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Beal, Bob and Rod Macleod.

Edmonton, Hurtig Publications, c1984, 384pp, cloth, $19.95, ISBN 0-8830-262-2. CIP

Grades 11 and up
Reviewed by J.D. Ingram

Volume 13 Number 4
1985 July

This is the latest and one of the best books on the North-West Rebellion of 1885. Bob Beal is a journalist by profession who has joined forces with historian Rod Macleod to write a detailed, yet extremely readable book, on the eve of the one hundredth anniversary of this salient event in Canadian history. Prairie Fire is aptly divided into three parts, "Waiting for a Spark," "Conflagration," and "Stamping Out the Embers."

In Part One, the deterioration of living conditions for Métis and especially for Indians in the North-West is clearly drawn. We hear from Big Bear, the Plains Cree chief, "What they have promised me straightway I have not yet seen the half of it. We have all been deceived in the same way." We learn that Canadian government officials like Hayter Reed, "went so far in his anxiety to please that many of his recommendations were dismissed in Ottawa as outrageously immoral and sometimes illegal." The documentation of the unresponsiveness and insensitivity of the federal authorities is convincingly laid out.

In "Conflagration," Beal and Macleod graphically record the fighting and loss of life at Duck Lake, Frog Lake, Fish Creek, Cut Knife Hill, and Batoche. Tension is skillfully built up and sustained, yet there are the inevitable lighter moments. For James Clinkskill, "One night I called Halt and challenged, it turned out to be a hog in search of food, and the answer I got was a grunt. I am not allowed to forget this incident."

The Métis experience at Seven Oaks and Grand Coteau dictated that they would dig in for a defence at Batoche. The idea that they should attack and destroy the enemy's army as quickly and as far away from their own territory as possible, was "quite foreign to the experience of the Métis."

In Part Three, the niceties of the law that were to be applied to those who were charged in Regjna and Battleford is succinctly outlined. In the author's view, "The government was determined to put them (the Indians) all on trial and find them all guilty." It was, as Chapter Seventeen is entitled, "Justice Unbalanced."

The descriptive and detailed prose of Prairie Fire is interesting and informative. The character sketches are well done and the figure of Riel in this story is not overplayed. Two minor detractions are the scale of the maps used that do not adequately show the location and relationships of places in the North-West, and the comment, "when Riel was hung, ...". Nevertheless, this book deserves to be purchased and read, and placed with Stanley's Louis Riel (McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1972), The Birth of Western Canada (University of Toronto Press, 1970), and Friesen's, The Canadian Prairies*.

J.D. Ingram, Gordon Bell H.S., Winnipeg, Man.

*Reviewed vol. XIII/1 January 1985 p.22.

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