Cpl. Ralph Bateman SLEIGH – May 2, 1885

  1. Reg. # 565, Cpl. Ralph Bateman SLEIGH

May 2, 1885, Cut Knife Hill, NWT            Age: 27 years

Cpl. SLEIGH was born in Bradburne, Darbyshire, England on July 14, 1858, the third son of John SLEIGH. A former farmer, he enlisted in the NWMP at Toronto and was engaged at Fort Walsh on June 7, 1881. He was promoted to Corporal on July 22, 1883. He was single and had been in the NWMP for four years. He served at Fort Macleod and in Charge of Frog Lake Detachment until it was withdrawn to Fort Pitt on March 31, 1885 just prior to the outbreak of the North West Rebellion.

In the Spring of 1885, the Metis had won the battles at Frog Lake and Fort Pitt, but things were not going so well for them elsewhere. General F.D. MIDDLETON was marching from Winnipeg with a column of 600 men to join up with the NWMP under Commissioner A.G. IRVINE at the Metis settlement of Batoche. Furthermore, the rebels did not have the support they had hoped for. Beyond Batoche many of the Metis were spread about the countryside and wanted no part of the rebellion. Also, many of the Indian tribes were widely scattered across the plains. Lacking unity and leadership, the natives declined to fight. What’s more, the powerful Blackfoot Confederacy, which was centered near Calgary, made it clear they would not participate in a revolt. There were; however, rumours that Saskatchewan Cree Chief Poundmaker and Plains Cree Chief Big Bear were going to join forces on the Cut Knife Reserve and from there go on to fight with Riel and Dumont at Batoche.

To combat that, on May 1, Lieutenant-Colonel W.D. OTTER led a force of 319 men, including 74 NWMP under Lt.-Col. W.H. HERCHMER and Captain P.R. NEALE, towards the Cut Knife Reserve. Forty-eight wagons were used to transport the infantry, their supplies, two field guns and a Gatling gun. The next morning, the column reached Cut Knife Hill and engaged in a furious six hour battle with a force of Cree Indians under Chief Poundmaker and his war Chief Fineday. Predictably, the Indians proved to be a valiant foe. They surrounded OTTER’s troops and drove them to retreat. Only Poundmaker’s orders to his braves not to pursue the fleeing government forces averted a tragedy for OTTER’s men.

From the beginning of the battle at Cut Knife Hill, the NWMP were in the vanguard of the column. Consequently, they drew a great deal of the Indian fire. The first Mountie to fall in combat was Cpl. SLEIGH, who was shot through the mouth while repulsing an attack on the guns. Moments later, NWMP Cpl. W.H. Talbot LOWRY and NWMP trumpeter Paddy BURKE were mortally wounded. Both of them died the following day. In total, three Mounties and five other government men died at Cut Knife Hill. All were buried with church services and military honours at Battleford on May 4. He left behind, his father, John SLEIGH of Eversly, Matlock, England. Cpls. SLEIGH and LOWRY were school friends.

Cpl. SLEIGH was awarded the North West Canada Medal, which went unclaimed and is now at the RCMP Heritage Center in Regina. The auction sale of his kit and personal belongings, including his prized shotgun brought $31.25.

(File reviewed on www.collectionscanada.gc.ca)