Memorable Manitobans: Peguis [William King] (c1774-1864)
Born near what is now Sault Ste. Marie about 1774, as a young man he led a band of his tribe westward to the Red River, where they established themselves at Netley Creek. He had four sons and three daughters. When the Selkirk colonists arrived at Red River in 1812 they found a friend in Peguis. Through 1815 and 1816 he warned Governor Semple, the second Governor of the Settlement, of the plans of the Nor’westers to destroy the Red River Settlement. The Governor failed to heed the warning and he and twenty of his men lost their lives at Seven Oaks. Afterwards, Peguis and Louis Nolin helped bury the dead.
On 20 July 1817, Lord Selkirk made a treaty with the Cree and Saulteaux through Peguis, the most powerful chief in the region. He was presented with a treaty medal and document, attesting to the value placed on his friendship by the Red River Settlement. In 1855 George Simpson, Governor of the Hudson’s Bay Company, presented him with a similar document and an annual pension from the Company. In that year he attended the annual Council at Norway House and was honoured by being included at the table with George Simpson and the Chief Factors.
In 1832, Missionary William Cockran persuaded Peguis and a few of his people to settle in a community just north of present-day Selkirk, which by 1836 was known as St. Peter’s. He was baptized into the Anglican Church in 1840, giving up three of his four wives so to do. He took the name William King, and his children used the last name Prince, including Henry Prince.
Among his friends he counted the Reverend John West, the first Church of England missionary in the West, and his successor, the Reverend David Jones. He held to the old Indian beliefs and observances, but when he decided to become a Christian he successfully complied with the missionaries’ requirement that he maintain a two-year period of abstinence. When the first Bishop of Rupert’s Land, Right Reverend David Anderson, came out from England in 1849, he also became the friend of Peguis.
In 1860 he protested to the Aborigines’ Protection Society that he had been deprived of land he had never formally surrendered; the case was not resolved until after his death. Colin Inkster recalled him as “short in stature, with a strong, well-knit frame, and the voice of an orator.” His nose had been bitten off in a fracas around 1802, and he was often known as “Chief Cut-Nose.”
Peguis lived to his ninetieth year, dying in 1864. Archdeacons Cowley and Hunter officiated at his funeral.
Pioneers and Early Citizens of Manitoba, Winnipeg: Manitoba Library Association, 1971.
Dictionary of Manitoba Biography by John M. “Jack” Bumsted, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1999.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 14 May 2022