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Chief and General: Gabriel Dumont

For the week of Monday May 14, 2012

On May 19, 1906, Gabriel Dumont died from natural causes near Batoche, Saskatchewan. Known as a buffalo hunter, community activist, and military leader, Dumont was deeply influential in the lives of the prairie Métis.

Gabriel Dumont and his horse
©Glenbow Archives, NA-1063-1.
Dumont was born in 1837 in the Red River settlement (now Manitoba). After joining the Red River buffalo hunt in 1851. Dumont rose to prominence when he married Madeleine Wilkie, the hunting chief’s daughter, in 1858. Five years later, he became chief of a new buffalo hunt based in the Saskatchewan River Valley. He was well-known for his decision-making, crack marksmanship and expert horsemanship.

As the buffalo became over-hunted, Dumont and many other Métis leaders abandoned the nomadic lifestyle of the hunt. Dumont settled on the South Saskatchewan River, starting a prosperous ferry business and store near Batoche in 1873. Dumont soon became a community leader, supporting the Métis, First Nations, and settlers of Batoche in their petitions for responsible government. Frustrated with governmental inaction, they decided to enlist further aid. 

Gabriel Dumont
©Glenbow Archives, NA-4635-1, Buffalo Bill Historical Center, Cody, Wyoming.

In 1884, Dumont, as part of a group of community leaders, travelled to the United States in order to ask Louis Riel to act as a political spokesperson. Riel, who had been exiled after the 1869-70 Red River Rebellion, consented to return to Canada. By 1885, he and Dumont agreed that lobbying the government had failed and that force was now necessary. With the support of most of the Métis, they decided to fight against the government in an uprising eventually known as the Northwest Rebellion/Resistance. As adjutant-general of the Métis army, Dumont skilfully commanded 300 armed men in victories at Duck Lake and Fish Creek. At the Battle of Batoche, however, his forces were ultimately defeated by a larger army of militiamen and British regular troops, commanded by Major-General Sir Frederick Dobson Middleton.

Fearing harsh repercussions, Dumont fled to the United States. Though he was pardoned for his actions during the Rebellion/Resistance, he continued to travel through the United States, most notably working in Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show. Dumont returned to Canada in 1888 and lived his remaining years in the prairies. For his political and military leadership of the Métis of Saskatchewan, Gabriel Dumont was designated a national historic person in 1981. Louis Riel (1956) is a National Historic Person, while the Battle of Duck Lake (1924), the Battle of Fish Creek (1923) and Batoche (1923) are National Historic Sites.

For more information on the Métis and the Northwest Rebellion/Resistance of 1885, please read the following This Week in History stories: A Second Last Stance, The Battle of Duck Lake: A Struggle for Land and a Way of Life, Batoche: Sacred Grounds of the Métis, A Métis Leader and Friend to Early Settlers, The Northwest Mounted Police Retreat from Fort Pitt.

 

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