Academic journal article Alberta History

Battle at Fort Edmonton: Fur Traders under Siege

Academic journal article Alberta History

Battle at Fort Edmonton: Fur Traders under Siege

Article excerpt

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In 1826, six Indians were killed outside the walls of Fort Edmonton and five defenders wounded in a pitched battle between horse thieves and fur trade employees. This occurred at a time when constant warfare between the Plains Assiniboines and Blackfoot tribes was briefly extended to the Hudson's Bay Company itself. The Plains Assiniboines, known as the Stone Indians by the traders, occupied much of south-western Saskatchewan and parts of south-eastern Alberta. They traded at Fort Carlton, near the present Saskatoon, and were allies of the downriver Crees, sharing their hunting grounds with them.

The goal of Stone raiders had been horses, and warriors would go to almost any length to get them. They preferred to creep into an enemy camp at night, pick the best horses, and be far away before daybreak. If they were unlucky and discovered, this sometimes resulted in a fight and a loss of lives. On the other hand, if they happened across a small camp, they might conduct a raid for scalps and women, as well as horses.

Their main enemies were the Bloods, Blackfoot, and Peigans. These three tribes of the Blackfoot nation often took buffalo robes and dried meat to trade at Fort Carlton, giving the Stone Indians a chance to harass them and steal their horses. For example, in the autumn of 1824 they attacked a Blackfoot camp in the south, killing one woman and taking 140 horses. Two weeks after their victory they went to Fort Carlton where they were "quite elated at their success." (1) In all, there were about 200 Stone Indians from the Strong Wood and Walking bands at the fort. Arrogantly they demanded liquor but were refused. At the same time, the chief factor, John Peter Pruden, chastised them for stealing dozens of horses over the previous two years. The interpreter said that "the Walking band is the worst of all the Stone Indians that frequent this place." (2)

In response to the raid, the Blackfoot attacked a Stone/Cree camp, killing two men and making off with 30 horses. In anticipation of further Blackfoot raids if they remained on the plains, the tribe decided it would take to the bush on the north side of the Saskatchewan River for the winter. But without large buffalo herds to feed them, they were soon starving and desperate. In March 1825 they attacked a party of Fort Carlton hunters who were returning from the plains and pillaged them of supplies.

Learning that the Blackfoot tribes were far away, the Stone Indians ventured back to the plains in the spring and decided to go on the offensive. Finding no enemies nearby, a large party set out for Fort Edmonton, where they thought the enemy tribes would bring the results of their winter hunts. En route, their scout reported the presence of a Blackfoot camp. A trader stated:

   the result was that they killed nine
   Blackfeet men and about a score of
   women and children, captured about a
   hundred and forty Horses and brought
   forty-seven women and Children as
   prisoners to their camp. Three of the
   women they afterwards killed and sent
   one back with Tobacco and a message to
   her friends. The message some say was
   an offer of peace and others say it was a
   defiance. (3)

A short-lived peace did follow, but soon the tribes were back at each other's throats. Commented a trader after another fight, "The word with them is still war & war, a thing so Common now that it is not worth mentioning." (4)

The sound and fury of galloping hooves, gun shots, whizzing arrows, and war whoops echoed across the plains all through the year 1826. By early autumn the Blackfoot tribes were avoiding Fort Carlton so a number of Stone Indian warriors decided to go to Fort Edmonton and waylay enemy tribes along the trail. But the Blackfoot did not come there so war parties turned their attention to Fort Edmonton and its horse herds.

At that time the fort had about 120 horses while local people had a number more. …

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