Saturday, January 5, 2013

The capture of Almighty Voice

            Almighty Voice, a Swampy Cree mentioned in my novel “Cattle Business” was born in Duck Lake, District of Saskatchewan, North West Territories in 1875. In the autumn of 1895 he married a young woman from a neighbouring reserve. During the preparations for that event he discovered a cow wandering on the prairie which he butchered to feed his guests.
            Ownership of the cow is a question that can not be answered at the date of this writing. It has been said that it was loaned to the reserve for breeding purposes and was the property of the Canadian government. It has also been claimed as the property of a neighbouring ranch and had wandered onto the reserve. The one thing that is certain is that it did not belong to Almighty Voice, or as the white man had recorded his identity, Jean Baptiste. On October 22, 1895 he was arrested for butchering that cow.
            During his transport to NWM Police cells one of the officers, demonstrating that stupidity and poor taste are not confined to any particular time joked that the penalty for killing a cow was hanging. Later that very evening, during shift change at the Duck Lake jail, Almighty Voice walked off into the night. Undoubtedly he thought a penalty for escape was better than hanging for cattle theft.
            It is known that he went, that night at least, to his mother’s house but he did not stay there very long. He went from there to the John Smith reserve at Fort a La Corne and picked up his wife.
            Following a week of freedom the camp of Almighty Voice and his wife was discovered by Sergeant Colin Colebrook and his Métis guide/interpreter François Dumont. The Sergeant, sure of the protection inherent in his position as a policeman rode boldly into the camp demanding that Jean Baptiste surrender.
            Dumont translated the order.
            Almighty Voice raised his rifle, pointed it at the Sergeant and said, "Leave us. I must kill you if you don't turn back."
            Dumont translated the order in English for the Sergeant and added, "He's serious."
            Sergeant Colebrook continued his approach, although he did put his hand on his revolver.
            Almighty Voice repeated his demand.
            Sergeant Colebrook continued.
            Dumont translated again and repeated his warning.
            Almighty Voice fired killing the Sergeant with a bullet in his heart and driving him from the saddle.
            Dumont urged his horse out of the area as fast as possible.
            News of the Mounties death spread across the Territory. Within the NWMP force the news was followed by a demand for immediate action. Fewer than a thousand police officers trying to maintain order in an area larger than many continents with a population of a few hundred thousands can not afford to have their authority questioned. A $500.00 reward (more than $13,000.00 in 2010) was offered for the capture of Almighty Voice.
            Despite the best efforts of the Mounted Police it was 19 months before Almighty Voice was found and then it was because a civilian saw three Cree butchering another cow. It was later determined that the three rustlers were Almighty Voice, and his relatives, Going-up-to-the-sky and Tupean.
            On May 27, 1897 the owner of the butchered cow, Napoleon Venne and Mounted Police Corporal William Bowridge approached the beef carcass. In a nearby grove (locally called a "bluff" at that time) of willows and poplars they saw two men. However, when they tried to approach the men they were fired upon and Venne was hit. When they turned their mounts and attempted to flee the area another bullet drove the hat from Venne's head.
            Bowridge sent for back-up. On May 28th the grove of trees was surrounded by a posse of Mounties and civilians lead by Assistant Commissioner John B. Allen, "Bronco Jack" to his friends.
            Several attempts where made to approach the concealed outlaws. Two sweeps through the trees where made. The result of these several offensive probes was the serious wounding of Sergeant Charles Raven and Assistant Commissioner Allen.
            Corporal Charles H. Hockin was now in command.
            Hockin attempted to smoke the fugitives from the trees, but the wet, green growth of spring didn't do much to help their efforts. However, they had spent so much time trying to light a fire that now dark was approaching. With the need to transport wounded back for treatment the Corporal's posse had been reduced in size and he was afraid the fugitives would slip away in the night.
            Corporal Hockin called for another assault. Nine men entered the trees on foot.
            The trouble was that they found the fugitives.
            Six men retreated carrying three. The dead where Batoche post master Ernest Grundy and Mounted Police Constable John Kerr. Corporal Hockin was mortally wounded and died a few hours later.
            Assistant Commissioner John McIllree and twenty four Mounties arrived on the scene. With them they dragged two cannon, a seven pounder from Prince Albert and a nine pounder from Regina.
            From late afternoon on May 29th to mid morning of May 30th the trees where bombarded.
            The bodies of the fugitives where found in a pit they had dug.
            One civilian and four Mounted Policemen had been killed. One civilian and two Mounties had been wounded.
            The Almighty Voice story reached a conclusion that was a success for no one.
            During the many months of the Almighty Voice case there had been a strong feeling within the NWM Police and within some government circles that it might lead to a general uprising such as had taken place in 1885.