Articles

THE BRAVE THEY FOUGHT WITH CANNONS

AL COOPER July 1 1951
Articles

THE BRAVE THEY FOUGHT WITH CANNONS

AL COOPER July 1 1951

THE BRAVE THEY FOUGHT WITH CANNONS

AL COOPER

THE REAL TRAGEDY in the short happy life of Kakeemanitou-wayo was that he was born twenty-five years too late. This young Cree, whose name in English was Almighty late. young Cree, name English was Almighty Voice, had for his boyhood heroes the mighty Poundmaker, Big Bear and Sitting Bull, great warriors who had won immortality in the legends of their peoples through their fierce bravery on the warpath. But in 1895, when Almighty Voice was a tall and strong twenty-one, the prairie sod had been broken by the white settlers and the Crees were herded on a reservation in what is now central Saskatchewan, under the observation of the scarlet-coated North West Mounted Police. The warpath was going under the plow and the only glory left to the Crees was that spun in tales around the campfires by the elders.

To live in the past, to bow the knee to the hated whites —these shackles rubbed sore. Almighty Voice was born a savage; his warrior blood ran hot to the traditional call of the warpath, and he longed to take his place with Poundmaker. In his papoose days he had seen the running losing fight against the whites and sporadic outbursts of tribal war; now there was nothing, nothing but sitting around the teepee like a squaw—even hunting had lost its savor.

So Almighty Voice, the boy who was born too late, took his rifle and set out on his own private warpath. For twenty fantastic months he turned the time clock back and lived out his warrior dreams. The Scarlet Coats—to whom he was just a mad murderer — were his enemy, and he killed three of them, a sergeant, a corporal and a constable; he also shot a white postmaster dead, and wounded an inspector, a sergeant, another constable and a native scout.

Then, while his mother sang the death song of the Crees, the end came for Almighty Voice in the blast of the white man’s cannons. He died in a small copse of willows and poplars in the Minnichinas Hills surrounded by dozens of Scarlet Coats, hundreds of settlers, ranchers and cowboys, the tragedy unfolding like a play before the proud and sorrowful eyes of his own people watching from the encircling hills. It was more than he would have dared ask for.

Almighty Voice yearned to take his place beside Sitting Bull in the campfire legends, but he had been born twenty-five years too late to win a warrior’s fame. So he made blood enemies of the Mounties and set out on a warpath of his own

In the middle of 1895 Almighty Voice was at the peak of his young manhood. He was lean and erect, distinguished, haughty with a broad forehead and a pure blood’s hawk nose. He was a sure shot and already one of the best hunters and trappers among the Crees. He was an object of great interest to the young squaws and, so the story goes, to many of the women already wed.

The bloody saga of Kakee-manitou-wayo had an inauspicious beginning—a simple act of defiance. With a companion he chopped down part of a fence belonging to a settler called MacPherson and built a fire with it.

MacPherson got the drop on the pair, and ordered them off his land. Almighty Voice, indignant at being ordered off land that he still believed belonged to the Crees, took a long pot shot at MacPherson’s milk cow and drilled it through the head.

He was happily relating the affair to his fellow braves on the reservation when Sergeant Colebrook, of the North West Mounted Police, rode up and arrested him on MacPherson’s complaint. Almighty Voice didn’t mind; it was a mark to be arrested; it set him apart. But when he was sentenced to a month in jail at Duck Lake he took a different view of the affair.

It was October now and the hunting season was in full swing. It was time, too, to go over his trap-line. If he remained in jail for a month someone else might well take over his territory. The first night of his imprisonment the young Cree crawled through a window, plunged into the icy yvaters of the Saskatchewan and crossed it, making good his escape.

Although he remained in the vicinity, neither the police nor their half-breed scouts could pick up his trail. The Cree must have known that, at the worst, his surrender would bring only an extra week or two in jail. But there was no excitement in that. As it was, he had patrols of Scarlet Coats taking up their time searching for him. In a way, it was a glorious game of hide-and-seek.

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From friends and relatives Almighty Voice gathered supplies. A rifle here, ammunition there, food and winter clothing elsewhere.

He needed a squaw who could work and stand the trail. The ore he considered most suitable was already married, but that mattered little to Almighty Voice, or to the squaw. She was flattered that from all the Crees, Almighty Voice chose her.

Her husband, though, didn’t feel the same way. He went to the Mounted Police at Duck Lake and informed them that Almighty Voice had appeared and of the probable route the wife-stealer would take. Sergeant Colebrook, who had previously arrested Almighty Voice, set out with Dumont, a Métis scout, on the Cree’s trail.

Dumont was a good tracker and they were able to follow Almighty Voice’s flight throughout the night. He was slowed down to some extent by his squaw. By pushing their horses Colebrook and Dumont were able to catch up with Almighty Voice at dawn the next morning before he had time to break camp.

The sergeant had Almighty Voice cold. All he had to do was to pull his revolver, but the tradition of the force does not call for the use of fire arms except in cases of absolute necessity. Colebrook started to walk his horse to where Almighty Voice stood beside his campfire, his squaw by his side.

“Almighty Voice!” Colebrook called from his horse. “In the name of the Queen, you are under arrest!”

The young Cree hesitated a moment, then threw up his rifle, covering Colebrook. Dumont, who had remained in the background, yelled a warning to the sergeant. He knew the temper of Almighty Voice and realized he would not surrender in sight of his squaw.

But Colebrook continued to advance, walking his horse slowly and at the same time throwing up his gauntleted hand in the gesture of peace. Almighty Voice yelled past him to Dumont in Cree.

“Tell the Scarlet Coat to stop or I’ll shoot!”

Dumont translated the threat, but Colebrook had no choice but to advance. To have halted, or turned away, would have undone the example of years. Almighty Voice gave one more warning, then fired. The policeman was dead before his body fell from the saddle to the ground.

Dumont wheeled his horse and galloped away toward the Duck Lake detachment to tell them of Colebrook’s death. He had gone only a few miles when he met Corporal Tennant, who was on prairie fire duty. The corporal rode to where Colebrook lay and awaited reinforcements. They came in a matter of hours and patrols spread out to seek Almighty Voice’s trail.

But although they searched throughout the day, and the continuing days, there was not a trace of the Cree. Almighty Voice had vanished.

Rumors flooded in to the police headquarters: he had been seen near

Great Slave Lake; he had been seen camping in Montana. The police investigated each rumor, but found rothing to them. Commissioner Herchmer was convinced Almighty Voice was close at hand where he could receive help from relatives and friends.

For, in spite of the fact that Almighty Voice was wanted for murder, and in spite of his lively reputation with the squaws, the Indians were openly proud of him and the way he was evading the Scarlet Coats. They jeered at the police attempts to run him down and, when no reward was offered for his capture (although one had recently been offered for a cattle thief), they became scornful and boasted: “It doesn’t matter if you kill a Scarlet Coat—they don’t even offer a reward !”

The commissioner realized the importance of capturing Almighty Voice. The longer he flouted the law the more he served as an example to other impetuous young bucks. in fact, a young Blood Indian had already set out on his own private warpath. After killing a relative he led the Mounted Police on a merry chase, killing. Sergeant White before he was finally trapped by his fellow Indians, who had become alarmed at his unpredictable behavior. They turned him over to the Mounties who promptly executed him.

Months rolled by and there was still no definite clue to Almighty Voice’s whereabouts. The police had found that running down rumors was useless —in fact, the Indians were purposely inventing them to harass the Scarlet Coats. Patrols also proved useless so the police disguised themselves as traders and moved among the Indians.

Six months passed before a definite lead came up. The Cree had returned his squaw, now pregnant, to some relatives and, obtaining a new supply of ammunition as well as a new squaw, a maiden this time, promptly left for the hills again.

But the news of Almighty Voice’s reappearance had come swiftly to the detachment at Duck Lake and a swift patrol trapped him in a five-hundred acre wood. The underbrush was heavy and the mounties sent their horses to a ranch a few miles away while they made ready for an organized search of the wood next day. In the meantime a patrol was thrown about the wood to make certain the quarry didn’t escape. Yet, although it was a bright moonlight night, Almighty Voice and his squaw slipped through the cordon, snaked their way across the flat and stole the patrol’s horses.

The humiliated Mounties moved quickly to pick up the trail. This was easy because of the horses Almighty Voice was running, yet they had to chase him more than sixty miles before the pursuit became so close that he abandoned the stolen mounts and took to his moccasins, concealing his trail so cleverly that once again the patrol was baffled.

This success moved Almighty Voice to even more spectacular exploits. He would deliberately appear and lead the police on a chase. Several times he approached the Montana border, over which lay safety, but each time his bravado led him to turn nortli againThe excitement of outwitting the hated Scarlet Coats became an obsession and he continued to play this dangerous game, with death the penalty for losing.

There was one man in the employ of the Mounted Police who vowed he would run Almighty Voice down. This was a Métis scout named Napoleon Venne. He had been in love with a beautiful Cree maiden, but she had preferred the more dashing Almighty Voice. On May 27, 1897, twenty months after the killing of Sergeant Colebrook, Almighty Voice appeared in the Minnichinas Hills, only twenty miles from Duck Lake. Venne, learning of this and without waiting for a patrol, set out in pursuit and finally caught up with Almighty Voice and also with a bullet which almost finished him.

When the news of the wounding of Venne reached Duck Lake, Inspector J. B. Allan set out for the Minnichinas Hills with eleven men, determined to end the farce once and for all. Combing every patch of brush, searching every gully, they were finally rewarded by catching sight of three Indians, one of whom was Almighty Voice. As soon as they were spotted the Indians disappeared into a copse of poplars and willows. The wood covered only about three acres and it was a simple matter for Allan to deploy his men so that escape was impossible.

Then, with Sergeant Raven, Allan started into the wood to flush their quarry, while the patrol remained outside in case Almighty Voice and his two companions tried to flee.

Well aware that Almighty Voice was dangerous, Allan and Raven drew their revolvers and stepped into the deep shade of the copse. Cautiously they advanced, their eyes searching carefully for the concealed Indians. They had gone less than a dozen yards when there was a crackle of rifle fire and Raven fell with a bullet through his groin and Allan was knocked off his feet with a bullet through his shoulder.

Corporals Hockin and Hume heard the rifle fire, crawled forward and dragged Raven out of the wood to safety and then crept back to look for Allan.

The inspector had been spun around when he was hit and he dragged himself deeper into the long grass and tangled brush. Suddenly a rifle barrel appeared over a fallen tree trunk and he froze to the ground. A voice spoke to him in Cree:

“Scarlet Coat. Give me your ammunition belt or I will shoot!” It was Almighty Voice.

Into the Grove of Death

Allan heard Almighty Voice threaten once more and then he looked down the barrel of the Indian’s rifle. As he muttered a hurried prayer he heard the crack of a rifle and a bullet sang over his head and buried itself into the log behind which Almighty Voice was concealed. The Indian snaked back deeper into the grove and a minute later Hume, who had fired the shot, appeared and helped Allan to safety.

With Allan and Raven out of commission, Hume and Hockin took command of the eight constables. A man named Grundy, who was postmaster at Duck Lake, had heard the rifle fire, investigated, and remained to help the Mounties patrol the wood.

Knowing that to attempt to enter the dense patch of poplars and willows, would be suicidal, Hume decided to set fire to the wood to drive the Indians out. But the underbrush and the long grass proved too green to even start the slightest of fires. The afternoon sun crept toward the horizon with the Indians still in charge of the situation.

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Night was only two hours away and Hume was afraid Almighty Voice would escape in the dark, as he had done before. Reluctantly, but bravely, he ordered the entire patrol, with the exception of two constables, who were to watch from the outside, into the wood. Grundy, the postmaster, volunteered to join them.

The grove was oval shape, only about two hundred yards wide and about half a mile long. Spreading the men out, Hume and Hockin started into the copse, expecting death from every tree trunk. Slowly they walked through the wood as though they were hunting cottontails, their eyes sweeping every hit of cover. In half an hour they emerged at the far end of the grove without sighting any of the Indians and without a single shot being fired.

“They must still be in there. Let’s try again,” Hume said. Once more the Mounties started through the wood, this time even more alert. Suddenly Gonstable Kerr caught sight of a glinting rifle barrel as a streak of sunlight filtered through the leaves. He called to the constable on his left and pointed to where an Indian had dug himself a rifle pit in the roots of a massive willow. Just as the other constable arrived at his side there was the crack of a rifle and Kerr fell with a bullet through his heart. The other constable saw the flash and fired and the Indian’s death laugh echoed through the wood.

Once again the patrol came through the grove. Kerr had been killed and so had one of the Indians, but it wasn’t Almighty Voice. Hume glanced at the sun. It was almost down to the horizon, but there was time enough to go through the wood again. It was now more imperative than ever that Almighty Voice should not escape.

Tragic Day for the Troopers

The corporal led his men into the darkening shadows. Their bright-red tunics were no longer such obvious targets. They were in the middle of the copse when a rifle cracked and Corporal Hockin fell with a bullet through his brain. Grundy, the postmaster, ran to his aid and another bullet cut him down.

The firing became general. A constable caught sight of an Indian flitting between trees, threw a hurried shot,

and was rewarded by hearing him grunt, but the Indian disappeared, Carrying the bodies of Hockin and Grundy the patrol pushed on through the wood. They had almost reached the clear when another shot rang out and Constable O’Kelly was wounded.

Then it was dusk.

It had been a tragically expensive afternoon for the Northwest Mounted Police. Inspector Allan, Sergeant Raven and Constable O’Kelly were wounded: Corporal Hockin, Con-

stable Kerr and Postmaster Grundy were dead. On the balance side was one dead Indian and one possibly wounded.

Corporal Hume threw his remaining men around the wood to form a loose holding patrol and, just as night fell, Superintendent Gagnon appeared with eight fresh men. At ten o’clock Assistant Commissioner Mcllree came up with still more men and the wood was sealed off. The whole available strength of the force had been brought up to await the dawn.

Brave tales are told of men who fight to the bitter end in causes they believe noble. Death on some forlorn field is the stuff of which poets make much ado. Almighty Voice, called murderer by the whites, was simply following his dream of warrior glory. A score of years before his name would have been linked with those of the great Indian warriors—now he was an outcast to be exterminated.

The small wood was entirely surrounded by the Mounted Police. Hundreds of settlers, ranchers and cowboys, learning that Almighty Voice was trapped at last, came to see the finale. They gathered on the surrounding hills to watch the ensuing action as though it was a stage play. From the reservations came the Indians, brave, squaw and papoose, to stand on the hills and watch the final stand of Almighty Voice.

Soon after dawn the crowd was electrified to see a cloud of dust, and two cannon roll up—a seven-pounder and a nine-pounder hurriedly brought to the scene of action. Grimly the Mounties set the guns against the two young Indian braves.

With the Scarlet Coats encircling the copse like a blood-red line, the cannon ready to be fired, and the crowd on the hills watching, Assistant Commissioner Mcllree rode forward toward the wood and, through an interpreter, called upon Almighty Voice to surrender. Twice, three times the demand was made, and finally an Indian was observed hobbling on the edge of the wood. It was Almighty Voice, who had been wounded in the leg. He answered in Cree:

“Brothers! We have both fought like men. But now I am wounded, starving and almost out of ammunition. Send me food and bullets and let me rest a while. Then, like warriors, we will fight to the end.”

There was no answer to this appeal, and Almighty Voice went back into the wood.

The guns opened fire. Then, in the deathly silence which followed the opening roar of the cannon, a thin treble voice was heard. Every head turned toward the sound and there, seated on a knoll above all the crowd was the mother of Almighty Voice. She sang the Cree Death Song to her son, told of his exploits and praised his skill and courage. She urged him, now that death was upon him, to die unflinchingly like the Cree brave he was.

The guns roared again and then the Mounties plunged into the smoke that lay heavily in the copse. In a single rifle pit, concealed in the roots of a tree, they found Almighty Voice and his companion, Little Salteau, killed by the same exploding shell.

Almighty Voice’s leg had been broken by the constable’s bullet on the previous day. He had roughly bandaged it with leaves and tied them with the lanyard he had taken from Kerr’s dead body. All about the Indians the willows had been stripped of their bark, which Almighty Voice and Little Salteau had sucked to relieve their thirst.

The long chase was at last over, the private warpath of Almighty Voice had ended at the precipice of death. But he had achieved the glory that his savage heart demanded. Long after he died in that shell-bruised wood the soft brown eyes of Indian maids glistened at the mention of his name and long his saga has been told around the campfires of the Crees.

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