Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, Transmitted to Congress, With the Annual Message of the President, December 4, 1883
Mr. Frelinghuysen to Mr. West.
Washington, June 16, 1883.
Sir: With reference to previous correspondence concerning the raids of Canadian Indians into the northwestern Territories of this country, I now have the honor to inclose herewith copies of correspondence in relation to the subject which I have received from my colleague, the Secretary of War.
I transmit these copies for your information, and as illustrating the good understanding prevailing between the American commanding officers on the frontier and the British commander at Fort Walsh, by which they are enabled to act in concert in repressing the marauding excursions of the Indians on either side of the line. This good understanding is the more gratifying and effective for the reason that the reference of these matters to Canada, by the way of Washington, might, by delay, defeat necessary action with due promptness.
I have, &c.,
Helena, Mont., May 14, 1883.
Adjutant-General, Department of Dakota, Fort Snelling, Minn.:
Sir: I have the honor to forward herewith copies of a dispatch of the 7th instant from the commanding officer at Fort Assinniboine, reply to the same by myself, and a dispatch by him of the 10th instant, embracing a statement relative to the same general subject by the superintendent at Fort Walsh.
From knowledge before acquired as to the bands of Crees mentioned in the dispatch from commanding officer, Assinniboine, and in view of the fact that they were in the locality named, I did not, nor do I think there is reason to apprehend action by them more serious than occasional stealing raids, particularly against our agency Indians.
The force now at Assinniboine cannot, of course, nor could a much larger one, entirely prevent raids in the long (and with reference to our agency Indians) and particularly [Page 504] narrow stretch of country in question. An increase of force does not, in view of the probable removal of the Crees to the north, seem called for at present.
In explanation of the reference by Major Shurtleff, at Fort Walsh, to efforts made for return of horses and capture of the thieves, &c., I would say that he has reference to a raid made about the 5th instant by a party of Crees, by whom some forty horses were stolen from near Price’s Crossing of the Marias, about 30 miles from Benton.
A party of citizens followed from there, and detachments were promptly sent out from Assinniboine to intercept the raiders, and word was sent to the camp at Sweet Grass, but it seems information was not received at Assinniboine in time.
Reports from the detachment have not yet been received.
Very respectfully, &c.,
Colonel Eighteenth Infantry, Commanding District of Montana.
Turner, Acting Assistant Adjutant-General,
District of Montana, Helena:
In contradiction of the opinion of Major Shurtleff, commanding officer, Fort Walsh, Northwest Territory, that the killing of the two Crees by Captain Norwood’s command would have a beneficial effeet on this side of the line, I have from time to time received information that the Crees are making preparations to make war upon the Territory of Montana on a large scale.
I am now in possession of information which admits of no doubt in my mind to consider the situation as serious, and one which calls for energetic and immediate measures on the part of the American authorities to prevent much bloodshed and loss in property.
There are congregated in camp at Lake Lougeuine three hundred lodges of Crees, under the chiefs Big Bear, Little Pine, and Lucky Man. They indulge in nightly war speeches and war dances, and are urged on by these chiefs to cross the lines and attack the Gros Ventres and Assinniboines, as these American Indians have been killing their soldiers. War parties are fitting out and starting daily from their camp, and a combined hostile movement of several hundred Crees is in contemplation.
My informant, a French half-breed, who has been in American employ for many years, who can be trusted, and is ready to make oath to his statement, was in the Cree camp on the 1st and 2d of May, 1883, and heard all that was said, which he understands.
His name should not appear, as he will be of use to me as a courier to Walsh and as the bearer of news across the line, so I will not attempt to send any of my soldiers or Indian scouts across the line hereafter, this not being safe. I think the Canadian authorities should be called upon to promptly check this hostile demonstration of the Crees, if such is possible for them to do with the force available.
The camp of the Crees is at Lake Lougeniue, near a small creek called Fish Creek, 22 miles east of Fort Walsh, 20 miles west of Frenchman’s Creek, 15 miles from Captain McDonald station in the Cypress Mountains, and about a long day’s ride from boundary line. Should have more pack animals at post and another interpreter without delay.
Helena, Mont., May 7, 1883.
Commanding Officer, Fort Assinniboine, Mont.:
In reply to your dispatch of this date as to Crees at Lake Lougenine, &c., 1 desire that you send by messenger, without delay, to the commanding officer at Fort Walsh, a statement of information received by you and embraced in your telegram as to the collection of Cree bands near Lake Lougenine, that war parties have left for this side the boundary, and that a raid in force is intended to be soon made, and ask him to prevent if possible such raids; to inform you of the state of case as to these Crees, whether these Indians have recently collected there, their temper and talk, and what may be expected of them. So much as to letter to Walsh.
These Indians, if intending a raid soon, will be over the line long before anything would or could be done by the Canadian authorities in consequence of communication by the official round of Washington and Ottawa, and communication by letter to Walsh is all that can have timely effect as to the particular raid referred to in your telegram.[Page 505]
It would seem the authorities at Fort Walsh must know if these Indians have recently collected where they are reported to be, and it “seems strange, if a camp has been recently formed, that news was not sent from Walsh.
Request quite urgently of commanding officer at Fort Walsh that he obtain reliable information as to the intention of these Indians. That they talk vengeance against Indians this side of the line is to be expected, and reports, besides those to you, to such effect have been received here, through persons recently from north of line and agent of Piegans.
If they mean only raids on our Indians, and stealing expeditions, the force disposable, with the aid of our Indians concerned, seems enough; but if they mean more, the case is different, and I will bring up the available troops of the district and ask for addition of outside; but that will take time, and I wish to feel sure of the necessity.
The commanding officer at Walsh can certainly get at the facts.
As to interpreter, unless reply is soon received from department headquarters telegram will be sent. What pack animals can be had from Maginnis will be sent for time being to Assinniboine.
You will receive in day or two circular from War Department defining course of action as to all Canadian Indians.
Adjutant-General, District of Montana, Helena, Mont.:
The following has just been received, and is furnished for the information of the district commander:
“Fort Walsh, May 9, 1883.
Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your communication of the 7th instant, concerning Cree raids into Montana, and the contemplated combined hostile movement of several hundred Crees against your Indians south of the line. That several small war parties of Crees have done a great deal of mischief in Northern Montana I am now aware, but that they have any particular hostile feeling and contemplate a combined movement against your Indians I assure you is not the case.
Were they disposed to move in a body, they have not the means, it being impossible for them to procure sufficient ammunition. There is a large Cree camp about twenty-five miles east of this post. It has always been a favorite camping place for the Indians at this season of the year, as they are able to catch a great number of fish and have good feed for their horses.
“I am in almost daily communication with camp, and one might think the departure of a war party would easily be known, but such is not the case, as you are probably aware. They do not leave in a body, but quietly at night, one at a time, and then meet at an appointed place. Many small parties leave camp in that way, with very few others knowing anything about it. This will account for my not being able to warn you in time to intercept the parties. The raiding is not confined to our Indians alone, as war parties of Sioux, Assinniboines, and South Piegans have been seen in these hills; but thanks to your kindness in sending a special messenger to warn me of the approach of a war party of Piegans, the settlers and railway contractors have been able to gnard against any great loss of stock, although small numbers of horses have been stolen from this country and at different points along the rail way. No one regrets this state of affairs more than I do, and I have done everything in my power to prevent these Crees from crossing the line, as I shall continue to do.
“Our Government, to prevent future raids by these Crees, has decided to send them” away from these hills. Several hundred have already been sent east by rail, and the assistant Indian commissioner is here at the present time to arrange for transportation to move all that are here to the North Saskatchewan. The Indians, knowing they were to go, have stolen all the horses they possibly could to take with them. Fortunately we have recovered nearly all of them stolen from white men in Montana that we have any information about.
“Your informant was in the Crees camp soon after they received the news that two of their people had been killed, and about that time a war party returned from the Sweet Grass Hills with two scalps they had taken from Piegans. That would account for their loud talk, their war dance, and excitement at the time. Colonel Irvine, determined to put a stop to these Cree raids, ordered the arrest of the Indians who were engaged in the theft of Kipp’s horses. I succeeded in finding four of them, whom the colonel sentenced to five years in the Manitoba penitentiary, and had them sent there at once.
“Yesterday morning four of Baker & Co.’s men overtook, about 10 miles from here, six of the war parties who had stolen their horses, and recovered seventeen head of them; [Page 506] then came and reported the matter to me. I immediately sent out a party under Sergeant Peterson to the Big Camp, and succeeded in recovering the balance of the horses, with the exception of four, which they left on the road, and captured ten of the war party, whom Colonel Irvine on his return will probably sentence to the same term of imprisonment that he gave the other four. This severe lesson will, I believe, have the effect to check any more contemplated raids.
“I shall, however, watch them closely, and give you timely warning of the departure of any great number of Indians.
“Very respectfully, &c.,
Superintendent, Commanding Post.”
Colonel Eighteenth Infantry, Commanding District of Montana.
Fort Snelling, Minn., May 20, 1883.
Official copy respectfully forwarded to headquarters Military Division of the Missouri. I agree with Colonel Ruger that there is no reason to apprehend anything more serious from the Crees than occasional “stealing raids,” which I think can be controlled with the force available.
Chicago, June 5, 1883.
Respectfully forwarded to the Adjutant-General of the Army.