Harlan: A Tragic History – Chapter 2 of 6

Written by Harold McNeill on October 12th, 2010. Posted in Family 1940 1965


Memorial at Frog Lake

Photo (Frog Lake Memorial):  One man who died was the John Delany, the Grandfather of my Aunt Hazel (wife of my mom’s brother Melvin Wheeler), all part of the interesting history of our family.

Link to Next Post: Snakes
Link to Last Post: Old School House (First of Part IV)
Link to Family Stories Index

Early Spring, 1949

While our home a Marie Lake, Alberta, (20 miles north of Cold Lake) was nestled within the pristine beauty of the lakes and evergreen forests dotting Northwestern Alberta, Harlan District was spread out along fields and poplar forests that gently rose from the northern banks of the North Saskatchewan River.  Situated just inside the Saskatchewan side of the border with Alberta, the community was less than ninety miles south-southeast of Cold Lake. Today it remains a small farming community not much changed from that time Louise and I lived there for a few months in 1949.

During the spring and summer, as our cousins Betty and Stan (my dad’s sisters kids), along with Louise and I, explored the grassy fields and poplar covered woodlands around Uncle Warren’s farm in Harlan District, we were oblivious to a significant piece of Canadian History that played out just over sixty years earlier on the very roads and trails upon which we walked and played – The Frog Lake Massacre of 1887.   Calling it a massacre was certainly wrong as the more appropriate name should have been “An attempted genocide at Frog Lake”.

That attempt at genocide was caused by the deliberate starvation of the aboriginal people through federal government policies designed to subjugate the original inhabitants of that area.  While the Indian Agent in Frog Lake was the administrator of the local bands, it was Sir John A. MacDonald and his government who were the architects of the policy.

At the time the four of us were playing in the fields, we know that a member of our own family, Aunt Hazel Wheeler (nee Martineau), the wife of mom’s brother, Melvin Wheeler, actually traced her family history directly back to those tragic events that played in the Harlan District in the fall of 1887.

The farm, on which we were living with Uncle Warren and Aunt Liz Harwood (nee McNeill), was twenty-five miles southeast of Frog Lake, thirteen miles from Onion Lake and five miles west of Fort Pitt. The district became the epicenter of a rebellion fomented by a charismatic Métis leader, Louis Riel who resented the injustices being heaped upon the Cree and other tribes by the Federal Government. Riel was able to bring the diverse Indian Nations together in common purpose and that led to the rebellion.

In his book, The Frog Lake Massacre, Bill Gallaher writes: “Superintendent Crozier and a contingent of policemen aided by a small volunteer force from Prince Albert, had confronted Louis Riel and his rebels, some of them Cree, at a place called Duck Lake, a few miles east of Fort Carlton. After the ensuing battle, 14 men lay dead.”  (p. 102).

News of the confrontation quickly spread to the tribes in the Frog and Onion Lake area where activist leaders, including Wandering Spirit, Man Who Speaks Another Tongue and others, gained a substantial following. Much of their anger was focused on one man, Thomas Quinn.

Quinn, appointed by Ottawa as the Indian Agent at Frog Lake, was an arrogant, stingy Scotsman, who held the responsibility on enforcing Federal Government policy regarding the distribution of food supplies.  The bands were in desperate straights as they had been forced out of their traditional hunting grounds and left completely dependant upon government handouts.

Quinn took his directions to heart by forcing the largely peaceful Indian bands, to bow to his every whim before he would release any of the food and other supplies agreed upon in the treaties. The tribes became more and more desperate as their land base continued to shrink under the onslaught of the white settlers and it was not long before their traditional food supplies all but disappeared. Pleas for relief emanating from moderate leaders, including Chief Big Bear, fell upon deaf ears at Fort Battleford and Ottawa.

Activist leaders, having heard of Louis Riel’s initial successes in confronting the government forces, convinced a significant number of warriors to stand fight rather than continue to bow to the dictatorial Indian Agent, Thomas Quinn.

The stage was set:

“The air in the room was hot and close, thick with pipe smoke and body odour. All of the whites in Frog Lake had gathered in John and Theresa Delaney’s house to discuss Dicken’s message (a message from Inspector Dickens of the NWMP suggesting all the white settlers at Frog Lake, evacuate the community immediately and head to Fort Pitt), viewed by some as an emergency. It was near midnight and Teresa served tea and coffee strong enough to make sleep a far off country.” (Gallaher, p. 103)

“I noticed, as I’m sure others did, that he didn’t mention the Indians dislike of Quinn – they always called him “Dog Agent” or “The Bully” behind his back – and that perhaps he should go too.”  (Gallaher, p. 105)

Early the following morning the group was taken hostage by the rebel’s, then under the leadership of Wandering Spirit.  While being forced back to the Cree village, Quinn suddenly stopped and refused to follow instructions. Wandering Spirit stepped in front of the belligerent man, “You have a hard head and I wonder if there is anything in it? He raised his rifle and shot Quinn through a head not so hard that a bullet couldn’t split it open…”  (Gallaher, p. 106) check page?

The sudden, violent killing of the “Dog Agent”, Quinn, left the remaining hostages scrambling for their lives,The Death of John Delaney

“My mind was churning madly. We hadn’t taken more than a few steps when John Delany cried, “I’m shot!” He reeled several feet away like a drunkard, then staggered back and collapsed at Theresa’s feet.  Oh, my God! Theresa cried. “Father, Father!” She was calling one of the priests; Father Fafard came running to her side and dropped to his knees. Delany lived only long enough to hear the priest administer consolation and say, “You are safe with God, my brother.” These words had just passed Fafard’s lips when Man Who Speaks Another Tongue shot him in the face.  He fell across Delany’s corpse.” (p. 128)

The uprising had passed the point of no return as the rebellious leaders and their followers headed toward Fort Pitt to confront the government forces. It was not many days before the miserable weather, a lack of weapons, food, and other supplies lead to the collapse of the resistance but not before many more had died in skirmishes in the valleys and hills surrounding Harlan, Fort Pitt and Frenchman’s Bute.

The eight Indians, considered to be ring leaders, were arrested and taken to Fort Battleford for trial, the outcome was never in doubt. After being convicted they were hanged on a makeshift gallows within the Fort.

Chief Big Bear, the moderate leader of the Cree, who was present for the hangings, was then put on trial in the belief that he, as the leader, ultimately responsible for the rebellion. After being convicted he spoke eloguently in defence of his people,

“Your Lordship, I am Big Bear, Chief of the Cree’s.  The Northwest was mine. It belonged to me and to my tribe. For many, many years, I ruled it well. Now I am old and ugly; my heart is on the ground. From now on white men with handsome faces will rule this land.

But when the whites were few, I gave them my hand in friendship. No man can ever be witness to any act of violence by Big Bear to any white man. Never did I take the wife man’s horse. Never did I order any one of my people to one act of violence against the white man. I ask for a pardon and help for my tribe. They are hiding in the hills and trees now, afraid to come to the white man’s government.

When the cold moon comes the old and feeble ones, who have done no wrong will perish. The game is scarce. Because I am Big Bear, Chief of the Cree’s, because I have always been a friend of the white man because I have always tried to do good for my tribe, I plead with you now; send help and a pardon to my people. Give them help! Now! I have spoken!”

Big Bear was then sentenced to three years hard labour to be served at the Stoney Mountain Penitentiary in Manitoba. He was taken away in shackles and leg irons and put on a train heading to Stoney Mountain – a proud leader to the very end.

Eighty years later, the following passage, written by our Aunt Hazel about her parents and Grandparents, appears in “The Treasured Scales of the Kinosoo”, a book of life stories of those who settled the Cold Lake area:

Father (referring to her father) was transferred to Onion Lake in 1901, as a Hudson’s Bay Company Agent. He met and married Margaret Delaney. Margaret was the daughter of a native mother and an Irish father. Her father (Aunt Hazel’s Grandfather), John Delany, was killed in the Frog Lake Massacre and she was raised by nuns at Onion Lake. Father was part French and part Scottish and he used to tell us that we were a little bit of everything and not much of anything.” (p. 4)

Hazel and Melvin WheelerAunt Hazel’s was one of thirteen children in the Martineau family. It was a grand family that also included five adopted children saved from the orphanage after the death of their parents.  It is little wonder that Aunt Hazel’s mother was known as ‘Grandma Martineau’ to everyone in the Cold Lake area. She was well into her eighties when she passed away (reference picture of Grandma Martineau sitting on the logs at the Martineau Camp in Chapter 3 of that series).

Photo (Family Files).  Aunt Hazel and Uncle Melvin Wheeler sitting with their two sons, Timmy and Randy at their home in Cold Lake.

The following additional quotes from Aunt Hazel’s notes are added as they relate to other events and people in those early years of our family travels throughout the northwest.

Johnny Cardinal operated the ferry on the North Saskatchewan River near Frog Lake at the time of the Massacre.” (p. 5).  (The Cardinal’s were another well know Cold Lake family).

A group of surveyors worked north of Cold Lake prior to 1910, setting their base camp at an unnamed river which flowed into Cold Lake. They depended upon Adrian (Adrian Martineau, one of Aunt Hazel’s brothers) for their food supplies. On one occasion the supply wagon bogged down due to heavy rains at Onion Lake. When the needed supplies finally arrived the head surveyor announced that he named the river at their base camp Martineau to remind Adrian of the time when he and his men almost starved.” (p. 5)

Adrian passed away in 1944, the year we moved to Cold Lake and lived on the banks of the Martineau River very near the area where the surveyors had almost starved in 1910.

In the summer of 2010, our oldest son, Jay McNeill, and I visited many of the historical sites that stretched from Frog Lake and Onion Lake to Fort Pitt and Fort Battleford. Our visit included a stops at the grave sites of the eight settlers killed at Frog Lake, and the eight Indian leaders hanged and then buried on a sidehill below Fort Battleford.  Considering, Fort Battleford is a National Historic Site, it is a national disgrace that men, the leaders who attempted to help their people, have been relegated to weed infested, rocky sidehill several hundred feet people the Fort.  They were heroes and their history has been largely cast aside in favour of a different narrative of those times.

The graves below Fort Battleford are located no more than a few hundred yards from the spot where our mother, Laura Skarsen (McNeill, nee Wheeler) at five years of age, and with her parents and grandparents, camped in 1924 while their wagon train was on a five day layover when travelling from Sibbald, in southern Alberta, to the Birch Lake, Saskatchewan, to begin new lives homesteading in that area.

Harold McNeill
July, 2010

Link to Next Post: Snakes
Link to Last Post: Old School House (First of Part IV)
Link to Family Stories Index

 

Link here to photo’s of Frog Lake adventure: LINK HERE

September 19, 2012.  The following information was plucked from a Genealogy site:

Also, a note by Phylis Wicker Glicker

Hazel Martineau [Wheeler] daughter of Adrien Louis Napoleon Martineau b. Oct. 18, 1875, St. Boniface, Manitoba, Canada, and Margaret Delaney b. Nov. 30, 1885, Frog Lake, Alberta, Canada. Adrien is the son of Herman Martineau b. Brittany France mar. (1) Annie Macbeth (2) Angeline LaBelle. Herman Martineau is the son of Ovit Martineau b. Brittany, France.
I have just begun researching the Delaneys and Martineau”s so I don’t have much. But I would love to hear from you and share what I have. I was married once to Frank Martineau, grandson of Adrien Louis Napoleon Martineau and would love to learn about Margaret Delaney’s family for mine and my children’s sake.

Email: pwicker@telus.net

Harold Comment:  I am not sure if this is correct, but it seems to fit with the details I have previously researched.

(3806)

(Visited 3,816 times, 1 visits today)

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Trackback from your site.

Comments (6)

  • Michelle Stroyan
    February 13, 2012 at 9:04 am |

    Wow I was so amazed to read this. I am a great grand child of Adrian Martineau, I was looking through some of my dad’s photos trying to reconnect with him and I googled Martineau River and found this page and really enjoyed the stories. Thank you for posting these.

  • February 13, 2012 at 6:08 pm |

    Michelle. And I am so pleased that you found the story and learned a bit more of the history of your family. I was just a little boy when Adrian passed away but over the years our family were friends with many of the Martineau family members. You have inspired me to do a little more work on this story as I never did finish adding the photo’s I collected over the years. Please join me on Facebook as I provide periodic updates to family members via that medium

  • Hutchinson,Kenneth
    September 14, 2014 at 2:12 pm |

    My great uncle,Arthur Leland Mason,I believe lived(homestead?) in “Harlan” just after WW I,in which he served.I was under the impression Harlan was in Alberta,but I have no record of his exact farm site.Would anyone reading this be able to tell me anything more about Harlan and whether I can find any buildings ,people ,etc. Acquainted with Harlan.In honor of Uncle”Archie” as he was known and WW I ,I am trying to piece together what my living relatives cannot help me with.
    Thanks

    • Harold McNeill
      September 14, 2014 at 4:12 pm |

      Hi Kenneth. A little history in some of the other posts and at one time I spoke with several people who lived in the area (or were relatives of those who did. Probably the people I spoke too were relatives of yours. I will send a note out to a few people who may have something to add. Cheers, Harold

  • February 25, 2022 at 2:44 pm |

    Its been a long time since any post here, but its worth a shot. My Grandfather was Hazel Wheelers brother Lawrence, and son to Maggie and Adrien. Maggie Martineau (nee Delaney) is my great grandmother. The books and articles to date are based on the white mans viewpoint and the real story as passed down by the Elders in my family is much more nefarious. Some of the white men were providing food for the Indians in exchange for sexual favors performed by the Squaws. Maggie was the product of one of those encounters. Although I am extremely proud of my family and family name, I am ashamed about this part of it.

    • Harold McNeill
      February 28, 2022 at 9:00 pm |

      Hi Robert, I do remember some of those folks from my early years in Cold Lake (Hazel was my aunt and our family spent many fond times with Uncle Melvin, Aunt Hazel and Family. I knew Lawrence and Adrian. Having read a half dozen accounts it is clear their were many false narratives and, perhaps, a few truths along the way. I tried my best to provide an even account from what I read. Cheers, Harold. (email: Harold@mcneillifestories.com)

Leave a comment

 

Comments

  • Harold McNeill

    February 28, 2022 |

    Hi Robert, I do remember some of those folks from my early years in Cold Lake (Hazel was my aunt and our family spent many fond times with Uncle Melvin, Aunt Hazel and Family. I knew Lawrence and Adrian. Having read a half dozen accounts it is clear their were many false narratives and, perhaps, a few truths along the way. I tried my best to provide an even account from what I read. Cheers, Harold. (email: Harold@mcneillifestories.com)

  • Robert Martineau

    February 25, 2022 |

    Its been a long time since any post here, but its worth a shot. My Grandfather was Hazel Wheelers brother Lawrence, and son to Maggie and Adrien. Maggie Martineau (nee Delaney) is my great grandmother. The books and articles to date are based on the white mans viewpoint and the real story as passed down by the Elders in my family is much more nefarious. Some of the white men were providing food for the Indians in exchange for sexual favors performed by the Squaws. Maggie was the product of one of those encounters. Although I am extremely proud of my family and family name, I am ashamed about this part of it.

  • Julue

    January 28, 2022 |

    Good morning Harold!
    Gosh darn it, you are such a good writer. I hope you have been writing a book about your life. It could be turned into a movie.
    Thanks for this edition to your blog.
    I pray that Canadians will keep their cool this weekend and next week in Ottawa. How do you see our PM handling it? He has to do something and quick!
    Xo Julie

  • Herb Craig

    December 14, 2021 |

    As always awesome job Harold. It seems whatever you do in life the end result is always the same professional, accurate, inclusive and entertaining. You have always been a class act and a great fellow policeman to work with. We had some awesome times together my friend. I will always hold you close as a true friend. Keep up the good work. Hope to see you this summer.
    Warm regards
    Herb Craig

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Hi Dorthy, So glad you found those stories and, yes, they hold many fond memories. Thanks to social media and the blog, I’ve been able to get in touch with many friends from back in the day. Cheers, Harold

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Well, well. Pleased to see your name pop up. I’m in regular contact via FB with many ‘kids’ from back in our HS days (Guy, Dawna, Shirley and others). Also, a lot of Cold Lake friends through FB. Cheers, Harold

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Oh, that is many years back and glad you found the story. I don’t have any recall of others in my class other than the Murphy sisters on whose farm my Dad and Mom worked.

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Pleased to hear from you Howie and trust all is going well. As with you, I have a couple of sad stories of times in my police career when I crossed paths with Ross Barrington Elworthy. Just haven’t had the time to write those stories.

  • Howie Siegel

    November 25, 2021 |

    My only fight at Pagliacci’s was a late Sunday night in 1980 (?) He ripped the towel machine off the bathroom wall which brought me running. He came after me, I grabbed a chair and cracked him on the head which split his skull and dropped him. I worried about the police finding him on the floor. I had just arrived from Lasqueti Island and wasn’t convinced the police were my friends. I dragged him out to Broad and Fort and left him on the sidewalk, called the cops. They picked him up and he never saw freedom again (as far as I know). I found out it was Ross Elworthy.

  • Herbert Plain

    November 24, 2021 |

    Just read you article on Pibroch excellent. My Dad was Searle Grain company agent we move there in 1942/3 live in town by the hall for 5 years than moved one mile east to the farm on the corner where the Pibroch road meets Hwy 44. Brother Don still lives there. I went to school with you and Louise.