The Red Lake Ojibwe take a scalp at Portage La Prairie
In 1856, a party of Red Lake Ojibwe traveling to Portage La Prairie, Manitoba, to visit Pacheto Tanner, son of famous white captive John Tanner, encountered a group of Sioux who were camped there. The Ojibwe stayed as guests of Pacheto at his house during their visit, but enjoyed several meetings with the Sioux who wanted to establish a peace basis with them. The Sioux were anxious to arrive at a peaceful end with the Ojibwe, but the Ojibwe always postponed any agreement, apparently more anxious for feasting and amusement than anything else.
Eventually, an event occurred which showed the true design of their visit.
Near to Pacheto’s home was the home of a man by the name of Spence, who was very sickly and confined the greater part of the time to his bed. His wife, was taking care of most of the household business and work around the place. She had hired a young Sioux—probably between 15 and 18 years of age—to help around the house. One day she and the young boy had to go for hay on the plains. She was driving one cart and he was driving another. The Ojibwe saw them returning from their task and could not resist the temptation of an easily attained Sioux scalp.
Concealing themselves in the long grass along the trail, they waited until the Mother Spence had passed in her cart. As the unsuspecting Sioux boy came down the river road to a point where they were hidden—near a saw pit—they emerged and with a yell they rushed out, brandishing their tomahawks and knives. The Sioux boy, seeing that it meant life or death to him, dodged around the cart for some time, but was speedily headed off and shot. Before his body could fall to the ground an Ojibwe took his scalping knife and had made a circle round the top of his head and pulled off his scalp lock. Then he held up the body until every man of them, seven in number, had plunged their knives into the unfortunate boy.
After further mutilating the remains in a manner too horrible to relate, they threw the body into the old saw pit, threw the scalp upon the ground, and danced around it with glee. Having indulged in this for some time they retired to Pacheto’s house. Mother Spence drove on as if nothing had happened, not noticing the murder of her hired man.
After the Ojibwe had returned to Pacheto’s house, the Sioux congregated around the old sawpit and found the boy’s body. Swinging their blankets, they shouted for the Ojibwe to come out and fight, calling them cowards and other scornful epithets in their language. The Ojibwe would not come out of the house to fight, and after a while the Sioux retired to their camp carrying with them the lad’s mutilated body. After the Sioux had got to a safe distance, the Ojibwe came out of the house and challenged them to fight, calling them also cowards and other names.
This war of words continued for a day or two, during which the Sioux finally gave up trying to draw the Ojibwe to fight. The Ojibwe eventually left Pacheto’s house and returned to their camping ground at Red Lake.
From Manitoba: History of Its Early Settlement, Development, and Resources. By Robert B. Hill
A collaborative effort of members of the Ojibwe and Metis communities