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Over the winter of 1885, tension began to mount among the Indian tribes as they fell victim to hunger and disease and the Indian agents did not have the resources necessary to relieve their suffering. The Indians realized their situation was similar to that of the Métis and they too turned to Riel. On March 19, the Feast of St. Joseph, Riel established a Provisional Government and took possession of the local church as his headquarters. Pierre Parenteau was chosen as the first President and Gabriel Dumont was chosen Adjutant-General. Shortly after the formation of the Provisional Government, Riel became aware that his authority was weakening. The church was hostile because the clergy played no role in the new nation and the English-speaking Métis and settlers refused to take up arms. Once again, Riel found himself supported by only the French-speaking Métis and the Indians.
That prompted Riel to attempt the capture of Fort Carlton because he considered it essential to his operations. He hoped to occupy it without violence, but the mounted police reinforced its garrison. That left Riel with two options - negotiate or attack. He opted for negotiation, but before that was done, fighting broke out at Duck Lake.
In an attempt to stop Riel, Major Crozier had left Fort Carlton with 56 mounted policemen and 41 civilian volunteers. Led by Gabriel Dumont, the Métis met them at Duck Lake. Dumont was able to draw the troops into a valley where Crozier was forced to come to a halt. Two horsemen, Métis Isidore Dumont and Cree Chief Falling Sand advanced to meet Crozier. Believing they wished to parley, Crozier and a guide named McKay advanced. The four men stopped in the middle of the valley and Crozier extended his hand as a gesture of friendship. Thinking they had been betrayed, Falling Sand made a grab for McKay's rifle. The guide fired and Isidore Dumont fell dead from his horse. The battle of Duck Lake had begun. After 40 minutes, his force decimated, and Crozier gave the order to retreat. Ten of Crozier’s troops had been killed and 13 wounded in the battle.
Riel intervened, preventing further casualties by stopping Dumont from pursuing and killing all the retreating soldiers. But the outcome of the battle made the Indians and Métis realize that the Canadians were not invincible. Two hundred Cree attacked Battleford and Fort Pitt, killing six. At Frog Lake, Wandering Spirit and his followers murdered the Indian Agent, Thomas Quinn, and two priests, Father Fafard and Father Marchand. Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald had not taken the recent events in the west seriously, but the Frog Lake massacre caught his attention. The government responded, increasing the amount of money given to the Indians for food and by mobilizing a military force of 8,000 men under the command of Major General Middleton. Thanks to the newly-built railroad, government troops arrived in Winnipeg 10 days after the Battle of Duck Lake. Three columns of troops headed west to deal with the uprising in Saskatchewan.
It was the intent of Gabriel Dumont and 350 Métis to defend Batoche. Dumont believed that the only effective way of doing this was through Indian warfare style surprise attacks followed by hasty retreats. Riel opposed this plan. He wanted to avoid violence for as long as possible, in the hope the negotiations would conclude successfully. This decision proved disastrous for the Métis because it enabled government troops to reach Batoche safely. Dumont, however, decided to set a trap for him at Fish Creek.
On April 24, Riel, Dumont and 200 Métis set out from Batoche. A messenger brought word that a detachment of mounted police were approaching Batoche coming from Qu'Appelle. Dumont sent 50 men back to defend the settlement, under Riel's leadership. With Dumont in command, the battle of Fish Creek ended in a stalemate. The Métis, however counted it as a victory because they had successfully stopped the Canadians' advance.
Back in Batoche, Riel was beginning to have doubts about his decisions.There were reports that troops had arrived in the vicinity and in despair, he appealed to Poundmaker and Big Bear for help. However, help was not forthcoming because they could not arrive in time.
The stalemate at Fish Creek made the Canadian troops cautious and they stopped to rest for two weeks. When the battle ensued, they scored small victories, but the government troops proved too strong. On the fourth day of the battle, the Métis were defeated. After ensuring the safety of his family, Riel withdrew into the woods to pray. He did not attempt to flee. When the government commander demanded that he surrender, Riel replied that he would give himself up to fulfil 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. After his surrender, Riel was taken to Regina. Dumont tried unsuccessfully to recapture Batoche, but upon hearing that Riel had given himself up, he fled to the United States. The rebellion was over.