Major Arthur L Howard saw his first military service during the Riel’s Rebellion, 1885. Louis Riel, having escaped after the collapse of his first rebellion in 1870, returned to Canada at the request of the Metis (former trappers, small traders, etc., and mostly of mixed blood) who asked him to help redress their grievances against the Dominion Government. The ensuing campaign to suppress Riel’s (Second) Rebellion was a short one, confined to the year 1885, and ended with the defeat of the rebels at Batoche in May. The government’s forces were commanded by General Middleton and amongst them was Lieut Arthur Howard, formerly an officer in the United States Army but resident in Canada since 1880. Engaged in the armaments business, he was trying to interest the Canadian Government in the Gatling Gun just as the rebellion broke out and so he immediately volunteered to support Middleton with two of his guns. In fact, one gun was turned over to another unit but Howard and his remaining gun played a decisive role in the four day battle of Batoche. Time and again he saved the regular troops from collapse and he emerged from the fighting with a legendary reputation and the sobriquet ‘Gat’ which remained with him for the rest of his life. In view of at least one expert, Batoche was the most important battle fought on the North American continent in which the Gatling Gun proved to be the decisive weapon. Following this theory to its logical conclusion, it is no surprise that the man behind that single gun at Batoche became a Canadian folk-hero overnight.
During the Boer War, he volunteered for service after war broke out and served with various Canadian units until given command of a corps of scouts, the Canadian Scouts.
He was commended for his actions several times but that recorded on 7 July 1900 was perhaps the most typical of the hero of Batoche. Lt Col Anderson, Commanding 1st MI Corps, reported: “I would again bring this officer’s name to notice as having done exceptionally good work with his Machine Gun. At Leewburg on 7th July, Lt. Howard took his gun up into the firing line… and very materially assisted in keeping the enemy back. When the line was outflanked and compelled to retire, Lt. Howard, having had his own horse, his Sergt.’s horse and the gun horse hit, also the gun carriage hit twice, took the Gun off the carriage and walked away with it under his arm…Lt. Howard’s coolness in action is remarkable and he and his gun are always to be relied upon…..” This kind of bravado occasionally however brought him into conflict with authority and when Col. Lessard reprimanded him for disobeying orders and thereby endangering his life, Howard retorted that “he was quite prepared to give his life; that the war could not be won by remaining in camp; and that he did not believe in inaction” [source: Hilder papers].
Hilder goes on to state that “he was, eventually killed on 17 February 1901 when he, and some of his men of the Canadian Scouts, were caught in an ambush. He would not surrender and kept on firing until he had used up the last of his ammunition”.
Howard poses in a studio with the very Gatling Gun he used during the North West Rebellion.
The Gatling Gun was a quick-firing machine gun using many barrels to fire off a shower of bullets. Howard turned a crank to rotate the barrels and fire them. The rate of fire was quick with the bullets being fed in by a stick magazine on top of the breech.