The Canadian government mobilized the Northwest Field Force under Major General Frederick Middleton. The militia was to stop Riel and quell uprisings by the Indians that had broken out near Battleford and Fort Pitt. Battalions were dispatched on the not-yet completed Canadian Pacific Railway. The CPR was near bankruptcy, and was literally saved by the Rebellion, a fact which has led to several conspiracy theories.
General Middleton had a simple plan; three columns of troops would move north from three different points along the railway to intervene in the threatened areas. General Middleton started at Troy and moved toward Batoche and the Métis; Colonel Otter left from Swift Current for Battleford to confront Chief Poundmaker; and General Strange and his French-Canadian troops headed north from Calgary to Edmonton and then down the Saskatchewan River for Big Bear's encampment near Fort Pitt. The steamer "The Northcote" was sent up the South Saskatchewan River with troops and supplies. Middleton also had acquired a new military weapon that was making news in the United States; the vaunted Gatling Gun.
Gabriel Dumont and 350 Métis were to defend Batoche. Dumont believed that the only effective way of accomplishing this was by a quick surprising strike and an immediate withdrawal. Riel was opposed to this plan. He wanted to avoid violence as long as possible, in the hope of carrying negotiations through to a successful conclusion. This attitude of Riel and his lack of support for his General Dumont, had disastrous consequences for the Métis, as it enabled Middleton to advance to batoche in safety. Dumont's next strategy was to set a trap for Middleton at Fish Creek.
On April 24, 1885, Riel and Dumont set out from Batoche with 200 Métis. As they arrived at Fish Creek, Riel once again changed his mind and wanted the Métis to return to Batoche. At that moment a messenger brought word to them that another Mounted Police detachment was approaching Batoche from the direction of Qu'Appelle. Dumont sent 50 men back to Batoche under Riel's leadership. When the soldiers attacked at Fish Creek, the soldiers fought from the open at the top of the coulee where they were easy targets. Many of them were killed. In the fighting, the Métis were forced to gradually withdraw to the bottom of the coulee where they were hidden and protected by thick willow bushes. With Gabriel Dumont in command, the battle of Fish Creek ended in a stalemate which the Métis regarded as a victory because they had succeeded in checking the Middleton's advance and caused heavy losses to the government troops.
During this time, the Métis Provisional government held regular meetings. Their government decided that Riel's position was that of a prophet. Each morning, Riel brought new religious ideas to be discussed and voted on. Also, many of them accepted Riel's belief that God would use a miracle to help the Métis win the next battle. Métis people were very religious, having been influenced from the beginning of their nation building by the Roman Catholic Church and in particular, the Grey Nuns of Montreal. Their faith in Riel during this period of time is to be expected; however, within a few days, things would change dramatically.
Meanwhile, Dumont made plans to defend the village of Batoche. A series of rifle pits were dug around the village. Dumont sent messengers to ask all the Indians in the Northwest to join the Métis. Big Bear and Poundmaker were dealing with their own issues and their own battles, which kept them at a distance and they were not able to assist the Métis directly. Dumont had only 250 men to face 850 soldiers.
Cautious after Fish Creek, Middleton stopped for two weeks to rest his men. The final battle took place from May 9th to 12th at Batoche. The Métis were dug in and trenches stretched the perimeter of the village. Middleton decided to attack Batoche from two sides at the same time. He planned to have a boat sent down the river to Batoche where it would attack from the west. Meanwhile, Middleton would lead his soldiers in an attack from the east. The steamer "Northcote" was prepared for battle by changing it into a gunboat. To provide protection from the Métis gunfire, the army used boards from Dumont's house and barn, part of Dumont's pool table and some food sacks. Dumont's house was then looted and burned. Thirty-five soldiers took up positions on th the gunboat, and it started down the river towards Batoche.
As the gunboat reached Batoche, many of the Métis and Indians left their rifle pits and ran to the riverbank. There was an exchange of fire. As the boat passed Batoche, the Métis lowered a ferry cable they had strung across the river causing the smokestacks, spars, and steam whistle to be knocked over. The gunboat drifted out of control, on down the river. It did not return. This was Canada's first and only inland Naval war in her history.
Middleton and his soldiers marched towards Batoche. They arrived an hour late, so the gunboat had already passed and the Métis and Indians were back in their rifle pits. Middleton had field guns and fired at the village of Batoche. The women and children fled in terror. Middleton began to attack with his soldiers. But the Métis men were fairly safe in their rifle pits which had been carefully hidden in the bushes. Once again, Middleton's soldiers fought from higher ground where they were easy targets. At the end of the first day of fighting, Middleton believed he was losing.
The next morning, Middleton decided to delay a major attack. His men needed a rest, and he hoped that the Métis defense would weaken with time. For the next two days, Middleton made use of his field guns and the gatling gun, but he avoided a major attack. The Métis continued to use up their ammunition.
By the morning of the fourth day, some of the Métis had realized that the battle was hopeless, so they left. Many of the Métis that remained were old men. They were running out of bullets. Some were firing stones from their shotguns. As the armies fought in the distance, a group of Métis in the town asked Riel to work a miracle. Middleton's army became over anxious and while Middleton was indisposed, they began a frontal attack. The attack was poorly organized and allowed many of the Métis to escape to the safety of the bushes. Riel and Dumont fled as well.
For three days the Métis defenders battled innumerable odds and superior weaponry. With ammunition running out, the defenders had to resort to using nails and other metal fragments in place of bullets. Badly outnumbered, the Métis were driven from their trenches and forced to surrender on May 12, the fourth day of the battle.
With the May 12 defeat of the Métis, Batoche was lost, families were scattered and the people lived in fear for themselves or their relatives who might be wounded and prosecuted(as had occurred 15 years earlier when the Red River Resistance came to its conclusion). Suddenly Batoche, the last great vestige of Métis dominion and the old way of life on the Western Plains caved in to military control.
One by one, women and men began to turn themselves in to General Middleton's forces. In the process their weapons were confiscated despite protests that it would leave them without a means to hunt for food. As in past battles "To the victor go the spoils". Batoche was no exception. With the disappearance or imprisonment of the Métis; their cabins, farmlands, and possessions were ripe for the taking. Neither Middleton or the clergy were above reproach as they too participated in the looting.
The impact and influence of the clergy in the community quickly vanished. During the battle the priests had attempted to talk the Métis out of fighting for what they believed in were their rights. When the Métis would not do what the Clergy wanted, the clergy acted as informants and passed on vital information gathered by the English Métis (in particular Charles Nolin) to the military. The priests also tried to blackmail the people by refusing to adminster the sacraments (holy communion) to those taking up arms and following Riel. Accidently, they denounced Riel as a heretic and when it came time to give up, they too collected Métis weapons as if they themselves were the military. With little faith left in the community for the church, members of the clergy such as Fathers Fourmond and Vegreville were finished. The parish at St. Louis was abandoned, and Fourmond hightailed it to Prince Albert.
The ones who truly suffered, though, were the Métis. The human misery and suffering created by the conflicts along the valley of the South Saskatchewan was staggering. Families lost track fo their children. Many women, left behind when their men went to support Riel and Dumont, were without food, shelter or adequate clothing. They dared not return to their homes as those were being ransacked by soldiers; who, they thought, might imprison them as well as their men folk. Many had fled to the security of the woods and the caves that the women of the Métis Nation created a flag (the original Métis flag) in support of the battle.
One of the familes Dumont assisted was Louis Riel's. Nobody knew where Riel was. For three days Dumont looked high and low for Riel. Finally thinking that Riel may have already turned himself in, Dumont took Riel's wife, Marguerite, and her two children to his father's home, Isidore Dumont. Isidore advised Gabriel to abandon his fight, to cease his hunt for Riel and to strike out for Montana where it was safe. He had no choice. Leaving behind his wife, Dumont bid farewell to his family and rode south with Michael Dumas. About a year after reaching the safety of the United States, Dumont joined Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. After that, thousands of people paid to see Dumont demonstrate his riding and shooting talents. In 1886, the Canadian Government declared a general amnesty. Eight years after the fighting, Dumont returned home where he spent his remaining years hunting and farming.
The two leaders reacted differently to this defeat. Both were hidden in the woods and ravines around Batoche. Riel withdrew into the woods to pray. He made no attempt to flee. When Middleton demanded that he surrender, he replied that he would give himself up to fulfill God's will and that he wanted freedom for all his council and his people. He would surrender so that he could continue to defend the Métis cause. Riel's destiny was to be played out in a trial in Regina.
The resistance was over. Poundmaker surrendered on May 23, but Big Bear was still at large. He was attempting to restore the unity which had existed on the plains. by the time Big Bear's people reached Loon Lake, some camped there while others, including prisoners went on. Shortly after this the Colonel Strange's soldiers caught up and attacked the camp. About five Indians were killed. With his braves dying of hunger and no more ammunition left, Big Bear finally gave himself up on July 2. This was the last of the fighting in the Northwest Rebellion.
The subsequent trial of Riel, the Métis and Indian participants continues to be controversial in modern day Canada. It entrenched attitudes toward not only Métis people, but all of Canada's Aboriginal people. As well it further exacerbated the widening rift between English and French patriots.