The Battle of Seven Oaks
and the Violent Birth of the Red River Settlement
By Irene Ternier Gordon
Amazing Stories Series
Published by Altitude Publishing Canada Ltd., 2005, Canmore, Alberta
Thomas Douglas, the fifth Earl of Selkirk, became the largest land owner in the world when he received almost 187,000 square kilometers of land from the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1811. The next year settlers from Scotland and Ireland began arriving there to establish the first agricultural settlement in the Red River Valley — now part of the province of Manitoba. This book tells the story of the birth of the Red River Settlement and of the Battle of Seven Oaks from the standpoint of settlers, Métis, fur traders, and Indians.
The lookout in the watchtower at Fort Douglas gave the alarm as soon as he caught the first indistinct sight of a party of horsemen riding across the plains that June afternoon. Governor Semple hurried into the tower and watched the riders through a spyglass for some minutes. Certain they were Métis, he called for 15 or 20 volunteers to go out and meet them. He waited impatiently while the men were issued with weapons — muskets, bayonets, balls, and powder — but refused to take the three-pounder field piece (cannon), saying he was only going to see what the Métis wanted, not fight with them.
In the meantime, the Métis, led by Cuthbert Grant, came across three settlers working in a field and took them prisoner so they could not raise the alarm. Then, seeing Semple and his men marching towards them, Grant ordered a small advance party to make camp while he and the main party rode back to meet Semple.
The two groups halted when they came within hailing distance of each other. Grant ordered his men to fan out in a half-moon shape around Semple’s men, who extended their line and retreated a few steps. Then they faced each other silently and motionlessly — Grant’s men on horseback, Semple’s on foot.
Grant gave an order to one of his men, François Fermin Boucher: “Tell Semple to surrender, or we will fire upon him.” Boucher rode up to Semple and the two men spoke briefly. Then Semple lost his temper. He seized the reins of Boucher’s horse and may have grabbed at his gun. A second later a shot rang out.
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© Copyright 2022 Irene Ternier Gordon All rights reserved.