An infamous anniversary: 130 years since Canada’s Largest Mass Hanging 27 November 1885

Photo from Tyrone Tootsis – Taken at Fort Battleford. First, second and third men from left , and first and second from right were among those hanged November 27, 1885. Yellow Mud Blanket and Poundmaker (fourth and fifth from the left) lived to be tried later. A day the Cree Nation should never forget

Paraphrasing Tyrone Tootoosis from Facebook:

The eight Cree warriors that were hanged knew nothing of the legal system, and had no legal counsel or other advice. No defense was mounted. No reference was made to their victimization via Sir John A. MacDonald’s publicly stated policy of keeping the Indians as close as possible to starvation – and the hardline engraveforcement of that position by Indian Agent T.T. Quinn (the first to be killed at Frog Lake). Sir John A., knowing that Treason-Felony was a non-capital offence, personally ordered that the eight should be tried on charges of murder. The hanging was as good as done before the trial even began.

The eight Cree warriors hanged that day were buried in a mass grave at Fort Battleford, where this marker was placed many years later. Their names were Wandering Spirit, Round the Sky, Bad Arrow, Miserable Man, Iron Body, Little Bear, Itka, Charles Ducharme. [quoting Tootoosis – not the gravestone]

Students from the Battleford Industrial School were brought out to watch, according to another version of the story from a 1972 edition of Saskatchewan Indian: Contemporaneous newspaper stories (reporting daily on the trial) seem to undermine this detail, reporting that the school had been taken over as barracks for the visiting court staff and military support – and the prisoners – children would presumably have been sent home to make room. Photo (below) from the Facebook collection of Paul Seesequasis.

Battleford Industrial School 1885 - Students assembled to watch hanging
Battleford Industrial School 1885 – Students assembled to watch hanging

The wife and child of Kitahwahken (Miserable Man) were also photographed at Battleford in 1885. (From the Facebook collection of Paul Seesequasis) Battleford85

Read more about the events at Frog Lake at

November 2018: Doug Cuthand, Saskatoon Star Phoenix:

9 Responses

  1. I have( in the last few years ) been very interested in the stories surrounding events in the Red River valley and later Batochie. When I look into my families history I am curios about my great grandfather who served with the N.W.M.P. at Ft. Pitt at the time they were ordered to leave and travelled down to Battleford by river barge. He later left the police and returned to teach carpentry at a native industry school in the prince albert region. Is there any museum records or places I could go to learn more?

  2. Of the eight, is there any specific information pertaining to A-Pis-Chas-Koos / Little Bear? I am interested because of my knowledge of Big Bear’s son, Little Bear (obviously a different Little Bear). I was wondering if there was any relation. Thank you!

  3. Hello there,
    Thank you very much for your efforts to keep the history and the heroes alive.
    I have spent a lot of time to find the facts about Wandering Spirit whom I see as my hero (both in detail and academically acceptable.)
    To do so I have, to an extent, succeeded (thanks to the friends’ support and the blessing of the elders.)
    But my curiosity is still thirsty and not yet satisfied.
    I have not yet been able to find picture (s) of Wandering Spirit (alone or with others) and love to find anything possible. I also want the picture (s) of the hanging (particularly with the school children in it.)
    At the same time I like the family tree of Wandering Spirit (to the time being) and though have visited Onion Lake, Saddle Lake and many other places near Frog Lake and Battleford (where one can still feel the presence of Wandering Spirit,) I have not found the proper answer to how many children he left behind and if he had one or more wife (wives) and what happened to the children of the children.
    Bill Cameron mentions one daughter whom (after years) he met again in 1925 but nothing is as concrete as I need it.
    I wonder if you can, kindly, help me find any of the above in books, articles and/or from proven descendants of Wandering Spirit.
    I sincerely appreciate your help to find any kind of support that can get me out of this confusion.



    1. Hi Nassy, I see that you were looking for any pictures of Wandering Spirit. Had you been able to find any? I have found an artist’s drawing of him on a warhorse, and another depiction as well. This second depiction is either a picture or a very meticulous pencil drawing of him.

      FYI, I am originally from the Heinsburg area which is approximately 30 kms from Frog Lake. I’ve known about this Massacre almost all of my life, and have now been studying it more. I am familiar with the aspect that Wandering Spirit, while being responsible for the start of this event, was likely ‘forced’ into it by the circumstances of the time, and also his past experience with having fought before with other indigenous tribes (the Blackfoot). I don’t condone any slayings, but perhaps can see that he and the others hanged should have been treated more fairly in their trials.

  4. Canadians do not realize how First Nations were starved and murdered. I’ve been working on a book about the six Chiefs hung in BC in 1864 and 65.They were just defending their land.

  5. Hi
    Was that school only for Cree children? and where was it? I was told many years ago of an orphanage on the road to the airport, but the buildings look a lot like the one in the picture. It is now used by some religious organization I believe.

  6. THURSDAY JUNE 9, 2022 1 – 2:30 pm: THE TRIAL, THE TREATY, & THE TERROR—THE BATTLEFORD HANGINGS & THE RISE OF THE SETTLER STATE Presented by James Daschuk. Hosted by University of Regina
    The largest mass execution in Canadian history took place in Battleford in 1885. The event was DESIGNED TO CREATE THE MAXIMUM AMOUNT OF FEAR in the First Nations population and signaled the imposition of a new and draconian order in the relationship between Indigenous people and the state. A century and a half later, the hangings and their impact still reverberate in the land we know as Saskatchewan.
    How to Connect – This event will take place on Zoom:
    Meeting ID: 932 0865 8927
    Passcode: 320801

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