During the bloodshed and chaos that was the First World War, hundreds of Canadians signed up to fight for their country overseas, mostly young men. There was one man though that stood out from the crowd and put his name down in the history books as one of the deadliest snipers ever to have shot a rifle. His tales of bravery are quite famous, and he was known to be as fearless as they come – for his soldier buddies they just knew him as Peggy.
Francis Pegahmagabow was a Native Indian from the Parry Island Indian Reserve, born in 1889, now known as Wasauksing First Nation. He grew up deep in the customs of his local tribe the Anishnaabe, learning to live off the land by fishing and hunting. He also learned about traditional medicine, learning about Anishnaabe spirituality along with Roman Catholicism. At the age of 12, he stopped school, finding work at lumber camps and local fishing stations. When the war was declared in Europe, he was 25 years old and ready to fight, so enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force.
He found himself assigned some of the deadliest jobs of the war: running messages from headquarters to the front lines, working as a scout, and as a sniper. As he had spent so much of his youth hunting he was uniquely skilled to be a sniper. Sneaking into No Man’s Land under darkness, he would expertly hide and wait patiently for a German helmet to appear. His mix of being extremely patient and having such a true aim made him the deadliest sniper in the whole war. Peggy had 378 confirmed kills by the end of the war, but many believe it was much higher.
Furthermore, he was unkillable, surviving the first chlorine attack at the battle of Ypres and seeing deadly battles at Somme, Amiens, and Passchendaele. Discharged in 1919, he is the most decorated First Nation soldier ever. But unlike other Canadian soldiers, he did not return home to a hero greeting, he returned home to inequality as First Nation Indians were not considered citizens of Canada at the time.
Peggy went on to dedicate the rest of his life fighting for Indigenous rights, advocating for change, and leading his people creating many of the early Indigenous Civil Rights organizations that do so much today.