Threats Internal and External

Strange’s Column

The March and Pursuit of Big Bear

Strange had left Calgary for the North Saskatchewan River, intending to follow its course back to Battleford and to tighten the net as Middleton had ordered. At the end of May he reached Frenchman's Butte, where he surprised the Cree. Big Bear's party moved quickly and dug in at that location, which overlooks the strategic points of the river and Fort Pitt. If they wished to fight it out man to man with Big Bear's 600 warriors, the militiamen would have to cross some swampy ground, leaving themselves exposed. At the very moment when Strange was making the decision to retreat, despite having much greater firepower than the enemy, the Cree were preparing to do the same. On 1 June, after receiving the supplies he had been lacking, Strange returned to attack Frenchman's Butte only to discover that it had been abandoned. Since the Cree had begun to disperse, Strange did not pursue them. Two days later he was joined at Fort Pitt by nearly 900 men under Middleton. The general immediately organized a hunt but kept all his men close by, including the light cavalry, and began another slow advance. The wagons, with 120 soldiers on board, sank into the half-frozen ground north of the Saskatchewan River.

This initiative came to naught. On 4 June, Colonel Sam Steele's troopers exchanged a few rounds with Big Bear's warriors at Duck Lake. This would be the last fight in the campaign, as the Cree had elected to abandon the cause. On 2 July, Big Bear surrendered near Fort Carlton.