Métis Military Leader
Gabriel Dumont was born in the Red River area in 1837. When he was two, the family
moved to Fort Pitt-where his father worked as a trader. Gabriel's education consisted
of learning the ways of the prairie and by age ten he was fluent in six Indian
languages as well as French. The Dumont family returned to the Red River in 1848.
During this trip Gabriel received his first gun in honour of an act of bravery and he
named this gun "Le Petit". Dumont took part in the battle of Grand Coteau against
the Dakota at age fourteen. At age twenty-one he married Madeleine Wilke. During
the 1860's and the early 1870's, to earn a living, Gabriel hunted, trapped and fished.
He also set up a ferry and did some farming. In 1873 he was instrumental in
establishing the Laws of St. Laurent and was elected President of the Council for a
one year term. In 1875, when attempting to enforce the Laws of St. Laurent, Dumont
was accused of taking the law into his own hands. The North West Mounted Police
came to St. Laurent and Gabriel was arrested, tried and given a fine. In 1884 it was
decided that Louis Riel should be asked to come and form a provisional government
in the Batoche area. Gabriel Dumont and three others went to Montana to ask Riel to
return to Canada.
Gabriel Dumont became the military leader of the Métis people in the Batoche area.
Gabriel successfully pushed back Middleton's troops at the battle of Duck Lake. He
advised Riel that the Métis should go in immediately and eliminate the threat, but Riel
refused to sanction this move. As a result, the Métis subsequently lost the Battle of
Batoche on May 12, 1885. With the fall of Batoche on May 12, 1885 and the May 15
surrender of Louis Riel, Mose Ouellette suggested to Gabriel that he too surrender.
Dumont, of course, discarded any such notion and retorted, "Tell Middleton that I am
still in the woods. Tell him I still have 90 cartridges to use on his men." With just a
half dozen galettes (bannock) between he and Michael Dumas, they fled to Montana
(about 300 miles away on a normal travel plan, but considerably longer as Dumont
and Dumas had to avoid the soldiers that were combing the countryside for them.
From Batoche they headed southwest through the Sweetgrass hills, the Great Sand
Hills, the Cypress Hills and into Montana by late May. At Fort Assiniboin, they
surrendered to the United States cavalry's Lt. Col. Coppinger. After some discussion
between the Secretary of War, the Secretary of State and President Grover Cleveland
(who considered the two men political refugees), their release was ordered on May
29. Dumont moved to Spring Creek (now Lewistown) to his brother-in-law's (David
Wilkie) home, then to Fort Benton and back to Spring Creek where his wife and niece
(Annie) joined him. Sadly, his wife died within a year.
Dumont, meanwhile, became something of a folk-hero: admired and sought after by
others. One "other" was a representative of Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show.
Although Dumas snapped up the offer, Dumont did not do so right away. He was
more intent on rescuing Riel. He could not help Riel, however, as he (Riel) was too
well guarded and spies were watching his every move. Dumont's stay at Lewistown
was a restless one. His old lifestyle of the buffalo hunt was no longer possible as the
buffalo was near extinction. He had to abandon his plans to help his dearest friend,
Riel, escape, he lost his brother at Batoche and his father soon after, then his wife
died. He was a man alone-with no help, no hope and no future. So it happened that
after due consideration, in June of 1886, Dumont agreed to join Buffalo Bill-leaving
behind the West that he so dearly loved all his life. Dumont entered into a world that
had destroyed his people, the same world that had forced him into exile.
He arrived in Philadelphia on July 7 by train (ironically that beast that was fast
robbing his people of their livelihood as the transporters of goods). In the Wild West
Show, Dumont proved a very popular attraction. Here was Riel's military general, an
ingenious strategist who had defied overwhelming odds and survived. To the
audiences he was a rustic but brave and impressive man to behold. He was also a
fugitive from Canadian justice: which lent a little romance to the overall scenario. Up
and down the Eastern Seaboard he appeared, exhibiting his marksmanship with his
rife "Le Petit". He received top billing along with other greats like Annie Oakley,
Johnny "the Cowboy Kid" Baker and Lillian "the California Huntress" Smith. In
September, Dumont left the show, returning briefly in 1887 and 1888, but he had
learned in the meantime that Canada had declared a general amnesty to participants
in the 1885 Northwest Resistance and longed to return to the Saskatchewan River
Valley and Batoche. He traveled about; to Montana, the Dakotas, New York, Red
River and Quebec-where he tried to influence the politics. His crude and frank
honesty, however, gained him little support and even less recognition.
While in Quebec, he learned that Riel had been executed and was a martyr-hero.
There too he narrated his memoirs of the resistance; which were published in 1889
in La Verite sur la Question Metisse. While politicking, he made known his concerns
regarding compensation for Métis homes and lands which had suffered from the
rebellion and for land scrip that the Métis had requested long before. He did return to
Batoche briefly in 1890, then the Dakota hunting camps where he was nearly killed in
1891 by an intruder who entered his tent in the middle of the night and tried to stab
Dumont. It was in Quebec that he also tried to raise funds for needy Métis. By 1893
Dumont was back at Batoche t resume his residency there. He never remarried and
kept to himself-a quiet and passive man-certainly not the Dumont of old. He later
moved 10 miles northeast to Bellevue, where he built a small log cabin on the land of
his nephew, Alexis Dumont. Occasionally he made trips to Montana, the Dakotas and
the Red River to visit friends. He would talk of the buffalo hunts, the freedom of the
plains, Indian battles, and, of course, the events of 1885. On May 19, 1906 he bid his
last farewell when his heart failed. "Uncle Gab" was laid to rest on a ridge
overlooking his favorite river, the Saskatchewan. There a large solitary stone
monument marks his grave.
To find out more about Gabriel Dumont please go into the following link: