And at Thunder Bay, a member of the Ontario Battalion relays the scene at the beginning of the Red River Expedition, May 1870….

Ox head

“… Several of the oxen we brought from Collingwood have arrived to Prince Arthur with serious injuries and sickness. The most common wound has occurred when the animals gored each other while cooped up during the journey and some when their handlers move them into the nets to be lowered overboard into the shallow waters. There is yet no warf to dock our ships for disembarkation. In the excitement of their release from their holds their great bulky masses collide with each other the way water bounces around in a bucket. Their heads fling back towards their neighbours who have nowhere to turn for escape and so have their flanks or faces ripped deeply by thick horns. The illness that spreads through their numbers evidently is found in their intestines. And so the deck where men work the pullies and nets becomes shiny with blood and slippery from very foul stomach waste. Once the wounded and so useless individuals are walked over the nets, a young boy with a grey tunic holds a service rifle to his right shoulder and with a bewildered reluctance raises the muzzle to the temple of the moaning and wild-eyed creatures and pulls the trigger. The weather is the kind where I would love nothing better than to lay on the nearby field and feel on my face the warm late spring wind stream over the shore, cleansing myself from the horrible smell. …”


Sample (or proof?) draft of progress!

1873 Governor arriving to Cape Coast

“… “Yes, yes, yes, but we will not succeed here directly as a result of the contributions from these natives. I can certain of that now. This is not Dawson’s trail, is it? And the indigenous population of this part of the world is nowhere near as sophisticated, both in culture and in intelligence, as the Half-breeds and Indians, as dim as they all are, that we had at our disposal for the march to Ft. Garry. While some of the Africans seem to have been exposed to Mohammedism, this is a rare instance only reserved for the very distant tribes of the northern savannah. And I’m sure monotheism of this sort will only be a positive influence, compared to the cannibalism the forest tribes all practice—but only in the long run will it help to increase their ability to read and write in Arabic. Bah—and that will not cure their laziness for our sakes right now! Only a small number of the Half-breeds and Indians earned our disfavor. The whole of them even took the Sabbath and were quite civil and useful really. When only our presence as British Regulars in Red River meant we were the tip of a broad sword of a contingent of Canadian volunteers, here, I’m afraid, we must not only demonstrate the willingness of England’s military by not only sailing the distance, but we must also carry the mortal burden ourselves and rely not on the African to go to war for us. Those half-minded monkeys will carry us to the battle, if we can properly motivate the beasts. Sadly, I’m afraid, we will be very fortunate if we can secure enough native levies to bring us to our enemy before we may punish him for his transgressions. Come, friends, let us finish this after we eat.” …”


Wolseley and his staff are gathered at Cape Coast Government House having just received a Durbar of Chiefs under the protection of the Queen of England. He has the ear of the men that served with him in Red River and he is explaining how determination led to their victory of the real enemy in Red River: the forests, swamps, and rivers of the created world. The firmament is  fully under the control of the modern age, and the military must be able to conquer the field of war before it will ever dominate its strategic foe.


Man vs. Nature

“…you have done good service to the State, and have proved that no extent of intervening wilderness, no matter how great may be its difficulties, whether by land or water, can enable men to commit murder or to rebel against Her Majesty’s authority with impunity.”

Sir Garnet Wolseley, Colonel, Commanding Red River Expedition

Ft. Garry, 28 August, 1870


Wolseley did much to consolidate British forces and rally native allies on the Gold Coast to pursue colonial policy on the Gold Coast before burning Kumasi to the ground. He raised thousands of local militia (but had much trouble securing their actual service, blaming, in oh-so-racist language, the “cowardly and lazy” constitution of Africans) and ordered the survey of roads and infrastructure to service the expedition to Kumasi.

Interestingly to my book, he added several officers from the 1870 Red River Expedition in his mission to Kumasi in Jan 1874. The memoirs of Baden-Powell and Rathbone Low especially point to his Wolseley’s meticulous planning, made famous in Manitoba, perfected in Ashanti, and relied upon in future monumental feats of British manoeuvre, such as in Sudan along the Nile.

The real enemy was the forest. The rapids. The heat. The bugs.

The natural boundary separating his force from the enemy in West Africa was the Prah River; and, like on the Dawson Trail to Shebandowan and Lake on the Woods in Manitoba, Wolseley ensured the route to this objective was navigable. He ordered men to build miles of corduroy roads, repair and construct hundreds of bridges, and erect supply and barrack stations from materials gathered from the impenetrable forests.

Cape Coast to Kumasi


At his encampment at Prahsu, along the banks of the Prah, Wolseley enjoyed the company of the advanced British detachment and native levies around a vast night-fire, singing songs like these:

I suggest that, here, while deep in the ‘primordial’ forest of humanity, Wolseley penned a letter for courier to Cape Coast for the next mail ship to Plymouth. He will remember his previous campaign to the Red River, and how victory over the terrain in Canada only proved his abilities and British right to victory against Ashanti. In so many of the records, Wolseley’s real enemy was the environment he faced daily before even firing a shot (Riel evacuated Ft. Garry before Wolseley arrived). WIth him were a core cadre of elite soldiers that Wolseley came to trust and celebrate. Carrying on about the career soldiers who served in Canada and W/Africa and beyond, these men became know later as The Ashanti Ring:

My premise remains that Wolseley and his crew learned and perfected their skills, as we all do, from their previous work experience. And in the case of the Ashanti Ring, become utterly convinced of their abilities and of the need to pursue their callings in service of the  Crown.

Bird's Eye View of Prahsu