Skip to content

Caught in the middle

Bresaylor Happenings
Bresaylor Museum
Bresaylor Museum. Photo submitted

In the spring of 1885, the Bresaylor settlement was in turmoil with pressure from both sides. On April 1, many of the Bresaylor residents fled to the fort in Battleford. Some stayed, as they had their livestock and belongings to protect and Chief Poundmaker had said the Bresaylor settlers would be safe. When the Frog Lake Massacre occurred April 2, the remaining Bresaylor residents began to wonder if they really were safe.

On the night of April 3, Alex Bremner and Alexis Dennison rode to the fort under the cover of darkness to request an escort to bring the rest of the Bresaylor settlers into the fort. The two men were arrested on suspicion of planning to lead the escort into an ambush and charged with treason.

The following day Philip and Mary McDonald’s two-year old son, William, died from the traumatic trip to the fort. While waiting for a mounted police escort, Charles Bremner, loaded up $40,000 (at 1885 prices) worth of furs which he had bought, trapped and traded for over the winter.

Chief Poundmaker also began to worry if the Bresaylor people would be safe as he had promised. He took the remaining settlers, including Father Cochin, to Cut Knife Hill as prisoners for their own protection. Charles Bremner’s furs went with the group. The ordeal was too much for Charles’ mother, who was around 90 years old. She passed away on the trip to Cut Knife Hill and was buried along the trail.

According to one of the prisoners, some radicals were threatening Poundmaker, trying to get him to turn the settlers over to them. It was said that Poundmaker, being a man of his word, let his hair down and told the prisoners to do what they had to do to protect themselves, but he would be outside their tents and the radicals would have to go through him first. He sat outside the settlers’ tents all night with his rifle across his knees. Poundmaker would have given his life for the Bresaylor residents. In the morning Colonel Otter’s troops were approaching and the matter was forgotten.

On May 26, when Poundmaker surrendered to General Middleton, the Bresaylor men who had been held prisoner, were arrested and charged with treason. Charles Bremner’s furs were also confiscated. The men were sent to jail in Regina until late fall when they were released without trial.

Some of the Bresaylors settlers returned to their homes in the fall to rebuild. Others stayed at the fort in Battleford until the following spring.

General Middleton took Charles Bremner’s furs to England where he sold them. Charles spent years in court trying to get reimbursement from the government for his furs. Finally, after 13 years he received a settlement of only $5,364, far lower than the $40,000 value.

The Bresaylor settlers who went to the fort for protection were compensated from the government for their losses. Those who were prisoners in Poundmaker’s camp received no compensation.

Check out the Bresaylor Heritage Museum Facebook page for more information. The museum is open by appointment only from June 9 to Aug. 31. Please phone 306-895-4813.