The Battle of O'Brien's Coulee: 1848
During the summer of 1848, the Nakawiniuk Band of Ojibwe-Metis – consisting of over 1,000 Red River carts, 800 Metis men, 200 Ojibwe men, and their families – was hunting in the vicinity of what is now present-day Olga, North Dakota. The leaders of the hunting party were Chiefs Red Bear and Little Shell II, and Metis leader Jean Baptiste Wilkie.
The Nakawiniuk were camped near O’Brien’s coulee. To the west of the camp lay a narrow lake, about 100 yards wide. A hunter from the camp was near the shore of the lake when he heard the sound of a drum coming from across the lake. He was able to ascertain that the Sioux were holding a dance at their camp. The hunter quickly returned to camp and reported this to Red Bear, Little Shell, and Wilkie.
Later that night, the assembled Nakawiniuk warriors moved to the Sioux camp after the camp was mostly asleep. They took position in the night on the shore of the lake up the bank on a small hill. When morning came the warriors swarmed down to the shore and began to fire on the Sioux across the narrow space. The Sioux saw them at once and rushed out to fight. The battle was pitched; yells intermingled with shots; the guttural calls of the Sioux and the high pitched cries of the Ojibwe and the echoing report of the old flintlocks sounded. The Ojibwe guarded each end of the lake to keep the Sioux back. Many Sioux ponies were killed and some Sioux, who were mainly on horseback, were shot from their horses.
On the Nakawiniuk side, three were killed; the father of Flying Nice was one. A Sioux warrior was killed at the south end of the lake by an Ojibwe on horseback. The warrior had no gun and he couldn’t escape, so he resigned himself to death, folded his blanket around himself, and was shot through the chest. His body was scalped and left.
The Sioux sent a man on horseback west to a larger camp about ten miles away that had about 1,000 warriors as reinforcements. The reinforcements came up to the fight about dark and drove the Nakawiniuk from the end of the lake and back to their own camp, following a small creek two miles away. The Sioux did not dare go farther than the creek because it was very dark.
At first light, the Nakawiniuk were busy fortifying their camp against a Sioux attack. The women did most of the work with their turnip spades; digging trenches and foxholes for the warriors. The Red River carts were then placed in the ditch lengthwise with the hitch part of it facing out. This fortification enclosed the camp and horses. Then, the Nakawiniuk waited for the attack.
As they were waiting, the Nakawiniuk noticed a man hobbling across the prairie towards the camp. It was a Red Lake Ojibwe warrior named White Shell. White Shell was shot during the battle through both hips. He had hidden all night, and in the dawn he started to hobble toward the camp using his gun as a crutch. Soon, a party was sent out on horseback to save him just as the Sioux were approaching. A warrior named “Big Indian” (Kichi-anishnaabe) and two friends went out and met White Shell where he had stumbled and fallen about a mile from camp. A Metis man named Francois Corvin Gosselin was one of the party. He gave up his horse to the wounded man, but because Gosselin was a short, fat man, he soon lagged behind the men on their horses. Upon seeing this, Kitchi-anishinaabe jumped off his horse and gave it to Gosselin, while he ran along. The Sioux pursued them, but they were able to get back to their camp fortifications in time, and after realizing that they could not successfully attack the Nakawiniuk bastion, the Sioux retreated and by early in the afternoon they had all gone.
This battle took place near what is now present-day Olga, North Dakota.
For more information, read: Metis Battles: Battle at Olga (O’Brien’s Coulée) and the “Bataille “des la Rivière Outardes” (Goose River) by Lawrence Barkwell.
A collaborative effort of members of the Ojibwe and Metis communities