Name: Pitikwahanapiwiyin (Poundmaker)
Meaning: "attract Buffalo into pounds"
Born: 1842 Plains Cree First Nation
Died: July 4th, 1886 (lung haemorrhage)
Charged with: Treason
Sentenced to: 3 Years
"Everything that is bad has been laid against me this summer, there is nothing of it true...Had I wanted war, I would not be here now. I should be on the prairie. You did not catch me. I gave myself up. You have got me because I wanted justice. "
PīTIKWAHANAPIWīYIN (Poundmaker), Plains Cree chief; b. c. 1842 in what is now central Saskatchewan, d. 4 July 1886 at Blackfoot Crossing (Alta). Chief Poundmaker was born into a prominent Plains Cree family and was entirely Plains Cree in culture and appearance.
Chief Poundmaker was entirely Plains Cree in culture and appearance. Robert Jefferson, the farm instructor on the Poundmaker Reserve, writing some years after Chief Poundmaker’s death, described him as “tall and good looking, slightly built and with an intelligent face, in which a large Roman nose was prominent; his bearing was so eminently dignified and his speech so well adapted to the occasion, as to impress every hearer with his earnestness and his views.”
Chief Poundmaker was adopted by Chief Crowfoot [Isapo-muxika], a head chief of the Blackfoot when a short-lived peace treaty was made between the two tribes. One of Crowfoot’s wives saw Chief Poundmaker and was struck by his resemblance to her dead son. The Blackfoot chief immediately adopted the Cree and invited him to remain with the Blackfeet at Blackfoot Crossing, giving Chief Poundmaker a Blackfoot name, Makoyi-koh-kin (Wolf Thin Legs). As a relative of both Blackfoot and Cree, Chief Poundmaker served as an instrument of peace between the often warring tribes.
Chief Poundmaker signed Treaty 6 at settled his band at the confluence of the Battle River and Cutknife Creek in west central Saskatchewan in 1879.
In 1881, Chief Poundmaker was chosen to accompany the Marquess of Lorne [Campbell*], governor general of Canada, on a tour from Battleford to Blackfoot Crossing. During this trip, Chief Poundmaker impressed the Vice-Regal party with his knowledge of Cree culture and his philosophy as a peacemaker.
In 1883, the Canadian government reduced expenditures on the Indian Department, employees were dismissed and rations to the Indians reduced. Delays in delivering supplies caused rumours to spread that rations would be curtailed completely, and the Indians left to starve. Moreover, as complaints by the agents that the Indians were starving after the severe winter of 1883–84 went unheeded by officials in Ottawa, Chief Poundmaker was unable to maintain peace among his followers, particularly the younger warriors.
In the spring of 1885, Chief Poundmaker travelled to Fort Battleford barracks to see the Indian agent and to obtain overdue rations. The Canadian government had broken Treaty for failing to provide the provisions offered only a decade earlier. Upon arriving at Fort Battleford, no government official would leave the Fort to speak with Chief Poundmaker, After waiting outside the Fort for two days, Chief Poundmaker lost control of the young warriors accompanying him. The warriors ransacked the village of Battleford, which had also been abandoned for the barracks by its inhabitants. No inhabitant of the Fort met the Indians for two days out of fear of leaving the fort.
Shortly after his people returned to Chief Poundmaker reserve, a column of Canadian milita led by Lieutenant-Colonel Otter arrived at Fort Battleford. Deciding to “punish” Chief Poundmaker for pillaging the village, Otter set off with 325 men, two cannons, and a Gatling gun to attack Chief Poundmaker’s camp. On the morning of 2 May 1885, Colonel Otter arrived to find the camp had moved and he traveled southwest of the camp to engage the warriors, who numbered 50-60 men. The warriors lured Colonel Otter onto an open hill and battled for 7 hours before Colonel Otter retreated in defeat to Fort Battleford. Instead of pursuing and annihilating the retreating column, Chief Poundmakers warriors allowed them to return to the Fort unharmed.
Chief Poundmaker was put on trial for treason at Regina in July 1885. “Everything I could do was done to stop bloodshed,” Chief Poundmaker protested in court. “Had I wanted war, I would not be here now. I should be on the prairie. You did not catch me. I gave myself up. You have got me because I wanted justice.” Chief Poundmaker also wanted justice for the failure of Canada to honour the treaties.
He was found guilty and sentenced to three years in prison. He was released after serving a year in Stony Mountain Penitentiary near death from tuberculosis obtained in prison. Only four months later, while visiting his adopted father, Crowfoot, on the Blackfoot reserve, he suffered a lung haemorrhage and died. Not until the rebellion hysteria had passed was Chief Poundmaker belatedly recognized as a man who had never abandoned the peacemaker’s role and had fought only in defensive actions. In 1967, the people of Poundmaker Cree Nation returned his body to rest on a hillside.