the town took place, but the identity of the looters is disputed. Some reports claimed Poundmaker's people were responsible, but one observer alleged that most of the looting had already been done by whites. White witness oral history suggests daily looting by Indians. Native tradition suggests the looting was done by Nakoda people, and that Poundmaker did his best to stop it. Either way, Poundmaker's people left the next day.
On 2 May 1885, a military force of 332 Canadian troops, led by Lieutenant-Colonel William Dillon Otter, attacked Poundmaker's camp near Cut Knife Hill. Lieutenant R.S. Cassels, attached to the command of the "C" School, a military division of the troops under Otter, stated the following:
About 4 P.M. the column starts. Our force is eight scouts; sixty Mounted Police under Captain Neale; “B” Battery, eighty men under Major Short; “C” School, forty-five men under Lieutenant Wadmore, No. 1 Company, Queen’s Own Rifles, under Captain Brown, fifty-five men; Battleford Rifles, under Captain Nash, forty men; twenty men of the Guards under Lieutenant Gray and Queen’s Own Rifles Ambulance Corps; Surgeon Lesslie; Sergeant Fere and eight men; Colonel Otter in command; and Colonel Herchmer,Surgeon Strange, Captain Mutton and Lieutenant Sears on the Staff. Hume Cronyn, E.C. Acheson, and Blakely of “K,” McLennan and Prior of “T,” Farin Wallace and Grierson of “H,” Fraser and A.J. Boyd of “F” are attached to No. 1.
When the army was forced to retreat, Poundmaker, who had not taken part in the fight, prevented his warriors from pursuing the soldiers. It is thought that this action prevented the loss of many lives on both sides since a serious amount of counter-measures would have had to be placed to cover the retreat—and the Cree fought best while their enemy was retreating.
With the news of Louis Riel's actions and defeat at Batoche, Poundmaker went there to surrender. On the basis of a letter written by Louis Riel bearing his name, Poundmaker was convicted of treason in 1885 and sentenced to three years in Stony Mountain Penitentiary. He said to Riel "You did not catch me, I gave myself up. I wanted peace."  At his trial, he is reported to have said:
Everything that is bad has been laid against me this summer, there is nothing of it true...Had I wanted war, I would not be here now. I should be on the prairie. You did not catch me. I gave myself up. You have got me because I wanted justice.
Because of the power of his adopted father, Crowfoot, Poundmaker's hair was not cut in prison, and he served only seven months. Nonetheless, his stay there devastated his health and led to his death (from a lung hemorrhage) in 1886, at the age of 44. He was buried at Blackfoot Crossing near Gleichen, Alberta, but his remains were exhumed in 1967, and reburied on the Poundmaker Reservation, Saskatchewan.
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