UPATED: Historical Error No Doubt






Windy Gale from England sent us the following message and sought our thoughts.





I bought a book yesterday at a garden centre that my wife and I visited as the subject interested me, being about our local county, Kent.  It had obviously been in the wars and I suspect it had become soggy on one corner during a leak at the store at some time in the past, but as it was well reduced in price and not in bad condition I took the risk and bought it.


It is calledKent 1800-1899 A Chronicle of the Nineteenth Century”(published 2003) and is one of a series by Bob Ogley (a local historian). 

It contains news from the local newspapers of the period and also some pictures taken from other sources which also proved interesting.  However under the year of 1885 I found the attached entry.  Although generally accurate I cannot help wondering whether the reference to Maidstone is wrong – our county town in the western half of Kent is Maidstone, with Canterbury serving as the cathedral city in the eastern half.  I liked the inaccurate reference to Louis Riel and the reason for the uprising, but then I have to make allowances for the lack of communication or knowledge in those days when majority of the population were just beginning to be able to read.

Article title and details are included below:


1884 - Photograph of NWMP Inspector Francis Dickens - taken at Fort Pitt (Source of photo - RCMP Historical Collections Unit - "Depot" Division).

1884 – Photograph of NWMP Inspector Francis Dickens – taken at Fort Pitt (Source of photo – RCMP Historical Collections Unit – “Depot” Division).

NEWS has been received in Kent that Francis Jeffrey Dickens – third son of Charles and Katherine and now a member of the Canadian North West Mounted Police – helped to quell a rebellion in a remote area of Saskatchewan known as Maidstone.

Apparently a troublesome Red Indian, Louis Reil and his followers disliked the presence of white settlers who used a trade route across their land between Fort Battleford and Big Gulley Creek. The rising was suppressed but Inspector Dickens and his detachment of Mounties were forced to retreat on raft down a dangerous fast flowing river.

This photo was taken at Fort Pitt in 1884. The group includes Inspector F.J. Dickens, second in from the left - the only bearded man in the group.

This photo was taken at Fort Pitt in 1884. The group includes Inspector F.J. Dickens, second in from the left – the only bearded man in the group.

Francis Dickens, always called Chickenstalker by his father, stammered badly as a child and was packed off to Germany to learn the language. The long ‘portmanteau’ German words cured his impediment and when he left school he joined the Bengal Mounted Police and then the Canadian North West division.

It seemed likely that Maidstone, Saskatchewan was given its name by an emigrant from the county town – but no-one is certain.

Is the reference to Maidstone correct in relation to Saskatchewan or is that just wishful thinking?   Charles Dickens was well known in the county for his books and the fact that he also lived here a lot of the time, so the interest in his son is not surprising.

Veteran Ric Hall provided the following response:

Maidstone is a town in southwest Saskatchewan, Canada located 57 km (35 miles) east of Lloydminster and 84 km (52 miles) west of North Battleford at the junction of Highway 16 and Highway 21.

1913 - Photograph of Maidstone Saskatchewan (Source of photo - praise-towns.com).

1913 – Photograph of Maidstone Saskatchewan (Source of photo – praise-towns.com).

It is mentioned in Joni Mitchell’s “Song For Sharon” from her Hejira album and is one of the places in western Canada in which she lived as a young child.

In all my reading about the NW Rebellion I have never heard of events in Maidstone, since it was not founded till in 1905, perhaps there was some local early reference back in 1885.   Also cannot find anything as to where the name came from.

The Town of Maidstone, population of 1200 people and growing is situated in an oil rich area, with agriculture being our main industry. Maidstone was founded in 1905 and incorporated in 1955. We are located at the crossroads of Highway 16 and 21; between the Battle and North Saskatchewan Rivers (one of our local history books is titled “Between the Rivers”).

Different times, I have never hear of Louis Riel referred to as a “Red Indian” although he was troublesome!  Louis Riel, Métis leader, founder of Manitoba, central figure in the Red River and North-West resistances (born 22 October 1844 in Saint-Boniface, Red River Settlement; died 16 November 1885 in Regina, SK). 

From my collection of RCMP historical trivia, this is one bit on Francis Dickens, it is no doubt in reference to the item you forwarded; “  He was in charge of Fort Pitt at the outset of the North West Rebellion.   He has been accused of cowardice when he withdrew along with 22 other men.  When surrounded and after having some of his scouting party wounded and killed Dickens realized their position was grave and they only had one chance out – by a leaky scow on the river.  During a snowstorm they destroyed their stores they could not carry and departed in the scow on the river.   It promptly began to sink, but valiant bailing efforts kept them afloat and they reached Battleford safely.  In 1886 Dickens was in poor health, and suffering from deafness.  He took a speaking engagement in Moline, Illinois, where he died of a heart attack.

Over the 12 years in the North West Mounted Police, Francis Dickens wrote many letters to Emily Butts describing his life and experiences in Canada’s North West Territories. These letters would be compiled into a book entitled “Dickens Of The Mounted: The Astounding Long-Lost Letters” edited by Eric Nicol published in 1989 by Gagne Ltee).

In his letter dated May 27, 1885, Francis Dickens the events leading up to the evacuation of Fort Pitt and travelling down the Saskatchewan River to Fort Battleford. No where in this letter is there any reference to Maidstone.

UPDATE: Veteran Don Klancher sent us the following information relating to Francis Dickens book:

Often mistaken as factual, the contents of that book have created all sorts of problems since it was published. However, it was a work of fiction! As noted on the back cover of the soft-cover edition – “… So seamless is Nicol’s mix of fancy and fact that when DICKENS OF THE MOUNTED first appeared in hardcover it rose to prominence on both fiction and non-fiction bestseller lists! … It is so stylishly done it may take an unsuspecting reader a while before realizing he’s been taken in.” 

So, the reference of Maidstone Saskatchewan in the noted old newspaper article remains a mystery.

image of Ric Hall closing block for his Photo Corner webpage