RCMP HERITAGE STORIES 2
The RCMP Quarterly Vol. 30 January 1965
The Early North-West Mounted Police
By Captain Cecil E. Denny
The organization of the North-West Mounted Police in the year 1873 in Toronto, Ontario, and their march west the following year to the country between Manitoba and Rocky Mountains to put a stop to the illicit whisky traffic being carried on by American traders from Montana with the Indians of the plains, is now fairly well known.
The Force consisted of 300 Officers, NCOs and men, divided into six troops of 5 men in each. Our march was westward from the province of Manitoba. There were no trails in those days so we had to take guides with us, but we found after passing the Cypress Hills that these so-called guides knew nothing of the country beyond that point, which we soon discovered was inhabited by savage and warlike tribes of Blackfoot and other Indians who subsisted entirely on the buffalo, which as that period, roamed the plains in immense herds.
There were no white men in this territory with the exception of the “whisky-traders from the south, who had built very strong stockade forts on some of the rivers, and their chief rendezvous was a fort named “Whoop-Up,” located at the junction of the St. Mary and Oldman rivers. This was our objective, our first work being to arrest and punish these lawless traders and put a stop to the miserable traffic, and this, as is now well known, we succeeded in doing in the years that followed.
On our way westward, we met a number of members of the International Boundary Survey Expedition who were then returning homeward, having that year completed the demarcation of the boundary line on the 49th parallel of latitude between the United States and Canada. They were accompanied across the plains by American troops, without who protection the work would not have been possible, as the wild Indians were most of the time on the war path and were not at all backward in attacking any party of whites they came across who might appear unable to defend themselves. We finally located a site for our headquarters, some distance above Fort Whoop-Up on the Oldman river, west of where it is joined by Willow Creek, which post we named Fort Macleod in honor of our Commanding Officer. This was in the fall of 1874.
Three troops, “B” “C” and “F” came west and troop “A” left us at Roche Percee, west of the border of Manitoba and went north to the Saskatchewan and up that river to Fort Edmonton. The following year this troop, under the command of Supt. W. D. Jarvis, and “D” and “F” troops under the Commissioner, Lt.-Col. G. A. French, returned from the Cypress country and wintered near Fort Pelly, building the Swan River barracks.
In the country west of the Cypress Hills, as I have previously stated, there were no white men except the whisky traders and no trails of any kind other than those made by the buffalo. The prairie was fairly alive with game and the rivers full of fish, and so for several years the buffalo furnished us with our fresh meat supply, as no cattle were brought in for some years after our arrival.
All supplies were freighted in by bull teams from Fort Benton, Montana, and these were brought up the Missouri River to Benton by steamer in the summer. Our mail, which we were lucky to get once a month, also came by way of Benton, our nearest railroad at the time being some 500 miles to the south.
We were late in completing the building at Fort Macleod and our horses were in poor condition after our arduous march. They were sent to Sun River, Montana, to winter in the care of Maj. J. M. Walsh. We purchased some cayuses for our work amongst the Indians, who, by the way, we saw little of, and our time was fully occupied hunting down the reckless and daring whisky traders.
When these outlaws were captured, their buffalo robes, teams and wagons would be confiscated, and if the men could not pay their fines, they were imprisoned in our guardrooms which were kept full all winter. Long-term prisoners had to be sent the following summer across the plains to the nearest penitentiary, which was at Stony Mountain near Winnipeg, for many years the only one in the west.
In the spring of 1875, Major Walsh with his troop went east to the Cypress Hills and built Fort Walsh. This was a noted place for the Indians to congregate: the Crees and Assiniboines from the east, the Sioux from the south and sometimes the Blackfoot from the West.
The Cypress Hills country had long been a bloody battle ground for the various tribes for generations past. Peigans, Bloods and Blackfoot proper comprised the Blackfoot Nation and were known as the Plains Indians. The Sarcees, who numbered about 1,200 strong, lived and hunted and had been at peace with the Blackfoot for many years. This tribe came originally from the Peace River country. There was also the tribe of Stoney Indian, numbering over 1,500, who lived together near the mountains, not going far from the foothills or out on the plains on account of the Blackfoot whose hereditary enemies they were.
We found the main camping-ground and the winter camping place of the Blackfoot was at what we named Blackfoot Crossing, on the Bow river where the town of Gleichen is now located. It took this name at the first treaty with the western Indians in the year 1877, the Blackfoot called this place “Si-ok-pa-qui,” which means ridge-under-the-water,” and it had been a camping and burying ground for generations. It was the point where traders with liquor would go, therefore the police were determined to build a fort and occupy it with one troop at some point on the Bow river not too far from this crossing. In the spring of 1875, “F” Troop, to which I belonged was ordered for this duty – Inspector Brisebois and myself being the two officers of this troop.
We left Fort Macleod in August of that year with 50 men, about 60 horses, wagons, tents, provisions and baggage. Jerry Potts, our half-breed guide and Colonel Macleod accompanied us. We struck the Bow river first at about the mouth of High River, but failed to find a suitable building site at that point. It was decided to cross the river and we had to ferry over all our equipment by dismantling our wagons and using the wagon-boxes – with the wagon-sheets which had been well greased lashed around the boxes – two wagon-boxes being fastened together with strong ropes. By swimming our horses and transporting our supplies and baggage in our improvised ferry boat, we did good work, crossing everything in one day.
From this point we struck north to the Red Deer River, camping there for a week at the mouth of Tail Creek on the southside. Colonel Macleod had received word that Maj. Gen. E. Selby-Smyth (Commander of the Canadian militia) had passed up the Saskatchewan River to Fort Saskatchewan and from there he would proceed south to Fort Macleod and return to the east by way of Fort Benton and the Missouri River. We were instructed to meet him with his escort of police, who were all picked from Superintendent Jarvis’ troop, at a point on the Red Deer River where there was a good ford and the spot where the city of Red Deer is now situated.
We travelled up the Red Deer on the south side to this point and had to wait a considerable time for the arrival of the party. Colonel Macleod left u here and accompanied General Selby-Smyth’s party, taking the same trail we had made and crossing the Bow River at the same place. Our instructions were to proceed south to Bow River with “F” troop, our half-breed guides knowing of a good open site on that river on which to build a fort. After locating the place, we were to send word to Fort Macleod, when bull teams would be sent up with men to cut logs and build a stockade fort.
We arrived on the north side of the Bow River in mid-August, just opposite where the city of Calgary now stands; it certainly was a wonderful site- a broad open valley on the south side up and down the Bow with the Elbow River running into the Bow from the south and the Rocky Mountains standing like sentinels along the western horizon. At that time there was plenty of good timber along the Bow and Elbow Rivers, principally pine and Cottonwood. When we looked down the hill over-looking the Bow valley on the north side, the scene was a most impressive one.
The valley where the city of Calgary now stands was actually black with moving bands of buffalo, and these extended to the south on the hills as far as the eye could see and the same to the east on the Elbow River.
Up the Bow River there was a heavy forest of spruce and pine, just about where Shagganappi Point is – a name by the way afterwards given this locality by us – it being a favorite camping ground for the half-breeds who used shaganappi – raw-hide buffalo skin – for many purposes, but particularly for lashing together their red river carts; one small tent pitched near the mouth of the Elbow River was the only sign of human habitation.
This tent we afterwards found out was occupied by a Catholic priest, the Rev. Father Doucet, who had been sent south from Edmonton with an Indian boy to make his way to our fort at Macleod. You may be sure that he was glad to see us, not being anxious to meet any parties of Blackfoot. Fortunately he had so far not encountered any as the Indians were still far out on the open plains to the southeast after buffalo. It must be remembered at that date, the Hudson’s Bay Company had no trading posts south of Edmonton, which was then only a strong stockade fort, built of logs close to and over-looking the Saskatchewan, not far from where the CPR high level bridge now crosses the river and just below the ideal and commanding site of the Alberta Legislative buildings. Richard Hardisty was the Chief Factor of this post, but the company did very little trade with the Plains Indians unless parties of them came north especially to trade their robes, which they did occasionally.
A Short History of the Force 1873- 1948
RCMP October 1948
A Short History of the Force 1873- 1948
By John Peter Turner
The full tale of the Force’s 75 years’ service cannot be told within the compass of a magazine article. The author, as official historian of the R.C.M.P., terms this a summary in which he touches only briefly upon the milestones in the history of the old North West Mounted Police, the Royal North West Mounted Police, and the present-day Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
To the average Canadian mind of the early ‘70’s, Western Canada, “The North West,” stretched vaguely between Ontario and British Columbia – a veritable terra incognita, an unknown land. The great territorial monopoly of the Hudson’s Bay Company, granted under charter by Charles II of England, became, in 1870, the property of the Dominion of Canada, 200 years after the affixing of the royal signature to one of the most generous and mutually profitable covenants of all time. And a young but far-seeing statehood centred at Ottawa hurdled a thousand miles of wilderness to assume an enormous accession – an immensity of virgin soil, a region of magnificent promise to the settler.
Hitherto, occupation of the northwestern plains had rested upon the savage; barter and exploration had gone forward by sufferance of the natives; the log trading-fort had become an accepted attribute of Indian life. In the nature of selective choice, the era of initial conquest had drawn upon those best fitted to its needs; but in 1867 a more ambitious conception had blossomed, an enlightened transition was visualized, a new conquest was launched, intimately bound up with the scheme of a great confederation.
Three years after the initial fusion of Canadian interests in the East, the Province of Manitoba was created in the West – to be included in the Dominion. British Columbia was soon to follow. Pushing wide the main gateway to the plains, the ambitious town of Winnipeg sprouted from the embryo of old Fort Garry, and a land of extraordinary promise loomed beneath Western skies.
Plans for the linking of East and West by a transcontinental railway were born. But before the rich resources of the recently-acquired realm could be developed, a new order was needed throughout what had always been an enormous Indian battle ground and buffalo pasture.
Incidental to the transfer of the Western country from the Hudson’s Bay Company to Canada, a semi-native opposition, under the leadership of the impetuous, 24-year old Louis Riel, flared on the Red River near Fort Garry. Barely was that uprising suppressed by the Red River Expedition in 1870, than startling stories began to filter eastward. Lawless adventurers were debauching the red men of the plains as a means to an appalling reign of robbery. Tribes were being inflamed against tribes, Indians against whites. In fact, the tidings from the “Far West” were sufficiently substantiated to warrant prompt official action; the new conquest called for precautionary and courageous planning.
It became the duty of the young dominion to furnish to the Western realm an adequate measure of the national authority, an efficient security for settlers and natives, and a guarantee of protection for the proposed railway.
At this time, the American frontier directly south of the Canadian plains displayed a diametrically marked contrast to Saskatchewan country in the field of Indian trade. South of the line brazen defiance of civilized amenities found ready tolerance. Often, as against the ethics followed by trading interests in the North, methods took the form of ghastly inhumanities. Along the Missouri river, frontier heroes, fortune-hunting outcasts of both sexes, expungers of the law, side-armed sheriffs, desperadoes, murderers and degenerates, in short a majority of the white population, constituted a blunt and bloody spearhead that had sunk deeply into the vitals of the West. Concurrently, a long and uncompromising campaign waged by the United States Government in an attempt to subdue the Indians of the trans-Mississippi was in full swing. The only Indians deemed worthy of consideration were generally conceded to be dead ones. Shady characters with loose gun habits and callous insensibilities were commonplace. To a great extent, Montana was a land wilfully unmindful of the Decalogue. But, be it said, not all the good men belonged to the Canadian side, nor all the bad to the American.
Fort Benton on the Upper Missouri, less than 200 miles below the Canadian line, had grown to be a rough-and-tumble slattern of a place, a rendezvous for the evil, the indifferent and – in the minority – the untainted precursors of organized settlement. Formerly a stronghold of the American Fur Company, now an ungoverned, unshackled supply point at the head of steamboat navigation, the place had fallen to a group of free traders who, recognizing no international boundary (it being as yet unmarked across the farthest plains), had fostered a reign of outlawry that was spreading ominously across the southwestern portion of the Canadian West.
Between the Saskatchewan and the Missouri, a traditional ferocity among the tribes of the Blackfoot Confederacy toward all comers had long challenged and withstood the establishment of trading posts by the Hudson’s Bay Company. The widely-reputed terrors of the plains – the Blackfoot proper, the Bloods and Peigans, all speaking the same language, and the Sarcees, an adopted ally – were notorious for their hatred of intrusion. But despite their inherent antagonism, these Indians were now being systematically victimized from the south by lead and liquid position.
With remarkable effrontery and dare-devil courage, the consuming “Battle of Civilization” in North America was assailing its last major objective. Buffalo robes were the El Dorado. Less-sought skins of other animals and even the persons of young squaws were not despised, while the small wiry horses of the Indian, procurable by fair means or foul, held variable values. For all of which, simple commodities – blankets, antiquated firearms, trinkets, tobacco, and such – were traded to the red men. But gunpowder and liquor held the stage.
The establishment, in 1868, of Fort Hamilton (later to bear the appropriate appellation of Fort Whoop-Up) and the subsequent erection of smaller liquor posts such as Stand-Off, Slide-Out, Kipp, High River and Sheep Creek, north of the boundary and immediately east of the foothills of the Rockies, had presaged a state of lawlessness that promised evil to the Canadian scene. With the Hudson’s Bay Company’s influence removed, the Montana trade began to spread far northward above the U.S. Canada line, as well as eastward to the Cypress Hills. In sheer defiance of the laws of Canada and the United States, brigandage straddled and controlled the border country. Unlimited liquor portended utter ruination of Canada’s Indians of the plains. Uninterrupted rum-running, bare-faced robbery, unprovoked bloodshed were the common usages of an unpreventable free licence.
The reports were so serious that the lieutenant-governor of Manitoba assigned an officer to examine the conditions. His finding was that the entire North West was “without law, order or security for life or property,” and it was recommended that a civil magistrate or commissioner, after the models existing in Ireland and India, be appointed; that a well-equipped force of from 100 to 150 men, one-third to be mounted, be formed, also several government posts established, and Indian titles to the land extinguished by treaty.
The commanding officer of the Canadian Militia was also dispatched upon a Western reconnaissance. He reported that a large military force was not required, but that the presence of a certain force would provide safety, prevent bloodshed and preserve order. Among the locations he recommended was one in the Porcupine Hills, near the Rockies, to keep watch upon the international boundary. Regarding the uniform to be worn, he stressed the importance of the time-honoured British scarlet, it would gain the respect of the Indians, who had learned to trust the soldiers of H.M. 6th Regiment of Foot, formerly stationed at Fort Garry.
Meanwhile Hudson’s Bay Company officers and church missionaries made vigorous complaints; a veritable plague of illicit traffickers, swarming across the border was demoralizing human life. Smallpox had also come from the south and was taking its toll of the Indians of the plains.
Early in May, 1873, the inroad of alien despoilers seeking the last great Indian wealth of the plains culminated in an outburst of frontier depravity such as Canada could not and would not countenance. On Battle Creek in the Cypress Hills, primordial man was suddenly confronted by a wave of civilization gone berserk. Blood-lust and liquor ran hand in hand. A hapless camp of inoffensive Assiniboines, wrongly accused of stealing horses, was set upon and butchered by one of the Benton gangs. But even before word of this wholesale blood-letting came eastward, matters were progressing at Ottawa.
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On April 28 (1873), a resolution introduced by the Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, in proposal of a bill “respecting the Administration of Justice and for the establishment of a Police Force in the North West Territories” was communicated to His Excellency the Governor General and recommended to the consideration of the House. On May 3, possibly the very day the Assiniboines in the Cypress Hills were being slaughtered, the bill was presented, and in due course was debated, given the prescribed three readings, passed by the senate, and adopted.
May 23 was one of those bewitching days that with the approach of summer shed their benisons along the Ottawa Valley. On “Parliament Hill,” 2,000 miles distant from the outrage on Battle Creek, a leisurely calm filled the legislative chamber of the Commons. Within the last several weeks there had been some acrimonious and politically-prophetic tilting over the engrossing topic of the proposed transcontinental railway, but apart from that, the work of the House had fallen into humdrum routine. The Treasury benches were full, pages flitted here and there with notes. His Excellency, the Earl of Dufferin, approached with dignified tread and took the chair. Under the Royal Assent, given on that quiet and humble afternoon on the banks of the Ottawa, 75 years ago, the North West Mounted Police became a living, sentient organism.
When the revolting details of the Cypress Hills massacre became known, indignation flared on the front pages of the eastern press, and arrangements for the guardship of Canada’s far-flung acquisition were speeded up.
It was a strenuous period for the young Dominion. The Fenian raids of 1866 and ’70 had drawn heavily upon the Treasury. Because of the enormous outlay involved, the future of the transcontinental railway was obscure. The demarcation of the western boundary between the United States and Canada was being carried forward under armed escort by an international boundary commission (it had barely reached the neighbourhood of the Pembina Mountain in Southern Manitoba). A severe trade depression prevailed, and revenue was limited.
Nevertheless, a complete plan for the organization, equipment and distribution of the authorized constabulary was proceeded with. Only competent horsemen of sound constitution, good character, between the ages of 18 and 40, were to be enlisted. All had to be able to read and write either English or French. The command was to be divided into troops. The commanding officer was to hold the position of “Commissioner.” Service was to be for at least three years.
It was to be a semi-military body, the immediate objective being: to stop the liquor traffic among the Indians; to gain the Indians’ respect and confidence; to break them of their old practices by tact and patience; to collect customs dues, and to perform all duties such as a police force might be called upon to carry out. Sometime later an act was passed prohibiting the importation or manufacture in the North West of all intoxicating liquors, and a Board of Indian Commissioners was appointed to deal with treaty-making and such general policy as might be laid down by the Department of Indian Affairs.
The authorized strength of the Force was 300 men, but it was decided, for the time being, to form only three troops of 50 men each, these to proceed westward that autumn (1873) over the so-called Dawson Route from the head of Lake Superior.
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In late October, the little command reached Red River, and quarters were assigned them 20 miles downstream from Winnipeg at the Lower Fort Garry, or “Stone Fort”, proffered by the Hudson’s Bay Company. Toward the end of the year, a young British officer, Lt. Col. George A. French of “B” Battery and the School of Gunnery, Kingston, Ont., officially assumed the office of Commissioner.
During the winter the men trained hard, preparing for the gruelling journey across the plains the following spring. From the Stone Fort the first patrol was made in bitterly cold weather after some whisky traders on Lake Winnipeg.
The Commissioner soon realized that the force would have to be well prepared before launching westward, for beyond the farthest point reached by the Boundary Commission, the country was practically unknown. Convinced that 150 men were not enough for the task, he recommended further recruiting, to bring the strength to the full 300. The move was officially authorized, and in the spring of 1874 three additional troops, with some spare men, left Toronto. Instead of travelling by the lakes and Dawson Road, this second group made the westward journey by rail through Detroit, Chicago and St. Paul, by permission from Washington, to a point in North Dakota, a few miles below the Manitoba boundary. When they recrossed the line, they were joined by those who had wintered at the Stone Fort.
Before this, a small detachment, the first in the history of the Force, had been stationed at the Hudson’s Bay Company post of Fort Ellice, 300 miles north-west of Winnipeg, on the main cart trail to Fort Edmonton. At the time, this point was favoured as a site for headquarters.
At Dufferin, just above the Canadian line, the newly-levied policemen made good use of the Boundary Commission headquarters. Here it was found that the three Troops “A”, “B” and “C” from the Stone Fort were short of the required strength, due to careful weeding out, and men from “D”, “E” and “F” were transferred to make up the deficiency; others who seemed unequal to requirements were released.
On the second night at Dufferin a terrific thunderstorm swept upon the camp. Tents were blown away, wagons overturned, and most of the horses stampeded over the prairies for many miles. All but one were recovered, but valuable time was lost in rounding them up. The season was getting on; and the Blackfoot country was 800 miles away.
All necessary arrangements were pushed forward. The spirit of adventure, the zest of recognized danger provided the urge to press on.
On July 8, 1874, the entire Force, with the exception of a small staff remaining at Dufferin and the detachment previously sent to Fort Ellice, turned to its exacting task. To the clatter of accoutrements, the dull thud of hoofs, the wail of greaseless Red River carts, each troop took its place in the line. It was a scene never before depicted on the silent plains. Two hundred and seventy-four eager faces, not counting guides and cart-drivers, were set toward the West – a mere handful of men to patrol 300,000 square miles of virgin territory. A great experiment, built on sheer confidence and inspiration, had begun. Henceforth, if all went well, there was to be no further brigandage, no “Wild West”, in Canada.
Day after day, the diminutive army of riders, ox-carts, wagons, cattle for slaughter, two field pieces and two mortars, portable forges, wheeled kitchens, mowing machines and other equipment, flouted all discouragements and difficulties. To make the best of it soon became an essential part of duty. Often strung out for miles, the cavalcade pushed doggedly on its way. Bit by bit, the long grind left its impress, yet these first rough experiences disclosed an endurance that augured well.
Fort Whoop-Up was reported to be at the junction of the Bow and Belly rivers, but, at long last, the liquor traders’ main stronghold could not be found.
With provisions all but exhausted, with horses staggering mechanically forward, the red-coated command turned southward near the junction of the Bow river with the South Saskatchewan toward the Sweet Grass Hills near the international boundary. Many horses and oxen had succumbed along the way. Immense herds of buffalo were on every side. Hard-bitten and trail weary, everyone from Commissioner to bugler was reduced to unsurrendering stamina to see it through. Sheer nerve energy kept the column moving – that and the enthusiasm of adventure. By late September they had traversed a vastness of stark and silent desolation, throughout which there were living probably not more than 100 white people.
A veritable realm of savagery lay on every side. On the plains north of the 49th parallel, about 30,000 Indians hunted buffalo, waged inter-tribal war, and enjoyed primordial opulence. In addition to the Blackfoot, Peigans, Bloods and Sarcees, wandering bands of Plain Crees, Assiniboines and Saulteaux occupied the country. Except for the widely-separated Hudson’s Bay Company posts along the north, a few half-breed settlements and some itinerant missionaries, the red men were the only inhabitants of the interminable grasslands. The Boundary Commission had completed the marking of the international boundary to a point in the Kootenay, having joined their work with a similar survey carried out a few years previously from the Pacific Coast.
Upon reaching the Sweet Grass Hills, “D” and “E” Troops were instructed to travel slowly eastward to winter at the headquarters post, and being within easy reach of the big supply centre of Fort Benton on the Missouri, Commissioner French and Asst. Commr. J. F. Macleod, leaving the Force encamped, proceeded southward with a small escort to purchase supplies and horses and communicate by wire with Ottawa. At Benton it was learned that plans had been changed; arrangements were made for headquarters’ barracks to be erected on the Swan River near the Hudson’s Bay post of Fort Pelly, north of Fort Ellice.
From Benton, the Commissioner joined the returning troops, and after a long and arduous journey via the southern slopes of the Cypress Hills and across the valley of Qu’Appelle, reached Swan River. The barracks were incomplete and winter had set in. As a consequence, an officer and one troop were left in charge and the rest returned to Dufferin (later Emerson). In four months a round trip of 1.959 miles had been achieved and not a man had been lost.
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Meantime, under the command of the assistant commissioner and guided by a remarkably efficient, half-Peigan plainsman picked up at Benton – one who was destined to be a faithful servant of the Force for many years – “B”, “C” and “F” Troops pushed north-westward through a country teeming with buffalo to a site on the Old Man’s river near the foothills of the Rockies. On the way they came across Fort Whoop-Up – almost deserted. The Missouri whisky-traffickers had been warned by some buffalo hunters that a large number of men wearing red coats and drawing two cannons were approaching from the east.
By mid-October the building of Fort Macleod – the first outpost of constituted authority in the farthest West – was begun, and a fortnight later, “A” Troop which had branched northward from a point less than midway of the main line of march from Dufferin, found temporary quarters in Fort Edmonton, the principal Hudson’s Bay Company post on the North Saskatchewan.
The 150 men on the Old Man’s river in the heart of Blackfoot-land were completely isolated and without hope of reinforcements. Their inexperience, the unknown strength and disposition of the Indians and the lawless activities of border freebooters involved possibilities of danger.
Winter swooped down ere the first make-shift buildings were completed. As yet, no one had opposed the establishment of the little fort. But the immense panorama on every side gave ample evidence that the long arm of constituted authority had reached a land “beyond the world”. A sense of lonely, unending distance prevailed. The Old Man’s river from the Rocky Mountains flowed nearby; groves of tall cottonwood along the banks alternated with meads of withered pasturage; to the northwest, the forests of the Porcupine Hills stood out in dark contrast to the white summits of the mountains.
It was an ideal location. Building material and fuel were close at hand. In the broad bottoms hay could be gathered in the summer season. Deer, elk and smaller game frequented the river brushlands and the foothills. Countless buffalo and antelope promised a bountiful supply of meat, and the river teemed with fish.
Western Canada’s destiny rested upon that little company of ragged horsemen. Before the country could be settled, peace with the Indians had to be manoeuvred; the lawless traders had to go.
Fortunately, the task was approached with utmost foresight and a minimum ostentation. No great generals, no regiments of soldiery, no merciless cavalry, no prodigious munitions of war, no armed oppression. Just tact, courage, understanding and diplomacy. Assistant Commissioner Macleod had already made up his mind that firm and cordial relations alone would prevail, that honesty and perseverance would be the watchwords of the Force. A whole army could not allay an aroused Indian temper; a mere handful of fair-dealing and fearless men might plant the seeds of peace and concord.
The chief objective of the Force was now obvious – to make life and property secure; to establish law and order – and while preparing for winter, the pioneer policemen lost no opportunity to deal sternly with the hardened vendors of “fire-water”, or to introduce Indian and freebooter alike to civilized procedure and authority. From the very first, the Indians were not slow to sense the meaning of the scarlet tunic. In due course, Maitiens le Droit, “Maintain the right” – the motto of the Force – became a recognized tenet of the plains, an open passport to security.
Native chiefs visited the small outpost, first in timid curiosity, then in full confidence of Canada’s integrity, Barbarity and civilization met, and when at last the tall, lithe figure of Crowfoot, head of the Confederacy, rode up surrounded by his dusky retinue, the stage was set. Dismounting and advancing cautiously to where Assistant Commissioner Macleod waited to receive him, the “King of the Plains”, displaying an impressive dignity, cordially shook hands. On that day, Dec. 1, 1874, Canada’s ship of state was safely launched upon the broad prairie ocean of the West!
The calibre of Canada’s Mounted Police was early established and imperishably maintained. Soon, discipline in its most extreme requirements was accepted without complaint. Love of adventure was the moving force among the men, and from the outset there existed an unfailing esprit de corps.
By 1875 the Force was firmly planted. The bordermen responsible for the Assiniboine massacre in the Cypress Hills, two years before, were rounded up for trial. Close to the scene of their murderous outrage, 160 miles east of Fort Macleod, Fort Walsh was built and in no time was as busily occupied as the parent post. In the north, Fort Saskatchewan was erected, 19 miles from Fort Edmonton, and Fort Calgary sprang up where the Bow and Elbow rivers meet, midway between Forts Edmonton and Macleod.
That spring the Commissioner and headquarters staff moved from Dufferin to Swan River establishing on the way several subordinate posts in communication with Winnipeg, whence a telegraph line was being built. The North West Territories Act, passed at Ottawa, established a lieutenant-governor and N.W.T. council. In the Force itself there was a notable absence of strong-arm methods, no swaggering; only a steady persistence to make both white men and natives law-abiding citizens.
During the Force’s first year, though many disruptions and evasions of the law were inevitable, it was soon felt that the restraining influence of the North West Mounted would be unyielding. In the summer of ’75, rumours spread that the French half-breeds near the Hudson’s Bay post of Fort Carlton on the North Saskatchewan were contemplating a separate government. The commanding officer of the Canadian militia was about to set out from Winnipeg on a tour of inspection, particularly of the Force. The Commissioner and 50 troopers accompanied him from Swan River, and at Fort Carlton the authority of the Crown was at once made apparent. The rumours died and disappeared like frosted leaves.
Major General Selby Smyth and his police escort proceeded westward, visited Fort Saskatchewan, then turned southward to Fort Macleod where he held council with the great Chief Crowfoot and a large number of Blackfoot. Crowfoot expressed great satisfaction with the presence in his country of the red-coated horsemen. With remarkable understanding this untutored statesman of the plains applied his discerning foresight toward peace as unremittingly as he had directed the welfare of his people in war. Macleod’s firm forbearance and friendly counsel had worked magic.
Subsequently, the commandant reported: “Too much value cannot be attached to the North West Police; too much attention cannot be paid to their efficiency.”
The East was confidently wooing the West. Save for occasional disruptions, the whisky traffic was a thing of the past. Fort Whoop-Up, the erstwhile headquarters of law-breakers from the south, was bridled and broken. It became a headquarters for supplies. The ability, character, tactfulness and courage of the N.W.M.P. had proved equal to the task.
The experiment – for such it was – was eminently satisfactory. The orderly procedure followed by a mere handful of determined men stood out in contrast with the armed clashes, misunderstandings, enmities and subterfuges south of the international boundary. Not that the task confronting Commissioner French, Assistant Commissioner Macleod and their six troops of mounted men was any sinecure; the very nature of the undertaking called for incredible efficiency. But a new day had dawned from Red River to the Rockies.
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Early in 1876, the Sioux, the most powerful tribe in all the northwestern States, appealed to the Blackfoot to cross the border and join them against the U.S. cavalry regiments. They promised booty and said that the combined forces would later turn northward, wipe out the Mounted Police and all white settlers. The offer was spurned, but was made again, and again refused. The Blackfoot maintained they were on friendly terms with the “Red Coats” and the “Great White Mother”. The Sioux then threatened to invade the Blackfoot country. But Crowfoot was adamant, and was informed that if the Blackfoot were assailed the Mounted Police would fight to protect their realm. Hearing of the dignified warrior’s loyalty, her Majesty Queen Victoria forwarded her grateful thanks to him.
Soon afterwards, the most ghastly clash between white men and red in all the history of the West stirred the civilized and Indian worlds.
In June, 1876, the long and bitter warfare between the U.S. Army and the Indians of the plains culminated on the Little Big Horn river, 300 miles south of the Cypress Hills. What was probably the largest Indian camp ever assembled on the North American continent resulted, composed almost entirely of Sioux and Cheyennes, under the leadership of the already renowned medicine man and necromancer Sitting Bull. Below the border, treaties had been disregarded by the feverish white invasion from the east, especially in the Black Hills of Dakota where gold had been discovered. The Sioux, on the defensive, were driven this way and that. Finally, they decided to make a stand. In that historic battle a fine military organization and one of the most picturesque and courageous officers – Major Gen. George A. Custer, of the 7th U.S. Cavalry – were needlessly sacrificed.
The result was cumulative. The great republic’s indignation was stirred to the depths. The Sioux, now scattered to the winds, turned northward to Canada for refuge. The first band of them crossed the international boundary to pitch their lodges 100 miles east of Fort Walsh. Further camps arrived, and in the spring of 1877, Sitting Bull and his immediate following appeared near the little police outpost at Wood Mountain.
More than 4,000 alien Indians soon occupied Canadian soil, and their coming marked the doom of native opulence – the extermination of the buffalo.
A supreme test confronted the Force. On the one hand, officers and men were continually called upon to pacify the Canadian Indians and prevent a union with the newcomers; on the other, to prevent the Sioux from spreading to the Blackfoot hunting grounds. But again, the loyalty of Crowfoot, staunch friend to Assistant Commissioner Macleod, together with a tireless and tactful handling of the situation, saved the day.
Shortly before the coming of the Sioux, Macleod was appointed to command the Force when Commissioner French resigned. Because of the general unrest along the border country, 100 men from the northern posts were transferred to Forts Macleod and Walsh, and Fort Macleod became the Headquarters. The security of life and property along the hundreds of miles of wild and treacherous boundary rested upon 213 officers and men.
Patrols from Fort Walsh and the sub-post at Wood Mountain, near the camps of the Sioux refugees, maintained the utmost vigilance, and Sitting Bull and his following were warned that they must live peacefully while in Canada. When U.S. Commissioners visited Fort Walsh to negotiate with Sitting Bull for his return to his own soil, they and the Mounted Police were disappointed. Sitting Bull liked Canada better.
Four powerful and influential elements now bore directly upon the human life of the Canadian plains – the Hudson’s Bay Company along the North Saskatchewan, the Sioux under Sitting Bull near the international boundary, the Blackfoot confederacy toward the west, and the North West Mounted Police everywhere.
With the disposal of Rupert’s Lan to the Crown, the Hudson’s Bay Company, though still exercising a highly important service in the supply trade, ceased to occupy a position of authority; the Sioux were undesirable visitors and an ever-present danger, and though the white man’s code had in most cases become the pattern of Indian life, the Blackfoot Confederacy still held the country bordering the foothills.
It was the aim and duty of the Mounted Police to reach a legal and lasting understanding with Crowfoot and free the country of the burden of Sitting Bull and his alien thousands. The seat of the Territorial Government was temporarily established at Swan River, under the Hon. David Laird, and shortly afterwards moved to Battleford.
* * *
Shortly after the establishment of the Province of Manitoba in 1870, treaties were made with the Indians adjacent to the Red river; and in 1874 and ’76, the way having been paved by the Force, the Crees, Assiniboines, and Saulteaux surrendered large portions of territory. But some 50,000 square miles, occupied by the Blackfoot, Bloods, Peigans, Sarcees and Mountain Assiniboines remained to be dealt with.
In view of the Sioux influx, the Government early in 1877 decided to delay no longer in bringing the entire North West within the legal scope of the administration, Lieutenant-Governor Laird and Commissioner Macleod were nominated to negotiate with Crowfoot and his brother chiefs. A great ceremony took place at the Blackfoot Crossing, on the Bow river, east of Fort Calgary. Amidst this last great assemblage of barbaric splendour, details were completed bearing upon the most important Indian treaty in Canadian annals. Proud chiefs, picturesque in their “war-bonnets” dominated the scene as they strode or rode silently through the throngs; but Chief Crowfoot, tall, straight as a lance, keen of eye, noble of feature and beautifully clad – the lord and master of the Confederacy – was by every comparison the most noteworthy and attractive. All the resplendencies of Indian finery were on parade – headdresses emblematic of valour and distinction, smoke-tanned war-shirts of wondrous texture, moccasins of intricate workmanship and decoration, painted symbolical robes, human-hair trophies from scalps of victims; head-bands, armlets, bracelets, garters, necklaces of bear-claws and elk teeth, ermine trimmings, fringes of otter and fox, and, not the least, war shields of buffalo hide decorated with brightly-coloured pigments and in many cases with a replica of the sun – the symbol of the red-man’s God.
The influence of the scarlet-coated riders was magical – the Force was regarded as the friend of all, and no one in all the thousands of copper-coloured Stone age people doubted that the police represented the great Mother’s authority fairly and squarely.
After signatures had been affixed by the representatives of the Government and the Indian dignitaries, Crowfoot testified to the belief and faith his people had in the Mounted Police: “If the police had not come to this country where would we all be now? Bad men and whisky were killing us so fast that very few of us would have been left today. The police have protected us as the feathers of the bird protect it from the frosts of winter.” Chief Red Crow of the Bloods testified in behalf of his following: “Three years ago, when the Mounted Police came to my country, I met and shook hands with Stamix Otokan (Macleod) at the Belly river. Since that time he has made me many promises, and has kept them all – not one of them has been broken. Everything that the Mounted Police have done has been for our good.”
With the signing of this treaty in 1877, complete sovereignty of the plains passed to the Dominion Government. The North West had come to be something more than a geographical area.
The great transition from buffalo ponies to ploughshares was carried out wholly under Mounted Police surveillance. The laws of the Dominion, or, as the Indian often termed them, “the words of the Great White Mother,” were entirely administered by the Force.
And in countless ways officers and men performed their multifarious duties. Smuggling was checked, stolen stock returned to rightful owners; horse thieves, gamblers, murderers – all who participated in crime – were run down; prairie fires attended to; customs dues collected; victims of winter blizzards succoured; starvation and other forms of privation overcome; illnesses and accidents innumerable allayed; mails carried; insane persons taken in; lost travellers found; weddings and funerals arranged; and, as settlements spread, mining, lumber, and railroad construction camps kept under strict observation.
In 1878-79, Fort Walsh became the Headquarters of the force. It was the natural result of a constant restlessness among the younger element in Sitting Bull’s following, and possible resistance to control among the other Indian bands in and about the Cypress Hills. For the command at Fort Walsh, slim enough at best, would be better able to keep pace with the situation. It also became necessary to increase the strength at Wood Mountain and maintain potential reinforcements at Fort Macleod outside but near the chief danger zone.
No more picturesque pages appear in Western history than those of the next few years, when the change from the old order to the new in and about the hills was taking place. And by no means the least onerous duty was to see that Sitting Bull’s Sioux did not use Canada as a base of operations against a friendly country, where an almost continuous condition of Indian warfare prevailed. Besides, there was a constant rumour that a Blackfoot-Cree-Sioux axis was being advocated by several native agitators.
* * *
In 1880, Commissioner Macleod, whose name was a byword for fair and fearless administration, became a stipendiary magistrate for the Northwest Territories, and Lt.-Col. A. G. Irvine, the assistant commissioner, was elevated to the command of the Force. Incidentally, about this time, the term “Troop” gradually gave way to “Division”.
The following year there were two outstanding events. The Marquis of Lorne, Governor General of Canada, escorted by Mounted Police, made a tour via the northerly posts, to Fort Calgary and For Macleod, and southward to Montana; and second, through the unremitting efforts of the police and the helpful sagacity, at the 11th hour, of a prominent French-Canadian trader in the Wood Mountain district, Sitting Bull was prevailed upon to give himself up to the U.S. authorities.
After the great chief’s surrender, the border posts of Macleod, Walsh and Wood Mountain became less important, and it devolved upon the Force to move the various Indians to allotted reserves, well away from the boundary.
Meanwhile the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway was forging ahead, a natural corollary of the N.W.M.P., and the Commissioner advised the Government to arrange for permanent headquarters on the line of steel at a more central site. An increase in the personnel was also urged. Accordingly, late in 1882 a new headquarters post was under construction near the Pile-of-Bones Creek (the Wascana), on the C.P.R. at a point henceforth to be called Regina, which also became the governmental capital of the North-west Territories. Soon afterwards, the local activities of Fort Walsh were transferred northward to Maple Creek and Medicine Hat on the transcontinental track.
The same year, the North West was reorganized into the Provisional Districts of Alberta, Assiniboia, Athabasca, and Saskatchewan. The strength of the Force was increased from 300 to 500, and the important innovation of a training depot for Mounted Police was established at Winnipeg (later transferred to Regina).
The alchemy of time had brought great and good changes, chiefly attributable to the firmness and square-dealing of the Mounted Police. But most of the erstwhile buffalo hunters were in sorry straits – the days of easy meat were no more. Barbed-wire had reached the prairies!
The Force was entering the second phase of its work. Thus far the task had been one of organization and location, and to a great extent experiment. In this, an achievement was attained beyond the most optimistic dreams of those responsible for the formation of the red-coated custodians of the law. The greatest accomplishment was the conciliation of the Indians, coupled with the suppression of the iniquitous liquor traffic.
The way had also been paved for Indian treaties and land reservations. But the settlement of these threatened to be serious. Indians resented the encroaching influx of white settlers. Another problem was the assistance to be given in making the treaties with the various bands, including the distribution of rations and other help incidental to the disappearance of the buffalo. Members of the Force now acted as customs collectors, postmasters, issuers of marriage licences, justices of the peace and magistrates. Horse stealing, an outstanding “virtue” of Indian life – to them it was fully that – had been greatly suppressed. Due to the watchful eyes of the Force and the respect for the law so ably and quietly inculcated, murders had been few; there was little serious crime.
Though the Sioux problem was disposed of, the Force found itself confronted by many and ever-increasing demands. The forging westward of the railway alone called for constant supervision and protection; the construction gangs, often a violet lot, repeatedly resented what they considered to be exploitation by their employers. Strikes occurred; liquor smugglers attempted to find a ready market for their wares; Indians grew suspicious of the white man’s designs.
But to the credit of the Mounted Police, general order prevailed.
The second Riel Rebellion broke out in 1885. The services of the Mounted Police were utilized in many ways throughout the campaign, starting with the skirmish of Duck Lake, when the police, assisted by volunteers from Prince Albert, were the government forces. And upon the mounted constabulary fell the final chapter – the round-up of the Indian leaders who had joined the half-breeds in rebellion. Louis Riel was hanged at Regina.
Lord Lansdowne, the Governor General of Canada, made a hurried trip through the West that autumn under police escort, visiting the Blackfoot and Blood Reserves, meeting the chiefs in friendly council about the time the last spike of the C.P.R. main line to the Pacific Coast was driven.
Then another jump in the strength of the Force occurred, this time to 1,000 men. In 1886 when Commissioner Irvine resigned, Lawrence Herchmer, of the Indian Department, was appointed to succeed him. A number of new officers were also brought in.
Increasing immigration into the North West saw new settlements springing up everywhere, and with the changing conditions an extensive system of patrolling was inaugurated; small detachments were established and a close and regular supervision of all points maintained, working out from strategically located posts. The swelling population added to the crime calendar, calling for rigid and special attention.
The force extended its field of operations in keeping with its traditional policy of preceding new settlements. Long Patrols were made into the Peace River country and along the Mackenzie.
* * *
Then came rumours of gold discoveries in the Yukon. A police detachment went there in 1895, and when the famous “rush” which reverberated round the world got under way, the Mounted Police were already well established and prepared. Ample records show how well they succeeded.
The orderly settlement of the North West during the decade following the rebellion of 1885, permitted a gradual reduction in the Force’s strength, but the Yukon needs took up some of the slack. The 1898 the strength harboured around 750 all ranks.
At Regina, Medicine Hat, Calgary, Macleod, Edmonton, Battleford, Prince Albert, Saskatoon and other points, villages and towns were developing; the enforcement of law and order became greater and more difficult.
Within a period of 25 years constitutional authority had been firmly rooted; the last Great West had been won by patience and forbearance coupled with tolerant cooperation. The whole aspect of life upon the plains had altered. Ranch houses and corrals dotted the landscape where Indians had warred and buffalo wandered. On virgin meadows domestic cattle followed the time-worn trails. Far and wide, the red-coated corporal and the picturesque cowboy came and went. A pioneer railway spanned the plains, throwing out branches this way and that; wires carried tidings from the outside world.
Throughout all this, no portion of the plains remained beyond the reach of the law.
Rapid developments followed one upon the other. Immigration increased; new settlements and mushroom villages sprang up; wheat-farming augmented the cattle industry. Many Indians turned to farming and ranching under government instructors. And in everything the Force helped, directed and influenced the multiplying citizenry of the plains. The entire West was settling down to a more varied form of life.
The North came steadily within the orbit of activity. In 1897, the most intensive activity was under way, but a detachment of 32 Mounted Police under Superintendent Bowen Perry, with 27 horses, were able to take part in London in a great procession celebrating Her Majesty Queen Victoria’s Jubilee.
Following the great gold rush, a conglomeration of all classes of people infested with criminal gangs faced the little force of red-coated men in the Yukon. Stirring incidents followed, but owing to strict vigilance and activity, murders and other major offences were surprisingly few.
One of the outstanding chapters in the records of the Mounted Police was written here – an epic that called for the utmost in courage and determination. Detachments were placed on the Chilcoot and White Horse Passes on the Alaskan border; the Union Jack was hoisted and the collection of customs begun, though the boundary line was of doubtful location.
A patrol going overland from Edmonton took a year to negotiate the 1,600 miles of forest and mountains to the gold-fields.
A Yukon judicial district was established, and in 1898 there were 12 officers and 254 men doing duty in the district, despite the fact that the personnel of the Force had fallen to less than 700. The Commissioner was forced to ask for an increase of 100 men, which was granted.
Headquarters for the Yukon District was now Dawson City. Skagway, on the U.S. side of the Yukon-Alaska boundary, had earned the title of “the roughest and toughest place on earth”, the hangout of the notorious “Soapy” Smith and his following of ruffians. Dyea was no better, and Sheep Camp, at the foot of Chilcoot, seethed with robbery and murder. But, in the face of the most exacting conditions, the police prevailed, often extending their operations across the boundary with the tacit approval of the U.S. authorities.
The duty of carrying mails to the scattered gold camps was undertaken, 64,000 miles being covered in a single year. Meantime, patrols introducing boats and dog sleds branched out to Lesser Slave Lake, Fort Resolution, Fort Simpson and other remote points.
War broke out in South Africa in 1899, and 245 members of the Force were granted leave of absence to enlist in the 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles and Strathcona’s Horse, both under the command of officers of the Mounted Police, and almost entirely officered by actual and former members of the Force. Many honours were bestowed, and for the first time the Victoria Cross found its way to the red-coated men of the West. Two were awarded the C.M.G., three the D.S.O., and three the D.C.M. Some gave their lives.
Upon their return, many of the seasoned Westerners retired, including Commissioner Herchmer, who had commanded the rifles and who relinquished the commissionership in 1900, to be succeeded by Supt. A. Bowen Perry.
Following the Boer War, settlers streamed into the West. More than 300,000, most of them inexperienced, took up prairie homesteads. The annals of the Force attest to the adventure, hardship and dogged perseverance undergone by the “Riders of the Plains” in administering to the countless needs of the newcomers.
The modern era had begun. Events followed events to add to the meritorious part already performed by the Force in building up the Dominion and broadening still further the field of its own usefulness. Striking changes were made in the uniform; all equipment requiring pipe-clay was discarded, the white helmet gave way to the Stetson hat.
In 1901, the Earl and Countess of Minto made an extended journey from post to post, all arrangements and escorts being attended to by the Force; and when the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York visited Canada on a world-wide tour, the red-coated officers and men were constantly in attendance. The same year, the Yukon strength was again increased – to about 300; and in remote portions of the North, the sphere of contact with the wilderness was extended.
In 1903 several posts were opened in the sub-Arctics. The police distribution now reached from the international boundary to the Polar Sea and from Hudson Bay to the Alaskan border. With the succeeding years, the duties became even more onerous.
The records display a splendid, if at times tragic, devotion to duty, and the profound respect for the Force that grew up with the years received official recognition in 1904, when the prefix “Royal” was bestowed by King Edward VII to mark the brilliant and steadfast services rendered. Simultaneously, the Earl of Minto became the first Honorary Commissioner.
At this time there were eight divisions of the Force, each with a headquarters post, embracing in all 84 detachments. And, as there were now some 350,000 people in the entire field of operations, the work was widely scattered. British rights to the Arctic Archipelago had been transferred to Canada some years before, and northern whalers and Eskimos made the acquaintance of the Force.
In 1905, by direction of Sir Wilfrid Laurier, the Prime Minister, the Provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta were created to form with Manitoba a triple division of the plains. The Force continued its duties in the provinces, the local governments sharing the cost. The Mounted Police had virtually raised the West from infancy to manhood.
That year, the customary tour by the Governor General brought Lord and Lady Grey to the plains, and again the Mounted Police provided escorts and made all arrangements.
Evidence of the distances that patrols often had to travel during this period is borne out in the files. Such an instance was that of an inspector, who with a corporal and three constables left Fort Saskatchewan on a morning in early June, headed northward to Fort Resolution on Great Slave Lake, crossed the vast, unfriendly wilderness to Hudson Bay, employed Eskimo dogs to Churchill, and eventually reached Lake Winnipeg in the following spring, – 3,347 miles.
In 1904-05, a superintendent, staff sergeant and three constables sailed from Halifax in the steamer Neptune for the North. Following the Labrador coast, they crossed Hudson Strait, inspected several whaling stations, traversed Hudson Bay and established the post of Fullerton, returning the following summer, during which season a post was erected at Prefontaine Harbour, on the most northerly tip of Quebec.
At the same time, an annual winter patrol was inaugurated between Dawson City and McPherson in the Yukon. The Government called for a trail between Peace River and the Yukon (the precursor of the Alaska Highway1 of today), and the Mounted Police drove a well-marked route through forests and deep valleys, across countless streams and summits of mountain passes.
Highwaymen held up a C.P.R. passenger train near Kamloops, B.C., in 1906, and orders were given to find and arrest the robbers. The surrounding country was a forbidding one, but, after some shooting, orders were obeyed in the best traditions of the Force.
And so the tireless and never-failing work went on.
In 1911, Canada’s red-coated riders with their matchless horses were the cynosure of millions of people as they shared in the Guard of Honour at the Coronation of His Majesty, King George V, in London.
The activities of the Force grew apace. The Canadian Criminal Identification Bureau, operated by the R.C.M.P. under the Department of Justice, was instituted. The bureau in course of time became a clearing house for all criminal information, operating in cooperation will all law enforcement bodies at home and abroad. The perpetrators of 44 murders were confronted within a period of 12 months by the unremitting Nemesis in scarlet and gold.
The Commissioner pleaded for more men. The call was promptly met, and with the total strength at 763, two new detachments were established in the Yukon, two in the Mackenzie River District, including Herschel Island on the Arctic Coast, one on Hudson Bay and 20 at various other locations.
A Royal North West Mounted Police Veterans’ association was formed in Vancouver in 1913. Among other things it was ready to serve Canada when called upon, to assist all ex-members of the Mounted Police and to further in every way possible the parent body.
* * *
Early in the Great War period of 1914-18, the strength was increased to 1,268, afterwards to fall to 929. In 1916, several hundred ex-members of the Force were enrolled in the army for duties abroad; some had completed their service as policemen or had purchased their discharge. This left the strength well below the authorized number. So many were anxious to enlist for overseas service, the Prime Minister, Sir Robert Borden, found it necessary to issue a message that the service of the Force was more essential than ever. The strong arm of the Mounted Police could not be spared. Many additional responsibilities inseparable from war-time conditions were at hand.
However, in 1918, the Government gave consent to men of the Force to go overseas as units. “A” Squadron, as it was termed, proceeded to France, and shortly afterwards, “B” left for Siberia. Previous to this, owing to the additional calls arising from the war, the Government requested the three prairie provinces to forego their agreements for the services of the Mounted Police.
Relieved of many duties in Saskatchewan, Alberta and Northern Manitoba, the Force was enabled to give more attention to 1,900 miles of international boundary, and to the alien population. The strength fell to 656, but despite the reduction, 26,356 patrols covering more than 800,000 miles were made.
Intensive work was done in the North, and marvellous travelling often under the most difficult conditions was carried on at a time when British armies were making a desperate stand in France. Several hundred additional men were recruited into the Force, but so heavy were the war demands that the strength fell to 303 – practically down to the number of the “Originals” who had struck across the plains in 1874.
The government then resolved upon a new and permanent establishment, an extension of jurisdiction, and a strength of 1,200. Operations were extended to British Columbia for Federal matters only.
The energies of the organization now crowd the records. Concurrently with the return of “A” Squadron in 1919, a general strike broke out in Winnipeg. Strikers assumed control of all public services, including the post office, fire and city police departments. Public order went completely out of hand. Mounted Police were called to restore order. It was soon accomplished, and with the arrest, trial and conviction of the leaders, following the memorable “Battle of Market Square”, a serious threat which indicated a spread to other points in Canada was quelled.
The guidon of the Force bore “North West Canada, 1885”, “South Africa, 1900-02”, “France and Flanders, 1918”, and “Siberia, 1918-19”.
* * *
The field of operations was extended to cover the whole of Canada in 1919, and in 1920 provision was made for absorption of the Dominion Police at Ottawa, the transfer of Headquarters from Regina to Ottawa (to be known as “A” Division, and a change in the title to “Royal Canadian Mounted Police”, of which H.R.H. the Prince of Wales became the Honorary Commandant.
At this time, the Force entered a new territory east of Hudson Bay – murders had been committed on Baffin Island in 1920 – and the following year a detachment was established at Port Burwell on an island in the Hudson Strait, and one at Pond Inlet on the Eastern Arctic. An Eskimo was even made a special constable in the Force.
Henceforth, the R.C.M.P. was to be the only Federal police force in the Dominion, entrusted with the enforcement of all Federal statues, as well as any provincial police work required through agreement with the provinces concerned.
In 1921 the Force entered the anti-narcotic campaign, and travel by aeroplane was first used. In 1923 Commr. A. Bowen Perry retired with the rank of major general, to be succeeded by Asst. Commr. Cortlandt Starnes. The strength was dropped to 1,148 by Government orders.
Some famous Arctic patrols added to the lustre of Mounted Police history in 1922-24. Like the Indians of the plains, the Eskimo accepted the firm, cooperative hand of authority. A detachment was established at Craig Harbour in Ellesmere Land, the most northerly outpost of its kind in the British Empire at the time. Mounted Police officers and men travelled into the arctic on the Canadian Government steamship Arctic and the Hudson’s Bay Company’s renowned Nascopie.
Patrols reached out from the outpost of Pangnirtung on Baffin Island to relieve hunger-stricken Eskimos; others covered the entire Cumberland Gulf coast line to investigate murders among the natives. Arctic travel by the R.C.M.P. became commonplace, and the North saw many remarkable achievements under almost impossible conditions.
In 1926 an officer of the Force made a 975-mile patrol from Craig Harbour to Axel Heiberg Island along the forbidding, ice-bound west coast of Ellesmere Land, and later established a detachment on the Bache Peninsula less than 800 miles from the North Pole.
In 1928 the Arctic waters witnessed the appearance of the 80-ton patrol vessel St. Roch, built in Vancouver for the Force’s Northern service. Patrols entered Coronation Gulf and the Anderson river in the Arctics, and in the following year one of the most famous was a 1,700-mile trip through the northern islands about the time when far away in London, England, a special detachment was giving a display of horsemanship at the International Horse Show.
The Force took over all the provincial duties in Saskatchewan, Alberta, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. The Preventive Service Branch of the Department of National Revenue was absorbed by the Force. A small detachment went to Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1931 to act as guard at the British Empire trade Exposition.
The same year, Major Gen. (later Sir) James H. MacBrien became Commissioner, and under his leadership the Force was fully modernized.
Gradually, the strength was increased to 2,500. During 1932-34 the Marine Section2 became a constituent part of the Force in Preventive Service work; this department cooperated with the U. S. Coast Guard, and waged an intensive war against smuggling of all kinds, as well as the traffic in opium and other narcotics. Rum-runners on the St. Lawrence river learned to their sorrow that the Force meant business.
During this period also, a Mounted Police Museum was established at Regina. The Finger-print Section was enlarged. All matters relating to the enforcement of the Migratory Birds Convention Act throughout Canada were transferred from the Department of the Interior to the Mounted Police. In 1933, the first number of The R.C.M.P. Quarterly appeared.
Following a “Musical Ride” by members of the Force at Madison Square Garden, New York, in 1934, an American publication remarked: “No police force in the world has a more enviable record that that established by what we used to know as the North West Mounted Police. A background of over 60 years of faithful service and unfailing attention to duty has woven a glamour about them which was undimmed by their appearance at ‘The Garden.’”
Precipitated by about 1,400 relief camp strikers from farther west on their way to Ottawa, a serious riot at Regina occurred in 1935. A report of a commission sent to investigate stated: “In our opinion Colonel Wood, during all the time the strikers were in Saskatchewan, acted with care, discretion and moderation. . . . During the riot they (the Mounted Police) acted with courage and marked restraint, often amidst circumstances of the greatest danger to themselves, notwithstanding they were repeatedly engaged in repelling attacks which were characterized by viciousness, brutality and a disregard for human life.”
Commissioner MacBrien was knighted by King George v in 1935.
During 1936, police motor cars covered approximately 7,000,000 miles in the course of law enforcements and other duties. The strength grew to 2,717 officers and men, of which 217 belonged to the Marine Section. With horses now largely subsidiary in the activities of the Force, automobiles, large and small craft on maritime waters, and dogs for Northern patrols came more and more into use.
Headquarters at Ottawa were moved into the imposing nine-storey Justice Building, which was designed with the fullest consideration for the Force’s needs.
In 1937 a crime detection laboratory was established at Regina, and two years later a similar one was set up at Ottawa. Science became an important aid in Mounted Police service. This most essential branch was destined to be as well equipped as any in the world. In addition to crime detection, it provided in the curriculum of recruits an intensive training in forensic medicine, ballistics, photography, finger-printing, handwriting, plaster casts and moulage, restoration of numbers on metals, lock-picking, glass fractures, etc. Test tubes, microscopes and other scientific media were henceforth to help largely in the work of the Force.
To help cope with smuggling on the Atlantic Coast, the aviation Section3 came into existence. A well-equipped Photographic Section also was organized.
Meanwhile, 38 members of the Force, chosen from all divisions, were called to Regina and trained for the formation of a detachment under Asst. Commr. S. T. Wood to represent Canada at the Coronation of Their Majesties King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. The favourable impression made in the great coronation procession was overwhelming.
His Majesty became Honorary Commandant of the Force. The Governor General, Lord Tweedsmuir, travelling under police guidance and protection, visited the Arctic. The R.C.M.P. Reserve4 which consisted of officers and men who had previously served in the Force was extended to consist of men not necessarily having former service. The first copy of the R.C.M.P. Gazette appeared.
Following the sad and untimely death of Sir James MacBrien in 1938, Assistant Commissioner Wood was appointed to the command.
Upon his accession to the highest office in the Mounted Police, Commissioner Wood took steps to form a band5 which would redound to the credit of the Force, both musically and as an adjunct to the universal respect Canada’s red-coated constabulary enjoyed.
It was a fitting climax after 65 years of faithful and exemplary service that the Mounted Police should participate prominently in the first visit of British Sovereignty to Canada. In 1939 the Royal Tour of Their Majesties King George VI and Queen Elizabeth to Canada and the United States was an outstanding event, and thanks to the R.C.M.P. – Commissioner Wood and an escort were on the Royal Train throughout the entire tour – a remarkable freedom attended the Royal couple.
In its multitudinous duties, involving operations by land, sea and air, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police had spread their direct supervision over the northerly half of North America, a land as large as the whole of Europe. Posts existed at all interior strategic points, with divisional headquarters in the larger cities. Except in British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec, provincial police duties were now carried out by the R.C.M.P. in addition to Federal service everywhere.
In the summer of 1939, a musical ride was given by request at the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco.
A Los Angeles publication commented: “The R.C.M.P. musical drill captivated the crowds. . . . The presence of the Canadian troopers engendered the finest branch of patriotism and created a new sense of friendliness towards our good neighbours across the boundary.”
For some time prior to 1939 it had been apparent to the civilized world that the international situation in Europe was heading toward a crisis. Dire uncertainty darkened the future. In Canada there was a marked activity in Government departments, and the R.C.M.P. undertook new and important work, especially in conjunction with the Department of National Defence. Preparation was made throughout the Dominion to ensure cooperation of provincial authorities and private corporations against sabotage should hostilities arise, and for the protection of public utilities, the safeguarding of vulnerable points, transportation and communication.
* * *
On Sept. 3, 1939, the British Government declared war against Germany, and with the announcement of a proclamation in Canada on September 10, declaring that a state of war existed from that date, R.C.M.P. responsibilities multiplied tremendously. In anticipation of such a possibility, the Force had already planned for public security. Besides surveys of bridges, canals, dock-yards, etc., contact was made with large corporations. Plans for detection and apprehension of alien enemies were completed.
The strength of the Force was increased by re-engaging as many ex-members and pensioners as possible, as well as a large number of war veterans to guard bridges, canals, etc. Eternal vigilance, a byword in the Force, was now a war essential. Alien registration was taken up, and promptly upon the outbreak of war all known Nazi agents were arrested by the Force and placed in internment camps.
Soon after the outbreak of war, No. 1 Provost Company, R.C.M.P.6, was sent overseas. Lt. Gen. A. G. L. McNaughton expressed the wish that they be the senior provost company in the Canadian Corps and also stated that the honour rightly belonged to the R.C. M.P. Soon, not a road or highway in south-eastern England was unknown to members of the company.
So heavy became the additional duties and responsibilities of the Force that the entire trained personnel was working to the limit, and it was seen that any more calls upon it would seriously affect the efficiency of the organization. However, with the entry of Italy into the war in June, 1940, swift action was possible because of previous preparations.
The Intelligence Branch, including the Anti-Sabotage Section, called for the highest pitch of efficiency; there were also continual duties in assisting the Foreign Exchange Control Board, the control of censorship, checking and reporting of all kinds, registration of all firearms, etc. The Defence of Canada Regulations necessitated the most intensive work. The Finger-print Section experienced a large increase of work. Air raid precautions were given the closest attention, while industrial and other disturbances called for constant surveillance.
In addition to Federal and provincial jurisdiction, and fulfilling duties attendant to wartime, the Force was now policing some towns and municipalities – eight in Saskatchewan, three in Manitoba, and one in Nova Scotia. The largest amount of work in the history of the organization was being performed; the strength was pushed to the limit as new wartime regulations were constantly enacted. But the usual work – enforcement of the Criminal Code, the provincial statutes in six provinces, and many other urgent and important duties – was also attended to with grim determination.
Not the least, were a number of serious industrial disturbances in mines and industrial plants that were contended with successfully. Both the trained and untrained personnel rose to the occasion.
To facilitate the handling of its ever-increasing duties the R.C.M.P. in 1940 installed a prairie radio system which forms the nucleus of the greatly enlarged network7 in use today. The value of radio in police work is now well established. An inter-divisional hook-up makes for higher efficiency and better co-ordination all-round, and the Force has found it a wonderful asset in various ways.
St. Roch made two historic voyages through the North-west Passage8 – from Vancouver to Halifax, June, 1940–October, 1942; and from Halifax back to Vancouver, July, 1944-October, 1944 – the only vessel ever to make the trip from west to east and the only one to conquer the passage both ways. The achievements of that staunch little vessel belong in the front rank of Northern explorations and adventures.
Result of the Commissioner’s reporting several years before that as the Force had about 40 mares he deemed it advisable for it to breed its own stock to overcome the difficulty of securing the right type of remount, 720 acres of land, including the site of historic Fort Walsh, were purchased as a breeding station for horses, and for gazing purposes. In addition 2,305 acres were leased from the province of Saskatchewan.
Toward the close of 1944 the R.C.M.P. Personnel Department9 (now called section) came into being, and it has proved to be an asset in many ways. One of its chief functions is to select suitable recruits and assist in placing them according to their ability and the type of work they will be most interested in. It classifies every man and indicates where he can serve most usefully and contentedly, be it on detachment, doing detective work, clerical assignments or in laboratory technician activities. By thus testing applicants for aptitudes and abilities, the section protects the welfare of the individual policeman and promotes the general efficiency of the Force.
It is a busy section. Six years of warfare left their mark on the Force; recruiting was at a standstill and members with pensionable service were “frozen” to their jobs if their health permitted to help the Force through that trying period.
As a consequence the Force today is much below strength. At present a concerted drive for recruits is in progress, and it is in this field that the Personnel Section plays an important part.
The most up-to-date methods of crime prevention and detection are employed. A great forward stride in the field of preventive policing was taken in the autumn of 1945 with the inauguration of a movement10 to encourage and foster more friendly relations between Canada’s youth and the police, and to building good citizenship. In all, members of the R.C.M.P. have already addressed close to a million young persons in the schools, and the project has won ever-widening approval with the passing of time.
* * *
The Force’s history is that of Canada’s great expansion. As in a building, its soundness depended on the materials used and the integrity of its builders, its honour on those who live within it. The men who gained the Force’s prestige and traditions came from many climes and walks of life. Those from the two dominant tides of Canadian manhood have contributed greatly to an essential unity, and, equally worthy of their faithful and exemplary devotion to duty, they have earned and won the deep respect of their countrymen – not only for the part they played in the past, but for services today in the cause of law, order and good citizenship. The fact that this year the Force celebrates the 75th anniversary of its birth is a tribute to the builders, their faith and integrity. It is testimony too that if the Force is to endure, the components of its structure must remain equally durable and strong.
To relate fully the story of the Mounted Police from the days of pagan chivalry to this modern day of marvellous and bewildering development would require no inconsiderable volume. This little resume touches only on the more salient facts.
1 See The Highway to Alaska, 13 R.C,M.P. Q. 320.
2 See The Marine Section of the Force, 11 R.C.M.P. Q. 192, and The R.C.M.P. Marine Section in War, 12 R.C.M.P. Q. 34, for a detailed story of the R.C.M.P. Marine Division in war and of its re-establishment as an integral part of the force’s peacetime organization.
3 See The Aviation Section of the Force, 13 R.C.M.P. Q. 306, for a detailed story of the section’s history, re-establishment after the war, and its present activities.
4 See The R.C.M.P. Reserve, 12 R.C.M.P. Q. 287.
5 See Bands of the Force, 8 R.C.M.P. Q. 155 et seq. and 265 et seq. for a history of the Force’s bands.
6. See Battle-dress Patrol, 12 R.C.M.P. Q. 192, for an outline of the activities of No. 1 Provost, Company (R.C.M.P.), Canadian Army.
7. See Radio in the Force, 13, R.C.M.P. Q. 222, for the detailed story of the use of radio in the Force.
8. See East Through the North-west Passage, 10 R.C.M.P. Q. 149, and Our Return Voyage Through the North-west Passage, 11 R.C.M.P. Q. 298, which tell respectively of St. Roch’s two historic voyages through the North-west Passage.
9. See R.C.M.P. Personnel Department, 12 R.C.M.P. Q. 121 for a short history of the section since its inception.
Carbines of the Force 1873 to 1920
RCMP October, 1961
Carbines of the Force 1873 to 1920
By Cpl. S. J. Kirby
To ascertain anything of the Snider carbine issued to the NWMP in 1873, one must delve into the history of shoulder arms of the British army. In 1852 the first official army rifle to bear the name Enfield, came into use. Manufactured at the Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield Lock in Middlesex, England, it was a nine pound muzzle loading rifle of .577 calibre with three lands and grooves making one complete turn in six feet six inches.
While it is a fairly easy matter to load and seat a ball on the charge in a smooth bore weapon, the rifled firearm presents a different problem because the ball or bullet must fit tightly into the rifling; and, it requires a lot of force to do this when the weapon becomes fouled. To facilitate loading some people used mallets but this was not too practical for the military. Thus the “Pritchett” bullet, with its smaller outside diameter of .568 inches, came into existence.
This was a hollow base bullet which, when fired, its base expanded to fill the lands and grooves. Later used was a .55 inch diameter bullet with a hollow base, into which was fitted a wooden plug. On firing, the wooden plug was driven forward causing the bullet to expand and fill the rifling. This bullet was similar in principal to the famous “Minieball” used in the U.S. Civil War.
In the year 1864 the British Government appointed a committee to consider whether or not a breech-loading rifle should be adopted for use by the armed forces. The committee recommended that a breech-loader be immediately adopted but in order to have time to study the designs and problems of this new type of firearm there should be an interim period in which the existing stocks of Enfield rifles should be converted to breech-loaders. To implement this recommendation, the Government solicited ideas from gunsmiths and inventors.
As expected, there was a certain amount of opposition to the introduction of breech-loaders into the armed forces. Military men feared that the ease of loading would cause troops to waste ammunition by firing too rapidly and without taking proper aim. Even today, some military minds frown on the use of automatic rifles, feeling that they cause a waste of ammunition and create too big a problem in logistics. However, in the 1860s, the opposition was insufficient to stop the testing at Woolwich Arsenal, where some 50 different breech-loading systems were being tried out.
As a result of these tests, the system recommended was one submitted by Jacob Snider, an American, and his breech-loading mechanism was officially adopted by the British Government in 1867.
The breech action of this rifle belongs to the laterally-swinging block class, and was especially advantageous when fitted to the existing stocks of Enfield muzzle-loaders as it did not weaken the stock by cutting away too much wood. This system contained a block hinged on the right side which was opened by lifting up, thus allowing the cartridge to be loaded into the chamber. In order to extract the cartridge, the block was raised and drawn to the rear, compressing a spring which returned it to the closing position. Ejection was made by turning the weapon upside down.
In later models of the Snider, the block was held in the closed position by a spring catch on the left side. A firing-pin passed diagonally through this block with one end resting against the primer and the other exposed to the hammer. The lock mechanism, hammer and trigger and springs, were those used in the original percussion cap muzzle-loading Enfield rifle. A feature found in the British army Snider, and missing in most of its imitations, was an iron shoe which backed the breech-block and gave protection to the shooter in case of a blow-back from a faulty cartridge.
It is of interest to note that a large sum of money was paid to Mr. Snider for his patent by the British Government which, at that time, had a similar action on a flint-lock rifle among its collection in the Tower of London, dating from the 17th century.
It is of interest to note that a large sum of money was paid to Mr. Snider for his patent by the British Government which, at that time, had a similar action on a flint-lock rifle among its collection in the Tower of London, dating from the 17th century.
During the trials of the breech-loaders, consideration was also given to the type of cartridge to be used with the new rifle. Fixed ammunition, then in existence, had various types of paper or linen cases which were unsatisfactory, due to the lack of obturation at the breech. The hot gases often split the case and blew back into the shooter’s face.
In 1866, the British Government adopted the first fixed ammunition of the centre-fire type. This cartridge was developed by Colonel Boxer, who, at the time, was Superintendent of the Royal Laboratories, and the primer still bears his name.
The case or body of the cartridge was made of thin brass sheeting glued to brown paper and rolled into a cylinder. To the head was riveted an iron washer which acted as a rim. The bullets in the first cartridges had both a hollow nose and base. The base was filled with a clay plug which acted in the manner of the wooden plug previously described. This hollow nose was designed to give the projectile a greater length for the same weight, rather than for a wounding effect. The longer bullets had more surface area to engage in the rifling, and stripping was minimized, an important factor with the soft lead bullets used in those days.
The official name given to the new army rifle was the “Snider-Enfield.” During the time that the Enfield rifles were being converted to breech-loaders, the Enfield carbines of the cavalry and the Whitworth carbines of the artillery were also handed in for conversion. The converted Enfield carbines were the ones forwarded from England in the Fall of 1873 and issued early the following year to the NWMP.
The next carbine issued to the Force was the Winchester Model 1876. Fifty of these were purchased on a trial basis in 1878. A second lot of 50 was received in the year 1880, and by December both “A” and “F” Divisions were armed with these new repeating rifles. These divisions, with a total strength of 102, officers and men, patrolled the country in which the Sioux, newly arrived from the States and the Custer massacre, were living.
Certain defects, noted in the early Model 1876, were brought to the attention of the manufacturer. Chief among these was the securing of the rear sight by the use of two screws. This provided a means of differentiating the NWMP carbine from the normal commercial 1876 mode. While this carbine was not entirely taken out of service until shortly before World War I, it was never completely satisfactory. It was the last of the toggle-link actions manufactured by the Winchester Company on the Volcanic and Henry patents. Complaints were frequent and dealt mostly with the accuracy and ease with which the barrels became pitted. The strength of the weapon, at the small of the stock, was another recognized weakness. While there is no doubt that the weakness of certain of the component parts was an inherent feature of the Model 1876, the accuracy of the weapon provided cause for debate. In his report to the Commissioner in December 1888, Supt. A. Bowen Perry stated: “. . . . The men took a great interest in the shooting and a number of them carried off valuable prizes at the annual meeting of the Rifle Association of this place.” (Prince Albert)
During the same year, Supt. R. Burton Deane mentioned in his report that good shooting was done with the Winchester carbine. In describing the marksmanship, he spoke of methods then used by members of the Force to supplement their diets, methods which today would be frowned upon by various Provincial Game departments. Superintendent Deane stated: “ . . . . . Target practice is now going on and will continue as long as the weather permits. The men have just returned from outpost duty and have had a good deal of practice during the Summer and many of them are excellent shots. A man who can kill a prairie chicken or a goose with a bullet at an unknown range does not require to expend much ammunition at a target.”
From what was gleaned out of various reports, it appears that the Winchester, if kept in fair condition, would render good service. However, both the front and rear sights were exposed to knocks and blows. The Commissioner’s annual reports to Ottawa continually mentioned bent front and loose rear sights, defects easily corrected by an armourer. However, great distances precluded frequent contact with Headquarters and access to the armourer’s shop.
Badly pitted barrels were another source of complaint; this however could not be blamed completely on the weapons or on poor cleaning, as black powder and corrosive primers were used. It was not until 1886, Commissioner Herchmer mentioned in his annual report, that the Force was now completely armed with Winchester carbines.
Although withdrawn from service, the Snider was not completely dispensed with by the Force. Some, retained in the Q.M. stores at various divisional points, were issued in cases of emergencies to special constables, Indian scouts and others.
While the NWMP were using the Winchester repeating carbines the Canadian and British armies, together with other major armies, were using single shot weapons.
In 1871 the British army adopted a new single shot rifle, the Martini-Henry which was also taken into service by Canada. This weapon was of the falling-block type and of .45 calibre. Not until December 1888 did the repeating rifle come into use by the British. Called “magazine rifle March I,” it was the forerunner of the now famous Lee-Enfield. This weapon soon came to the attention of the Force, and in December 1889 the Commissioner requested in his annual report to Ottawa that: “ . . . . . a limited number, say 20, of the new British cavalry carbine be procured, with a sufficient supply of ammunition, and if after a careful trial they are found suitable, 200 be obtained and later on the whole Force could be rearmed as required.”
In view of the communications that existed in the 1880s, plus the lack of technical books and magazines, it was easy to imagine the difficulty experienced in keeping abreast of arms’ development. The fact that the Force was so informed indicated its anxiety to procure newer and better arms.
Although the new rifle was adopted by the British army, it was not until September 1894 that a carbine form was manufactured. It was called “Lee-Metford Magazine Carbine, Mark I.” in 1895 the first issue of 200 was made to the NWMP. Later on, the “Lee-Enfield Carbines Mark I and Mark I Star” were brought into service. The major difference between the Metford and Enfield carbines was in the system of rifling, the former having seven lands and grooves, and the latter only five, which were .001 inches deeper. The Metford also had a ring attached to the left side of the butt socket and a holding bar inletted into the right side of the stock, one and a half to two inches from the butt.
A number of the Ross rifles were purchased in the early 1900s for distribution to the Force, but were never issued. On being tested at “Depot” Division, the bolt of one whipped back, causing a man to lose the sight of an eye. The rifles remained in the Q.M. stores and were later destroyed by a fire which swept through the building.
The last Winchester was withdrawn from service in 1912, and in 1920 the Lee-Enfields were taken into stores and shoulder-arms never again became a general issue.
Charcoal and How He Grew Blacker
RCMP July 1941
Charcoal and How He Grew Blacker
By Mike Mountain Horse* * Mr. Mountain Horse is a full Blood Indian. Her served with honour, and was wounded, in the Great War of 1914-1918. Backed by a good education he has made a close study of the early history of his people and is regarded as a reliable narrator of his forbearers’ annals in the southern Alberta country. He is contributing to the present war services by lecturing in behalf of the Red Ross. -Ed.
In the early days of the North West Mounted Police, my people were instructed that under the white man’s law, whosoever killed a fellow-being would be forced to pay for his crime by hanging on the scaffold. This was thoroughly drilled into their minds; and while we now know that leniency is occasionally provided under extenuating circumstances, the Indians at that time were entirely unaware of such a possibility.
Charcoal, also known as Bad Young Man, and Johnny Dried Meat, a Blood Indian of temperamental disposition, discovered that on several occasions his wife had held illicit trysts with a young brave of the reserve south of Fort Macleod. He repeatedly warned the lover to withdraw his attentions, but without success; and finally a crisis was reached wherein Charcoal had either to act or lose his honour among his tribe.
Considerable calumny has been hurled at my people and at Charcoal for the ensuing events; but it seems to me entirely wrong that the tribe should be condemned for an unadvised view-point, or that even Charcoal, who was merely ignorant and proud, should be branded a criminal and a degenerate by those who knew little or nothing of his attitude in the matter. True, his ignorance or defiance of the white man’s law led him, in a moment of desperation, to kill a policeman – a crime which rightly has never been countenanced in Canada. Still I think it only fair that the facts should be correctly presented before the public forms judgment.
Through my own close study of this Indian murder case and the information I have gathered at first hand from those who were familiar with it, I believe I have the first strictly accurate story.
* * *
It was haying time on the Blood Reserve in the year 1896. Contracts called for large amounts of hay to be delivered by the Indians to the main agency of the reserve; the North West Mounted Police detachments at Standoff, Kippe, Macleod – “D” Division headquarters; and Lethbridge – “K” Division headquarters. Large numbers of Indians were camped southwest of Hillspring on the southern border of the reserve. This special haying camp was under the supervision of Cliff Clark, farm instructor of the reserve at that time. Charcoal was working there.
One morning Charcoal asked his wife to assist him in the hay field.
“I am not well this morning, I don’t want to go,” Pretty Kangaroo Woman, also called Wolverine, replied.
Accordingly he excused her and went away alone.
Later in the day, however, Charcoal returned unexpectedly and found his wife entertaining, in a fashion too hospitable even for an Indian hostess. Her paramour, a young brave named Medicine Pipe Stem, was one of her distant relatives.
“Young man, listen to me,” Charcoal admonished, “my wife is your relative. Nevertheless discontinue these meetings, and don’t gossip. This will be a secret among the three of us. I have no inclination to let people know that I discovered you two; they would have a very poor opinion of me, if they knew. So I will do nothing further.”
The illicit lovers, however, refused to heed his warning. The young brave again had the temerity to intrude on Charcoal’s household. And for the second time he was discovered by the wronged husband. The Indian prides himself on his stoicism and ability to conceal his emotions at all times. Charcoal managed to hide his feelings.
On an October morning, shortly after the second episode, Charcoal again requested his wife to accompany him to the fields. “Come with me and tramp the hay down in the rack as I pitch it up,” he said.
“I have a severe headache,” his wife complained. “I do not think I can go.”
Despite his aroused suspicions, Charcoal went to his labors alone; and hitching his team to the mower, commenced cutting hay. About a quarter of a mile away he observed Medicine Pipe Stem raking hay. Keeping an eagle eye on him, Charcoal’s suspicions deepened when his rival suddenly disappeared.
The suspense was too great. He had arrived at the extremity of his endurance. And if his heart were flamed with murderous hate, who shall say that, under the circumstances, this condition would have existed only in an Indian’s breast?
Believing that the amorous young man was once more visiting his wife, he decided to ascertain just what was going on. To unhitch his team and make his way home was but the work of a few minutes. On arrival at his teepee he learned that his wife had repaired to the river bottom to fetch wood. With still greater ire and jealousy – for he remembered the “severe headache” – Charcoal armed himself with a rifle and rode to the river. In a clearing by the bushes his wife’s horse was grazing. Further on was another horse, bridled, also grazing. Both animals were unattended. Proceeding through the surrounding brush, his face contorted with vicious purpose, Charcoal came to a half-built log stable. Peering through the apertures between the logs he spied his wife in sinful tryst with her lover. Without preamble, Charcoal shot through the chinks of the log structure at the invader of his domestic felicity. Severely wounded in the head, one of his eyeballs hanging from its socket, the young man sprang with the swiftness of a rattler to attack him.
Fighting like maniacs, alternately beating each other down, falling and rising again and again to deliver savage blows, the two engaged in mortal combat. The younger had the advantage of youth and strength, but this was more than offset by his terrible wound; and Charcoal, spurred on by mad fury, finally managed to beat him into complete insensibility. Medicine Pipe Stem was left for dead.
He had reaped according to his sowing.
* * *
Next morning, two squaws out searching for firewood met at the scene of the conflict; and hearing moans, they discovered the injured man inside the log structure. “Tell my brother to come for me,” he said. “I am sorely wounded. Charcoal shot me.”
But the message was never delivered. Apparently the women were afraid of becoming implicated and did nothing except gossip with their own tribe. Charcoal, either hearing or surmising that his work had been incomplete, returned and finally dispatched his enemy. An ancient, inexorable law had been fulfilled.
Later, an Indian, while trying to catch horses in the vicinity of the log stable, came upon the corpse. The police were notified and an investigation disclosed signs of the bloody struggle. The Police Surgeon pronounced Medicine Pipe Stem to have been dead about ten days. The investigators and the coroner, W. S. Anderton, decided that it was first-degree murder. A bullet had entered near the right eye and lodged in the brain. Supt S. B. Steele of the North West Mounted Police issued a warrant of arrest for the killer; and Inspr A. M. Jarvis was assigned to follow up the case.
Strangely enough Charcoal did not fall under suspicion during the early part of the enquiry. Another Indian, Eagle Shoe, who had previously quarreled with the slain man, was the first suspect. Instead of appearing before the police or the Indian agent and attempting to vindicate his conduct, Charcoal sought refuge in flight. Six persons accompanied him, his two wives – Pretty Kangaroo Woman, and Sleeping Woman – one of his wives’ mother, his grown daughter and two boys.
Expecting disclosure sooner or later, Charcoal apparently gave way to desperation for he was the first to strike. From that time, his hand was turned against all who opposed him. Making a nocturnal visit on Oct. 12, to the home on the Blood Reserve of Mr. E. McNeil, a former government farm instructor on the reserve, Charcoal shot through the window and wounded him in the side, just above the hip bone. The bullet passed through a partition hitting a window casing in the next room and falling to the floor. The ministrations of Robert Wilson, the Indian agent, whose rudimentary knowledge of surgery enabled him to cleanse and dress the wound, saved McNeil’s life. But this was only one of the many escapades made by Charcoal from his hiding-place in the days after his flight from justice. He visited the lodge of Little Pine, another Blood, and according to him, confessed his guilt, avowing that he also intended to kill the Indian agent and Red Crow, chief of the tribe.
Pitching his teepee in the Chief Mountain country, Charcoal made many excursions in quest of food and other commodities. On Nov. 2, he visited the Mounted Police detachment at Cardston where he was surprised and took cover behind a water-trough just as Sgt. W. Armer approached, lantern in hand, to water his horse. Charcoal fired, grazing the sergeant who promptly retreated to a safer position.
Charcoal fled. Shortly afterwards Inspector Jarvis’s police party, assisted by scouts, took up the trail in pursuit; but the fugitive had disappeared and was not heard from for several days.
One morning, in a frenzy of despair, Charcoal walked to the top of a hill near his teepee, and, gazing out over the Belly Buttes, the scene of his boyhood days, sang his battle song. Then, thinking of old friends and customs, his life prior to becoming a fugitive, he wept aloud, his family witnessing his anguish. What a cross he bore, as he looked down at the territory where he had known liberty, respect, and security under the red-coated law! His tribulations will never be appreciated by those who have not thoroughly known the red man’s inherent ways under the free existence of his former life.
Upon his return, his daughter, noticing the tear stains on his face, wept also. “My father,” she sobbed, “I wish that I might kill her.” Her eyes flashed accusingly as she remembered the faithless wife. “She is the cause of all our misfortune. You have been a good husband to her, but she has never appreciated your kindness. Let me kill her.”
It is to Charcoal’s credit, I think, that even in his extremity, he would not listen to such talk. “My child,” he said, “You must not speak so. I know what is going to happen to me. But you are still young. You must go on with your life.”
Inspector Jarvis’ patrol finally discovered Charcoal’s camp, betrayed by smoke from his fire. The main company proceeded afoot on a tedious journey through the timber, reaching the fugitive’s camp at day-break. Snow had begun to fall. His trail was easily discernible.
Chief Scout Green Grass warned the police and Indians not to shoot until the teepee was surrounded. Then a general attack was to be made at a given signal. But Charcoal forestalled these instructions. He stepped out of his teepee, rifle in hand, shading his eyes as he carefully scanned the wooded area before him. Always on the alert and with an uncanny faculty of scenting human presence, he ducked back into the lodge. The attackers let loose a barrage of shots at the top of the dwelling, rushed their objective from the front, only to find that Charcoal, his two wives and one son had escaped by a back way. His mother-in-law, the girl and his other son were taken into custody.
Reports of Charcoal’s flight from this time on vary; the story officially accepted by my people is that he and the remainder of his family retreated to the Blood Reserve. Here they stole two horses, which were afterwards found by the Peigan Indians at the river, where the town of Brocket now stands.
Except for stealthy trips to the Blood Reserve for food, Charcoal stayed with the “timber right” of the Peigans at the Porcupine Hills. The man-hunt swung this way and that. Often the trail was lost, only to be picked up and followed keenly until lost again. Inspr Geo. E. Sanders of Macleod detachment joined in the search. Fleeing from place to place, the desperate Indian succeeded in eluding arrest, but each time left evidence of his activities.
One night, when raiding the Peigan camp for a fresh horse, Charcoal was surprised by a resident brave, Coming Door.
“What are you doing?” he asked. “Are you Charcoal?”
Charcoal replied with gun-fire that missed its mark. Coming Door returned the shot. The marauder got away unscathed.
On a later nocturnal visit to the Peigan Reserve, Charcoal took his young son with him. Leaving the lad at the riverside with instructions to wait, he swam his horse across the river and headed for the Old Agency.
After his arrest he told the Indian prisoners in the Macleod guard-room that he had entered a teepee and stood among boys who were playing a hand game. “No-one recognized me,” he said. “I saw a Kootenay Indian sitting there, got ready to shoot him but I remembered I had left my boy at the river. This stopped me from firing.”
When Charcoal returned to the riverside, his son had disappeared. The boy had gone to the home of Woodman, a Peigan Indian. Woodman took him to the Mounted Police detachment at The Leavings, a mile away. Questioning the boy that night, the police learned of Charcoal’s haunts on Beaver Creek, in the Porcupine Hills.
Next morning, the boy led them and the Indians to his father’s hideout. In the meantime, however, Charcoal had not been idle. Foreseeing that his son might be induced to betray him, he had moved his camp a mile or so northward.
“There he is guiding the mounted police to the place we just left!” he said to his wives as he watched the column approaching his previous camp-site.
Once more he evaded his pursuers.
* * *
Not without good reason, as you shall presently see, Charcoal suspected that his wives were awaiting an opportunity to desert him. When he had occasion to leave his refuge in quest of food, he invariably tied them to widely separated trees. One morning, however, he neglected this routine. He only tied their hands behind their backs, roped their legs, and left them on the ground some distance from each other. Before leaving, he informed Pretty Kangaroo Woman that he had decided to kill her upon his return.
After he had gone, Sleeping Woman turned to her sister is distress. She suggested that they roll toward each other. This they did and set to work to loosen their bonds. By using her teeth, Sleeping Woman, after great difficulty, released Pretty Kangaroo Woman’s hands. The squaws had barely gained the protection of the encircling wood when Charcoal returned.
He ran to the edge of the brush and shouted to them to come back; though one wanted to return, the other prevailed upon her not to do so. They finally arrived at the Blood Reserve after much hardship. Rides-at-Door, a Blood Indian, made them captive and turned them over to his Chief and the Indian Agent who summoned the Mounted Police.
Charcoal was now alone.
* * *
November came. Snow lay deep on the ground. One day the fugitive rode forth on a food-hunting expedition to an Indian camp and houses on the north side of the creek, just east of the Peigan Agency. Arriving at Jack Spear’s house, he knocked at the door.
“Whose home is this?” he enquired.
Numerous Indians gambling inside recognized his voice. No-one answered his call; for they knew his reputation of shooting on sight. They immediately scrambled for cover. Some leaped behind the big cast-iron stove; others sought safety behind an all-too-small table. A generously-proportioned elderly lady, vainly attempted to squeeze herself into the side-board.
Eventually, one fellow, more courageous than his companions, replied to Charcoal’s question.
“Where does my friend Running Crow live?” came the second query.
“At the next house.”
At Running Crow’s home, Charcoal, still in the saddle, called out requesting that food be brought to him. Running Crow decided to trap him. Armed with a rifle, he stationed himself behind the stove while his two wives, with axes aloft, took up positions on either side of the door. He then invited the visitor to dismount and enter.
A premonition of impending danger warned Charcoal. Taking a short cut he jumped his mount over an old root-cellar and fled. Shortly afterwards, Constable Hatfield of the Peigan Detachment, accompanied by Indian scouts, arrived and was informed that Charcoal had departed.
Pursuit was delayed until next morning, Nov. 1, when eight Indians took up the easily-discernible trail, but lost it at the junction of the Pincher Creek trail. Bit Face Chief, a Peigan Indian, was sent to Pincher Creek to inform the police of the direction the fugitive had taken. Sgt W. B. Wilde, who was in charge of the detachment, quickly organized a patrol to join the chase. Stand Off and Big Bend Detachments were also notified and a patrol at Macleod was ordered to stand by for special duty. Wilde came upon the trail ahead of Hatfield and sent Constable Ambrose to warn Kootenay Detachment.
* * *
Charcoal, striking south on Nov. 10, came to a farm-house from which he stole some food. The Peigan trailers sighted him in the vicinity of Chipman’s Creek in the act of making a fire. But before they came to close quarters, Charcoal remounted and galloped off. As he rode he sang his battle song; his desperation seemed to have changed to a hysterical joy of combat. The posse was in hot pursuit.
“Come back, my friend,” Many Chiefs, a councillor of the Peigans, shouted, “no harm will befall you!”
Charcoal pulled up and looked back. but his momentary hope was quickly dispelled by Coming Deer.
“Charcoal, you’re going to learn that it doesn’t pay to be foolish,” he screamed.
On hearing these bitter words, the fugitive dashed madly on.
Jack Spear, riding a gray horse – the fastest and hardest mount among those of the Peigans – closed in on the fleeing criminal. But Charcoal merely turned and looked at him. That look alone sufficed to make Spear fall back. Twice the gray drew near; twice the pursuer hauled him in as Charcoal swung in his seat to glare – though the glare turned to derisive mirth as the retreats were made. Many Tail Feathers, noted Scout, and Charlie Holloway, interpreter, of the North West Mounted Police, both asked Spear to change mounts but he ignored them. Spear knew that their horses were too exhausted to keep up, yet he stubbornly refused to exchange with either. To this day, Jack Spear’s horse is spoken of by the Peigans as the “run away gray.”
Several members of the posse, whose mounts were spent by the arduous chase, were forced to grip the tails of the horses ahead to keep in the running. When he saw that his pursuers were tiring, Charcoal turned and begged the Indians to keep away. He assured them he was not on the offensive against his own people.
By this time Wilde had arrived from Pincher Creek with a fresh horse, Major. Riding hard, he rapidly overtook the fleeing red skin and came up along his left side.
* * *
I am not criticizing this intrepid young officer; but I believe better judgment could have been used. Sergeant Wilde was of highly-strung and impatient nerve. In my opinion his action in coming up on the left side of the elusive one was suicidal. He had out-distanced the other pursuers by nearly a mile. He shouted at Charcoal, attempted to seize him. Charcoal’s 44 was half-hidden under the blanket which swathed his body. The trigger was probably cocked, as it was the practice of the Indians to keep their weapons thus ready for use. Twice Charcoal motioned him back; when he saw that the policeman was not to be dissuaded, Charcoal pressed the trigger. That unexpected shot was fired from only a few feet. The sergeant swayed and tumbled from his saddle. The bullet had entered his abdomen. Charcoal rode on for a short distance. Then coming back and circling around the prone figure he sang his war-song.
Uttering a final war-whoop he sent another bullet into the fallen officer. Catching the horse of the vanquished, he leaped to the saddle and, applying his quirt, continued his flight southward through the deep snow. In his mad frenzy, he defiantly waved to Holloway and the Indians to follow him. But there was little inclination to accept the challenge. His terrible deed had stopped them in their tracks.
The scouts’ horses were entirely fatigued. To continue after Charcoal, mounted on Wilde’s fresh horse, was futile. However, Many Tail Feathers became so angered upon seeing his superior murdered, that he climbed upon Charcoal’s discarded horse and followed the slayer. As dusk closed in on that memorable day, he was still on the trail. Two others took Wilde’s body to the farm-house of John Dipadore, a Frenchman who lived near-by. The remains were taken to Pincher Creek.
Many Tail Feathers, who had held to the pursuit all through the night was joined in the morning by Inspector Sanders from Macleod with a strong party of police, several Indians and some volunteers from Pincher Creek. The fugitive’s tracks led toward the mountains along the north fork of the Kootenay River. Charcoal was sighted once on the mountain-side, covering his pursuers with his rifle. The Indian who saw him prudently kept the knowledge to himself until the party was out of range; but by this time Charcoal had again disappeared. Doubtless he now realized the role which had been gradually forced upon him – an outlaw among whites and Indians . Inspector Sanders’ party, guided by many Tail Feathers and another Indian, Green Grass, grimly clung to the trail, until eventually the task became hopeless.
* * *
Many and varied reports have been chronicled on the capture of Charcoal; but I believe that the following is the first disclosure of the actual facts.
In his last wanderings, Charcoal returned to the home of his two brothers, Left Hand and Bear’s Back Bone. Both men had previously been in custody, and upon their release had promised the police they would help in effecting Charcoal’s capture.
On Nov. 12, the inevitable knock sounded on the door. The wanderer sought admittance and food. Recognizing his brother’s voice, Left Hand whispered instructions to his wives to assist in subduing him; then raising his voice he invited Charcoal to come in. Any suspicion of betrayal Charcoal might have had was dissipated after they had fed him and given him a smoke. One of the squaws, an unusually powerful woman, manoeuvered into position and, at a signal from her husband, sprang upon the unsuspecting guest, bearing him to the floor. Simultaneously Left Hand flung himself upon the captive. Together they held him while the other wife hastily summoned the neighboring Indians who came and bound him securely. He was placed upon a bed, and news of his capture was dispatched to the police. During the interval he attempted suicide by plunging an awl into an artery of his arm but this was detected in time to prevent death.
Shortly the police arrived and took the prisoner to Macleod. The trial was held and the accused was convicted of murdering Sergeant Wilde. Execution occurred on Feb. 10, 1897, on a scaffold erected in the horse corral. The hapless warrior went to his end bravely with the death song on his lips.
* * *
For his part in bringing about the arrest of Charcoal, Left Hand was officially awarded a chieftainship by the Department of Indian Affairs. The Indians themselves, however, never recognized his authority. In fact they all regarded his action as treacherous and unbrotherly in the extreme and adopted a very belligerent attitude toward him. Many red men gathered at the Catholic Mission and paid their last respects to the dead. After the ceremony, a gambler – childhood friend of the deceased – accosted Left Hand; and after hurling at him all the vile epithets he could think of, thoroughly thrashed him with a whip. But for timely intervention, others would have repeated the punishment.
* * *
So ends the story of Charcoal – a wronged man bent on protecting his honour – who through ignorance of the law became more and more involved by deeds of desperation. It seems to me that the actual climax was ludicrously at variance to the oft-related versions on the sagacity and bravery employed to take him.
In reality, Charcoal was captured by a woman of his own kin.
From Hoofs to Wings
RCMP April 1941
From Hoofs to Wings
On the Old Man’s River, at the feet of Napi, the mythical giant of the Blackfeet, were laid not only the aspirations of the red-men but the evolutionary much of Empire.
By John Peter Turner
It was afternoon in late autumn, 1874.
A chill wind swept across a sea of grass. A deep-cut river course, fringed with cottonwoods, lay in fading light. A hundred miles away, the Rockies loomed above the timbered shoulders of “The Porcupines”, beyond which the westering sun cast long shafts to the darkening bourne of the horizon. Infinite solitude encompassed the magnificent perspective.
Across illimitable pastures, great herds of bison moved. A band of scouting Blackfeet gazed intently from a commanding ridge.
The object of Indian speculation was soon to be revealed. On the vast open, southeastward, a cavalcade of riders accompanied by transport, trailed into view – a motelike patch upon a tawny background. They were preceded by a lone horseman, far in advance. Splashes of colour glistened. Soon, figures appeared, becoming more distinct as they approached – red-coated men on horses, nodding two-wheeled carts, lumbering wagons, shambling cattle. The startling spectacle drew nearer, in a long array that rose and fell as it traversed the undulations of the plain. Then, halting above the land-dip to the river, as though to appraise the nether prospect, the new-arrivals, the life of which this savage realm had never before witnessed, proceeded to make camp.
Striking out three months earlier, from Dufferin, on the Red River, the newly-organized North West Mounted Police, 300 strong, under Commr George a. French and Asst Commr James F. Macleod, had shouldered the prodigious task of carrying Canadian sovereignty to the far west. Attended by all the vicissitudes of prairie travel, their epic, self-supporting march of 800 miles had reached the Sweet Grass Hills, near the Montana boundary. The Commissioner and his Assistant then journeyed a hundred miles below the U.S. line to Fort Benton, the big supply-point on the Upper Missouri River. Here they arranged for provisions and remounts; they also communicated with Ottawa by wire regarding their progress and needs. Upon their return to the main body at the Sweet Grass Hills, the Commissioner and Macleod parted – the latter proceeded onward. For it had been decreed that one portion of the Force would repair to winter quarters far to the east; the other would remain upon the plains. Friendly acquiescence would be sought from the red-skinned tenantry of the surrounding country. By firm and fearless methods, a horde of Montana whisky-smugglers who were debauching the Indian camps would be driven out. And so 150 men under Macleod, guided by Jerry Potts, a remarkable Piegan halfbreed engaged at Benton as scout and interpreter, pushed north-westward to the Old Man’s River.
Aside from being a choice camping ground, the immediate location proved an ideal base from which to carry out the enormous task ahead. And something of unconscious significance in the very name of the stream beside which the unerring guide halted gave prophesy of the future. In the oft-told annals of the past, the mythical character of Napit, or “Old Man,” had long been to the Blackfeet the embodiment of supernatural power. All benefits and punishments were transmitted to mankind through Old Man’s creative faculties; people, animals, birds, fishes, trees, even the winds – all things moving and inanimate – were his intimate associates. At Old Man’s door were laid the aspirations and shortcomings of every man and beast. In Old Man were personified all human frailties and attainments. From it emanated a complexity of reward and castigation.
Nightfall of October 13, 1874, – far from an unlucky date – found on Old Man’s River a camp of tents from which was destined to arise many influences.
Busy days followed. Though the gruelling march from Manitoba has been accomplished, the prospect confronting the Assistant Commissioner and his men was one to dispel all hope of relaxation. Despite the worn condition of the weathered horsemen, the biting storms that would soon sweep across the plains urged the immediate erection of shelters. Macleod ordered that stabling and hospital accommodation were to be attended to at once. The selection of a site for a permanent post had received every consideration, thanks to the wily Potts, and the location of the Old Man’s River was one with many features to commend it. Not the least was its proximity to the Great North Trail that passed up country to a favourite whisky-trading rendezvous in the Bow River county; it also commanded a position over Fort Whoop-Up, the main stronghold of the traffickers towards the southwest. Among the nearby cottonwood bluffs, building material and fuel were available. In the broad bottoms, hay could be gathered. Deer, elk and smaller game frequented the bordering brushlands. On the surrounding plain, countless buffalo and antelope afforded a supply of meat; and the river teemed with fish.
Completely isolated, the diminutive army of occupation was thrown upon its own resources. In case of Indian uprising, there could be no hope of reinforcements. The inexperience of the command, the unknown strength and disposition of the Indians, the lawless influence of border traders and freebooters involved possibilities of danger and dilemma.
Plans were hastily laid out for rough log buildings to be erected within a broad curve of the river, which, in high-water, formed an island. Twelve-foot cottonwood logs placed upright in trenches and plastered with clay formed the outer walls; cross-beams piled over with sod sufficed for roofs; the bare ground, soon to be beaten hard by use, provided natural flooring. Windows and doors were already on their way from the Missouri by Benton bull-teams. Surrounded by a high-picketed enclosure, the buildings faced upon a square some 200 feet across; they included living rooms, officers’ quarters, hospital, guardroom, storehouses, kitchens, and stables. D. W. Davis, representing I. G. Baker & Co., of Benton, assisted in the building of the post and erected a small group of buildings for his firm, including a spacious store replete with frontier necessities and fancy prices.
Assistant Commissioner Macleod resolved that in this wide and lawless sphere there would be no subornation of justice; before the buildings were completed, unyielding vigilance and effort had already begun to stay spoliation at the hands of unscrupulous whiskey-traders from the south. From the outset an impartial policy mocked the crude attempts at justice below the Montana boundary. A leaven destined to involve a realm of savagery in all the usages and restrictions of the modern world was being introduced. The red-coated troopers from the east manifested good-will and friendship. The vanguard of a consuming host was making bold by every humane and honest means to transform barbarism to the white man’s ways; yet the Indian little sensed the great transition.
Within the limits of a single year, Fort Macleod, without threat or swagger, assumed its prescribed position and the hub and lodestar of a new order of life. In the midst of native pride and bearing, a new era was ushered in; soon the theory of honest effort was largely accepted by Indians and frontiersmen alike. Insistence for the apprehension of wrongdoers became an infallible weapon of security; square-dealing was proving a fundamental no-one could assail. From the little outpost on the Old Man’s River, a new West was in the making. No half-measures, no splitting of evidence, no remitted fines, no wavering from the paths of rectitude or the broad highway of genuine and generous liberty cluttered or debased the course of action. No armed sheriffs had come to defy or hold at bay men less criminal than themselves; no ruthless troopers had shot on sight.
Indians were accorded the same measures of justice as their white intruders. No contracts, agreements or verbal promises went unsatisfied – no pledges were broken. Blackfeet, Bloods, Piegans, Sarcees – the entire Blackfeet Confederacy – as well as Crees, Assiniboines and Sioux, were quick to sense the indomitable meaning of the scarlet tunic. “To Uphold the Right” – Maintiens le Droit – was becoming a recognized motto on the plains.
Near the police stockade, an embryo village soon mushroomed into being, and the Benton trading firms of I. G. Baker & Co. and T. C. Powers and Bro. drove a lucrative trade. Several smaller stores and “eating places” were opened. A log billiard room enjoyed the patronage of players, gamblers and loafers. “Blind pigs” and other questionable hang-outs were not entirely lacking. Five dollars in paper, coin or gold-dust, if surreptitiously handled, would produce a pint of “Montana Redeye” and an aftermath of direst possibilities. Civilization had come to the Old Man’s River.
The drift was almost entirely from the south – Benton and the riotous highway of the Missouri – but there was small inducement for the baser elements to tarry long. The little citadel of law and order became a discouragement to the proponents of free licence. The long Police march and the building of Fort Macleod had marked the beginning of an era in Western British America. In enviable contrast to the flaming invasion below the international line, Canada had penetrated, by equitable means, the last defiant portion of her wide domain.
Fine stalwart men, heavy of bone and lean of flesh, with the keen sharply-cut features and characteristics of the native-born American – freighters, bull-whackers, mule skinners, reformed whisky traders, frontier merchants, wayfaring adventurers – were mingling with jovial Red River Metis, quiet-mannered natives, and modest, red-coated representatives of the law. A small and happy populace had begun to live on terms of friendship. Grades were not defined. To gain prominence or popularity no-one needed wealth. To be honest and decently behaved – to be a man – was to be socially the equal of those in authority and power. A new mode of conduct settled on the banks of the Old Man’s River.
But there could be no basking in the sun of carefree days for the guardians of the new-born West. A vastly different method than that south of the border had been put in motion; and nature had ideally fitted Col “Jim” Macleod for the arduous undertaking assigned to him. Tall, handsome, lean, enterprising and tactful, he had made his mark in earlier life as a staunch soldier and had won a sovereign’s decoration for exemplary service. His genial features, his fearlessness and integrity, had, in a few experimental months, proven to be indispensable passports to respect among whites and Indians. Above all, his ever-ready solicitude for the rights of men had fitted him for a high position in the Indian country. And of the remarkable achievements of the North West Mounted Police in the formative years, no more fitting tribute could have been possible than the words voiced by Chief Crowfoot, the great Ogemah of the Blackfeet Confederacy.
“If the Police had not come to this country, where would we all be now? They have protected us as the feathers of the bird protect it from the frost of winter.”
That chapter of Western history, here so briefly touched upon, has long been honoured as an outstanding record of frontier achievement. Before many years had passed, Canada was to write upon her national scroll a story of magnificent service by “The Silent Force” – a service of meritorious activity long since extended to embraced the whole Dominion.
The stage on which the Western conquest was enacted by the North West Mounted Police has so completely changed that the scenes in which the pioneer custodians of law and order took part, and the life they led, can never recur. Civilization, railways, cattle ranches, wheat farms, and the advancing tide of population have swept them into the limbo of the past. So entirely has evolution done its work that it is hard to realize that frontier conditions could really have existed on the plains only a few years ago. Favoured by nature with a healthful, productive climate, the Province of Alberta, the direct successor of a savage commonwealth, has given birth to a hardy, vigorous and enterprising people. The development of vast and varied resources has been undertaken; cities, towns and villages have sprung up; manufactures have been established; branch railroads and motor highways constructed and the work of steady and increasing improvement made everywhere visible. Alas, most of the noble-hearted pioneers who placed themselves in the van of this movement have passed away.
Today, with a very definite place in the fortunes of not only Canada but the whole freedom-loving world, the Old Man’s River witnesses another great adventure. Where Col Macleod and his troopers faced long odds in the taming of the Blackfeet realm, clean-cut, crisp Canadians, as also Australians, New Zealanders and others, are imbued with the same pioneer resources of daring and initiative.
The thriving, south-Albertan town of Macleod, always with an eye to the future, and a deservedly boastful pride in the past, has become an outstanding preparatory centre in the war effort of the Empire. And, though time has wrought great changes in the land of the Siksikaua – the Blackfeet – the Old Man, mindful of his mythical chieftainship, as the director of indispensable benefits, sees to it that this river continues to flow majestically across the scene.
Hera, as in other air-training fields throughout Canada, a ghastly flailing for the arch-conspirator Herr Hitler is on the way. We may easily imagine Napi chuckling gleefully to see a vast, winged chastisement in the making – and indeed probably anticipating as his own so small share of the credit that will accrue. On the banks of the historic stream, he sees something more than the taming of the Blackfeet – he senses the retrieving of an outraged world from the fell influence of the Nazi curse.
The Empire air-school scheme was born in mid-December, 1939; and, by the following June, Britain’s war effort was given a furious impetus with the fall of France. There was available for the purpose outlined a mere handful of Royal Air Force technicians and Royal Canadian Air Force officers. As a site for one of the service flying schools, Macleod was put forward by its Mayor – G. Rider Davis – son of the pioneer D. W. Davis, the first and only member of the Canadian parliament from this almost boundless constituency, who had assisted in the building of the original fort. The Town Council and the Board of Trade threw their weight behind the proposal. The suggestion was acted upon.
Across Canada, within six months, the greatest military air-training venture the world had seen was on the way in strict keeping with R.A.F. Specifications. The location of Macleod’s flying school was fixed approximately one mile south-west of the town; and by the middle of June, 1940, contractors were working twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week, to whip an area of about one square mile into shape. Aircraft will utilize about 325 acres, 260 of which were sown to grass and the remainder laid out in runways, taxistrips and connections. Into the construction went 62,000 tons of gravel from the banks of the Old Man’s River. Field lighting was installed to permit night flying. Electric power was supplied. A water main was run to connect with the water system of Macleod, Aerodromes, hangars, residences, a control tower, hospital, and other necessary buildings were erected; a sewage disposal system laid down; a power line, telephone and teletype systems inaugurated. Two additional aerodromes, some miles away for use as relief fields, were provided. No. 7 service flying training school, an outstanding link in the British Empire air-training chain, was officially opened on December 18, 1940. Here, R.C.A.F. students will complete their training and receive their wings. Avro Ansons constitute the chief flying equipment.
In commenting upon this great innovation on the Old Man’s River, Mayor Davis stated: “The town of Macleod is delighted to welcome Canada’s war flyers. The citizens of Macleod have already made arrangements to form a cooperative council of all organizations to carry on auxiliary war work in connection with the R.C.A.F. here. The town of Macleod is a central point and has all the utilities of a large city. We will endeavour to extend true western hospitality to staff and students of the school.”
No better testimony of the rapid advance by the Canadian Air Ministry towards an all-out degree of skill and rapid training, is in evidence than that to be witnessed at Macleod. Without impairing efficiency in the air or discipline on the ground, a curriculum of intensive training involving twenty-eight weeks has replaced that which originally called for thirteen months. And this from a dead-level start less than a year ago. Like the red-coats of the force that spaing into action in ’74 – now the Royal Canadian Mounted Police – most of the “air rookies,” thanks to careful selection, are “naturals.” Already their quality has proved to be superb. Yet, along with an accelerated schooling that aims to match and reinforce the invincible R.A.F., the utmost in rational precautions and safeguards rule. Nothing has been overlooked.
With the Commonwealth Air Training Plan in mind, Prime Minister Churchill predicted, with confidence, last autumn: “In 1941, we shall have command of the air.” The Under Secretary for War called upon England to sit tight until “the river of pilots from Canada turns to flood.” The Dominions’ Secretary has predicted 20,000 pilots and 50,000 gunners and observer-bombardiers a year from all sources. A large number of these will come from Macleod on the Old Man’s River.
The initial Fort Macleod and its successor several miles away on the south bank of the river have vanished; but, in this lurid year of 1941, on the very spot where a national problem of the past was grappled with by red-coated men of the saddle, the Empire’s present dangers are being stoutly faced by sterling youths in air-force blue – to uphold the right for the glory of democracy.
On the banks of the Old Man’s River, a great transition has marked the stride by sixty-seven years from hoofs to wing.
From Out Our Storied Past
RCMP April 1941
From Out Our Storied Past
An authority on the history of the Cypress Hills district here recounts an exciting incident in the life of the early North West Mounted Police. Mr. Shepherd is a Director of the Saskatchewan Historical Society.
By George Shepherd
One of the most conspicuous officers during the formative years of the Force was Supt J. M. Walsh. His coolness and determination in the face of overwhelming odds were renowned. The idol of his men, Walsh was among those who set the high mark that has endured in the Mounted Police to the present time. It is an honour and a privilege to set forth an incident which assisted greatly in establishing the prestige of the Police among the Indians and white dwellers sixty-odd years ago.
Towards the end of May, 1877, a band of Cree and Saulteaux Indians, after a northern expedition of a few days, camped thirty miles north-east of the newly-founded Fort Walsh. They had heard that several large encampments of strange Indians were situated around the Cypress Hills near Fort Walsh. The Crees and Saulteaux, fearful for the safety of their own encampment, prevailed upon their leader, Little Child, a good and reliable man, with his other chiefs to call upon the Mounted Police at Fort Walsh. The visitors were informed that law was now established in the country; that to guarantee his safety; that Indians must cease making war on one another also, that it was wrong to regard every white man as an enemy at the conclusion of the pow-wow the delegation returned to their camp obviously well pleased.
Soon afterwards, however, a tribe of American Assiniboines came from the Bear Paw Mountains in pursuit of buffalo and pitched their camp of some 200 lodges about half a mile away. A law unto themselves, they had little or no respect for the white man’s authority. Although the newcomers belonged to a United States agency, they ordered the small band of Canadian Saulteaux and Crees to join their camp and conform to Assiniboine hunting rules.
To govern the hunt, dictate the laws, and be in a position to enforce obedience, was the great ambition of every camp chief. Under reasonable and wise guidance such a course was often permissible; but the alien chief, Broken Arm, aimed to absorb all smaller tribes and assume exclusive power in the Cypress Hills district.
When Little Child refused to join the Assiniboines, Broken Arm retired to his camp and shortly afterwards returned accompanied by over 150 warriors in full war costume. He again demanded that the Saulteaux chief and his following join the Assiniboines.
And although Little Child had but thirty braves to meet this threat, he replied, “I will not. You have no right to order me to do so. I am a British Indian and am on British soil. I do not know you and will not submit to your commands. The only chief I will obey is the White Chief (Supt Walsh) at Fort Walsh.” “You will obey me this day,” Broken Arm insisted, “and when your red-coated friends come to my camp you will be there to see how I use them.”
At this, the Assiniboines attacked the camp, tearing down the lodges, shooting the dogs and horses. The Canadian Indians prudently fled into the woods with their women and children. By offering no resistance they probably saved their lives. After moving his people to a place of safety, Little Child rode to Fort Walsh and reported the matter to Supt Walsh. Broken Arm had made the boast that he would cut out Walsh’s heart and eat it, if the latter dared to come to his camp.
“We’ll see about that later,” the Superintendent remarked.
In less than an hour, Walsh, with Sub-Inspr Edwin Allen, Surgeon Kittson and twenty-five men of other ranks were en route to the Assiniboine camp. At eleven o’clock that night, after a march of forty miles, the police, with Little Child as guide, reached the site where the violence had occurred. A halt was made. The men dismounted, while the scouts and some Indians reconnoitred in the dark. Soon they returned with information that the Assiniboine camp had moved northward. The party immediately resumed their march and cautiously followed the trail. After about an hour another halt was made. Horses, guarded by a strong picket, were unsaddled and they again hit the trail. As they moved slowly along the valley flanked on either side by large hills, Scout Louis Lavailler and Little Child who headed the column sighted the Assiniboine camp just as dawn was breaking.
A third halt was made. Sub-Inspr Allen instructed the men to have breakfast and feed the horses. Meanwhile the Superintendent and Louis Lavailler ascended a hill and surveyed the scene below. It made a perfect picture. Two hundred lodges nestled in a clearing fringed by young cottonwoods; a tiny stream coursed along the base of the beautiful plateau stretched before them, with grass verdant as late May could make it. Everything was still, silent. No sound disturbed the slumbering braves who had performed their war dance until a late hour.
From the hilltop the police could see the war lodge in the centre of the camp circle. Although the patrol were greatly out-numbered, they decided to attempt the capture of Broken Arm at once. They planned to seize the Chief and his attendant Indians in a surprise arrest and then remove them before a general alarm sounded. To be successful, the war lodge must be surrounded before the police were discovered.
Immediately after breakfast, the men stole along a narrow valley which permitted them to pass unobserved to within 400 yards of the camp’s east end. A small butte about a half mile away, near a tiny lake, was selected as the place to which the police would retire with their captives. Dr. Kittson, two men and a scout were stationed here with instructions to commence building a breastwork of stones the moment an alarm was raised or the party discovered. Suitable stones lay about; but it was necessary to defer erecting the barricade to avoid all risk of rousing the sleepers. Should it be seen that the coup de main was unsuccessful, the scout was to ride at full speed to Fort Walsh with an order for the entire command to hasten to their assistance. Dr. Kittson was to hold his ground at all cost, thereby providing a rallying point to which the men could retire in a body or singly if hard pressed or separated. As the courageous detachment proceeded on their dangerous mission, they said good-bye to Dr. Kittson and his men, no doubt with considerable uncertainty that they would meet again.
Sub-Inspr Allen examined arms, then gave orders to load carbines and revolvers. The former were loaded with ball buck. The men were then fully instructed regarding the movement to be made and the part each was expected to play. The necessity of complete silence, strict attention to orders, and their immediate execution was impressed upon them, if success was to be obtained.
The little body of determined troopers then ascended the hill and came in full view of the camp.
The Police walked their horses carefully forward. All was deathly still among the Indian lodges. Nothing stirred. Twenty-two scarlet-coated riders brilliantly bright in the morning sunshine. With confidence in every heart, they were now advancing against a force twenty times their number. No twenty-two men since the days of early Greece ever showed more valour. A British officer had pledged his word that all who put themselves under the protection of their country’s law would be safe. This law had been violated, and the upholders of the White Mother’s sovereignty were ready to bring the offenders to justice or die in the attempt. The suspense, while crossing the narrowing strip of prairie from the hill to their objective, was fraught with intense uncertainty. The neigh of a horse or the rattle of a curb-chain would have been sufficient to warn the sleeping redskins. But even the horses seemed to sense the danger, as they moved quietly onward.
Like wraiths, the riders pressed gently on, using neither rein nor spur. One by one, they passed through the outer circle of the camp. Here and there a dog barked, but the war lodge was reached, surrounded. The crucial moment had arrived. Ten stalwart troopers, already detailed for the purpose, dismounted and disappeared under the edge of the big lodge, entering it from every side. The reclining warriors were seized before they could even rise. Broken Arm and twenty-five braves were whisked away while the alarm spread among the other tribesman.
At the fearless surgeon’s post on the hill, the prisoners were shackled in pairs – until the supply of manacles was exhausted. The horses were hastily unsaddled and tied close together in the centre of the small barricade. Every man set to with all his energy, building a breastwork of stones and earth, topped off with saddles. The prisoners were forced to carry stones. And soon all was ready. Dr. Kittson, his medicine chest opened, got ready lint and bandages. He also had charge of the ammunition boxes which were placed handy for use. Sub-Inspr Allen spoke inspiringly to the men, imparted instructions concerning their procedure in cast of attack. The guide and interpreter listened intently to the shouts of the minor chiefs remaining in the Indian camp; they appeared to be inciting the others to attack. Great commotion reigned among the Indians. The situation threatened to become more serious. Indians in hundreds advanced toward the little fort, then halted. Some headmen approached and arrogantly demanded to know the reason for the arrests. The intrepid superintendent, with nothing in his hands but a pair of gloves, passed through the line of Police and explained to the Indians why the arrests had been made.
And then a lesson was taught them. It left a deep impression among the natives and Police. The warriors were informed that they were now in British territory where the rights of every man were sacred. Tyrants were not allowed to live on British soil. The law prescribed that men should live together as brothers. The Police represented British law in the West. The chiefs were to be taken to Fort Walsh and there tried for their offence. If found guilty, they would be punished. Those not found guilty would be set free. No man would be dealt with unjustly.
The headmen pleaded for the release of the prisoners, promising never again to commit such an offence, and in future to respect the authority of the Police. But Walsh was firm. He told them that no concession would be granted until after the investigation, which would be held at Fort Walsh as soon as possible. The Superintendent recommended that the Indians return peaceably to their camp; that they refrain from making the plight of the prisoners worse by a demonstration of hostility.
At the conclusion of this lecture a chief at once urged an attack on the camp. The Indians were informed that should this occur the Police and their captives would never be taken alive; the prisoners had two choices: go to Fort Walsh, or die – it depended on the conduct of their friends. The discussion ended.
The unruly mob withdrew, and the Police prepared for the return trip. The prisoners were told that should their friends fail to send them horses, they would have to walk; the journey, though long, must be made before they could sleep. One of the prisoners, Black Foot by name, thereupon called out demanding of the warriors a horse for each man. Soon afterwards three or four young bucks brought the required animals forward. On the way to the fort, the prisoners were well guarded under the threat of ready guns. The Police and their captives reached Fort Walsh that night at 11:30.
The next week, the examination and trail took place, and punishment was meted out to the offenders. Broken Arm was sentence to six months ball and chain; three other leaders to one, two, and three months, respectively. This strict enforcement of justice was heralded over the plains from north to south, from east to west. It taught the Indians and everyone that the country was governed by law and that the men enforcing it were fully capable.
The successful prosecution of this difficult and dangerous undertaking, established for the N.W.M. P. an influence and prestige that won for them respect throughout the length and breadth of the land. It extended even to the camp of Sitting Bull, far to the south (as the Police learned later upon the arrival of that doughty warrior in Canada). When the report of the incident reached Ottawa, the Government through the Secretary of State, the Hon. R. W. Scott, thanked and praised the Force for its conduct and splendid efficiency.
Hay Days at Fort Walsh
RCMP October, 1942 posse
Hay Days at Fort Walsh
By George Shepherd
Hay has played an important part in early Canadian history. For this commodity was essential when the Mounted Police introduced law and order to the land that is today loved by all who live there – the western plains.
In the autumn of 1874 the North West Mounted Police completed their epic march across the western plains. Fort Macleod was founded in the heart of the Blackfoot realm to enforce the law and curb the activities of liquor traders who for several years had been demoralizing the Indians. Many of the illicit traffickers moved to the Cypress Hills about 160 miles to the east and continued operations there. The building of Fort Walsh in that vicinity in the spring of 1875, under the direction of Inspr James Morrow Walsh, resulted. The trading firms of I. G. Baker and Co. and T. C. Power and Bro. of Fort Benton, on the Missouri, soon established branches there. The new settlement promised to become an important centre of frontier trade.
By the summer of 1876 Fort Walsh had settled down to the business at hand. Inspector Walsh realized that a large supply of good hay for his horses was imperative. The previous year the police had gathered a small quantity that, through careful rationing, had been just sufficient to see them through the winter. The inspector therefore arranged with the Baker Co. for the purchase of approximately five hundred tons to be delivered in good condition to the police corrals at Fort Walsh.
In those days it was customary for the Baker and Power bull teams to make trips from Fort Benton on the Missouri to Fort Walsh with supplies; on the July trip the Baker outfits brought haying equipment with them.
Bull teams were a regular feature of the early West. Each team consisted of from twenty to twenty-four oxen yoked together in pairs with a heavy wooden yoke; each yoke was hitched to a bull chain which extended back to the wagon where it was attached to a heavy hook. Behind the lead wagon were two lighter ones short-coupled one behind the other. The lead wagon was of heavy construction and built to carry a load of five tons; the second and third wagons carried three and two tons respectively. A bull team was handled by a man known as a bull whacker who spoke two languages – English and Profane with a marked inclination toward the latter.
Under average conditions the pulling capacity of an ox was estimated at one thousand pounds; consequently each bull team was relied on to haul ten tons of freight, and pull the wagons free even when they became mired to the axles. Often when bogged down at river crossings or mud-holes the wagons were uncoupled by means of a handy trip device and yanked out one at a time.
An I. G. Baker bull train consisting of ten such outfits, on one journey transported one hundred tons of freight – supplies for the police and goods for the Fort Walsh stores. When lined up one behind the other on the trail the bull teams presented an imposing sight.
The wagons were made suitable for conveying the hay by removing the standard box-like bodies and substituting large basket racks that were constructed from Cypress Hills pine. It was decided that the haying operations should be carried out at the west end of Davis Lake, now known as Cypress Lake. This location is the site of the well-known Wylie ranch, about twenty-five miles south-east of the Fort. At that point in 1876 the blue joint grass was almost waist high and into it went the Baker teams and mowers. In due time the hay was delivered. This was one of the first attempts at agricultural pursuits south and west of Fort Qu’Appelle.
The heavy hay wagons left deep ruts and these are plainly visible to this day. Besides being used as a hay trail, this road was also the first leg of the journey to the Wood Mountain post. Winding down over the Cypress Hills benches from Fort Walsh, past the hay flat and along the south side of Cypress Lake this trail was the scene of many hasty and arduous patrols by Inspector Walsh and his men when the Sioux, who were then under the chieftainship of the famed Sitting Bull, were none-too-welcome residents in Canada from 1876-1881.
* * *
In 1893 a page in the history of the Force was turned definitely with the building of the main line of the Canadian Pacific Railway to Maple Creek. Fort Walsh was abandoned and a barracks established approximately one mile south-west of Maple Creek. At the same time outlying detachments were established south of the Cypress at Ten Mile and Farwell and a summer camp was located adjacent to the hay flat. It is of interest to note that these three old-time police sites are now all occupied by ranching outfits that rank as second to none in the ranching fraternity. For almost fifty years Lindner Bros have been established at Ten Mile, Wylie’s on the hay flat, and ‘Billy’ Caton at Farwell. Among the many Mounted Policemen who knew these detachments in the days of the open range might be mentioned Inspr C. Constantine, and Inspr F. J. Fitzgerald who perished on the Dawson-McPherson patrol in February 1911.
In May 1884 the hay flat echoed to the tramp of horses’ feet as a posse of Mounted Police rode over it in hot pursuit of Indians who had fatally wounded a rancher named Pollock, on Fish Creek about fourteen miles south of Maple Creek. The police patrol crossed the hay flat, travelling on down to the Old Man On His Back Plateau, thence west to Wild Horse Lake where the Indian trail was lost.
In 1884 the flat was chosen as the site for a ranch by Michael Oxarat (Oxheart). Oxarat was a Basque, having come in from Oregon via the Sun River in Montana. His was the first ranch to be located south of the Cypress Hills. The first grazing lease granted in the province was issued to Oxarat on Sept. 29, 1885, and it covered eleven thousand acres.
Oxarat brought with him from Sun River over three hundred head of high-quality horses, mostly of Morgan breeding, many of which made fine remounts for the Mounted Police. Among those who broke horses for Oxarat were Gabe and Paul Lavielle, sons of Louis Lavielle, Inspector Walsh’s favourite and most trusted scout. ‘Old Gabe,’ now over seventy-five years of age, is still going strong and lives near the ranch.
Many of the early police came to know the fleur-de-lys brand on the Oxarat horses. Being situated in a strategic position, the ranch was a ready port of call for police patrols. Hospitality was the keynote of the place and still is. In 1896 Michael Oxarat’s health failed; he and his wife left for France, but Michael died while journeying eastward on the train.
In 1897 the Oxarat ranch was taken over by the late ‘Joe’ Wylie, as dominant and colourful a figure as ever came to the range country. As one of the Maple Creek cattle barons, J. D. Wylie served his province and the cattle industry with unfailing zeal in the legislative assembly during the early years of the present century. Under his vigorous management the ranch prospered, and today it is one of the show places of the Cypress Hills. Modern buildings with all conveniences now stand where Oxarat erected his low buildings almost sixty years ago, and a thousand head of ‘Whitefaces’ (Herefords) can now be seen where once the Baker men drove buffalo off the hay piles.
All three Wylie boys joined the colours during the war of 1914-18. The two present-day owners, Monty and ‘Babe’ (Frank), exceed, if anything, the standards of hospitality set by Oxarat.
Still another page of history of this colourful meadow was turned when in 1938 heavy caterpillar tractors chugged over it excavating the main intake ditch in connection with the Cypress Lake project under the direction of the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Act. This project is the key plan in the water conservation program for south-western Saskatchewan.
Times goes on, changes are introduced, but the old hay meadow so closely intertwined with the history of the Mounted Police has an allure that grows mellower with age, even under the assault of modern alterations.
It’s the heart of the old West.
History in the Courts
RCMP April 1941
History in the Courts
The Indians’ doom should touch your heart. I’ve seen Types disappear before. But kindness On dying races, as on dying men Should wait, and Canada may well be proud, And England, too, of that just spirit which Has ruled her councils; these are things the gods Do not forget. Eos: An Epic of the Dawn, by N. F. Davin.
By J. C. Martin, K.C.
In 1867 when the Dominion of Canada came into being through the establishment and union of the Provinces of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, the British North America Act provided for “the eventual admission into the Union of other parts of British North American.” The evolution of a new Dominion and, no less, its expansion into the vast unorganized territories to the west, were momentous events. It was not to be expected that they would come to pass without some disturbance and, in fact, the focal points of discord did exist, first in the Irish Fenian movement in the United States, and second, in the person of Louis Riel.
The first had become a menace before Confederation, when, in 1866, Fenians to the number of about two thousand, some of whom had seen services in the American Civil War, gathered near Buffalo and crossed into Canada under arms. They were beaten back after brisk fighting and their attempt at invasion was broken, but the threat of their hostility required Canada (which was then a union of Upper and Lower Canada) to keep a large body of men under arms for several months. Apart from their desire to make trouble for Great Britain, the Fenians no doubt expected that the people of Canada would hail them as deliverers from the British yoke, but the fact was just the opposite, and Sir Richard Cartwright1 is authority for the statement that these raids “very much increased the feeling in favour of Confederation.” The raids had their aftermath in the courts, for a number of the invaders was captured and brought to trial upon the charge of entering Canada to levy war upon Her Majesty. These men were defended at the expense of the American Government “who had by that time become aware of the dangerous consequences which might have resulted had any considerable number been executed,”2 and six were convicted. However, the sentences of death were commuted to various terms of imprisonment.
At the time Thomas D’Arcy McGee was at the height of his power. He was an Irishman who came to Canada after a short sojourn in the United States. Here he went into newspaper work. His writing and his outstanding talent for oratory soon brought him into public life, and before Confederation he became a Minister of the Crown. When Confederation came, his standing was so high that it was not unreasonable for him to expect to be a member of the first Cabinet of the Dominion; but McGee was great as well as brilliant – great enough to waive any claim to personal recognition and to stand aside in order that the Cabinet might be truly representative. However, he had a seat in the House of Commons.
As a youth in Ireland, McGee had had some part in the “Young Ireland” political movement, but something which he found in Canadian life brought about a change in his generous mind. He became an ardent patriot and proponent of the British connection. When the Fenians undertook their misguided raids he denounced them strongly, and thus incurred their enmity.
This was no light matter. On April 6, 1868, McGee delivered in the House of Commons one of the most striking speeches of his career. Late in the night he left the House and was just about to enter his lodgings on Sparks Street in Ottawa when he was shot and almost instantly killed. A few days later the police arrested a man named Patrick James Whelan and charged him with the murder.
In due course Whelan came to trial at Ottawa, and his trial took place amidst a great tensity of feeling. The accused was an Irishman of Fenian sympathies who was employed as a tailor in Montreal. There was evidence of threats which he had made against McGee, also that he had been present at a place, referred to as Duggan’s groggery, in Montreal when the removal of McGee had been discussed. McGee’s brother connected the accused with a mysterious warning which had come to the dead man about two o’clock of a morning during the previous Christmas holidays. On the night of the shooting, witnesses had observed Whelan in a gallery of the House of Commons making threatening gestures towards McGee while he was speaking; one witness had seen a firearm protruding from Whelan’s pocket during that time.
A witness named Lacroix testified that he was on the street near the scene of the shooting when it took place. Frightened by the noise, he took refuge in a doorway, and while he stood there a man ran by. This man he identified as the accused.
These were the high-lights of the case for the Crown. The jury returned a verdict of guilty, and the judge pronounced sentence of death upon the prisoner. However, the trial was by no means the end of the matter; there were lengthy proceedings in appeal. Apart from the testimony of Lacroix, which was strongly attacked during the trial, the evidence was circumstantial. Much argument, too, arose from the way in which the trial judge had dealt with a challenge made by counsel for the defence when one Sparks was called to the jury. Yet in the end the verdict was upheld, and the sentence of death was carried out on February 11, 1869. This was the last public execution in Canada.
There was a great deal of controversy both before and after the execution as to whether Whelan was properly convicted. Nothing could be gained by reviving it now, but it is worth observing that on appeal one of the judges quoted Whelan as having said, in some remarks which he made at the close of his trial, that the jury could not have done anything else upon the evidence but convict him.3
Meanwhile events were taking shape upon a broader stage. The Rupert’s Land Act of 1868 provided for the surrender by the Hudson’s Bay Company to the Government of Canada of its “rights of government and property in Rupert’s Land and the Northwestern Territory” and in 1869 representatives of Canada, meeting in London with the Company, agreed upon terms of the surrender. These terms included the payment to the Company of the sum of pounds 300,000 and this fact was seized upon by some elements in the Red River Settlement to raise the cry that the people of the Settlement had not been consulted, but rather had been ‘sold like sheep’. It had been arranged that the actual transfer should take place on December 1, 1869, but in the summer of that year the Government, with the consent of the Company, sent surveyors into the territory. One of these, Colonel J. S. Dennis, who had come to make a survey of the settlement, reported that he was met by a band of half-breeds “headed by a man named Louis Riel” who stood upon the chain and threatened violence if the work were continued.
Louis Riel was the son of a man of mixed French, Irish and Indian blood, himself a “fierce and noisy revolutionist,”4 who had a mill on the Seine near St. Boniface. As a boy, the son was sent east to be educated for the priesthood but, as it appears that he did not come up to the required standard, that idea was abandoned and he returned to the Red River Settlement. When the trouble began he was twenty-five years of age; undoubtedly he had talent but he was vain, arrogant and headstrong.
In October, the Hon. William MacDougall, who was to be Governor of the newly-acquired territory, arrived at the border of Minnesota near Pembina in order to be at the settlement when the time came to take over control. The half-breeds, or Metis, forbade him to enter and, perhaps more effectively, barricaded the road to prevent his doing so. Then the idea of a new nation, which had actuated Cuthbert Grant fifty years before, came again into the open. The Metis seized the premises of the Hudson’s Bay Company in the settlement and set up a provisional government with one John Bruce as president and Louis Riel as secretary. This arrangement, however, did not last long; Riel soon superseded Bruce.
At this time influences were at work which were unknown when Grant threatened the life of the settlement. Much of its traffic was with St. Paul to the south, and there were some Americans among its people who fostered annexationist sentiment. Moreover, a Fenian, William Bernard O’Donoghue, was prominent in Riel’s counsels, and when the provisional government ran up its flag, the shamrock was one of the devices which appeared upon it.
Loyal Canadians to the number of about one hundred were disarmed and made prisoner, and the climax came when a young Irish-Canadian named Thomas Scott, who apparently had been too outspoken to suit Riel, was shot after a perfunctory court-martial held upon the latter’s orders. This was an act of sheer terrorism and, more than any of Riel’s other acts, it aroused public opinion in the east and antagonized opinion in the west. Riel released his other prisoners, but this was largely through the efforts of Bishop Tache. Notwithstanding the admission to Confederation of Manitoba as a province containing the Red River Settlement in July, 1870, Riel’s ill-starred regime came to an end only upon the arrival of a military force under Colonel Garnet Wolseley. By that time Riel and O’Donoghue had fled to the United States, but both were to be heard from again.
O’Donoghue reappears as the instigator of another Fenian raid when, on October 5, 1871, raiders numbering about forty seized the Hudson’s Bay post at Pembina. American troops under Col Wheaton speedily disposed of his attempt, and it appears that O’Donoghue, who was arrested on the Canadian side, was handed over to them. Col Wheaton remarked that he thought any further anxiety regarding a Fenian invasion of Manitoba was unnecessary; and so it proved, for this was the end of overt Fenian activity, not only in the west but with regard to Canada as a whole. However, this does not mean that the Fenians ceased their activities in the United States. Outrages which had their origin in that country continued to harass the British government to such an extent that as late as 1882 it was protesting to the government of the United States.5 With few, if any exceptions, the Irish people in Canada gave the Fenians no support; it was, rather, men like Thomas D’Arcy McGee and Nicolas Flood Davin who represented their opinions. Nor did the Metis generally wish to traffic with them. As for Riel, it is a question how far he compromised himself with them, yet it must be said that it has not been proved that he ever made their designs wholly his own.
After the death of Scott the province of Ontario offered a reward of $5000 for the arrest and conviction of the murderers. A man named Lepine, an associate of Riel, was tried and convicted, but the Governor-General commuted his sentence to two years’ imprisonment and forfeiture of political rights. In 1874 Riel himself was returned by acclamation as the member of Parliament for Provencher in Manitoba. Outlaw though he was, Riel made what Sir Richard Cartwright has called an “impudent attempt”6 to take his seat in the House of Commons. He actually signed the register of members but when this became known the furore was so great that he disappeared. A vote of the House later expelled him from membership.
During the next ten years he remained in obscurity. There is evidence that in 1875 and 1876 he spent some months in an asylum at Beauport, and there is also a suggestion that for a while he was an inmate of an asylum at Longue Pointe under an assumed name.7
In 1884 there were grievances among the Metis in the Northwest Territories. These concerned the issue of patents for their lands, the securing of river frontage, the abolition of taxes on wood, and rights for those who did not have scrip in Manitoba. Some steps had been taken to meet the demands, but these were not considered sufficient and, it was said, “the silence of the government produced great dissatisfaction in the minds of the people.”8 Moreover, the advent of the Canadian Pacific Railway was disturbing the Indians who now realized that the free life of the plains had been relegated to the past by the westward advance of settlement.
It was in these circumstances that a deputation of Metis approached Riel, who was then teaching school in Montana, and persuaded him to come to the Territories. From then on, to use an expression which is very familiar today, the situation steadily deteriorated. On March 15, 1885, Riel was declaring to Dr. Willoughby of the village of Saskatoon that the time had come when he was “to rule this country or perish in the attempt,” and that “the rebellion of fifteen years ago would not be a patch on this one.” On March 18 he entered a store at Batoche with some of his followers, demanded arms, and announced that the rebellion was on.
The events of the next two months may be summarized shortly. Accounts of them, including the part taken by the North-West Mounted Police,9 have been given elsewhere and need not be repeated at any length. There were engagements at Duck Lake on March 26, at Fish Creek on April 24, at Cut Knife about the beginning of May, and there were some other minor encounters. On April 2, Indians of Big Bear’s band – I put it that way because there is reason to believe that they got beyond his control – massacred almost all of the white residents in the little settlement of Frog Lake, north of Fort Pitt.
Decisive action came with the arrival from the east of troops under General Middleton. The rebels were defeated in a four-days’ battle at Batoche; it ended on May 12, and a few days later Riel was a prisoner. He was charged with treason and came to trial at Regina in July, 1885, before a court consisting of a Stipendiary Magistrate, a Justice of the Peace, and a jury of six men. The trial, which was a long one, resulted in a verdict of guilty with a recommendation of mercy; an appeal failed, and Riel was executed at Regina on November 16, 1885.
At the trial there was no question as to his part in what had taken place. The principal issue was that of his sanity, and it is a remarkable feature of the case that this issue was raised over his own protest. A contemporary account10 quotes him as saying in court “But, your Honor, my good friends – my learned counsel – are trying to prove that I am insane.” Addressing the court at the end of his trial, he said, “If it is any satisfaction to the doctor to know what kind of insanity I have, if they are going to call my pretensions insanity, I say, humbly through the grace of God, I believe I am the prophet of the New World.”
It should not be forgotten that Riel did not at any time have the full support of the Metis themselves. Upon a reading of the evidence, too, it is impossible to concede him any claim to greatness. Besides what has been quoted, there is much to show forth his pretensions in both the political and religious fields, and in both he exhibited an “unquenchable thirst for power” and an “insensate pride.”11 “As far as my personal experience goes,” said Father Andre, of Prince Albert, “he would not allow the least opposition at all. Immediately his physiognomy changed and he became a different man.”
Riel himself said that he had three enemies – the government, the Hudson’s Bay Company, and the police. “In one week,” he predicted before the outbreak, “that little government police will be wiped out of existence.” Although he was quoted too as saying that he did not hope to be able to hold out against the strength of Britain and Canada, a defence witness, Charles Nolin, testified that Riel had shown him a book which he (Riel) had written in the United States. “What he showed me in that book,” said Nolin, “was first to destroy England and Canada and also to destroy Rome and the Pope,” and the same witness quotes him as saying, “Before the grass is that high in this country you will see foreign armies in this country.”
According to the evidence of Dr. Willoughby, Riel expected help from the Irish and Germans in the United States, and the reference to the former have been a harking back to his Fenian associations of the earlier rebellion. A number of witnesses testified concerning a plan of Riel’s to divide the Territories into seven parts to be allotted variously, but his evidence will not be quoted here as no coherent scheme can be drawn from it.
Riel invented some terms of his own for use in his projected system. To Capt. Young, who was his custodian for a time, he explained that his word ‘Exovede’ was derived from two Latin words, ex, from, and ovile, flock, and that as his council was “not a council and being composed of exovedes we have called it Exovedate.” However, his statement to Capt. Young that he was one of the flock with no special authority is not borne out by the documents exhibited, at his trial, since some of them were signed by him alone as ‘Exovede’.
It appears too that these words were meant to have more than a merely temporal significance. According to the evidence of John W. Autley, Riel wished to be recognized as the founder of a new church. When Father Moulin of Batoche said to him that he was making a schism against the church, his reply was, “Rome est tombee.” And the document put in as Exhibit 16 at his trial contains the following words: “The French half-breed members of the provisional Government of the Saskatchewan have seperated (sic) from Rome and the great mass of the people have done the same.”
Yet, whatever Riel’s political or religious aspirations may have been, he left himself open to the accusation that he could not be loyal either to friends or principles. Hillyard Mitchell, who saw him before the fight at Duck Lake, testified that he “talked principally of his own grievances – that he had been kicked out of the House and the country.” Thomas Jackson said, “I think his own particular troubles were the most prominent. Of course he spoke of the half-breeds’ troubles.”
In this respect the evidence of Father Alexis Andre was by far the most damaging to him, when that witness testified as follows:
“Q. The prisoner claimed a certain indemnity from the Federal government, didn’t he?
A. When the prisoner made his claim, I was there with another gentleman, and he asked from the government $100,000. We thought that was exorbitant and the prisoner said ‘Wait a little, I will take at once $35,000 cash.’ Q. And on that condition the prisoner was to leave the country if the government gave him $35,000? A. Yes, that was the condition he put. Q. When was this? A. This was on the 23rd December, ’84.”
It is impossible, of course, to say what weight this evidence had with the jury, but it is of record that the Court of Appeal was strongly impressed by it. Wallbridge, C.J., referred to it and also to evidence that “To General Middleton, after prisoner’s arrest, he speaks of his desire to negotiate for a money consideration,” and then drew this inference: “In my opinion, this shows that he was willing and quite capable of parting with this supposed delusion, (i.e., that he was a prophet with a mission), if he got the $35,000.”12
It has been remarked more than once that Riel was a man of fine potentialities. Still, when one reviews the facts of his life, particularly as they were disclosed at his trail, two conclusions are irresistible. The first is that above all he was an egoist, and the second is that his mind was cast in that dictatorial mould which we have come to know all too well in these later days.13
This remains to be added: Riel’s was not the only trial which resulted from the rebellion. Some others, in particular some of the Indians who took part in the atrocities at Frog Lake, were executed, but, as was the case with the Indian chiefs, Big Bear and Poundmaker, most of those who were convicted received sentences of imprisonment, in some instances coupled with the deprivation of rights.
It is more than half a century since those troubled days. There is another generation of Metis, another generation of Indians, and it is worth recording that some of them are wearing the uniform of the great-grandson of that Queen whose authority Riel’s rebellious efforts attempted to dispute.
3 28 U.C.Q.B. 141. It may be noted here that public executions for murder were abolished in England in 1868.
4 Dr. George Bryce: The Romantic Settlement of Lord Selkirk’s Colonists,
5 A. G. Gardiner: Life of Sir William Harcourt, Vol. I, . Perhaps the most sensational of these outrages were the Phoenix Park murders of May 6, 1882, some account of which is to be found in the same volume, beginning at
7 The first point appears in the evidence of Dr Roy at Riel’s trial; there is an oblique reference in the second in an address made by Riel himself in court at the close of his trial.
8 Evidence of Father Alexis Andre at Riel’s trial.
9 R. C. Fetherstonhaugh: The Royal Canadian Mounted Police. W. B. Cameron: The War-trial of Big Bear. Mrs. Theresa Gowanlock and Mrs. Theresa Delaney: Two Months in the Camp of Big Bear. R.C.M.P. Q. Vol. III, p. 103.
10 The Daily Leader, (Regina), July 31, 1885.
11 Bishop Tache’s words as quoted in Canada and Its Provinces.
12 The Queen v. Riel, I Terr. L. R.
13 Except where stated otherwise, references to the evidence at the trial of Riel are to the proceedings of the trial by the Queen’s Printer.
Memory Browsing in Cypress Hills
RCMP October, 1942
Memory Browsing in Cypress Hills
By A/Sgt D. A. Fleming
After the white man came the Indian experienced a difficult transition period during which his freedom and natural instincts were sharply curbed. From these reminiscences in the Cypress Hills we gain a realization of the Indian’s diligence and perseverance in the ways of the white race. He accepted the changed conditions with good grace and today there is no citizen more loyal to the Empire.
One day last summer I stood on the top bench of the Cypress Hills and watched a trans-Canada plane wing its way north-west. Directly to the north I saw smoke billowing from a west-bound C.P.R. locomotive. A vast expanse lay before me, a land in which an incredible change had taken place in a comparatively short time. Here the great buffalo herds had wandered at will; the red man had been lord supreme. Later had come the explorer, and not long afterwards the hunter, the trapper and the trader. Here and there, following the coming of the Mounted Police, small settlements had sprung into being. Like a rolling snowball that gathers unto itself and grows rapidly, so the West had experienced cumulative changes and sustained a great transformation.
Scattered about, at old camp sites, can be found Indian relics – war clubs, stone hammers, stone spearheads and arrow points – symbol of an era that has gone. Often of skilful workmanship, they had been made by the Plains Indians, a resourceful and warlike people – tall, manly, with bold, prominent features, wide faces, high cheek-bones and raven braids decked with eagle feathers – physically superior to all the American aborigines.
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Through half-closed eyes I contemplated the slopes in dreamy speculation and conjured up a vision of the days when the Plains Indians had fought wars and hunted the buffalo. They had lived a simple life, the buffalo supplying them with practically all necessities, for the hides when sewn together constituted their lodges, and the flesh together with roots and berries was their food. The berries were generally eaten as found, or pulverized and added to dried and pounded buffalo meat which was then mixed with fat into a delicacy known as ‘fine’ pemmican, as distinguished from ordinary pemmican.
The Indian’s nature was hard. From childhood he was taught to despise any show of pain and fear. His education consisted of learning to ride the wiry ponies, of indulging in mimic warfare, of acquiring skill with bow and arrow and the hunting spear. All heavy and menial work was performed by the squaws; in addition to their household tasks the women, aided by the aged men, cripples and youths of the camp, followed the hunters and completed the work on the fallen animals, carrying the spoils back to their lodges. When buffalo were killed by stampeding huge herds over cut banks and slaughtering them en masse, the camp was moved to the scene of the kill.
These Plains Indians had their own loose system of government, and all ‘affairs of state’ were left to the chiefs and their councillors. In peace time the chiefs, medicine-men, sub-chiefs and councillors all had their say at the council, but in war time the tribal direction and control was in the hands of the war chiefs, men of outstanding valour and strategy.
The Plains Indians knew no boundaries except that they realized the danger of encroaching upon the territory of an enemy tribe, or that, when weakened by disease or war, it was wise to remain in home pastures.
They lacked the craftsmanship exhibited by the Aztecs or Inca. They were not builders, and unlike the southern natives, left nothing behind in the way of monuments or buildings. The workmanship in their pottery was inferior to that in the south. As far as is known they made no attempt to construct any musical instrument other than the bone whistle, the raw-hide tom-tom, and the rattle; the latter was usually made from the outer shells of buffalo hoofs. Unlike the early Peruvians, the Plains Indians possessed no skill in surgery; their medicine-man’s scope was limited to herbs and other simples which he administered with weird incantations.
In keeping with his mode of living, the Plains Indian’s religion was simple. He believed in the Great Spirit and was a sun-worshipper, but he didn’t practice the vicious human sacrifices indulged in by his southern neighbours.
True enough, in war he was savage. That he was ferocious and cruel has been stressed by many authorities and is revealed by numerous tales of raids on encampments and slaughtering of men, women and children. But the quarrels and fights he did have were usually with people of his own origin. It seems to have been overlooked that when the white men came to the West, the Plains Indian was, in most cases, exceptionally hospitable and courteous.
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This man of the great buffalo pastures had his ambitions – to be a wise councillor, a good hunter and great warrior. The vast outdoors was the school where he learned to track game and foe; to acquaint himself with the habits and favourite haunts of various wild creatures. All this he had to know; his life depended upon it. Later he entered the warrior class where he learned to see without being seen; to hear without being heard; to take advantage of any natural cover; to travel long distances on foot; to back track; to avoid ambush; to attack at the right moment; to have complete control of his facial expressions; above all, to scorn fear and die valiantly. His life accustomed him to hardships and at times to extreme exertion. Many instances are recorded of the Indian travelling hundreds of miles on foot, before the coming of the horse – the great boon he received from the Spaniards.
At the council fires he listened attentively and from his elders received advice on politics, strategy, methods of procedure; from them came words of wisdom and eloquence. Here the young warrior learned about things he should and should not do; about the history of his people, their friends and enemies, the hard times endured and good times enjoyed by his forefathers. Few questions 166 were asked; the knowledge was acquired by listening.
On his own initiative he absorbed this information, for he was not compelled to listen or to educate himself. Yet instinctively he realized that his future welfare as well as that of the band was the concern of the council. His own principal desire was to be an asset to the tribe, and he knew there were three courses open to him: to be strong in the hunt; mighty in battle; wise in the council.
Little is known of the Indian before the advent of the white man on the North American continent; most of the available data spring from legend and mythology. But since the arrival of the white man, the Indian and his history, his activities and his troubles have become better known.
The Indian knew neither the strength nor the weakness of the new-comers. He knew nothing about firearms until the white man brought them, and upon being shown the effectiveness of this new weapon, the Indian burnt with the desire to own one. He learned that they were obtainable through trade and it was through trade that the white man with a most evasive, ever-moving table of trade-and-commerce values, established his influence over the Indian.
Henceforth the Indian’s perspective of life changed – traders, hunters and trappers began to push westward from the East. This influx was gradual because of the continuous friction between French and English; exploration was actually done more by individuals than by the great powers whose rulers were content to disregard everything except their profit from the fur catch. The buffalo, the deer and the birds had been always with the Indian; there was nothing to warn him they might become scarce or extinct. The rifles, ball and powder of the white man could be obtained for pelts and hides, so without stint the Indian hunted and killed, little realizing the disaster that lay ahead. Soon, the buffalo were gone. Too late the Indian discovered there was nothing left to hunt; too late he learned his mistake, and found himself destitute except for land which he knew not how to turn to his use.
I reflected on all this as I stood there in the Cypress Hills, and tried to picture to myself the discussions that must have taken place around the council fires after the catastrophe had fallen. It is doubtful if any race in the history of the world had had its source of livelihood wiped out so irrevocably. The Plains Indians were without sustenance and had to rely on the white man who was making such extended inroads into their territory. Yet through it all the Indian was amicably disposed towards the white race. He had been enticed to trade his heritage for a pittance, yet, except in a few isolated cases, he showed no desire for revenge.
Not until the Metis question arose, in 1869 and 1885, did the Plains Indians question the white man’s law, and even then only part of their number joined the rebels. After the rebellion of 1881 the Indians turned to agriculture – a 167 disagreeable step for them, as hunting is hereditary in their make-up – and they are gradually adapting themselves to this new life. Much has still to be done before they will be completely self-supporting, but there is every indication that in time they will be. The Indian has remained true to the various treaties signed by him. He is loyal to Canada. I often wonder if sons of our white inhabitants are as loyal. History has been unkind to the red man, yet he has submitted to a great transition and accepted the new life with a grace and dignity that would tax many of us to emulate.
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During the present crisis Canada’s Indians are upholding nobly the loyal traditions of their gallant ancestors. According to preliminary figures compiled by the department of Mines and Resources at Ottawa, over twelve hundred Indians have already enlisted in the armed forces in Canada. This figure is expected to be increased considerably when all the agencies throughout the country have reported. There are, no doubt, many Indian enlistments which have not been reported to the department. Some Canadian Indians have enlisted in the American Air Force and may now be striking down the enemy with winged Tomahawks instead of the tomahawks which their forebears used in days gone by.
According to the official records of the department more than four thousand Indians enlisted for active service in the Canadian Expeditionary Force during the last war. This number represented approximately thirty-five per cent of the Indian male population of military age in the nine provinces. The fine record of the Indians in the last war appears in particularly favorable light, when it is remembered that their services were entirely voluntary as they were exempted from the provisions of the Military Service Act.
The Indian soldiers gave an excellent account of themselves at the front, and their officers commended them most-highly for their courage, intelligence, efficiency, stamina, and discipline. In daring and intrepidity, they were second to none. Many of them were hunters in civil life and in consequence were expert marksmen. Because of their experience they were able to render valuable service as snipers, and in this branch of fighting were unexcelled. They displayed characteristic patience and self-control when engaged in this work and were known to sit for hours at vantage points waiting for a chance at enemy snipers. In this way they did much to demoralize the sniping system of the enemy.
Today, the Indians of Canada are found in almost every branch of the armed forces, and may be relied upon to follow the example of courage and devotion to duty set by their fathers a quarter of a century ago.
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The Metis differed from the Indian in many respects. Neither red or white man, he was an opportunist who used his own camp or lived with the Indian as it suited his purpose. The fire 168
of resentment towards the white intrusion that had burned at Fort Garry in 1869, was the result of misunderstandings on both sides, and it smouldered for years. The Metis, in many instances better off in worldly goods than the white settlers, constituted the main opposition to the new order. They were more mobile than the whites; they recognized few laws; unhampered by any colonization scheme, they roamed, hunted, trapped and traded at will. And to add to the general unrest, the whites themselves often fought with each other. Everything at that time portended what was to happen, but the authorities, despite warnings from the Mounted Police, ignored the growing spark of rebellion. Through all that happened afterwards, the Indian, though a pawn in the game, remained loyal to the Queen.
Before me was the stage where all this took place. Before me stretched those same plains upon which the Indian had oriented himself to the white man’s way of life. Here and there an occasional knoll, ridge or hill loomed up.
A blue haze hung suspended in the north marking the location of the South Saskatchewan River. To the north-east the land appears to rise slightly – the great Sand Hills embracing the ranches of the Martins, Millies, Mackenzies and Minors. This was the shadow land of the Blackfoot where they lived as shadows after death. To them it was known as a territory afar off, but to the Plains Crees it was a familiar ground in which they hunted. Even today their camp sites, circles of stones, and fireplaces can be found. The east side of a small lake is drab grey in colour from the buffalo bones which litter it.
The Sand Hills are not high, but they are quite rugged and there is a fascination about them. They appear to be immovable, yet some of them are slowly and continuously shifting. Although too arid for the homesteader, the Sand Hills are not, as many would assume upon first seeing them, desert land. Water is close to the surface, and there are several springs in the vicinity. White-faced Herefords graze peacefully in this last stronghold of the Saskatchewan rancher. Poplar, black birch and berry bushes are fairly plentiful, and here too is the home of the prairie chicken and antelope.
To the south once stood Fort Walsh, erected in 1875 by Inspr James Morrow Walsh of the North West Mounted Police. In my mind’s eye I saw ‘B’ troop with its mounted men, ox carts and wagons trooping down off the bench into Battle Creek Coulee and splashing through the creek at a spot later known as the Macleod Crossing. This trail led from Fort Macleod, for several years the headquarters of the Force. The logging industry sprang up as the erection of the Mounted Police stockade, guard-room, prison, store-rooms, men’s quarters, stables, shops and hospital progressed. At Fort Walsh vital decisions were reached, and assistance was rendered to Indian and white men alike. On the little flat below the fort was where Piapot received a cast-off team and wagon stuffed with provisions, and was sent on his journey to a reserve near Fort Qu’Appelle with his tribe of several hundred.
Piapot was as wily a beggar as ever lived. Old Paul Lavielle, late scout of the N.W.M.P., once remarked, “Piapot could take a dead man out of his moccasins.” No wonder Fort Walsh breathed easier when it saw the last of him and his band.
Fort Walsh is no more. On the little parcel of land that is occupied, now marked by four cement blocks, the decision was made in 1876 to advance and meet Sitting Bull, Chief of the Sioux, who came to Canada after defeating Custer at the Little Big Horn River in Montana.
The Plains Indians, or the Horse Indians as they were often called, when aroused, were exceptionally savage. Commissioner Macleod of the Mounted Police had acted wisely when he laid down the law and made a friend of Crowfoot, the chief of the Blackfoot Confederacy which consisted of the Blackfoot, Bloods, Piegans and Sarcees.
Tribal discipline was strong among the Blackfoot and their allies; and, when Crowfoot gave his word in the treaty of 1877, his followers, to their ever-lasting credit, honoured it. But the chief was confronted with a difficult situation. His people were hounded by runners who endeavoured to talk them into rebellion. He disliked the coming of the white man as much as any Indian, but a fearless, armed constabulary had convinced him that here was a power greater than his own. After witnessing the white man’s swift justice, he believed that in it was something that would protect him and his people against unscrupulous persons who roamed the territories.
Among other matters that cropped up and kept the police and loyal chiefs busy, was the stock question. The law of the white man was at odds with the Indians’ very nature. Hitherto the Indian had treated as his right anything foot loose on the prairie; it was his for the taking. To steal from his own people was a crime, but to steal from other tribes was considered a paramount virtue, even though such action resulted in a return raid by the enemy and the killing of his own brethren. That was the Indian’s life; he knew no other. It was an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth – usually a scalp for a scalp. But things changed after the white man came: when the Indian helped himself to the horses or cattle of settlers on the prairie the Mounted Police intervened.
The police would first call on the chief, thereby placing on his shoulders the burden of producing the guilty person. Sometimes this was a ticklish undertaking, especially if the braves were in a warlike mood. However, once the police were certain they were on the right track they pushed things through to the finish with courage and tenacity. The annals of the Force are studded with examples in which the police executed their duties unhesitatingly in the face of superior odds. The Indians recognized the courage of the redcoats and they were impressed with the fact that the policemen kept their word, even when confronted with great danger. Bravery was the Indian’s stock-in-trade; he was pleased to see it in others. It drew his admiration.
Some Indian camps were quite large. Piapot’s camp at Davis Lake (now Cypress Lake) was probably five hundred strong. Sitting Bull’s camp when he crossed into Canada was 350 lodges, despite the loss of about four hundred lodges that he had sustained while crossing the Missouri on his hurried departure for Canada.
The Indians could move from place to place with surprising speed when it was necessary; for instance, the Sioux were able to escape capture by the U.S. Cavalry after the Custer Massacre. One reason that such swift flight was possible was because the Indians used the simple travois: two trailing poles, serving as shafts for dog or horse, and bearing a platform of buffalo skin for the load.
On the little eminence to the northeast of the fort site a Blackfoot war party had ridden pell-mell through a Cree camp, leaving a trail of death behind them as evidence of their audacity. Other spots are fading reminders of bitter clashes among the Indians, and of interventions by the custodians of the law.
It is with pride that we honour such men as Macleod, Irvine, Walsh, their officers and men, who in such dangerous situations gave the correct decisions and acted at the right moment. Tactful direction was certainly needed in helping the Indians to adapt themselves to their new mode of life, and to assign them to their proper reservations to suppress their inborn liking for travel was no small task and it was made more difficult by the activities of the Metis. But in the main, the Indians of the Canadian plains submitted with good grace to the restraint of law and order, and any trouble that was experienced with them was usually fomented by the Metis or other outsiders.
Still looking towards the south, I caught sight of the low, dim outline of Signal Butte, a very old mass of slate, sandstone and lignite that was pushed up ages ago by some great geological upheaval. Beyond it I could see the Bear Paw Mountains of Montana. To the east and south-east the Old Man On His Back Plateau thrust its dull form against the sky. Simmering in the heat to the south-west lay that long stretch of prairie along Milk River from the Wild Horse Flats to the Sweet Grass Hills.
In former days Indian signal lights on the Butte were visible from the Cypress Hills, the Bear Paw Mountains, the Little Rockies and the Old Man On His Back. Plentifully supplied with buck brush and soft coal for fires, Signal Butte was an ideal point from which to send signals, lying as it does on the south side of the Sweet Grass Hills, overlooking the Wild Horse Flats on Sage Creek, the breaks above the site of vanished Fort Walsh, and the hills around old Fort Assiniboine in Montana. Although there is nothing majestic about it, with its head rising just above the surrounding haze, it has a greater altitude than one would think.
The telegraph line that ran from Montana to the N.W.M.P. detachment at Ten Mile on Battle Creek followed the old Fort Assiniboine-Fort Walsh bull trail and skirted the base of Signal Butte. Many people living in the neighbourhood of the butte do not know its name; to them it is just another prairie knoll.
To the north-west of Signal Butte is Willow Creek Valley which leads towards the west end of the Cypress Hills. Bare Coulee runs off at a tangent just where the disappearing bull trail crosses the creek at Griffiths’ ranch. Despite the belief of many, the name has no connection with bears – black, brown or grizzly. The coulee was so named by a police patrol under Reg. No. 899, Sgt Jack Richard, because they came across a settler there in a skimpy state of dress.
Far beyond Bare Coulee and slightly to the right, three hills thrust their heads up through the summer haze. These are the Sweet Grass Hills and one, the West Butte, which stands out more prominently than the others, is known as the ‘weather vane’ for when it wears its cap the wise motorist leaves ‘Old Lizzie’ in the garage. This peak and the two adjoining hills, Gold Butte and East Butte, are visible for miles. On a clear day it seems but a short distance off, yet in reality it is ninety miles away. On a hot day, when the haze is exceptionally heavy, the peaks look as though they were more like 190 miles distant.
Between the Cypress and the Sweet Grass Hills lies a basin that is a regular storm centre. Here clouds often gather and start on turbulent journeys. At first rain seems imminent, and in a short time, certain. But it doesn’t come, and the clouds continue to drift overhead. The wind grows stronger. Small spirals of dust whirl across the prairie. And just when a terrific downpour again seems inevitable the clouds alter their course. Upon approaching the summit of the Cypress Hills, they veer off. The wind dies down, the summer heat again settles on the plains. But a change takes place in the Cypress Hills. The clouds, in passing, have chilled the atmosphere, and the hills, because of their altitude, retain the pleasant coolness.
* * *
I lift my head to inhale the freshness, and in my mind’s eye see a herd of buffalo thundering from Egg Lake towards Pendant d’Oreille. Elk graze in the coulee below me. At Davis Lake beyond, smoke rises from an Indian camp.
Something flashes in the distance. I lean forward to see what it is and discover that the windshield of a car on No. 13 highway has reflected the sun’s rays. The thundering buffalo, the grazing elk, the encamped Indians all fade into nothing. I am back to the present. My vision is gone – gone like the traders, the hunters, the liquor pedlars who lived here before I came. Gone too are the 172 early police forts and most of the personnel who manned them; the old-time hitching posts in the villages, the buckboard, the bull trains and the prairie schooners.
North of me a locomotive steams by; a plane soars overhead. The old order changeth. Towns, villages, railways, highways, and fields of grain have altered the prairie’s face, but the same old hills are there. Today ‘Thar’s gold in them thar hills’ all right. Not the gold we know, but the gold of ranches that nestle in the coulees. The strong hard grass, so closely linked with the south-west, still grows as in the past; the deer and antelope and elk still roam the Cypress Hills, in the sanctuary of the Forest Reserve. But the buffalo and the free Indian are gone forever.
Yes, the old order changeth. But not entirely. For you still receive a hearty welcome in the hills: “All right, stranger. Come in and eat.”
One feels at home in the Cypress Hills.
Policing the Iron Horse
RCMP April 1949
Policing the Iron Horse
By A. H. Cadieux
Theft of goods in transit was common in the early days of Canadian railroading. Today that is changed, and the Chief of the CP.R. Department of Investigation tells how the change came about.
History tells us that in the early days travelling was hazardous. Those whose calling compelled them to tour the country were under the constant threat of thugs and highway men.
The advent of the railway brought to travellers a sense of security based on the companionship of numbers and the well-ordered methods of handling trains. However, thieves who saw danger in molesting passengers were quick to notice that the regular train and yard employees were too busy with other duties to do much towards preventing theft of goods in transmit. The result was that the small group of watchmen and special agents hired to give protection could not cope adequately with the situation. By virtue of contract entered into at the time a shipment is accepted, railways assume, to a degree, liability for the value of the goods, and over the years very large sums have been paid for goods stolen, or otherwise lost.
In 1912 the late Lord Shaughnessy, then Sir Thomas Shaughnessy, president of the Canadian Pacific Railway, disturbed by the appalling losses, called upon Mr. R. G. Chamberlain, ex-Director of the Vancouver City Police, to organize a Company protection force which was known thereafter as the Department of Investigation. The following year was principally devoted to its organization, and approximately 400 men, mostly ex-soldiers and ex-policemen, were engaged. There naturally followed many changes before a reasonable standard of efficiency was reached, but the policy of the department, as detailed by Lord Shaughnessy in 1912, has never altered, and to this day it is: “Conduct all enquiries or investigations, except those involving the relations between officials and employees and those which must necessarily be made through the Audit Department.”
The average strength of the C.P.R. Force is about 470, made up as follows: one chief, two assistant chiefs, 12 inspectors, 48 investigators, five staff sergeants, 12 sergeants, 22 acting sergeants, ten security officers, 264 constables, 233 clerks and stenographers. The chief is in supreme command and dictates all matters of protection policy. Only he can sanction the engagement and dismissal of men. One assistant chief has his office in Montreal, Que., while the other directs the protection of the prairie and Pacific regions from an office in Winnipeg, Man. Inspectors, one for each, are in charge of the following C.P.R. districts across the country: New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, Algoma, Fort William, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia. Each inspector directs investigations and protection measures for the railway subsidiaries, hotels, wharves and so on, within his district. In addition there is a police inspector in uniform for the eastern region, one for the west (prairie and Pacific region) and one in charge of Angus Works, Montreal; the last mentioned is also chief of the Fire Department for the Works; the duties of the two former are to receive applications for engagement in the force, interview applicants, arrange medical examinations, supervise the selection and distribution of uniforms and accoutrements.
Investigators are selected from among the most able constables and are confirmed in this position after a period of trial and training. Stationed at vantage points along the system, many become very proficient in all types of investigations such as thefts from freight and express sheds, stores, telegraph offices, shops, airline depots and baggage departments; or swindles reported by personnel in Company hotels and on Company steamships. The investigators are sworn in as special constables for the province in which they are stationed, or as supernumerary officers of the R.C.M.P. – if stationed in a province policed by that organization.
Staff sergeants are in charge at points where a number of men are stationed to give protection to important holdings such as West St. John Wharf, Montreal Wharf, Montreal Terminals, Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary, Vancouver. Sergeants and acting sergeants visit the constables on duty and also provide added protection by occasionally patrolling points where the Company is unable to give constant police protection. Security officers are attached to some of the Company hotels and have done excellent work in maintaining order under sometimes trying conditions. These men are usually selected from our uniformed staff because of their ability to handle a difficult public.
Constables patrol the Company’s principal stations, yards and wharves. They are sworn in under the Railway Act which gives them powers to act as constables for the preservation of the peace on and about any trains, roads, wharves, quays, lands and premises belonging to the Company, and in all places not more than a quarter of a mile distant from the railway. All members of the department hold certificates of the St. John Ambulance Society, and annually undergo a test of their knowledge of First Aid. The work performed since 1913 has undoubtedly proved beneficial to the Company shippers and travelling public in general, for it has materially diminished losses through thefts of freight and baggage, and maintained a high standard of order on passenger trains, and in stations and hotels. It is appreciated that this desirable standard could not have been attained or held without the generous assistance of the hundreds of police officers under federal, provincial and municipal commands throughout the country.
Owing to the favorable position of our constables across the country, they have frequently been instrumental in the apprehension of suspects wanted by other police organizations. Moreover they have assisted whenever necessary in escorting, on train or ship, dangerous or “important” criminals being transferred from one place to another. Such co-operation is a matter of policy, for the C.P.R. Investigation Department is well aware of the power and strength of teamwork.
Redcoats and Redmen in the Old North-West
RCMP July 1960
Redcoats and Redmen in the Old North-West
By Supt. J. S. Cruickshank
Things were slack on the Crooked Lakes Reserve near Broadview (Sask.) and having been cramped in their tepees all Winter the braves and squaws of Yellow Calf’s band felt the urge for a little recreation. Plans were made and on Feb. 13, 1884, the band moved en masse to congregate at a small untenanted house in the Qu’Appelle Valley to dance.
The dance continued for about a week without intermission but while the participants had evidently gotten their “second wind”, they were running short of provisions which they required to keep up their strength. Being in a state of excitement sufficient to subordinate all other considerations to the craving for more dancing, they remedied the lack of food by sending out 60 braves who broke into the farm Reserve buildings and carried away a large quantity of flour and bacon. The 1884 equivalent of “Rock’n Roll” was then resumed.
While no invitation had been extended by the Indians to the Police, the Farm Instructor soon remedied the omission with the result that Inspr. R. Burton Deane and ten constables arrived at Broadview on February 21. Seeing the large number of Indians present, additional members were sent for while a search was made for the ringleaders of the “dance committee”. It being late at night and the Indians hostile, camp was made at a farm eight miles away.
The next day Supt. W. M. Herchmer arrived with ten additional constables and a three-hour palaver was held with the Indians who firmly refused to yield up any of their number to justice. The Police then advanced upon the house but were sternly waved off by the Indians, numbers of whom filed out of the house armed to the teeth. It was remarkable that one small house could erupt so many Indians.
Again palaver took place, with the Police giving Chief Yellow Calf the names of the ringleaders they wished to arrest. While the Chief professed to be desirous of avoiding bloodshed he had no intention of giving up any of his band. The Police were ordered to “fall in” to take action, but the house suddenly bristled like a hedgehog with gun muzzles threatening at almost point blank range. To persist in a show of force while covered in this manner would have been foolhardy and produced a massacre of the Police.
An impasse being reached, a headman named Osoop with some of the leading Indians suggested they talk the matter over with the Police, with the result the latter withdrew to their camp overnight. The Chiefs were persuaded to report to the camp the next day for further palaver and did so, but with military precautions being accompanied by their “soldiers.”
After talking from 9 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. four of their number, Yellow Calf, Rannawas, Renne-pa-ke-sis and Moyes, gave themselves up for trial while the remainder promised to disperse. As Yellow Calf had set a good example to his followers after arrival of the Police, the charge against him was withdrawn, while the other three pleaded guilty at Regina on February 28 and were given a form of suspended sentence.
This was considered the most satisfactory conclusion to a troublesome affair for there were large bands of Indians on newly formed Reserves and to commence a battle every time the Police were called to disperse large groups of Indians would perhaps have meant the entire West being in a continuous state of war. It took much patience and sagacity on the part of the members of the Force to deal with these incidents, not to mention the necessity of possessing good lungs to keep up the almost endless palaver entailed.
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“Kis-Ka-Wasis” – Horse Thief
One of the earliest problems confronting the force in the early days in the West of that of horse stealing. Thousands of Indians were being educated to remain on their new Reserves in 1888 but it was too much to expect the young braves to remain static and they made many forays to replenish their horses primarily at the expense of other bands but also of the newly arrived white rancher and settler. Even the force, on occasion, lost horses both to Indians and the odd “white” horse thief.
George Godin alias “KIs-Ka-Wasis”, a half-breed following the Indian way of life, was an accomplished horse-thief as early as 1886, becoming notoriously so in what is now Alberta. His way of life brought him few friends among the Indians and finally, to evade capture by the authorities, he left Canada for Montana in the fall of 1886.
It was a case of continued modus operandi, for old habits as a rule die hard and Godin was no exception to the rule. He continued his depredations without capture until finally, in the Summer of 1887 while on a foray for fresh horses, he was intercepted on the ranch of a Mr. Embody who in the resultant running fight was shot and killed by Godin. Godin was captured, convicted and sentence to death at Helena, Montana, but escaped from the jail on July 15, while awaiting hanging and although hunted by police throughout Montana he finally managed to re-enter Canada.
Having been notified that Godin was “wanted” and had returned to Canada it was thought he would head for his old home and relatives around the Indian Reserve near Stony Plain north-west of Edmonton. Small parties of Police were sent out from Fort Saskatchewan from time to time to attempt Godin’s recapture but with considerable assistance from the Indians he evaded arrest. Evidently Godin had other attributes for he was a great favorite among the squaws who kept him well posted on Police movements. Finally, on Oct. 11, 1888 an officer led a strong party of Police to camp on the Reserve until Godin was captured.
All likely outlets on the Reserve were guarded and woods and lakes were searched. Godin was seen and shots exchanged on several occasions. He was evidently well mounted and knew every trail better than Police. Being unable to arrest Godin, although they had captured his horse on October 16, the Police withdrew with as much “parade” as possible. Two constables with Indian Scout Foley, disguised as Indians, returned to the Reserve the same night. The three members came upon Godin’s camp in the woods at about 1 a.m., but he was alert as usual and challenged them in Cree. Scout Foley replied, telling him to lay down his gun and submit. His answer was five rifle shots with the Police returning the fire by aiming at the rifle flash. His position getting hot, Godin made off into the bush and left the Reserve being next heard of some 30 miles north. Finding that escape route guarded he then returned to the Reserve.
Supt. A. H. Griesbach then swore in Indian Chief Enoch and another Indian as special constables to effect Godin’s capture. This was the first time any of the Chiefs had permitted this procedure but it could well have been that the Chief and the Band were a little tired of their Reserve being used as a battle-ground between Godin and the NWMP. On November 7 Chief Enoch with three members of his Band arrested Godin and handed him over to the Police at Fort Saskatchewan.
It being axiomatic that in stories of the West the “bad guys” have to be punished, it is satisfying to report that on Nov. 8, 1888, Godin was committed for trial for horse theft and escorted to Regina from which point he was later extradited to Helena, Montana, to perform the ritualistic “dance on air” as required by law.
* * *
The Medicine Pipe Society
Before the turn of the century the officers of the North-West Mounted Police were often called upon to pass judgment on a variety of problems and in their particular instance learned that secret societies were not the monopoly of the white man.
There was an eminent secret society among the Indians of the prairies known as the Medicine Pipe Society, entrance to which entailed due formalities of election and contribution. Women were eligible as well as men and the society held certain superstitions of a religious character. Entrants were instructed by the “Medicine Men” into their so-called arts and all members were enjoined to be good and honest, respect their neighbors’ property and to have no enemy.
The wife of an Indian named “Heavy Shield” at one time on her death bed, as she thought, vowed that she would buy a certain Medicine Pipe in the event of her recovery and so become a member of this society. In course of time she regained her health and desired to fulfill her vow. There was a limited number of Medicine Pipes, 15 to be exact, among the Bloods and that which she was eager to acquire was in possession of a squaw of “Red Crow’s” who was equally anxious to part with it upon receiving its value in kind, this being 15 horses, according to the custom of the tribe.
Red Crow as president of the local Blood branch felt bound to call the members of the society to consider the election of the new applicant, and the prescribed formalities extended over 11 days, there being four distinct dances. He convened this meeting at a time, unfortunately, when the Indians should have been setting about their hay-making operations; this, naturally, displeased the Indian Agent who pointed out the clause in the Indian Act forbidding “giving-away” dances. Red Crow proving somewhat intractable on the point, the agent sent for the police.
Supt. R. B. Deane of Macleod arrived on the Reserve and was immediately beset by Red Crow who said that he desired the prayers of the society; he liked the Christian prayers although somewhat new, but to play it safe would also prefer the Indians’ prayers. This then presented the question whether this particular exchange of the Medicine Pipe between the squaws could be looked upon in the light of a thank offering from an Indian’s religious point of view or whether it be analogous to the initiation fee payable on joining a secret society.
After much palaver among Indians, the agent and the Superintendent, it was agreed that provided the band gave up agitating for permission to hold a Sun Dance that year they would be permitted to hold the Medicine Pipe dance, only if there were no exchange of property beyond that required for the acquisition of the Medicine Pipe. After the 11 days’ formalities were completed the band returned to their homes.
Sidearms of the Force
RCMP Quarterly October 1962
Sidearms of the Force 1873 to 1953 By Cpl. S. J. Kirby
To a peace officer the most familiar weapon is his issue handgun which, as a rule, is a revolver. Today the revolver can primarily be considered a police weapon, while not so long ago it was a military one and played an important role in cavalry tactics. The passing of the horse from the battlefield saw its decline as a military issue in spite of the thinking of some army minds who wanted a pistol issued for hand-to-hand combat to replace the bayonet. However, in this era of atomic arms the role of the handgun in battle is almost defunct and it is interesting to note that a survey conducted by the U.S. Army, shortly after the Second World War, could not elicit a single positive incident of an enemy soldier being killed by their personnel who were issued with and used the .45 Colt government model pistol. Compare this to the occasions, known, when a policeman has had to use his revolver to subdue and capture or to protect life and property.
There has been, to the present, four different makes of revolvers issued to this Force. The first general issue was in 1874 when 330 Adams revolvers arrived from England at Fort Dufferin. These were late in delivery, causing a delay in the march West. The exact origin of these revolvers is not too certain but it is highly unlikely that they came from Imperial War stores in view of the way they were packed. They had all been thrown loosely into crates, resulting in the majority being damaged, some beyond repair. Barrels were bent and frames twisted, screws had worked loose and in many cases the feed hands were broken, with the result the cylinders would not revolve. The armourers had to go to work and by cannibalizing were able to put together a number of serviceable weapons.
The history of the Adams, the first issue sidearm, is to an extent similar to that of the Snider rifle. Many were converted from percussion and others built to take the new Boxer centre-fire cartridge. In 1856, a revolver of 52 gauge (.450 calibre), which was invented by Robert Adams, had been adopted by the British Army; this was a percussion cap revolver which was replaced in 1867, shortly after the introduction of the metallic ammunition, by a breech-loading revolver, the invention of John Adams, a brother of Robert. This was a solid frame centre-fire of .450 calibre having six chambers. It was generally known as the ‘Side Rod Ejector Model.’ This handgun was loaded by inserting the rounds through a gate on the right-hand side of the frame. Ejection of the empties took place by lining up the expended cartridge case with the loading gate and then pushing the ejection rod to the rear. In all, this revolver was very similar in operation to the Colt Single Action Army model, except for the fact that it could be fired double-action. However, unlike the Colt, the ejector rod was unprotected and consequently easily subjected to damage or bending, putting the gun out of commission. To overcome this drawback alterations were made. The ejector rod was slimmed down so that it could be housed in the centre-pin, which was drilled out to receive it. It also passed through an arm which could be swung over to line it up, when it was pulled out, with the expended cartridge case and the loading gate. This second model was generally known as the ‘Improved Ejector Model’ Adams. It was issued to the Force in 1876 replacing the first shipment which proved unsatisfactory.
The Adams revolver saw service with the British Army in numerous wars from the Ashantee expedition (1878) to the Egyptian War of 1882. It was in this latter campaign that the army discovered that the .450 calibre Adams was not powerful enough to stop the charging dervishes, so they demanded something with more stopping power and as a result the Enfield revolver was born. This gun was of .476 bore and used a 265 grain bullet propelled by 18 grains of black powder as compared to the Adams’ 225 grain bullet and 13 grains of powder. It was designed by Owen Jones, an American, who was employed by the Royal Small Arms Factory, Enfield Lock in Middlesex, England. The first production model came off the lines in 1882 and shortly afterwards was adopted, officially, by the British Forces. By the autumn of 1886 it had become a general issue to the Force.
The Enfield, the second official issue sidearm of the Force, could, like the Adams, be fired both single and double-action. Its ejection of the spent cartridge cases was unique: a barrel release at the back of the top strap when pushed back allowed the barrel to come forward and down, thus drawing the cylinder ahead on a rigid cylinder-pin. The ejector (plate) remained behind pulling the empties from the chambers, which had then to be shaken loose. To load, the gun was closed and the rounds inserted one by one through a loading gate, like the Adams or Colt. As a military sidearm the Enfield was a poor weapon and a failure. This was admitted by the British when in 1887 they replaced it with the Webley pattern 1883 Mark I revolver, a mere five years after they adopted it.
The Force too had complaints, the first dealing with the heavy recoil and muzzle jump which made for poor target shooting. This of course was a result of the design of the new cartridge, which had a greater muzzle energy than the old .450 calibre Adams. These complaints were not, however, registered until the end of the annual target practices in the summer of 1889, three years after the Enfield was first issued. This is an indication that the .476 ammunition was then used for the first time showing that up to the old stock of .450 Adams was being shot off. Here to clear up the apparent contradiction in the last sentence, it should be mentioned that this revolver was drilled and rifled to the specifications of the Martini-Henry service rifle, giving a wide latitude in the choice of bullet diameters. The first two patterns of ammunition issued for the Enfield were known as .455 and the third was .476 and to further confuse matters the weapon was so constructed that the old .450 could be chambered and fired in it. In fact this was done for some time by both the Force and the Imperial army, before the third or .476 pattern became a general issue.
Another source of complaint was the extraction of fired and unfired rounds. Very often when the revolver was opened the cartridges would not be retained by the extractor but would stay in the chambers and go forward with the cylinder, putting the weapon out of commission. This was mentioned by Supt. S. B. Steele when he made his annual report to the Commissioner in 1895. He said:
“…… with regards to the revolver ammunition I think it could be improved by widening the rim. This rim in some cases is too shallow, the result being that the shell sinks in the chamber and does not catch in the extractor, rendering the weapon useless for the time being. Several cases of this sort were experienced during the annual target practice.”
The condition described by Superintendent Steele was not uncommon with the Enfield revolver, particularly when ammunition manufactured by the Dominion Cartridge Company was used. Trouble was also experienced with the ammunition of this brand made for the Winchester, on one occasion less than 5 per cent of a shipment would chamber in the carbines, the rest were too large. However, it must be realized that this was just a new factory founded in 1886, not too long after fixed ammunition came into general use. Also it was built in Brownsburg, Quebec, a place without the European or American tradition in arms and munitions manufacturing. The company was founded by Captain “Gat” Howard, an American adventurer, who came to Canada selling machine guns for the Gatling factory of Springfield. He stayed to fight with his guns in the Rebellion of 1885 and made quite a name for himself, both in deed and song. He convinced the Canadian Government of the need in Canada for an ammunition factory and with some friends opened the Dominion Cartridge Company. The first president of this company later became the second Prime Minister of this country.
In his annual report of 1897 to the Federal Government the Commissioner stated that the Enfield was an obsolete arm that weighed too much and in view of the fact that the number of foot patrols were increasing, a lighter and more modern weapon was needed. This was not approved until 1902 when the new Commissioner, A. Bowen-Perry, delayed the choice “to take advantage of any improvements in small arms resulting from the South African War.” At the same time he also made recommendations for the issue of a new holster and waist belt. Up to this time the waist belt supported the holster on the left hip and carried loops for both revolver and carbine ammunition, all of which had to be filled when a member was on duty. This entailed the carrying of a lot of extra weight, especially on patrols made without a horse or carbine.
In the fall of 1905 the third issue and long awaited replacement for the Enfield arrived at Regina. It was distributed during the winter to the various divisions and was in the hands of the members by the early summer of 1906, complete with the new ‘Sam Browne.’ This was the Colt ‘New Service’ model revolver in .455 calibre. It was with this model revolver that a world record was established in November 1907, for the first time in recorded history a handgun shot a possible 100 points. It was also the first of the Colt revolvers having a cylinder revolving to the right. It remained in service with the Force up to 1953, when the .45 calibre, after 80 years’ association with the Mounted Police, gave way to a weapon of smaller bore. This was the year when the present ‘Fourth Issue,’ the Smith and Wesson ‘Military and Police’ model in calibre.38 special was adopted.
Having covered the four general service or issue sidearms it should be mentioned that these were not the only handguns ever issued to members. Smaller and lighter revolvers have from time to time been charged out to personnel on special duties and in plain clothes. In fact Supt. Z. T. Wood in 1900, when commanding the Yukon, requested “at least two dozen Smith and Wesson revolvers for men on special duty, in mufti.” These guns were delivered to divisional headquarters in Dawson in September 1902. The exact model of these revolvers is not known, but it would appear from reports that it most probably was the First Model ‘Military Police’ in .38 calibre revolver having a true bore of .357 inches, the Smith and Wesson factory having abandoned the expanding base bullets some years before.
An interesting suggestion, which was never acted on, was made by Superintendent Steele in the late 1890’s. He asked that consideration be given to issuing the Force with a combination arm, the Mauser. He stated: “…… a Mauser pistol which by means of a stock which forms its case, can be transformed into a carbine at a moment’s notice has been tried and proved satisfactory. I would recommend that it would be adopted for use of the Force.”
It is most unlikely that the Mauser pistol mentioned by Superintendent Steele was purchased by the Force; it is more probable that it was seized for some infraction of the law and then brought to his attention.
Before closing this article it might be as well to deal with the origins of the .38 special cartridge used by members of the Force today. In the latter part of the 1890s when the American army was fighting in the Philippines, they found themselves pitted against natives of Malayan extraction, professing the Mohammedan religion. In common with all Moslems they believed that if they died in combat great rewards awaited them in the hereafter, more especially if they could kill one or more of the ‘infidels.’ The American troops found that their revolver cartridge, the .38 Long Colt, was not heavy enough to stop the charges of these fanatics or ‘juramentados’ as they were called. This situation was not unlike that which the British found themselves in, with their handgun ammunition, in the Egyptian campaign a few years previously. In an attempt to boost the stopping power of the military .38, Daniel B. Wesson made some improvements in the cartridge. He increased the powder capacity from 18 to 21 grains and the bullet weight from 150 to 158 grains by filling its hollow base. The new cartridge was called the calibre. 38 Smith and Wesson Special and it is the direct ancestor of today’s issue. However, the American army did not adopt it, they returned instead to the .45 calibre. But the .38 Special did not fade away into obscurity, it is presently the cartridge used by the majority of police forces on the North American continent.
Walsh the Invincible
RCMP July 1963
Walsh the Invincible
Less than five months after Sitting Bull’s Sioux annihilated Lt.-Col. George Armstrong Custer and his U.S. 7th Cavalry at the Little Big Horn River in Montana on June 25, 1876, the 329 members of the North-West Mounted Police – particularly the 89 at Fort Walsh – began to watch with apprehension as the first lodges of Sioux appeared in Canadian territory.
And when Sitting Bull himself crossed the “Medicine Line” in May 1877, James Morrow Walsh, who commanded the post which bore his name, decided to pay the renowned Chief a personal visit. He took Sg.t Bob McCutcheon, three constables and two scouts with him on the 140-mile trek east to the Pinto Horse Buttes.
After the preliminaries were over – the Sioux were quick to point out that it was the first time white men had dared to walk so nonchalantly into Sitting Bull’s camp – Inspector Walsh arranged a pow-wow with the Chief. He explained the laws of the White Mother’s land and asked Bull what his intentions were, to which the old Chieftain asserted that he had “buried his weapons” upon crossing the Medicine Line.
Wahonkeza, as Inspector Walsh was called by the Sioux, slept at their camp that night and as he was preparing to leave the next morning, an incident took place which gave the newcomers a graphic illustration of Canadian law enforcement at work.
Three American Assiniboines rode into the camp with five extra ponies which the police scouts identified as belonging to Father De Corby, a Roman Catholic priest who lived in the Cypress Hills.
Confronted with this accusation, the Assiniboines vehemently denied stealing the animals, undoubtedly assured in their own minds that the famous Sitting Bull and his warriors would quickly intervene if the few white men tried to press the issue.
Walsh wasted no time in appraising the situation and acted so quickly that before the startled Sioux realized what had happened, the three visitors were disarmed and in the custody of the policemen. The scouts rounded up the ponies.
White Dog, the leader of the Assiniboines, was given a chance to explain and although the Inspector knew he was lying, he accepted his story of how they had come across the horses running wild. The Indians were released after being warned, but the Mounted Police retained the horses.
The result of this little episode had a profound effect upon the Sioux. They had seen for themselves that the red-coated “soldiers” of the White Mother had raw courage to back up her laws.
Before the month was out, another incident was destined to take place which would impress not only the Sioux newcomers, but plains Indians throughout the north-west of the complete impartiality with which the North West Mounted Police went about their duties.
Inspector Walsh had barely returned to his fort when on May 25, Little Child, a Saulteaux Chief, rode in from the Cypress Hills. A situation had arisen which demanded the immediate attention of the “White Forehead Chief” as Inspector Walsh was known to the Indians of the area, if indeed the words he had been preaching were true. Walsh had long counselled all Indians that the Mounted Police were the guardians of the land and they would guarantee the safety of all persons, regardless of race or color.
Little Child told Walsh that his followers, about 15 lodges of Saulteaux and Crees, had just returned from a hunting expedition in the north and had set up camp in the Cypress Hills 30 miles northeast of Fort Walsh. But the influx of a large band of strange Indians – about 250 lodges – had made him fearful over the safety of his band and its possessions.
Walsh assured Little Child that it was the task of the police to protect all persons and property and that this would be done if the strangers showed any aggressiveness toward the Saulteaux or Crees. Little Child returned to his camp appeased.
To his chagrin, however, he found that the strangers, who turned out to be American Assiniboines from the Bearpaw Mountains in Montana (south of the present town of Havre), had set up their camp less than half a mile from his own. These Assiniboines were on a buffalo hunt and one of their chiefs, Crow’s Dance, informed the Saulteaux that they would have to join the hunt and conform to its rules.
Little Child flatly refused and the haughty Crow’s Dance said he would use force if necessary to back his demands. He returned in a short time with 150 warriors in full costume, ordering Little Child to join him.
“I will not. You have no authority to order me in this manner. I am a British Indian and on my own soil. I don’t know you and will not submit to your demands. The only chief that I will obey is the white chief at Cypress mountain.” Brave words when Little Child could back them up with only 30 fighting men.
“You will obey me today!” countered Crow’s Dance. “When your red-coated friends visit my camp you will be there to see how I shall receive them.” And on that note his braves, led by Crooked Arm, assaulted the camp, tearing down lodges and shooting horses and dogs.
LITTLE CHILD SEEKS HELP
Wisely the Saulteaux offered no resistance, but gathered up their women and children and fled for cover to some nearby wooded hills. This saved their lives.
After ensuring the safety of his followers, Little Child grabbed a pony and rode to Fort Walsh where he informed Inspector Walsh.
In less than an hour – at 11 a.m. – Sub-Inspr. Edwin Allen, Surgeon John Kittson, 15 policemen and Scout Louis Leveille were on the trail, led by Little Child. Inspector Walsh stayed behind to line up the remainder of the post in case the necessity arose. He was of the opinion that the Assiniboines would return to the United States following their attack on Little Child’s camp. The Inspector later overtook Sub-Inspector Allen’s party along the trail.
Late that evening they reached the remains of the Saulteaux lodges but there was no gin of life. Little Child and Scout Leveille began to scout the area and found evidence that the Assiniboines had moved north. The party rode for another hour and Walsh called a halt. They rested until 2 a.m. while their horses grazed. Moving out again, Little Child and Leveille sighted the Assiniboine camp just at sun-up. It was located in a valley about a mile ahead. Another halt was ordered and the men were instructed to have breakfast. Inspector Walsh and Leveille ascended a hill to survey the camp.
“A perfect picture,” Walsh noted many years later in a letter to his daughter. “Two hundred and fifty lodges fringed by young cottonwood trees . . . a beautiful plateau . . . a little stream running along its base . . . grass as green as late May vegetation could make it . . . not a sound.”
The Assiniboines had evidently staged a late war dance and were sleeping soundly – perfectly fearless. Walsh and Leveille decided that the big lodge in the centre of the camp was the war lodge and the Inspector planned to surround it and seize Crooked Arm and the other leaders before any of them could stir.
Once again the police party saddled up and moved to within 400 yards of the west end of the camp. About half a mile away there was a small butte at the foot of which was a narrow lake. Walsh selected this as the rallying point in case of a siege. Dr. Kittson and three constables were to remain at this butte and start building a breastwork, making use of the outcropping of large boulders, in case of a premature alarm in the camp.
Sub-Inspector Allen checked the men’s arms and ordered them to load both carbines and revolvers. All were told that the success of the plan depended solely on surprise. Walsh, Allen, Leveille and the 12 policemen walked their mounts into the camp. There was a feeling of tension when the Indian dogs began to bark but the party quickly surrounded the war lodge and policemen dismounted and poured in from every side. The first things seized were the firearms.
Crooked Arm and a dozen other warriors were quickly roused and hustled from the lodge back toward the butte where Dr. Kittson was located as the alarm began to spread. The braves were shackled in pairs as far as the leg-irons would go and all the policemen – as well as the prisoners – began building the palisade of stones. Horses were unsaddled and tied close together in the centre of the group and the saddles were thrown over top of the stones.
By this time, pandemonium had broken loose in the Assiniboine camp and hundreds of warriors began to advance toward the butte. Inspector Walsh sent word that he would hold a palaver with the chiefs shortly and then he calmly sat down and had his own breakfast.
Walsh walked out of the cover to within 300 yards of the Indians. He delivered such an oration on the laws of the land, the rights and privileges of all and the duties of the police, that even his own men, let alone the Assiniboines, were visibly impressed.
The prisoners would be taken to Fort Walsh to be tried for the offence they had committed, he told the Assiniboines. Those who were found guilty would be punished and those innocent would be allowed to return to the camp. No man would be dealt with unjustly, Walsh informed the chiefs. Some of the warriors did not take kindly to having their fellow braves whisked away by this handful of red-coats and showed open defiance.
“You will never take them from us alive. The prisoners will go to Fort Walsh or die, it all depends on your conduct.” After these words by Inspector Walsh, the palaver came to an end.
Walsh turned to his prisoners and told them that they could not sleep before they reached the Fort and as it was a long journey, they should have their friends supply horses. Blackfoot, one of the prisoners, called to the camp and soon three young braves trotted up with 13 ponies. The party reached Fort Walsh at eight that evening.
The following day, Inspector Walsh released 11 of the prisoners, once again impressing upon them the seriousness of disregarding the rights of others. And the next day, Asst. Commr. A. G. Irvine from NWMP Headquarters at Fort Macleod arrived and the two remaining Assiniboines were paraded before him. Crooked Arm, the leader of the war party, was given a six-month sentence and his companion, two months.
The Mounted Police had been in the north-west less than three years when this affair took place and the news spread far and wide across the plains. As Inspector Walsh was later to learn, even the mighty Sitting Bull had signified his respect for the “red-coats” when word of it reached his ears.