RCMP Quarterly Winter 1983 p. 25 – 39
By ex-Sub/Cst. E. H. Maunsell
The following story is an old timer’s tale about whiskey trading, patent medicine, and carpenters’ levels. We enjoyed reading it and think you will too. The author, ex-Sub./Cst. E. H. Maunsell, was one of the earliest members of the Force – Reg. No. 380. His entire life was as remarkable as the few brief years he describes here.
Born in Ireland on October 14, 1854, he joined the North West Mounted Police on June 11, 1874, and journeyed with the Force on the Famous “march west.” His brother, George W. Maunsell (old service number 386) joined the Force a year later at Dufferin on February 20th. Ned took his discharge on June 25, 1877 (time expired), to take up ranching just outside Fort Macleod, Alberta. George took his discharge on May 31, 1878, to join his brother in forming the well-known IV Ranch adjoining the Peigan Reservation. They were joined in 1881 by a third brother, Harry Frederick, who came out to Alberta from the old country by way of Fort Benton.
The ranch and the family prospered with several family members continuing the traditions of ranching and service to Canada. Ned’s only son, Frederick William Edward, served with the 63rd Battalion Canadian infantry and was killed at Vimy Ridge on April 9, 1917. His son-in-law, Edward Leighton Buckwell, served with the British 22nd Lancers for seven years in India, before joining the 13th (Canadian) Mounted Rifles, then later the Lord Strathcona Horse, at the western front during WW1. Of Ned’s grandsons, Water Herbert Buckwell (a bomber pilot with the
RCAF) was killed in action over Holland during WW II; Maunsell Charles Buckwell served with the Royal Canadian Artillery (medium) during WW11 in England, France, Germany, Italy, Belgium and Holland, retiring from the artillery as a major in 1967; and Leighton Edward Buckwell carried on ranching in the Fort Macleod area – as he does to this day – except for the 1967 to 1975 years when he represented the district in the Alberta provincial legislature as their MLA.
In his later years, prompted by the 50th anniversary of the Force, Ned Maunsell wrote this chronicle of his early life in the NWMP on the Canadian frontier. His story begins here. Ed.
Few people have seen our vast country change from a wilderness into what it is now. When I visit Calgary and stay at the Palliser Hotel I feel like a second Rip Van Winkle. To one who has not had my experience, it would require a vivid imagination to see Indian tepees on the ground now occupied by the hotel and envisage large herds of buffalo grazing on the town site of Calgary. This vast change could never have taken place if the Mounted Police, or some similar force, had not first established law and order.
In 1873, the North West Mounted Police was formed. It consisted of three troops, A, B and C, and comprised 150 men. This Force was dispatched over the Dawson route, the trail joining Port Arthur’s Landing (now Thunder Bay, Ont.) to the Winnipeg area, and wintered at Stone Fort, Manitoba (now Lower Fort Garry, some 20 miles north of Winnipeg). Later the Force was increased to three hundred and D, E and F troops travelled through the United States as far as Fargo, North Dakota, by train, having left Toronto in the early Summer of 1874.
I was among this latter group. At Fargo we got off the train and, after getting our wagons together, marched about 150 miles north to Dufferin, Manitoba, which was about a mile or two north of the international boundary line. There we were joined by the other three troops who had journeyed south from Stone Fort to meet us. We camped at Dufferin for a few weeks, getting our transportation into shape while awaiting the arrival of supplies which came down by boat on the Red River from Fargo. Each troop was provided with a number of the famous Red River carts, hauled by oxen and driven by half-breeds under the charge of a man whose name was, not surprisingly, Driver.
We all knew that we were being dispatched into the Northwest Territories for the purpose of suppressing the sale of whiskey to the Indians and that our objective was Fort Whoop-Up which was supposed to be strongly fortified and garrisoned by several “desperadoes.” In order to demolish this Fort, we brought with us two nine pounders and two mortars.
We fretted much at being delayed at Dufferin as we were anxious to start our crusade. At Dufferin I had an opportunity to observe that not all my colleagues were “abstainers.” Manitoba was not “dry” in those days; in fact it could be described as “extremely humid.” No matter how small a settlement might be, a saloon appeared to be a necessary adjunct. There was not a settlement at that time around Dufferin, still it boasted two saloons. Their only justification for existing was that Royal Engineers wintered there. The Engineers were employed surveying the forty-ninth parallel. They had left by the time the police arrived and the saloons, not expecting us, had allowed their stocks to run low. Those Mounties who were not teetotalers dried up the place by the simple expedient of consuming all the contents.
On the first week of July, we started on what proved to be the longest cavalry march on record. Owing to the large number of wagons and Red River carts, we presented a most imposing appearance. We started out in great pomp; a large advance guard of mounted men in extended order and a large rear guard. At night, we were guarded by nine mounted sentries. However, our eastern horses, not being used to the prairie grasses, failed rapidly and we soon abandoned a good many of these frills. In fact, we did not go very far before we were converted from a mounted to a dismounted force, and had to depend on shanks’ mare.* On arrival at Roche-Perchee, “A” Troop was detached from the main force and dispatched to Fort Edmonton. This troop was under command of Colonel Jarvis and had for sergeant-major the later General, Sir S. Steele.
At Old Wives Lake we encountered the first aborigines. To those of us who had formal, preconceived ideas from reading Fenimore Cooper and other authors, it proved a bitter disappointment. I was particularly angry with Longfellow, for, on carefully looking over the whole band, I did not see a single Hiawatha or Minnehaha – even allowing for a poet’s license.
*One’s own legs as a means of locomotion
The impoverished condition of this band of Indians led to much debate as to the existence of the whisky traders. Some argued that if all the Indians were as poor as these, no whiskey trader could make a living out of dealing with them. Others advanced the idea that their poverty was caused by dealing with the whiskey traders. The only touch of romance that we observed was that all the bucks were armed with bows and arrows.
We obtained some mementos from these Indians which we long treasured. Unfortunately, we pitched our tents in one of their abandoned camping grounds. The spot might have better been called a cleansing station because it was there that the Indians got rid of their parasites. The moment we set up camp those creatures became very much attached to us. The fresh pastures which we afforded them were evidently most suitable for they increased and multiplied at a malicious rate. The plague was aggravated by the fact that after leaving Old Wives Lake we travelled through a country where water was scarce and we had no opportunity of washing. To make matters more uncomfortable, we were also reduced to very small rations.
The gloomiest days ever experienced by the Mounted Police were, undoubtedly, the days of short rations. In the morning each man was issued a small lump of half-baked dough and a cubic inch of boiled bacon. These were promptly devoured in a few mouthfuls. We then had to fast till the following morning. All day we tramped over the endless prairie, suffering the pangs of hunger by day, devoured by parasites by night.
This was very different from what we had pictured ourselves doing when we joined the Force. We were all young men and inspired with a spirit of adventure. We had imagined ourselves mounted on spirited horses chasing desperadoes over the prairies. We had also thought that perhaps the Indians might not appreciate the motive of our coming and prove hostile. All of which would have been much more exciting than fighting hunger and cooties. The shortness of supplies was, however, somewhat alleviated when we got into buffalo country.
It was most providential that we met the buffalo when we did as we had completely run out of provisions. We were now put on a straight ration of buffalo meat and although the quantity was not limited, our appetite was not really appeased. The buffalo we first met were the old bulls, those which had been driven out of the herds. Their meat was very tough and the only way we could cook it was to boil it until it disintegrated into strings. In a few days, however, we got to where the buffalo were numerous and some discrimination could be used in selecting animals for slaughter.
The method adopted for cooking was primitive. Buffalo were killed every day, more or less according to chance. When we camped at night the cooks would chop their meat into large chunks and boil it. In the morning, each man was allowed to help himself to what he thought would suffice him for the day and it was marvelous what he could consume. We would fairly fill our haversack, and instead of having regular times for meals, it seemed as if we were eating all day long. In this way we easily consumed ten pounds per day. Even then we did not feel satisfied as our craving for vegetable food was intense.
I believe the aim of the Commissioner was to keep the line of march about a hundred miles north of the boundary and this distance was pretty well maintained. We skirted the Cypress Hills on the north and crossed several deep coulees containing many berry bushes laden with berries which we devoured ravenously regardless of whether they were ripe or not. The chokecherries were particularly welcome. We found they counteracted the laxative effect of consuming such a vast quantity of fresh meat.
For some time before we turned north the only water we had to drink was what we could find in half-dry alkali lakes. The land surrounding these lakes was just as bare as if a prairie fire had swept across it due to the vast herds of buffalo which fed there. The water in the lakes was also badly fouled by the buffalo.
When we turned north, we followed a long coulee which led us to a valley through which ran a magnificent river. This must have been either the Seven Persons coulee or else the coulee where Medicine Hat was later built. Here we remained for a few days and thoroughly enjoyed washing ourselves and drinking clear, cool water. Our poor horses seemed to equally enjoy the fresh water; they had been having a hard time both from shortage of water and grass.
While we were camped on this bottom, scouting parties were set out to see if they could find Fort Whoop-Up or any other human habitation. They reason for the change in the direction of our march led to the wildest speculation amongst the men. We came to the conclusion that the government must have been hoaxed and that such a place as Whoop-Up did not exist. Having carefully searched the country where it was supposed to be, we were sure it didn’t exist.
The yarn about the whiskey traders, we decided, was pure myth. What would whiskey traders want in a country where there were no Indians? We had been travelling for over two months and had not met one Indian, except the band at Old Wives Lake. We had become so skeptical that some even doubted the existence of the Rocky Mountains! They thought that after travelling for two months and a half due west from Manitoba we should have caught sight of them. The men by now were a very disgruntled and disgusted lot. We had been marching for a long time, half starved of food, forced to drink the most vile kind of water, and bothered by parasites. Now it seemed we had been dispatched on a fool’s errand and would become the laughing stock of Canada.
After travelling a few days, the tops of three hills came into view. These hills proved to be the Sweet Grass Hills, although at the time, we did not know what they were called. It was a great relief to the eye to see hills after observing nothing but monotonous prairie for so long. We were astonished, though, at how long it took to get near one of those buttes. Distance is so deceptive.
About the twentieth of September, we experienced a severe snowstorm and this day’s march put me in mind of a picture I once saw of the retreat of Napoleon’s army from Moscow! I was driving a Red River cart following the trail that the lead wagon made in the snow. Now and then, I would pass a wagon, the team of which was too played out to continue and was, therefore, waiting for the rear guard to give it assistance. We also had a number of saddle horses which were so weak they could not be induced to travel without being led. We used to tie seven or eight of these together in a line and a man would lead each string. If one of these fell, sometimes the whole line would also tumble – like a lot of nine pins.
Because of the storm, the buffalo started moving south. The visibility, however, was extremely limited and, as a result, we were overrun quite frequently by bands of buffalo which did not seem to notice us in the thick snow.
That night, we camped on some high ground and it was sunrise the next day before the rear guard got in. During the night, the snow had ceased and when reveille sounded in the morning, at about 5 o’clock, there was not a cloud to be seen. Soon we saw what we took for a strange phenomenon. Bright, rosy-pink objects appeared in the west well above the horizon. It came to my mind that this must be the light referred to by poets as “the light that never was on sea or land.” When the sun rose, the source of this mysterious light was revealed. To the west stood the Rocky Mountains clad in new snow. The sun, before it became visible to us in the east, had illuminated the higher peaks to our west. The whole scene was a marvelous panorama. Not only were the mountains visible in the west, but south of us rising out of the prairie stood the three buttes of the Sweet Grass Hills looking like gigantic sentinels guarding the unknown.
The east also presented a sight which no eye will ever witness again. As I stated, we were camped on high ground and as far as the eye could see were vast herds of buffalo moving slowly south, their black bodies a stark contrast against the snow-covered prairies. The storm evidently had moved the buffalo from the north and they were now returning to their winter ranges. It was impossible to calculate their vast numbers. Who would have predicted then that the buffalo would almost become extinct in a few years!
From that point, Colonel French and Colonel Macleod and some other officers went to Benton, Montana, to obtain supplies. After a day or two, the Force moved east to a lake which I believe is called Wild Horse Lake. Our half-breed guide, who was an old buffalo hunter, advised us against moving onto the flats while the buffalo were so thick. They would be sure to stampede and if we were in the way the result would surely be a disaster.
We remained at Wild Horse Lake until the Commissioner returned. He came into camp after midnight and we were much puzzled to know how he had found our location in the dark. The explanation came in the morning when we found he was accompanied by a guide, Jerry Potts. In later days, I made several trips with Jerry and I am convinced that he was possessed of some special sense which is given to few. No matter how dark the night, no matter how great the distance, Jerry could lead you to any point you wanted to go. He was more familiar with this vast country than any settler was with his quarter section.
I was on guard the night the Commissioner arrived. After things were quiet, the corporal of the guard investigated the wagons and found one contained some sacks of potatoes. He “appropriated” some for each one of the guards. As we had a large fire of buffalo chips going, we proceeded to roast our potatoes. However, impatient, I could not resist eating one of mine raw. I enjoyed it more than any fruit I had ever eaten.
Next day everything was abustle. It was decided to leave three troops B, C and F in the country under the command of Colonel Macleod, while D and E Troops went to the Swan River area, the point that had been chosen for our Headquarters. All the strongest horses were selected for the two troops that had to return. This trip was an enjoyable one. We were well supplied with provisions and we made good time. When we arrived at Swan River we found that the construction of the barracks was still in the hands of the Board of Works and was far from being completed. We also found that the quantity of hay that had been put up for the Winter use of our horses had been burnt in a prairie fire, so Colonel French decided to leave E Troop at Swan River, taking D with him to Fort Garry where he arrived early in November. By this time, we were indeed an unkempt and ragged lot. Colonel French had us all weighed and much to our surprise we had all gained weight, notwithstanding the hardships and hunger we had suffered. We then moved from Fort Garry to Dufferin, the point from which we started, having completed a march of over two thousand miles. Here we occupied the quarters recently vacated by the engineers who had completed the survey of the international boundary line to the Rocky Mountains.
In the early Summer of 1875, we moved to Swan River and met E Troop who had wintered there. Swan River was a point which would delight the heart of a prohibitionist. There was no possible way of anyone running whiskey into that area without being instantly detected. We remained at Swan River camp for about a year and only on two occasions was liquor brought in.
The first “culprit” was no less a person than Major General Selby Smith. General Smith was at that time in command of the forces in Canada – an Imperial officer. The General, having inspected the garrison at Fort Garry, decided to visit British Columbia, travelling through the Northwest Territories with a police escort. He had been requested by the government to inspect and report on the police, and for this purpose he and his staff visited Swan River barracks early in July. He camped in front of the officers’ quarters which were a long distance from the men’s quarters.
That night I was on guard duty and at about two o’clock in the morning a sentry reported to Sgt. Tom Lake, who was in charge of the guard, that D Troop’s barrack windows were lit up. Lake took me and another man with him to investigate the cause of this extraordinary occurrence. I might say that the men’s quarters were one huge building occupied by D and E Troops. Before we reached the room, we heard a great deal of laughing. When we arrived there, we found all the lamps lit and the men of D and E Troops dress just as if they had gotten out of bed, and all acting in a most peculiar manner. The only one decently dressed was a man called Jack Beaudoin. He was decidedly under the influence of liquor! He at once rushed up to Lake saying, “Sergeant Lake, you are the very man I want. I was just going to see you. I want you to arrest General Smith for bringing whiskey into the Northwest Territories.” Lake appeased him by saying he would attend to the matter in the morning and that the General had no chance of escaping. He soon sent all the men back to their beds and turned the lights out.
The next day after coming off guard I got an explanation of what caused this excitement. Beaudoin, a man who had the instincts of a Sherlock Holmes, reasoned that it was highly improbable that General Smith and his entourage were making this long and weary journey without being provided with some stimulants. To test his theory, sometime after midnight, he searched the General’s wagons and was rewarded by finding a five-gallon jug containing some suspicious fluid. He took the jug to the barrack room and woke up two special chums. These three worthies made a most exhaustive test of the contents of the jug! After several libations they became convinced both from its taste and effect that it was indeed whiskey. They then woke up the rest of D Troop, and having also roused E Troop, invited them all to partake. We expected there would be a great investigation into this matter but we were mistaken.
The next attempt to get whiskey was made by a police officer. I was forced to perform an unpleasant duty this time. During Summer and Fall a light wagon was used for bringing in the mail, but in Winter it came by dog train. An order was issued that nothing but letters and papers would be brought and we were warned not to send for anything else. At this time, I was a clerk in the orderly room and one of my duties was to accept the mail from the mail carrier and sort it. A few days before Christmas the mail arrived and I emptied the contents of the sacks on the floor. I noticed a parcel addressed to Sub-Inspector Dickens. Just as I had the Colonel’s mail sorted he arrived in the orderly room and I handed him his letters. The parcel at once caught his eagle eye. He asked me to whom it was addressed and I said Mr. Dickens. I was then told to tell Mr. Dickens that the Colonel wanted to see him in the orderly room. When Dickens appeared, the Colonel asked him if he had not heard the order about not getting parcels by mail. Dickens said he had but that he had sent for the parcel before the order came out. The Colonel appeared to accept this explanation and turned to go into his office when Dickens made a fatal mistake. He stooped and picked up his parcel and started to leave the orderly room. It seemed strange to me that he was in such a hurry to secure this parcel when he knew I would be delivering the rest of his mail in a very short time. It must have also seemed peculiar to the Colonel, for just as Dickens was going out the door he asked, “What is in that parcel, Dickens?” Dickens stammered. His stammering became worse with his increasing nervousness. After much stuttering he managed to say, “B-b-b-brandy, Sir.” The Colonel then told him to hand the parcel to me and directed me to open it. I produced from it an imperial quart of Hudson’s Bay brandy. I was then ordered to take the bottle outside and smash it. This was a most unpleasant duty.
Fortunately, at Swan River there were no substitutes for liquor such as the patent medicines prevalent in those times. The only instance we had of the terrible effects of excessive drinking of patent medicines happened to a corporal named McCrom. He was sent on detachment to Fort Carleton, a Hudson’s Bay post. After being there some months, he was reported dead. Another man was sent to take his place and instructed to inquire into the cause of McCrom’s death. In due time the man reported that he thought McCrom had died from excessive drinking of Perry Davis painkiller as he had found over eight broken bottles in McCrom’s room.
The only person at Swan River who drank fairly constantly was a strange character named John Wymersburch, who hailed from Luxembourg. John had a job attending sick horses. Whatever these horses suffered from, many required a dose of sweet spirits of nitre. When John administered this he always took horn for horn with his patient. It did not seem to do him any harm.
Had I taken my discharge from the police at Swan River and left the Northwest Territories, I think I should have remained a lifelong convert to prohibition. I could see nothing in the enforced temperance that we were subject to, but what was beneficial.
In 1876 the Custer massacre occurred and the United States troops pursued the Sioux northward. Fearing the Sioux would be forced into Canada, D Troop was sent to Fort Macleod to reinforce C. On arriving at Fort Macleod as a member of D Troop, I expected conditions would be similar to what they were at Swan River. Indeed, nothing could have been more dissimilar – as far as drinking was concerned. At Macleod men were quartered in smaller rooms, nine men to a room. The room I was assigned contained men with whom I was quartered at Dufferin and whose habits regarding drinking I knew. Now, had we returned to Dufferin where there were two saloons, I feel sure that at least two of these men, besides myself, would have had no thought of visiting these institutions. However, after supper on the day of our arrival we were visited by a C Troop man who produced a bottle containing sufficient whiskey to give us all a drink. After our experience at Swan River we were much restrained. But one thing led to another and soon we asked the C Troop man if he could obtain any more. All subscribed sufficient funds to purchase two more bottles and for the first time in my life, I knew what it was to be intoxicated.
Now, I must recount the doings, as related to me by a C Troop man, of that part of the Force that left us in the Sweet Grass Hills in the Fall of 1874. He said that as soon as we separated at Wild Horse Lake, they marched to Fort Whoop-Up under the guidance of Jerry Potts and had no difficulty in finding it. It was built where the St. Mary and Belly Rivers join. Bearing in mind reports that the fort was garrisoned and prepared to fight, Colonel Macleod approached it cautiously. The nine pounders and mortars were placed so as to command the fort. C Troop was the artillery troop. In the morning, long before sunrise, the other two troops were given extra ammunition and told to advance on the fort in extended order, being cautioned that if fired on to at once take cover and wait for the guns to do their work. As the men advanced and the sun rose, no sign of life appeared around the fort. When they had approached within two hundred yards they saw an Indian run from an outhouse into a fort. They expected the alarm would be given and they would be fired on at any moment, but nothing happened and they advanced right up to the fort. Colonel Macleod hammered on the gates with the butt of his revolver. It was opened by a man with a wooden leg who said, “Walk right in, Colonel, you are perfectly safe.” It appeared that he and his squaw comprised the entire garrison. The police carefully searched the fort but found neither liquor nor defenders, so the garrison was left in peace.
Jerry Potts then led the police to Fort Kipp, named after a half-breed, Joe Kipp. This fort was close to the junction of the Old Man’s and Belly Rivers. Here also they drew a blank. The next point of attack was Fort Weatherwax which was built on a gravel bar of the Old Man’s River about four miles east of the present town of Macleod. Here the police met great success. The fort contained a large quantity of merchandise such as the Indians traded for and a large quantity of whiskey. Beside these, there were a great number of buffalo robes. Everything was confiscated and a heavy fine was inflicted on Mr. Weatherwax. He was an American and had an implicit belief in the all powerfulness of his country. He told Colonel Macleod that as soon as he could get into communication with Washington, the Colonel and every Mounted Policeman would wish they had never been born. From Fort Weatherwax the police moved up the river a few miles to an island where they built Fort Macleod under great difficulties, the Winter having set in. While some engaged in building, others were sent out under the guidance of Jerry Potts to capture every whisky trader in the country. Chasing whisky traders was most congenial work for us. As we viewed the matter, those who were engaged in the business must be unscrupulous; not only were they selling their poisonous whisky to the Indians but they took advantage of the Indians’ subsequent intoxication to obtain their buffalo robes for practically nothing. The Indians became very friendly towards the police, largely owing to the diplomacy of Colonel Macleod. He explained to them the object of the police coming and also the laws they were expected to obey. These he administered with justice and firmness and thereby gained the confidence of all.
In 1876, the I. G. Baker Company and the I. C. Powers Company, large firms from Benton, Montana, established stores close to Fort Macleod expecting that when the whisky traders had been banished, they would acquire the large Indian trade. They also catered to the Police. I do not remember which of these stores brought in substitutes for whisky. The first of those substitutes was very near the real thing. It was put up in fruit cans and labelled, “Brandy Peaches.” On opening one of these cans it was found to contain a few peaches immersed in a fluid that was highly exhilarating. “The authorities,” however, saw through the thin disguise and placed an embargo on brandy peaches. Unfortunately, there was no restriction on patent medicine and those that contained alcohol found ready sale. This encouraged some enterprising person to smuggle in whiskey from Montana which was just as poisonous as the patent medicines. There was no doubt the rotten stuff was intended for trading with the Indians.
When I arrived in Macleod in ’76, I found an extraordinary state of affairs which is difficult to relate. I will first deal with patent medicines. I found many of the men consumed them in large quantities. I forget the names of the most popular brands but everything that contained alcohol was eagerly bought. I never used them. If I had, I would not be writing these reminiscences today. Of course, these drugs were not always in stock in the stores: everything in those days was brought by bull train from Benton, Montana, and there would be long intervals between shipments. Occasionally, however, at the urgent request of some of the men, the stores would obtain a case or two through mail carriers.
All this reminds me of a man whom we called Doc. He told me some of his life. He was intended for the medical profession, but having become a victim to the drinking habit, his fond but deluded parents thought their son might become weaned from his vice if they got him into the Mounted Police and thereby sent to a bone-dry country. Doc, however, found no difficulty in adapting himself to the “wine” of the country shortly after he arrived at Macleod. He became a regular patent-medicine fiend. He was on guard once when a case was brought in by the mail carrier. When the guard was relieved at five in the afternoon, Doc hurried down to the I. G. Baker store and asked John Smith if there was any of the medicine left. John replied that it was all sold, long ago. On the counter, close to where Doc was standing, lay a carpenter’s level which Doc picked up. He asked Smith if he had any more and was told there were two more, which he at once bought. He took these to his barrack room, procured a screwdriver and removed the glass tubes which contained some kind of alcohol. The tubes he emptied into a cup and drank. Fortunately, he got very ill. No doubt that prevented carpenters’ levels from becoming a popular beverage.
I believe that all those who drank patent medicines to excess had their lives shortened but I only remember one case where the effect was sudden. This happened in either ’78 or ’79 when I had started ranching. I came to Macleod to see a man named Toni la Chapelle. I found him in a room at Taylor’s Restaurant, together with all the elite of Macleod. The gathering was presided over by Captain Winder who was then in command of the Macleod post. They were evidently celebrating something. Amongst those present was Jerry Potts and another half breed named Roche La Rue who was always called “Rock.” On entering the room Captain Winder presented me with a bottle which was labelled “No. 6.” I glanced at the label’s directions and I think a teaspoonful was a dose for whatever ailed you. I followed the directions and it was not unpleasant to taste. While I was discussing my business with Tony someone suggested another round of drinks of which all partook, with the exception of Rock who was sitting on a chair apparently asleep. Captain Winder told Jerry Potts to wake him up. After giving him several shakes, Jerry turned and said he was dead. It appeared Rock has been the first to sample No. 6. It was a new brand and he had consumed a whole bottle before the celebration had commenced.
Eventually, the selling of whiskey to the Indians completely ceased. The Indians gave no trouble as there were still sufficient buffalo to supply them with all they wanted. So the only duty which the police had to perform was the one of trying to capture whiskey smugglers who were endeavouring to run in whiskey to sell to the police themselves. There was a sort of tacit understanding between the smugglers and the police. Every policeman was keen to capture the smugglers on their way in. If this happened, the smugglers’ horses, wagons, and all wagon contents would be confiscated. If a smuggler was successful in running the blockade, he, to some extent, found sanctuary. He invariably cached his whiskey and brought it in to town in small quantities, disposing of it as opportunity occurred. The police greatly enjoyed the challenge of trying to capture the smuggler; it was certainly much more preferable than the monotony of barrack life. The police were handicapped, however, as there was no telling where or when the smugglers would cross the boundary line, and they always travelled by night. Eventually, they would be apprehended though – with the exception of one man, named Lawrence.
So successful was Lawrence in eluding us that we would have preferred capturing him to winning the V. C. He lived in a house in Macleod and made no bones about his livelihood. The police and he were the best of friends and would frequently join one another. Lawrence was kept under observation and if was reported absent we knew he had gone to Montana for whiskey. After a few days, patrols would be sent out to try and intercept him, but as always happened, Lawrence turned up in Macleod smiling, followed in a few days by the disgusted patrols. Finding it impossible to capture Lawrence coming in with his cargo, it was decided to worry him by fining him for having whisky in his possession. Watch was kept on him at night with the hope that he would be seen leaving town to visit his cache; the intention being to catch him returning with booze.
One night the scout reported that he thought Lawrence had whiskey in his cabin as he had noticed several men entering and leaving during the evening. Sgt. John Birk and two men were sent to search. It being June, the sun was just rising when they entered Lawrence’s cabin. They found two other men there, asleep on chairs. Lawrence was in bed and apparently asleep. Birk announced, “Lawrence I have come to search your cabin.” Now Lawrence was very alert. He said, “Alright, Sergeant, I will be with you in a minute,” or something like that, which led the police to think that he realized he was caught and was prepared to go to barracks with them. He got out of bed, put on his trousers and boots, went to a washstand where there was a basin and jug, emptied the contents of the jug in the basin, and washed himself. He then combed and brushed his hair, and, having performed his ablutions, he did what was usual: took the basin and threw its content out the door. When this was done, he turned to Birk and said, “Now go ahead with your search.” The cabin was small, and after looking in every possible place the police could find nothing incriminating. What puzzled them most was that while Lawrence was perfectly sober, he smelt like a distillery and so did his house. They had to return to barracks and report that they had not found anything. Some days later, Lawrence revealed the mystery; when the police had entered his cabin there was about a quart of whisky in the jug which he emptied into the basin, washed himself with, then threw out.
When ranching started, the duties of the police were greatly increased. We were living close to Montana which contained many lawless men. Horses were frequently stolen and driven across the border. This alone kept the police busy. Then when the buffalo entirely disappeared, as they did around 1879, the Indians at once took to killing cattle. Even after the Indians had been placed on reserves and were being fed by the government this offense did not cease. It took some time for the Indians to become accustomed to reservation life and cease their nomadic life. They were used to consuming vast quantities of meat. The rations of meat they were given on the reservations, although sufficient for a white man, were entirely inadequate for an Indian.
The police got every assistance from the ranchers in suppressing cattle rustling; but in another way, the influx of the ranchers added to their difficulties in controlling the liquor problem. It is safe to say that amongst these early ranchers not one prohibitionist could be found, nor could a single person be found who would not avail himself of illicit spirits if the opportunity presented itself. As a consequence, whiskey smuggling increased to such an extent that the entire police force, even
if they had no other duties to perform, could not control it. It had a demoralizing effect on our men. They were trying to enforce a law-prohibition, which was disapproved of by all the settlers and for that matter, the police themselves, it must be confessed that if the reputation of the Force had to rest on their enforcement of prohibition, it would not have attained the high level it has. It can easily be understood that when the government at last recognized the impossibility of enforcing an unpopular law, the Force heaved a great sigh of relief. They were now able to bend all their energies towards suppressing other crimes.
In closing, I would like to make a brief summary of what the pioneer police undertook and accomplished. In 1874, three hundred green men, some very young without any experience of prairie life and few with the experience of discipline, were launched into this unknown country, told to put an end to the sale of whiskey to the Indians and to instill in the latter, some of the most savage tribes to North American respect for law and order. This they accomplished well. They could not have done so if they had been men of an inferior class. When the Sioux, under the leadership of Sitting Bull, crossed the line in 1877 and 1878, after having defeated and annihilated the flower of the American Cavalry, they were handled by a few Mounted Policemen at Cypress Hills. They became as obedient to law as if the police were ten thousand strong. To appreciate what the police accomplished, in those early days, one has only to look at conditions as they existed in Montana: shootings were of daily occurrence and lynch law the only law in force.
Have I not reason to be justly proud of the boast that I belonged to that body of men who laid the foundations on which those who followed built such splendid traditions.