His Ojibway name was Binaaswi, which roughly translates to “the wind that blows off,” but history largely remembers him as Corp. Francis ‘Peggy’ Pegahmagabow, a scout and sniper who served in WWI.
Pegahmagabow rose to fame within Canada after being credited with 378 kills and 300 captures during his time abroad, but the Indigenous communities where he lived knew him as much more than a sniper, or a scout: he was a passionate activist, icon, leader, and family member.
The Legend of ‘Peggy’
Pegahmagabow’s legacy began during his time in the trenches: he fought in the Second Battle of Ypres; survived the Battle of the Somme, a battle that claimed the lives of over a million people (the German people called it ‘das Bludbat’—the bloodbath); and navigated the muddy, bloody fields near Passchendaele.
Throughout all these dangerous missions, the legend of ‘Peggy’ continued to grow.
‘Peggy’ as Pegahmagabow was known to his fellow soldiers, was celebrated for his bravery in the trenches. At night, under the cloak of darkness, he would camouflage himself in the muddy, broken earth and crawl into No Man’s Land. There, he would stay hidden—sometimes for days at a time—until he could get a clear shot.
In addition to being a famous sniper, Pegahmagabow was also renowned as a messenger and a scout. He saved countless lives by carrying important orders back and forth between the units stationed along the front. By the end of WWI, Pegahmagabow was awarded three Military Medals for his courage and bravery. He is one of just 38 soldiers to hold this distinction.
Coming Home & Activism
The man who would become famous for his bravery wasn’t even recognized as a citizen in his own country. Though he is still the most decorated Indigenous soldier in Canadian history, the respect Pegahmagabow earned on the battlefield did not come home with him. This led ‘Peggy’ and other Indigenous veterans to become politically active. He refused to be sidelined by the Indian Agent assigned to him by the Department of Indian Affairs.
After nearly four years abroad earning the respect of his comrades, Pegahmagabow became a Chief and Councillor of what today is known as the Wasauksing First Nation. Eventually, he rose to the position of Supreme Chief of the Native Independent Government, a precursor to today’s Assembly of First Nations.
Learn About Francis ‘Peggy’ Pegahmagabow
There’s so much more to the story of Francis ‘Peggy’ Pegahmagabow, and a great place to start is in our upcoming graphic novel anthology This Place: 150 Years Retold (May 2019).
This captivating story is written by David A. Robertson (author of When We Were Alone and The Reckoner Trilogy) and features beautiful illustrations and colour by artist Natasha Donovan (The Sockeye Mother and Surviving the City).
‘Peggy’ follows a young Francis as he survives the trenches at Ypres, reflecting on the Ojibway teachings which shaped him, and the differences between how Indigenous peoples were treated on the battlefield compared to back home:
“Here, we’re like equals. I even outrank soldiers. Back home, it’s not like that,” Francis says in the story. “The government treats us like children. They take our land, they put us on reserves, and when they want something else, they come and take that too.”
Discover this powerful and inspiring story by pre-ordering your copy of This Place: 150 Years Retold today.
To learn more about Francis Pegahmagabow, see Sounding Thunder: The Stories of Francis Pegahmagabow by Brian D. McInnes.
For other stories about Indigenous veterans, see The Scout: Tommy Prince by David A. Robertson.