A decisive Battle along the Pembina Gorge
During the mid-summer of 1848, a large battle between the Sioux and the Red Lake and Pembina Bands took place at O’Brien’s Coulee, near present day Olga, North Dakota.
The Red Lake and Pembina contingent was an organized hunting camp made up of about 800 half-breeds and 200 full-bloods (and their families) led by Misko Makwa (Red Bear), Ais-ence (Little Shell II), and Jean Baptiste Wilkie.
During the evening, an Ojibwe hunter was near the edge of O’Brien’s coulee when heard the sound of a Sioux drum coming from across it. During the night, the Ojibwe took positions on the edge of the coulee and up the bank on a small hill. When morning came, they swarmed down and began to fire on the Sioux across the coulee. During the battle, the Ojibwe guarded each end of the coulee to try to keep the Sioux trapped. Many Sioux ponies were killed and some Sioux were also killed, including one man who was killed at the south end of the coulee trying to escape. He was unarmed and when he realized that he could not get away, he folded his blanket around himself and was shot in the chest. Of the Ojibwe, three were killed, including the father of Flying Nice. Four others were wounded, but all lived.
The Sioux were eventually able to break through and send a man on horseback to a larger camp about 10 miles to the west that contained about 1,000 warriors. These reinforcements arrived back to the coulee around dark and drove the Ojibwe back about two miles to the southeast, to a small coulee near their camp, but the Sioux dared not press the fighting any further because it was very dark that night.
The next morning, the Ojibwe were busy fortifying their camp. The women did most of the work with their turnip spades, digging trenches and foxholes. Once this work was complete, the Ojibwe placed their ox carts in a defensive position to provide additional cover if the Sioux were to attack. An Ojibwe scout reported that the Sioux were concentrated on a hill to the southeast, about one mile away, but by before noon they had all gone.
Shortly after the Sioux had left, an Ojibwe named White Shell, who was shot through both hips during the first engagement and had hidden all night at the coulee, was seen hobbling across the prairie toward the Ojibwe camp using his gun as a crutch. A party on horseback went out to help him just as the Sioux returned to the hill.
Big Indian (Gitchi-Anishiinabe), Little Duck, and another Red Laker were among the group that went to rescue White Shell . While making his way, White Shell fell about one-mile out. The rescue party finally reached him. Francois Gosselin gave his horse to White Shell, but because Gosselin was a big, heavy man, the Ojibwe were having a slow retreat since he could not walk fast enough to keep up with the horses. Big Indian gave Gosselin his horse and he ran along with the group. The Sioux pursued them, but they were able to make it back to camp safely.
The Sioux soon retreated and the battle was over.
A collaborative effort of members of the Ojibwe and Metis communities