MŌSŌMIN (Moosomin, translated as “low-bush cranberry” or “squashberry”), chief of a Cree and Saulteaux band; probably b. in what is now Saskatchewan; d. 24 March 1902 on the Moosomin Reserve (Sask.).
Mōsōmin was a member of a band that wintered north of the North Saskatchewan River in the vicinity of Jackfish and Turtle lakes (Sask.). Like their close neighbours the band of Big Bear [Mistahimaskwa*], they combined a woodland and a plains economy, trapping, hunting, and fishing in the parkland in winter, and hunting buffalo on the open grasslands in summer. They were led by Yellow Sky when Treaty No.6 was negotiated at Fort Pitt in 1876, but he refused to sign the documents.
In 1879 Mōsōmin and 124 followers, mostly Cree, asked to be admitted to the treaty and to have their own reserve. A tract 12 miles northwest of Battleford was surveyed for them in 1881. The band was among those that followed the lead of Poundmaker [Pītikwahanapiwīyin*] and, as a protest over treaty promises that had not been kept, refused initially to sow a crop in the spring of 1881. Their efforts at agriculture none the less soon resulted in a surplus and they also burned lime and charcoal for sale. These achievements were regarded as particularly notable because it was estimated that there were only 12 able-bodied males among them in the early 1880s, out of the reserve’s population of 70 residents.
In June 1884 Mōsōmin and his followers were among the two thousand people who attended a Thirst Dance and grand council on the Poundmaker and Little Pine [Minahikosis*] reserves at which common grievances were discussed. Government authorities did not regard Mōsōmin’s people as likely to participate in any armed protest. Indian commissioner Edgar Dewdney* was informed in February 1885 that “the majority of these men are among the most peaceable and reliable Indians in the district.” During the resistance of 1885 [see Louis Riel*], Mōsōmin and his band left their reserve because they lacked food and because they wished to keep out of the way of disturbance. A farm instructor on a nearby reserve explained in later years that, unlike the Plains Cree, the primarily woodland inhabitants of the Moosomin Reserve had no experience of battle and preferred to avoid involvement. They risked great danger in crossing the North Saskatchewan with their outfits and animals when the ice had not yet all gone out.
They did not succeed, however, in escaping confrontation. Government spokesmen subsequently stated that Mōsōmin and his band approached the town of Battleford because of hunger but then, “thinking that the incensed settlers would not make any discrimination between loyal and disloyal Indians,” went some miles west to Poundmaker’s camp to save themselves from starvation. The non-native citizens of Battleford and district, such as Patrick Gammie Laurie, nevertheless believed themselves to be under siege and took refuge within the stockade of the North-West Mounted Police fort just outside the town. At one stage of the troubles Mōsōmin was instructed by the military authorities to “keep up communication” with the fort, but “some persons in it fired upon him, and he had to retreat.”
It may have been this incident that caused Mōsōmin to don the British flag. The wife of one policeman wrote some years after “of old ‘Moosomin’ a Cree chief who went about with a tattered Union Jack draped over his shoulders to show that he and his had no sympathy with the followers of Louis Riel.” Mōsōmin’s peaceful intentions were never doubted by the authorities, despite the fact that early in May some members of his band fought with Poundmaker against Lieutenant-Colonel William Dillon Otter* near Cut Knife Hill. At the end of May, when the troubles had subsided, the chief was “well-received” at Battleford. Major-General Frederick Dobson Middleton* shook hands with him though he apparently refused to do so with any other Indian.
In his report for 1885 Dewdney used the Moosomin band as an example of the contented native people of the west, most of whom had not “rebelled.” He noted also that the band had accumulated enough money in their account to purchase one hundred sheep, and he attributed this achievement to the department’s policy of distributing rations only when work was performed. Mōsōmin’s people continued to meet with moderate success in their farming and stock raising. By the late 1880s they had purchased machinery such as self-binders and mowers, but agricultural development on the reserve was detrimentally affected by government policies enforced in the 1890s, which were intended to ensure that farmers on Indian reserves did not raise enough surplus to compete with the surrounding settlers. Mōsōmin himself died on 24 March 1902.
[The author wishes to thank Professor H. C. Wolfart for his help in establishing a correct spelling and translation of the subject’s name. s.a.c.]
GA, M4379. NA, RG 10, 3584, file 1130; 3598, file 1364; 3746, file 29548. B. W. Antrobus, “Reminiscences of Fort Macleod in 1885,” Canadian Magazine, 8 (November 1896–April 1897): 2–9. Can., Dept. of Indian Affairs, The facts respecting Indian administration in the north-west (Ottawa, ); Parl., Sessional papers, 1884, no.4: 123; 1886, no.6: 141. S. [A.] Carter, Lost harvests: prairie Indian reserve farmers and government policy (Montreal and Kingston, Ont., 1990), c.6. H. A. Dempsey, Big Bear: the end of freedom (Vancouver, 1984). Walter Hildebrandt, “Battleford 1885: the siege mentality,” NeWest Rev. (Saskatoon), 10 (1984–85), no.9: 20–21. Robert Jefferson, Fifty years on the Saskatchewan . . . (Battleford, Sask., 1929). D. [W.] Light, Footprints in the dust (North Battleford, Sask., 1985). A. E. McPherson, The Battlefords: a history (Saskatoon, 1967). Reminiscences of a bungle, by one of the bunglers, and two other Northwest rebellion diaries, ed. R. C. Macleod (Edmonton, 1983), 186. Stanley, Birth of western Canada.