RCMP Quarterly Vol. 41, No. 4 Fall 1976 Roche Percee
They Opened the Way for the Peaceful Development of Canada’s Broad Plains
Reprinted from October, 1945
In reckoning the history of a country, 71 years are but a fleeting moment, yet in that time the Canadian prairies were transformed from an unknown wilderness into the fourth greatest wheat-producing area of the world. The history of this vast region really dates from 1874 when the North West Mounted Police set forth on their march from the Red River to the Rocky Mountains.
James B. Mitchell was destined to outlive all the other participants of the epochal march. Though the intervening years are few in the life of a country they represent eons in that of a human being. But incredible as it may seem Mitchell’s military activities began eight years before then.
Born at Gananoque, Ont., on Oct. 14, 1852, of a young immigrant couple from Edinburgh, Scotland, he served as bugler in his home town and at Prescott, Ont., during the Fenian Raids of 1866. In the raids four years later he helped to guard the canal at Cornwall, Ont., from where as a promising young corporal, he went to “A” Battery, Royal School of Gunnery, Kingston, Ont., to take a course that would qualify him in the duties of a sergeant major. Here he drew the attention and approval of the commandant, Col. G. A. French, who perceived in the keen, well-set-up youth good material for the military.
When the Fenian raid scare subsided, Mitchell attended the Art Institute in Montreal to study architecture, to build useful and beautiful things was a passion with him.
Then the startling developments on the Red River in 1871 focused his attention on Fort Garry and some three years later when it was decided to bring the North West Mounted Police up to its full authorized strength of 300, he resolved to enlist. Since October, 1873, Colonel French, his erstwhile commandant, had been Commissioner of the new Force. This fact dispelled any indecision that Mitchell might have entertained and he engaged at Kingston on April 1, 1874, as sub-constable with regimental number 156. (During the subsequent re-allotment of regimental numbers, his was changed to 50). Posted to “E” Troop he was in the following month promoted to the senior NCP rank of staff constable (equivalent to today’s sergeant major).
The recruits were quartered in what was called the New Fort Barracks on the site of the present Toronto Exhibition Grounds and their average age did not exceed 25. The only one of them under 21 was Trumpeter Frederick Augustus Bagley, formerly a bugler in A Battery, Kingston, whose father, R. Bagley, late sergeant of Her Majesty’s Royal Artillery, Toronto, had known Colonel French in the Imperial Army. Born in St. Lucia, B.W.I., on Sept. 22, 1858, the younger Bagley came to Canada when ten years old and was but 15 years and nine months old when on May 1, 1874, he joined the Force as a sub-constable with regimental number 247.
To avoid the rainy season on the prairies, Commissioner French decided not to start out from Toronto until June. The two-month interval, April and May, was used to advantage. Extra men were engaged to fill vacancies which had incurred among the originals in Manitoba who were awaiting his arrival with the reinforcements, horses were bought, and the men were put through a series of mounted, foot and gun drills – hard work but pleasant, as Mitchell described it.
Young Bagley meanwhile probably had more than his share of room orderly which entailed keeping the barrack rooms neat and clean. In addition to his duties as trumpeter and attending regular drills, he had to draw supplies for the cook’s ration call, set the mess tables, bring the cooked grub from the cook-house and apportion it to the men, then help wash the dishes and scrub the tables and benches.
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On June 6, the three troops embarked from Toronto on two special Grand Trunk Railway trains, amid the cheers of well-wishers and the blare of several military bands. The marching-out state was 16 officers, 201 NCO’s and men and 244 horses. At Sarnia, nine cars filled with wagons and agricultural implements were attached to the train and at Detroit two more cars containing 34 horses were taken on.
By special permission the expedition travelled through the United States, the arrangements stipulating that the men wear civilian clothes and that their arms consisting of carbines and officers’ swords, also ammunition, be packed in boxes.
At 5 p.m. next day, they stopped at the stock-yards, Chicago, Ill., where thousands of pigs wallowed in sties and raised a stench that was rendered doubly offensive by rain and mud. The horses, little the worse for their ride, were unloaded, fed and watered, then tied up in open corrals that had feed troughs along the sides. Two officers and 30 men did picket duty all night in rain that continued without let up.
On the evening of July 8, the Force left for St. Paul and after travelling all night arrived at 4 a.m. of the 9th. Here, in accordance with the policy that each troop was to be self-sustaining, the Commissioner authorized Sub-Inspr. J. Walker in command of D Troop to buy mowing machines and farm implements, also a year’s supply of oats, flour, bacon, pork, biscuits and other provisions – the best that could be had.
While in the United States Mitchell paid for his troop’s meals with cash given him by the paymaster; the ten per cent premium he collected on the Canadian funds yielded extra delicacies that otherwise would have been impossible.
A dozen more men were recruited at Chicago and St. Paul; the Commissioner anticipated that some members might refuse to venture beyond Dufferin.
After a whole day and a night in St. Paul, they entrained once more and on the morning of the 12th reached Fargo, N.D., where the narrow strip of station planking marked the terminus of the Northern Pacific Railroad and the beginning of the horse-and-saddle trail with the Force using its own transport.
Camping out was new to most of the men and here, on the outskirts of civilization, the work began in earnest. For various reasons haste was imperative and the Commissioner was anxious to reach Canadian territory. Horse and equipment erupted from the cars and soon all hands were busy. The knockdown transport wagons had to be assembled, harness and saddles were a kaleidoscopic jumble of straps and leather which had to be sorted and put together.
In the confusion which followed, amusing incidents happened a-plenty and many a laugh was produced by some of the office workers who got their outfits in a hopeless muddle and hardly knew when the head stalls were right side up or whether they belonged on the front or rear of their mounts. But the experienced hands gave assistance whenever necessary and, with the troops working in shifts throughout the night, everything was straightened out in surprisingly short time.
Government advertisements had specified riding horses, and some of the animals had never before been hitched up, even to a buggy. This occasioned slight delay, for they started pitching and bucking with provoking obstinacy and refused to pull the wagons. The difficulty finally was overcome when willing shoulders heaved on the wheels, and with many a yank, push and comradely quip the column was on its way.
The initial 160 miles of prairie travel between Fargo and Camp Dufferin (now Emerson), Man., gave the men a foretaste of what was to come. At the town of Grand Forks, N.D., they were met by Reg. No. 55, Staff Cst. J. Weir in charge of a detachment of men and 25 fresh horses sent from Dufferin by Asst. Commr. J. F. MacLeod, C.M.G., who was already in camp there with A, B and C Troops, having come down from the Stone Fort 20 miles north of Winnipeg where the troops had spent the winter.
Marching along the ancient trail from St. Louis which had been in use for a century, the Canadian-bound column passed the U.S. Army Post of Fort Pembina and on June 19, just as the sun was going down at the close of a beautiful day, came to the wide space in the road where the Boundary Commission buildings, a few half-breed shanties and an equal number of saloons comprised the settlement of Dufferin.
Waiting to welcome it were the officers and men of A, B and C Troops with additional supplies, half-breed guides and herders to drive the extra stock. The camp was splendidly located on the north side of the Boundary Commission grounds, and the new arrivals made good use of the commission’s buildings.
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And here in B Troop was Reg. No. 289 (later changed to 52), Sub-Cst. William Grain. He had been engaged at Fort Garry on May 10, substituting for Reg. No. 93, Sub-Cst. H. Moffatt who resigned in disgust after being reduced in rank from acting constable and acting hospital sergeant. Born at Wingham, Ont. on Jan. 20, 1850, the son of John Thomas Grain, a British Army officer who had come to Canada with General Pilkington, he had received his education at Rochford Military Academy and upon graduating had eventually turned up at the Red River.
On the night of the day following the union of the ’73 and ’74 men, a storm broke over the camp. High winds lashed hail and rain down with stinging velocity, forked lightning streaked across the sky and thunder shook the earth.
About 10 o’clock everyone was ordered to turn out. The horses were corralled in an enclosure of stakes and cable beyond which the wagons were arranged in a circle. The storm worsened until it reached cyclonic proportions, and the lightning seemed closer. The canvas coverings on the wagons were ripped open by the first strong gusts. Terrific claps of thunder, the driving rain, howling wind and flapping canvases frightened the horses into a frenzy. Rearing and plunging, they battered the makeshift barrier with frantic hoofs until it finally gave way, and screaming wildly the maddened animals broke free.
Straight toward the camp they raced, and human efforts to stop that living avalanche of terror-stricken horses availed nothing. Fortunately, a flash of lightning revealed the main body of the camp directly in the way, and the stampede shied off past the shouting men. But it had already wreaked havoc; wagons were overturned, tents flattened and several men had been knocked down and injured. Reg. No, 190, Act. Cst. W. Latimer’s scalp was partially shorn and pulled down over his forehead, but luckily there were no other serious casualties.
In the general uproar some of the men, including Mitchell, had vaulted to the backs of a few animals as the horde dashed by, and Bagley coming across one that had been unable to break away quickly saddled it and joined the others to help recover the runaways. For the next 24 hours he was without rest or food and when his mount walked into camp at midnight of June 21 fatigue had exacted its toll – fast asleep in the saddle, he was so used up that he had to be lifted off and put to bed.
Though the renowned stampede caused delay at the time, it may actually have been a blessing in disguise for it impressed on all the necessity of taking greater precautions against a similar happening later on. Had it occurred on the plains, leaving the men stranded in an unknown territory, the history of the Force undoubtedly would have run a different course.
But conditions still were unfavourable. The rain had left the heavy loam in such a sticky and boggy state that it would have been sheer folly to start out before the ground dried. In the days that followed, last-minute preparations kept everyone busy. Many adjustments were made: men were transferred to bring up the strength of A, B, and C Troops; transport packed and arranged, and beef cattle bought, some for slaughter and others for breeding purposes at the police posts to be built in the west; about 100 oxen, purchased from an American cattle dealer, were to prove indispensable as substitutes for played-out transport horses on the trail.
At Dufferin, Bagley acquired “Old Buck,” the mustang of his dreams. Of traditional buckskin colour with a black streak along its back, it answered to the requirement of D Troop in which all the horses were grey or buckskin. It had been chosen by another man, but Bagley, who had coveted it for some time, managed to be “guarding” it when the horses were assigned, and Inspr. J. M. Walsh, commanding D Troop, appointed him its master – an artful manoeuvre on Bagley’s part which earned him the reputation of being a “danged hoss thief.” Known far and wide as the “Bagley pony,” Old Buck lived 32 years, being mercifully destroyed in 1898. When pensioned off to roam the range at will, it paid regular visits to Lethbridge and Pincher Creek Detachments to be petted by members of the Force.
Supplies were slow in arriving and disquieting rumours began circulating. The greatest problem was to preserve the morale of the men. Desertions occurred daily, and the Commissioner, dismayed at the possibility that the undertaking might fail before it really began, brought the situation to a head by putting it squarely up to the men. He called a full-dress parade and tactfully advised all who feared the unknown dangers that lay ahead to take their discharge. He wanted no dissatisfied or timid men. If need be, all might leave now of their own free will. He told of the discomforts which those who didn’t would probably have to endure. A few malcontents took advantage of the offer, but most of the weaklings had already gone.
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When the revolvers on order from England arrived at the end of the first week of July all was ready, and on July 8, Commissioner French and his troops started for the Blackfoot country 800 miles away. There was no official ceremony as they marched out of Dufferin into the setting sun, a colourful cavalcade of 274 officers, NCO’s and men, prancing horses, creaking Red River carts and plodding oxen.
Never before had such a display of pomp and military circumstance been seen in those parts. Resplendent in gold-embroidered belts and facings, their swords gleaming in the rays of the dying sun, the officers wore white helmets from which fluttered plumes coloured according to rank. The scarlet Norfolk jackets and scarlet-lined cavalry cloaks of the ranks lent the body of the long procession a crimson hue as it filed across the prairie.
Easy stages was the order until the men got the feel of the trail, though Bagley sounded reveille sometimes at 3 a.m. For some days the travellers were favoured with good weather, and the healthful outdoor life moulded them into a hardy lot as they trudged monotonously along to the accompaniment of thudding hoofs, clattering accoutrements and equipment, and wailing, grease-hungry Red River carts.
At first, mowing machines and rakes formed part of the advance guard and at selected camp locations were used to garner grass as feed for the animals. Each night the horses were carefully secured to pickets in the ground, but later when they got accustomed to the prairie they were turned loose with hobbles.
Progress generally was slow: the cumbersome equipment including two mortars – “horse killers” they were called – which had been brought from Toronto, the inability of the eastern horses to adapt themselves to prairie grass, the slow-moving oxen, and sickness which later afflicted men and cattle, all contributed to the sluggard pace.
The second day from Dufferin they struck out for the Boundary Commission trail which was to be their future guide. On this beaten track speed and ease of travel were greatly facilitated because the necessity of searching for water was eliminated, the line of march was so arranged that camp was made each night at a site previously occupied by the commission engineers where a water supply was assured.
The surveyors, owing to the aridity of the plains, had been obliged to deviate from their intended straight line, and the course weaved back and forth in many places. The miles-long police column formed a picturesque procession as the various troops threaded their way in slow, zigzagging fashion across the prairie.
Beyond the border of Manitoba, the country was more primitive, the going tougher, and stragglers began to lag further and further behind. On July 11, Reg. No. 252, Sub-Cst. P. Courts was engaged to replace a deserter who, that week, had taken leg bail and joined his faint-hearted fellows across the frontier. Soon all contact with Canada, as the East was called, was broken. At first there was an occasional courier with dispatches, but this service too ceased and the expedition was on its own with no means of communicating with civilization until Fort Benton, Mont. was reached.
On July 18, camp was made on the banks of the Souris River and for two days the men indulged in an orgy of bathing and washing clothes. Damaged carts were repaired and equipment was redistributed, the portable forges were brought into play and several horses shod, and preparations generally for continuing the march were made. Though much work was done, the stop in that small valley where wood, water and grass were plentiful did much for men and animals and when the march was resumed on July 21, the spirits of all were visibly improved.
Since leaving Dufferin, the men had conscientiously pitched their tents every night, but from now on they generally denied themselves the doubtful protection except on Sundays. It was doubtful for several reasons. As the march progressed the horses and oxen tired more easily with the result that camp sites were seldom reached before dark and the men were too weary to struggle with the tents. Another discouraging feature was the frequent occurrence of strong gales against which it was often impossible to keep the unstable shelters erect.
Perhaps the most deciding factor was the presence of company, much-too sociable, in the form of the minute pests that invariably infest those who are deprived of the amenities of civilization. In other words, the men were lousy. With the heedlessness of inexperience, they had stopped at an abandoned Indian camp, eager to take advantage of such a favourable spot. But the Indians had left more than an empty camp site and soon a series of private battles occurred. “The fugitive pests,” Grain later claimed, “were obviously Indian in origin for they were actually reddish brown in colour.”
Under canvas they became unbearable, so the men slept under the stars as far from each other as possible, hoping thus to discourage the migratory and social tendencies of their tormentors. Each man felt he had enough of his own without acquiring any from this neighbour.
With no opportunity to undress or change clothes the men patiently bore their pediculous associates for three months, then went to war on them in earnest. Even the hardiest insect succumbed when the garments were boiled in salt water and hung outside to freeze.
The next important stopping place was Short Creek on the bank of the Souris just beyond La Roche Percee (near Estevan, Sask.), where, after pitching camp on July 24, the men again rejoiced in the luxury of bathing and clothes washing. July 26, being the Sabbath, there was a church parade, with each religious denomination under its senior officer, and though regular Sunday church parades were not practicable they were held as often as possible.
At this point, it was decided that Inspr. W. D. Jarvis and Sub-Inspr. S. Gagnon, father of the present D.C.I., Ottawa, Ont., Asst Commr. H. A. R. Gagnon, should take part of A Troop to Edmonton, principal Hudson’s Bay Co. post on the North Saskatchewan. The best horses of the troop were exchanged for the 55 weakest of the other troops, and leaving La Roche Percee on July 29, Jarvis with his command started north to Fort Ellice whence they struck the well-travelled cart trails to the north-west. With them also went five disabled men, who were unfit to keep up with the main body, some oxen, cows with calves, agricultural implements, general stores and provisions, wagons, carts and other implements.
The way led north of the Qu-Appelle river, and nine days saw them at Fort Carlton. There was a bitterly cold wind and the cattle and horses were so weak that it took four days to cross the Saskatchewan river. Then came execrable roads, often through swamp, and several animals died from sickness and exhaustion.
Slowly, laboriously, the column continued over the frozen morasses and lonely marshlands, arriving at Victoria on October 19, and at Horse Hill nine days later, where some of the horses, overcome by stiffness and fatigue, were barely able to keep upright on the frost-laden ground.
On November 1, the last car pulled into Fort Edmonton.
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Having disposed of Jarvis’ detachment and most of the farm stock, the Commissioner with the main column left La Roche Percee the same evening, July 29, for Wood End, nine miles distant. Up to this point, which was on the border-line of the timber limit, the water supply had been good. But here the boundary road deviated from its westerly course and led into the United States, so the Commissioner arranged for the purchase of pemmican from the Boundary Commission commissariat at Wood Mountain depot further on, and with the Force pressed north-west.
Blazing their own trail as they went, they traversed the rough undulating terrain that lies between Long river which they crossed and recrossed in several places and the Coteau of the Missouri. The heat of the prairie mid-summer was intensified by high head winds and the arid atmosphere caused cracked lips which rendered shouting or laughing painful. Bagley’s lips were so parched and swollen from thirst and the sun that when ordered to sound a call he couldn’t produce a note. Crossing Long river, the column passed the Dirt Hills and went on to Old Wives’ Creek, where good grass and wood were available, halted for the first rest of any length in two weeks. It had taken nearly two days to go through the Dirt Hills which though small had rough lumpy surfaces separated occasionally by pools of water. Sometimes a wagon would lumber down one hill while the horses hauling it would be plodding up the next, and others were so steep and rough that it was necessary to skirt them.
At Old Wives’ Lakes alkaline water had caused dysentery among the men and, as many of the horses were thin and worn out, the Commissioner found it necessary to form a convalescent depot which was officially dubbed “Cripple Camp,” where Reg. No. 229, Cst. (Sgt.) J. A. Sutherland was detailed to remain with seven sub-constables, five of them invalids, some footsore cattle and 28 spent horses.
Planning carefully for what might well be a more arduous and perilous enterprise than their westward trek, the Commissioner also stored here several wagonloads of provisions for the troops that would be returning.
While at Old Wives’ Creek, the Force was visited by a band of Sioux Indians of the Sipeton tribe who chanced to be nearby. At an official powwow they named the Commissioner “Wachasta Sota” (Man with Power), and later in their encampment of 50 lodges, Surgeon J. Kittson, the Force’s chief medical officer, held a sick parade and treated seven women, nine men and several children.
In the afternoon of August 19, the procession of ox-carts, wagons, wheeled kitchens and other rolling equipment bade a cacophonous farewell to Cripple Camp as the riders pushed 12 miles onward into a treeless inhospitable region.
The Boundary Commission survey party was nearing the completion of its work and in its White Mud depot was a stock of oats and provisions which they no longer needed. On August 22, Commissioner French sent a train of Red River carts to that point to pick up what rations and oats they could.
Three days later, on August 25, they made a difficult crossing of Swift Current Creek within sight of the Cypress Hills. Crossing streams was always hazardous, but to assure a dry passage each wagon had been supplied with a tarpaulin which could be drawn under the floor boards, completely covering them and preventing the water from gushing into the wagon box. On the trail the heavy-duty canvas was used to protect the freight against the sun and rain.
That evening the Force camped at a small lake to await the supplies from White Mud. The sojourn enabled the stragglers to catch up and entire command to recuperate from its recent exertions. Sprawled on the ground the trail-weary men rested. For days they hadn’t seen a vestige of shrubbery or green bush, except for the odd gooseberry bush. The only scenery had been a monotony of undulating plains dotted with the bleached bones and skulls of buffalo.
Over all was dust, a mixture of ashes, earth and coal powder – the accumulation of perennial prairie fires – that got into the nostrils, mouth, eyes and hair, sifted down the neck-bands of tunics and lodged in cakes in the men’s boots; within a few minutes of being washed the men’s faces would be streaked with grime.
Hostile mosquitoes had pestered man and beast, assaulting exposed flesh with a vehemence that permitted little repose at nights; the spongy soil of the water holes detonated swarms of them as the horses stamped about.
While they waited for the supplies from White Mud, the men busied themselves repairing the equipment, shoeing oxen and so on. The trysting place was in the midst of buffalo country, evident from the closely-cropped grass, a contingency that daily necessitated the moving of camp to provide forage for the horses and stock. Itinerant half-breeds brought tales of the whisky traders at Whoop-Up; one account alleged that 500 of these ruffians had spent most of the summer fortifying the blockhouses in which they held forth and building underground magazines and galleries into which they could retire if hard pressed.
The pleasant waiting had to end, and on August 31, Assistant Commissioner Macleod appeared with the supplies amid cheers and hearty shouts of welcome.
About 9 o’clock two mornings later as the Commissioner was riding up to the advance guard, he noticed some moving objects to the left. Putting spurs to his horse he rode further out and saw that what had attracted his attention were buffalo. When the news spread, there was great excitement and that night, buffalo steaks were the piece de resistance.
The shaggy quadrupeds, however, proved to be a menace, for their countless hoofs trampled into wallows of muddy paste the little swamps which often were the only source of water and feed available to the expedition as it pushed across the pathless barrens.
In this locale, Mitchell had an experience which he never forgot. With a companion, he had ridden ahead and come upon two grazing buffalo. Advancing stealthily each man selected a target and fired together. Mitchell’s animal fell but the second, though badly wounded, raced away closely pursued by the other hunter. Mitchell dismounted and walked leisurely toward the prize.
As he knelt on one knee beside the huge head, the beast suddenly came to life, reared up and lunged at him. Fortunately, Mitchell still held onto his horse, by means of a 20-foot lariat one end of which was wrapped around his left wrist, and the terrified animal dragged him to safety from the first mad onrush. Mitchell regained his feet in time to dodge succeeding charges; working his way hand over hand and jumping from side to side, he regained the saddle. Finally, drawing his pistol, he shot the charging buffalo between the eyes, thereby settling an old argument among the men as to whether a bullet in the forehead would prove fatal to one of the great beasts.
Forging ahead the men more than ever showed signs of strain in the gruelling task they had set out to accomplish. On September 4, camp was in a ravine so deep that drag ropes had to be attached to the wagons, whose wheels were locked, so that the men could control them during the descent. In the morning at 5 o’clock, all hands were called and the guys came into play again, wagons up the other side, while a fatigued squad of one officer and 25 men with pick-axes and shovels hacked a passage through obstacles that barred the way. The heavy guns were also handled in this way – held in back on the ropes, and hoisted up the opposite side by the men adding their weight to that of the horses.
The route led north of the Cypress Hills, then down through Seven Persons’ Coulee to the banks of the Belly river where camp was made on a site now occupied by the city of Medicine Hat.
The only map of these uninhabited spaces was that by Hector and Palliser and though the points visited up to now were correctly marked, most of the chart had been filled in with information volunteered by traders, half-breeds and other nomads, and consequently was unreliable. Aided by Inspector Walker, the Commissioner regularly checked his position and compared it with that on the map by taking observations for latitude and noting the variations on a prismatic compass. It was fortunate that he did so, for further along the trail, Morreau, the guide, lost his bearings and, refusing to admit it, was leading the column miles out of its way. By asking a few questions the Commissioner soon satisfied himself that the guide was bluffing and from then on, he himself selected their route.
The greatest hardship was scarcity of good water. At times the men were so parched that they sought relief by flopping down spread-eagle around water holes and pressing their lips against the cool moist mud. And when water did come to them on September 8, it was in the guise of a chilly rain accompanied by a strong north wind that presaged cold weather. Next day five horses, paralyzed from cold and hunger, died; three others were on the verge of collapse but somehow managed to keep going.
The situation was grave. There was no indication that forage conditions would improve. For weeks they had travelled through herds of buffalo, once or twice had been forced to turn the backs of their transport wagons toward the stampeding animals to veer them off. The ever-moving ruminants had been a destroying force that left scarcely a blade of grass in their wake. To turn weakened horses out to graze was sheer optimism for the cropped grass was not high enough above the ground for them to grasp.
On the night of September 10, the Commissioner introduced drastic measures by instructing each officer and man to give up one of his blankets to shield the horses against the cold and rain. The men, to keep warm, doubled up with each other. The weather grew colder and a feel of snow was in the air, the half-starved horses had nothing but oats for fodder, and about this time the Commissioner noted in his diary, “I begin to feel very much alarmed for the safety of the Force.”
On September 11, camp was made at the junction of the Bow and Belly rivers, near three roofless and deserted log huts. That day, two reconnaissance parties, one under Sub-Inspr. V. Welch, the other under Sub-Inspr. C. E. Denny, were sent out and preparations made for sending Inspector Walsh with B Troop and some horses to Emerson. Next day, however, the Commissioner, in conference with Macleod and other officers, concluded that it would be impossible to take the stores to Edmonton with the horses in such wretched condition. Moreover, it was unanimously agreed that those troops not scheduled to remain in the West should start eastward at once with all possible speed if they were to win through in the race against the encroaching winter.
Sub-Inspector Welch and his party brought back word on September 13, that no trail or grass lay within 30 miles to westward and that the buffalo were approaching in thousands. The camp was moved two miles to a new feeding ground, if, as the Commissioner noted, “nibbling on a barren plain can be called feeding” and the men settled down to await Denny’s return.
In the morning, they awoke to find the water crusted with ice. Before noon, Inspector Walsh with 70 men and 58 horses crossed the Belly river and started for Edmonton in accordance with the previously-conceived plan. Grain, who while on a buffalo hunt the day before with Reg. No. 8, Staff Cst. J. Francis got lost and had to spend the night on the prairie, came into camp after the troop had departed. Concerned at being separated from his troop, he waded the river and hurried to overtake it.
Late in the afternoon Denny reported back at camp; he had reconnoitred as far as 80 miles away and his news was far from encouraging – there was no grass, no wood and the country was very difficult. In view of this report orders were countermanded and word was sent to Walsh instructing him to return. Grain who had not yet caught up to his troop was surprised after walking a considerable distance to see it marching toward him instead of going the other way. They followed on the heels of the main column to the Sweet Grass Hills which consisted of three elevations in line with each other and with about four miles of intervening levelness and about 32 miles separating the three extremities – the Three Buttes, or Trois Buttes they were called by the half-breeds.
These landmarks were near the international boundary and, according to reports, offered plenty of good feed. Next day, the Commissioner dispatched a half-breed and a sub-constable to Cripple Camp with orders for Sutherland to get together all the oats and hay he could draw and take them across the Boundary Commission road where he would meet the returning part of the Force.
Walsh recrossed the river and followed one day’s march to the rear of the main column; on the way to the oasis that loomed in the distance he herded together the played-out horses and starving oxen that fell behind. The Force proper stopped at an unnamed lake which was christened “Commissioner Lake” by the half-breeds who erected a pile of stones on the bank, then fired a salute of 14 rounds, shouting at each discharge, “Hurrah pour le Colonel.”
The weather turned frosty and a wind-driven drizzle pelted the jaded horses unmercifully; each day some of them died from want of grass, each morning some were left behind. The buffalo, which since being sighted were seen almost daily, had transformed the entire area into a waste land and the few water holes the Force stopped at, had been trampled into a muddy gumbo.
Antelope and other game were plentiful, consequently, there was no scarcity of fresh meat. But the other provisions were dwindling rapidly. Flour rations were reduced to 14 oz. per man and dried sliced potatoes, the only vegetable, though well cooked were tough and tasteless.
On windy days, the quota was even less, for in the open, some of the precious flour escaped and swirled around like a miniature snow-storm. One man, Grain tells us, found a can of machine oil left behind by the boundary surveyors. Grease in any form was a godsend, and the machine oil seemed like a delicacy. The finder was suddenly very popular with his companions, but no amount of wheedling induced him to part with any of the precious liquid, and the others gazed on hungrily as he doled it out to himself drop by drop at every meal.
Cold and lack of food continued to sap the strength of the animals. More oxen played out as the gaunt creatures struggled mechanically southward through barren pastures toward the Sweet Grass Hills.
Becoming more alarmed, the Commissioner, to save the horses, instructed the men to proceed on foot every alternate hour. The burden of walking brought extra hardships of its own for the morning dew wet the men’s worn boots which, later in the hot sun, hardened on their wearer’s feet.
On September 18, they rested briefly at Milk river ridge. Off to westward could be seen the snow-capped summits of the Rocky Mountains. The tatterdemalion assemblage, unshaven, grimy, their ragged clothing fluttering in the breeze – some, whose boots had fallen to pieces, had wrapped their feet in gunny sacks and old underwear – gazed in awe at the magnificent splendour before them, a truly arresting spectacle the glory of which was enhanced by the dazzling whiteness of a recent snowfall. One hundred miles lay between, yet the clear air made distances deceptive and to many of the men those towering giants seemed within easy walking distance.
When nearing their proposed camping grounds, a protected coulee in the lee of West Butte, young Bagley pulled off his boots to relieve his aching and blistered feet. Near him, Inspector Walker smiled, then strolling over hoisted the gangly youth to his huge shoulders and carried him pick-a-back the remainder of the way.
At this point Grain in the rear guard under Walsh re-joined his comrades and Bagley was transferred from D to E Troop of which Mitchell was a member.
On September 21, arrangements were made for the parting of the ways. D and E Troops were to return home, B, C and F to continue toward the foothills. The strongest horses and oxen were turned over to the home-bound detachments which, late in the afternoon under the Commissioner accompanied by the assistant commissioner, struck southward seven miles to the boundary road along which they moved for a mile and camped. Back in the Sweet Grass Hills, Inspr. W. Winder had been left in charge of B, C and F Troops pending Macleod’s return.
Next morning, the Commissioner and Macleod with eight men and a collection of empty carts departed from the coulee where they had camped and started for Benton, the big supply centre at the head of navigation on the Missouri river. Left in charge of the two troops, was the officer commanding E Troop, Inspr. J. Carvell, an able militarist who had fought with the South during the civil war in the United States. The Commissioner had directed him to proceed slowly, halting wherever good feed was to be found, and upon reaching Wild Horse Lake, eight miles north-east of Milk river crossing, to await the supply carts from Benton.
At Benton, the Commissioner telegraphed Ottawa and learned that the original plans had been changed: the forks of Swan and Snake rivers near the Hudson’s Bay Co. post of Fort Pelly, rather than Fort Ellice to the south, had been chosen as the site for the Force’s headquarters. Here also it was learned that the main assembling point of the whisky traders, concerning whom information was very limited, was at Whoop-Up, situated where the Belly and St. Mary rivers meet.
Several busy days followed. On September 25, the Commissioner contracted for oats, corn and other provisions and bought stockings, gloves and moccasins which were sent to his camp on the outskirts of the town. The moccasins, especially, their pliable softness a welcome change from worn-out, hardened boots, were a priceless boon.
Next day, French and Macleod parted company, the former to re-join D and E Troops. With three half-breeds, a guide, a drover and two sub-constables to help him with the supplies, the Commissioner crossed the Milk river, met up with Carvell on September 29, and a day later with the reduced cavalcade including Bagley and Mitchell, commenced the long trek to Swan river.
In Benton, Jerry Potts a half-Peigan plainsman, who in succeeding years earned the reputation of being the greatest police scout and interpreter in the West, was added to the strength of the Force. With him as guide, the assistant commissioner returned to the Sweet Grass Hills to take over the command of B, C, and F Troops and to resume the march.
At the junction of the Belly and St. Mary rivers they came upon the much-talked-of forts Whoop-Up and Hamilton. At last! The main base of operations of the outlaws and desperadoes who for years had ruthlessly and systematically exploited Canadian Indians.
Here according to rumour, several hundred whisky runners had entrenched themselves, had openly boasted that they were prepared to resist any coercion the government might bring to bear on their activities. Reputedly they had enough guns, provisions and men to withstand a long siege; indeed, the stockade of ten-inch poles three feet in the ground and 15 feet high looked formidable enough to the law bringers exploring the fort’s secrets, a strong bulwark against the puny police-carbines.
Many nights around the camp fires Grain and his companions had discussed these forts, had visualized them and waited impatiently to storm them. In their hearts they little doubted their ability to break through any fortification with the assistance of the heavy artillery they had freighted for so many miles; despite the dreadful rumours that had come to them, they were confident they could capture the complete garrison of despots.
Great was their disappointment to find that the quarry had decamped with all his portable plunder. No volley of gun-fire challenged their approach. The strongholds were deserted except for a gray-haired old man who stood in the gateway of Fort Whoop-Up and greeted Macleod and his three troops. “Walk in, gentlemen,” he said. “You’re welcome.”
Inside were strongly-built store houses in which the thugs had kept their vile stock-in-trade. But there were no underground galleries, no hidden magazines. Doubtless the rumours creating these fanciful fortresses had been circulated in an attempt to frighten and discourage anyone from daring to enforce the Queen’s writ in that wild region.
Resuming the march next day, the men crossed the St. Mary and Belly rivers, pushed on to Old Man river and proceeded along its south bank. No buffalo were seen, though before reaching Whoop-Up the column passed through huge herds every day.
One herd in particular had been so great its number was incalculable. In every direction the prairie had been covered by a large, black, moving swarm surpassing in size anything the men had yet seen. Cautiously the caravan began picking its way through, a thin wedge in a gigantic mass of unpredictable power. The grazing animals ignored the intruders with calm indifference at first, then one bull abruptly stopped eating and raised his head.
After one look, he snorted and with head lowered started running. The presence of the police had so rattled him that he failed to note his direction, and heading straight for the caravan crashed into a cook wagon that lay directly in his path. The wagon collapsed, but Mr. Buffalo thundered on.
That berserk animal started something; others in his vicinity had become aroused and soon there was a full-scale stampede. The police were forced to halt, hemmed in by the thousands of buffalo that raced past, their pounding hoofs sending up cloying dust clouds and beating a rumble that rolled across the plains. For two hours the police were held prisoner and though they suffered no casualties, there was considerable arguing afterwards regarding the approximate number of bison in the herd. Estimates ran from 30,000 to 100,000.
The stop-over that night, October 12, was a bleak one – there was no fuel of any kind. Next morning the way led along the river, on the other side of which was plenty of wood. At 10 ’clock a halt was called and the men set about making camp on an island wondering why such an early stop at such a spot had been ordered. They were not left long in doubt and listened with mingled emotions to the announcement, “If you want to write home, now is your chance. Your address is c/o NWMP, Camp Macleod, Northwest Territories”.
* * *
Soon Grain and his companions were chopping cottonwoods and preparing them for construction purposes. Though only mid-October, winter had swooped down on them and the first few days were cold and marked with blizzards. But afterwards fine weather lightened their task and just before Christmas the buildings were sufficiently ready for occupancy. First to go up were makeshift accommodations for the sick men, then stables for the horses, then the men’s quarters and finally shelter for the officers.
The cluster of ramshackle huts, the first outpost of constituted authority in the Far West, was formally christened Fort Macleod in honour of the assistant commissioner, a name officially accepted by the authorities in Ottawa.
But construction work wasn’t all that engaged the attention of the police. Within two weeks of their arrival, a ten-man patrol under Inspr. L. N. F. Crozier arrested a Negro named William Bond and four accomplices who, some 45 miles distant, were trading fire-water to the Indians for their horses; the patrol confiscated a wagon-load of 166 buffalo hides, 50 of which were to provide warmth and comfort to the shivering policemen; some not suitable for anything else were cut up and made into mitts and caps.
The coming of the police brought a desirable metamorphosis to the district. Depredations by the trading riff-raff ceased, and decent people on both sides of the line were pleased and relieved when by Christmas the whisky trade in that part of the country was completely checked. That the red men, too, were grateful was clear from the remarks of one Indian chief who told the assistant commissioner: “Before you came the Indian crept along; now he is not afraid to walk erect.”
The year 1874 closed on a note of tranquility such as the district had never known.
On May 25, 1875, Inspector Walsh while in Fort Benton heard that whisky traders were selling liquor to the Indians in the Cypress Hills. To curb the activities of these gentry, Grain and the other members of B Troop, 30 in all, under Inspector Walsh were selected. A few weeks previously some traders came along selling among other things, some condemned American Army uniforms. Still wearing the clothes that had been issued to them in 1874, three members of Grain’s troop thought this a good opportunity to replenish their wardrobe and bought what they wanted.
On June 7, the troop reached the east of Battle Creek, 170 miles from Fort Macleod. Tents were pitched, guards posted and plans commenced for laying another police post, Fort Walsh. Two days later the party was surprised by a band of Sioux in full flight from American cavalry across the border. Seeing some of the police in American uniforms they believed all were “Long Knives” in disguise and threatened to wipe them out.
Calm and unmoved, Walsh, seated in front of his tent at a small table over which floated the British flag, gravely faced the truculent visitors. “You may clean us out but you will lose a good few of yourselves and before two moons have passed there will be more redcoats on these prairies than there are buffalo, and there will not be one of you left alive,” he warned.
The timely appearance some distance away of a superior number of friendly Crees decided the issue and the Sioux took to their heels.
At the end of six weeks the fort was almost completed, though improvements to buildings and stockades continued to be made throughout the summer.
There was other than construction work to attend to, and the police when not driving out whisky traders had to deal with horse thieves and other law-breakers who frequented the frontier at that time. In July, 20 recruits from the East were sent to fill up the depleted ranks of B Troop, bringing with them new uniforms that were gratefully received.
Every year 150 families of half-breed buffalo hunters wintered in the Cypress Hills, taking advantage of the water, fuel, and shelter that area afforded and the fort had plenty of neighbours. They lived in small log shacks of one or two rooms with mud floors and one window and spent the winter going from one house to another, dancing and playing cards day and night as the spirit moved them. The dirt floors, dampened to keep the dust down, soon became smooth and hard as cement under the continuous tramping of dancing moccasined feet. Happy and carefree these families hunted only in fair weather and indulged in their dancing and card playing the remainder of the time.
They attended two or three dances at the fort and were greatly taken with the board floor in the mess. The modern dances of the day, the waltz and schottische, delighted them and they quickly showed a willingness to learn. When the young men became bathed in perspiration, they used their coat tails to wipe it off their faces. Luncheon time always pleased them, as sandwiches and cakes were rare on their own bill of fare. Several half-breed girls wanted to be shown how to make a cake. About daylight they departed, thoroughly pleased and thoroughly tired.
But there was little time for relaxation. Before 1876 ended, the Fort Walsh district became the hub of a menace which threatened the security of the Canadian West. In June, Major Gen. G. A. Custer and his company of the 7th United States cavalry had, in the valley of the Little Big Horn river 300 miles south of the Cypress Hills, been annihilated by Sioux under the leadership of Sitting Bull.
As the year drew to a close, some of them fleeing from avenging United States troops crossed the border and set up their lodges 100 miles east of Fort Walsh in the vicinity of Wood Mountain where, in October, Grain had been detailed as permanent herder of some police horses. A few months later several thousand more Sioux refugees led by Sitting Bull himself arrived en masse in that area, and soon every effort of the Mounted Police was bent toward placating these unwelcome guests and prevailing upon them to maintain the peace and return quietly to their own country.
On May 31, 1877, his time having expired, Grain took his discharge from the Force. He went to Ontario intending to live in Elora, but settled in Bellwood instead. The next year he married Elizabeth Broadfoot of Fergus, Ont., and returning to the West, established himself at Nelson (near Morden), Man., where he farmed until 1906.
From Nelson he went to Calgary, Alta., where he dabbled in real estate until 1911 when he and his family moved to Kerrobert, Sask. Here he operated a hardware and implement business from which he retired in 1920.
After his wife’s death in August, 1929, Grain’s eyesight failed steadily. In the summer of 1935, then totally blind, he accepted an invitation of the old-timers’ association at Calgary and attended their reunion.
During his last years he lived with his daughter, Miss Nellie Grain, Kerrobert, who still survives along with another daughter, Mrs. A. K. Anderson, Vancouver, B.C., a son, J. R. Grain, Regina, Sask., six grandchildren and one great grandchild. With his death, the force lost its second last survivor of the ’74 originals.
* * *
When Commissioner French left Wild Horse Lake with D and E Troops he proceeded by way of White Mud river and the southern slopes of the Cypress Hills in an arduous but mainly uneventful trip.
On Oct. 4, 1874, Constable Sutherland with about 5,000 lbs. of oats and 22 horses joined the cavalcade, and four days later Cripple Camp was reached. The human derelicts and run-down horses that had been left there were rejuvenated and in fine fettle after their six-weeks rest.
Fodder shortage again began to dog the footsteps of the column; prairie fires were burning over large areas and the only feed available was frozen grass which fringed the small lakes. The Benton oats, supplemented by those Sutherland brought, saved the situation, though the horses’ stamina was so low in the final stages of the march that most of the men had to walk in order to save the horses for the transport.
Severe weather accompanied the troops to Old Wives’ Lakes which they reached on October 10. Good progress was made in the next few days and on the 15th they camped at the Hudson’s Bay Co. post on the Qu-Appelle river. From there the Commission, after detailing Carvell to follow with the men to Fort Pelly and there await further instructions, went on ahead to learn how things stood at Swan river.
He had his first view of the new barracks, which were on the south bank of Swan river near its confluence with the Snake river, on October 21. The buildings were uncompleted and he learned with dismay that there was neither accommodation nor supplies enough for all his men. Fire, which had burned half the hay reserve, raged in the woods not far away and Hugh Sutherland, in charge of building operations for the Dominion Board of Works, was busy with his labourers trying to save the saw-mill. The Commissioner immediately ordered the handful of Mounted Police with him to help the fire fighters.
Upon hearing that the Hudson’s Bay Co. had no more than enough hay for their own requirements, the Commissioner sent a courier to Carvell instructing him to leave the troops at Fort Pelly where there was good grass and to come ahead himself to Swan river with the other two senior officers, the surgeon and the veterinary surgeon, so that together they could form a board of inquiry.
At the conference which followed it was decided that as winter had set in the Commissioner should proceed post-haste to Winnipeg with his staff and D Troop, and that Carvell should remain with E Troop, the sick and all the weak animals.
Acting on this decision, the Commissioner returned to Fort Pelly on October 23, picked up D Troop and staff, selected the best horses and strongest oxen, and that evening crossed the Assiniboine River. From Fort Ellice he proceeded to Winnipeg by way of the White Horse Plains and arrived there on November 7. He reached Dufferin a week later.
So ended the longest march of any expedition away from its base carrying its own supplies through almost unknown territory – 1,959 miles, as measured by an odometer, in the face of every obstacle Nature seemingly could provide.
* * *
Back at Fort Pelly E Troop moved northward and established “Harvest Camp,” so called because the men’s chief occupation was cutting and reaping grass for feed.
On November 15, they moved into an abandoned shanty on Snake river, which served as temporary quarters until the new buildings were completed. Mitchell’s penchant for carpentry was given full sway in assisting to finish the buildings at Swan river and he was made E Troop carpenter.
On July 6, 1875, Commissioner French arrived at Swan river with his staff and D Troop from Dufferin where they had spent the winter.
In after-years Mitchell delighted in recalling the case of an Indian who had undergone a one-month’s sentence at Swan river barracks for his wife beating. Clothed in one of six parti-coloured convict suits that had been brought from Toronto, the prisoner was employed clearing away stones from the rock-strewn parade-ground. Came time for his release and he anxiously asked if he had to give up the prison garb. Receiving an affirmative answer, he complied with evident reluctance but promised to be back soon. Instead of deterring crime, as had been intended, the harlequin suits rather engendered it, for they appealed to the Indian’s love of colour, and as a result of this incident were discarded.
On July 20, 1876, Assistant Commissioner Macleod succeeded French to the commissionership. The government, doubtless prompted by the international situation created by the presence in the Cypress Hills of the arrogant Sioux fresh from their victory over Custer, directed that greater strength be concentrated along the boundary, and for various reasons that headquarters of the Force be moved to Fort Macleod.
Early in the bright sunny morning of August 6, in compliance with this edict, the new Commissioner, his staff and men set out from Swan river on the 1,150-mile trek to Fort Macleod. They were present during the negotiations at Fort Carlton when the Wood Crees signed Treaty No. 6 on August 23 and at Fort Pitt where the Plain Crees signed on September Mitchell, of all the signatories to that great treaty, was the last to die.
Turning southward D and E Troops came to the South Saskatchewan just below its confluence with Red Deer river. The water was very deep and about a quarter of a mile wide. Much difficulty was experienced getting across. First, the men tried to plunge their reluctant mounts into the ice-cold water, but each time the current drove them back. An attempted stampede also failed, and the two guides swore that nothing short of a miracle would induce the animals to cross.
But Staff Constable Mitchell and Reg. No. 176, Sub-Cst. C. Daly, loth to give up, performed the miracle. Stripping off their clothes and mounting two of the more docile steeds they rode into the water and a few yards from shore slipped off their backs. Swimming close to his horse’s head each man kept the animal going in the right direction and coaxed him to the opposite shore. Piloting the nervous animals across in this manner was a cold risky undertaking, but by example and words of encouragement the two men conquered the current, and when each won through to his objective he was clinging to his horse’s tail. Apparently assured that it could be done, the other horses followed without a great deal of persuasion.
Getting the supplies and equipment over presented problems of its own. A float was improvised by lashing two wagon-beds together to form a raft underneath which wagon sheets were drawn to prevent leakage. At each crossing this transport drifted down stream a mile or so and had to be towed up to the selected landing-place before it could be unloaded. Three days of unremitting toil were used getting everything over.
Before the march was resumed, hospital comforts were administered to the men needing them. Toward the end of September, the two troops arrived at Fort Walsh from where after a brief rest, the Commissioner and D Troop pushed on to Fort Macleod.
Spring of 1877 marked the expiration of the enlistment period of the ’74 recruits and on May 31 Mitchell took his discharge at Fort Walsh. His intentions were to return and live in his home town, Gananoque. But at Winnipeg on his way East, he consented to take charge of freighting some police ammunition disguised as ordinary merchandise through the United States to Bismarck, up the Missouri to Cow Island and on to Fort Walsh. It escaped falling into the hands of some hostile Nez Percee Indians by the close margin of 24 hours.
On his return Mitchell settled in Winnipeg where his architective talent soon attracted attention. Elected to the city school board in 1888, he was four years later appointed Commissioner of Schools. For 40 years his work entailed designing modern schools and supervising their construction. The thorough knowledge he had acquired during his association with the school board together with his natural aptitude as an architect stood him in good stead. Known as the “father” of the splendid public schools in that city, he saw the project grow from about a dozen buildings valued at less than a quarter of a million dollars to a collection of 60 worth eight million.
His artistic learnings and practical experience went into the designing of 28 Kelvin Technical High School, a magnificent structure which attracted wide attention. Of the entrance, Sir Gilbert Parker was moved to write, “Thank Heaven there is something thus added to the daily life of the young that will stimulate them to an understanding of what beauty may mean.”
But Mitchell’s interest didn’t stop with planning edifices of beauty; he was primarily concerned in the health of the teachers and children who made use of the buildings, and among other things introduced “washed air” ventilation, forerunner of the process known today as “air conditioning.”
In 1912, Mitchell, then a lieutenant colonel, headed the 100th Winnipeg Grenadiers, a regiment which had been formed as a city corps in 1910.
The outbreak of the First Great War found Mitchell, then at an age when most men contemplate retirement, very active.
Organizing his command into full battalion strength, he took it East where it was renamed the 11th battalion, C.E. F. Subsequently it went to England and through its ranks poured a steady stream of replacements for units in France. Mitchell accompanied it to France and, becoming attached to the 26th battalion of Nova Scotia, served with distinction at St. Eloi and Vimy, for which he was mentioned in dispatches.
His last days saw Mitchell still clear-eyed, and alert as becomes one who has maintained a keen interest in current events and the doings of “tomorrow.” When eventually he did retire, he received the homage of many friends and admirers at his beautiful home in Winnipeg; each year he exchanged birthday greetings with his old comrade, Major Bagley.
On Empire Day, 1939, Colonel and Mrs. Mitchell were among the select few to be presented to Their Majesties King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in Winnipeg during the Royal Visit.
Colonel Mitchell was twice married. His first wife was Helen Richmond Brough of Gananoque; his second, Margaret Booth of Scotland who survives him. Also surviving are one son, Dr. Ross Mitchell, and two daughters, Mrs. Digby Wheeler and Mrs. J. R. Davidson.
* * *
Bagley, unlike Mitchell and Grain, made the Force his career. His 25 years in the NWMP were brimful of action and romance, but due to limited space this account is restricted merely to some of the more exciting and important events.
His travels were far from over when as a sub-constable in E Troop he wintered at Swan River in 1874-75. On the morning of July 27, 1875, Major Gen. E. Selby Smyth, commanding officer of the Canadian Militia, arrived at the barracks. With his staff he was about to make an inspection tour of the Northwest Territories, particularly of the NWMP detachments.
Next morning, escorted by Commissioner French, a half dozen officers including Inspector Crozier, Bagley and 37 other NCO’s and men from D and E Troops, also 60 horses, the general and his staff set out for Fort Carlton to investigate a report of alleged sedition among the Metis there under the fire-brand, Gabriel Dumont.
In less than nine days the party covered the 250 miles, first leg of a trip that was to take the general along the Saskatchewan river to Fort Pitt, Victoria and Fort Edmonton, south to Fort Calgary on the Bow river, thence to Fort Macleod and through the mountains to the coast. The various NWMP escorts involved travelled in all some 1,500 miles.
At Fort Saskatchewan, established by the police earlier in the summer 18 miles north of Edmonton, Bagley was transferred to A Troop with Inspector Crozier as his new officer commanding.
In 1877, he was among those who left Fort Saskatchewan under Crozier for 29 Blackfoot Crossing to lay out the camping grounds for the main body of police pending their arrival from Fort Macleod with the treaty commissioners, Lt. Gov. D. Laird and Commissioner Macleod. After the treaty was signed on September 22, A Troop returned to Fort Saskatchewan.
In the spring of 1879, Bagley helped build the 11-foot stockade at Fort Saskatchewan. At that time there were less than 20 men stationed at this out-of-the-way post, and the addition was required as a protective measure against prisoners escaping custody. That winter he performed the duties of bugler in addition to his regular constabulary functions, and toward the close of the year was one of the guards over Kah-Kee-See-Koo-Chin, an Indian murderer.
The facts of this unusual case are worthy of mention. In the words of Sgt. Major Bagley:
* The whole thing started in the spring of 1879. I remember the facts well. Word came to Supt. W. D. Jarvis, who was in command of the North West Mounted Police stockade post at Fort Saskatchewan, that a Cree Indian known as Kah-Kee=See-Koo-Chin would bear watching. The previous year he had departed from Athabasca with his wife and five children, his brother-in-law and mother-in-law, ostensibly bound for the usual autumn-winter hunting and trapping; in the spring he had appeared at the small half-breed settlement and Catholic mission at Big Lake (now St. Albert, Alta.) without these relatives. He had come alone. And, what then seemed more to the point, he had tried to entice some of the mission’s school children – Indians made orphans by a devastating small -pox epidemic of former years to visit his “fine” camp.
When questioned by the priests at the mission the Indian stated that his wife, children, brother-in-law and mother-in-law had all died in the woods from starvation.
The priests appraised Kah-Kee-See-Koo-Chin thoughtfully. He was sleek, well-fed looking. In no way did he resemble one who had suffered and watched his dear ones in torture. The pangs of hunger had apparently overlooked him.
The mission fathers passed on their suspicious to Superintendent Jarvis.
Sergeant “Dick” Steele was promptly sent from Fort Saskatchewan to interview the Indian. The sergeant also doubted the starvation story, put irons on the suspect and took him back to the fort. He was a brother of the late Major General Sir Samuel B. Steele, K. C. M. G., C.B., M.V.O., at that time sub-inspector in the Force.
Upon his arrival there, the Indian told Superintendent Jarvis that during the hunting season he had found little or no game and that the death of one of his sons had so affected the boy’s mother that she had shot and killed herself. Later, starvation had claimed all the others. He himself had managed to keep alive only by, as a last resort, boiling and eating his tepee from which he gained enough strength to carry him to Big Lake.
Two days later a party comprised of Sub-Inspr. S. Gagnon, Staff Sergeant (Doctor) Herchmer, some mounted constables, Brazeau the half-breed scout and interpreter, and a Red River cart in which the prisoner rode, left the fort in quest of the “starvation” camp.
During the preliminary stages of the journey all efforts of the police were frustrated by false leads given by their prisoner. Through miles and 30
miles of bush, swamp and muskeg that was fortunately still partly frozen he directed them. Finally, Sub-Inspector Gagnon, realizing that drastic action was necessary, consulted with Brazeau. The interpreter understood perfectly what Father P. J. de Smet, the famous Catholic missionary, meant when he spoke of the “riddle of the Indian stomach.”
“Well, mon capitaine,” Brazeau advised. “I tell you. Give heem the strong muss-kee-kee-wash-bwee, an’ he well tell you everything.”
This “strong medicine” looked upon by so many Indian braves as the very elixir of life, consisted of a strong brew of tea to which a generous quantity of plug tobacco was added and allowed to soak. In Ka-Kee-Seek-Koo-Chin’s case the toxicity of the concoction was even more effective than the modern truth serum, scopolamine, might have been. Under its influence the Indian became very talkative, and Sub-Inspector Gagnon brought what might be called psychology into play.
When the prisoner was properly “lit up,” the sub-inspector asked. “What did you do with the bodies after your family died from starvation? The ground was frozen, so you couldn’t dig graves.”
“I piled them in a heap and covered them with branches and leaves of trees.”
“But,” said the officer, “that would be no protection against bears and wolves.”
The doped-up Indian swallowed the bait and fairly shouted “Tapway! Tapway! Ekoosee Mahgah! (True! True! That’s the way it is, but) Wahhankee Keezikow (Tomorrow I show you).”
The next morning while still under “influence,” true to his promise, the prisoner led the police party towards the thickest part of the bush. As he drew near the edge of it, he stopped short, threw back his head and gave vent to a long wolf-like howl.
Sub-Inspector Gagnon looked at him sharply and murmured, “Ha, we’re getting warm.”
He gave orders to search the immediate vicinity, and in a short time the abandoned camp was located in a small clearing on an island in the middle of a large muskeg easily accessible as it was still partly frozen. The searchers found the Indian’s traps hanging on the limb of a tree and his moose-hide tepee, not boiled and eaten as he had claimed, but very much in evidence, neatly folded and stowed away in the branches of the tree that held the traps.
The police party stared aghast. Gradually the truth came to them.
Human skulls and bones scattered around the dead camp-fire and tripod, and greasy finger-marks on the trunks of the surrounding trees provided hideous evidence of the prisoner’s cannibalistic orgies.
“There,” he yelled. “I told you the bears had eaten them.”
But there were no signs of claw marks, and the teeth that had bitten into the flesh on the scattered bones had been human teeth. Knife and axe had been used to dismember the bodies.
“Ye gods!” one of the troopers exclaimed, his features indicating that his stomach felt like being sick, “just try to visualize this camp during the cracking cold nights of last winter. Imagine that – that monster sitting here with the cadavers about him, stirring only to throw wood on the fire or to crawl into his tepee to sleep, or to – to use the axe or knife when he got hungry. Ugh!”
“Yes,” said another with a thoughtful shudder, “What a scene for the brush of Gustave Dore. It would rival his macabre portrayals in Dante’s Inferno.”
Grim-faced and solemn the police continued to search. One man felt his stomach muscles tighten when he came across a baby’s skull into which some needlework had been stuffed. Evidently the mother had been making some small article of dress for the baby when the lives of both were suddenly snuffed out.
They found other things – things so gruesome and nauseating that they are unfit to be recorded here.
Sub-Inspector Gagnon and his men took with them the skulls and some of the bones; the other remains were buried.
* * *
Back at the fort a preliminary examination was held. The prisoner identified his wife’s skull by callously sticking his finger into the eye-socket of one of eight lying on Superintendent Jarvis’s table.
“This,” he remarked with a merry laugh, “is my wife.”
Eventually he confessed that none of his family had died of starvation. He had killed and eaten them, or, as he put it, “made beef of them.” He also stated that one of his sons was alive and had assisted him until a few days before he (the prisoner) left his camp to go to Big Lake when the boy suffered the same fate as the others.
As an excuse for his crime he said that some years previously when he and a young boy were on a hunting trip in the far north his companion had died of starvation, and he, Kah-Kee-See-Koo-Chin, in order to save his own life, ate the boy and had thus acquired a not-to-be-denied taste for human flesh.
Later the prisoner was brought to trial before stipendiary Magistrate Hugh Richardson and sentenced to death.
After the trial the condemned man, in accordance with his express wish, was received into the Catholic church by the Reverend Father Hippolyte Leduc at a special service held within the fort. During the days that followed he seemed supremely happy and frequently laughed and jested with his guards. Neither remorse for his crime nor fear of the gallows troubled him. He apparently treated the whole affair as a good joke.
“Frenchy,” a huge and particularly well-nourished member of our troop, was a constant source of merriment to the prisoner. Each time the constable entered the guard-room the Indian’s saucer-like eyes gloated over the corpulent form, his lips parted in a broad grin. 32
“Wah! Wah! You would make fine eating; there must be that much (holding up three fingers) fat on your ribs.”
“Sapristi,” Frency snorted in reply each time. “Cochon! You too will make good eats pour les coyotes. But they all poisoned weel be.”
Kah-Kee-See-Koo-Chin took a great fancy to me, either because I could talk to him in Cree or, horrid thought, because I was then young and tender. I was one of the death watch, and the night before he was hanged he presented me with his beaded and furred Tap-Ise-Kah-Gan and his smoking pipe. I still have them.
* * *
Early in the morning of Dec. 20, 1879, Kah-Kee-See-Koo-Chin was hanged. In the biting forty-two-degrees-below-zero weather his surviving relatives and a number of specially-invited chiefs sat in a circle within the fort furiously drumming and singing the death song to speed their departing brother on his way to the happy hunting grounds.
As he stood on the scaffold, the murderer expressed his thanks to the Mounted Police and the priests for their kindness to him and urged his own people to take warning from his fate. He was a big man, well over six feet and weighed more than two hundred pounds. Accordingly, a comparatively short drop was required.
Afterwards Jim Reid, an old “forty-niner,” sat on the edge of the barrack-room table swinging his legs and puffing clouds of smoke from his Irish dhudeen pipe.
“Byes, oh, byes,” he commented. “The purtiest hanging I iver saw, an’ I’ve seen thirty wan iv them.”
Jim had pinioned the condemned man and felt a justifiable pride in his accomplishment. And once launched on the subject he gave us some gruesome descriptions of the many lynchings by vigilantes he had witnessed during the “days of old, the days of gold” in California.
“Well, Jim,” said a sergeant, “you may have been thirty-one or 131 in the old days, but never before did you see a man and his whole family, not to mention a brother-in-law and a mother-in-law, drop all together at the end of a single rope.”
The following summer, Bagley escorted two murderers and a lunatic from Fort Saskatchewan to Stony Mountain Penitentiary near Winnipeg. He spent the winter at Fort Qu-Appelle attached to B Division. Upon arriving there he promptly became a member of the band under Reg. No. 990, Cpl. W. Davis. Now an able musician, Bagley was a welcome addition to the group which, except for a few changes in personnel, was the Fort Walsh band that had dissolved two years previously.
Spring saw Bagley on his way to Battleford, a rising town at the junction of the Upper Saskatchewan and Battle rivers, which had become the capital of the North-west Territories after the seat of government had been moved from Swan River. Now a member of D Division, he served as far as Macleod in the escort that accompanied the Marquis of Lorne, Governor General of Canada, on his summer tour of the West.
When the winter of 1881-82 settled down on Battleford, two or three dances a week provided about the only diversion in the capital. Bagley was much in demand. At the picturesque if somewhat fervid demonstrations, he drew a melodious bow across a fiddle and picked harmony from the strings of a banjo with equal facility. Naturally, he became exceedingly popular with the local belles and their swains as the swept around the hall lost in the Terpsichorean art.
He was promoted corporal on May 1, 1883, and nine months later, Feb. 1, 1884, was made sergeant.
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Nearly a year before the Rebellion of 1885 broke out, he figured in an affair with the Indians which called for the utmost in coolness and steadiness.
In June, 1884, Big Bear and his following, very much against the Indian Department’s wishes, in response to an invitation visited the reservations of Chiefs Poundmaker and Little Pine. These reservations adjoined each other and were situated some 35 miles south of Battleford. It was an unwholesome alliance, and perhaps inevitably trouble resulted.
A few days after Big Bear’s arrival a member of his band entered the Indian Department store house on Little Pine’s reservation and wanted some flour for a sick child. John Craig, the farm instructor in charge, refused to accede to the request. The stranger angrily departed, but returned shortly with his brother and repeated the demand. Not being a member of that reservation, the Indian was not entitled to receive any rations here, and upon being refused a second time, an altercation took place. In the excitement Craig “shoved” the troublemaker aside and was in turn struck on the shoulder with a helve.
Craig complained to Reg. No. 565, Cpl R. B. Sleigh who, upon going to Little Pine’s reservation to look into the matter, found the annual thirst dance in progress. The Indians were in a very tempestuous mood and accounting it foolhardy to attempt to make the arrest alone, the corporal withdrew and dispatched a message to Superintendent Crozier, officer commanding at Battleford, asking for instructions.
Crozier received the report shortly after midnight and at 9 o’clock in the morning, June 19, with Inspr. W. D. Antrobus, the resident Indian Agent, J. M. Rae, Louis Laronde the half-breed police interpreter and 25 men, one of whom was Sergeant Bagley, hastened to the scene of the fracas. On Poundmaker’s reservation they were joined by Farm Instructor R. Jefferson.
Ordering his men to remain behind, the superintendent accompanied by Antrobus, Rae, Jefferson, and Laronde, none of whom knew the culprits by sight, continued on to Little Pine’s reservation. Their appearance at the medicine lodge, where after the manner of their ancestors the Indian youths were striving to qualify as braves, was the signal for a wild commotion. They stood their ground in the face of considerable provocation but, despite the officer’s exhortations, the Indians and their chiefs steadfastly refused to give up Craig’s assailants or even to say who they were. Temporarily checkmated by the impasse thus created, Crozier and his party had no alternative but to retire.
Back on Poundmaker’s reservation Crozier pondered the situation deeply and decided to postpone direct action until morning by which time the thirst dance would be over.
His thoughts next turned to the safety of the store house, three miles westward, where the trouble had originated. Would the supplies there attract a pillaging mob? Resolved to take steps against such a contretemps, he instructed that they be brought to the old agency building which he had appropriated as temporary quarters for his men.
It was an all-night chore and, though the police detoured with the loaded wagons so as not to pass through the Indian camp, the topography of the region made it impracticable for them to avoid the medicine lodge. As they approached this danger zone a pack of painted young bucks broke away from the dance festivities and, mounted on their horses which were daubed with ocre and paint like themselves, circled wildly about the police, renting the air with war-whoops and firing shots into the sky. Realizing 34 that his bold demonstration represented wrath barely suppressed, savagery ready to unleash its ferocity at the slightest excuse, the police stoically ignored the carousing red men and maintained a steady advance to their goal. Their perseverance was rewarded, for in the light of dawn the wagons were unloaded and all the supplies stored away.
With this task behind him, Crozier sent to Battleford for reinforcements, and after breakfast started making preparations to withstand an assault should one occur. Under his directions two bastions were hastily thrown up, one at each end of the old warehouse. Logs from a hut which they tore down were used for the purpose and by noon the work was finished.
That evening the thirst dance ended and early next morning, June 21, Reg. No. 27, Sgt. Major M. J. Kirk arrived from Battleford with about 60 Mounted Police and a number of civilian volunteers. The Indians were silent, resting after the exhausting exercises of the night before. In the police bivouac the forenoon was spent making final preparations for the trouble that seemed certain.
By mid-afternoon the Indians were stirring about so Crozier, after appointing ten men, one of whom was Bagley, to each bastion and stationing others at strategic points, reopened negotiations. With him were Reg. No. 864, Cst. C. Young, Laronde, Rae and Jefferson.
The palaver took place in Big Bear’s tent where during a prolonged session of speeches and debates the chief proposed that Crozier return to his quarters and await the Indians who would follow in a few minutes – to give the officer an opportunity to pick out the wanted man, if he could.
The plan was satisfactory up to a certain point only, for when the Indians got within half a mile of the warehouse, they would not go any closer. Anxious to arrange an amicable settlement, Poundmaker and Big Bear at this stage entered the police fort. Both, however, lacked the authority and influence necessary to control their tribesmen, and when their deliberations terminated in a deadlock the two chiefs returned to their tribes without having accomplished anything. Crozier, realizing that nothing was to be gained by further parleying and now thoroughly out of patience with the way things had gone, determined to capture the guilty Indian without more ado by stricter measures.
Instructing Antrobus to bring forward all available men in about ten minutes, he strode out to meet the assembled Indians. With him were Laronde and Craig, the complainant. Up to now Crozier, hoping to effect the arrest peaceably, had refrained from taking Craig along, believing his appearance among the Indians might incite them to violence. But, all other means having failed, there clearly was now only one course open – identify the miscreant and take him prisoner by main force. And Craig was needed to make the identification.
The Indians looked on in wonder as the three officials approached them. Then they began to deploy as they saw Inspector Antrobus in the background advance with his men, a grim assembly determined to fulfil its duty. The atmosphere was tense and, as the police drew nearer, the older chiefs. Including Big Bear, sensing the situation might at any moment get out of hand cried out, “Peace! Peace!”
“Bring me the prisoner,” Crozier shouted back, “or I shall arrest you all, if we have to fight for it.”
These words seemed to incense the hitherto conciliatory Poundmaker. Bagley saw him raise his awesome war club in a threatening attitude to Inspector Antrobus who happened to be standing nearby. But when Reg. No. 863, Cst. F. E. Prior looked down the sights of his carbine into Poundmaker’s swarthy face the chief lowered his war club.
In another direction Bagley saw Chief Wandering Spirit, instigator in the following 35 year of the Frog Lake massacre, raise his rifle several times and point it at the sergeant major who sat his horse like a graven image in front of the line. Bagley waited hardly daring to breathe. If Kirk were aware of his danger, he didn’t show it. Continuing immobile he kept looking stonily straight ahead, without so much as batting an eyelash. For some unaccountable reason the war chief didn’t shoot and the bad moment passed.
At first, owing to the war paint and grotesque markings on the faces and bodies of the Indians, Craig was unable to locate his assailant. Then suddenly he detected him. At this critical moment Chief Lucky Man, believing that he was acting for the good of all, brought the wanted man, whose name turned out to be Cow-itch-it-e-wanat, to Crozier. But as the superintendent stepped forward the suspect recoiled and yelled, “Don’t touch me.”
“I shall not touch you,” Crozier answered, “if you come with me quietly.”
Cow-itch-it-e-wanat, however, had no intention of surrendering and continued obdurate. Suddenly two constables, one of whom was Reg. No. 887, Cst. W. “Sligo” Kerr who a year later on July 2, was credited with placing Big Bear under arrest, broke ranks and seized him. The Indian struggled furiously but he could not shake his captors. In a flash a protective ring of policemen, mounted and on foot (for there were not enough horses to go round), formed about him and slowly the entire group began to retire.
Bedlam broke loose. Some of the younger savages were spoiling for a fight and for several minutes, bloodshed seemed imminent. They charged forward and tried in every way to fluster the police. Shots were fired but though close these went harmlessly overhead. During the pandemonium the prisoner’s brother tried to rescue him but was himself identified as the other assailant and captured.
With their prisoners firmly held, the police, trailed all the way by the irate and baffled savages, eventually reached the fortified agency building without injury. The frustrated throng milled about but, when the store house was thrown open and provisions doled out, Cow-itch-it-e-wanat and his plight were quickly forgotten. During the diversion caused by the food, the prisoners were bundled off to Battleford.
Cow-itch-it-e-wanat appeared before Judge C. B. Rouleau at Battleford on Aug. 29, 1884, charged with assault, and was sentenced to one week’s imprisonment at hard labour.
A few weeks after the foregoing episode. Hayter Reed, assistant Indian commissioner, arrived at Battleford and ordered that all ponies belonging to the Indians of Poundmaker’s and Little Pine’s bands be branded with the large ID iron. Bagley ws detailed to take a detachment of ten men to Poundmaker’s reservation and see this work through. There he established a camp near the corral and as the branding started the Indians gathered to watch the operations in sullen silence.
The year 1885 was a stirring one in the West. During the Rebellion Bagley served with courage and initiative from beginning to end. Battleford was isolated and undefended when hostilities commenced in that area with the murder of Farm Instructor James Payne on the reservation of Chiefs Red Pheasant and Mosquito. Poundmaker’s Indians committed the crime when the official resisted their attempt to steal rations.
On March 27, the day after the Duck Lake fight, Bagley was in charge of 25 NCO’s and men sent with ammunition and other supplies to reinforce Commr. A. G. Irvine at Fort Carlton. Within a few miles of his destination he received orders from the Commissioner to return to Battleford. The Saskatchewan river at this time was breaking up which made the crossing risky, but the men negotiated it without mishap and eventually arrived back safely at Battleford.
During the preparations for the defence of the capital, Bagley was in charge of the
west face and though he took no part in any general engagements in the Rebellion campaign, he was actually under fire on at least one occasion. This occurred when a band of Indians, two of whom were killed, attempted to seize the police water-carts. Many times, the sergeant made scouting forays, a line of duty fraught with the ever-present risk of being shot from ambush by a wily enemy who specialized in picking off sentries and pickets rather than attacking main columns.
Having tasted blood, the aroused savages began pillaging and terrorizing the settlers in the surrounding district and soon the distraught people, nearly 400 in number, fled to the police enclosure for protection.
At this time, Poundmaker’s whereabouts was a mystery; some believed he and his following had gone south to join the Blackfoot and Blood Indians, but his exact movements were unknown. In response to a call for volunteers by Inspr. W. S. Morris, Bagley ventured out to see if he could ascertain where the Indians were and what they were doing. Though offered the assistance of 50 or more men, he took with him only three constables, Reg. Nos. 747, 776 and 995, W. H. Potter, H. Storer and J. Hynes. After three days the party located the Indians camped at Cut Knife Creek and hastened back to the fort. The information was passed on to Colonel Otter who with his column, Supt. W. Herchmer and a troop of Mounted Police was at Swift Current 200 miles away.
Hurrying northward Otter reached Battleford on April 24; his coming lifted the siege, as it has been called, of the settlement. Meanwhile additional killings had occurred. Barney Tremont, a stock raiser, had been murdered in his home and during the night of April 22, Frank A. Smart, a trader, ventured beyond the protective limits of the fort while on patrol and was fatally shot.
Bagley participated in several other scouting excursions; he was with the party that recovered Smart’s body; another time with seven men he pursued Chief Little Poplar and his Indian and half-breed following, but losing the trail five days after his provisions gave out was forced to return empty-handed.
Acting on the information Bagley had obtained regarding the location of Poundmaker, Colonel Otter moved out of Battleford on the afternoon of May 1, 1885, and next day the historic battle of Cut Knife Hill was fought.
Days of anxious waiting followed and excitement was at fever pitch on May 14, when Scout J. A. Killough, raced madly into Battleford, threw his reins to Bagley and announced that Reg. No. 973, Cst. F. O. Elliott had been slain in the Eagle Hills.
Bagley led the band (organized by himself at the fort in 1882) that marched out on May 21, to welcome Inspr. F. J. Dickens and his party after their retreat from beleaguered Fort Pitt.
Ten days later he was in Superintendent Herchmer’s column which left Battleford for Frog Lake, Cold Lake, Fort Pitt (where they joined Gen. T. B. Strange) and Frenchman’s Butte.
He made several important arrests, one being the recapture of an alleged rebel named Bremner who had escaped custody, another being the apprehension of Icka or Ikla (Crooked Leg) who confessed to having murdered Payne and Tremont – two crimes which the prisoner expiated on the gallows on Nov. 27, 1885.
On September 29, after the insurrection had been suppressed, Bagley while patrolling the Onion, Frog and Saddle Lakes districts assisted in arresting four Stony Indians guilty of murder, theft of cattle and other offences.
Later that autumn Indian Commissioner Reed made his pacification visits to the various reservations and 37 Bagley was among those who accompanied him. The young musician’s departure from Battleford was the final stroke that caused the D Division band’s disintegration which had started with the loss of Reg. No. 1003, Cst. W. Gibson who had been shot through the heart at Duck Lake on March 26, and Reg. No. 402, Cst. P. Burke who had died of bullet wounds received at Cut Knife Hill.
At the conclusion of the Indian Commissioner’s tour of the reservations Bagley was transferred to G Division at Fort Saskatchewan under command of Supt. A. H. Griesbach. Next year, 1886, he went to E Division, Calgary, where though his time was largely employed in patrol duties, he organized a Scottish pipe band, the first in the West.
Another year passed and 1887 saw him at Regina with a brother NCO, Reg. No. 333, Reg. W. Fury, in a party of a dozen men under Inspr. C. Constantine preparing to open a detachment at Banff, Alta. Since the Rebellion, the Banff area had been police-controlled in accordance with an act of Parliament, but when the Banff Springs Hotel, on which construction commenced in 1886 and which was a forerunner of Banff’s present-day elaborate chateau, was opened to tourists, special supervision was necessary. The first musical aggregation to play at this famous holiday resort was a regimental band under the direction of Sergeant Bagley.
He and the 18 men of his detachment maintained regular patrols to Canmore and Anthracite; already the inroads of civilization were supplanting the noble horse for the patrol to Field was made on a railroad velocipede.
On Jan. 12, 1888, Bagley who was then at Macleod left that point on three months’ leave to see his parents and visit friends at his home in Toronto after an absence of 14 years.
Upon his return to the west he was stationed at Calgary and on special occasions entertained at Banff with his band which also played at church parades. Believed to be one of the only mounted bands that this country has had, this excellent musical unit often thrilled Calgarians by marching through the streets.
On June 11, 1890, then a staff sergeant, Bagley married one of the town’s most respected and admired daughters, a young girl from Lindsay, Ont., who had gone to Calgary in 1885. They made an attractive couple, she with her charming air and hospitable grace, he with his soldierly bearing and gentlemanly conduct.
All his life Bagley’s main avocation was music and his skill in this field drew wide praise. At Banff he had many bands and frequently played for such notables as Sir Henry Irving and Helen Terry, the great actress.
Early in 1895, rumours of a fabulous gold discovery began to filter out of the North and, in keeping with its tradition of proceeding settlement to remote places, the NWMP sent Inspector Constantine with a detachment of 20 men to open a detachment in the Yukon. Bagley and the band paraded to the station when the voyagers were on their way through Calgary, and a large number of citizens assembled to wish them god-speed on their long arduous journey.
Two years later Bagley applied for Yukon service but being a married man, his application was refused. He was, however, destined to go on a longer trip, and in June 1897, was one of a party of NCO’s and constables who took part in the celebrations of London, Eng., held in honour of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. While in England, Bagley and his band gave a command performance at Windsor Castle and he himself was presented to Her Majesty.
Back in Canada in July, he was transferred to A Division, Maple Creek, where on Dec. 1, 1898, he was promoted sergeant major, and five months later, May 1, 1899, retired to pension.
A month or so after the Boer War began, Bagley was appointed adjutant of the 15th Light Horse Regiment. With the 5th Canadian Mounted Rifles he served in South Africa under command of Col. (later Lt. Gen. Sir Archibald) A. C. Macdonell, and gained the rank of captain.
Returning to Calgary it was but natural that he should head the regimental band of the 15th Light Horse. As bandmaster he took this company of musicians on tour to the Old Country and the continent, leaving for England Aug. 1, 1907. In London he again played for Royalty and one famous music critic wrote of him, “He is well qualified to belong to the guild of capable and artistic conductors.”
In Ireland, his music was received with even greater enthusiasm and in Dublin he was borne around the auditorium on the shoulders of a wildly-shouting crowd of impulsive O’Reillys, O’Malleys and O’Kellys, as one writer called them. Everyplace he went he was loudly acclaimed and his audiences were more than a little astounded that the accomplished musical unit playing for them was a product of Canada’s wild and woolly West. Bagley returned to his homeland loaded with honours and glory.
In the First Great War he served with the 82nd Battalion as captain and quarter- 39 master, and with the 92nd, to which he was transferred in 1915 as second in command with the rank of major, the title by which he became so well known.
When peace was restored, he returned to Calgary and his old love – music. Perhaps more than any other pioneer bands-man, he was instrumental in establishing a musical culture in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
Music was our only salvation in an empty land, he was wont to say, recalling the loneliness of the prairie: “It was the one thing that kept us sane.” Founder of the Calgary Elks’ band and of the first Musicians’ Union in the city, he also organized the first Canadian rifle team that went to England for Empire competition. At Banff, after moving there in1924, he was largely responsible for the Museum of Natural History which annually attracts thousands of tourists.
He religiously attended every old-timers’ gathering. In fact, he was one of the prime movers in the formation of the Mounted Police Veterans’ Association which had its beginning when he and ex-members of the NWMP from many parts of Canada held a convention at Calgary, July 11-13, 1901. Plans for a constitution were drawn up and a decision reached to hold another convention the following year. But the Boer War interrupted the project and no further steps were taken until Bagley returned from that campaign.
He was among the veterans who decorated Judge (ex-Commissioner) Macleod’s grave on July 12, 1901; he took part in the jubilee meetings of many Western communities; was present at the unveiling of the memorial to Sir C. E. Denny, ex-inspector of the Force, on June 12, 1938, and was on hand at innumerable banquets and meetings held by E Division of the RNWMP Veterans’ Association.
On June 7, 1940, the association honoured him as Banff’s “grand old man of the Force” and tendered congratulations to him and his wife who four days later celebrated their golden wedding-anniversary. It was fitting that in October of the same year he was guest of honour at the premier showing in Regina of the film, “North West Mounted Police.”
From the time he gazed with the wide-eyed wonder of youth on the great expanse of Canada’s prairies until his death, Major Bagley was thoroughly identified with the West and the Mounted Police he served so well. High-minded, idealistic and with a modesty unmarred by an eventful life, he was youthful and alert until the end – it is said he read with the naked eye, scorning the aid of spectacles.
In his home were many trophies including a picture of Old Buck; his white pith helmet cut in half so that each section could hang flat against the wall: swords, bits, spurs and other relics.
Major Bagley was not merely an ex-member, an old-timer; he was an institution, one whose name and reputation by some magic became known to recruits of the Force, sometimes before the ink on their warrants of appointment was dry.
He was writing his memoirs and a history of the NWMP when he went to his well-earned rest on Oct. 8, 1945, after a short illness. The citizens of Banff mourned his loss and expressed their sorrow by closing all places of business during the funeral. His widow is now living in Edmonton with her daughter, Mrs. B. Hinchliffe; surviving also are two other daughters, Mrs. R. Bent, Lethbridge, and Mrs. B. Connelly, Lundbreck.
* * *
Canada owes a great deal to men like Major Bagley, Mr. Grain and Colonel Mitchell. Modern time, with its marvellous and bewildering development, is a far call from those parlous days when they and their comrades set forth on their now-famous pilgrimage to infuse fear of the law in the hearts of the whisky runners and desperadoes who were dispensing “bad medicine” to the Indians, to plant civilization in an untamed realm. 42
Western Canada is probably the only country in the world that was opened up without an attendant long catalogue of outlawry and misdeeds. But this did not just happen. Those responsible were called upon to endure loneliness, privation and danger. From the very outset they clamped a firm hold on those reckless and adventurous spirits who would flout the Queen’s law and created in the minds of the pioneers who followed a sense of reliance on the authority of law. The people were impressed that the NWMP, working on the undying principle of even-handed justice, meant business and that reliance grew with the increase of population.
The Force is no longer a Western body. Since 1920 it has exercised jurisdiction over the length and breadth of Canada. But in the rapid change from the horse to mechanical mobility, we should not lose sight of past achievement. The originals laid the foundation which to a great extent determined the growth of the present-day RCMP. Their work was ably furthered by the RNWMP and from traditions created in those formative years springs much of the prestige the Force enjoys today.
As we stand on the threshold of the Atomic Age, with big changes undoubtedly in store, it is well that we cherish the heritage the originals of ’74 left us and resolve to emulate the example they set.
Said Commissioner French
“… on the 8th of July 1874, we started on an expedition which veteran soldiers might well have faltered at. Tied down by no stringent rules or articles of war, but only by the silken cord of a civil contract, these men by their conduct gave little cause of complaint… Day after day on the march, night after night on piquet or guard, and working at high pressure during four months from daylight until dark, and too frequently after dark, with little rest, not even on the day sacred to rest, the Force ever pushed onward, delighted when occasionally a pure spring was met with; there was still no complaint, when salt water or the refuse of a mud-hole was the only liquid available. And I have seen the whole Force obliged to drink liquid, which when passed through a filter was still the color of ink. The fact of horses and oxen failing and dying for want of food never disheartened or stopped them, but pushing on, on foot, with dogged determination, they carried through the service required of them, under difficulties which can be appreciated only by those who witnessed them – ever onward had to be the watchword.”