the northwest resistance
The Duck Lake Fight - 1885

Fort Carlton, Northern Saskatchewan

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
The Fight at Duck Lake, Mar. 26, 1885 (detail)
Orig. lithograph - Size - 10.5 x 12.5"
Found - Cooksville, ON
Hand-coloured, Canadian Pictorial & Illustrated War News Souvenir Number, Pub. Toronto Lithographing Co. 1885

This print (see full version below) - which was published as black and white - was the first Blatchly picture issued as a Riel Rebellion battle print.

It is primitive compared to the three later chromolithographs of battles that were to come.

Considering that 100 men had arrived in sleds, this sparse cast of characters that made up the government forces, is wildly inaccurate, as are the numbers shown involved overall.

But is does show the old log house on which Crozier's futile charges resulted in most of his deaths.

The horse hoof #363 will someday be identified, not by DNA,
but through a database a retired RCMP officer is compiling
from old records

Bullets and shell casings from the Duck Lake site

Fort Carlton left in northern Saskatchewan, was the main Hudson's Bay supply post in the area, and had been reinforced by the Northwest Mounted Police (NWMP) during the unrest.

At Fort Carlton Police Superintendent Leif Crozier right was in charge of safety for the region.


The frontier was hotting up as Louis Riel below and his Provisional Government at Batoche wanted to take over Fort Carlton, and offered to let Crozier and his men to go free, in exchange for the Fort.

Between Fort Carlton and Batoche was the Duck Lake store which held provisions and guns that would be useful to both the Mounted Police and Riel's men, should a conflict break out.

On March 25 the Métis raided several stores in Duck Lake looking for food and weapons.

The following day, a force of  53 policemen and 47 armed civilians left Fort Carlton for Duck Lake.

The Métis under Gabriel Dumont left had already taken control of Duck Lake when the sledding group of 100 men under Superintendent Crozier from Fort Carlton arrived, looking for provisions.

The Métis waited in hiding. To avoid hostilities Dumont's brother and a group of Métis approached the mounted force to talk. The situation became confused. A misunderstanding led to a grab for a gun, a rifle shot, and Gabriel Dumont's brother fell dead.

Crozier ordered his men to begin shooting and one of the armed civilians fired a shot, and fighting broke out Five Métis and 12 policemen were killed. Eleven more men were injured, and some later died.

After 40 minutes, the police were getting the worst of it, and so fled from the scene.

Dumont wanted to chase the police as they retreated, but Riel intervened and held him back to prevent Dumont - angered over the cold-blooded killing of his brother - from having his men follow and kill the fleeing troopers.

Some 17 of Crozier's men died as a result of the fight; Riel's group lost 5 men.

The fight became known as the Battle of Duck Lake.

The following day Crozier abandoned Ft. Carlton, which accidentally burned to the ground, after he left for the safety of Fort Battleford.

A lamp that was kicked over started a fire when soldiers were mixing coal oil into flour they couldn't take and didn't want to leave for the Indians.

Go to Leif Crozier's House

Fort Carlton, the centre for a North West Mounted Police detachment in March 1885 as recreated today.

Up the Carlton Trail, coming out of old Fort Carlton, charged a long convoy of sleds loaded with armed troopers to confront the Métis and Indians at Duck Lake, March 26, 1885.

They returned, later in the day, severely bloodied, having left behind some dozen dead and many more wounded.

In panic, they abandoned the fort and it burned to the ground.

This photo dates from the 1870s and shows the fort as it looked when Treaty 6 was signed there in August 1876.

The fight at Duck Lake as drawn from eye-witness accounts for readers of the Canadian Illustrated News in 1885

Go Blatchly Battlefield Prints

The same site today. The sleds had approached on the road from Fort Carlton in the distance,
towards the Métis, including Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont, who were making a stand here

Before the age of photography, action pictures from historic events, at the best of times, were sketched by men who had seen the confrontation. Other times drawings were made second-hand, by artists listening to people who had been there.

This, understandably, led to some fanciful creations about how things really looked. Like the ludicrous clothes of the Métis below.

As more information became available, or real sketches arrived from the site, the previous - inaccurate - pictures would be updated to reflect a more true depiction of events.

Above is an earlier, black and white, version of the coloured picture (top), and which was published on May 9, forty-four days after the fight - news from the west travelled slow in those days.

Probably someone who had been at the event, complained when he saw it in the paper, and howled with laughter, about the placement of the opposing forces.

The attackers and the sleds were a good deal farther from the cabin than shown here. These were then hastily pulled back by the artist in subsequent souvenir issues.

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

Journalistic Ethics: In spite of what they commonly maintain, journalists do not so much represent the truth of what takes place at historic events, as much as their take of those events suitable to the establishment figures who pay their salaries and "have expectations" in return. (As is very evident in modern war coverage in Afghanistan.)

When the police retreated, after the Battle of Duck Lake, they left the dead and wounded, including a Prince Albert volunteer, behind.

The story (featured left) of an anonymous "Half-Breed" saving the life of a wounded prisoner, who was about to have his brains bashed out by a brave, wielding a rifle, made it to the pages of the Illustrated War News.

The Illustrated War News portrayed a "Métis rebel" as a Christian hero, but did not further identify him.

But Harold Ross, a Prince Albert settler, who was a prisoner of Riel on the day of the battle, did. In the aftermath of the fight, he feared death, at any moment, from angry Métis and Indians looking for revenge.

As he told the story later: "Riel, however, rode up, and after some talking and the interference of some sensible men, saved us. The police had retreated in such a hurry that the nine civilians were left dead on the field, and one wounded man Riel saved. He was shot through the leg, and an Indian was beating him on the head with his gun when he was rescued."

An unimpeachable source claimed that none other than Louis Riel's direct intercession saved this Prince Albert man's life, and probably many others.

Why did the War News not name Riel as the hero?

Or were the editors on the side of the government, intent on demonizing the leadership of the rebellion, and the true grievances of the Métis and Indian peoples?

A Wounded Prince Albert Volunteer's Life Saved by a Half-Breed 1885
Orig. lithograph - Size - 7 x 10.5"
Found - Cooksville, ON
Hand-coloured, Canadian Pictorial & Illustrated War News Souvenir Number, Pub. Toronto Lithographing Co. 1885

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Copyright Goldi Productions Ltd. 2007