Printer Friendly

Was there a tenth victim at Frog Lake?

Editor's Note: Conventional history states that nine persons were killed in the Frog Lake massacre of 1885. As evidence, historians point to declarations made by survivors, trial evidence, and other documents that describe those killed as Father Leon Fafard, Father Felix Marchand, Thomas Quinn, John Delaney, John Gowanlock, William Gilchrist, George Dill, Charles Gouin, and John Williscroft. In this essay, Allen Ronaghan presents the argument that a tenth victim, a Mission teacher, also died that day but notice of it escaped the attention of contemporary officials, journalists and modern day historians.

An article "Who was the 'Fine Young Man'," written by the author and published in Saskatchewan History (Fall 1995) first raised the question of a tenth person. Since then, the author has found additional data which he now presents on this controversial subject.

In 1885 Frog Lake was a village at its very beginnings and all signs pointed to a good future for it. Two Wood Cree reserves were there, attracted by a good source of fish in the lake. An Indian Department sub-agency had been established under T.T. Quinn, and several good crops of wheat had been grown with the supervision of farming instructor Delaney. This success persuaded the Indian Department to encourage the building of a grist mill on Frog Creek. Tenders were called for, and the successful applicant Gowanlock was superintending this work during the winter of 1884-85. The Hudson's Bay Company had built a small trading post and residence there, and a Mounted Police detachment had barracks and stables built. These developments were well chronicled in the Battleford newspaper, Saskatchewan Herald. (1)

In the mission field of the Roman Catholic church, Father Leon Fafard had a mission at Fort Pitt for several years. (2) When he saw that the Crees were no longer favouring Fort Pitt as a trading centre, he asked for and received permission from Bishop Vital Grandin to close his mission there and establish one at Frog Lake.

Bishop Grandin believed passionately in the importance of education for the native peoples, and his dedication to that belief expressed itself in action at a number of levels and over a long period of time. (3) When the decision was taken to close the Fort Pitt mission and move it to Frog Lake, Grandin supported the immediate establishment of a school there. The first teacher at Frog Lake was Father Felix Marchand. The decision to establish a mission at Onion Lake meant that Marchand was sent there, and Grandin exerted himself to fill the vacancy at Frog Lake mission school. This involved correspondence with Tache at St. Boniface, Manitoba, and with Grandin's superior Soullier and associates in France. (4)

Grandin's efforts met with success. According to ship's records, Mr. A. Michaud, a French lawyer, boarded the S.S. Brooklyn of the Dominion line, sailing from Liverpool on July 24, 1884, bound for Quebec City. (5) The ship reached Quebec City on August 4 and sailed for Montreal on August 7. (6) It is reasonable to assume that, travelling by train via Chicago, St. Paul, and Winnipeg, Michaud probably reached Calgary in due course and took McCauley's stage for Edmonton and St. Albert. After short interviews at the Mission he was off by buggy to Frog Lake. Without fanfare or fuss he was soon at work with classes of Cree children. The recent move to the Frog Lake reserve of Big Bear and his band swelled the class to over forty pupils. (7) Michaud had had trouble with alcoholism and wanted to work where he could not get hold of liquor. He avoided socializing with neighbours and threw himself into his work with single-minded dedication. Only one of those present at Frog Lake on the day of the tragedy made any mention of a teacher being there. (8)

On the morning of the tragedy the conspirators--led by Imasees and Wandering Spirit--were very busy in activities later well described by W.B. Cameron, Louis Goulet, Mrs. Theresa Delaney, and Mrs. Theresa Gowanlock. (9) The purpose of the insurgents seems to have been to immobilise, disarm, and make prisoners of the non-Indian people then at Frog Lake. These consisted of the men of the agency and Mrs. Delaney; the men of the mill crew and Mrs. Gowanlock; the two priests Fafard and Marchand; the private trader George Dill; the HBCo. employee W.B. Cameron; the blacksmith Henry Quinn; the interpreter Pritchard and his son; visiting Metis like Louis Goulet and several others whose names have not come down to us. These people were made to assemble at the Catholic church, where Father Fafard, assisted by Father Marchand, attempted to perform a Holy Thursday mass until he was interrupted by Wandering Spirit. Then the group was herded over to the village, where a path led them north to the Indian camp.

None of the conspirators or victims mentioned the presence of a Mission teacher.

Isabelle Little Bear went to school that morning. She later told how she had dawdled along on the way, thinking up the games that a nine-year-old girl would love to play. She arrived at school late. The priest was angry with her and wanted to punish her, but Isabelle ran home and told her foster mother that she did not want to go to school ever again. I believe the person she described was actually the mission teacher, Michaud. Her foster mother did not make her go back to school but gave her a little pail and the two went over to the agency to get a ration of flour. Isabelle said that they arrived there just in time to see Wandering Spirit shoot Quinn. As Quinn fell Isabelle saw his little Scottish cap roll down the slope in front of Pritchard's house. Terrified at this, Isabelle ran home and saw no more of the action. (10)

We know from several accounts that this shot seemed to have set off a chain of reactions and shots rang out along the path taken by the others toward the Indian camp. In very short order there were nine bodies scattered along the path nearly a mile to the north. (11)

A Wood Cree, Mesunekwepan or George Stanley, saw six of these bodies very soon after the shooting. He had tried to plow a field that lay to the north of the creek. The frost was not yet out of the ground and so he abandoned the project. He heard shots off to the south and hurried across the creek to investigate. He came upon one of the priests and tried to give assistance to the dying man. When he saw that it was too late he set off toward the village and found the bodies of John Delaney, John Gowanlock, and the other priest in something of a cluster. Farther south, just by Pritchard's house, he saw the bodies of Quinn and Charles Gouin.

He heard shouting and laughter in the direction of the Mission and went over to see what was going on. Some of the native people had found clothing in the priests' residence, had put articles of it on and were dancing around. Others had found the communion wine, had drunk some of it and were dancing and singing. (12) Perhaps someone there may have been bragging about killing the teacher in the same way that Wandering Spirit bragged about killing Quinn. (13) One can only conjecture that Michaud had been startled by the sound of the shots, had dismissed his class, made a dash for it, and was shot in the back as he ran along a path to where he thought there was safety. (14)

It was April 2, 1885--Holy Thursday--and the end of a promising beginning. By the time the Easter week-end was over the buildings of the village and Mission had been destroyed by fire. (15)

In the following days garbled reports of trouble at Frog Lake began to reach the outside world. Many travelled by word of mouth. Some were published in the Edmonton Bulletin. All were received with fear and deep concern at the St. Albert Mission, where the workers at Frog Lake and Onion Lake were well known. These fears and concerns were expressed many times in the daily entries made in the Mission's Codex Historicus. On April 18 a very long entry included the words "Cher Pere Fafard, Pauvre Michaud [Dear Father Fafard, Poor Michaud]." (6)

The story of the disposal of the bodies of the murdered men is scattered through many sources and encompasses many years. Not all accounts can be believed: some have to be taken with a grain of salt. However, it is still possible to piece together a credible account.

The first bodies to be dealt with were those of the farming instructor Delaney, the mill owner Gowanlock and the two priests, Fafard and Marchand. When Mrs, Delaney saw the bodies being molested she spoke to Louis Goulet about it. Goulet asked and got Big Bear's permission to move those four bodies. Goulet borrowed a team and wagon from John Pritchard and, assisted by several friends, moved these bodies to the church cellar. Goulet would have done the same for the bodies of Quinn and Gouin but, when he asked some of the younger native people for permission to do so, he was warned not to. The same was true for the bodies of Dill, Gilchrist, and John Williscroft. (17)

Nevertheless some of the native people moved the bodies of Quinn and Gouin into the cellar of John Pritchard's house. This was done before all the buildings of the village and mission were burned on Easter Sunday. The conspirators now decided that Fort Pitt was a threat to them and set off to deal with that menace. The bodies of Dill, Gilchrist, and Williscroft remained where they had fallen, and were evidently subjected to various indignities on the part of certain native persons. (18)

When the bands returned from Fort Pitt in mid-April, Mr. McLean and some friends "did the best [they] could" to bury the bodies of Dill, Gilchrist, and Williscroft. (19) What McLean meant by expressing it in this way is not clear, but it may be that they lacked the proper shovels, so had to work with their bare hands or makeshift tools to do a poor job of covering the bodies. This may explain certain accounts of reburials to be found in certain press reports. There exists a photo of a cross erected by the Midland Battalion at the village site in memory of Gilchrist and Williscroft whose bodies were found and buried by the Midland Batt[alion]. (20) The cross is protected by the upturned forge which had been used by Henry Quinn, the blacksmith. However, any reburying that may have been done by the Midland men left the bodies lying where they fell.

It must be observed here that, as of April 20, 1885, when Mr. McLean and friends "did the best [they] could" to inter the remaining bodies, all nine bodies listed by W.B. Cameron in his report to Strange are accounted for: Delaney, Gowanlock, Fafard and Marchand in the cellar of the burned church; Quinn and Gouin in the cellar of the burned Pritchard house; and Dill, Gilchrist, and Williscroft in shallow graves where they fell in their flight to the north. (21)

The Alberta Field Force arrived from the west on May 24th. (22) It was not long before curious seekers noticed the four burned bodies in the church cellar. Strange gave orders for the making of four coffins from rough lumber which was lying nearby. (23) An effort was made to identify the four bodies. We know their identity, but the Alberta Field Force did not, and the task of identification was given to John Pennefather, the surgeon with the Force. Pennefather examined the charred remains and decided that three of the bodies were those of two priests and a lay brother, and the fourth that of Delaney, the farming instructor. (24) The bodies were then placed in the coffins and given Christian burial, just at the edge of the Mission cemetery. (25) At a certain point in these proceedings Constable William Parker of the Mounted Police, who had been scouting around, came upon the body of a "fine young man" who had been shot in the back at close range. (26) This young man was buried in a common grave, and, since Parker assumed it to be the body of Gilchrist, the grave was probably so identified.

The Field Force now departed, moving in the direction it was believed that Big Bear's band had followed.

There was a correspondent from the Manitoba Free Press with this force, and this gentleman prepared an account of what the Force had done at Frog Lake. This included the identification of the four bodies found in the cellar as Father Fafard, Father Lefloch, a lay brother, and the farming instructor Delaney. In due course this was published in the Free Press. (27)

Bishop Grandin was in Calgary when the account appeared in the Free Press. He saw the mistakes in it and promptly wrote a letter to the editor in an effort to correct them. He gave the proper name of the second priest, Father Marchand. There was no lay brother at Frog Lake, he insisted. The unidentified man must be Mr. Michaux, a teacher who had formerly been a lawyer in France. Grandin was not correct in this identification, as we now know, but he had revealed to the world the name of the man who was the teacher at Father Fafard's school at Frog Lake. (28) The world, it appears, was not prepared to notice.

Another press account originated from the Alberta Field Force's short stop at Frog Lake. This one was in French, and was published in Le Manitoba on June 4, 1885. It indicates that someone with the Force knew of Michaud's presence at the Frog Lake Mission. Here is a translation:
 A despatch from Lieutenant-Colonel
 Osborne-Smith, addressed to the Hon.
 Mr. LaRiviere, coming from the camp of
 volunteers near Fort Pitt on the north bank
 of the Saskatchewan, announces that the
 remains of the reverend fathers Fafard and
 Marchand, as well as those of an
 individual that is supposed to be one
 named Michaud living with the fathers
 and massacred with them by the savages
 [sic] of Frog Lake, have been found and
 buried with all possible care. Captain
 Clarke as well as Sergeant-Major Lawlor,
 both Catholics, said prayers over the tomb
 of the three martyrs.

By mid-June of 1885 two newspaper stories, one in English and one in French, had informed the people of western Canada that someone named Michaud had been among those killed at Frog Lake!

Also in early June an event occurred at Frog Lake which materially altered the known disposition of the victims' bodies. A detachment of the 65th Mount Royal Rifles, tired, hungry and footsore from their pursuit of Big Bear's band, arrived at Frog Lake on June 5th and looked around. In the cellar of John Pritchard's house they found the burned remains of Quinn and Gouin. Some men of Company 3 were detailed to dig graves for them. Rails from a nearby fence were collected together to make neat little enclosures for the two graves. In addition, wooden crosses were inscribed with the names of the two men and set in position. A photo of Quinn's grave exists. (29) It was taken in 1895 by a photographer then visiting the area. This photo is a precious clue, because the enclosures and markers no longer exist, having been destroyed, no doubt, by one of the periodic fires which have swept through the area. The account of the burial was written in French and published in 1886. (30) It was probably never seen by Cameron or any of the other survivors who wrote their accounts of what had happened at Frog Lake.

The elements have not been kind to the Frog Lake site. The bell-tower of the Mission, various fence-rails and posts, the cross erected by the Midland Battalion, the enclosures built by the men of the 65th Mount Royal Rifles--all these no longer exist, but may be seen in photos taken at various times.

To return to the narrative, Bishop Grandin visited the site both in 1885 and later. He spoke with the native people about the tragedy itself, and made plans, first to have crosses erected at the spots (31) where the priests were killed, and then to have their bodies removed to the cemetery at Onion Lake. (32) All this had been done by the time the next significant visitor came to Frog Lake.

That visitor was Mr. Gilchrist, the father of the man who had worked for Gowanlock and had been killed nearly a mile north of Frog Lake village. In 1908 Gilchrist visited the site in company with people familiar with the folk-lore about the tragedy. He scouted around the vicinity and located four scattered graves. He noted that young poplars were growing up here and there and threatening to hide the graves. He had brought an inscribed metal marker with him, and this he placed at his son's grave. Upon his return to Ontario he wrote a letter to the Honourable Frank Oliver, then Minister of the Interior, suggesting that the "four scattered graves" be moved to the place by the Mission cemetery where the Alberta Field Force had made the burials in 1885. (33) Oliver acted promptly upon receiving Gilchrist's suggestion. Decisions were made by which the Mounted Police headquartered at Battleford had responsibility for seeing to it that the work of collecting the scattered bodies together was done.

The job of gathering together the victims' bodies fell to Sergeant John Hall of Onion Lake in 1909. The body of Corporal Cowan, buried not far from Fort Pitt, was part of Hall's assignment, and Hall may have thought that Cowan's grave was one of the "four scattered graves." It is certain that the graves of Dill, Gilchrist, and Williscroft were three of the four mentioned by Mr. Gilchrist. Hall's report makes it clear that these graves were near where the men had fallen: Dill's nearly a mile north of the village, Gilchrist's not far from Dill's, and Williscroft's about half a mile away from the village. In each case the skeletal remains were complete. (34)

Hall found the bodies of Delaney and Gowanlock by the Mission cemetery in the coffins which the men of the Alberta Field Force had made. Delaney's hands and feet had been burned, otherwise the skeleton was complete. Gowanlock's body, for some reason, had been more badly damaged, his legs being burned as far as the knees and his arms as far as the elbows. (35)

It was when he dealt with the remains of Quinn and Gouin that Hall had trouble. Local folk-lore had told him that these bodies had been placed in Pritchard's cellar and later burned. Hall searched diligently, but could not find skeletons. All he could find of Gouin were some small bones resembling eggshells. All he could find of Quinn was a knee joint about four inches long and some other fragments of bones. (36)

Knowing what we now know, it is not at all remarkable that Hall did not find the skeletal remains of these two men. They were not there at all, having been removed and buried by men of Company 3 of the 65th Mount Royal Rifles in June of 1885. (37) These bodies are in now unmarked graves somewhere nearby, the markers and enclosures shown in the photograph having been destroyed by a fire. It is to be noted, too, that the fourth grave seen by Mr. Gilchrist when he scouted around the area was not found and dealt with by Sergeant Hall.

A number of the conspirators paid the supreme penalty for their parts in the tragedy of April 2, 1885. (38) Other conspirators were successful in escaping to Montana. (39) Still others, arrested for a part in the Frog Lake tragedy, were released for lack of evidence.

There exists a document written by the daughter of George Mann, who with her parents was a prisoner of Big Bear's men after the Frog Lake tragedy and the raid of Fort Pitt. Included in her reminiscences is a "List of Prisoners arrested Fort Pitt & now here waiting trial before Judge Rouleau." (40) The list has twenty-five names, including "Pepamekesick--killing Priest & Delaney" and "Ohsawana Sioux--killing other priest." And a third entry "Koopisekanew Big Bear's son for killing Brother."

Koopisekanew's name does not appear on any other arrest lists, but at the trials this man gave graphic evidence regarding the killing of Fafard, stating that he was about twenty feet away when the killing occulted. (41)

I believe that ten men were killed at Frog Lake and the likelihood is that the tenth was the teacher A. Michaud. The location of his grave has yet to be established. Seen by Mr. Gilchrist, it was somehow missed by Sergeant Hall. (42) The final resting places of Quinn and Gouin have to be located too. They are probably not far from where the Pritchard house once was.

There are still questions to be answered at the Frog Lake tragedy site.


(1) The Saskatchewan Herald was published at Battleford, with P.G. Laurie as editor. Its issues contained many details concerning Fort Pitt and the new village of Frog Lake.

(2) Allen Ronaghan, Father Fafard and the Fort Pitt Mission, Saskatchewan History, Autumn 1998.

(3) Vital-Justin Grandin, Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Volume 13.

(4) Grandin Papers, 84.400, Boites 33, 38, 42, and 220, Provincial Archives of Alberta, (PAA).

(5) Passenger Lists, 1884, Microfilm 889,455, Family History Centre, Salt Lake City, Utah.

(6) Montreal Gazette, August 6 and August 8, 1884.

(7) Journal du Pere Andre, 1885, Oblate Records, Boite 22, Item 736, No.84,499, Provincial Archives of Alberta.

(8) Isabelle Little Bear John, My Own Story, Reflections, Elk Point Historical Committee..

(9) Guillaume Charette, Vanishing Spaces. The accounts of Cameron, Delaney and Gowanlock may be found in Hughes, The Frog Lake Massacre. This book contains the writings of the following people knowledgeable concerning the events at Frog Lake: Rev. Edward Ahenakew, W.B. Cameron; Mgr. Henri Faraud; Theresa Gowanlock; Theresa Delaney; Joseph Hicks; Father Laurent Legoff; Elizabeth McLean; W.J. McLean; and George Stanley (Mesunakwepan).

(10) Isabelle Little Bear John, My Own Story.

(11) T.B. Strange, Gunner Jingo's Jubilee, p. 473

(12) Stanley's account may be seen in Hughes, The Frog Lake Massacre

(13) See, note 40 and related text.

(14) Hugh Dempsey, William Parker Mounted Policeman, p.69.

(15) Hughes, 184; Charette, 130.

(16) St Albert Codex Historicus, entry for April 18, 1885. Oblate Records, Boite 123M, Item 5443, No.71,220, PAA.

(17) Charette, 128.

(18) Elizabeth McLean in Hughes, 281.

(19) W.J. McLean in Hughes, 251. McLean was factor at Fort Pitt and was taken prisoner by Big Bear's band.

(20) The photo was taken by David Cadzow.

(21) See Note 11.

(22) Strange, 273.

(23) Letter, Grandin to Soullier, Oct.12, 1891. Grandin Papers, Boite 38, Item 1016, No. 84,400, PAA.

(24) Pennefather, Thirteen Years on the Prairies, p.33.

(25) Manitoba Free Press, June 8, 1885.

(26) Pennefather, 33, stated, "A few yards off lay the body of a fine young man, supposed to be Gilchrist." In Dempsey, 69, Parker's actual comment was, "In scouting around I found the body of young Gilchrist laying on his face along a footpath from his shack. Evidently he had been running away in his underclothes from mounted Indians, and had been shot at close range in the back; his undershirt was all black from the powder."

(27) Manitoba Free Press, June 8, 1885.

(28) Manitoba Free Press, June 16, 1885. Michaux is an alternative spelling of Michaud. It does not alter pronunciation in any way.

(29) Photo NA-1036-6 by Geraldine Moodie, Glenbow Archives.

(30) Charles R. Daoust, Cent-Vingt Jours de Service Actif au Nord-Ouest, 97.

(31) Boite 32, Item 911, No.84,400, August 20, 1885, Oblate Records, PAA.

(32) Ibid, October 24, 1888.

(33) Letter, Gilchrist to Frank Oliver, Nov.18, 1908. RCMP Archives, Regina.

(34) Letter, Hall to superior at Battleford, re Dill, Gilchrist and Williscroft, July 20, 1909. RCMP Archives, Regina.

(35) Ibid., re Delaney and Gowanlock, July 20, 1909.

(36) Ibid., re Gouin and Quinn, July 20, 1909.

(37) Daoust, 97.

(38) Stonechild and Waiser, Loyal Till Death, pp. 221-25.

(39) Ibid., pp.227-30.

(40) "List of Prisoners arrested Fort Pitt and now here waiting trial before Judge Rouleau." Mann Papers, Glenbow Archives.

(41) Saskatchewan Herald, Oct. 5, 1885.

(42) It is to be hoped that the construction of the highway and the district road which joins it just west of the cemetery did not obliterate all traces of this grave.

Dr. Ronaghan of Islay, AB, is a prolific writer who specializes in early fur trade history, travellers, and Native people. He has been a frequent contributor to Alberta History.
COPYRIGHT 2006 Historical Society of Alberta
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2006 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Ronaghan, Allen
Publication:Alberta History
Article Type:Cover Story
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jan 1, 2006
Previous Article:Tom Wilson of the Canadian Rockies.
Next Article:Letters home from an Alberta Surveyor.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters