In 1885 the North West Rebellion broke out in the distant reaches of Canada's prairie frontier. The Canadian Militia limbered up to go set things right again, by putting the Indians and Métis rebels in their place.
It was the "confrontation period" of Canada's history - where you go to shoot people to make them understand you...
Enter the Americans who are good at this sort of thing.
The Colt Firearms Manufacturing Company in the United States saw this as a good marketing opportunity, and offered the Canadian Militia a deal it couldn't refuse - a loan of their latest technological firearm, a Gatling gun, and an operator, Capt. Arthur Howard of the Connecticut National Guard, and all for free. The offer was accepted.
Left, Howard poses in a studio with the very Gatling Gun he used during the North West Rebellion. The Gatling Gun was a quick-firing machine gun using many barrels to fire off a shower of bullets. Howard turns a crank to rotate the barrels and fire them off, quickly and automatically, one after the other, the bullets being fed in by a stick magazine on top of the breech.
At various times Howard's weapon attracted incredulous comment for the stream of bullets it could spit out. And it only needed one operator, not a whole team that it took to fire a traditional artillery piece.
The progress of the Gatling Gun can be followed in the Riel Rebellion prints. At Cut Knife, the Gatling is noted far off, as a distant "Gatling" speck shooting beside the other two artillery pieces just in front of Col. William Otter. But the artist clearly has no clue on how to represent a Gatling, and so draws it like a traditional artillery piece, belching smoke, and surrounded by a team of operators!
In fact during the retreat from Cut Knife Hill later, the Gatling Gun kept the Indians off the backs of the retiring army. The gun was gaining approving notices.
Howard and his Gatling Gun were at Batoche, but, in the original Batoche print, published by the Canadian Illustrated News (below), the Gatling Gun is not mentioned or included. Big traditional artillery pieces are featured in the bottom corners of the print.
But in the chromolithograph, published a few months later (see above), a significant change has been made in one area of the original print.
|Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
|The Capture of Batoche, 1885
|Orig. lithograph - Image size - 14" x 19.5"
Found - Cooksville, ON
Hand-coloured, Canadian Illustrated News Souvenir Edition, Pub. Toronto Lithographing Co. 1885
In the first litho (left) the stretcher bearers are looking at the charging gun crew; in the next (above and below) they see only one man and one gun, in the same spot!. That man is Captain Howard, and his Gatling Gun.
OOPS! Someone must have pointed out the glaring oversight made by the Toronto-based Blatchly.
Blatchly then did a repaint, incorporating the reputation of the gun and the man into the larger Batoche print. They would never be separate again. He was known as "Gat" Howard till the day he died.
Below, at Batoche, the man and his gun get first tier billing at the bottom right of the print.
Blatchly, though, had Gat in a bit of an inglorious position, having him shoot from behind the lines through his own men! Gat was a daredevil and would usually be found in the front lines, where the firing was hottest, and his gun would have better targets. And when the odds were mounting up against him, he was always last to abandon a position.
In the best tradition of the Victorian British Army Officer Corps, Gat Howard brazenly - the age would say heroically - led from the front. It was a brave display that rewarded many good men with a premature death.