Red River Raids Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

These small but bloody conflicts between commercial traders and their Native American allies and settlers fighting for control of the fur trade in southern Manitoba were ultimately inconclusive but retarded the development of the region.

Summary of Event

In 1811, Thomas Douglas, fifth earl of Selkirk, bought a large number of shares in the Hudson’s Bay Company Hudson’s Bay Company[Hudsons Bay Company] , England’s largest fur-trading company. In return, he received 116,000 square miles of land in the Red River Valley in what is now southern Manitoba, immediately north of the Dakota Territory of the United States. In this huge territory, he planned to build a community called Assiniboia, after the name of a local river. Its colonists were to grow food, mainly potatoes, Potatoes;and Red River colony[Red River colony] for Hudson’s Bay Company trappers but would not be allowed to trap or trade in furs. Selkirk hoped to recruit farmers suffering from an agricultural depression in his native Scotland to settle the land. Red River raids (1815-1817) Manitoba;Red River raids (1815-1817) Red River (Manitoba) Fur trade;and Red River raids[Red River raids] Selkirk, fifth earl of Metis;and Red River raids[Red River raids] Assiniboia Native Canadians;Red River raids [kw]Red River Raids (June 1, 1815-Aug., 1817) [kw]Raids, Red River (June 1, 1815-Aug., 1817) [kw]River Raids, Red (June 1, 1815-Aug., 1817) Red River raids (1815-1817) Manitoba;Red River raids (1815-1817) Red River (Manitoba) Fur trade;and Red River raids[Red River raids] Selkirk, fifth earl of Metis;and Red River raids[Red River raids] Assiniboia Native Canadians;Red River raids [g]Canada;June 1, 1815-Aug., 1817: Red River Raids[0800] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;June 1, 1815-Aug., 1817: Red River Raids[0800] [c]Trade and commerce;June 1, 1815-Aug., 1817: Red River Raids[0800] Macdonell, Miles Semple, Robert

Selkirk sent an advance party, led by Miles Macdonell, Macdonell, Miles a retired army officer from Scotland, to establish an initial base and appointed Macdonell the colony’s first governor. Macdonell’s party of thirty-six Scottish and Irish farmers arrived on August 29, 1812. They settled near the junction of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers, in what is now Winnipeg. The settlement, called Point Douglas, was only a few miles from a North West Company North West Company post known as Fort Gibraltar.

Selkirk’s original settlement had great difficulty surviving its first years on the prairie. Only help from fur traders Fur trade;and Native Americans[Native Americans] and Metis working for the North West Company, the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Hudson’s Bay Company[Hudsons Bay Company] major rival for furs in the region, enabled Macdonell’s group to survive. The term Metis, from a French word meaning “mixed,” was used to describe people of French-Indian or English-Indian descent. (Sometimes these people were also called the Bois Brulés.) Written with a small m, the word refers to all persons of mixed blood, but with a capital M, it signifies a distinct cultural and ethnic group living in the region of southern Manitoba. These people were descended from marriages between Native American women and European fishermen on Canada’s Atlantic coast during the early seventeenth century. By 1810, the Metis had moved into buffalo Buffalo;and Metis[Metis] country on the northern Great Plains. Many were employed as buffalo Buffalo;and fur trade[Fur trade] hunters by the North West Company North West Company to provide provisions for its trappers.

Thomas Douglas, fifth earl of Selkirk.

(Library and Archives Canada)

During the second year, eighty more immigrants arrived at the Red River colony. Their presence greatly increased the colony’s chance for survival. They started growing wheat, barley, oats, and corn, but potatoes Potatoes;and Red River colony[Red River colony] remained their principal crop. Some of the settlers also had brought sheep with them. They settled during the War of 1812 War of 1812 (1812-1814);and Manitoba[Manitoba] , between Great Britain and the United States, while larger British forces were engaging Napoleon’s armies in Europe.

Macdonell Macdonell, Miles proved to be an arrogant and unpopular governor, and he engaged in major conflicts with North West Company trappers and Native Americans. As the population of his colony expanded to more than two hundred Europeans in 1814, he sought to prevent food shortages by prohibiting the export of pemmican from his lands. Buffalo hunters made pemmican—a key food source for trappers and Metis—from dried strips of buffalo meat that they pounded into a powder, mixed with melted fat, and stored in buffalo-skin bags.

The governor also angered local trappers and Metis by prohibiting the export of pemmican from Assiniboia after January 8, 1814. This order made it difficult for employees of the North West Company North West Company to get food, since U.S. troops had recently recaptured the company’s key trading post of Detroit, from which food supplies for trappers had been sent west. Now both sources of provisions, Assiniboia and Detroit, were cut off. The trappers for the North West Company saw the Pemmican Proclamation as part of a Hudson’s Bay Company Hudson’s Bay Company[Hudsons Bay Company] plot to destroy their business. At a meeting in August, the company’s trappers decided to destroy the Red River colony and take back control of the region. To accomplish this goal, the company needed the support of the Metis population of the upper Assiniboine River Valley.

Macdonell Macdonell, Miles angered the Metis by prohibiting them from killing buffalo in his colony. By contrast, the North West Company recognized the Metis as a new nation and accepted their title to lands occupied by Selkirk’s colonists. Thus, the North West Company and the Metis joined together to drive out the Assiniboia settlers. In 1815, agents of the North West Company arrested Governor Macdonell and took him to Montreal Montreal for trial. He was charged with interfering with Native American rights in what the North West Company claimed was Indian territory. While the governor stood trial in the east, the Metis attacked the colonists along the Red River, drove them from their homes, and burned their fields.

Only one colonist remained in the community after the attack, but he managed to save some of the wheat crop. When a few new settlers, under the leadership of Colin Robertson Robertson, Colin , returned in the fall, they harvested enough grain to ensure their survival. A few weeks later, a relief party sent out by Lord Selkirk made it to the Red River. Led by the newly appointed governor, Robert Semple Semple, Robert , the settlement began to rebuild. When news of this development reached the headquarters of the North West Company North West Company , orders were sent out to destroy the village again. Violence spread into the area again in the spring of 1816. Robertson led a force that took control of the North West Company’s Fort Gibraltar in May, giving Assiniboians control of the river.

On June 1, Metis set out on the Assiniboine River in three boats filled with pemmican. When Robertson heard this news, he ordered the abandonment of Fort Gibraltar and left the colony for England. The Metis continued their journey and reached the Red River at Frog Plain, below the Hudson’s Bay Company Hudson’s Bay Company[Hudsons Bay Company];trading posts settlement. On June 19, Governor Semple Semple, Robert set out with twenty-five colonists to intercept the Metis. At a point in the woods called Seven Oaks Seven Oaks Massacre (1815) , the Metis confronted Semple’s band. A Metis man named Boucher rode out to talk with Semple, but after they exchanged a few words, a fight broke out between them and a gun was fired. Firing then began from all sides, but the colonists quickly were surrounded by a much larger force and twenty men, including Semple, were killed. The remaining six men escaped into the woods. Only one Metis was killed. The Seven Oaks Massacre gave the North West Company North West Company control of the Red River territory once again.

Despite this setback, Lord Selkirk did not give up on his colony. He hired a band of mercenaries to recapture control. Selkirk led the force himself and in June of 1817 returned to Assiniboia after destroying a North West Company outpost. He quickly signed a treaty with local Metis allowing resettlement of the region. Fields were restored, seeds were planted, and settlers brought in a small crop before winter arrived. New colonists from Scotland’s Orkney Islands then arrived, along with a small group of French Canadians. Selkirk provided money for a school and a church, and Roman Catholic Roman Catholics;missionaries Missionaries;and Native Americans[Native Americans] and Presbyterian Presbyterians;missionaries missionaries began to work among the Cree Crees and Assiniboin Indians living along the Red River.


The colony seemed to be at peace at last, but the following summer brought further disaster. In August, 1817, a vast swarm of locusts attacked Assiniboia. Most of the potato Potatoes;and Red River colony[Red River colony] crop was killed, forcing many farmers to abandon their land. Locusts came again in 1819 and devastated the entire prairie. No food or seed remained in the entire valley. Settlers had to send a party all the way into the Wisconsin Wisconsin Territory to buy seeds for a new potato crop. Lord Selkirk’s death in 1820 was another major setback for the community, and it would be several years before farmers grew enough to feed the local population. Buffalo Buffalo;and Metis[Metis] herds continued to provide subsistence during hard times. The Metis hunted the buffalo and sold their hides and meat to the farmers. Gradually, however, the native peoples and the new settlers learned to live together and end their hostilities.

While the Red River colony was becoming a permanent part of the landscape, the right for control of the fur trade Fur trade was waged in the courts. Shortages of fur-bearing animals east of the Rocky Mountains brought economic problems to both companies. In 1821, the companies merged and ended their fighting. The Seven Oaks Massacre Seven Oaks Massacre (1815) was the worst single incident in the great battle for control of Canada’s fur trade.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Brown, Jennifer S. Strangers in Blood: Fur Trade Families in Indian Country. 1980. Reprint. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1996. Discusses the development of the Metis people in eastern Canada and the Great Plains from the seventeenth century to the twentieth century.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Brown, Jennifer S. H., Jacqueline Peterson, Robert K. Thomas, and Marcel Giraud, eds. New Peoples: Being and Becoming Métis in North America. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 2001. Part of a series on the history of Manitoba’s Indian societies.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Davidson, Gordon Charles. The North West Company. New York: Russell & Russell, 1967. A history of the development and expansion of the second largest fur company in North America.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Morton, W. L. Manitoba: A History. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1967. One chapter is devoted to the importance of the Red River colony. Presents a decidedly old-fashioned view of the métis, referring to them as “halfbreeds” and “savages.”
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Pritchett, John Perry. Red River Valley, 1811-1849: A Regional Study. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1942. Contains an almost minute-by-minute account of the Seven Oaks Massacre.

American Fur Company Is Chartered

First Riel Rebellion

Great American Buffalo Slaughter

Ukrainian Mennonites Begin Settling in Canada

Canada’s Indian Act

Second Riel Rebellion Begins

Related Article in <i>Great Lives from History: The Nineteenth Century, 1801-1900</i>

David Thompson. Red River raids (1815-1817) Manitoba;Red River raids (1815-1817) Red River (Manitoba) Fur trade;and Red River raids[Red River raids] Selkirk, fifth earl of Metis;and Red River raids[Red River raids] Assiniboia Native Canadians;Red River raids

Categories: History