The Canadian West wasn't completely empty. Native people had lived on the prairies for thousands of years. Fur traders had built trading posts while other traders traveled freely across the country. Villages had grown around the trading posts. The Red River Settlement grew from an attempt to attract settlers to southern Manitoba.
The Métis people living at the Settlement felt that new British and American settlers would take away their farms. They set up their own government under Louis Riel. No police force existed and soon arguments turned into armed battles. The government sent the militia to bring peace. By the time they arrived, one man had been hung and Riel had fled to the United States.