Charcoal and How He Grew Blacker

RCMP July 1941

Charcoal and How He Grew Blacker p. 30-38

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.

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