Almighty Voice: Petty criminal or local hero?

Tyler Clarke
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His is a legacy that continues to today, propelling him into the annals of northern Saskatchewan history.

Kisse-Manito Wayo, better known as Almighty Voice. 

His is a legacy that continues to today, propelling him into the annals of northern Saskatchewan history.

Kisse-Manito Wayo, better known as Almighty Voice, is best known for killing and butchering a stray cow -- an act that resulted in the RCMP arresting him, with Almighty Voice ending the ordeal a murderer, dead in a hail of gunfire.


Early beginnings


Born in 1874, Almighty Voice grew up at to One Arrow First Nation, a Cree community south of Batoche about 100 kilometres northeast of Saskatoon.

“Almighty Voice had an ambition, born or acquired, to be great,” an RCMP Quarterly from the ’50s reads.

He grew up working a farm alongside his father, John Sounding Sky, when he wasn’t out on a hunt, living on 16 square miles of reserve land set aside as a result of Treaty 6.

With an eye on the ladies, Almighty Voice took a number of wives during his short life, beginning at age 16 when he married a 13-year-old girl -- a marriage that lasted one summer.

After wives two and three, William Bleasdell Cameron, as quoted in 1955, recalls Almighty Voice being scolded by the Indian Agent.

“He was told that, at all events, he could have but one wife and that if he attempted to keep more he would be arrested and punished,” Cameron recalled at the time, noting that Almighty Voice was none too pleased with this news, citing older men with six wives.

In 1895, Almighty Voice settled down with a girl from Fort a la Corne. It’s at this point that he is said to have killed and butchered a stray cow -- either for his wedding or, as the Daily Herald suggested in a 2005 account, to feed those in need.

Some reports note that it was a government-allotted cow that he didn’t have a permit to slaughter.

At the time, efforts to introduce mixed farming, which Almighty Voice and his father participated in, hadn’t produced the desired results.

“Members of the One Arrow band were slow to adapt to life on the reserve,” the report reads. “By 1885, starvation and disease had reduced the population to less than 200 members.”

“Having been refused permission from the local Indian agent to kill their own cattle for food, Almighty Voice killed the animal to feed his family, which resulted in his arrest,” a report online, at reads.


Arrest and escape


North West Mounted Police Sgt. C. C. Colebrook, of Batoche, arrested Almighty Voice on Oct. 22, 1895, when he came to accept his annual annuity payment.

Charged with stealing a cow, Almighty Voice was taken to a jailhouse in Duck Lake for what would have ordinarily been a few days, after which the matter would have been closed, an RCMP Quarterly report by H.S.M. Kemp reads.

“Legend has it that the Indian was told, following his arrest and merely in a joking manner, that he would hang for his crime,” Kemp’s report reads.

According to the Mysteries of Canada website, the framework of a building was being erected next to the prison. A guard told Almighty Voice that they were “erecting a scaffolding from which you would be hanged next morning.”

Fearing for his life, Almighty Voice escaped, taking off on his pony – tracks Colebrook followed with a guide.

In the morning after camping for the night, Colebrook heard gunshots in the distance from a muzzle-loader, following the sound to find Almighty Voice, 21, having shot a prairie chicken, about nine miles northeast of Kinistino.

Confronted by Colebrook, the guide recalls Almighty Voice as having said “Awustay, Chemoginus … Keep off, soldier! I will shoot you! I will kill you.”

Ignoring the warning, Colebrook advanced and was shot dead on Oct. 29, 1895.


On the lam


Almighty Voice spent the subsequent 19 months on the lam -- a timeline his brother, Prosper John, filled in the blanks during a 1955 interview for Kemp’s report in 1955, at the age of 70.

The fugitive kept moving, initially going to One Arrow Reserve, soon leaving for Fishing Lake Reserve with his cousin and later trapping up north and spending time with family.

The North West Mounted Police offered a $500 reward for Almighty Voice during this time, prompting various sightings that amounted to wild goose chases.


A fugitive cornered


Another steer was killed at One Arrow First Nation in 1897, prompting a visit by the North West Mounted Police.

Two officers responded to the scene, which ended in the shooting of Scout Napoleon Venne -- a crime John attributed to his cousin, Standing-In-The-Sky, but for which Almighty Voice received the blame.

This shooting prompted a 13-man team of officers to search the One Arrow Reserve for Almighty Voice.

The fugitive and several companions fled the reserve, with the police hot on their heels through heavy bush.

“From their hiding place the Indians drew blood,” Cameron’s report reads. “(Sgt.) Raven was shot through the groin; the inspector (John B. Allan) suffered a shattered arm.”

With 10 officers remaining and nightfall approaching, the officers persisted in their advances, with three more shot dead.

Just before sundown, eight more men arrived, but they were stuck in the darkness of night and had to wait until morning.

Another day and night passed, with a team of about 100 police officers and volunteers from Regina showing up to help, armed with cannons to shell the bluff that Almighty Voice and his supporters were hiding behind.

Almighty Voice’s mother, Many Colours, also known as Spotted Calf, was on site, staying put on the bluff despite being urged to stay out of harm’s way.

Cameron quotes her as having said, “I see you are prepared certainly to kill my son, but I hope he will take some more with him yet, when he goes.”

During the standoff, Almighty Voice suffered a shattered knee, which he’d bandaged, and went down fighting, during which time officers note Many Colours to have chanted a death song for her son in the minutes leading up to a charge being detonated into the bluff, killing him.


Almighty Voice’s legacy


The story of Almighty Voice continues to resonate with people.

Toronto playwrights Daniel David Moses and Yvette Nolan, who was born in Prince Albert, wrote the play Almighty Voice and His Wife 20 years ago, highlighting his story, from killing a cow without a licence to his death. The two-act play portrays him as a martyr and legend.

“The first act is a tender and intimate portrait of him and his wife in life; the second is an outlandish white-faced vaudeville routine of the two in death,” a summary on the Push International Performing Arts Festival website reads.

“It asks its audience to understand a number of concepts: things like the white gaze, understanding how marginalized people internalize racism (and) the role of how we see ourselves as indigenous people,” director Michael Greyeyes is quoted as saying in Vancouver’s Georgia Strait Magazine earlier this year.

Back home in Prince Albert, a local rock group has named themselves after Almighty Voice.

Named All Mighty Voice so there’s less confusion between the historic figure and the band, member Shayne Lazarowich was inspired after a trip to the Prince Albert Historical Museum.

“I thought he was a very interesting local figure,” he said, noting that the name itself lent itself to a band made up of very different voices.

“That idea of a great big voice is what we want to represent,” he added.

Duck Lake Regional Interpretive Centre staff and volunteers have maintained the old jailhouse that Almighty Voice escaped from, built in the 1890s.

“Its basic one-room, log construction speaks to its simple yet functional use and the limited number of barred windows reflects its use as a place of detention,” reads.

Included alongside several other murals painted around the small community of Duck Lake is one of Almighty Voice, painted by artist Ray Keighley, it portrays various messages.

“The yellow hue, representative of life and rebirth, the stray cow on a collision course with the buffalo, the left side representing the white people's perspective of the story of Almighty Voice; while the right side tells the perspective from the Native people's point of view,” a summary on the community’s official website reads.

A North West Mounted Police buggy is on display at the Prince Albert Historical Museum -- presumably the one Colebrook used to track down Almighty Voice. The buggy sports a bullet hole in the back of the seat.

In Bellevue, an elementary school has been named after the outlaw -- Almighty Voice Education Centre.

Even a movie was based on Almighty Voice’s story – a 1974 Canadian film starring Donald Sutherland as Sgt. Dan Candy and Gordon Tootoosis as Almighty Voice.

Every medium offers different perspectives on Almighty Voice, varying drastically in their interpretation of the historic figure. Almighty Voice’s own father is quoted as saying that “He was a bad boy,” as brother John recalled in 1955.

While some refer to him as a petty criminal, others call him a man of his times, helping his community in a time of need.

First Nations were struggling as a result of various factors linked to the then relatively recent colonization of Canada. Daily treaty rations provided by the government weren’t enough, and hunting and fishing proved poor.

The Toronto Evening Telegram summarized the incident years later in a report, citing it as more a symptom of the difficult situation placed on aboriginal people.

“Almighty Voice was the champion of a race that is ‘up against it’ in civilization. The wonder is, not that an occasional brave cuts loose, but that all the braves do not prefer the sudden death to the slow extinction of their people.”

Organizations: Mounted Police, Daily Herald, Mysteries Prince Albert Historical Museum First Nations

Geographic location: Northern Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Duck Lake Canada North West Kinistino Fishing Lake Reserve Toronto Vancouver Bellevue

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  • Tom Dean Sanderson
    January 06, 2013 - 14:46

    Interesting reading enjoyed your story, just registered recently so I cannot claim to many items as of yet. Keep up the good work, thank you

  • Tami
    January 04, 2013 - 19:21

    Well written and interesting story, PA Herald. Keep up the good work in your stories and publication, Some real gains are being made here and your newspaper improves almost daily!