Cst. David Latimer COWAN – April 15, 1885

  1. Reg. # 635, Cst. David Latimer COWAN

April 15, 1885, Fort Pitt, NWT                   Age: 22 years

Cst. COWAN was born in approximately1864. Originally from Ottawa, he joined the NWMP at Toronto, Ont. on April 4, 1882 and served at Battleford. He was a member of the Fort Pitt Detachment at the outbreak of the North-West Rebellion in 1885. There were to be more battles in the west of Canada after Duck Lake. On April 2, the Crees, under the war chief Wandering Spirit, massacred nine people at the small village of Frog Lake. When word of this atrocity reached Fort Pitt, the commander of the NWMP detachment, Insp. Francis J. DICKENS (son of the novelist Charles DICKENS) was greatly disturbed. He gathered as much information as he could and then sent out scouts to investigate the fate of the settlement and the movement of the Cree Indians. Csts. David COWAN and Clarence LOASBY, along with S/Cst. Henry QUINN, were ordered to saddle their horses and scout to the west along the north bank of the Saskatchewan River. On April 13, they found the village of Frog Lake burned to the ground. They also saw many Cree lodges in the distance. The trio watched the Indian camp through the night, then set out for Fort Pitt the next morning (April 15). Riding through the woods less than half a mile from the Fort, they blundered into the hidden Cree camp of Chief Big Bear.

They were greeted with howls and war cries and natives running at them with rifles. With bullets whizzing past their ears, the three spurred their horses in a furious attempt to escape.   Luckily, none of the policemen were hit but, as they charged away, Cst. COWAN’s horse, ‘Firefly’, went wild. Either nicked by a bullet or frightened by the noisy pursuit, the steed began to buck and pitch and circled out of control. COWAN jumped off and made a run for the fort stockade. As he ran, bullets landed all around him, but none hit home. Then a Cree brave went after him on his pony. At first the warrior tried to run COWAN down. Then he swung at COWAN with his rifle butt. Oddly enough, he made no attempt to shoot the hated and defenseless Chemoginisuk (Mounted Policeman). However, another Cree named Louison

MONGRAIN, hiding in the thicket, was not so compassionate. He took aim and shot COWAN through the head, killing him instantly. LOASBY was shot in the back, but lived. QUINN made it back to the fort safely.

Cst. David COWAN was a single man whose father, William, lived in Ottawa. He had served in the NWMP for three years. After he was killed, the Indians would not give up his body. The next day, Insp. DICKENS was forced to surrender Fort Pitt and moved his 25 man detachment down river by scow to Battleford. It wasn’t till May 25 that COWAN’s body was recovered in a horribly mutilated condition. His comrades buried him that day where he had fallen. His body was later disinterred and reburied in 1909 at Frog Lake with several others who had been killed in the massacre, and whose graves were scattered and unmarked. A monument was erected at that location in 1925 to mark the cemetery as a national historic site.

COWAN’s North West Canada Medal and Clasp were claimed in 1973 and subsequently donated to the RCMP Museum. It is poignant to note that the pay owing to Cst. COWAN for the months of March and April, when he was killed, came to a total of $26.86. Cst. COWAN’s killer, Louison MONGRAIN, was sentenced to hang for murder, but his sentence was later commuted to life in prison.

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