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CROZIER, LIEF (Leif) NEWRY FITZROY (he signed L. N. F. Crozier), militia officer and NWMP officer; b. 11 June 1846, probably in Newry (Northern Ireland), third son of St George Baron Le Poer Crozier* and Isabella Deacon; d. unmarried 25 Feb. 1901 in Cushing, Okla.
By the early 1860s the Crozier family had settled in Belleville, Upper Canada. Lief Crozier decided quite young to become a soldier. In 1863 he joined the 15th Battalion, Volunteer Militia Infantry, of Belleville. He served during the Fenian raids of 1866 [see John O’Neill*], though he did not see action, and by 1873 he had risen to the militia rank of major. He held a wide variety of jobs in Belleville. He was a printer’s devil, a store clerk, and a registry office clerk before articling to become a lawyer. Then he decided to train as a doctor instead and attended an American medical college. That life did not suit him either and he returned to Canada to pursue his military ambitions.
In 1873 he lobbied federal politicians for a commission in the newly formed North-West Mounted Police. He was appointed a sub-inspector and was on the Long March west in the summer of 1874 [see James Farquharson Macleod*]. He became, in October that year, the first member of the force to arrest American whiskey traders on the Canadian plains. Crozier rose rapidly. During the trek west he had been promoted inspector. By 1876 he was one of six NWMP superintendents. In 1885 he was made assistant commissioner and the next year was a candidate for the commissioner’s job. Crozier’s apparent cool-headedness and practical nature earned him considerable respect among his colleagues. After inspecting the force in 1875 the commander of the Canadian militia, Major-General Edward Selby Smyth, called him “a steady, painstaking officer.”
Policemen regarded Crozier, whom his friends called Paddy, as among the most professional men in the force. But their confidence in him does not coincide with the reality of his accomplishments. Throughout his career in the NWMP, “Paddy” courted disaster and on several occasions avoided it only by the purest chance. He was lucky, and often authoritarian and impetuous.
In the summer of 1875 Crozier was posted in command of 12 men to winter at the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Fort Carlton (Sask.). The government was anxious that the police help pave the way for a major treaty (Treaty No.6) with the Cree. Crozier was to distribute presents to the Indians of the Fort Carlton area, who would come under the proposed agreement. In September the Cree were out on the plains and Crozier decided to take the food and trade goods to them in their camps. NWMP commissioner George Arthur French* opposed his decision, specifically forbidding him to go north to the HBC post of Fort Pitt. But Crozier believed that Ottawa, through the Indian commissioner (Joseph-Alfred-Norbert Provencher*), had ordered him to follow the Indians to the plains. The Liberal government of Alexander Mackenzie* distrusted French, a Conservative appointee, and was battling him for control of the force. Crozier therefore may well have had two sets of instructions when he moved from Fort Carlton.
At Fort Pitt, as he prepared to go to the Indian camps, his behaviour became noticeably odd. By Christmas he and his party were far out on the plains southwest of the post. The men thought their commander had gone insane and sent anxious pleas for help. Crozier had become irrational and was no longer capable of command. He eventually reached the small NWMP sub-post at Tail Creek (Alta), from where he was escorted to Fort Macleod.
Both Crozier and the force shrugged off his brush with “prairie madness.” The incident seems to have had no effect on his career. He was soon given temporary command of Fort Walsh (Sask.) in the Cypress Hills and he was there in June 1876 when the Sioux defeated Lieutenant-Colonel George Armstrong Custer in Montana Territory. Sioux refugees began to arrive at Fort Walsh near the end of 1876, at about the time Crozier was promoted to superintendent and placed in command of Fort Calgary (Alta).
Crozier was a witness to the signing of Treaty No.7 at Blackfoot Crossing in September 1877. Shortly after, he went to Fort Walsh with NWMP commissioner Macleod to help persuade Chief Sitting Bull [Ta-tanka I-yotank*] and the Sioux to return to the United States. By the fall of 1878 Crozier was in permanent command of Fort Walsh, then by far the most important and dangerous NWMP post.
By late spring 1880 Crozier was trying to provide rations for about 5,000 Indians at the fort. The buffalo had virtually disappeared. The natives, left with little means of subsistence, congregated in the Cypress Hills, people of several nations who irritated one another. Crozier feared serious violence among them, but there was none. During his time at Fort Walsh, Crozier had had some success in dealing with potentially volatile situations. The NWMP decided to assign him to the Canadian government’s biggest problem involving native people, Sitting Bull and his Sioux, who were camped near Wood Mountain, east of Fort Walsh. In July Crozier took command of the NWMP post there. He had been present during Sitting Bull’s negotiations with Macleod and American major-general Alfred Howe Terry in late 1877. The commissioner and other members of the force had used patience and diplomacy to try to persuade the Sioux chief to return to the United States. They had failed and Crozier was not about to use the same tactics. He set out to undermine Sitting Bull’s authority, refusing to treat him with respect and preferring to deal with other chiefs.
In December 1880 Crozier thought he had the problem solved. He persuaded Sioux chief Low Dog to break rank with Sitting Bull and go to the United States. Not only were many Sioux willing to follow Low Dog, but so was Sitting Bull. Near the end of the month almost all the four thousand refugees were back across the boundary. But when they came close to an American military post, they suspected treachery and about half of them, under Sitting Bull, returned to Canada. In February 1881 Crozier gave the chief a letter from American military authorities saying the Sioux would not be mistreated if they surrendered. When Sitting Bull said he did not believe the letter, Crozier shouted at him: “I’ve had far too much trouble with you already. You can all go to hell.” Relations between Sitting Bull and Crozier reached a lower point soon after when the policeman threw the chief bodily out of the fort. Crozier prepared his 50-man detachment for an attack from the hundreds of Sioux nearby, but none came. Crozier could claim little credit when others’ diplomacy resulted in Sitting Bull’s surrender in the United States in July 1881.
Shortly before Sitting Bull left Canada, Crozier was transferred to take command of Fort Macleod. Early in 1882 he was involved in an incident that threatened to undermine the goodwill the police had worked so hard to establish with the Blackfoot. Chief Bull Elk fired several shots in the direction of a white merchant at Blackfoot Crossing. After angry Indians prevented Inspector Francis Jeffrey Dickens* from making an arrest, Crozier and 20 men arrived at the crossing on 6 January. Despite strong and angry protests from Chief Crowfoot [Isapo-muxika*], who believed the police had agreed to hold the trial at the crossing, Crozier took Bull Elk to Fort Macleod. There was little evidence of attempted murder and Bull Elk was sentenced to just 14 days in jail. Shots had been fired when Dickens initially tried to make the arrest. When Crozier arrived he had expected the worst and had fortified buildings belonging to the Department of Indian Affairs. “I had certainly fully determined to resort to extreme measures, if any attempt was made to prevent my carrying out the law in the regular manner,” he reported. “Under circumstances of strong feeling and excitement . . . the Indians are to be dreaded.”
Samuel Benfield Steele*, who served with him at Fort Walsh, would describe Crozier as “always anxious about his men.” But in September 1883 constables at Fort Macleod went on a brief strike, complaining about harsher-than-necessary working conditions and directing their anger at Crozier. Their commander, they said, had ignored previous complaints. Crozier was forced to admit he had not been paying attention to them, and he made concessions to appease the constables.
In May 1884 Crozier was sent to command the detachment at Battleford (Sask.). This was the most difficult NWMP posting at the time. Dissatisfaction and militancy were building among the large groups of Cree in the area. Soon after he reached Battleford, Crozier helped create the most dangerous situation that had yet arisen. In June about 2,000 Cree from several bands gathered on the reserve of Poundmaker [Pītikwahanapiwīyin**], some 40 miles west of Battleford, for a Thirst Dance and council. In a dispute over rations one of the Cree hit a farm instructor with an axe handle. No physical injury was done, but the instructor demanded police action. The chiefs said the warriors would rather fight than allow anyone to be arrested.
As in the Bull Elk incident, Crozier was determined law would prevail, no matter how minor the offence. He would stare down hundreds of warriors with the 50 men under his command. After a day of negotiations the warriors and police faced each other on 20 June in front of a little house on the reserve that Crozier had fortified. As they talked, Crozier and several policemen dashed into the crowd and grabbed the culprit. Bedlam ensued, punches were thrown, but no shots were fired. In the confusion the police dragged the Indian to the fortified house. Still there was no shooting and no one was more surprised than Crozier. “It is yet to me incomprehensible how some one did not fire, and it is more than fortunate they did not. Had a shot been fired by either the Police or Indians, I fear it would have been the signal for an engagement.” Crozier went back to Battleford unscathed, with his prisoner who would be sentenced to a week in jail.
In mid 1884 Louis Riel* returned from exile to the settlement of Batoche to help get redress of Métis grievances. Crozier kept watch on the situation and in early 1885 he was pleading with Ottawa to come to terms with Riel and the Métis: “I must strongly urge that these and other matters . . . be attended to at once. Delay causes uneasiness and discontent, which spreads not only among the Halfbreeds but the Indians.” Crozier then moved with about 25 men from Battleford to Fort Carlton, which was nearer Batoche. On 13 March he wired to Lieutenant Governor Edgar Dewdney*: “Halfbreed rebellion liable to break out any moment. . . . If Halfbreeds rise Indians will join them.” Crozier had ordered an additional 25 men from Battleford and had requested that citizen-volunteers be sent from Prince Albert. On 18 March the Métis began to seize stores and take prisoners. They established a provisional government the next day and threatened to attack Crozier at Fort Carlton. On the afternoon of 25 March the Batoche Métis led by Gabriel Dumont began moving across the South Saskatchewan River to the village of Duck Lake, about halfway between Fort Carlton and Batoche.
At around 4:00 a.m. on 26 March Crozier sent a small party of police and volunteers to seize the goods and arms in the Duck Lake store. He was unaware that there was any activity at Duck Lake, let alone that the entire Métis army, augmented by Cree from nearby reserves, had taken control of the village. Soon after daybreak a small group of Métis confronted the party on the Carlton Trail and sent them back to the fort. When Crozier heard that the Métis were in possession of Duck Lake, he first decided to wait for the reinforcements under Commissioner Acheson Gosford Irvine who would soon be at Fort Carlton. But he allowed himself to be goaded by over-eager volunteers who called him a coward. Around 10:00 a.m. on 26 March he moved out of the fort at the head of a group of about 100 police and volunteers.
On the Carlton Trail north of Duck Lake, Crozier’s group met the Métis. He placed sleighs across the road and dispatched men to either side. The main force of Métis went to a large depression on the north side of the road facing Crozier’s force. An attempt to parley midway between the opposing forces ended when one of the two emissaries from the Métis made a grab at the rifle of Crozier’s interpreter. The interpreter pulled his revolver and shot both men dead. As Crozier ran back to his own lines, he gave the order to fire and the North-West rebellion began. The battle of Duck Lake lasted only about 30 minutes. Before Crozier’s force retreated, it took terrible casualties. Nine volunteers and three police were killed. Crozier was luckier than he realized. There would have been more bloodshed had not Riel dissuaded his fighters from pursuing the government party as it escaped. Irvine reached Fort Carlton at about 3:00 p.m., just after Crozier led in his tattered command. Early in the morning of 28 March the police abandoned the fort, and they spent most of the rest of the rebellion inactive at Prince Albert.
Again, disaster or near-disaster appears to have had little effect on Crozier’s career. Irvine was furious that he had acted impetuously and Ottawa sharply complained that Crozier’s initial report of the battle was inadequate. But on 1 April he was promoted assistant commissioner of the NWMP. Crozier took little part in the remainder of the rebellion. He returned to his post at Battleford, where he stayed for the rest of the year. He was posted to headquarters at Regina in 1886.
Crozier’s luck ran out in March 1886. The government forced Commissioner Irvine to retire and many, not the least among them Lief Crozier, thought Crozier was the obvious choice to replace him. The government, however, wanted an outsider, one not tainted by the defeat at Duck Lake, and a master of efficiency who could bring the force into the modern age. They found their man in Lawrence William Herchmer*. Extremely bitter, Crozier resigned at the end of June 1886. Shortly after, he travelled to San Francisco and tried to start a cattle business there. He returned briefly to Canada but in 1889 moved to Guthrie, Okla, where he remained until 1897, becoming vice-president of the Indian Territory Bank. Then he opened a general store at Cushing. He was well known and popular in Oklahoma, regaling his many friends with stories of his police career, especially his eight hours under fire before giving the rebels a terrible thrashing at Duck Lake. To the end of his life he remained angry with the Canadian government for passing him over and forcing him out of the only job he could ever enjoy. He died of a heart attack at Cushing on 25 Feb. 1901. His body was sent to Belleville for burial.
Oklahoma newspapers carried long and glowing obituaries. In Canada he had been forgotten. Only his home-town newspaper recorded the death of the policeman who had commanded the government forces in the first battle of the rebellion. Crozier’s friendliness to his peers and his personal courage could not be doubted. But diplomacy and tact were not among his strengths. On three prominent occasions he prepared for war over what began as slight provocations. On a fourth he stumbled into a real war, one that he was ill prepared to fight.
[Crozier’s participation in the North-West rebellion and in events leading up to it are covered in several general works, notably Bob Beal and R. [C.] Macleod, Prairie fire: the North-West rebellion of 1885 (Edmonton, 1984), and Stanley, Birth of western Canada. The rest of his career is difficult to document. His personnel files in the RCMP archives at the NA (RG 18, 3316, file 27-73, and 3436, file 0-10) are useful but often misleading. The official reports of the NWMP for 1874–85, found in Can., Parl., Sessional papers, 1875–86, contain some material. They have been reprinted in Opening up the west: being the official reports to parliament of the activities of the Royal North-West Mounted Police Force from 1874–1881 and Settlers and rebels . . . 1882–1885, both published at Toronto in 1973. The best analysis of the early years of the mounted police is R. C. Macleod, The NWMP and law enforcement, 1873–1905 (Toronto, 1976); the most thorough coverage of that era in narrative fashion is in J. P. Turner, The North-West Mounted Police, 1873–1893 . . . (2v., Ottawa, 1950), but much of this work is taken from unacknowledged sources and it is not always reliable.
Details of Crozier’s relations with natives are found in various archival collections, including the black (western) series of Indian Affairs records in NA, RG 10, B3, and the Dewdney papers at the NA (MG 27, I, C4) and the GA (M320).
Several of Crozier’s contemporaries published their memoirs, in which he usually does not figure prominently. Among these are C. E. Denny, The law marches west, ed. W. B. Cameron (2nd ed., Toronto, 1972), S. B. Steele, Forty years in Canada: reminiscences of the great northwest . . . , ed. M. G. Niblett (Toronto and London, 1915; repr. 1972), and Robert Jefferson, Fifty years on the Saskatchewan . . . (Battleford, Sask., 1929). Obituaries in the Cushing Herald (Cushing, Okla), 1 March 1901, and the Guthrie Daily Leader (Guthrie, Okla), 26 Feb. 1901, are useful. b.b.]