Redcoats and Redmen in the Old North-West

RCMP July 1960

Redcoats and Redmen in the Old North-West 35-38

By Supt. J. S. Cruickshank

Things were slack on the Crooked Lakes Reserve near Broadview (Sask.) and having been cramped in their tepees all Winter the braves and squaws of Yellow Calf’s band felt the urge for a little recreation. Plans were made and on Feb. 13, 1884, the band moved en masse to congregate at a small untenanted house in the Qu’Appelle Valley to dance.

The dance continued for about a week without intermission but while the participants had evidently gotten their “second wind”, they were running short of provisions which they required to keep up their strength. Being in a state of excitement sufficient to subordinate all other considerations to the craving for more dancing, they remedied the lack of food by sending out 60 braves who broke into the farm Reserve buildings and carried away a large quantity of flour and bacon. The 1884 equivalent of “Rock’n Roll” was then resumed.

While no invitation had been extended by the Indians to the Police, the Farm Instructor soon remedied the omission with the result that Inspr. R. Burton Deane and ten constables arrived at Broadview on February 21. Seeing the large number of Indians present, additional members were sent for while a search was made for the ringleaders of the “dance committee”. It being late at night and the Indians hostile, camp was made at a farm eight miles away.

The next day Supt. W. M. Herchmer arrived with ten additional constables and a three-hour palaver was held with the Indians who firmly refused to yield up any of their number to justice. The Police then advanced upon the house but were sternly waved off by the Indians, numbers of whom filed out of the house armed to the teeth. It was remarkable that one small house could erupt so many Indians.

Again palaver took place, with the Police giving Chief Yellow Calf the names of the ringleaders they wished to arrest. While the Chief professed to be desirous of avoiding bloodshed he had no intention of giving up any of his band. The Police were ordered to “fall in” to take action, but the house suddenly bristled like a hedgehog with gun muzzles threatening at almost point blank range. To persist in a show of force while covered in this manner would have been foolhardy and produced a massacre of the Police.

An impasse being reached, a headman named Osoop with some of the leading Indians suggested they talk the matter over with the Police, with the result the latter withdrew to their camp overnight. The Chiefs were persuaded to report to the camp the next day for further palaver and did so, but with military precautions being accompanied by their “soldiers.”

After talking from 9 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. four of their number, Yellow Calf, Rannawas, Renne-pa-ke-sis and Moyes, gave themselves up for trial while the remainder promised to disperse. As Yellow Calf had set a good example to his followers after arrival of the Police, the charge against him was withdrawn, while the other three pleaded guilty at Regina on February 28 and were given a form of suspended sentence.

This was considered the most satisfactory conclusion to a troublesome affair for there were large bands of Indians on newly formed Reserves and to commence a battle every time the Police were called to disperse large groups of

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Indians would perhaps have meant the entire West being in a continuous state of war. It took much patience and sagacity on the part of the members of the Force to deal with these incidents, not to mention the necessity of possessing good lungs to keep up the almost endless palaver entailed.

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Kis-Ka-Wasis” – Horse Thief

One of the earliest problems confronting the force in the early days in the West of that of horse stealing. Thousands of Indians were being educated to remain on their new Reserves in 1888 but it was too much to expect the young braves to remain static and they made many forays to replenish their horses primarily at the expense of other bands but also of the newly arrived white rancher and settler. Even the force, on occasion, lost horses both to Indians and the odd “white” horse thief.

George Godin alias “KIs-Ka-Wasis”, a half-breed following the Indian way of life, was an accomplished horse-thief as early as 1886, becoming notoriously so in what is now Alberta. His way of life brought him few friends among the Indians and finally, to evade capture by the authorities, he left Canada for Montana in the fall of 1886.

It was a case of continued modus operandi, for old habits as a rule die hard and Godin was no exception to the rule. He continued his depredations without capture until finally, in the Summer of 1887 while on a foray for fresh horses, he was intercepted on the ranch of a Mr. Embody who in the resultant running fight was shot and killed by Godin. Godin was captured, convicted and sentence to death at Helena, Montana, but escaped from the jail on July 15, while awaiting hanging and although hunted by police throughout Montana he finally managed to re-enter Canada.

Having been notified that Godin was “wanted” and had returned to Canada it was thought he would head for his old home and relatives around the Indian Reserve near Stony Plain north-west of Edmonton. Small parties of Police were sent out from Fort Saskatchewan from time to time to attempt Godin’s recapture but with considerable assistance from the Indians he evaded arrest. Evidently Godin had other attributes for he was a great favorite among the squaws who kept him well posted on Police movements. Finally, on Oct. 11, 1888 an officer led a strong party of Police to camp on the Reserve until Godin was captured.

All likely outlets on the Reserve were guarded and woods and lakes were searched. Godin was seen and shots exchanged on several occasions. He was evidently well mounted and knew every trail better than Police. Being unable to arrest Godin, although they had captured his horse on October 16, the Police withdrew with as much “parade” as possible. Two constables with Indian Scout Foley, disguised as Indians, returned to the Reserve the same night.

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The three members came upon Godin’s camp in the woods at about 1 a.m., but he was alert as usual and challenged them in Cree. Scout Foley replied, telling him to lay down his gun and submit. His answer was five rifle shots with the Police returning the fire by aiming at the rifle flash. His position getting hot, Godin made off into the bush and left the Reserve being next heard of some 30 miles north. Finding that escape route guarded he then returned to the Reserve.

Supt. A. H. Griesbach then swore in Indian Chief Enoch and another Indian as special constables to effect Godin’s capture. This was the first time any of the Chiefs had permitted this procedure but it could well have been that the Chief and the Band were a little tired of their Reserve being used as a battle-ground between Godin and the NWMP. On November 7 Chief Enoch with three members of his Band arrested Godin and handed him over to the Police at Fort Saskatchewan.

It being axiomatic that in stories of the West the “bad guys” have to be punished, it is satisfying to report that on Nov. 8, 1888, Godin was committed for trial for horse theft and escorted to Regina from which point he was later extradited to Helena, Montana, to perform the ritualistic “dance on air” as required by law.

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The Medicine Pipe Society

Before the turn of the century the officers of the North-West Mounted Police were often called upon to pass judgment on a variety of problems and in their particular instance learned that secret societies were not the monopoly of the white man.

There was an eminent secret society among the Indians of the prairies known as the Medicine Pipe Society, entrance to which entailed due formalities of election and contribution. Women were eligible as well as men and the society held certain superstitions of a religious character. Entrants were instructed by the “Medicine Men” into their so-called arts and all members were enjoined to be good and honest, respect their neighbors’ property and to have no enemy.

The wife of an Indian named “Heavy Shield” at one time on her death bed, as she thought, vowed that she would buy a certain Medicine Pipe in the event of her recovery and so become a member of this society. In course of time she regained her health and desired to fulfill her vow. There was a limited number of Medicine Pipes, 15 to be exact, among the Bloods and that which she was eager to acquire was in possession of a squaw

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of “Red Crow’s” who was equally anxious to part with it upon receiving its value in kind, this being 15 horses, according to the custom of the tribe.

Red Crow as president of the local Blood branch felt bound to call the members of the society to consider the election of the new applicant, and the prescribed formalities extended over 11 days, there being four distinct dances. He convened this meeting at a time, unfortunately, when the Indians should have been setting about their hay-making operations; this, naturally, displeased the Indian Agent who pointed out the clause in the Indian Act forbidding “giving-away” dances. Red Crow proving somewhat intractable on the point, the agent sent for the police.

Supt. R. B. Deane of Macleod arrived on the Reserve and was immediately beset by Red Crow who said that he desired the prayers of the society; he liked the Christian prayers although somewhat new, but to play it safe would also prefer the Indians’ prayers. This then presented the question whether this particular exchange of the Medicine Pipe between the squaws could be looked upon in the light of a thank offering from an Indian’s religious point of view or whether it be analogous to the initiation fee payable on joining a secret society.

After much palaver among Indians, the agent and the Superintendent, it was agreed that provided the band gave up agitating for permission to hold a Sun Dance that year they would be permitted to hold the Medicine Pipe dance, only if there were no exchange of property beyond that required for the acquisition of the Medicine Pipe. After the 11 days’ formalities were completed the band returned to their homes.


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