Manitoba Historical Society
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The Big Woman Befriends the Sioux

by Douglas Kemp

Manitoba Pageant, January 1957

This article was published originally in Manitoba Pageant by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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This story and many others about the Indians of the Northwest may be found in Turner's official story of The North West Mounted Police.

We are often advised that we should not make quick judgments about people whom we do not know too well. I daresay that many of us have built up quite definite ideas about the North American Indians some of which may be right and some wrong. However that may be, here is a true story that will give you a view of the Indians' behaviour.

The story has to do with that well known tribe, the Sioux, and it took place in the winter of 1876 just north of the boundary between Canada and the United States in the Wood Mountain region. The Sioux had taken part in that now famous battle with the United States Cavalry known as Custer's Massacre and they were being hunted down by troops of the "Long Knives," as the Indians called the American soldiers. No longer able to avoid being caught by the Americans the Sioux fled to Canada for safety. Before coming across the border in large numbers, however, they sent a small party to try to find out how they would be received and it is with this party that the story begins.

Twelve Sioux under the leadership of Little Knife rode across the border from a large encampment to the south and halted before the trading post of Jean Louis Legare.

Legare was not disturbed when the horses' noses appeared at his window, and above them the grim visages of the visitors who, in the bitter cold, sat huddled in buffalo robes. No attention was paid them. After half an hour or so Little Knife dismounted, opened the door and stood silently for a long time, then slowly walked in, paying no attention to Legare or several others in the room. Sitting down on the floor he called to the others one by one. The door remained open letting in the cold. For about two hours the twelve Indians remained seated on the floor.

Suddenly Little Knife jumped up and shook hands with each of the white people. His companions did the same. One, named Crow, stood in the middle of the floor and made a brief speech: "We left the American side because we could not sleep. We heard that the Big Woman was very good to her children and we came to this country to sleep quietly."

Then they begged for provisions, got them and departed. The following day a regular mob turned up. The Big Woman, by the way, was kind to these Indians and they slept peacefully for many a day.

Page revised: 30 June 2009

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