- Reg. # 3040, Cst. John Randolph KERR
May 28, 1897, Minichinas Hills near Duck Lake, North-West Territories Age: 29 yrs.
Cst. John KERR was Canadian born in approx. 1868 and had previously been a farmer from Barryvale, Renfrew County, in the Ottawa Valley. He also worked on a farm in Mallory, Minnesota. At the age of 26 years 1 month, he joined the NWMP on April 14, 1894 at Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Sgt. Colin COLEBROOK was the first of four men, three of them Mounties, to be killed over a span of 19 months by a Cree brave named Almighty Voice and his companions. Almighty Voice was a hot-blooded twenty year old who came from the One Arrow Reserve near Duck Lake in the North-West Territories. During his time, this man became Canada’s Public Enemy Number one.
The violent saga of Almighty Voice began simply enough. Sgt. COLEBROOK, an experienced officer from the NWMP Detachment at Batoche, arrested Almighty Voice and another brave for killing and butchering an Indian Department steer. COLEBROOK took them and another native woman, who was charged with an unrelated theft, to he Duck Lake lock-up to be held for trial the following day. Under normal circumstances, an offence such as this would have earned them a reprimand of a few days in jail and that would have been all. But Almighty Voice was determined to escape. His grandfather, One Arrow, had died abruptly after serving seven months in jail. His own father, John Sounding Sky, had just been sentenced to six months for committing a lesser crime than his own. Also, the story goes, a jail guard told Almighty Voice, as a joke, that he would hang for his crime. Whether or not this story is true, Almighty Voice broke out of jail at his first opportunity and went into hiding on the One Arrow Reserve.
His escape from jail was considered a serious crime and the police were intent on recapturing him. Once again, Sgt. COLEBROOK went looking for him. He was accompanied by a mixed-blood scout and tracker, Francois DUMONT. Together, they and others scoured the area in search of the fugitive Cree. It wasn’t long before Almighty Voice began to feel vulnerable on the Reserve, so he took his 13 year old paramour, Small Face, and they set out towards the northeast for Fort la Corne and the nearby James Smith Indian Reserve. Sgt. COLEBROOK and DUMONT picked up their trail and at Kinistino, fifty miles east of Prince Albert in the Carrot River District, they caught up with them.
As the police approached, Almighty Voice was on foot leading a horse on which Small Face was riding. Sgt. COLEBROOK called out to them to stop, but they paid no attention. Almighty Voice was carrying a double barreled shotgun and told Small Face, “I want to shoot the sergeant.” COLEBROOK kept closing the distance between them and, in an attempt to make them stop and talk, he called out calmly, “C’mon old boy,” several times in his soothing English accent. In response, Almighty Voice yelled back repeatedly, “Go away! Go away!” He loaded and capped his gun and several times turned and pointed it at his pursuers. As COLEBROOK rode closer to them, he kept his right hand in the air and his left hand in his pocket on a small calibre revolver. When the policeman was within 25 feet of his quarry, he uttered one more, “C’mon old boy,” and Almighty Voice turned and shot him in the chest, knocking him off his horse and killing him instantly. Francois DUMONT turned away and rode for help.
That winter, Almighty Voice lived in hiding with some Woods Cree in the north of the Assiniboia District, but he returned to the One Arrow Reserve in the summer. There the outlaw remained hidden in an earthen dug-out that could only be reached through a tunnel that ran from the root cellar under his mother’s house. In an attempt to conceal her son’s whereabouts, his mother moved her bed over the trap door leading to the root cellar. Although Almighty Voice was safe in his hiding place, he grew restless after long months underground and decided to come out in the open. If necessary, he was prepared to take a stand against the police. In time, he went even further than that. With what appears to be an inclination towards self-destruction, he and his cousin, Going-up-to-the-Sky, and his brother-in-law, Tupean, killed and butchered another Indian Department steer. Once again the police were called and a posse led by NWMP Cpl. William BOWDRIDGE went looking for the cattle killers. When then ran them down, a night skirmish followed where one the lawmen, Scout Napoleon VENUE, was badly wounded. The shooting was ascribed to either Almighty Voice or Going-up-to-the-Sky. Whoever was responsible, the wounding made the North-West Mounted Police all the more determined to capture the escaped killer of Sgt. COLEBROOK.
Insp. John B. ALLAN, accompanied by Sgt. C.C. RAVEN and 11 NWMP, set out from Prince Albert for the One Arrow Reserve. Almighty Voice was warned of their coming and fled with his two accomplices. However, Insp. ALLAN and his corps caught up with them about 17 miles from Duck Lake and trapped them in a heavily wooded poplar bluff. Fearing Almighty Voice and his friends would escape under the cover of darkness, the police went in and tried to drive them out of the bush. In the ensuing gunfight, Sgt. RAVEN was shot in the thigh and Insp. ALLAN had his arm shattered by a bullet.
With ALLAN and RAVEN disabled, command fell on Cpl. Charles HOCKIN. He too was concerned that the three fugitives might get away under cover of darkness and ordered that the corps storm the bluff again. Cpl. HOCKIN and nine men, including one civilian volunteer, charged into the woods and combed the bluff back and forth. On their third sweep, they discovered the trio in a dug-out pit and were met with a blast of gunfire. The volunteer, Mr. GRUNDY, was the first to die, shot through the abdomen. Cpl. HOCKIN was hit next. He was shot through the lung. As he lay there, Csts. KERR and Andrew O’KELLY rushed the pit. Cst. KERR died instantly by a shot through the heart. O’KELLY was turned back by the heavy gunfire. A few policemen were able to get to Cpl. HOCKIN, who was still alive, and drag him from the bush, but he was to die the next morning around 1:30. His last words were purported to be: “Tell my mother I die like a soldier.”
At sundown, eight more police arrived and the decision was made to withdraw and keep the place under surveillance throughout the night. Commissioner L.W. HERCHMER, who had constantly been informed of events at the scene by telegraph, ordered reinforcements sent on a special CPR train from Regina. Twenty-six more Mounties and a nine-pound gun arrived the next night, May 29. They arrived at the same time as another force of special constables from Prince Albert who rode in with a seven-pound gun. At dawn the field guns began to rake the bluff. They were answered by sporadic rifle fire. In the midst of the cannon fire, Almighty Voice’s mother arrived on the scene and began chanting a death song for her son. With the Field guns blasting the ridge, it didn’t take long for the resistance from the bluff to cease. When the police went in, they found Almighty Voice and Going-up-to-the-Sky lying in their pit, dead from multiple wounds. Tupean lay sprawled nearby, apparently killed by rifle fire.
When the father of Almighty Voice was advised of his son’s death, he summed up the boy’s outlaw life in a brief phrase of classic understatement. “He was,” said John Sounding Sky, “a bad boy.”
The three Crees were buried in a common grave on the One Arrow Reserve. Today their gravesite is untended and unnamed, and marked only by a simple wooden cross. Several families on this Reservation of three hundred people still retain the name of Almighty Voice as a surname. Edgar Almighty Voice is a grandson of the original bearer of the name.
The three Mounties who were killed are buried in close proximity in the police plot of the old St. Mary’s Anglican Church near Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. Each of the three took a different route to heir common final destination.
The effects of Cst. KERR were forwarded to his parents, Mr & Mrs. John D. KERR of Barryvale P.O., County of Renfrew, Ontario.
(File reviewed on www.collectionscanada.gc.ca)