RCMP HERITAGE STORIES
RCMP Quarterly October 1941
The Historic Forty-Ninth 54*40’
By John Peter Turner
Sixty-nine years ago a band of men laboured and toiled westward along the 49th parallel into an unsettled land. And out of their work evolved the most friendly boundary in existence – the line between Canada and the United States.
Disputes concerning international boundaries clutter the pages of history.
Difficulties bearing upon territorial limitations have resulted in countless wars and the dissolution of many dynasties. But resort to arms for the purpose of establishing tangible or imaginary walls between territorial claimants has not always followed. Goodwill, equitable interchange of human energies, co-operation, trust – these are a few of the inevitable blessings that have accrued from well-defined and well-respected boundaries. Nowhere has this been more fully exemplified than in the New World. No international demarcation stands more firmly rooted or enjoys more wholesome respect than the border line between the Dominion of Canada and the United States.
Happily, there have been no Maginot or Siegfried lines in North America.
The story of the actual marking of the 900-mile link from Lake of the Woods to the Rocky Mountains by the North American Boundary Expedition of 1872-4, is one of remarkable foresight, unbending courage and high achievement.
* * *
To look back. Upon the completion of the ‘Louisiana Purchase,’ in 1803, the boundaries of the vast territory thereby ceded to the United States presented a geographical problem. Subsequently, in an endeavour to arrive at a definite solution to the vexatious question, it was claimed that, by the Treaty of Utrecht, concluded in 1713, the 49th parallel of latitude had been adopted as the dividing line between the old French possessions of the west and south and the British territories of Hudson Bay on the north. Concerning the limitations of the vague, unknown Louisiana, especially beyond the Rocky Mountains, no-one could speak with finality. There were the unsettled claims of Spain, Russia, and Great Britain besides those of the United States. The latter proposed, as a basis from which to work, that the dividing line should run from the north-western extremity of the Lake of the Woods, north or south as the case might require, to the 49th parallel of latitude, thence to the Pacific. At the convention of London, Oct. 20, 1818, the commissioners appointed respectively by Her Britannic Majesty and by the President of the United States agreed to admit this line as far west as the Rocky Mountains.
Negotiations bearing chiefly on the regions of the Pacific were carried on over a period of years. In 1845, the British minister at Washington suggested a completed east and west line which would have given Great Britain two-thirds of Oregon, including the free navigation of the Columbia River.
This proposal was promptly rejected, and no further attempt at adjustment was made until the next year. President Polk then insisted that the boundary should be fixed at 54* 40’. An animated debate on the subject began and lasted until near the close of the Washington session of 1846, and the question lost most of its national importance in bitter party conflict. An election was pending. Most of the Democrats adopted the recommendation of the President, and coined the defiant cry: ‘Fifty-four forty or fight!’ This ultimatum caused a few leaders of the government party, of whom Col Thomas H. Benton was perhaps the most prominent, to unite with the opposition.
Finally, that same year, a treaty was signed and the 49th parallel became the international boundary.
Meanwhile, as a result of the Oregon dispute, the British Government sent out a military force ‘for the defence of the British settlements.” These troops – 347 regulars under Major Crofton – were made up of a wing of the 6th Royal Regiment of Foot, a detachment of Royal Engineers and some artillery. The traditional redcoat was thus introduced to the plains. Some of the men were stationed at Fort Garry (the embryo Winnipeg) on the Red River and the others twenty miles down the stream at Lower Fort Garry, known also as the ‘Stone Fort’. These troops returned to England in 1848.
In 1870, Canada completed the purchase of the great realm of Rupert’s Land from the Hudson’s Bay Company. The time had come for the marking of the Canada-U.S. boundary and the establishment of law and order in the West. Two years later arrangements were made with the United States for the survey and demarcation of the line; and the following year, 1873, was to witness the formation of the North West Mounted Police.
* * *
In 1872, under the titles of ‘Her Majesty’s North American Boundary Commission’ and ‘United States Northern Boundary Commission’, a dual organization was set up by Canada and Britain on one side and the United States on the other. These commissions were to cooperate in locating and marking the line agreed upon.
The Canadian Commissioner was Capt. Donald Roderick Cameron, R.A. (later major general, appointed in 1888 to the command of Royal Military College at Kingston; a son-in-law of Sir Charles Tupper, Prime Minister of Canada, 1896). He was supported by four officers of the Royal Engineers: Capt. Samuel Anderson, Chief Astronomer, who had seen service at Greenwich and taken part in the survey of the boundary between British Columbia and the United States years earlier; Capt. Featherstonhaugh, senior officer to Anderson; Capt. Arthur C. Ward, Secretary and Paymaster; and Lieutenant Galway. In addition there were sub-assistant- astronomers Coster, Ashe, George F. Burpee, and W. F. King (subsequently International Boundary Commissioner). There were two principal surveyors, Lieutenant Colonel Forrest, Commandant of the Ottawa Garrison Artillery, and Alexander Russell, brother of Deputy Surveyor – General Lindsay Russell. L. A. Hamilton, who years later was to map out the town-site of Vancouver and become land commissioner of the Canadian Pacific Railway, served as assistant surveyor. Dr. Burgess, his assistant Dr. Millman, and veterinary surgeon George Boswell were also members of the staff. A company of Royal Engineers served in various capacities. Occupational positions were filled by nearly three hundred young Canadians and Old Countrymen. A corps of mounted scouts, composed chiefly of half-breeds served under William Hallett, a famous Scotch Metis from Red River.
The United States Commission employed about 250 civilians under Archibald Campbell who had been a commissioner in the survey of the British Columbia – United States’ line. Other officers were Lt Col F. M. Farquhar, Chief Astronomer, who was later succeeded by Capt. W. J. Twining; Sub-Astronomer Captain Gregory; Lieutenant Green of the U. S. Engineers, Chief Surveyor; and J. E. Bangs, Secretary. Dr. Elliott Coues acted as geologist and naturalist. In addition to two troops of the 7th U.S. Cavalry, there were five companies of U.S. infantry acting as escort.
* * *
Actual field work commenced in September, 1872. By pre-arrangement, the line was run eastward from the Red River to the Lake of the Woods mostly by the British party. Advantage was taken of the late season to negotiate the many muskegs and swamplands encountered. East of the Roseau River, through the forested country strewn with windfall, brule and rock, dog-teams and snow-shoes were the principal means of travel. The winter was exceptionally severe and the hardships were extreme. Quartermaster, Capt. Lawrence Herchmer, late 15th Regiment (fourth commissioner of the North West Mounted Police, 1886-1900), had his hands full keeping two supply posts and scattered parties replenished from the main depot at Dufferin.
Upon reaching the Lake of the Woods the boundary as defined by treaty was found to turn north-east to the North-west Angle, where boundary commissioners under the Treaty of Ghent, 1814, had terminated their labours in 1825. In determining the point where the 49th parallel strikes the western shore of Lake of the Woods, there was a difference of only twenty-eight feet between the findings arrived at by the British and U.S. astronomers; as a consequence the middle point was accepted as correct. During the winter two men lost their lives, one from exposure, the other by a falling tree.
The survey parties returned to the Red River in the latter part of February, 1873, having completed the first part of the work.
On the west bank of the river, a short distance north of the boundary and from the old Hudson’s Bay post of Fort Pembina, commodious buildings for the Canadian headquarters had been erected under the supervision of Captain Wards. Near-by was the present town of Emerson, at that time known both as North Pembina and West Lynne; and just south of the border was the U.S. army post also called Fort Pembina, headquarters of the United States Commission.
The new settlement at the Canadian headquarters was named Dufferin in honour of the Governor General of Canada then in office. Facing the river was a large house used as offices, living quarters and mess room for the staff, who were billeted in several one-storey dwellings. Other buildings housed mess room and kitchen, barracks for the engineers, surveyors, astronomers, photographers, axe-men, harness-makers, wheel-wrights, cooks, picket men, blacksmiths and carpenters.
A farm was established where all necessary produce was grown for men and horses. A canteen was stocked with the best of liquors, imported duty-free direct from England; all brands were sold at the moderate charge of five cents a glass. Crosse and Blackwell’s potted meats and pickles and many other luxuries were obtainable. Weekly, each man was rationed at plug of T&B smoking tobacco and three plugs of ‘chewing’ if he wished it. All profits from the sale of ‘extras’ went towards a library. The food was of the best quality. Supplies were brought in from Moorhead, 150 miles south in Minnesota, and from Fort Garry, sixty miles north. So efficiently was at the commissariat handled by Quartermaster Herchmer that complaints were unknown. Necessary articles of clothing could be purchased cheaply.
Buckskin and leather clothing, moccasins and woollen mitts were issued for winter use; and as bedding, each man received a large oilskin sheet, a buffalo robe, and two pairs of ‘four-point’ Hudson’s Bay blankets.
In the winter of 1872-3 a grand dance and feast was given in honour of the Canadians by Commissioner Campbell and his staff at the U.S. army post. Later the same winter a similar compliment was paid the Americans on the Canadian side. Both events were attended by many guests including the fair sex from Fort Garry. In season there was hunting, skating, snow-shoeing, boxing matches, an occasional theatrical, and other diversions.
* * *
In April, 1873, preparations began for the greater part of the work. Enough men, horses, oxen, wagons, equipment, regulation army tents, instruments and provisions had been carefully assembled.
The Dominion Government had deemed it advisable that the Canadian part of the expedition should move through the Indian country without show of force. It would have been unwise for the British party to travel through the United States as, in that event, the Indians would have had no visible evidence that British interests were distinct from those of the United States. Although every member was furnished with arms and ammunition, there was no display of special precautionary measures. Parties and individuals prosecuted their work and hunted on the prairie without apparent fear. No escorts were in evidence. Indians were given free access to the camps.
As any time the natives might have sacked supply stations, have necessitated a concentration of the labourers, and generally delayed operations; but it had been felt that a friendly attitude and good behavior by the expedition would obviate these possibilities.
Conversely, the United States Commission, because of the Indian wars raging on the trans-Mississippi and Missouri plains, saw fit to travel under military escort.
As the prairies stirred beneath softening winds, a start was made. To the west lay a savage land. This way and that, the eye rested upon space. The wooded course of the Pembina River paralleled the line of travel along the south, and far ahead rose the Pembina Mountain. League on league of virgin soil, that down the centuries had put forth naught but successive growths of grass and flowers, spread westward.
Like a ship at sea the joint expedition travelled mostly by observation, marking the boundary as they progressed. Astronomical stations and supply depots were established. Cattle were driven to furnish meat until the buffalo country could be reached. A road-making party, preceded by native scouts, went ahead of the main body. Rivers that were not fordable had to be bridged, often necessitating wide detours to obtain suitable timber for the purpose. A chain of field depots, strategically placed to ensure wood and water, was thrown out from the main station at Dufferin.
The first of these depots was erected about forty miles west of the Red River at the Pembina Mountain; others were located at irregular intervals as the work proceeded. There were few dry camps. Barrels, mounted on wheels, carried a water supply over the arid districts. Half way to the Pembina depot at an astronomical station known at Point Michel, observations taken by both parties to determine the parallel gave a difference of seven feet; sixteen miles further west there was a difference of twenty seven feet. These results were considered satisfactory, the difference being divided; and the central point in each case was assumed to be on the true 49th. The greater part of the line was determined in this way. Tangents of approximately twenty miles were taken turn about by the Canadians and Americans. The working parties on both sides were kept as much as possible within a distance not exceeding sixty miles of one another. Considerations of supply and the presence of Indians forbad any greater extension.
In the swampy country from Lake of the Woods to the western boundary of Manitoba, iron pillars were placed at two-mile intervals as nearly as the nature of the ground would admit or at such sites as were available.
Westward from Manitoba to the line previously run and marked from the Pacific coast, stone cairns or earthen mounds were constructed about three miles apart. Buried in their centres were iron tablets bearing the inscription ‘British and United States Boundary Commissions, 1872-74, 40 (degrees) north latitude’. Square posts four feet high and tapering at the top were also used. These were sunk six feet in the ground having a flange at the bottom to ensure stability. On the north side each post was marked ‘British Possession’, on the south ‘U.S. Territory’.
To provide for the possible disappearance of monuments and the definition of the line in intervening spaces, Commissioners Cameron and Campbell agreed that the line between neighbouring monuments should be held to run from point to point of the astronomically determined 49 (degrees) north latitude, following the course of a line having the curvature due to a parallel of that latitude.
It had been arranged that throughout the entire distance topographical surveys extending six miles north and south of the boundary would be made by both commissions. By pre-arrangement, an exhaustive collection of western birds was gathered for the British Museum by Prof. Geo. M. Dawson, Geologist of the Canadian Commission, who also reported upon the resources of the region traversed.
Over the well-marked trail of the advancing expedition, covered wagons in horse and ox trains and Red River carts driven by half-breeds continually freighted the Canadian supplies from Dufferin. The American provisions were drawn by bull and mule teams from various trading posts on the Missouri River. Oats for the many horses constituted a large part of the shipments.
The first important halt was made after a strenuous period of axe-work across the Pembina Mountain; and a supply depot was established near the Pembina River. Game abounded. A moose hunt was staged. Prairie chicken and wild duck were served at every meal, until the exasperated cooks insisted that the plucking should be done by those who wanted birds on their bill-of-fare.
From the Pembina depot the line of travel took the survey past the White Earth and Badger Creeks.
A monotonous region stretched ahead. Clouds of grasshoppers swarmed upward with crackling sound; mosquitoes and bull-flies tormented man and beast. Bleaching skulls and bones of buffalo littered the ground. Stunted grasses clothed the rolling uplands; no trees worthy of the name relieved the dreariness. But as days passed, a blue outline resembling a low-hung cloud, which proved to be Turtle Mountain, appeared in the south and west. A large depot was established there. The line now ran directly across brush-clad hills in which were many lakes and creeks literally filled with wildfowl. Many deer were seen; some were killed.
The expedition came upon a large camp of Sioux. The chief was friendly and addressed himself to Commissioner Cameron in peaceful terms.
“I am Weeokeak, head of a hundred lodges – the Waughpatong band of the Dakotas – son of a great chief. I am glad to see the English. I would like to smoke with any English chiefs I might meet, and would be thankful for food and ammunition. The Canadians and English I respect; and I would be very glad of anything they give me. We all wish for a piece of English ground.”
A wide expanse was next traversed to the Souris River, where three days were spent in making bridges. For this purpose the Royal Engineers constructed coffer-dams and floated them out to be filled with stones. While crossing the stream in the army ambulance drawn by four mules customarily used by Commissioner Campbell, several officers of the U. S. Commission narrowly escaped calamity when the conveyance upset.
The featureless terrain spread onward to the second crossing of the Souris beyond which towered the Hill of the Murdered Scout. According to legend, a Cree scout had been watching for Mandan enemies from this conical butte. Tiring of his vigil he stretched out and slept. A Mandan who had been spying from another vantage point stole upon his sleeping foe and brained him with a large stone. In commemoration the Crees had carved in the turf at the top of the butte a giant figure of a man with arms and legs outstretched. They placed a large boulder near-by and cut a long series of footmarks in the hillside to indicate the Mandan. Each year, these cuttings had been renewed to perpetuate a fanciful twist of Cree mentality. Thus the butte gained its picturesque and lasting name.
A few miles westward just north of the boundary, the remarkable Roche [Percee] rose abruptly. Its fissured sides were scored with native figures and hieroglyphs; to these were added the names and initials of several men of the 7th U.S. Cavalry who, under General Custer, were fated to fall in the battle of the Little Big Horn, 1876.
Nine miles beyond at a favorable location significantly called Wood End, another depot was placed near a plentiful supply of coal which was used to good account in the camp kitchens and portable forges.
Athwart the entire range of vision to the west spread a stupendous upland – the Grand Couteau du Missouri. In addition to the depots at Pembina Mountain, Turtle Mountain and Wood End, seventeen temporary astronomical stations, observed by the joint commission, had been set up at Lake of the Woods (joint), Pine River, West Roseau Ridge, Red River (joint), Pointe Michel (joint), Pembina Mountain, East (joint), Pembina Mountain, West, Long River, Sleepy Hollow, Turtle Mountain, East, Turtle Mountain, West, 1st Souris (or Mouse River), South Antler, 2nd Souris (or Mouse River), United States’ No. 8 Astronomical Station, Short Creek and 3rd Mouse River (Wood End). And more than four hundred miles of arduous work had been completed.
Summer was over; winter was fast approaching. The commissioners gave orders to return, but a snow-storm delayed departure for more than a week. During these idle days, the weather-beaten men waited impatiently, eager to return to the Red River. Yet eagerness was tinged with speculation. Adventure beckoned. The next spring would see them back to continue the task. They would then discover the secrets of the rolling heights that lay ahead.
What revelations and experiences awaited in the Great Beyond? The following year would tell.
Continued RCMP Quarterly January 1942 p 270-281
The preceding instalment of this article traced the initial evolution of the western portion of the boundary between Canada and the United States. The final stage is here recorded – a brief story of full cooperation between two great friends, who today, with combined resources and regardless of boundary, stand shoulder to shoulder against tyranny and barbarism.
The work on the international boundary had been well advanced. Approximately half the long line of nine hundred miles between the Lake of the Woods and the Rocky Mountains had been surveyed and marked in 1873 by the Canadian and United States joint commission.
The two great Anglo-Saxon countries of North America, in keeping with the spirit of the Oregon Boundary Treaty (1846), had extended their interests westward in full harmony and cooperation. The 49th parallel was on the way to becoming a symbol of peace and concord, an example to the remainder of the world.
Though separated in their respective quarters at Dufferin and South Pembina, the men of the surveying parties under Commissioners Cameron and Campbell lived almost as one community during the winter of 1873-4. Despite the isolation, there was no lack of diversion. The months passed pleasantly in a continual round of card parties, dinners, dances, get-togethers, sing-songs and various outdoor sports. A free and easy cordiality prevailed and even the natives participated in the dances. In addition there was considerable visiting back and forth in the growing Manitoba town of Winnipeg (Fort Garry) to the north, the neighboring Dakota and Minnesota settlements and the big north-western town of St Paul several hundred miles away at the head waters of the Mississippi.
In the spring all was bustle and activity.
William Hallett, the trustworthy Scotch half-breed who had been in charge of the scouts the previous year, was forced to retire. He had grown too old. Captain East, R.A., was commissioned to engage forty experienced plainsmen who were to ride in advance of the expedition and report on the country – give the location of streams, lakes, pasturage and wood; and most important of all perhaps, to act as intermediaries in the event of trouble with the Indians.
All established depots between the Red River and the Great Couteau were replenished with supplies and made serviceable. A reconnoitring party, accompanied by a commissariat train, was sent forward to build a substantial depot at Wood Mountain. And before summer was under way all hands were busy continuing the line beyond Wood End.
It was known that a veritable realm of savagery lay ahead. On the plains north of the ‘forty-ninth’ probably thirty thousand Indians lived, hunted buffalo and intermittently waged inter-tribal war. In addition to the great Blackfeet Confederacy – Blackfeet, Piegans, Bloods and Sarcees – wandering bands of Plain Crees, Assiniboines and Saulteaux occupied the country to the west. Except for the widely-separated Hudson’s Bay Company posts and a few scattered half-breed traders trafficked for the produce of the buffalo ranges, and a few missionaries who strove to gain dark-skinned proselytes, the red men were the only inhabitants of the interminable grasslands.
South of the international line, Indian warfare was being waged continually and the scanty white population was running free of the restraints of established authority. Strategic points were garrisoned by soldiers. The westward march of civilization to the trans-Mississippi plains had rendered the Indian lands valuable; and, despite treaties between whites and aborigines, the red men, like the buffalo, were forced to seek sanctuary wherever they could find it. Concurrently, men whose misdemeanours had driven them far out the western trails had come northward into Canada.
The great Sioux nation was all powerful along the river highway of the Missouri, the natural outlet to the West. But bad elements from the east, any of the men and women ‘on the dodge’ who sought exception from the clutches of the law, were in the ascendancy. Ever westward an army of occupation was pressing on. A colossal movement had been launched, a hegira before which all native life faced complete forfeiture of its primordial ways, a wave of bloodshed in which brave men laboured to establish law and justice and liberty in the face of debauchery, breach of trust and murder. An American saga was being written. Outrages by desperadoes, hideous massacres, heroisms, crowning adventures, and violent deaths were commonplace.
These conditions had reached British territory. Liquor had come from the Missouri to the Blackfeet country, where it was said strongholds had been erected to gather spoils from the Indian hunters.
The West was running wild, probably wilder than before the coming of the white man. Flaming colours were being added to the story of a great transition.
For more than six hundred miles across this last retreat of Indian life, the huge glacial moraine of the Missouri Couteau saddled the plains from north-west to south-east. Awesome, treeless and windswept, its interminable undulations, given over to wolves, birds of prey and wandering nomads, seemed like a land beyond the world. And into it penetrated the surveyors of the boundary.
Many days were needed to cross the dreary uplands of the Couteau; finally however as a climax to a scene which had become irksome, the toilers reached a river valley, gloomy and uninviting in its general aspect and devoid of vegetation. Probably the Big Muddy. The surveyors continued on, passing several branches of the Poplar River. Gradually the surroundings improved; and soon, to the relief of all the Couteau lay behind. Wood Mountain loomed ahead.
Midsummer came bringing another important movement on the plains. The North West Mounted Police, three hundred strong, had assembled at Dufferin late in June preparatory to its epic march westward. The Canadian Boundary Commission buildings had been adopted temporarily as a headquarters and stepping-off point; and, travelling faster than the surveyors, despite cumbersome transport and ‘beef on the hoof’, the newly-organized Force had taken a course northward of and paralleling the boundary. As the slower-moving surveyors were overtaken, supplies threatened to run short, and the commissioner, Col. George A. French, decided to seek assistance from the nearest settlement. Making a detour from the line of march and reaching Willow Bunch, a small half-breed community nestled in the folds of Wood Mountain, the assistant commissioner of the little red-coated army, Major James F. Macleod, accompanied by five men and six Red River carts, purchased a quantity of buffalo pemmican and dried meat from the half-breed traders at that point. Shortly afterwards, he transported a needed supply of oats to the Mounted Police from the surplus stores in the boundary commission depot at Wood Mountain, and arranged for an additional amount to be furnished as required. The following year, the buildings at this depot became the Wood Mountain Detachment of the Mounted Police.
Meanwhile the boundary commissariat, under the able direction of Capt. Lawrence Herchmer, had functioned capably and had tended to sustain a fine esprit de corps among the men. Though the food was rough, it was of the best procurable in this distant land. ‘Buffalo chips’ – the dried dung of buffalo – served admirably as fuel, especially on the Couteau where there was a marked scarcity of wood, and the water carts off set the misery of dry camps.
Soon after leaving Wood Mountain depot, buffalo were sighted for the first time – a small herd browsing quietly on the side hills of Cottonwood Coulee. Antelope was plentiful. By the sparkling waters of Frenchman’s Creek, one of the most attractive camp-sites of the entire undertaking awaited the men. This locality was to furnish a rendezvous for Sitting Bull’s refugee Sioux in 1876-7 after the Custer Massacre south of the boundary.
The surveyors spent several days here resting the horses, washing, and making everything shipshape. Here also they had their first meeting with the Indians of the farther plains. A few miles down stream, an adventurer named Juneau operated a small trading post; nearby was an encampment of about forty lodges of Sioux.
The red men received the white visitors with obvious delight, doubtlessly expecting some favours; in turn they visited the boundary camp and were reassured when they received an affirmative reply to their questions, “Are you the King’s men?” Apparently they referred to Kind George III. Their forbears had been allies of the British troops, and their chieftains had received medals for their services; but, of more significance, they had gained a lasting respect for the red-coated servitors of the King. They proferred buffalo tongues as special gifts to the surveyors and provided them generously with fresh meat.
“In another two days of travel,” the feathered and painted Sioux told the white men, “you will find the buffalo thick upon the plain.”
The expedition was reluctant to leave this pleasant camp. But it was imperative they push ahead. Crossing the east and west forks of the Milk River, they encountered more badlands. Here the buffalo were amazingly plentiful. Every slope lay sprinkled with white skulls and skeletons – a slaughter field for centuries. To the westward, a long blue shadow appeared, but instead of the hoped-for Rocky Mountains, it was soon discovered to be the unmistakable Three Buttes of the Sweet Grass Hills, shown on Palliser’s map.”
The travellers scanned the prospect in silence. Here was utter loneliness – a high, open plateau broken at intervals by some river-bed, or deceptive hollow, where a man, a hundred men or a herd of buffalo could disappear in a moment. Little did the spectators realize that a few miles away the bewitching fastnesses of the Cypress Hills, with their infinite variety of forest and glade, lush meadows and tumbling brooks – a paradise of natural beauty -, rose from the encircling prairies. It was there that a fiendish butchery of Assiniboine Indians by Missouri desperadoes had occurred in the previous spring, a base episode that had hastened the formation of the North West Mounted Police.
Slowly but steadily the combined survey parties progressed towards the farther plains, meeting small bands of Indians almost daily. And presently, as the main stream of the Milk River was crossed, the Sweet Grass Hills loomed more distinctly.
The travellers were now in the ‘Land of Painted Rocks,’ where, according to Indian legend, the spirits of the departed dwelt. Here, amid scenes where they had fought, hunted, performed their strange rituals and passed to the Happy Hunting Grounds, the ghosts of by-gone red men were wont to return and camp among the strangely-moulded and painted rocks. To the Blackfeet, this was holy ground; Writing-on-Stone, they called it. Tribal incidents were crudely etched on the faces of grotesquely-shaped cliffs. Decked in a thousand shades, this region of Nature’s caprices was strangely beautiful as sunlight and cloud, alternately, played upon it. At close of day, it was as uninviting as might be a part of Hell with the fires burned out; in darkness, it was a nightmare land of bleakness and weird configurations.
Almost on the line of demarcation, the Three Buttes, towering several thousand feet above the plains, and surrounded by deep-cut coulees and broken lands, now loomed in majestic outline. While exploring the vicinity several of the men came upon the bodies of many dead Indians. All had been shot. One corpse bore sixteen bullet wounds. Near-by were small pits strewn with empty cartridge shells as though a defensive battle had been waged. It was learned later that the dead were a band of Crows from the Missouri country who, while on a horse-stealing foray, had been ‘clean out’ by Piegans.
Onward past the Three Buttes the surveyors pressed. And now the snow-capped peaks of the Rockies could be seen, a hundred miles away. The magnificent Chief Mountain showed distinctly, its gigantic sugar-loaf top a distinguishing landmark among its fellows. Buffalo, in prodigious numbers, roamed freely. Little exertion was necessary to kill one or more at any hour of the day; and carcasses, shorn of their skins, lay everywhere.
Beyond the last crossing of the Milk River the land gradually ascended to the foothills. A few miles further west the travellers came to the St. Mary’s River, which presented the most fascinating and picturesque scene yet reached. Use was made of coal deposits found on its banks. Down stream, near the present site of Lethbridge, Nick Sheran, an Irish-American from New York, had set up a small coal-mine four years earlier, which was destined to develop into a great industry.
The boundary work became more difficult as the men ascended towards the huge, continental backbone; and, for the first time since leaving Turtle Mountain, the axe-men were fully employed. Many bridges had to be built over the various streams; and wide detours were necessary to get the wagons and other equipment through.
Here was presented to many eastern eyes for the first time a magnificent panorama of snow-crowned mountains, timbered valleys, and splashing streams – a new land in every sense, and a hunter’s paradise. Wild life abounded. Luscious trout teemed in the tumbling waters that flowed from the snow-fields among the clouds. An immense herd of elk (wapiti) was seen near Chief Mountain; monstrous moose and small deer were continually in evidence. Mountain sheep and goats stared curiously from their rocky ledges. On more than one occasion, fire-arms were used to provide sport and fresh meat. Grouse were in constant demand. Once, some of the men out ahead encountered a grizzly bear, and preparations were made to lay him low; but, upon the ‘silver tip’ showing fight, the hunt quickly subsided. Later a member of the U.S. Commission shot a mountain lion.
At last the persevering surveyors and their co-workers neared the end of their task at Kootenay River. The line crossed the river at right angles. Pack-horses were used to negotiate the short distance still to go.
About twenty miles remained. But it was twenty miles of hard work; heavy timber that had blown down during wind storms had become interlaced in a bewildering jungle which obstructed the route of travel. In this last span mounds were erected at only two points: the passage of the Belly River and the crossing of Lake Waterton.
The boundary between British Columbia and the United States had already been surveyed from the Pacific coast to the Kootenay when the American Civil War intervened, and a monument had been placed at the eastern extremity. At that time, it had been intended to continue the survey eastward to the Lake of the Woods; but now, a decade later, the actual undertaking had been reversed.
At last the men lay down their tools. It was the end of the trail.
* * *
It was still early autumn, but the weather at night was cold. Many of the men had hoped to winter in the Rockies, and some equipment for that purpose had been transported from Dufferin. Orders, however, were given for the homeward march.
On the return trip, a rest camp was established by the commissioners at Fish Lake in the neighbourhood of Chief Mountain from where the men visited a Missouri trader’s ‘hang-out’ in the vicinity. The least harmful purchases made were cans of brandied peaches. Ponies were also bought from some traders who claimed to be from Fort Whoop-Up on the St. Mary’s River. Inquisitive stragglers from the whisky trading camps appeared on the scene, also a number of U.S. soldiers on a friendly visit from Fort Shaw in Montana.
Another stop was made at the Sweet Grass* Hills. And here on a day in mid-September, the lean and weathered troopers of the North West Mounted Police, under Commissioner French and Assistant Commission Macleod, arrived. With fine camaraderie and jovial spirits, the two forces commingled for a brief spell. Charles Conrad, a prominent trader of Fort Benton, also turned up with a bull-train loaded with oats and other commodities for the police. At that time Fort Benton was a thriving and riotous centre on the Missouri River. It had been named after Col Thomas H. Benton who had played an important part in Washington in fixing the boundary on the 49th parallel. Not least among those present was Jerry Potts, a Piegan half-breed who later became famous as a guide in the service of the N.W.M.P.
Long to be remembered was that stop at the Three Buttes! Thither, in curiosity, had come many Indians, among them a band of Unkapapa Sioux under the noted warrior, Long Dog, a fiery individual who was later to take a major part in the annihilation of Custer’s command on the Little Big Horn, in June 1876, and who afterwards was to become a thorn in the flesh of the Mounted Police when the Sioux took refuge in the Wood Mountain area. In the 7th U.S. Cavalry, accompanying the U.S. commissioner, was Major Marcus Reno who by reason of an order from Custer to attack the Sioux on a separate flank was to be one of the few surviving officers of that historic blood-bath. The city of Reno, Nev., famous for its divorces, perpetuates his name today.
The time passed pleasantly at the Sweet Grass until the inevitable farewells. Some of the men under the U.S. Commission who were released from duty left hurriedly for Fort Benton, which they hoped to reach before freeze-up. From there they could travel eastward towards their homes in mackinaw boats. Navigation by river steamers on the Missouri had already terminated for the seas
* EDITOR’S NOTE: Sweet Grass was a term commonly used among the plainsmen to designate good pasturage. In this locality it had no reference to the scented grass often used by the Indians in their sacred rituals or in basket weaving. Shortly after their departure, an immense cloud of dust was seen moving in a northerly direction toward the camp. One of the police scouts watched it with an experienced eye, then declared it to indicate a large herd of stampeding buffalo. Onward they came with Indian horsemen hovering on their flanks. Forty mounted men were sent out to turn the animals aside. A concentrated fun-fire split the herd, one division heading north-east, the other north-west. The shaggy beasts intercepted a train which had previously pulled out, and in time they were thundering among the men and horses. One huge bull was shot as its horns became entangled in a wagon wheel. So great was the confusion they created that the surveyors lost twenty-four hours through sheer inability to move on. Few incidents happened on the remaining homeward trek. Once, while passing a large camp of half-breeds, the party paused to watch the women making pemmican – dried and pounded buffalo meat mixed with fat and placed in buffalo-skin sacks. As the returning workmen progressed, they found that prairie fires had swept large tracts of country and thereby deprived of pasturage and the indispensable buffalo chips, they carried wood and forage from one camp to another.
At Frenchman’s Creek they came upon a naked half-breed tied to a tree. He was dead, and obviously had suffered terrible agony. To allow the sun full play, the tree’s branches had been removed, and a near-by stream had added to the man’s torment; for he had been left to die of starvation, thirst and exposure. The on-lookers were stunned at this display of fiendish cruelty by vengeful Indians.
Cameron and his followers experienced trouble with the natives only at Wood End, where one man, who had incurred the enmity of a band, was threatened. Immediately the threat blossomed to include the entire commission. The men formed a corral with carts and wagons, and each was given forty rounds of ammunition. At night skulking Indians were detected, and signal lights appeared on the adjacent hill-tops. Pickets were stationed around the camp, but, naught save a prowling wolf appeared and the expected attack failed to materialize. From then on, however, strict vigilance was maintained; and in due course Dufferin was reached without mishap.
* * *
Part of the N.W.M.P. staff was occupying the buildings at Dufferin, awaiting spring when they would move to the headquarters barracks which were being erected at Swan River, far to the north-west. Later, two troops under Commissioner French, on their return from the Sweet Grass Hills, also spent the winter here, pending completion of the new buildings. Meanwhile, Assistant Commissioner Macleod with three troops had struck towards the foothills and, on reaching the Old Man’s River, erected Fort Macleod – the first police outpost in the Far West. Part of another troop which had accompanied the commissioner eastward, took possession of the uncompleted barracks at Swan River.
The detachment of Royal Engineers, which had formed a large part of the survey party, had left Liverpool on Aug. 20, 1872. The expedition had commenced work at Dufferin on September 30, a month later. And now, after two years, it had traversed more than two thousand miles of desolate region, a land tenanted by tribes who, in freedom from restraint, were second to none in stark and implacable savagery. The expedition had marked nearly nine hundred miles of boundary and accomplished a survey of over five thousand square miles of British territory. During the last year (1874), between May 20 and October 11, a period of 144 days, the two parties had moved back and forth over fifteen hundred miles in longitude, determined and marked 357 miles of the parallel of latitude, and surveyed in detail fifteen hundred square miles.
In addition to all this, they had to contend with many hindrances: the winding of the main trail; the essential wanderings of the surveying parties; the devious routes taken by those distributing supplies; the obstacles of the country itself; inclement weather; heavy transport. Yet the joint expedition accomplished an average of 10 ½ miles a day. Truly a remarkable feat. One that redounds to the credit of the men who executed it. For his services, Captain Cameron received the honour of Commander of Michael and George from her Majesty, the Queen.
Thus, as 1874 drew to a close, an engrossing period of frontier history in North America had begun. And in the making of this land of freedom and opportunity the North West Mounted Police were destined to play an important role.
The 49th was now an established boundary line between two great nations. The lure of the West was on the verge of being a tremendous thing.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: With a single exception, all of the official authentic photographs accompanying this article were generously supplied from the private collection of Mr. W. T. Cameron, son of the late Major General D. R. Cameron who was head of the Canadian Boundary Commission. We wish to express our warmest thanks for these invaluable pictures.
Canadian Indians on the Warpath
Royal Canadian Mounted Police Quarterly October 1941
Canadian Indians on the Warpath.
From away up near the Arctic circle comes proof that the Canadian Indians are doing their bit in Canada’s war effort. In the old days their forefathers used tomahawks; the present-day Indian believes in a stronger weapon – the almighty dollar.
An Indian from the Good Hope in the Mackenzie River area recently handed $10 to the R.C.M.P. for transfer to King George. Another Treaty Indian, Old Jonas of Simpson, N.W.T., dropped into the local R.C.M.P. detachment with $7 which he said was to help the King fight Hitler.
The Indians believe in Britain. Their donations are indications of the loyalty to the Crown that is prevalent among the native population of the Northwest Territories, Canada and Britain will not forget.
How The RCMP Came To Have Black Horses
The Nor’-West Farmer Vol. 49, No. 3 Summer 1984
How The RCMP Came To Have Black Horses
By D/Commr. W. H. Kelly (Rtd.)**
During the early days of the Force when horses were the only means of transportation, the NWMP found it difficult to obtain a sufficient number of the right type of horses for the patrol work required of them – long arduous patrols, often with little feed. The “march west” resulted in the death of many horses as well as leaving a large number of them in poor health with a condition known as “alkalied.”
As a result, Assistant Commissioner Macleod, who was in charge of their first post – later to be named Fort Macleod – was forced to send some members into the United States to buy horses, and such trips continued for a number of years. The only horses the Mounties were able to purchase were unbroken bronchos, which in time became just the kind of horses the Force required.
In addition to the horses purchased in the U.S., the NWMP managed to acquire some horses raised by local ranchers to augment the periodic shipments of eastern horses. The latter were never really suited to Force requirements in the west, but because of the general difficulty in obtaining horses it was a number of years before the Force could replace the eastern mounts with horses raised in western Canada or the United States.
Suitability being the determining factor in selection, the NWMP made no attempt to obtain horses of any particular colour. For example, when the Force began its march west to the prairie region from Fort Dufferin in 1874, the mounts obtained from Ontario were so varied in colour that each of the NWMP’s six divisions had a predominantly different hue of horse: “A” Division had dark bays; “B” Division dark brown; “C” Division, bright chestnuts; “D” Division, grays and buckskins; “E” Division, blacks; and “F” Division, light bays. The horses on the march included the forty or so that had been purchased by Acting Commissioner W. Osborne-Smith around Winnipeg in 1873, in preparation for the arrival of the NWMP in the late fall of that year.
When the prairies began to be settled, western businesses and ranchers competed for the type of horse required in the west, so the difficulty in obtaining the right kind of horses for the Force remained. This problem still existed at the time the RNWMP began to mechanize its transportation. Westerners who had used horses began to use mechanical means of getting around. This caused the many horse breeders to go out of business, giving the Force even less choice as to the colour and quality of horses it purchased. Up until the time when black horses were introduced into the Musical Ride, the colour of RCMP horses was generally bay of one shade or another.
It was over sixty years after the inception of the NWMP that the idea of standardizing the colour of its horses came to a man who was in a position to do something about it. In 1935, Assistant Commissioner S. T. Wood had been in London, England, taking a modus operandi course at Scotland Yard, and he was there again as the officer in charge of the RCMP King George VI coronation contingent. On both occasions he saw the scarlet-coated Life Guards on their black horses and was very impressed with their appearance. Some years later,
Commissioner Wood told me that seeing the Life Guards with their black horses had given him the idea that the RCMP should turn to black horses, first for the Musical Ride and then for recruit equitation training.
During this time and for many years thereafter, and as had been done since 1873, the Force purchased its remounts when they were three years old. They were often small in stature, but with proper care and feeding usually grew to the standards required by the Force – 15.2 hands in height and weighing between 1,100 and 1,200 pounds. They were initially roughly broken in and only after an additional four to six months training, when a recruit could safely ride them, were they used for recruit training.
When S. T. Wood became the eighth commissioner of the Force in 1938, word went out to purchase as many black horses as possible. It was soon apparent that a suitable number of horses of this colour could not be obtained, and equally apparent that if the Force was ever to get black horses in sufficient numbers it would have to raise its own. And so it was that, in 1939, a limited breeding program began at the Depot Division stables in Regina.
World War II began that fall and this undoubtedly slowed the implementation of any plans for an extensive breeding program. A few mares were purchased and some of the old equitation mares were transferred to the breeding program. The stallion “King” was purchased at this time. He was black in colour and was the son of an American saddle horse sire and a Thoroughbred/Percheron-cross mare. He clearly showed the Percheron strain.
“King” was not particularly successful as a sire and was replaced by a black Thoroughbred stallion named “Fred Tracey,” rented from his owner in Ottawa at the rate of $35 a foal. However, it soon became clear that the facilities at Regina were not suited to a breeding program commensurate with the
needs of the Force, so consideration was given to moving them elsewhere.
S. T. Wood was familiar with the horse-breeding area of southwestern Saskatchewan. This area included the Cypress Hills and the site of old Fort Walsh, a former headquarters of the NWMP, which later became one of Canada’s official historic sites.
The RCMP purchased 706 acres of land, which included the location of the old fort. Suitable buildings were erected on the exact site of the fort, and a manager (soon to be known as the “wrangler”) was engaged. The Force also leased 2,305 acres of adjacent range land from the provincial government.
There was some delay in acquiring and developing the properties because war duties required all possible manpower and money, and later it was necessary to temporarily abandon equitation training of recruits as well as the colourful Musical Ride. Nevertheless, by the spring of 1943 the property, now referred to in the Force as “the ranch,” was ready to receive the nucleus of the proposed expanded breeding program from Regina: twenty-three mares, eleven foals and the rented stallion “Fred Tracey.”
The problem of obtaining the right kind of stallion was ever present during the early years of the breeding program. Among the stallions used for breeding purposes, one or two were actually chestnut in colour, a colour the Force expected would dominate in the foals thrown by the black mares. During the early period, stallions other than Thoroughbreds were also kept. Later on (with one exception, when “Hymeryk,” a stallion of the Trahkener breed was used), only Thoroughbred stallions were accepted. Although most of these stallions were black in colour, some of them were actually registered as dark brown.
By the 1950’s, black foals began to appear with some regularity, while others were various shades of brown. Occasionally a bright chestnut foal was born, sometimes to a black mare by a black or dark-brown stallion.
The breeding program at Fort Walsh was based on the hard style of raising horses. The animals were kept outdoors summer and winter, fending for themselves on the natural grassy range, with practically no supplementary feeding. The Force horses were rounded up in the fall, identified among others belonging to the neighbouring ranches by the fused MP brand – the Force brand since 1887. The young stock was branded and then put back on the range after the three-year-old remounts had been selected.
Those responsible for the program believed that raising horses in this manner would produce a horse with strong muscles and good bones, and generally tough enough to carry heavy policemen in the saddle. No doubt there was some merit to this view, but some authorities now believe that these good characteristics were offset by the fact that the remounts began saddle work only a few months after leaving the ranch. In the 1950’s, a program of regular supplementary feeding was put into effect, and this not only improved the appearance of the stock but produced better breeding results as well.
Commissioner Wood retired from the RCMP in the spring of 1951, and was immediately appointed a special constable of the Force (without pay) so that he could officially remain involved in the breeding program which he had begun. He spent every summer and fall at the ranch until 1965, when he was stricken with a serious illness which eventually resulted in his death.
By the mid-1950’s the Force was still not producing either the quantity or the quality of remounts that it required, so the purchase of remounts continued mostly in colours other than black. On the advice of several experts, the breeding program was expanded, so as to ensure not only an increase in quantity of foals but in quality as well. The first obvious step was to purchase suitable mares and the price for them was set at about $250 each.
About this same time there was a fear that with the continuous use of Thoroughbred stallions the horses were developing too fine a bone for the work required of them. As an experiment, two purebred Clydesdale mares were obtained from the Dominion Experimental Farm at Indian Head, Saskatchewan, and bred to a black Thoroughbred stallion. No one expected that the result of this mating would produce black saddle horses for Force use, but that the filly foals through subsequent breedings might produce a heavier-boned black horse. The experiment was limited to the extent that only a few filly foals were used in this way, leaving a residue of Clydesdale blood even in some of the beautiful three-quarter or more black Thoroughbred horses the Force uses today.
In spite of the prolonged efforts of the Force to raise its own horses, it wasn’t until the mid-1960’s, 25 years after the breeding program began, that all the horses in the Musical Ride were raised by the Force. Even then, there were a few whose colour was dark brown, not black. Not until the mid 1970’s were all the RCMP horses – breeding stock (except stallions), Musical Ride and equitation – of the Force’s own breeding.
Before this period, however, a great change had taken place in regard to RCMP horses. In the summer of 1966 the federal government, as an economy measure, decided that RCMP recruit equitation training should end, but the RCMP Musical Ride should be retained as a permanent public relations attraction. The government also decided that the Musical Ride operations base should be transferred from Regina, Saskatchewan, to Rockcliffe, Ontario, and that the breeding operation should be moved from Fort Walsh to some place near Ottawa.
The Force realized that if recruits did not take equitation training it would be necessary to retain a number of equitation horses – in addition to those used in the Musical Ride – to train those members in equitation who would volunteer for Musical Ride duty. Thus a number of such horses were also retained, and the remainder were sold in Regina at public auction. At the same time plans were being made to ship the breeding stock to Ontario.
Soon the Force purchased 345 acres of farmland at Pakenham in the pastoral Ottawa Valley, about 30 miles northwest of Ottawa. New buildings and fences were erected and by late 1967 and early 1968, the breeding stock from the ranch found themselves in completely different surroundings. Instead of grazing on the hilly range land at Fort Walsh, they now grazed on the flat prairie-like pastures of Pakenham. Whereas the range at Fort Walsh had never seen a plough, the pastures at Pakenham had been farmland for more than 150 years. Instead of living outdoors all year round, the horses could now be taken indoors during severe weather. In addition, the farm soon began to produce enough hay to feed not only the Pakenham breeding stock, but the Musical Ride and equitation horses at Rockcliffe as well. Despite these differences, there is one great similarity between the ranch at Fort Walsh and the farm at Pakenham: both have fine fresh-water creeks running through their properties.
In the 15 years since the Pakenham remount station was officially opened on December 1, 1968, it has developed into a model horse-breeding station. It was at first under the management of Ralph Baumann, who came to Pakenham from Fort Walsh, and later under the watchful eye of Bruce Parr, Baumann’s assistant at Fort Walsh and later at Pakenham.
The breeding program has not only resulted in the black colour of RCMP horses being stabilized, but to a remarkable degree it has been responsible for their standardization in size, conformation and temperament. These horses must be considered as a definite type of Thoroughbred, even though not of full Thoroughbred blood. However, they cannot be considered as a separate breed, as one international writer on horses had concluded.
The present horses of the RCMP are three-quarters to seven-eights Thoroughbred, with a few pure Thoroughbreds among them, but there is no great concern about these and future horses being too fine-boned for the work they are required to do. Continued attention to the type of stallions and mares used in the breeding program, as well as the continuing practice of not using remounts until they are 5 to 6 years old (by which time they have had about two years training), has resulted in a satisfactory type of horse.
It is now 46 years since the late Commissioner S. T. Wood conceived the idea of the RCMP using black horses, and during that time many of our members have helped to develop the breeding program which today is at peak efficiency. Our beautiful black horses are now seen by more people, at home and abroad, than ever before. As long as the RCMP have such horses they will remain a tribute to Commissioner S. T. Wood. But even he could not have foreseen the high degree of success the breeding program has reached today.
Massacre in the Hills
Royal Canadian Mounted Police Quarterly January 1941
Massacre in the Hills.
By John Peter Turner
“Countless deeds of perfidious robbery, of ruthless murder done by white savages out in these Western wilds never find the light of day . . . My God, what a terrible tale could I not tell of these dark deeds done by the white savage against the far nobler red man!”
Food – Festivity – Firewater – Fighting!
Within the scope of these four words may be found the more noticeable indulgences of life along the Western frontier three-quarters of a century ago; indeed all four might avail to signify common usages, past and present, among practically every race of human kind. In varying degrees, man’s tendencies are much the same the world over. Without bodily nourishment life ceases; without diversion, festive or otherwise, it dwindles; “firewater” by any other name has ever been a favourite medium of unpredictable possibilities; and the tendency to shed another’s blood (witness the world today) has thus far proven to be quite impossible of eradication.
Of these pronounced indispensables, so inseparable from early western days, one – the imbibing of intoxicants – has been forbidden absolutely to the Indian; and save to uphold the honour of the nation, the fourth has long since been regarded as an offence at large. But, within the memory of a few still, time was, in one portion of Canada at least, when these four “ways of the flesh”, inflated as they often were to excesses, swayed, as nothing else could, the vagaries of human subsistence and endeavour.
In the early ‘70’s, a barbaric battleground and buffalo pasture occupied the country now embraced by southern Alberta and Saskatchewan and the more northerly parts of Montana. This was the last major portion of the continent remaining to the lndian: a land in which the western intrusion had as yet made small impression, save to introduce, conjointly with the barest benefits, the undermining corrosions of civilization. For the most part, a veritable ocean of perennial grass, veiled from the world by utter solitude, flanked by the Missouri watershed along the south, by the Saskatchewan on the north, by the slowly advancing settlements of Manitoba and Dakota to the east, and by the Rockies on the west, spread immeasurably to the horizons. Along the 49th parallel an international boundary, on the verge of being surveyed, divided the dual sovereignty of this distant land. Rivers, large and small, coursed through its breadth. At its very heart on the Canadian side of the line, the Cypress Hills, accessible by horseflesh from every compass point, rose in broken and irregular configurations above the plain: a weird arena of utter savagery, a neutral tract, tenanted by resident wild creatures – buffalo, elk, moose, deer, grizzly bears, antelope, and other game – and visited by transient stone-age men – Blackfoot, Crees, Assiniboines, Saulteaux and Sioux. Far aloof, at widely separated points, trading establishments flourished, drawing from the wild plains’ hunters an enormous yield in skins and fur. Fort Benton at the head of navigation on the upper Missouri, reeking with tawdry saloons, bawdies, gambling hells and unkempt trading counters commanded an activity that extended northward into Canada. Edmonton on the North Saskatchewan, a staid, well-ordered, almost baronial emporium of the fur trade, stood behind stout palisades at a discretionary distance from the warlike Blackfoot Confederacy towards the south; and Fort Qu-Appelle, to the east, on the margin of the Great Plain, had had its inception as near the vast pastures as safety would permit. Upon these strategic forts encroaching civilization relied in order to tap the resources of the last great Indian wealth; and hither, as well as to a few subsidiary posts, both north and south, red-skinned riders had learned to come spasmodically to barter the products of the hunt and avail themselves of proffered benefits and evils.
At this period, the Montana frontier, the very opposite of the orderly Saskatchewan field of trade, blazed with illicit licence. South of the line, a flagrant disregard for civilized amenities was rampant. The law of the trigger prevailed. White men and red continually vied for mastery. Crime of every description waxed bold and dominant. To be expert on the draw was to boast an enviable superiority. Gold dust was useful, but horses were wealth, power, prestige, and the only quick transport on the plains; and horse-stealing – a deeply-rooted Indian virtue — probably the most unforgivable malfeasance of the West, had become by adoption a popular expedient among a host of hardened freebooters. In glaring contrast to the ethics followed by the Hudson’s Bay Company in the North, trading methods in proximity to the Missouri consisted largely of ghastly inhumanities. For the most part, the decalogue was scoffed at. Calloused persecution of the tribes grew to be a custom – the only good aborigine a dead one. Once stripped of his possessions, the Indian was vermin. Frontier heroes, exponents and expungers of the law, side-armed sheriffs, murderers and degenerates – all the good, bad and indifferent strata of civilized life – constituted a blunt and bloody spearhead that had sunk deeply into the vitals of the West. Benton had grown to be a rough-and-tumble slattern of a place – the congenial rendezvous of reckless adventurers from eastern and southern communities and the haven of gold-seeking backwashes from the western mountains.
Buffalo products furnished the all-important quest; but the big wolves that dogged the shaggy herds provided profitable pelts, as well as ready employment to hard-living profligates and men of shady record. Young squaws were not immune from current prices; the small, wiry horses of the Indian, procurable by fair means or foul, held variable values. Simple commodities were traded to the red men; but liquor held the stage. A tin cup of poisonous firewater would fetch a buffalo roble, sometimes a piebald pony, or a girl with raven braids.
Recognizing no international boundary, the more obdurate Benton traders had instituted a reign of murder and debauchery throughout the Canadian portion of the Blackfoot realm. The establishment, in 1868, of Fort Hamilton (later to bear the more appropriate appellation of Fort Whoop-Up) and the subsequent erection of smaller posts such as Stand-Off, Kipp, Conrad, Slide-Out and High River presaged a state of lawlessness that promised evil to the Canadian scene. By the autumn of 1872, the trade in firewater had spread towards the east with the building of several log trading huts on Battle Creek in the Cypress Hills, chief of which were those of two “squaw-men” Abel Farwell and Moses Solomon. In sheer defiance of the laws of Canada and the United States, brigandage now straddled and controlled the boundary line. Utter ruination of Canada’s Indians of the plains was under way.
And so to our story, gleaned from participants, eye-witnesses, and conflicting records.
The year of 1872 was drawing to its close. The leaves had fallen in the wooded bluffs along the prairie streams. With colder weather threatening, a band of hunting Assiniboines, under Chief Hunkajuka, or “Little Chief,” pondered the selection of a winter camp-site. Far to the north, on the heels of the buffalo masses, the nomadic wayfarers had gathered a goodly supply of pemmican and dried meat. Men, women and children were happy; for in food, above all things, lay the magic gift of life. Not far removed, on the banks of the South Saskatchewan, a camp of Crees – friends and allies of the Assiniboines – were already settled, and thither Hunkajuka decided to repair. There would be festivity aplenty; inter-tribal gatherings of “friendlies” had ever been conducive to sociability. Besides the interests of both camps would be well served, and the long months of cold would pass amid many pleasantries.
During the early winter, there was little to be desired. The dusky tenants of the tapering lodges revelled in sheer contentment. Security and plenty prevailed; festivities, whether rituals or carnivals of food, so dear to pagan hearts, followed one upon another. An occasional buffalo hunt replenished the fresh meat supply and tended to conserve the fast-dwindling pemmican and “jerky.” But soon the latter commodities were all but gone; inherent prodigality had joined with an all-too-free abandon. Worse still, for reasons unknown to the wisest soothsayers, the buffalo herds drew off to other parts. The nightmare of famine, of want beset by winter, loomed as an imminent danger. Desperation fell upon the camp, and quick decisions followed. Little Chief bethought him of the Cypress Hills, hundreds of miles southward, across the whitened plains. It were better to risk the rigours of such a journey than to stay and starve. So, with gloomy forebodings, the Assiniboines bade their compatriots farewell and turned to a bitter task.
Week followed week as the hunger-scourged travellers trudged on. One by one, the aged and decrepit dropped out to die. Ponies and dogs were eaten; and, as these dwindled, the tribulations of the squaws increased. Buffalo skins, par-fleche containers, leather – all articles that offered barest sustenance-were turned to account as food. Wherever old camp-sites were found, discarded bones were dug from the snow, to be crushed and boiled. Hunters ranged desperately to no avail; while, ever closer and closer, the grim spectre of famine trailed the struggling waifs. The cold bit to the marrow. A youthful couple, seeing their only child succumb, decided it was the end; but, so weakened was the crazed young warrior following a self-inflicted knife-thrust in his vitals, he lacked the strength to complete the pact. So his helpmate survived.
The threat of death confronted all! But at last the Cypress Hills was reached; and, camping in a sheltered vale close to Farwell’s post, the exhausted band, having lost some 30 lives, slowly recovered from its recent ordeal. Buffalo were numerous; smaller game abounded about the coulees and brush-clad slopes. Though helpless to travel farther without more ponies, the Assiniboine remnant, released from its bondage of cold and hunger, resumed the normal activity of tribal life. Spring was at hand; buds were now swelling on the aspen trees.
Meanwhile, a related episode was being enacted far beyond the boundary.
South of Farwell’s post, a matter of a hundred miles or more, in Montana, there lies another hilly outcropping – the Bear’s Paw Mountains. Working out from here, a small gang of “wolfers” from Benton had spent the winter trapping and poisoning the tick-coated harpies of the buffalo herds, and doing some trading. April of the historic year of 1873 had come, and the members of the party – all seasoned and unscrupulous frontiersmen – had packed up and were on the move. Mostly, they were men who lived hard, shot hard, and when opportunity offered, drank hard of “Montana Redeye” and “Tarantula Juice”, the principal medium of border trade and barter. With horses loaded, they struck for Benton to “cash in” and indulge in such attractions as they craved. At the Teton River, ten miles from their destination, a last camp was made, and here, while all slept, a band of Canadian Crees, accompanied by some Metis, ran off some 20 of their horses. Arrived at Benton, the maddened dupes, doubtlessly abetted by much liquor, planned a swift revenge. A punitive expedition of about a dozen desperadoes, including the wolfers, well mounted and under the leadership of an erstwhile Montana sheriff, Tom Hardwick, of unsavoury reputation, was forthwith pledged to the recovery or replacement of the stolen stock and to the fullest possible accounting in red-skin blood. At the Teton, the trail of the Cree raiders was picked up and followed, only to be lost some miles to the northward. Nevertheless, resolved to loose their venom upon Indian flesh, the potential murderers pushed on.
While Hardwick and his co-searchers were casting northward, all was not peaceful in and about the diminutive trading posts in the Cypress Hills; nor in the Indian camps nearby. From time immemorial the place had been a general battleground of warring tribes, and more recently the scene of bitter hatreds engendered by the whiskey trade. Horse-stealing and spontaneous killings were confined to neither side. Testimony criss-crosses and is entangled in every attempt to lift the veil from the utter depravity attendant upon the first trading incursions from Benton to this historic spot; records left by one side contradict the other; details are muddled in keeping with the drunken brawls and liquor-crazed homicides staged by whites and Indians. But from sworn statements of whites and the obviously faithful chronicles and memories of several Assiniboines involved – who still live – an account, to all intents and purposes varying slightly from the truth, emerges.
Besides Little Chief’s followers who, devoid of food, had run the long gauntlet of the winter plains, several bands of the same tribe were encamped in and about the hills, – principally one under Chief Minashinayen, who had wintered in one of the many sheltered coulees, and lost a number of ponies to enemy raiders. None of these Indians had been south of the boundary during the winter. With each and every camp the whiskey traders had been driving a brisk and unscrupulous trade for buffalo robes and furs, but, with the first days of spring, the camps began to move to summer haunts. In addition, 13 lodges of wood Mountain Assiniboines had drifted in from the east and joined Little Chief’s camp on Battle Creek, doubtless attracted by the presence of the traders. And some 40 or 50 lodges stood clustered below the shelter of a steep cut-bank, on the east side of the creek, directly across from Farwell’s post.
Ten days previous to the arrival of Little Chief’s band from its painful trek, a story became current that three horses had been stolen from Farwell’s by passing Assiniboines. Perhaps they had strayed, as the corral gate had been left open. In any case, whiskey was flowing freely, and George Hammond, the owner of two of the horses, seemingly an advance member of the Benton gang, had worked himself into a frenzy and sworn vengeance upon all Indians in the neighbourhood. But Little Chief’s Indians, who had consumed or worn out all but five of their own mounts, had picked up one of Hammond’s missing horses on the way in and returned it to its owner.
That same night, in the budding month of May, Tom Hardwick, with part of his gang, rode into Farwell’s. Within the log trading post the lid was off!
Next morning, the rest of Hardwick’s men arrived. Drinking grew boastful. Farwell kept his head, but Moses Solomon joined in the festivities. Meantime, two kegs of liquor found their way, gratuitously, to the Assiniboine camp. Someone at the post, in his cups, turned the horses out from the corral, and, soon afterwards, Hammond announced in whiskey-sodden expletives that his horse, returned to him only the day before, had again been stolen – by the very Assiniboine who had brought it in. Farwell argued otherwise, and offered to have two horses from the Indian camp delivered to the complaining Hammond backing his word by striking out, across the creek, for that purpose. Little Chief readily complied with the request, offering two horses as security. Meanwhile he sent out some young Indians to search for the missing animal, which was found quietly grazing on a nearby slope.
It was now past midday. While Farwell talked to the chief, several of the Benton gang called to the trader to get out of the way. Well fortified in liquor, they were obviously out to kill! Startled, Farwell shouted back that, if they fired, he would fight with the Indians. He urged the gun-men to hold off until he went to the post for his interpreter, Alexis Le Bombard, in order that both sides might talk the matter over. This was agreed to; but barely had he left when shots rang out.
What followed has been the subject of many versions. From intoxicated minds stories would naturally disagree; falsehoods would spring from the guilty; exaggerations from onlookers. The truth would have it that many of the Assiniboines were hopelessly drunk. Thanks to the liquor purposely bestowed upon them, few of the Indians could offer resistance. The chief of the Wood Mountain band, which had recently been added to the camp, lay helpless. Little Chief was in his senses, and the few who were sober, notably the squaws, having sensed imminent trouble, strove frantically to bring the helpless warriors to their wits. The first shots fired may have been from one or more of these – though it would seem that ammunition was woefully meagre in the camp. The 12 men under Hardwick were joined by others including Hammond, their apparent leader, as well as by Moses Solomon, the trader. Two had been left behind to guard the buildings.
No matter the nature of the preliminaries, bloodshed to a certainty was close at hand. Murder, cold-blooded, besotted, and, under the circumstances, particularly merciless and ghastly, was inescapable. Little Chief’s people assuredly had had no part in the horse theft on the Teton. They had committed no greater evil than to drink the white man’s poison. But, in the minds of the Benton gang, it was sufficient for the purpose that they were Indians.
That May-day afternoon was to witness stark tragedy on Battle Creek. Life in the Cypress Hills was functioning true to form; but utter savagery had of a sudden been confronted by a wave of civilization more savage still. Blood-lust, rendered wild-eyed and determined by copious drinking, must needs vent itself – and the Assiniboines had offered the coveted opportunity. On no account would Benton gossip have grounds for ridicule. The robbery on the Teton, even if amends in kind were not achieved, would be well and truly brought to frontier satisfaction by unerring triggers. Indians must pay. Murderous premeditation on the part of Hardwick and Hammond and their satellites has been proven. Had not the gangsters seized a position along a cut-bank commanding the Assiniboine lodges after first speculating upon the lay of the land, the affair that followed might be said to have occurred on the spur of the moment. A galling fire was poured upon men, women and children indiscriminately. Pandemonium reigned among the lodges. To the credit of Little Chief and the few men he could muster for defence, several futile attempts were made to dislodge the murderers by courageously charging the cut-break. But each sortie was repulsed by the unerring storm of bullets hurled upon it.
Their position helpless, with dead and wounded piling up, the Assiniboines raced towards the Whitemud Coulee directly to the east and on the gangster’s left. Here they attempted to make a stand, but Tom Hardwick and one John Evans mounted their horses and outflanked them. They were submitted to deadly fire from the higher ground, and driven to the cover of the brush. Little Chief tried to outflank the flankers, but several men were sent round-about to Hardwick’s support. One of these, Ed. Grace, attempted a short cut and was shot through the heart by an Indian, who bit the dust a moment later. And so the killing proceeded. Hardwick and his supporters drew in from their outpost, killing Indians by picked shots wherever they appeared. The Assiniboines were murdered, routed and scattered to the winds. As the sun sank, the camp was charged, but none save three wounded men, who were promptly dispatched and several terror-stricken squaws, remained. According to the story handed down, the unfortunate women were taken to Farwell’s and Solomon’s posts, there to face a night of drunken bestiality and outrage.
Next morning, the Assiniboine lodges were rifled of such valuables as they contained, and were then piled with all the Indian equipment and set on fire. Two horses were found and – probably claimed by Hammond. Dead bodies lay everywhere, but the number was never to be known. Many victims, grievously wounded, had been dragged away by the survivors. A ghastly reminder of the outrage was Little Chief’s head on a lodge pole high above the smouldering camp. The one dead white, Ed. Grace, was buried beneath the floor of Farwell’s post, which was then burned down. With that, the Benton colony in Cypress Hills loaded its wagons, vaulted to the saddle and hit the trail to Benton.
Food (or lack of it), festivity, firewater and fighting had contributed to bring about a bloody climax which Canada could not and would not countenance.
Then the North West Mounted Police! The famous march across the plains; the erection of Forts Macleod and Calgary in the Blackfoot realm, and Fort Walsh on Battle Creek – the coming of law and order and square-dealing.
RCMP Quarterly Winter
By ex-Sub/Cst. E. H. Maunsell
The following story is an old timer’s tale about whiskey trading, patent medicine, and carpenters’ levels. We enjoyed reading it and think you will too. The author, ex-Sub./Cst. E. H. Maunsell, was one of the earliest members of the Force – Reg. No. 380. His entire life was as remarkable as the few brief years he describes here.
Born in Ireland on October 14, 1854, he joined the North West Mounted Police on June 11, 1874, and journeyed with the Force on the Famous “march west.” His brother, George W. Maunsell (old service number 386) joined the Force a year later at Dufferin on February 20th. Ned took his discharge on June 25, 1877 (time expired), to take up ranching just outside Fort Macleod, Alberta. George took his discharge on May 31, 1878, to join his brother in forming the well-known IV Ranch adjoining the Peigan Reservation. They were joined in 1881 by a third brother, Harry Frederick, who came out to Alberta from the old country by way of Fort Benton.
The ranch and the family prospered with several family members continuing the traditions of ranching and service to Canada. Ned’s only son, Frederick William Edward, served with the 63rd Battalion Canadian infantry and was killed at Vimy Ridge on April 9, 1917. His son-in-law, Edward Leighton Buckwell, served with the British 22nd Lancers for seven years in India, before joining the 13th (Canadian) Mounted Rifles, then later the Lord Strathcona Horse, at the western front during WW1. Of Ned’s grandsons, Water Herbert Buckwell (a bomber pilot with the
RCAF) was killed in action over Holland during WW II; Maunsell Charles Buckwell served with the Royal Canadian Artillery (medium) during WW11 in England, France, Germany, Italy, Belgium and Holland, retiring from the artillery as a major in 1967; and Leighton Edward Buckwell carried on ranching in the Fort Macleod area – as he does to this day – except for the 1967 to 1975 years when he represented the district in the Alberta provincial legislature as their MLA.
In his later years, prompted by the 50th anniversary of the Force, Ned Maunsell wrote this chronicle of his early life in the NWMP on the Canadian frontier. His story begins here. Ed.
Few people have seen our vast country change from a wilderness into what it is now. When I visit Calgary and stay at the Palliser Hotel I feel like a second Rip Van Winkle. To one who has not had my experience, it would require a vivid imagination to see Indian tepees on the ground now occupied by the hotel and envisage large herds of buffalo grazing on the town site of Calgary. This vast change could never have taken place if the Mounted Police, or some similar force, had not first established law and order.
In 1873, the North West Mounted Police was formed. It consisted of three troops, A, B and C, and comprised 150 men. This Force was dispatched over the Dawson route, the trail joining Port Arthur’s Landing (now Thunder Bay, Ont.) to the Winnipeg area, and wintered at Stone Fort, Manitoba (now Lower Fort Garry, some 20 miles north of Winnipeg). Later the Force was increased to three hundred and D, E and F troops travelled through the United States as far as Fargo, North Dakota, by train, having left Toronto in the early Summer of 1874.
I was among this latter group. At Fargo we got off the train and, after getting our wagons together, marched about 150 miles north to Dufferin, Manitoba, which was about a mile or two north of the international boundary line. There we were joined by the other three troops who had journeyed south from Stone Fort to meet us. We camped at Dufferin for a few weeks, getting our transportation into shape while awaiting the arrival of supplies which came down by boat on the Red River from Fargo. Each troop was provided with a number of the famous Red River carts, hauled by oxen and driven by half-breeds under the charge of a man whose name was, not surprisingly, Driver.
We all knew that we were being dispatched into the Northwest Territories for the purpose of suppressing the sale of whiskey to the Indians and that our objective was Fort Whoop-Up which was supposed to be strongly fortified and garrisoned by several “desperadoes.” In order to demolish this Fort, we brought with us two nine pounders and two mortars.
We fretted much at being delayed at Dufferin as we were anxious to start our crusade. At Dufferin I had an opportunity to observe that not all my colleagues were “abstainers.” Manitoba was not “dry” in those days; in fact it could be described as “extremely humid.” No matter how small a settlement might be, a saloon appeared to be a necessary adjunct. There was not a settlement at that time around Dufferin, still it boasted two saloons. Their only justification for existing was that Royal Engineers wintered there. The Engineers were employed surveying the forty-ninth parallel. They had left by the time the police arrived and the saloons, not expecting us, had allowed their stocks to run low. Those Mounties who were not teetotalers dried up the place by the simple expedient of consuming all the contents.
On the first week of July, we started on what proved to be the longest cavalry march on record. Owing to the large number of wagons and Red River carts, we presented a most imposing appearance. We started out in great pomp; a large advance guard of mounted men in extended order and a large rear guard. At night, we were guarded by nine mounted sentries. However, our eastern horses, not being used to the prairie grasses, failed rapidly and we soon abandoned a good many of these frills. In fact, we did not go very far before we were converted from a mounted to a dismounted force, and had to depend on shanks’ mare.* On arrival at Roche-Perchee, “A” Troop was detached from the main force and dispatched to Fort Edmonton. This troop was under command of Colonel Jarvis and had for sergeant-major the later General, Sir S. Steele.
At Old Wives Lake we encountered the first aborigines. To those of us who had formal, preconceived ideas from reading Fenimore Cooper and other authors, it proved a bitter disappointment. I was particularly angry with Longfellow, for, on carefully looking over the whole band, I did not see a single Hiawatha or Minnehaha – even allowing for a poet’s license.
*One’s own legs as a means of locomotion
The impoverished condition of this band of Indians led to much debate as to the existence of the whisky traders. Some argued that if all the Indians were as poor as these, no whiskey trader could make a living out of dealing with them. Others advanced the idea that their poverty was caused by dealing with the whiskey traders. The only touch of romance that we observed was that all the bucks were armed with bows and arrows.
We obtained some mementos from these Indians which we long treasured. Unfortunately, we pitched our tents in one of their abandoned camping grounds. The spot might have better been called a cleansing station because it was there that the Indians got rid of their parasites. The moment we set up camp those creatures became very much attached to us. The fresh pastures which we afforded them were evidently most suitable for they increased and multiplied at a malicious rate. The plague was aggravated by the fact that after leaving Old Wives Lake we travelled through a country where water was scarce and we had no opportunity of washing. To make matters more uncomfortable, we were also reduced to very small rations.
The gloomiest days ever experienced by the Mounted Police were, undoubtedly, the days of short rations. In the morning each man was issued a small lump of half-baked dough and a cubic inch of boiled bacon. These were promptly devoured in a few mouthfuls. We then had to fast till the following morning. All day we tramped over the endless prairie, suffering the pangs of hunger by day, devoured by parasites by night.
This was very different from what we had pictured ourselves doing when we joined the Force. We were all young men and inspired with a spirit of adventure. We had imagined ourselves mounted on spirited horses chasing desperadoes over the prairies. We had also thought that perhaps the Indians might not appreciate the motive of our coming and prove hostile. All of which would have been much more exciting than fighting hunger and cooties. The shortness of supplies was, however, somewhat alleviated when we got into buffalo country.
It was most providential that we met the buffalo when we did as we had completely run out of provisions. We were now put on a straight ration of buffalo meat and although the quantity was not limited, our appetite was not really appeased. The buffalo we first met were the old bulls, those which had been driven out of the herds. Their meat was very tough and the only way we could cook it was to boil it until it disintegrated into strings. In a few days, however, we got to where the buffalo were numerous and some discrimination could be used in selecting animals for slaughter.
The method adopted for cooking was primitive. Buffalo were killed every day, more or less according to chance. When we camped at night the cooks would chop their meat into large chunks and boil it. In the morning, each man was allowed to help himself to what he thought would suffice him for the day and it was marvelous what he could consume. We would fairly fill our haversack, and instead of having regular times for meals, it seemed as if we were eating all day long. In this way we easily consumed ten pounds per day. Even then we did not feel satisfied as our craving for vegetable food was intense.
I believe the aim of the Commissioner was to keep the line of march about a hundred miles north of the boundary and this distance was pretty well maintained. We skirted the Cypress Hills on the north and crossed several deep coulees containing many berry bushes laden with berries which we devoured ravenously regardless of whether they were ripe or not. The chokecherries were particularly welcome. We found they counteracted the laxative effect of consuming such a vast quantity of fresh meat.
For some time before we turned north the only water we had to drink was what we could find in half-dry alkali lakes. The land surrounding these lakes was just as bare as if a prairie fire had swept across it due to the vast herds of buffalo which fed there. The water in the lakes was also badly fouled by the buffalo.
When we turned north, we followed a long coulee which led us to a valley through which ran a magnificent river. This must have been either the Seven Persons coulee or else the coulee where Medicine Hat was later built. Here we remained for a few days and thoroughly enjoyed washing ourselves and drinking clear, cool water. Our poor horses seemed to equally enjoy the fresh water; they had been having a hard time both from shortage of water and grass.
While we were camped on this bottom, scouting parties were set out to see if they could find Fort Whoop-Up or any other human habitation. They reason for the change in the direction of our march led to the wildest speculation amongst the men. We came to the conclusion that the government must have been hoaxed and that such a place as Whoop-Up did not exist. Having carefully searched the country where it was supposed to be, we were sure it didn’t exist.
The yarn about the whiskey traders, we decided, was pure myth. What would whiskey traders want in a country where there were no Indians? We had been travelling for over two months and had not met one Indian, except the band at Old Wives Lake. We had become so skeptical that some even doubted the existence of the Rocky Mountains! They thought that after travelling for two months and a half due west from Manitoba we should have caught sight of them. The men by now were a very disgruntled and disgusted lot. We had been marching for a long time, half starved of food, forced to drink the most vile kind of water, and bothered by parasites. Now it seemed we had been dispatched on a fool’s errand and would become the laughing stock of Canada.
After travelling a few days, the tops of three hills came into view. These hills proved to be the Sweet Grass Hills, although at the time, we did not know what they were called. It was a great relief to the eye to see hills after observing nothing but monotonous prairie for so long. We were astonished, though, at how long it took to get near one of those buttes. Distance is so deceptive.
About the twentieth of September, we experienced a severe snowstorm and this day’s march put me in mind of a picture I once saw of the retreat of Napoleon’s army from Moscow! I was driving a Red River cart following the trail that the lead wagon made in the snow. Now and then, I would pass a wagon, the team of which was too played out to continue and was, therefore, waiting for the rear guard to give it assistance. We also had a number of saddle horses which were so weak they could not be induced to travel without being led. We used to tie seven or eight of these together in a line and a man would lead each string. If one of these fell, sometimes the whole line would also tumble – like a lot of nine pins.
Because of the storm, the buffalo started moving south. The visibility, however, was extremely limited and, as a result, we were overrun quite frequently by bands of buffalo which did not seem to notice us in the thick snow.
That night, we camped on some high ground and it was sunrise the next day before the rear guard got in. During the night, the snow had ceased and when reveille sounded in the morning, at about 5 o’clock, there was not a cloud to be seen. Soon we saw what we took for a strange phenomenon. Bright, rosy-pink objects appeared in the west well above the horizon. It came to my mind that this must be the light referred to by poets as “the light that never was on sea or land.” When the sun rose, the source of this mysterious light was revealed. To the west stood the Rocky Mountains clad in new snow. The sun, before it became visible to us in the east, had illuminated the higher peaks to our west. The whole scene was a marvelous panorama. Not only were the mountains visible in the west, but south of us rising out of the prairie stood the three buttes of the Sweet Grass Hills looking like gigantic sentinels guarding the unknown.
The east also presented a sight which no eye will ever witness again. As I stated, we were camped on high ground and as far as the eye could see were vast herds of buffalo moving slowly south, their black bodies a stark contrast against the snow-covered prairies. The storm evidently had moved the buffalo from the north and they were now returning to their winter ranges. It was impossible to calculate their vast numbers. Who would have predicted then that the buffalo would almost become extinct in a few years!
From that point, Colonel French and Colonel Macleod and some other officers went to Benton, Montana, to obtain supplies. After a day or two, the Force moved east to a lake which I believe is called Wild Horse Lake. Our half-breed guide, who was an old buffalo hunter, advised us against moving onto the flats while the buffalo were so thick. They would be sure to stampede and if we were in the way the result would surely be a disaster.
We remained at Wild Horse Lake until the Commissioner returned. He came into camp after midnight and we were much puzzled to know how he had found our location in the dark. The explanation came in the morning when we found he was accompanied by a guide, Jerry Potts. In later days, I made several trips with Jerry and I am convinced that he was possessed of some special sense which is given to few. No matter how dark the night, no matter how great the distance, Jerry could lead you to any point you wanted to go. He was more familiar with this vast country than any settler was with his quarter section.
I was on guard the night the Commissioner arrived. After things were quiet, the corporal of the guard investigated the wagons and found one contained some sacks of potatoes. He “appropriated” some for each one of the guards. As we had a large fire of buffalo chips going, we proceeded to roast our potatoes. However, impatient, I could not resist eating one of mine raw. I enjoyed it more than any fruit I had ever eaten.
Next day everything was abustle. It was decided to leave three troops B, C and F in the country under the command of Colonel Macleod, while D and E Troops went to the Swan River area, the point that had been chosen for our Headquarters. All the strongest horses were selected for the two troops that had to return. This trip was an enjoyable one. We were well supplied with provisions and we made good time. When we arrived at Swan River we found that the construction of the barracks was still in the hands of the Board of Works and was far from being completed. We also found that the quantity of hay that had been put up for the Winter use of our horses had been burnt in a prairie fire, so Colonel French decided to leave E Troop at Swan River, taking D with him to Fort Garry where he arrived early in November. By this time, we were indeed an unkempt and ragged lot. Colonel French had us all weighed and much to our surprise we had all gained weight, notwithstanding the hardships and hunger we had suffered. We then moved from Fort Garry to Dufferin, the point from which we started, having completed a march of over two thousand miles. Here we occupied the quarters recently vacated by the engineers who had completed the survey of the international boundary line to the Rocky Mountains.
In the early Summer of 1875, we moved to Swan River and met E Troop who had wintered there. Swan River was a point which would delight the heart of a prohibitionist. There was no possible way of anyone running whiskey into that area without being instantly detected. We remained at Swan River camp for about a year and only on two occasions was liquor brought in.
The first “culprit” was no less a person than Major General Selby Smith. General Smith was at that time in command of the forces in Canada – an Imperial officer. The General, having inspected the garrison at Fort Garry, decided to visit British Columbia, travelling through the Northwest Territories with a police escort. He had been requested by the government to inspect and report on the police, and for this purpose he and his staff visited Swan River barracks early in July. He camped in front of the officers’ quarters which were a long distance from the men’s quarters.
That night I was on guard duty and at about two o’clock in the morning a sentry reported to Sgt. Tom Lake, who was in charge of the guard, that D Troop’s barrack windows were lit up. Lake took me and another man with him to investigate the cause of this extraordinary occurrence. I might say that the men’s quarters were one huge building occupied by D and E Troops. Before we reached the room, we heard a great deal of laughing. When we arrived there, we found all the lamps lit and the men of D and E Troops dress just as if they had gotten out of bed, and all acting in a most peculiar manner. The only one decently dressed was a man called Jack Beaudoin. He was decidedly under the influence of liquor! He at once rushed up to Lake saying, “Sergeant Lake, you are the very man I want. I was just going to see you. I want you to arrest General Smith for bringing whiskey into the Northwest Territories.” Lake appeased him by saying he would attend to the matter in the morning and that the General had no chance of escaping. He soon sent all the men back to their beds and turned the lights out.
The next day after coming off guard I got an explanation of what caused this excitement. Beaudoin, a man who had the instincts of a Sherlock Holmes, reasoned that it was highly improbable that General Smith and his entourage were making this long and weary journey without being provided with some stimulants. To test his theory, sometime after midnight, he searched the General’s wagons and was rewarded by finding a five-gallon jug containing some suspicious fluid. He took the jug to the barrack room and woke up two special chums. These three worthies made a most exhaustive test of the contents of the jug! After several libations they became convinced both from its taste and effect that it was indeed whiskey. They then woke up the rest of D Troop, and having also roused E Troop, invited them all to partake. We expected there would be a great investigation into this matter but we were mistaken.
The next attempt to get whiskey was made by a police officer. I was forced to perform an unpleasant duty this time. During Summer and Fall a light wagon was used for bringing in the mail, but in Winter it came by dog train. An order was issued that nothing but letters and papers would be brought and we were warned not to send for anything else. At this time, I was a clerk in the orderly room and one of my duties was to accept the mail from the mail carrier and sort it. A few days before Christmas the mail arrived and I emptied the contents of the sacks on the floor. I noticed a parcel addressed to Sub-Inspector Dickens. Just as I had the Colonel’s mail sorted he arrived in the orderly room and I handed him his letters. The parcel at once caught his eagle eye. He asked me to whom it was addressed and I said Mr. Dickens. I was then told to tell Mr. Dickens that the Colonel wanted to see him in the orderly room. When Dickens appeared, the Colonel asked him if he had not heard the order about not getting parcels by mail. Dickens said he had but that he had sent for the parcel before the order came out. The Colonel appeared to accept this explanation and turned to go into his office when Dickens made a fatal mistake. He stooped and picked up his parcel and started to leave the orderly room. It seemed strange to me that he was in such a hurry to secure this parcel when he knew I would be delivering the rest of his mail in a very short time. It must have also seemed peculiar to the Colonel, for just as Dickens was going out the door he asked, “What is in that parcel, Dickens?” Dickens stammered. His stammering became worse with his increasing nervousness. After much stuttering he managed to say, “B-b-b-brandy, Sir.” The Colonel then told him to hand the parcel to me and directed me to open it. I produced from it an imperial quart of Hudson’s Bay brandy. I was then ordered to take the bottle outside and smash it. This was a most unpleasant duty.
Fortunately, at Swan River there were no substitutes for liquor such as the patent medicines prevalent in those times. The only instance we had of the terrible effects of excessive drinking of patent medicines happened to a corporal named McCrom. He was sent on detachment to Fort Carleton, a Hudson’s Bay post. After being there some months, he was reported dead. Another man was sent to take his place and instructed to inquire into the cause of McCrom’s death. In due time the man reported that he thought McCrom had died from excessive drinking of Perry Davis painkiller as he had found over eight broken bottles in McCrom’s room.
The only person at Swan River who drank fairly constantly was a strange character named John Wymersburch, who hailed from Luxembourg. John had a job attending sick horses. Whatever these horses suffered from, many required a dose of sweet spirits of nitre. When John administered this he always took horn for horn with his patient. It did not seem to do him any harm.
Had I taken my discharge from the police at Swan River and left the Northwest Territories, I think I should have remained a lifelong convert to prohibition. I could see nothing in the enforced temperance that we were subject to, but what was beneficial.
In 1876 the Custer massacre occurred and the United States troops pursued the Sioux northward. Fearing the Sioux would be forced into Canada, D Troop was sent to Fort Macleod to reinforce C. On arriving at Fort Macleod as a member of D Troop, I expected conditions would be similar to what they were at Swan River. Indeed, nothing could have been more dissimilar – as far as drinking was concerned. At Macleod men were quartered in smaller rooms, nine men to a room. The room I was assigned contained men with whom I was quartered at Dufferin and whose habits regarding drinking I knew. Now, had we returned to Dufferin where there were two saloons, I feel sure that at least two of these men, besides myself, would have had no thought of visiting these institutions. However, after supper on the day of our arrival we were visited by a C Troop man who produced a bottle containing sufficient whiskey to give us all a drink. After our experience at Swan River we were much restrained. But one thing led to another and soon we asked the C Troop man if he could obtain any more. All subscribed sufficient funds to purchase two more bottles and for the first time in my life, I knew what it was to be intoxicated.
Now, I must recount the doings, as related to me by a C Troop man, of that part of the Force that left us in the Sweet Grass Hills in the Fall of 1874. He said that as soon as we separated at Wild Horse Lake, they marched to Fort Whoop-Up under the guidance of Jerry Potts and had no difficulty in finding it. It was built where the St. Mary and Belly Rivers join. Bearing in mind reports that the fort was garrisoned and prepared to fight, Colonel Macleod approached it cautiously. The nine pounders and mortars were placed so as to command the fort. C Troop was the artillery troop. In the morning, long before sunrise, the other two troops were given extra ammunition and told to advance on the fort in extended order, being cautioned that if fired on to at once take cover and wait for the guns to do their work. As the men advanced and the sun rose, no sign of life appeared around the fort. When they had approached within two hundred yards they saw an Indian run from an outhouse into a fort. They expected the alarm would be given and they would be fired on at any moment, but nothing happened and they advanced right up to the fort. Colonel Macleod hammered on the gates with the butt of his revolver. It was opened by a man with a wooden leg who said, “Walk right in, Colonel, you are perfectly safe.” It appeared that he and his squaw comprised the entire garrison. The police carefully searched the fort but found neither liquor nor defenders, so the garrison was left in peace.
Jerry Potts then led the police to Fort Kipp, named after a half-breed, Joe Kipp. This fort was close to the junction of the Old Man’s and Belly Rivers. Here also they drew a blank. The next point of attack was Fort Weatherwax which was built on a gravel bar of the Old Man’s River about four miles east of the present town of Macleod. Here the police met great success. The fort contained a large quantity of merchandise such as the Indians traded for and a large quantity of whiskey. Beside these, there were a great number of buffalo robes. Everything was confiscated and a heavy fine was inflicted on Mr. Weatherwax. He was an American and had an implicit belief in the all powerfulness of his country. He told Colonel Macleod that as soon as he could get into communication with Washington, the Colonel and every Mounted Policeman would wish they had never been born. From Fort Weatherwax the police moved up the river a few miles to an island where they built Fort Macleod under great difficulties, the Winter having set in. While some engaged in building, others were sent out under the guidance of Jerry Potts to capture every whisky trader in the country. Chasing whisky traders was most congenial work for us. As we viewed the matter, those who were engaged in the business must be unscrupulous; not only were they selling their poisonous whisky to the Indians but they took advantage of the Indians’ subsequent intoxication to obtain their buffalo robes for practically nothing. The Indians became very friendly towards the police, largely owing to the diplomacy of Colonel Macleod. He explained to them the object of the police coming and also the laws they were expected to obey. These he administered with justice and firmness and thereby gained the confidence of all.
In 1876, the I. G. Baker Company and the I. C. Powers Company, large firms from Benton, Montana, established stores close to Fort Macleod expecting that when the whisky traders had been banished, they would acquire the large Indian trade. They also catered to the Police. I do not remember which of these stores brought in substitutes for whisky. The first of those substitutes was very near the real thing. It was put up in fruit cans and labelled, “Brandy Peaches.” On opening one of these cans it was found to contain a few peaches immersed in a fluid that was highly exhilarating. “The authorities,” however, saw through the thin disguise and placed an embargo on brandy peaches. Unfortunately, there was no restriction on patent medicine and those that contained alcohol found ready sale. This encouraged some enterprising person to smuggle in whiskey from Montana which was just as poisonous as the patent medicines. There was no doubt the rotten stuff was intended for trading with the Indians.
When I arrived in Macleod in ’76, I found an extraordinary state of affairs which is difficult to relate. I will first deal with patent medicines. I found many of the men consumed them in large quantities. I forget the names of the most popular brands but everything that contained alcohol was eagerly bought. I never used them. If I had, I would not be writing these reminiscences today. Of course, these drugs were not always in stock in the stores: everything in those days was brought by bull train from Benton, Montana, and there would be long intervals between shipments. Occasionally, however, at the urgent request of some of the men, the stores would obtain a case or two through mail carriers.
All this reminds me of a man whom we called Doc. He told me some of his life. He was intended for the medical profession, but having become a victim to the drinking habit, his fond but deluded parents thought their son might become weaned from his vice if they got him into the Mounted Police and thereby sent to a bone-dry country. Doc, however, found no difficulty in adapting himself to the “wine” of the country shortly after he arrived at Macleod. He became a regular patent-medicine fiend. He was on guard once when a case was brought in by the mail carrier. When the guard was relieved at five in the afternoon, Doc hurried down to the I. G. Baker store and asked John Smith if there was any of the medicine left. John replied that it was all sold, long ago. On the counter, close to where Doc was standing, lay a carpenter’s level which Doc picked up. He asked Smith if he had any more and was told there were two more, which he at once bought. He took these to his barrack room, procured a screwdriver and removed the glass tubes which contained some kind of alcohol. The tubes he emptied into a cup and drank. Fortunately, he got very ill. No doubt that prevented carpenters’ levels from becoming a popular beverage.
I believe that all those who drank patent medicines to excess had their lives shortened but I only remember one case where the effect was sudden. This happened in either ’78 or ’79 when I had started ranching. I came to Macleod to see a man named Toni la Chapelle. I found him in a room at Taylor’s Restaurant, together with all the elite of Macleod. The gathering was presided over by Captain Winder who was then in command of the Macleod post. They were evidently celebrating something. Amongst those present was Jerry Potts and another half breed named Roche La Rue who was always called “Rock.” On entering the room Captain Winder presented me with a bottle which was labelled “No. 6.” I glanced at the label’s directions and I think a teaspoonful was a dose for whatever ailed you. I followed the directions and it was not unpleasant to taste. While I was discussing my business with Tony someone suggested another round of drinks of which all partook, with the exception of Rock who was sitting on a chair apparently asleep. Captain Winder told Jerry Potts to wake him up. After giving him several shakes, Jerry turned and said he was dead. It appeared Rock has been the first to sample No. 6. It was a new brand and he had consumed a whole bottle before the celebration had commenced.
Eventually, the selling of whiskey to the Indians completely ceased. The Indians gave no trouble as there were still sufficient buffalo to supply them with all they wanted. So the only duty which the police had to perform was the one of trying to capture whiskey smugglers who were endeavouring to run in whiskey to sell to the police themselves. There was a sort of tacit understanding between the smugglers and the police. Every policeman was keen to capture the smugglers on their way in. If this happened, the smugglers’ horses, wagons, and all wagon contents would be confiscated. If a smuggler was successful in running the blockade, he, to some extent, found sanctuary. He invariably cached his whiskey and brought it in to town in small quantities, disposing of it as opportunity occurred. The police greatly enjoyed the challenge of trying to capture the smuggler; it was certainly much more preferable than the monotony of barrack life. The police were handicapped, however, as there was no telling where or when the smugglers would cross the boundary line, and they always travelled by night. Eventually, they would be apprehended though – with the exception of one man, named Lawrence.
So successful was Lawrence in eluding us that we would have preferred capturing him to winning the V. C. He lived in a house in Macleod and made no bones about his livelihood. The police and he were the best of friends and would frequently join one another. Lawrence was kept under observation and if was reported absent we knew he had gone to Montana for whiskey. After a few days, patrols would be sent out to try and intercept him, but as always happened, Lawrence turned up in Macleod smiling, followed in a few days by the disgusted patrols. Finding it impossible to capture Lawrence coming in with his cargo, it was decided to worry him by fining him for having whisky in his possession. Watch was kept on him at night with the hope that he would be seen leaving town to visit his cache; the intention being to catch him returning with booze.
One night the scout reported that he thought Lawrence had whiskey in his cabin as he had noticed several men entering and leaving during the evening. Sgt. John Birk and two men were sent to search. It being June, the sun was just rising when they entered Lawrence’s cabin. They found two other men there, asleep on chairs. Lawrence was in bed and apparently asleep. Birk announced, “Lawrence I have come to search your cabin.” Now Lawrence was very alert. He said, “Alright, Sergeant, I will be with you in a minute,” or something like that, which led the police to think that he realized he was caught and was prepared to go to barracks with them. He got out of bed, put on his trousers and boots, went to a washstand where there was a basin and jug, emptied the contents of the jug in the basin, and washed himself. He then combed and brushed his hair, and, having performed his ablutions, he did what was usual: took the basin and threw its content out the door. When this was done, he turned to Birk and said, “Now go ahead with your search.” The cabin was small, and after looking in every possible place the police could find nothing incriminating. What puzzled them most was that while Lawrence was perfectly sober, he smelt like a distillery and so did his house. They had to return to barracks and report that they had not found anything. Some days later, Lawrence revealed the mystery; when the police had entered his cabin there was about a quart of whisky in the jug which he emptied into the basin, washed himself with, then threw out.
When ranching started, the duties of the police were greatly increased. We were living close to Montana which contained many lawless men. Horses were frequently stolen and driven across the border. This alone kept the police busy. Then when the buffalo entirely disappeared, as they did around 1879, the Indians at once took to killing cattle. Even after the Indians had been placed on reserves and were being fed by the government this offense did not cease. It took some time for the Indians to become accustomed to reservation life and cease their nomadic life. They were used to consuming vast quantities of meat. The rations of meat they were given on the reservations, although sufficient for a white man, were entirely inadequate for an Indian.
The police got every assistance from the ranchers in suppressing cattle rustling; but in another way, the influx of the ranchers added to their difficulties in controlling the liquor problem. It is safe to say that amongst these early ranchers not one prohibitionist could be found, nor could a single person be found who would not avail himself of illicit spirits if the opportunity presented itself. As a consequence, whiskey smuggling increased to such an extent that the entire police force, even
if they had no other duties to perform, could not control it. It had a demoralizing effect on our men. They were trying to enforce a law-prohibition, which was disapproved of by all the settlers and for that matter, the police themselves, it must be confessed that if the reputation of the Force had to rest on their enforcement of prohibition, it would not have attained the high level it has. It can easily be understood that when the government at last recognized the impossibility of enforcing an unpopular law, the Force heaved a great sigh of relief. They were now able to bend all their energies towards suppressing other crimes.
In closing, I would like to make a brief summary of what the pioneer police undertook and accomplished. In 1874, three hundred green men, some very young without any experience of prairie life and few with the experience of discipline, were launched into this unknown country, told to put an end to the sale of whiskey to the Indians and to instill in the latter, some of the most savage tribes to North American respect for law and order. This they accomplished well. They could not have done so if they had been men of an inferior class. When the Sioux, under the leadership of Sitting Bull, crossed the line in 1877 and 1878, after having defeated and annihilated the flower of the American Cavalry, they were handled by a few Mounted Policemen at Cypress Hills. They became as obedient to law as if the police were ten thousand strong. To appreciate what the police accomplished, in those early days, one has only to look at conditions as they existed in Montana: shootings were of daily occurrence and lynch law the only law in force.
Have I not reason to be justly proud of the boast that I belonged to that body of men who laid the foundations on which those who followed built such splendid traditions.
Plains Indian Beadwork
The RCMP Quarterly July 1957
Plains Indian Beadwork
By Mrs. J. A. Herman
Mrs. M. B. Weeks – Regina author and authority on Indian work who, with the writer, assisted Curator Band in unpacking and assembling the collection – points out that from the earliest days Indians have been makers, workers and traders in beads. The beads first used by Indians were carved out of shells. The quahog or clam shell so numerous on the Atlantic coast and, somewhat less extensively, the tooth shell or Dentalium on the north-west coast and the abalone on the California coast were used. Tribes living away from the sea coast obtained the coveted purple and white shells through trade. As the Crees were reputed to be shrewd traders, they no doubt obtained large supplies through barter; but they also manufactured their own from any hard substance that came to hand. These beads although less valuable than wampum as the shell beads were called, were nevertheless highly prized.
Wampum was of two kinds – white and black or dark purple. The black beads had twice the value of the white. Wampum was formerly used as a medium of exchange among the Indians and was also worn as an ornament to denote the wearer’s wealth, social position in the tribe, and standing with regard to the Great Spirit’s favor. The use of wampum constituted a bond of union among them such as scarcely was supplied by language, religion or racial customs. Wampum beads were simply cylinders of shell about one-eighth of an inch in diameter, and about one-fourth of an inch in length, which were polished smooth by being rubbed against stones, and bored by means of a flint awl. Stringing beads crude and uneven of their own manufacture on threads of sinew, Indian women with the use of bone needles wove stories of victorious wars, exciting hunts, ancient legends, and important tribal events into the beadwork which adorned the clothing of the Indian braves, or sometimes ornamented the articles used for offering in worship to the Great Spirit, and often-times recorded messages of peace and war on beadwork belts sent to distant tribes.
With the coming of the white man, Indian women were supplied with china beads. Delighted and dazzled with the rainbow colors of the beads which they thought possessed magical properties, the Indian women were inspired to express themselves more vigorously through beadwork art. Many excellent examples of Algonquin designs have been more vigorously carried with the tribes in their westward journeys. These aboriginal artists developed and enriched the patterns to such an extent that the beadwork of the Crees is more highly valued by connoisseurs than that of any other tribe.
The designs worked can be roughly divided into two classes – geometric and floral. The geometric patterns show squares, arrow heads, knife, tent and other such designs which are somewhat reminiscent of Caucasian decorative art symbols. The floral designs copied from flowers, berries, and vines along the trails, as well as patterns found on the calicoes and shawls brought in by the traders, are not as old and original as the geometrical decorations, but have a romantic and delightful significance in Indian beadwork art. The curves in the floral designs, both single and double, were often used to represent the different branches of a family and other such significant facts. White beads often meant peace; red beads signified war; black beads recorded disaster; blue beads conveyed religious meanings. Plants considered valuable because of their food, medicinal, or religious properties, were often depicted in beadwork. The violet flower has a romantic history of its own, as have the arrow head, marsh marigold, wild buckwheat plants and many others.
To quote Mrs. Weeks: “In Cree beadwork each bead is sewn to the cloth separately which gives the completed work a pleasingly smooth appearance, especially when the background is white. The rich color combination in either floral or geometric patterns stand out vividly against the white background so common in Cree work. In Sioux beadwork, five or six beads are threaded onto a thread already attached to a canvas – then laid flat and fastened. This process is continued back and forth until each row is finished. The work when completed has a rigid effect which is most attractive. The Sioux favored solid areas of strong color such as deep blue, crimson red and deep wine. Glass beads are not satisfactory in copying old designs, Czechoslovakian or Austrian beads can more nearly approximate the old beads which were bought by Indian women from the Hudson Bay Company. The designs were worked out as the beadworkers went along – charts were never used. Animal, curve, floral and geometric designs were created and blended into an over-all picture as they originated or following a pattern of heraldic or traditional prototypes held fast in the women’s memories.”
R.C.M.P. Quarterly Jan. 1949
By A/Cpl. H. J. MacDonald
An old timer tells a young member of the Force about an incident in the early days when patrols on horseback were the usual thing.
“Funny you should mention the name Johnson, son,” the old-timer said to me. “Used t’know a man by that name. We didn’t like him atall. Rode the dickens out him too. But we were mighty sorry for that, one day. Yessir, mighty sorry.” He slowly shook his gray head. “Poor old Johnson. … Y’know, son. I learned one thing from him, though.” He pointed the stem of his pipe at me. “You can never really judge a man from his face or actions until the chips are down. Yessir, Johnson taught me that. Poor old Johnson. I wonder where he is now?”
From his seat in the swivel chair behind the big desk, the old-timer paused and stared reflectively at the closed door of the detachment. Beneath his white, bushy moustache, his lips were curled into a faint reminiscent smile. Striking a match he lit his pipe.
Tonight, I told myself, the old-timer has a story. Not wanting to interrupt him when he got started, I quickly and quietly took the chair by the typewriter, loosened my tunic, leaned back against the wall and waited. The graveyard shift can be long sometimes; especially when duties are few. And being fresh out of Depot, I hadn’t quite got used to it yet, although I was trying hard. And I think the old-timer sensed this. He came into the office two or three nights a week. Sometimes we played crib, sometimes we just talked. That is, he talked, I listened. Like tonight.
“Walter Isaiah Johnson was his full name, son,” the old-timer began again. “The laziest man I ever met in my life. He stood six foot seven in his socks. Had a head like a pin with two small black eyes, cold and aloof. How that man hated work.”
He chuckled to himself, blew smoke into the air, then continued: “I often wondered why he ever joined up. It wasn’t for the pay. Not in those days, anyway. Maybe it was because of his legs. He had the strongest pair of legs which ever girt a horse. Bar none. Yep! Wouldn’t atall be surprised if that weren’t the reason. I guess he figured he could take it easy. Sort of wrap those legs of his round the horse and relax. And get paid for it, too.”
“We’d just started training a couple of days when Walt – that’s what I used to call him – arrived. Late, as usual. He told the sergeant-major he’d fallen asleep on the train. Got off at Broadview instead of Regina. Mind you, son he told the truth. But sometimes – Well, y’know what I mean, son, it’s a wise man who uses his baser self on occasions. But that was Walt. And that’s the way he told it. And as you can imagine, the sergeant-major wasn’t pleased.”
The old-timer winked at me, and we both laughed.
After a while, he went on: “Well, the word soon spread round barracks, as it does, and the boys took up the sabre. They ribbed him a plenty. It would’ve stopped soon if it hadn’t been for Walt’s attitude. He didn’t give a smart one back. He didn’t smile. He didn’t laugh. He didn’t get sore. He didn’t do nothing. Just looked at ‘em with contempt written all over him.
“We got pretty sore at old Walt. He acted that way all the time. We began to think he felt he was too good for us. Actually, son, I believe now he just didn’t give a damn for anyone. Not even himself. There’s men in this world like that.”
I nodded to assure him I believed him. He sucked on his pipe, then commenced to shake it, trying to force the juice out of the stem.
“Anyway,” the old-timer went on, “as you would expect, things went from bad to worse for him. He took a terrible ridin’. But it didn’t bother him. Ridin’ him had as much effect as shootin’ peas at that there filing cabinet. They just bounced off him without leavin’ a dent.”
The old-timer got up off the chair and went over to lean against the counter.
“In the gym we’d try to get him to put on the gloves. He’d put ‘em on all right. But at the first punch he’d get a sprained finger or ankle or something’. Always somethin’ he could think of.” He stopped to clear his throat. “Then we got to thinkin’ he was a bit yella. And that was the worst thing of all. The boys stopped talking to him. Ignored him completely. That would’ve bothered the ordinary man. But it didn’t bother Walt. Nosir. That suited Walt fine.”
“But why,” I asked, bewildered, “why didn’t they dis—“
“Discharge him?” the old-timer said, interrupting me. He smiled. “Perhaps, son, the powers that be saw a little more’n we did. Anyway the day came when we were all to change our minds about him. I can remember it just as clear as if it happened right here only five minutes ago. I’ll never forget it.”
He came back and sat down in the chair. He put his pipe aside, crossed his legs and looked at me.
“It was spring and we were ridin’ in the school when the sergeant sent Johnson and me out to exercise our horses. The sergeant used to like to do that so’s we’d get used to ridin’ on our own. I had an old mare by the name of Nora. Johnson was on Stub. They called him Stub because he was the stubbornest piece of horseflesh you ever did see. I’m sure he must’ve been sired by a mule. Mud – how that cussed horse hated mud. Get him out on the prairie and if you let him hit a dry spot, you walked home. It took more’n three men to get him movin’ again and back to the stable.
“Well, this day everyone sorta thought Walt was in for it. We’d had a chinook the last few days and a hot sun. The prairie just looked like thousands of small lakes and rivers. Mud everywhere y’looked. Prairie mud, thick and gooey.
“We clopped along, taking it easy. I didn’t speak to Walt. He probably wouldn’t have answered anyways. Instead, I pulled out my ocarina and began to play. It was real nice, son, though I knew Walt didn’t appreciate my music. But I liked to think I was keeping him awake. Soon we came to the gully on this side of the main line railroad tracks. You know the place I mean?”
“Well,” he continued, “we went along the gully for a short distance and then had to cross the tracks. I pulled into the lead, Indian fashion, with Walt following. I crossed the tracks. And no sooner had I got over when I heard a train whistle. I stopped playing. I knew it was the No. 10. The local to Saskatoon in my time.”
“Still is,” I said.
The old-timer nodded. “I let the first blast go, and was about to carry on with my tune to the gophers when if that darn whistle didn’t go again. That sorta startled me, son. Most times the No. 10 scooted by without even one toot. Getting curious, I turned in my saddle to have a look.
“Son,” the old-timer said, leaning forward on one knee. “I couldn’t believe my eyes.” He reached over to the desk and pointed to the ink well. “Here, the No. 10 is coming down the track for all she’s worth. Here” – he pointed at the stapler on the far side of the desk – “is Stub with Walt on his back parked plumb in the centre of the track. I almost fell clear off my mount. I knew right away what’d happened. Stub had found a dry spot on the grade.
“I yelled to Walt: ‘Get off’m! Get off’m!’ Walt climbed off. He yanked, pushed, pulled and cussed at Stub. The whistle of the train became a long shriek. Stub moved a bit – but now that dang horse was facing the train.
“Walt kept on trying to get him off the tracks. I never heard him speak so much, if y’call cussin’ speakin’. But I knew he’d never budge that goat. There wasn’t time to do anythin’.
“’For gosh sake, Walt,’ I hollered, “Leave him be. Get off the tracks!’
“Walt looked at me. Then at the train. It couldn’t have been any more’n half a mile away. Then, so help me, son, if he didn’t jump back into the saddle!
“I froze as I watched him. With all the power in those big legs of his he began giving Stub a terrific pounding. It was unmerciful punishment. The kind only Walt could give to a horse.
“Already I could hear the sickening grind of metal on metal as the brakes of the engine began to take hold. Then the Devil himself took a hand here; Stub lowered his head like a bull and shot forward – straight down the centre of the tracks toward the No. 10 with Walt still on his back. I prayed, son, I prayed, loud and fast.
“They were no more’n fifty feet apart, galloping madly toward each other. Walt’s spurs still diggin’ when I saw Walt yank the reins viciously – ”
The old-timer stopped and mopped his brow. I found myself on the edge of my seat.
I asked breathlessly, “What happened?”
The old-timer spoke in a whisper: “When Walt yanked, Stub swerved and toppled over into the gully. Walt went with him. The train missed ‘em by inches.”
“Whew!” I exclaimed.
“Yep, son. She was a close call. Walt wasn’t even scratched. That man had a horseshoe round his neck the day he was born. He’d been thrown clear. But he was mud from the tip of his Stetson to the sole of his boots. Stub wasn’t hurt either.
“Well, son, to cut a long story short, Walt dug himself out of the mud, got Stub on his feet and climbed back on. Just like that. Then he waved to the engineer, showing the train boys he was all right.
“I was still shakin’ like a leaf when he rode up to me, scrapin’ some of the mud off. And I was sore. “Look, stupid,” I said to him – he wasn’t the type you could feel sorry for at any time, son – ‘since when did you start riskin’ your neck for an ornery horse. Y’gone crazy?” My hands were tremblin’ as I held the reins. It wasn’t a nice thing t’see, son. I imagined myself pickin’ up pieces of him here and there all over the prairie. I guess I wasn’t in any frame of mind to think things out.
“Walt looked at me a long time before he spoke. I shrivelled under that look, son. Contempt was still written all over him; but there was a sorta patience in his voice, too.
“When I was a kid, Luke,’ Walt said to me, ‘I saw a train hit a cow. The cow had been standing still in the centre of the track. When the smoke cleared, every car, including the engine had been derailed. Ten people died in that wreck. If that cow had been moving, either toward or away from the train, ten to one the engine’s catcher would’ve tossed it clear. None of the cars would’ve been derailed then. Nobody would’ve been killed. Come on, let’s get heading back. I’m wet – ‘”
At that moment the telephone rang in the office, interrupting the old-timer. I answered it. It was a call from one of the cafes in town. They were having a little trouble with a noisy customer. I left quickly.
And as I drove away from the detachment in the police car, I couldn’t help asking myself what I would have done had I been in Walt’s shoes. What would you have done?
RCMP Vol. 49 No. 1 Winter 1984
The Cancellation of the Royal North West Mounted Police Contracts with the Prairie Provinces in 1917
By Keith Hart
In the Prairie provinces the Royal Canadian Mounted Police constitute the provincial police forces of Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan. The history of the Force in this region began when the North West Mounted Police was authorized by an Act of Parliament on May 23, 1873. The purpose of the new Act was to bring law and order to the Canadian west. During 1873 and 1874 the Mounted Police arrived on the Prairies and built posts. For the next forty years or so the Royal North West Mounted Police was the sole law enforcement body in the Northwest Territories, except for municipal forces. After 1905, when Alberta and Saskatchewan became provinces, policing was carried out by the Force on a contract basis. The two provinces paid $75,000 a year each to the federal government for the services of the Mounted Police. On renewal of the contracts in 1915, it was arranged that either the provinces or the federal government could cancel on giving one year’s notice. However, as the First World War entered its third year in 1916, this arrangement was interrupted.
After war broke out in 1914, many members of the Royal North West Mounted Police took their discharge to join the army. There had been a move to send a Mounted Police cavalry unit overseas, as had been done in the South African War, but this plan was abandoned because no more cavalry was required at the time. Moreover, the Force was needed at home for duties beyond routine law enforcement. The United States was still neutral in 1916 and the federal government was fearful of raids by enemy aliens and sympathizers resident in that country. Since not enough soldiers were available, the task of patrolling the border fell to the Royal North West Mounted Police. In addition, there were large number of Germans and Austrians on the prairies whom the government wanted to keep under surveillance.
The fears Ottawa had about raids from south of the border were heightened in 1916 with the interception of a telegram from the German Foreign Office to the German Embassy in Washington. This telegram called for the destruction by sabotage of the Canadian Pacific Railway. This information made the Canadian authorities even more apprehensive about the aliens in the prairie provinces. The long border with the United States presented enough problems in the prevention of raids. If enemy aliens in western Canada were incited to acts of sabotage to coincide with raids from American territory, the situation could become even worse.
The federal government was not about to take any chances. In July 1916, Ottawa requested Mounted Police Commissioner A. Bowen Perry to give his opinion on the matter. Perry stated that he did not believe there was any likelihood of trouble on the Prairies at the moment but the danger certainly existed. The Commissioner had no doubt that effective measures needed to be taken to discourage any possible act of sabotage. However, under current conditions, the Royal North West Mounted Police could not assume any further duties. In order to do so, Perry stated, the Force would have to be relieved of all ordinary police duties and more men would have to be recruited and manpower redistributed.
Acting on the instructions of Prime Minister Robert Borden, the Commissioner investigated the matter further and submitted a full report to Ottawa on October 11, 1916. His basic recommendation was that the Royal North West Mounted Police should be relieved of ordinary police commitments in the prairie provinces (excluding the Northwest Territories and the Yukon Territory) and restricted to federal service for the duration. Thus freed, the Force could then deal effectively with the alien problem.
Following Perry’s report, the federal government decided to withdraw the Force from all regular police service in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. With proper notice the contracts with Alberta and Saskatchewan could not have been terminated earlier than June 30, 1918. The contract with Manitoba was not due to expire until July 1, 1918. However, these contracts were only temporary, and the federal authorities felt that the provincial governments concerned would consent in the interests of the war effort and the defence of western Canada.
As it turned out, the three provincial governments offered no resistance to the cancellation of the contracts. On November 29, 1916, the appropriate orders-in-council were issued by Ottawa. The date set for the termination of the agreements was January 1, 1917, but the government of Alberta requested an extension to March 1, on the grounds that their arrangements were not yet complete. The federal government agreed without hesitation.
All that remained was to define the jurisdiction of the Royal North West Mounted Police in the prairie provinces. Essentially, the Force was responsible for federal laws, patrolling the international boundary, and handling any trouble with enemy aliens. All other police duties were to be taken care of by provincial and municipal forces with Mounted Police assistance when requested.
The cancellation of the contracts in 1917 ended over forty years of policing the prairies by the Royal North West Mounted Police. The Force was a respected organization in the Canadian west and this change did not come without protest. For example, on January 6, 1917, the livestock and agricultural associations of Alberta submitted a petition to the federal government calling for the retention of the Mounted Police. At a convention of the United Farmers of Alberta, held in Edmonton on January 27, 1917, a resolution urging the retention of the Force was passed unanimously. But these and other protests failed to move the federal government. Ottawa was not to become involved in provincial policing in the west until 1928, when the Royal Canadian Mounted Police absorbed the Saskatchewan Provincial Police. Alberta and Manitoba followed suit in 1932.
SHADES OF THE PAST
The RCMP Quarterly January 1963
SHADES OF THE PAST
By George Shepherd
Less than one hundred years ago Western Canada, as we know it today, unpeopled and unpoliced, was given over to the buffalo and scattered bands of roving Indians. What little bit of English law was necessary was administered by the Hudson’s Bay Company in the vicinity of their log trading posts, established principally along the North Saskatchewan River. South of this great waterway of the North, and extending clear to the Missouri in northern Montana was a land of dark mystery from which came tales of Indian warfare between the Sioux to the south, the Blackfoot to the west and the Cree to the north and east. It was a country avoided by the early white traders, traversed only by venturesome Indian tribes seeking food from the buffalo and other game.
It was not until the middle 1860s that heavily armed white traders adventured out from Fort Benton, at the headwaters of the Missouri, crossing the Line into Canada intent on dealing with the Indians in the highly lucrative fur business. The principal article of trade was diluted alcohol known to the Indians as “fire-water.”
In 1867 two reckless characters from out of Benton, A. B. Hamilton and Johnny J. Healy established a strongly stockaded trading post on the Oldman River, near the present day site of Lethbridge, Alberta. It was built at an estimated cost of $20,000 and, incredible as it may seem, flew the Stars and Stripes – and was equipped with a small cannon. From the desperate character of the men operating the post and from the bloodshed, uproar and general demoralization that soon developed, the place and locality became known as the Whoop-Up country.
An Early Department Store
In Saskatchewan, at a site on Battle Creek, about 40 miles south and west of the present day cow town of Maple Creek, another Benton trader, Abel Farwell, built a log post in the fall of 1872. It was at the place that forty lodges of inoffensive Canadian Indians were shot up by a dozen armed whites from the Benton country. The report was that eighty Indians were shot down in cold blood in a surprise dawn attack.
When stories of the infiltration into Canada of unprincipled whiskey traders from south of the International Line began to reach Ottawa, the government at last realized something had to be done. For some years Ottawa had been considering the policing of our plains and the massacre in the Cypress Hills brought matters to a head. No sooner, however, had Sir John A. Macdonald signed the papers May 23, 1873 authorizing the formation of the North-West Mounted Rifles than a great outcry arose at Washington about a force of mounted riflemen patrolling the International Line. This was somewhat difficult to understand since the United States Cavalry had been occupied for years in what was, virtually, a war of extermination against their own Indians. As the outcry persisted Sir John reached for a pen, stroked out the word rifles and wrote in the word “Police” and, as the North-West Mounted Police, the Force had a long and honorable record.
The authorized strength of the Force was placed at 150, a fantastically small number to enforce law and order on an area half the size of Europe; but this was later increased to 300 officers and men. In the spring of 1874 two trainloads of all ranks with horses and equipment for an expeditionary force, such as this was, left Toronto for the far West. Travelling under special permission through U.S.A. territory the two trains finally reached Fargo, North Dakota on June 12, and there, on the bare wide prairie, were scattered men, horses and other equipment all to be assembled for the westward march.
The Taming of the West
On July 8, 1874 the cavalcade moved off from the camp grounds of Dufferin with bugles blowing and lance pennants fluttering in the wind. In marching order, the line extended for three miles. It was not long before any attempt at show and pomp was abandoned as horses and oxen became played out, and the march became almost a struggle for survival, on the sun-baked plains. As the travel-worn expedition toiled on day after day over the unmapped and unmarked prairie, the trail behind them was littered with broken down Red River Carts, dead oxen, and horses and abandoned equipment. But what had started out as a motley group of men, gathered from all walks of life, was now turning into a hard bitten force of plainsmen, forging traditions of faithfulness, discipline, and devotion to duty that are still the hallmark of the Mounted Police.
It was not until October, three months after leaving the Fort Garry locality, that the Force arrived at Whoop-Up where they found their fame had preceded them and the post deserted. The long grind of one thousand miles was over but these first rough experiences disclosed a stamina and endurance that augured well for the future of the Force. Rough log buildings were hastily erected on an island in the Oldman River and the post named Fort Macleod, in honor of their commanding officer, Col. J. F. Macleod. Known by the Indians as Bulls Head from his large bushy beard he was one of the early giants of the Force.
The following spring, in May 1875 Major Walsh was sent east to the Cypress Hills and there, on Battle Creek, a log fort was built that was in later years to be described as the cradle of the Mounted Police. One year later the bitter fighting with the Indians in the western United States culminated in the ghastly massacre of Lt.-Col. George A. Custer and three hundred of his men in the valley of the Little Big Horn, a scant 300 miles south of Fort Walsh. This occurrence, which shocked the civilized world, was masterminded by the renowned medicine man and necromancer, Sitting Bull.
Sitting Bull versus the Mounted Police
Scattered to the winds the Sioux now turned northward to Canada seeking sanctuary under the Great White Mother. A supreme test now confronted the newly organized Mounted Police. As the Sioux crossed the Line they were met by the Mounted Police and tersely given the terms under which they were allowed refuge in Canada. When Sitting Bull himself crossed the Line in the spring of 1877, Major Walsh decided to go down personally and meet him.
By this time there were almost six thousand turbulent and warlike Sioux in camp at Wood Mountain, fresh from their victory over Custer and his command. With a half dozen of the Police and an interpreter, Walsh and his men arrived at the Sioux camp after a three-day journey from Fort Walsh. This was said to be the first time that white men, and soldiers at that, had ever been in the camp of Sitting Bull. Ordering his men to prepare their campfire dinner, Walsh, unarmed and with only an interpreter with him, walked over to the central lodge of the old warrior and invited him out for a parley, giving him presents of tobacco and the hand of peace. The story of the sojourn of the Sioux at Wood Mountain for three years is one of the lesser known, though epic, stories of the police. It was a keg of dynamite with the police sitting tightly on the lid.
The Coming of the Settlers
The transition period on the prairies, from ponies to plowshares was carried on almost entirely under the supervision of the Mounted Police. The Indians, always treated with the greatest fairness by the police, listened “to the words of the great White Mother” as interpreted by the Red Coats. In countless ways the riders of the plains carried out their various duties. There were prairie fires to be battled; smuggling – especially of whiskey, to forestall; custom duties to be collected; victims of winter blizzards to be succored; starvation and other forms of privation to be overcome; illnesses and accidents innumerable to be allayed; weddings and funerals to be arranged, mails to be carried; insane persons to be taken in; lost travellers to be found; stolen stock to be returned to rightful owners; cattle and horse thieves, gamblers, murderers and other law breakers to be run down; and, as settlement spread, mining, lumber and railroad construction camps to be kept under strict observation. With the railroad building period and the coming of thousands of labourers, many of rough character, law and order had to be – and was, impressed on them. The police ruled fearlessly, justly and impartially.
As settlement pressed ever westward, the children of the plains – the Metis, under Louis Riel, rose in rebellion in 1885 and here again the police were called on to protect the settlers and to supervise a more orderly period of settlement when land-hungry people from all over the world swarmed into the limitless prairies. Small police detachments, often manned by one lone constable, dotted the countryside and never, in the history of any country, was such a wave of settlement accompanied with so little violence and crime.
In 1898 the gold strike in the Yukon drew thousands of adventurers, and police personnel in that area was increased to one hundred men, including dog drivers. Skagway, on the United States side of the Alaska-Yukon Line, earned the title of “the roughest place on earth,” the hang-out of the notorious “Soapy Smith” and his following of 150 ruffians. Under the almost incredible conditions of the Arctic, the police carried out their duties often conducting their operations across the border line with the tacit approval of the United States authorities.
Policing a Nation
After service in the South African War of 1899-1902, the Force two years later received the honor of becoming known as the Royal North-West Mounted Police. In 1920 when the Force extended its field to cover the whole of Canada, the title was again changed to the present Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
The Nor’-West Farmer Vol. 45. No. 4 Fall 1980
By A.Commr. D.O. Forrest
There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.
I find it interesting to speculate why Lieutenant Colonel James Alexander Farquharson Macleod, C.M.G., should in 1873 apply for a commission as an officer in the newly constituted Northwest Mounted Police. One might expect that at 38 years of age, his legal practice in the prosperous and growing central Ontario town of Bowmanville would offer ample opportunity for future security and honour. He was, after all, well past his first blush of youth, and to forfeit a relatively comfortable profession among old friends in favour of the rigors of frontier service was, to me, a particularly singular decision.
Macleod had been born in Scotland in 1836, the son of Captain Donald Martin Macleod of the Isle of Skye. His father had served with distinction in the 25th Regiment of Foot. In his youth, the family emigrated to the colony then known as Upper Canada and settled in Oak Ridges near Toronto. James began his education in 1845 at Upper Canada College, a private school in Toronto for the sons of gentlemen and prosperous merchants. He went on to take his B.C. at Queen’s College, Kingston, studied law and was called to the bar in 1860.
Macleod entered the militia as a lieutenant in the Volunteer Field Battery at Kingston. He was called up for active service on the frontier when relations with the United States were strained at the time of the Trent affair, and volunteered again during the Fenian raids. By the age of 31 he had advanced to the rank of major and brevet lieutenant colonel.
We must now transfer the scene of our attention to the red River Settlement in what is now southeastern Manitoba. A rebellion had broken out under the leadership of Louis Riel, and a few hundred armed men of the Metis population formed a provisional government in an attempt to prevent the Hudson’s Bay Company from transferring the territory to the new Canadian Confederation. Fort Garry was seized and a number of local settlers were taken as hostages. When one of these hostages was executed, the prime minister responded predictably, and a military expedition was organized to ensure the orderly transition of government to the newly created province of Manitoba. In Mau 1870, a force of British Regulars and Canadian Militia was formed under the command of Colonel (later Field Marshal) Viscount Garnet Joseph Wolseley. This formation, known as the Wolseley Expedition of the Red River expedition, totalled 1,213 officers, non-commissioned officers and men. Macleod was again called to the colours, and was appointed assistant brigade major of the expedition.
Previous British detachments for the Fort Garry garrison had been sent by way of Hudson’s Bay and then up the Nelson River, but the situation’s urgency required the selection of a shorter route.
The old Northwest Company of Montreal had blazed a 400-mile trail west from Thunder Bay by way of Fort Francis and the Rat Portage, then known as the Dawson Road. It was long considered impracticable for boats larger than canoes, because of the long and difficult portages and dangerous rapids. This route, traversing a dreary wilderness of forest, rock and water, was chosen, however, and by the middle of June 1871 the expedition had moved up the lakes by steamer and started the last and most difficult leg of the journey.
Time and space do not permit a recitation of the hardships this column of soldiers encountered during the following two months. Small boats had to be skidded on rollers over the forty-seven portages, but his was seen as child’s play compared to the labour of loading and unloading the tons of provisions and supplies carried in the boats. One of the private soldiers narrated this procedure in a letter:
“The work of portaging was done with a rush, the officers and men running back after depositing their loads, all working alike. Major Macleod, a tall graceful man, was the first of all of us to carry on his shoulder a barrel of port, a heavy load, each barrel weighing 200 lbs.
The expedition arrived at Fort Garry on August 29 to discover that Riel ad his lieutenants had fled, and Wolseley assumed possession of Rupert’s Land in the name of Canada.
Wolseley promulgated a farewell order and tribute to his command before returning east, which in part is quoted:
“I have throughout viewed with pleasure the manner in which officers have vied with their men in carrying heavy loads. It has rained 45 days out of 94 that have passed by since we landed at Thunder Bay, and upon many occasions every man has been wet through for days together. There has not been the slightest murmur of discontent heard from anyone. It may be confidently asserted that no force has had to endure more continuous labour, and it may be truthfully said that no men on service have been better behaved or more cheerful under the trials arising from exposure to inclement weather, excessive fatigue and the annoyance by flies.”
As the Wolseley Expedition had completed its mission, the British Regulars were ordered back to their permanent stations in eastern Canada. The battalions of Canadian Militia remained as a garrison at Fort Garry under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Samuel Peters Jarvis, commanding officer of the Ontario Rifles.
Macleod, who had performed so well as assistant brigade major under Wolseley and had been decorated with the Order of St. Michael and St. George, automatically fitted into the military aspect of affairs at Red River. He therefore did not immediately return to his law practice in Bowmanville, but continued in his post under Jarvais.
Two passages in the early reports of the Wolseley Expedition deserve mentioning, the relevancy of which will be later appreciated. The first describes the experience of Lieutenant (later Lieutenant General, Sir) William Butler, intelligence officer of the expedition, who carried messages from Wolseley to the loyal Red river settlers as the column was approaching Fort Garry. Travelling downstream from Pembina on the steamer “International,” Butler slipped ashore before the boat reached the landing at Fort Garry and eluded Riel and his men who had planned to capture and question him. His guide on this mission was one William Drever, a Winnipeg resident and a descendent of an early Red River settler. The second incident occurred a few days later when Butler’s despatches to headquarters were courageously and successfully carried past Riel’s scouts by William Drever’s sister, Mary Drever.
Macleod was obviously impressed by William Drever. A year later, in fact, he wrote to Commissioner French:
“I propose getting young Drever to assist me. He is a most energetic, active fellows, thoroughly up in this sort of work…. I am satisfied he would prove most useful, having had so much experience travelling between Fort Garry and St. Paul with trains of carts, part of the time during the Indian troubles in Minnesota.”3
It is not unreasonable to believe that because Macleod knew Drever, he also met his sister shortly after Fort Garry was occupied by Wolseley’s Forces. It does not strain the imagination at all to appreciate how happy the loyal faction of the Fort Garry and Winnipeg populations was with the recent turn of events, and the popularity of the officers of the Canadian and British regiments now in their midst.
We all know that the Northwest Mounted Police was created by Order-in-Council on August 30, 1873, to maintain law and order in the Northwest Territories. Three divisions, or troops, of about fifty men each were recruited in Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes, and were sent to Fort Garry later that year by way of the Dawson Trail.
That same year, Macleod was commissioned in the new Force as superintendent-and inspector (third on the NWMP’s seniority roll, at a salary of $1,400. The senior superintendent-and-inspector ws then W. D. Jarvis. However, the next year on June 1, Macleod was promoted to the newly created position of assistant commissioner, and in the absence of Commissioner (later General, Sir) George French he assumed command of the three troops in training at Fort Garry, 20 miles below Winnipeg.
We are all familiar with the first test of the quality of the NWMP, which began on July 8, 1974, when the now six divisions (troops) paraded together at Dufferin to begin the long trek over more than 800 miles of uncharted prairie to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. The famous march has been described in detail by many of the early historians.
The main column plodded on day after day over terrain trampled by buffalo, and very little of the nutritious grass was left for forage. The shallow sloughs which men and animals depended upon for drinking water had been churned into a thin and evil smelling gruel. There were dysentery and lice, and conditions that might have dismayed the steadiest veteran of the Empire. By September 18, they had reached the Sweet Grass Hills, where Commissioner George a. French and Macleod separated. French led two divisions back to Fort Pelly at swan River, which was to be the Force’s headquarters. Macleod was entrusted with the responsibility of establishing a post farther west. Within a month, Macleod’s divisions had reached the notorious Fort Whoop-Up.
“There was no sign of the life below, where the palisaded, bastioned Fort Whoop-Up was flying what the men thought was the Stars and Stripes.
“But Macleod ordered the two nine-pounder field guns and the two mortars to be placed in strategic positions. Then with rifles loaded and ready, and everyone silent and intent, Macleod’s horsemen moved toward the fort. They expected soon to receive an order to dismount and deploy.
“ ‘But,’ wrote Turner (the Force’s first historian), ‘Macleod rode straight ahead…. There were murmurs of amazement as the assistant commissioner dismounted and strode toward the open main gate. Entering and going to the nearest building within the enclosure, he rapped on the door.’
“After Macleod’s continued knocking, the door was opened by an uncouth, gray-haired man. Dave Akers nonchalantly invited the police to come right in and make themselves at home. All the whisky traders had left the place long ago, he said, and the northern manager of the I.G. Baker Company was using the old for as his own base. The manager was away, but they were very welcome.
“It was an anticlimax. Actually, long before Macleod and his men drew near the ill-reputed fort, a party of buffalo hunters had warned the traders that a large part of horsemen wearing red coats was approaching. The style of trading had been altered accordingly, and a thorough police search of the building revealed no liquor.
“From Whoop-Up, Jerry Potts (the Force’s scout) led Divisions “B”, “C” and “F” to a place on the Oldman River which he advised would be suitable for a permanent police post. There at ten o’clock on the morning of October 13, Macleod ordered the troops to make camp.”4
T. Morris Longstreth in The Silent Force (Century Co.- 1927) describes picturesquely Macleod’s situation at For Macleod in 1874.
“Macleod was one of the best-looking men of the time. Erect, well proportioned, slightly under six feet with no ounce of superfluous flesh, he presented a figure that his soldiers admired, a bearing that his enemies respected. His experience with Wolseley’s expedition in 1870, and his training for the law, had fitted him for the dual task of subduing a vast region and then ruling it. With his merest suggestion of an army he now set about accomplishing this feat; a feat which, only a few days’ ride to the south, regiment after regiment of American soldiers were failing to accomplish. That he succeeded is one of Canada’s coups de maitre; because his success came with the mysterious ease of the master, it led the superficial into thinking that there was nothing to do. But there was everything to do, and at once, and with the craft of utter wisdom where one misstep might mean annihilation.”
By Christmas, 1874, the mud-daubed log fort had been built, providing shelter for the horses, the men and the officers. Elk, deer and buffalo provided an abundant supply of meat, and the regimental tailors manufactured fur clothing from buffalo robes for winter weather. Long saddle horse patrols were made throughout the district with the immediate aim of discouraging the liquor traffic with Indians, but also with the object of brining the Queen’s law to this remote sector of the new territories.
Perhaps it was Macleod’s innate Scottish regard for truth and justice, and perhaps it was his experience as a lawyer and soldier which led him to a policy of humane dealing with the Indian tribes. In any event, the methods were effective in the orderly establishment of Canadian rule throughout the vast territories under his command.
Major General, Sir Sam Steele, one of the NWMP “originals”, in his Forty Years in Canada (Russell Lang, 1915), writes of Macleod’s relations with the Indians in these terms:
“I doubt if anyone ever had such influence with them, and, as a matter of fact, it could not be otherwise. He kept his place, never accepted a present, never gave one, and was respected by them all the more for it, his word being law from the time he appeared among them.”
On New Year’s Day, 1876, Macleod resigned from the Force to become the stipendiary magistrate in the Bow River Judicial District – Calgary and Macleod, Supt. A. G. Irvine took over as assistant commissioner. However, on July 20, after several months of controversial correspondence with Ottawa, Commissioner French resigned. As Turner wrote:
“He had decided to leave what was now to him an uncongenial post and return to the Imperial service. Ever since his first view of the headquarters site and buildings at Swan River in 1874, his relations with government authorities had been more or less strained. But he had the satisfaction of knowing he had accomplished a difficult task and had done it well.
“By order-in-council of July 20, 1876, James Farquharson Macleod, C.M.G., was appointed in his place.
“Commissioner Macleod, revered and respected by whites and Indians on both sides of the international boundary, was now the outstanding figure in the Canadian West. He had proven himself to be an efficient administrator, a natural diplomat, a sound disciplinarian and a perfect host to all. He was popularly known as The Colonel having been given the brevet rank of lieutenant colonel for his services under Wolseley in 1870. As well as his duties as Commissioner, he was to continue to act as stipendiary magistrate…
with government approval Commissioner Macleod moved headquarters from Swan River Barracks in what is now Manitoba, to Fort Macleod. Not only was the latter site more suitable for controlling the border but an easier location from which to communicate with Ottawa. In the midst of this transfer, Commissioner Macleod managed to find time, at the age of 40, to travel to Winnipeg to marry Mary Drever. It will be remembered that she was the sister of William Drever who guided Lieutenant Butler through Riels’ patrols during the same campaign.
In 1877 the stage was set for Macleod’s greatest achievement and one of the important milestones in early Canadian history, the signing of Treaty No. 7. The ceaseless activity of the Mounted Police had brought peace and tranquility to a prairie empire larger than a dozen European principalities. Although the scattered Indian bands still hunted throughout the country, a few hardy settlers began to take up land for ranching and farming. It was clearly evident that the projected trans-Canada railroad would attract many thousands more. The advent of firearms to the prairies brought destruction to the vast buffalo herds which had always been the Indian’s principal source of food. The economic forces of the nomadic aboriginal people and the European immigrants were in fundamental conflict and the aspiration of each group would inevitably lead to bloodshed unless a compromise could be found.
The government of Canada advised Macleod that if the Blackfoot and other Indians of the plains would transfer their rights and titles to their historic hunting grounds east of the Rock Mountains and west of the Cypress hills, comprising some fifty thousand square miles, they would receive in exchange exclusive land reservations, domestic cattle, farm machinery, and an annual grant of money for each person.
Lieutenant Governor Laird of the Northwest territories and Macleod were selected by the government to negotiate and execute this delicate treaty. The Blackfoot, Blood, Peigan, Stoney and Sarcee tribes gathered to meet the representatives of the great White Mother at Blackfoot Crossing, an hisotical and legendary meeting place and an arena well chosen for this farewell to an ancient culture and way of life. A heated powwow lasted for four days, and the extravagant demands of some of the chiefs required considerable tact and diplomacy to keep negotiations open and within reasonable bounds. Finally Crowfoot, chief of the Blackfoot, the paramount personage of his race present said:
“While I speak be kind and patient. I have to speak for my people who are numerous and who rely on me to follow the course which in future will tend to their good. The plains are large and wide; we are children of the plains; it has been our homes, and the buffalo have been our food always. I hope you look upon the Blackfoot, Bloods, Peigans and Sarcees as your children now, and that you will be indulgent and charitable to them. They will expect me to speak for them, and I trust the Great Spirit will put into their breasts to be good people, into the minds of men, women and children and their future generations.
“The advice given to me and my people has been very good. If the police had not come to this country, where would we all be now? Bad men and whisky were indeed killing us so fast that very few of us would have been left today. The Mounted Police have protected us as the feathers of the bird protects it from the frosts of winter. I wish hem all good, and trust that all our hearts will increase in goodness from this time forward. I am satisfied, I will sign the treaty.”
As Crowfoot put his mark to the document he said, “I am the first to sign, I will be the last to break.”
Red Crow, head chief of the Blood Nation, spoke and said:
“Three years ago when the Mounted Police came to this country, I met and shook hands with Stamix Otokan at Belly River. Since that time he made me many promises, he kept them all, not one of them has been broken. Everything that the Mounted Police has done has been good. I entirely trust Stamix Otokan, and will leave everything to him, I will sign with Crowfoot.”
So was concluded the treaty which extinguished the Indians’ ancient ownership of the vast territory now known as southern Alberta and Saskatchewan, immediately south of this area the indigenous tribes were engaged in a series of bloody campaigns against large military forces and the new settlers in attempts to resolve identical problems. The cost in human lives and treasure on both sides was enormous. The Canadian prairie Indians were no less warlike than their cousins south of the border, and they grieved no less the loss of hunting grounds which had been their home for time beyond memory.
There are indeed few periods in the history of any nation when as much depended upon the calibre of one man. A less fortunate selection than Macleod as assistant commissioner and later, commissioner of the fledgling Force might have led to disaster. The situation was likened by a contemporary reporter to “a few strikingly costumed mice dictating to innumerable but not quite hungry cats.” This might be a humorous over-simplification, but the Honourable Frank Olivery, pioneer Edmonton newspaperman, wrote afterwards, “Ordinarily speaking, no more wildly impossible understanding was ever staged than the establishment of Canadian authority and Canadian law throughout the Western prairies to a handful of mounted police.”
The long march in 1874 from Emerson to the foothills was a spectacular achievement for the new corps, but this was only the beginning. Thereafter the small Force was employed on a campaign of such firmness (and at the same time such gentleness) that reaped a rich harvest of harmony between the red and white races, leading to orderly settlement of the prairies. Much of this success was due to the faithful and loyal service of the original rank and file, but history will give the greatest credit to Macleod, whose leadership made it possible. He perceived from the beginning that the native people’s allegiance, could only be attracted by an impartial code of law that would protect them from white people coming to populate their lands.
By November 1880, most of the Sioux had returned to the United states and almost all the Canadian Indians had signed treaties. The prairies were changing rapidly with the swarm of new settlers and ranching companies encouraged by the government to come west. The government realized Macleod’s restraining influence on the Indians was no longer required and, as more and more criminal cases were being brought before the stipendiary magistrates, he was allowed to resign from the Force to devote his entire time to his magisterial duties.
In 1886, he was promoted to become a justice of the Supreme Court of the Northwest Territories. He occupied this position until September 1895, when, after a long illness, he died. His bequest to his beloved country was peace and tranquility throughout the wide domain that was to become Saskatchewan and Alberta, and he left Indian and white walking together – equal in the eyes of the law.
Of the 275 officers, NCO’s and constables serving in the Force on the eve of July 8, 1874, when the long march to the foothills was about to begin at Dufferin, it is likely that the majority had enlisted because they were young, spirited and adventurous. One can speculate that some may have joined for economic reasons, even at one dollar a day and rations. It is possible that some recruits had private reasons for wanting to escape to the wilds of a frontier which would do them no credit. Be this as it may, in my view, one of Macleod’s reasons for going west as a member of NWMP was to meet again the young lady he had known three years earlier, and whom he later married.
Macleod served with distinction as a lawyer, a soldier, a policeman and a judge. Contemporary and later historians have described in complimentary terms his appearance, his personality and his judgement. It is not surprising therefore to find that he possessed in abundance the even more rare attributes of constancy and loyalty.
- Sometimes written “Stamixotokan.” The name was given to Macleod by Chief Crowfoot, powerful leader of the Blackfoot Confederacy, meaning “Bull’s Head,” possibly because of the bull’s head featured in the Clan Macleod badge worn by Macleod to adorn his glengarry).
- Julius Caesar, Act. 4, Scene 3, II. 217-219.
- John Peter Turner, The North-West Mounted Police 1873-1893, p. 114.
- William and Nora Kelly, The Royal Canadian Mounted Police,
RCMP Quarterly Vol. 39 No. 4 October 1974
By G. S. Howard
Since the inception of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, which last year celebrated its centenary, the horse has been a major factor in its development and history. Canadians would do well at this time to remember the complete reliance placed on that wonderful quadruped by the Force and the essential role it played on the Canadian prairie frontier.
That impressive figure, the Mounted Policeman astride his horse, is etched indelibly in the minds of the public as a symbol of fair-dealing and justice. That image is of course richly deserved, for the splendid reputation of Canada’s federal police was painstakingly earned down the years by strenuous effort and fearless devotion to duty. Though today the hitching post has been replaced by the parking meter, it should never be forgotten how significantly the horse contributed to the trooper’s well-being, humanity, character and all-round success.
One of the great ironies of the Mounted Police saga surely lies in the fact that this animal which served the Force so well for so long, itself nearly foundered the North-West Mounted Police before they even got started on their epic March to the mountains to establish law and order – to Maintiens Le Droit.
* * *
On June 19, 1874, Commissioner George A. French with newly-recruited D, E and F Troops from Toronto rendez-voused with Asst. Commr. James F. Macleod and A, B and C Troops newly
arrived from Stone Fort 20 miles from Fort Garry (now Winnipeg, Man.). United for the first time the six NWMP troops encamped on the Boundary Commission compound at Dufferin (now Emerson, Man.) near the confluence of the Red and Pembina rivers just north of the International Boundary.
With most of a year’s training and seniority behind them the veterans of A, B and C Troops could be forgiven their air of superiority toward the rookies from the east. With good-humored condescension they fingered the smooth scarlet Norfolk jackets of the newcomers, then disparagingly felt the drab serge of their own coarser make -do military frocks.
But many of them secretly envied D, E and F troops their horses – reputedly the finest lost (244 all told) ever shipped from Toronto up to that time.
“They were all over 15½ hands, with almost perfect forms…” observed Staff Cst. S. B. Steele (later Maj.-Gen. Sir Samuel Benfield Steele), a sound judge of horse flesh, “but they were soon to have a hard time and their perfect forms were reduced to living skeletons.”1
Sleek and shiny of coat, the eastern animals won easy popularity over their scruffy native counterparts. The westerners were smaller and scrubby-looking. But they were exactly what the frontier demanded – hardy, adaptable and sure-footed – and soon to prove their worth in an unexpected, remarkable way.
The second night at Dufferin provided a testing of what lay ahead – a baptism of fire as it were that proved to be almost a nightmare.
The evening of Saturday June 20, 1874 was oppressively warm. During mid-afternoon thunder had growled in the distance, then storm clouds scudded across the sky and overhung the camp. As evening closed in the reverberations rumbled ominously in the distance, and soon gusts of biting wind drove huge drops of rain into the thirsty earth.
By ten o’clock one of the most dreadful electrical storms in Manitoba memory broke over the camp. High winds lashed hail and rain down with stinging fury, forked lightning streaked incessantly across the sky, and thunder shook the earth. The whole prairie was transformed into an ocean of electric flame and pelting downpour.
Upon joining up together the NWMP camp had been formed up in a quadrangle with a free passage down the middle. Three sides consisted of the canvas-covered wagons and carts while the tents of the men closed in the fourth. The new arrivals, dubbed “the left wingers,” corralled their longfaced pals in this enclosure by securing them to picket lines facing the heavily-loaded transport.
At every peal of thunder the eastern horses exhibited extreme nervousness and alarm. The broncos of the right wing, on the other hand, being inured to prairie conditions, reflected a remarkable nonchalance and unconcern by comparison. The later were tethered outside the corral – a most fortunate arrangement as unfolding events were soon to prove.
As the storm deepened all six troops were turned out at the double. In the midst of the roaring elements, the veteran right wingers stood to their horses, about 60 in number, reassuring them gently, however throughout the turmoil of the ensuing hours the broncos stoically hunched their backs against the elements with an incredible air of indifference.
Soon the weather worsened to cyclonic proportions. The wind rose and crystallized the rain into hail which lashed man and beast unmercifully. Canvas coverings on the wagons were ripped open by the first heavy gusts. Adding to the lurid scene, lightning now zigzagged directly overhead and forked crazily to the horizon.
The effect that a wind – strong enough to overturn several laden wagons and rip off their coverings – can have on unseasoned horses is easier imagined than described. Whirling canvas squares frightened them practically out of their hides. The terrific claps of thunder, the driving ran and hail, the howling wind, and the loose and flapping tarpaulins drove them into a frenzy ordering on panic.
Then it happened!
A lightning bolt struck the zareba. Rearing and plunging, the poor crazed beasts battered the makeshift barrier with frantic hoofs. Finally it gave way and with high-pitched screams some 250 terror-stricken animals broke loose from their halters and careened wildly amuck from their prison toward the camp.
* * *
For the next few minutes pandemonium reigned – shouting, waving, running men only added to the general confusion. Luckily flashes of lightning revealed the main body of the camp and the approaching horde shied off past the wildly gesticulating troopers. The stampede swung toward the gate of the outer field where the animals converged and scrambled madly over one another, leaping high into the air only to crash back in a kicking frenzied heap and try again in their anxiety to escape the fury that surrounded them.
Nothing could have stemmed the tidal wave of horse-flesh as it streamed southward with the wind behind it. Amid the havoc of overturned wagons and flattened tents several men lay motionless on the soaking ground. Acting Cst. W. Latimer’s scalp was partially shorn from his skull – cut from ear to ear and pulled down over his forehead – but miraculously no other serious casualty resulted from the overall gallant efforts to stop the stampede.
Outside the gate, the maddened beasts pounded headlong across the Pembina bridge and within seconds vanished into the black wilderness beyond.
In the general melee some of the men, including Staff Cst. James B. Mitchell (later Col. J. B. Mitchell2), Cst. Joe Francis, a veteran campaigner who had been in the Charge of the Light Brigade at Balaklava, and Sub-Csts. William Oliver and Charles Sinclair seized the manes of a few critters as they swept by. Trumpeter Frederick A. Bagley recalled:
“Of course there was no sleep for us that night… The storm having subsided at daybreak I managed to find my water-proofed kit bag and got some dry clothes therefrom to put on in place of the rain-soaked ones I had worn during the storm, and then saddling a horse I found had been tied so securely that he could not get away with the others. I mounted him and rode out with Sub-Insp. James Morrow Walsh, our aim being to recover some of the escaped horses. By riding hard all day, changing horses frequently as we found them, we managed to round up about 80 of the runaways.”3
For the next 24 hours this 15-year-old youth was without rest or food. When his mount trudged back into the police camp over the squishy prairie at midnight on June 21 fatigue had exacted its toll – he was fast sleep in the saddle and so used up that he had to be lifted off and put into bed.
With the aid of forked lightning, men from the right wing had swung into saddles on the trusty, reliable broncos and crossed the Pembina. The Red River, they knew would block the runaways on the east so they fanned out westward to cut off the fugitives. Hour after hour they rode at a steady gait, then gradually veered southeast and east.
By noon those Riders of the Plains, to use a term by which the Force was soon to become universally and affectionately identified, stretched from the Red westward in a long thin line, each of them barely within sight of those on either side. At a given signal each horseman broke into a trot, sometimes a canter.
As they advanced they scanned the territory before them, and every rise, clump of trees and ravine capable of concealing a horse was inspected. First a bay mare was seen, then two greys which had sought shelter from the hot afternoon sun in the shade of a tiny bluff, their light color revealing their presence. As the hours wore on, others were found in ones, twos and threes.
By the time the sun had dipped from sight the distances between the men had narrowed and the net was almost closed with the escapees within it. And thus, systematically those riders of 1874 combed the countryside between themselves and their home-base back at Dufferin. The roundup continued many long weary hours into the summer twilight and night before the exhausted patrols got back to camp, their mission accomplished.
* * *
The quick recovery of the horses was an outstanding achievement. Without horses the Force faced disaster. Its predicament was apparent to all. That the roundup be effected with the utmost dispatch was imperative from the outset, for in addition to other hazards there was the ever present danger the escaped animals might be captured by wandering Sioux known to the skulking on the Dakota plain.
Under the leadership of Sub-Insp. James Walker – an anchor man of purpose and tenacity – the pursuers had spurred on after the flying horses which halted only when exhaustion brought them to a tottering standstill. By morning most of them had gone 30 or more miles, some indeed were caught as far away as 50.
Every man jack responded to the challenge. With the daring and ingenuity that was to characterize the Force’s activities down through the years and build the tradition for which the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are so justly renowned today those originals tackled their gigantic task.
In his official report Commissioner French records:
“About midnight 250 of the horses stampeded from the corral in which they were placed, breaking halters, picket ropes, and even knocking over some of the wagons which encircled them – it was a fearful sight. Several of our men had the hardihood to attempt to stop some of the horses, but it only resulted in their being knocked over and trampled on, and in this manner six of our pluckiest men got hurt, one of them seriously injured about the head.”
To emphasize the problem posed by horse stampedes on the open prairie the Commissioner followed the foregoing comment by quote from pp. 254-255 of Army Life on the Border, by General Marcy, U.S.A. One extract he said will suffice to describe and illustrate a stampede:
“Soon after the storm set in, one of our herds of 300 horses and mules broke furiously away from the herdsmen who were guarding them, and in spite of their utmost efforts ran at full speed directly with the wind for 50 miles before they stopped (the italics are the Commissioner’s). Three of the herdsmen followed them as far as they were able, but soon became exhausted, bewildered and lost on the prairie.”
On the subject of the NWMP stampede Commissioner French’s report closes with these remarks:
“We had the good fortune to recover most of ours within a distance of 35 miles, probably in a great measure due to the freshness having been taken out of them by their 160-mile march from Fargo. Many days were lost in recovering the horses, and much injury done, riding in every direction looking for them. Our loss eventually was reduced to one, and this one was supposed to have been drowned in the Pembina River.”4 4 North West Mounted Police Annual Report 1874
Years later, Sub-Inspector Walker, in command of D Troop, in a well-publicized diary5 described his experiences during those exhausting hours of search: 5 Macleans April 15, 1928 p. 7.
“The night was pitch black, except during the flashes of lightning. Fortunately there were no wire fences in those days. The horses took the trail and I followed their tracks by the lightning flashes until daylight. When I got to the Pembina River the round poles that covered the bridge had got shifted and some of the horses had fallen through. It took me some time in the dark to repair the bridge and get my horse over.
“After daylight dawned I began to find stray horses feeding along the road, and to make sure that I had got ahead of all the horses I rode into Grand Forks some 60 miles from our camp. I then turned and started driving the horses back to camp, and afterwards was met by a sergeant and party with horses about eleven o’clock that night – just 24 hours after they had left….
“During that time I had caught up and ridden five different horses, and had been wet through and dried three different times, and had ridden 120 miles by trail besides rounding up horses all the way.”
A former pupil of Canada’s first school of Gunnery at Kingston, Ontario, and of which Commissioner French had been Commandant, Sub-Inspector Walker from the beginning had been assigned special responsibility for horses.
Staff Constable Steele, mounted on a horse named Blucher, turned in the usual sterling performance that marked all his efforts. In his memoirs (Forty Years in Canada, pp. 63-64) he gives this graphic account of that fateful event 100 years ago:
“About ten on the following night (June 20, 1874) a terrific thunderstorm burst upon us, the worst that I had seen in the west since 1870. I was riding near the large corral at the time, the incessant flashes of lightning making every object visible for a long distance. A thunderbolt fell in the midst of the horses.
“Terrified, they broke their fastenings and made for the side of the corral. The six men on guard were trampled underfoot as they tried to stop them. The maddened beasts overturned the huge wagons, dashed through a row of tents, scattered everything, and made for the gate of the large field in which we were encamped. In their mad efforts to pass they climbed over one another to the height of many feet.
“At the time Constable Colman (sic)6 6 This reference is to Reg. No. 45 Cst. John Coleman who had engaged in the NWMP in 1873 had just cleared the gate with his team, which ran away at its utmost speed; but the powerful driver hung onto the reins and brought them to a halt in about half a mile. The stampede continued south over the Pembina bridge.
“Crazed with fright, the horses crossed the river and continued their flight on the opposite bank, and the majority were between 30 and 50 miles in Dakota before they were compelled by sheer exhaustion to halt.
“I shall never forget that night. I had full view of the stampede, being not more than 50 yards from the horses as they rushed at the gate and attempted to pass it, scrambling and rolling over one another in one huge mass. This and the unceasing flashes of lightning, the rolling of the thunder, the loud shouts of the troopers as they vainly attempted to stop the horses and the mad gallop of Colman’s team, gave to it a weird and romantic complexion, typically suggestive of the wild west.
“Our bronchos and Shaddock’s horses came in now that the other steeds had taken flight. We started after the runaway horses the next morning, covering over 100 miles during the following 24 hours. The fugitives were brought in with only one missing. When they reached camp several of them lay down and rested for some days.
“The stampede had such an effect on the horses that for the remainder of the summer they were ready to repeat the performance on hearing the slightest unusual sound, and every thunderstorm brought us out of our tents at night, and in the daytime we had to be among them to calm their fears.”
Sub-Cst. Edward H. Maunsell, who was engaged as a member of D Troop at St. Paul, Minnesota, U.S.A., on June 11, 1874 when the Force passed through that centre en route to the end of steel at Fargo, North Dakota, just before his death in the late 1930s, included this impression of the stampede in a notable series of articles on the early days of the Canadian northwest:
“I accompanied a man named Jack Dunbar when we arrived at camp. Dunbar asked me if I was hungry. As I was always hungry those days I answered ‘Yes,’ ‘Well,’ he said, ‘I have a lot of hard-tack and we can get some milk from the cows.’
“The police had brought a lot of cows and calves which were to be taken with us as we were supposed to become a self-supporting force. The cattle were near the camp. We got a couple of empty fruit cans and started on our raid. At this time a heavy thunderstorm was going on in the distance.
“It took us some time to capture a cow. I held her by the horns and Dunbar officiated as milkmaid. Before he got through milking, the storm burst over the camp. The thunder was continuous, and only a few seconds between flashes of lightning. Notwithstanding the thunder we suddenly heard a noise in the direction of the camp, and by the aid of the lightning we saw the horses tearing toward us. They had stampeded.
“Dunbar ran one way and I another. But I went the wrong way. I had not gone 50 yards when the horses were on top of me. How often I was toppled over I could not tell. When the horses had passed I shouted for Dunbar but could get no reply. Thinking he was killed, I searched but could not find him, so I made for camp. By this time I commenced to feel there was something wrong with myself.
“I found that the sole of one of my boots was almost off, one sleeve of my shirt was gone, and I felt queer all over. When I got to camp I collapsed. When I recovered I found myself in a tent and the doctor examining me. He said I was much bruised, but could not say if there were any internal injuries then.
“Next day he examined me again and pronounced I was not internally injured. Inside a week I was fit for duty. Dunbar escaped injury. The horses passed him about 20 yards.”
Edward Maunsell took his discharge when his time expired June 25, 1877 at Fort Macleod where he lived out his remaining life as a successful rancher and an esteemed old-time of the community. It is interesting to note that his brother, Sub-Cst. George H. Maunsell, who had been a member of Her Majesty’s North American Boundary Commission in 1873, engaged in the NWMP Feb. 25, 1875 at Dufferin, and after his discharge joined his brother at Macleod.
Maunsell’s milk-pilfering companion, Sub.Cst. John E. Dunbar took his discharge when his time expired May 1, 1877 at Fort Macleod. He met a tragic end 11 years later by drowning at Willow Creek and is buried at Macleod.
Sub-Cst. William Parker recorded his adventures during the stampede in a recently-published book. William Parker: Mounted Policeman, edited by Hugh A. Dempsey, and reviewed in the April 1974 issue of The Quarterly.
Sub-Cst. William Latimer, the most seriously injured during the stampede, recovered sufficiently to allow him to start out on the great march to the mountains on July 9, 1874. He was with his sidekick Bagley at La Roche Percee – near present-day Estevan, Sask. – when the column tarried there from July 24-29 for a pleasant interlude of bathing and clothes-washing in the Souris River.
Some 35 years ago Major Bagley – as he was later to be universally known – told this writer that the outcropping of coal at this location was satisfactorily used in the Force’s portable forges, and that etched on the rock the men found a number of names including that of General Custer who in less than two years was to make his famous last stand against the Sioux at the Little Big Horn in Montana.
According to Bagley, himself an accomplished musician and the bandmaster of one of the Force’s early bands, the evenings at this comfortable camp were enlivened by the music of a band – doubtless the force’s first, if it can be called such – composed of a file in the capable hands of Bill Latimer and a drum improvised from a tin dish and played upon with tent pegs by that accomplished British Army drummer-trumpeter, Sub-Cst. Frank Parks. Parks incidentally, was discharged as medically unfit when the expedition reached the Sweet Grass Hills and died at Fort Benton, Montana, about September 25 a few days later – the first member of the new Force to pass on.
In addition to the enjoyment produced the primitive music-makers, a cause of great merriment on the march was the continuing problem of Veterinary Surgeon John L. Poett. Throughout the trek the grave condition of the livestock kept him constantly busy and worried. His many-shouted orders to his assistant, Cst. Joseph Clark Marlin for “more carbolic” created the distinct impression that Poett considered this medicine the sole remedy for any and all ills pertaining to animals. The half-breed drivers and scouts especially found the good vet’s incessant orders and vociferous concern nothing short of hilarious, and they hooted and howled after each outburst.
Frequently, apropos of nothing at all, they would stir up periodic spells of excitement and pseudoanxiety by yelling in union: “Quick Joe, fetch along de carbolique, dere’s going to be a stampede!”
Some 80 years after the event the son and namesake of Commissioner French, who at the age of 9½ years had been at Dufferin with his father and witnessed that display of Nature’s pyrotechnics, summed up his sentiments as the only survivor of all who had been present on that awesome occasion:
“I recollect the violent thunderstorm that broke out at Fort Dufferin and the stampede of the horses,” he said. “This was a bad beginning for the long trek to the Rockies.”7 7 RCMP Quarterly, Vol. 18, No. 4, April 1953, p. 364
* * *
In retrospect the stampede on that wet squishy night 100 years ago actually proved to be a blessing in disguise. The awesomeness of it all impressed on all ranks the need for taking precautions against similar occurrences later on while crossing the virgin plains. Thereafter throughout the epic trek8 of the North West Mounted Police to the Rockies the horses were hobbled and seldom left without a picket.
(8 In all it covered 1,959 miles – excluding distances covered by special patrols – reputed to be the longest march in the history of the British Empire of a military column carrying its own supplies.)
Though it’s impossible to pinpoint the moment when military tradition is born it does seem likely that the crisis generated by this unexpected foretaste of prairie duty drew all the men closer together. A fresh pride and renewed spirit doubtless quickened their hearts and gave birth to the esprit de corps which, handed down from decade to decade, is the proud legacy of the RCMP today.
As perhaps no other single incident could, it brought those amorphous veterans of less than a year and those rookies of but a few months together and welded them into a more solid, loyal organization, crisscrossing left wing with right till they became one and indivisible.
It is no idle statement that only the presence of the Force kept Canada’s vast western plains from slipping into the hands of the United States. Had this memorable stampede occurred on the open prairie, leaving the men stranded in an unknown and inhospitable territory, the history of the Force, indeed of Canada, might have taken a far different course.
The Early Years
The RCMP Quarterly July 1956
The Early Years
By Supt. J. S. Cruickhank
Much has been written of the early years of the Force and not unnaturally, stress has been placed on outstanding events involving individual acts of courage or special circumstances. Even today, there is no room in the Annual Report to outline the lives of the average members who, except for some special occasion must fill in their years in the Force performing their duties in a quiet unspectacular manner, unheralded and unsung. Despite this, it must be remembered that the great bulk of which has helped establish the fame of the Force has always been, and always will be, performed by average individuals who can be proud of a life of service to their country through a career in the Force.
This was true in the early years as it is today and perhaps it would be well to look at some of the conditions under which the men worked in those early years. If you think you have it rough on occasion here are some facts for comparison.
We were still an infant Force in the year 1879 with a strength of only 362 to maintain law and order in the entire western half of the country which was full of turbulent Indians and rapidly acquiring new settlers who were not a little afraid of the same Indians. This was not without reason for the previous year the great herds of buffalo had migrated southwards and had not returned in any large numbers, leaving many Indian tribes north of the border almost destitute. In fact, the buffalo never did return again in profusion for it was the beginning of the end – herds of millions of buffalo were decimated until they became no longer a food factor in Indian life. A cured buffalo skin in that year could be purchased for one dollar.
Almost the entire Force was engaged in patrols to keep the Indians on their newly established reserves. This was not an easy task for the younger natives were not inclined to settle down under their elder chiefs and were forever breaking away in small groups to hunt off the reserve, raid other tribes for horses and to steal both cattle and horses from the settlers.
This meant long, and often forced marches by patrols of the Force who spent many weary hours, as much as 50 miles a day in the saddle, both in summer and winter, and living under camp conditions for as long as three or four months at a time. Both men and horses lost plenty of blood to the ravenous hordes of mosquitoes with fevers not being uncommon. When not on patrol the men were kept fully occupied building barracks and stables for farming, so they might decrease operational costs by growing their own oats and curing hay for feed.
Many stockmen turned their cattle adrift on the prairies and later, not finding as many as they thought they should have, were quick to report the cattle stolen by the Indians. Wandering bands of Indians without any commissariat undoubtedly did kill numerous cattle for food, but an equally large number were lost due to weather conditions, particularly in the winter months. This meant that the Police had to literally act as herdsmen over hundreds of miles to establish the truth of the complaint or otherwise. It was during the course of such a patrol that Cst. M. Grayburn was murdered, believedly by two Indians.
To those of us who consider an hour in riding school rather gruelling, consider the personnel at Fort Saskatchewan who rode 1,080 miles on duty connected with Indian Treaty payments alone, with horses that were almost worn out by the continuous patrolling before they began their trek. With a total strength of 18 members they policed an area of many hundreds of miles in which lived about 5,000 inhabitants including both settlers and Indians.
It is extremely interesting to note that Commr. J. F. Macleod personally travelled in wagons and on horseback over 2,300 miles that year. At the same time Superintendent Walsh at Wood Mountain, spent the greater part of his time attempting to convince “Sitting Bull” and his followers of 240 lodges to return to the United States where they had been offered amnesty terms. Inspector Gagnon found time to track down and bring to justice the Indian “Ka-ki-si-kutchin,” who was convicted and later executed for the offence of murder involving cannibalism.
The average man at the various posts performed his usual police work by investigating and making arrests, herding Indians on their reserves and, in addition, farmed hundreds of acres to obtain oats and hay for feed, built log buildings, some with as many as six or seven rooms, fought prairie fires, collected customs duties and rode many miles to foil the whisky traders. What were the type of offences? They ranged from murder, horse stealing, cattle theft, general larceny, assaults, importing and selling liquor, with the greater number of the horse and cattle thefts being committed by Indians. Many hundreds of gallons of whisky were spilled onto the prairie sod when the “traders” were arrested.
At Fort Macleod where the strength was 39, all these duties were performed and in addition, the members completed drill training and fired their annual musketry course. They also found time to cut 28,000 rails for fences, built a large and comfortable house for themselves and one for the officer in charge. They sowed 100 acres of oats which gave them 2,300 bushels of feed and put up 325 tons of hay using scythes and home-made rakes, then proceeded to build a large corral and stables.
It is worth-while looking at food and quarters in this year. Almost all the quarters were built of logs cut by the men and chinked with clay plaster. Many had sod or earth roofs which were far from rain proof in the heavy prairie rains. It is certain that many of the horses had equally good accommodation for all buildings were of similar construction. The men slept on beds made of three boards resting on trestles at the head and feet. It is little wonder that Surgeon Kittson reported “that catarrh, influenza, rheumatism, etc., etc., prevailed extensively.” Typhoid fever was also a continuous threat.
Men were not apt to enter hospital if they could regain health otherwise for it was reported that the building was unfit for habitation when there was any wind. In the summer, dust was deposited half an inch thick over everything and in the winter, the building let in the wind like a colander. In the spring, it was untenable on account of being deluged with mud and water from the earth roof, with exceeding probability of the roof falling in on the patients.
Each post attempted to grow its own green stuff and potatoes – sometimes with indifferent success – local beef was plentiful, but the accounts show little in the way of luxury purchases, leaning heavily on beans, rice flour and bacon with casks of syrup and dried apples evidently for desserts. It is difficult to decide if the poor state of the hospital or the poor type of cook would account for the inclusion in the food accounts of a large number of bottles of castor oil which were purchased with regularity. Coffee, tea and tobacco were the only items purchased which might bear any semblance of luxury. During this year, due to the loss of buffalo meant, many Indians were in dire straits through lack of food and many of the personnel shared their rations with Indian bands who camped around the posts. It was necessary for the Government to supply large quantities of flour and beef to the Indians to prevent starvation.
Needless to say not all NWMP personnel were entirely happy in the life, which included no amusements whatsoever and continuous heavy duty at isolated points sometimes for a year at a time. Forty-six members were discharged as time expired, four were invalided and seven deserted. Desertions could be explained partially by the fact that only three members per month were allowed to obtain discharge by purchase and conditions generally were rugged. Many who deserted later returned voluntarily. Such was the lure of adventure in the newly opened West that 90 recruits were engaged as replacements.
One can do no better than to close with an extract from a report submitted at the year end by one of the Divisional Commanding Officers who said “during the last year the duties connected with this post have been carried on in as satisfactory manner as possible considering the small number of men and the wretched horses now in possession of the detachment. The conduct of the men has been exemplary though they have been doing severe work.”
The Evolution of the Horse
R.C.M.P. Vol. 46, No. 4 Fall 1981
The Evolution of the Horse
By D/Commr. W. H. Kelly (Rtd.)
Whenever we see or think of the Musical Ride, we appreciate the beauty of the horses and enjoy watching them perform. But rarely do we think that these beautiful animals, and others of different breeds and sizes, evolved from the small rabbit-like creatures found on the North American continent, millions of years ago. There is evidence to show that the evolution of the horse predates that of man by some sixty million years.
During the Eocene period, some sixty to forty million years B.C., the earliest ancestor of the horse, Eohippus (Eos meaning Dawn and Hippos meaning horse) was only fifteen inches (four hands) high, and lived on leaves and plants. In the next 20 million years, its successor Mesohippus, had reached a height of 20 inches. Over the next 25 million years, or so, to about 10,000 years B.C., through the Oligocene, Miocene, Piliocene and the Pleistocene periods, the horse lost its toes, gained a hoof and had grown to about 53 inches (13 hands) in height. Since then the horse has evolved into the beautiful animal of the present day.
Bones have been found in North and South America which show that horses existed on these continents in the Pleistocene period, about 1,000,000 to 10,000 years B.C. But they disappeared from these areas and are believed to have crossed into Asia by way of the Siberian Isthmus, to appear again only when the Spanish conquistadores brought them back in the 16th century.
Meanwhile horses had been evolving in Asia and Europe. They were first hunted for meat and, later, kept in herds much as cattle are kept today, long before men learned to domesticate them for other purposes. The Chinese are thought by some to have been the first horsemen, but this is disputed by others who believe the brahmans were the first.
It is also known that there were skilled riders in Asia, Europe and North Africa as early as the third millennium B.C. Some time before that man had already begun to value the horse as a draft animal, and harness in a crude form is known to have existed as early as 4,000 years B.C.
It was inevitable that man would use the horse to help him in battle against his enemies. This had been done thousands of years before Alexander the Great, in the 4th century B.C., crossed the Hellespont, not only with tens of thousands of soldiers on foot, but 5,000 mounted on horses. It soon became common for all armies in Europe to have a complement of mounted troops.
Large horses were developed to carry heavy armour into battle, in the days when the broad axe was considered a useful weapon, and later to draw heavy cannons and mortars. Much later, the idea began to prevail that speed and surprise were useful qualities in winning battles, and so lighter horses and cavalry tactics came into use.
After centuries of being used on the battlefield the horse eventually gave way to mechanization. Nevertheless, horses played an important part in World War I, and even at the beginning of World War II in some European countries. Today in countries such as Switzerland, they still are used in mountainous regions to haul equipment over rugged territory, where soldiers have to patrol.
As the horse was being developed for war, it was also being put to other uses. From the time it was domesticated, man used horses for his own welfare. Until the eighteenth century, usually only people of means could afford to keep them. But as society evolved, more people began to own horses when they were able to use them in commercial ventures. As the only means of land transportation it became necessary to put the horse to work in the interest of the community and not just in the interests of the wealthy.
From very early days the horse has been used for recreation and entertainment. At first the horse was used by some men to hunt for food; later, the hunt became part sport as well as necessity. Soon the horse became part of the pomp and pageantry at Royal Courts. History is replete with details of chariot races, and even polo was played in the 4th century B.C. Romans are known to have raced horses and imported stallions and mares to breed the types of horses they desired.
In medieval times, jousting took place at tournaments, and very early the horse became part of the bullfight. No one knows exactly when steeplechasing and flat racing first took place, but they were given a tremendous boost when the English, in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, imported Turk, Barb and Arab horses, which became the foundation stock for all thoroughbred horses in the world today. In America where all the European sporting uses of the horse were accepted, some additional ones were added, such as rodeos and stampedes. A new type of horse, some may call it a breed, was especially developed to run a quarter of a mile – the quarter horse.
While all these things were going on, ponies were not forgotten. Some were used for work purposes, such as the pit ponies, where height is a consideration, but ponies were mostly kept for recreational purposes, such as light carriage work and the show ring.
Although the horse as a work animal has greatly diminished, it is still used for farm work in many countries, and it has not altogether vanished from the North American farm scene. Some religious sects, such as the Mennonites, refuse to mechanize their farm operations, or even to use cars to go to market. But the recreational horse is more popular than ever today. In this category can be placed the draft horses that are specially bred, not for work purposes but for the purpose of improving the breed, or as is done by some breweries, as an advertising gimmick.
Our affluent society has enabled more young people than ever to own their own horses, or to take riding lessons on rented horses. Horse racing is as popular as ever, and harness racing probably more popular than ever before, although this can be attributed as much to love of gambling as love of horses.
During its history, the RCMP has used horses as draft, military and recreational animals. As in the case of work horses, generally mechanization gradually spelled the doom of the RCMP patrol horse. The recreational use of RCMP horses, as seen in today’s Musical Ride, brings pleasure to hundreds of thousands of people worldwide.
The Musical Ride’s popularity can be partly attributed to its pageantry and colour, but it is not difficult to believe that mostly it is the enjoyment of seeing beautiful, well trained horses perform. When watching them perform, even when one knows that it took them over sixty million years to evolve into the noble creatures they are, it is difficult to appreciate the fact that their ancestors were once small dog-like creatures only two or three hands high.
The Rampaging Red
The RCMP Quarterly October 1950
The Rampaging Red
By Inspr. K. M. Lockwood
A brief account of last spring’s disastrous floods in Manitoba – a calamity that shocked the nation and excited the sympathy of the whole world.
Toward the end of March it became evident from reports submitted by American engineers that the Red River was about to unleash its fury throughout the length of the valley. Levels were rising rapidly south of the border and the volume of water on its way north indicated far more severe flooding than had been experienced in recent years. By early April the deluge had made itself felt at Emerson, the first Canadian town north of the border. From then on it steadily spread over the whole Red River Valley until an area of approximately 600 square miles was inundated. The water varied from one to ten feet in depth and engulfed everything in its path. At one point on the river proper the crew of an RCMP patrol schooner had occasion to drop anchor and before it struck bottom, they had released approximately 90 feet of chain.
The towns of Emerson, Letellier, St.Jean, Morris, Rosenort, Rosenfeld, Silver Plains, McTavish, Aubigny, St. Agathe, St. Adolphe, St. Norbert – and all surrounding farm country within approximately 15 miles of the river proper – were almost completely inundated by the “rampaging Red.”
Long before the flood reached disastrous proportions certain precautionary measures were taken by the Force. Special radio installations – over and above the regular equipment – insured communications should telephones fail. Arrangements were made for water transport; freighter canoes and other types of suitable boats equipped with outboard motors were shipped into the area. Extra personnel were supplied and before any other organization had taken precautions, the Force was reasonably well prepared for the coming emergency. The ground work was carefully thought out and it was then merely a question of expanding the organization to meet the need as the water rose. On approximately April 12 it became evident the flood was going to assume disaster proportions and on April 17 extra men were sent into the southern area and the writer took up headquarters in Morris to direct the coming battle.
On the morning of April 30, at approximately 4 a.m., a wall of water four feet high attacked the town of Morris and in a matter of three hours the whole town was flooded to a depth of about five feet. The water rose steadily during the coming days until it reached a depth of 25 feet on the east side of the town and tapered to roughly five feet on the west side. The area became known as “Lake Morris.” As far as the eye could see in any direction there was an unbroken expanse of water. Highways, railroads, bridges, fences, automobiles and in many cases houses and other buildings were completely covered by the rushing tide.
In the towns throughout the valley – previously listed –the situation soon became impossible. Food, water and other necessities of life were simply nonexistent. This meant only one thing – the mass evacuation of thousands of people, and this was carried out in approximately five days. The small boats equipped with outboard motors and four larger launches which had been loaned to the Force by their owners, were the only means of transportation available. The boats and operators carried on at top speed day and most of the night taking people to safety or to points from which they could obtain transportation. This operation was executed in the most impossible weather and under the most dangerous conditions, yet not a single life was lost or was there an untoward incident of any kind. The morale of the people was excellent and the efficiency, energy and devotion to duty of the members of the Force involved cannot be praised too highly. Many of the men were young and inexperienced yet they performed like veterans and worked almost to the point of exhaustion. The currents of the river were extremely dangerous for the operation of small boats and all through the evacuation there was constant rain or snow with below freezing temperatures – and winds which reached a velocity of 40 miles an hour.
The devastation in the Red River Valley is beyond description. Houses, barns and out buildings have simply vanished. Morris itself absorbed the unrelenting fury of the elements for ten days and emerged a battered and splintered town. Huge logs driven by a 40-mile-an hour wind and borne on four foot waves, unmercifully battered the inundated settlement. They smashed their way completely through some houses and reduced others to piles of bricks and splinters which later floated away and left nothing but gaping basements to welcome returning evacuees.
In Winnipeg and surrounding suburbs an outstanding job was done by all ranks. Extra men were brought in from Saskatchewan and from Brandon and Dauphin Sub-Divisions and these were welded into a compact efficient force to augment municipal police forces in the emergency. Through the untiring efforts of the executive members of Headquarters, a steady flow of necessary supplies was maintained to the men in the field without which they could not have operated. The radio communications set up before the flood actually struck were a godsend. Telephone communication was practically nonexistent and at its best was unreliable, although the Manitoba Telephone System did a marvelous job of trying to maintain its lines. The police radio network was about the only means of communication from Winnipeg south. To the radio technicians, dispatchers and others connected with this operation goes unlimited credit for the manner in which they enabled this channel to function at its high peak of efficiency. The stenographers and office staff contributed materially to the success of the communications. They worked long hours compiling, sorting and tabulating messages and instructions which were flowing in a constant stream to and from Headquarters.
During this emergency extra detachments were set up throughout the Red River Valley at Dominion City, St. Norbert, St. Agathe, St. Adolphe, St. Jean and Letellier. The two members at each of these detachments were equipped with boats, motors, clothing, food, gasoline and other necessary supplies. Three large patrol boats were put into operation – the Atik patrolling from Winnipeg to St. Jean, the Aeronaut from St. Jean to Emerson and the Arcesu covering the whole valley from Winnipeg to Emerson. The crews of these boats used freighter canoes powered by outboard motors to visit all farms and houses within reach of the river. In this way the welfare of the persons still occupying these dwellings was looked after; also the need for cattle feed was noted and such information passed onto the Department of Agriculture. Where houses were still occupied even though partially under water, their locations were listed as well as the names of the owners. A record was kept of each visit to these places. Evacuated homes and buildings were dated in chalk each time a patrol called, for the information of returning evacuees. In these ways the situation was kept under control, looting was prevented and the people were assured that their welfare was being looked after by the patrols of this Force. Arrangements were made with the Manitoba Government Air Service for two aircraft to fly over the entire flooded valley, spot isolated cattle and drop feed to them. This operation was successful and most certainly saved the lives of cattle which would otherwise have starved.
The RCMP Beaver Aircraft CF-MPM, stationed at “D” Division, proved useful too. This aircraft made many flights to Morris and district and being equipped with wheels used a portion of No. 75 Highway which had not been flooded, as a landing strip. This runway was approximately 1 ½ miles long and while it is obvious that a highway is not the most desirable landing strip, the skill of our pilot in safely negotiating this improvised airfield time and time again was well demonstrated.
Truly the 1950 Red River flood left its unforgettable memories throughout the valley, but likewise the members of the Force lived up to tradition and distinguished themselves in a manner which will long be remembered by the residents of the stricken area.
The Tragedy of The Buffalo
Royal Canadian Mounted Police Quarterly July, 1942
The Tragedy of The Buffalo
By John Peter Turner
“America,” I heard a voice complain,
“The first-born children of your broad domain,
The nurselings of your prairies vast and broad,
Look to them – they were given you by God,
And what he gives he will not give again.”
John Hall Wheelock
In the romantic annals of the New World, covering a period of more than four hundred years, no native animal bulks so largely or so tragically as the American bison or ‘buffalo’.
Stories having to do with the western march of civilized mankind, narratives dealing with the dispossession of the Indian, accounts innumerable telling of the headlong conquest across the Western plains reveal in the aggregate the swift yet inevitable doom that, within the memory of men still living, struck down the most imposing, the most numerous and the most vulnerable ruminant that ever trod the earth.
Far in the shadowy past, in that dimly-revealed Pleistocene period before Asia and America were divided by the disappearance of the Bering land bridge, when the great wild ox of Europe, the towering Irish elk, the hairy mammoth, the sabre-toother tiger and other large prehistoric mammals reached their evolutionary peak of existence, massive bison slowly grazed their way from Siberia to the central plains of North America what was then a more temperate zone. These were the progenitors of the still ponderous, prairie buffalo of modern time.
Strangely enough, the discovery of the American bison by initial new-comers from the Old World occurred at a spot considerably removed from the animal’s native heath. On a day in the year 1521, the swashbuckling Hernando Cortez and his murderous following of horse and foot entered the Mexican city of Anahuac. There, in the menagerie of Montezuma the Aztec emperor, were found, according to De Solis (1724), “Lions, Tygers, Bears, and all others of the savage kind which New Spain produced; among which the greatest Rarity was the Mexican Bull – a wonderful composition of divers Animals.” This all-but-forgotten historian goes on to relate in a profusion of capital letters that the seemingly extraordinary creature had “crooked Shoulders with a Bunch on its back like a Camel; its Flanks dry, its Tail large, and its neck covered with Hair like a Lion:” that it was “Cloven footed, its Head armed like that of a Bull,” and that it was similar “in Fierceness, with no less strength and agility.” Just how Montezuma’s hunters had transported a buffalo bull to the Mexican capital from the state of Coahuila, four or five hundred miles away (the nearest locality whence it could have come) must remain a mystery. Vehicles were unknown to the Aztecs in that far-off day, and surmise alone suggests that it had been carried as a calf upon the shoulders of the stalwart natives.
Cortez had revealed an animal whose teeming existence was to give it a prominent place in the forefront of world expansion; incidentally, the same lurid discovered had brought to American shores the European horse – the forbear of the fleet-footed Indian pony, so precisely timed by fate to play a major part in the decimation of the bison horde.
Nine years later (1530), sailing in the wake of the blood-thirsty Cortez, came another dare-devil explorer from old Spain – Alvar Nunez Cabeza, known
They Opened the Way
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.
* * *
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.
* * *
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.
* * *
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.
* * *
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.
* * *
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.”
Today’s Problem – YOUTH
R.C.M.P. January, 1949
Today’s Problem – YOUTH
By Cst. N. J. McKenzie
This academic study of the youth problem as it pertains to the policeman strikes a new note in its approach and points out that more money spent on crime prevention would result in an all around economy.
Juvenile delinquency control is the supervision and care of boys and girls under the age of 16 years. There are generally two types of delinquents – dependent children and neglected children. Dependent applies to a child whose parents are unable, for various reasons, to provide proper care for him; neglected implies either some fault or omission on the part of the parents in supervision and training, or some overt action which might impair the child’s welfare.
The neglected child is the most difficult of the two to deal with, as it necessitates measures entirely different from those to which he has been accustomed and incurs separation for his parents. This separation is permissible under law – in fact one section of the criminal code deals entirely with this matter – and when it takes place the child becomes a ward of the Government. In such an event the social agency handling the case has undisputed control or jurisdiction over the child, yet the right of parents is an inherent one, and they may appeal to the Court if they care to do so. The youth associations are interested primarily in the welfare of the child, and though it is difficult to estimate their success in round figures, it is generally conceded that they are doing a very worthwhile work.
The tender years of life, as they are often referred to, are the building years, and it is then that foundations for the future are laid. A child is sharp to observe and pass comment on what he sees, especially when he starts mixing with other children in the neighbourhood. That is the time of life when home environment is most influential, and if the right tuition has been given during the first years, the character of the child will manifest itself towards what is right and turn from wrong.
All child training should have as its objective the making of good citizens, and before we can profitably set to the task, we must determine what type of citizen we mean by good. With that fixed in mind we then direct our efforts to help the child learn what is best for him and train him in that direction, our part being to guide him in the preliminary stages then encourage him to do for himself as soon as he is capable.
Delinquency more or less assumes a given pattern, and there are numerous symptoms which indicate this. For instance, irregular attendance at school, conflict with the authorities, undesirable personality traits, academic difficulties, failure to observe set routine and regulations, living in a world of fantasy. By these symptoms – showing a general disapproval of things – the child is calling for help, but unfortunately parents too often are so busy with other matters they don’t notice their child’s predicament, leaving him to cope with the situation himself and losing an opportunity to provide help which would be extremely beneficial in character building.
The treatment of delinquency has long been recognized as a community responsibility, and though in some cases the authority of the Court has been found necessary, this should be resorted to only after the social worker has exhausted every known method of correction. It should be remembered that when a minor is a delinquent, that very fact indicates all is not well with him and that he is in need of understanding and guidance.
The policeman’s contact with a child will differ from that of the school teacher or the social worker. He sees the child only in isolated instances, and unless a close study of the delinquent is made, he is not in a position to say whether or not the child will repeat his offences. The same thing applies to the Court, therefore it is imperative that considerable groundwork be done in each individual case, preferably by a social worker assisting the policeman. For instance, there could be, and likely is, a marked difference in the motive of two boys guilty of breaking a window – one boy breaks a window on impulse because it affords a satisfying target. The other breaks it as a means of flaunting his disregard for all rules. The first boy would not require as much social guidance as the second.
In general the contributions made by law enforcing agencies in this work will vary from those of the school. No hard and fast rules can be laid down, but in most cases both these agencies, especially the latter as it is there that the child spends the greater part of his early life, detect the symptoms of delinquency long before the parents do. This is no reflection on the parents, for it is only natural that they see only the good in their child, while the policeman and the teacher, in the interest of taking preventive steps if necessary, are constantly on the watch for the opposite.
It seems to me that the day is not far off when Canadian police departments and forces will require a special branch to deal solely with delinquents. In fact such branches are now operating in the United States in conjunction with the various agencies already in the field. The operators are specially trained, wear plain clothes and use unmarked cars. While carrying out their duties, which consist of assisting the agencies, supervising certain groups, obtaining employment for idle hands and so on, every endeavour is made to keep from the public eye the boy or girl who has done wrong.
No better formula for crime prevention can be adopted than prompt detection, vigorous checking and thorough investigation, and this is most applicable in juvenile delinquency. In view of this, it would seem that the police should have full authority to make arrests when necessary, interview and investigate all cases of delinquency, and when detention is required it should be under the most favourable conditions possible. Later, if the delinquent’s behaviour warrants it, he can be released to his home on probation, and the follow-up work continued.
The police should feel justified in assuming leadership in the recreational movements set up for the benefit of delinquents in their district. If, however, conditions are such that this is not possible, they should at least assist in this commendable work. Recreation, although not a cure-all for delinquency, is by far the most effective step in preventing it. By recreation I mean controlled recreation, and providing it to meet the needs of Youth, regardless of color, creed or social standing, is a year-round responsibility of the community. It should receive major attention by all civic-minded clubs and organizations, and in planning it, the youths themselves must not be overlooked. They should be consulted and when possible appointed to the various committees, as this is an excellent method of training them for leadership in future life. Youth needs not only recreation but responsibilities.
It is a known fact that we are paying a tremendous amount of money for the care of criminals, while perhaps not enough for the prevention of crime. By this I mean we should spend more on good homes, substantial incomes and city planning in respect to playgrounds and schools, as all these, according to knowledge gained by extensive study and investigation, have their place in the programme of crime prevention.
The general public can help by abandoning the practice of finding fault and recognizing the fact that the causes of delinquency are natural, that the problems of a delinquent child are the problems of all children. The social needs of a child, such as security, proper home conditions, affection of parents and companions, mean as much to him as food and warmth. Therefore it is necessary to study the delinquent not as an individual but as an integral part of the community, his home, school, church and environment. Responsibility for this rests with adults and society.
There is no single cause for delinquency; each case usually begins in early childhood which is considered the time most significant in the development of personality and character. It is only through study that we will be able to decide why some young people are unable to resist the influence of bad companions and the temptations of everyday life, while others continue automatically to do the right thing.
Treaty No. 7 Commemorated
RCMP Quarterly Vol. 42, No. 4 Fall 1977
Treaty No. 7 Commemorated
By S/Sgt. J. C. Roenspies
Introduction: No one knows for sure where they came from or how long they have been here, but it is generally accepted that the North American Indian has occupied this continent for about 25,000 years. Most anthropologists agree, however, that they probably migrated from Asia during one of the several ice ages, when much of the earth’s water was trapped in the huge glaciers which covered much of North America. The water level of the oceans was down by some 200 to 450 feet, creating a land bridge believed to be from 200 to 700 miles wide between Alaska and Siberia. Alaska’s climate was much gentler during the periods of glacial thaw than it is today, permitting a fairly lush vegetation to flourish. During these warming periods when the two great glaciers withdrew from each other over a period of centuries, like two great giants pausing for breath before renewed battle, passes probably opened permitting migration to the southern reaches of this continent.
Lost in the mists of time are the reasons for leaving the Asian continent. Did they merely follow animals of the hunt or did the pressures of over-population force a reaching-out to hitherto unfamiliar environs? Did a shaman, invoking the spirit world, point to the east as the direction where friendly spirits would welcome them or did larger and more warlike tribes force them off their former lands? Whatever the reason, come they did – in wave after slow wave, over a hundred centuries or more, periodically blocked by glaciers, while in warmer times they inexorably spread south and east. Some occupied the west coast of the continent and adapted to the environment. Others remained in the mountain valleys of the western cordillera, while the more adventuresome, in succeeding generations, spilled over mountain passes to occupy new lands. Language and custom eventually changed to reflect the new conditions, so much so that some former kin groups were seen to be hostile and threatening strangers.1 On and on they moved, over the mountains, across the plains, through the eastern woodlands to the east coast until the entire country we know as Canada was occupied by some fifty tribes, each seeing themselves different in some way from all the others. Yet, no matter how dissimilar they saw themselves, one common force remained to be either conquered or to be lived with in harmony by all tribes – the environment. At the same time, it was the environment in which each tribe lived that dictated each would be different from the other. For instance, the abundance of game and fish on the West Coast left the inhabitants with little worry about food, and there was little need to domesticate plants and animals. The Iroquois, on the other hand, had learned to make the environment work for them and had domesticated corn to guard against leaner times. Winter snows provide another example of the environment’s influence on Indian life. The prairie Indians saw the buffalo disappear to the south each Fall, and thus they would face the possibility of starvation should luck be against them. To the tribes who lived in the woodlands adjacent to the tundra, the fall snows brought the migrating caribou into their territories resulting in times of plenty.2
Just as nature provided the bounty for the Indians, so too did her quirks bring hardship, starvation and death. No one would be so foolhardy as to predict that the buffalo would come again this year, just as they had in the past several years, for who could explain the reason why when instead they chose a migration path several hundred miles east or west of their usual route. No one could predict or explain a drought and dried up sloughs and decimated the waterfowl population, or raging forest and prairie fires, or ravaging floods, or early snows, or killing frosts – the possibilities are endless. The dread of such phenomena were plainly visible in one way or another, but the unexplained causes were usually attributed to various Spirits. Yet the Indians’ very dependency on nature forced them to read and understand nature’s signs, to cope with her various moods so that rather than being beaten by her they could live in harmony with their “Great Provider.” Religious rituals and the very social structure of their day-to-day lives, including the clothes they wore, the shelters they built and the games they played, were all attuned to the environment in which they lived.3
One of the greatest riddles in the prerecorded history of North America is why Europeans advanced in attempts to control the environment while the North American Indians essentially remained under the environment’s control. Dr. Diamond Jenness, a Canadian anthropologist, suggested several reasons. Eurasia had certain types of wild cereal grasses which were more easily domesticated than any found in North America. The only universally domestic animal in North America was the dog, whereas Eurasians had domesticated horses, camels, elephants and other beast of burden. The wheel was common in the Old World, while in the New it was only used as a toy by Inca children. Most importantly, the Indians had not developed any form of written communication, and therefore, new ideas or discoveries which were unrecorded, to some extent died with the person conceiving them. As is usually the case, ideas which were passed along by word of mouth tended to become distorted with each telling and generally lost their impact over time.4
In any event, it is not difficult to imagine how the introduction of any new dimension into the delicate balance between the Indian and his environment could have profound effects. One such dimension was introduced with many Plains Indians ever having seen a European.
In the early 1500’s, the Spanish Conquistadores brought the horse with them when they set out to conquer and colonize Mexico. Whether the horses escaped or were stolen from the Spaniards, or both, the lush pasture of the Great Central Plains lent itself to the proliferation of the horse population so that by the 1700’s, the horse-culture of the Plains Indians was well entrenched. With the horse their life style changed forever. Increased mobility, many times over, was the first change, and with increased mobility came an increased range. No longer could a tribe remain reasonably secure behind their own boundaries. No longer need the Indians concern themselves with the migration fluctuations of the buffalo. If they were numerous and powerful enough, they rode to where the buffalo could be found, regardless of in whose territory they happened to be. Hostilities increased so much that in the late 1600’s and early 1700’s the whole of the great Plains rose in a flux of war. Even war changed. Coupled with increased mobility and range was the need to increase one’s social stature through war and warlike ventures. To steal into the enemy’s camp and make off with his horses undetected was indeed the mark of a brave warrior. To lead the charge into a group of hostile warriors and touch one of them with a coup stick and more so, with a bare hand, was far more honorable than killing him from a distance with a bow and arrow. Thus, war became less lethal after the horse-culture became firmly entrenched. Within each tribe, the numbers of horses any man had indicated his prowess as a horse-thief, his wealth to purchase brides and his ability to provide for his family. Thus his social stature generally was held in relation to the number of horses he claimed.
Despite this being a very simplistic, perhaps overly simplistic, resume of the evolution of man in North America before the coming of the European, there is little doubt that the Indian was not prepared for the onslaught when it came. Their societies were intricate and complex, their religious ritual and belief systems, the social structures and their day-to-day lives were all part of and derived from the environment in which they lived. Thus each facet of their lives had many parts, and even the parts had parts, so that a disruption of any one of them would reverberate through all the others.
The coming of the European was the opening of the floodgates. Their numbers were few at the beginning, and undoubtedly had the Indians wished, they could have easily pushed the white man from their shores. There is no question either that such a measure would have been only a temporary stop-gap, for the age of exploration was on in Europe, and especially, the push to find the elusive western passage to the Orient. Blocking the path to the Orient was the huge land mass, the North American Continent.
Westward settlement in Canada moved very slowly for the first 200 years, largely due to the hostility of the Iroquois against the French settlers. After the conquest of New France by the British in 1759-60, coupled with the British presence in the Hudson Bay watershed, western frontiers were pushed steadily back. Fur traders and explorers, once a trickle, now became a tide, and with them came the disruptions which would change the Indians’ way of life forever. European technology was introduced as trade goods, such as axes, guns, knives, clothing, and worst of all – liquor. Furthermore, Europeans brought diseases which were devastating to the Indians. Two other changes, perhaps more subtle, but equally as disrupting to the Indian social structure, were introduced as well. Wishing to have the trade goods which had become status symbols, the Indians now trapped and hunted for profit, not just to provide for the family, the clan or the tribe. Thus their economic system was upset. To have more trade goods they had to produce more furs, pemmican, or whatever else the traders would accept. If they could not produce more, that portion to be shared with others was reduced. The introduction of a new religion and the belief in a single omniscent and omnipotent God disrupted, and even changed, an Indian’s relationship to his fellow tribesman and to the environment.6
Events were moving much faster south of the 49th parallel than they were in Canada. The American West was filling rapidly with sellers, with perhaps some pause for the American Civil War. After 1865, the movement west was continued, with considerable fighting between Army and Indian. Some Indians moved north of the border where they were relatively safe from the Cavalry, but this did not deter the whiskey traders, who had discovered that they could sell or trade their product with impunity in what is now southern Alberta. Rev. C. Scollen, a missionary amongst the Crees and the Blackfoot, writing to the Governor of Manitoba in September, 1876, commented on the Blackfoot population’s decline to about one half their original number, on the decay of their systematic organization and utter demoralization as a people. He wrote that in the past ten years or so, the illicit whiskey traders had played on the Indian’s passion for that drug, and had traded the Indian out of the very essentials he needed to live – his horses, rifles and his equipment. While intoxicated Indians often fought and killed or were killed themselves, at times by the whiskey traders who refused to give more whiskey because the Indian had nothing left to trade. They were poor, clothed in rags and starving, without horse or rifle, and ill-equipped to fend off the smallpox epidemic of 1870. By the summer of 1874, Rev. Scollen said it was painful to see the state to which the most opulent Indians in the country had been reduced. “…But this was the year of their salvation; that very summer the Mounted Police were struggling against the difficulties of a long journey across the barren plains to order to bring them help. The noble corps reached their destination that same fall, and with magic effect put an entire stop to the abominable traffic of whisky with the Indians. Since that time the Blackfeet (sic) Indians are becoming more and more prosperous. They are not well-clothed and well-furnished with horses and guns…
For everyone, the time was ripe to begin treaty negotiations with the Blackfoot Confederacy. The Federal Government wished to ensure that the peace and prosperity of the plains, brought on by the presence and fair dealings of the North West Mounted Police, would be consolidated. The Canadian Pacific Railroad was being built and land claims had to be established before the right-of-way could be decided. At the same time, the West could not be settled by farmers and ranchers unless the Indians had first surrendered portions of their land. Perhaps more ominous was the report that Sitting Bull approached Chiefs of the Blackfoot confederacy to join the Sioux in a war against the white settlers. Had they agreed, the results would have been devastating.
On the other hand, the Indians had no desire to return to the soul-searing days of the whisky traders and to abject poverty and starvation. They were at peace with each other and they were prosperous, but the numbers of buffalo were rapidly decreasing. More and more settlers were moving westward and the Indians knew it would be only a matter of time before their lands were gone. Proud and independent, they wanted to reserve some land for their exclusive use to make the transition into farming or ranching as smoothly as possible. They knew too, that war with the Whites would turn the Great Plains into an inferno which would play havoc with the Indians in the long run. Thus in 1876, treaties were concluded with several plains tribes, a notable exception being the Blackfoot Confederacy.8
In 1876, Father Scollen reported that the Blackfoot Indians wished to conclude a treaty without unnecessary delay. They were probably the most independent of all the plains tribes, yet they were the most dependent on the buffalo for practically all of their everyday needs. With its disappearance, they would be utterly helpless. They had resisted the encroachment of the white man for years but had fallen prey to the dread whiskey traders and the fearsome Henri rifle the traders carried. With the coming of the Mounted Police, that threat had gone. With more and more farmers and ranchers settling around Forts Macleod and Calgary, the Indians believed that their land would be gradually taken from them without ceremony unless something was done. They wanted to hold some territory for themselves without fear of being molested. Furthermore, says Father Scollen, they had written and made representations to government officials the previous year that they wished to come to an understanding with the Government.9
1877: Lieutenant Governor of the North West Territories, David Laird, and Colonel John Macleod of the North West Mounted Police were the commissioners chosen to negotiate Treaty No. 7. Word was sent to all the tribes that negotiations would take place at Fort Macleod, a location central to all tribes, beginning on September 17, 1877.
What’s in a Cart
R.C.M.P. Vol. 41, No. 1 Winter 1976
What’s in a Cart?
By C/M Philippe Grant
Close-up of a Red River cart showing the rough-hewn elm axle supporting the floor and the linch pin in the axle tip. Shagganapee (crude buffalo hide) is wrapped around the wheel to help secure the felloes. This wheel probably stood five feet high. The railing shown is simple and was used to cart hay.
What’s in a Cart
In a Red River cart, that is. Who invented it? When did it come into general use? How was it built and kept in good repair? Were there many “models?” How was it driven? How was its use affected by the advent of the railroad? Just so many questions that might be asked about a seemingly legendary conveyance.
Now, as far as one can go into history, there is no instance known of an all-wooden cart construction. Even the Babylonians, who are credited with the invention of the wheel, did not build a cart until they discovered iron and the method to work it into such simple devices as a metal axle. This is borne out by the stone records unearthed to this day in Mesopotamia.
In a country of such continental vastness, where pioneers were really far from civilization, a means of transportation had to be thought out and built using only essential tools. Alex Henry, at about the turn of the 19th century, was the first to have the idea of a cart, which came to be known as the Red River cart, from the area where it originated. The rough-and-ready Metis, who spread the use of the cart, made use of whatever material was at hand, wood growing alongside streams and around lakes, different kinds being chosen for different components. The cart was easily kept in good repair because of the availability of materials, for there were more wooded tracks of land then than now; a sort of equivalent to our garages, but more omnipresent than facilities in our modern cities.
There were also several “models” of the cart, the most generally used being the one provided with open-work rails. There was the half-railed cart with the lower portion full, that is, made up of boards on all four sides of the vehicle. There was the covered model, the forerunner of the covered wagon; this model was reserved for women and children which provided protection from the weather on long trips. Lastly, the homesteader had the railless cart for conveying anything you may name on the farm.
This extraordinary vehicle was drawn by all sorts of animals, which then instantly became “dray” animals – horses of course, but just as often oxen, cows, even dogs. Frequently Indian ponies were used, and could pull a 500-700 lb load at a jog-trot for several hours, quite a test of endurance considering the terrain.
But did such a greaseless, indescribably squealing and moaning conveyance actually contribute to transportation in the prairies from the time Henry applied his idea of an all-wooden cart? The answer is positively yes. As rough and plain as the West where it was born, it could be bought or made for a few dollars. The Red River cart was not only used by the hundreds to take men and women to and from the buffalo hunting parties, but also for carting loads of every description with the appropriate model.
Such transportation was not limited to short runs. With time, longer journeys were undertaken, and increasing numbers of carts were used in what came to be known as “brigades,” which were not unlike the trains of railroad carts in arrangement. So it was that the Red Rivers, as they were sometimes called for short, opened an increasing number of trails in the prairies, trails that took the settlers as far as the Rockies. These trails extended in all directions from such centres as Fort Garry, Edmonton House, Red River, Fort Ellice, St. Paul de Cris, St. Paul, Minn., etc. On such distances, dozens and with time, hundreds of carts travelled the trails, caravan style. One of the great users of the conveyance on long journeys was the Hudson’s Bay Company.
The cart was THE vehicle for the transportation of people, equipment and supplies to and from another growing country, the United States. We all know how a cart brigade made the RCM Police March West possible.
A typically western achievement, the Red River cart thus helped in no small measure in developing the prairie economy, and thereby had a beneficial effect on the Canadian economy. It may be said in praise of the cart that it was used to move some of the first railroad material on the sites as construction of the rail progressed towards the Pacific, an undertaking that evolved into the Canadian Pacific Railway. Indeed, railroad building through such a vast territory would have been much more of a problem had not the cart opened the way.
And it was thus that the railroad train was substituted for the cart train. The carts, the last of which could still be seen about 1930, began the history of transportation in the prairies. Tourists can now see Red River carts in the Hudson’s Bay Co.’s museum, Regina, where they remain as old memories and tangible witnesses of man’s effort in the settlement of the West.
When Sitting Bull Came to Canada
Royal Canadian Mounted Police Quarterly April 1942 ; reprinted Fall, 1976
When Sitting Bull Came to Canada
By George Shepherd
When the Sioux nation began its migration to Canada in 1876 bloodshed seemed inevitable. Sitting Bull was a power not to be ignored. Yet a few North West Mounted Policemen marched into his camp, and before he realized it, his power was gone – supplanted by British law.
Sitting Bull, the Sioux, Cypress Hills, Wood Mountain, Fort Walsh – what a wealth of memory these names stir in the historian’s breast! How vividly they recall that never in the history of the Mounted Police was there a more gruelling task than that of policing the Cypress Hills-Wood Mountain region when the Sioux sojourned there from 1876 to 1881.
The onerous duty of maintaining surveillance over approximately four thousand warlike Sioux, more than seven hundred of whom were warriors, was undertaken and accomplished by a mere handful of Mounted Police. That not a single life was lost on either side ranks this as one of the outstanding achievements in Canadian history. Perhaps the secret of success was in the manner Inspr James Morrow Walsh and his men won the Indians’ respect and esteem. The story is full of interest.
* * *
Late in May, 1876, Asst Commr Acheson Gosford Irvine of the North West Mounted Police, who was then stationed at Fort Macleod, received word from the Department of Justice, Ottawa, that owing to United States operations against hostile Indians of Dakota and Montana near the Canadian boundary there was a strong possibility the Indians would seek refuge in Canada. The Wood Mountain area was mentioned as the likely point of entry, and instructions were given to keep sharp look-out for indications of such an undesirable influx.
In June, Inspector Walsh, the officer commanding the Cypress Hills district, was at Hot Springs, Arkansas, taking health treatments. From Ottawa he received a telegram advising him of the Custer massacre on the Little Big Horn River in the United States, and requesting that he return to his post. He left immediately for Ottawa where he conferred with departmental officials, then proceeded by way of Chicago and the Missouri River to Fort Walsh, arriving early in August. His first act was to order two scouts (one was the well-known and trustworthy Louis Lavielle) to watch the boundary country to the south-east. He also instructed them to shadow the movements of the Sioux, and to learn if possible their intentions and approximate strength.
The information in Lavielle’s report enabled Walsh to warn trading posts and Indian agencies south of the international line along the Missouri and Milk Rivers of impending assault. As a result these traders and agents forestalled the Indians and saved themselves from attack.
Meanwhile a large band of Sioux had assembled on Rock Creek, ninety miles east of Fort Walsh and several miles south of the United States boundary. In October Inspector Walsh proceeded with a Mounted Police patrol to the Wood Mountain country, and from a point where Rock Creek crossed the boundary, kept about one thousand Sioux under close observation. The band was still south of the line, and in due course the inspector was convinced that the expected raids on the Milk River and Missouri posts would not materialize, for the time being at least. He accordingly retired to Fort Walsh, leaving scouts to keep an eye on the Indians.
The Sioux occupied their time hunting the buffalo between the boundary and the Missouri River, and it was not until November that their advance line entered Canada. Sub-Inspr Edmund Frechette with a small party of police and scouts immediately set out to visit the camp which consisted of fifty-seven lodges. During the trip the patrol suffered frequent delays and great hardship from storms and cold.
Inspector Walsh became uneasy at Frechette’s continued absence and, taking along twelve policemen and three scouts, set forth to investigate. On the way to Legare’s trading post at Wood Mountain, which he reached on December 21, he met Frechette and his party weary from exposure and hours in the saddle. At Wood Mountain he learned that Black Moon of the Uncapapa Sioux, who was Sitting Bull’s uncle and the hereditary high chief of the entire Sioux nation, had arrived there two days previously with fifty-two lodges, increasing to 109 the lodges that had crossed the boundary. The Indians of these lodges with their 3500 horses and thirty U.S. army mules, represented various divisions of the Sioux, numbering about five hundred people. This number was eventually to increase to between four and five thousand by additions from the south.
About four miles east of the old Wood Mountain boundary commission buildings was a small settlement of half-breeds that had been established some years earlier. There also was the camp of White Eagle of the Santee band who with some 150 lodges composed of refugees from the Minnesota Massacre of 1862 had occupied that neighbourhood for years. The new arrivals from the United States had joined White Eagle who since crossing the border had been peaceful and law-abiding and resented the intrusion of other Indians, even though they were of his own nation, unless they were prepared to abide by the orders of the Mounted Police.
Among the newcomers, most of whom had participated in the annihilation of Custer and his command six months previously, the most important were Black Moon, Little Knife, Low Dog and the Man Who Crawls – all Uncapapas – a formidable array of savage war-lords compared to the single police officer and handful of men who had come to face them. A council was held during which Walsh laid down hard and fast rules that were to govern the Indians’ conduct while they remained in Canada; he then inquired regarding their intentions. They answered that they had been driven from their own country and were seeking peace. They begged for pity from the White Mother. They were starving and, other than lassoes, spears and arrows, had no means with which to hunt the buffalo. Like the Indians who had preceded them they pleaded for ammunition, and Walsh authorized Legare to give them limited supplies. Thenceforth the Sioux were kept under constant observation by the red-coated representatives of law and order.
Early in March, 1877, the inspector again set out, this time to visit a camp of newly-arrived Sioux on the White Mud Creek, near the boundary. Hastening to meet them, he travelled with three half-breed scouts in advance of his party. As he pressed onward he sent Scouts Lavielle and Daniels in one direction, choosing another for himself and Joe Morin, the third scout. Soon he came upon a fresh Indian trail. After some reconnoitring he followed it, speedily out-distancing Morin. Presently he saw an Indian on a hill-top; a few minutes later as he raced on he saw another, then another and within a matter of minutes he was in the midst of a camp in the course of erection by the main body of the Sioux.
The sudden appearance of Walsh caused a wild commotion. Because the lone policeman had ridden in from the south they at once supposed him to be the advance guard of attacking Americans. Women and children became panic stricken; screaming and yelling, they started to pull down the partly-erected lodges. Horses stampeded, and a wild rush of fear-crazed Indians ensued. Medicine Bear of the Yankton band and Four Horns of the Tetons were the chiefs in charge. With their warriors they assembled on the opposite side of the White Mud Creek. Meanwhile Walsh was trying to explain the situation to them; but at the wrong moment Lavielle and Daniels, who were searching for Walsh, dashed out at break-neck speed from behind a hill. The shocked and bewildered Sioux trained their guns on the inspector and warned him not to advance across the creek. Lavielle thereupon grew angry and drew his gun to protect his superior officer.
The situation grew tense. Inspector Walsh realized he was in a precarious position. Calmly however he instructed Lavielle to put up his gun; firmly and patiently he stood his ground. After a lengthy discussion he and his scouts were permitted to cross the creek; the Indians were reassured, and began again to erect their lodges. Walsh learned that this particular band had suffered so much from treachery and raids on their camps, that the women and children had been denied even the merest semblance of comfortable sleep for a year. Eventually he was conducted to Four Horns, the leader, who said, “We are Tetons and followers of my adopted son, Sitting Bull, who is yet south but looking this way.”
A council was then held in the usual manner, and the chief made pleas similar to those made by his brethren who had preceded him – pleas that were granted as the others had been.
* * *
In mid-May Sitting Bull, the renowned commander-in-chief of all the Sioux, crossed the boundary with 135 lodges and moved northward up the White Mud. Inspector Walsh immediately departed from Fort Walsh with four constables and two scouts, picked up the trail south of Pinto Horse Butte about fifteen miles east of the White Mud and soon came upon the main camp. There were then in Canada about eight hundred lodges of American Sioux, representing some four thousand Indians. The police were given a hearty welcome and requested by Spotted Eagle, the war chief, to come among them. Such was the climax of months of faithful watching and scouting. At last the Mounted Police were in the camp of the redoubtable Sitting Bull. A dramatic moment of Western history had arrived. It was said to be the first time in Sitting Bull’s career that white men, soldiers or scouts, had marched into his camp and pitched their tents beside his own.
Afterwards Sitting Bull said in effect, “This is the most wonderful day in my life. Yesterday I was fleeing from white men, cursing and reviling them. Today they enter my camp and pitch their lodges beside mine. Boldly and fearlessly they enter my camp. Their White Forehead Chief (Walsh) walks to my lodge alone and unarmed. Alone and apart from his soldiers he quietly sits himself down cross-legged beside my lodge, giving me presents of tobacco and the hand of peace. It is a different world. What has happened? Is my reign at an end?”
These thoughts obviously confused Sitting Bull, and, though he knew it not, he had surrendered his power for ever.
Upon being invited to speak to the camp, Walsh told the Indians about the laws of the Great White Mother and warned them there was to be no bloodshed, no fighting. Canada was not to be used as a base from which to carry war across the boundary.
Spotted Eagle, chief of one of the many bands – the Sans Arcs or No Bows – replied first. He voiced his people’s grievances; they had been driven this way and that by American troops, and in order to save their women and children had been forced to cross the boundary.
Inspector Walsh was struck by the fine physique and bearing of Spotted Eagle. Immaculate in dress, handsome of face, his voice deep and resonant, this war chief was one of the most impressive savages on the plains. He carried a frightful weapon – three blades of steel in a long shaft – which Walsh eventually obtained. Before guns had been procurable the Sans Arcs had used lances to hunt and fight with instead of bows and arrows – hence their name. Later, Spotted Eagle together with Stone Dog and Broad Tail by their influence helped Walsh defeat in council Sitting Bull who wished to go south of the boundary line and attack General Nelson A. Miles of the United States Army.
After Spotted Eagle had spoken other chiefs told of tribulations suffered by their bands.
That night Walsh and his escort slept in the Indian camp. The next morning Sitting Bull and his followers were given an opportunity to witness how the law they had just promised to respect was enforced.
Three Indians leading five horses had just ridden into camp. Solomon, one of the half-breed police scouts, recognized the new-comers as aliens belonging to the Assiniboine branch of the Sioux. One, named White Dog, a notorious character on the plains, was considered a great warrior. The previous year Sitting Bull had tried to bribe him with three hundred horses into joining the camp for the summer.
Upon looking over the horses White Dog and his companions had brought in, Solomon discovered that three of them belonged to Father DeCorby, a Roman Catholic priest of the Cypress Hills. The scout passed the information on to Walsh, stating that Lavielle agreed with him that the horses had been stolen.
Inspector Walsh made sure of his ground before proceeding. He sent Solomon and Lavielle to examine the horses again. When they returned and assured him that they had not been mistaken – that the animals truly belonged to the priest – the inspector decided to make an example of the three horse thieves. He accordingly instructed Sgt ‘Bob’ McCutcheon to make the arrest.
White Dog was standing with his companions among a group of fifty or sixty warriors, telling them of his trip across the plains. Sergeant McCutcheon took two or three men and arrested the Indian trio. White Dog hotly demanded the reason; when the sergeant told him, the indignant warrior retorted that the horses were his and that he would neither give them up nor submit to arrest.
The inspector, realizing that if McCutcheon gave ground or retired for further orders police authority would be jeopardized, joined the group.
By this time the whole Sioux camp was in an uproar; hundreds of excited savages pressed around in an attempt to witness the outcome, and White Dog apparently under the impression the entire camp would stand by him, was more than arrogant.
Walsh stood before him and queried curtly, “You say you will neither be arrested nor surrender these horses?” – the scouts had caught the animals and brought them close. Putting his hand on the Indian’s shoulder, the inspector said, “I arrest you for theft.” He then ordered McCutcheon to seize White Dog’s weapons, and before the Indian or his friends had time to resist he was disarmed.
The camp grew silent and tense. Walsh called for leg irons to be brought, then standing in front of White Dog, he held them up and said, “White Dog, tell me where you got those horses, how you got them and what you intend to do with them, or I shall put these irons on you and take you to Fort Walsh for trial.”
For a moment no-one spoke; the camp was still as a grave.
White Dog’s confidence suddenly deserted him. With evident reluctance he made a statement to the effect that he had been crossing the plains east of the Cypress Mountains when he found the horses wandering unattended over the prairie. He claimed he did not know it was a criminal act to take them, as it was the custom on Milk River below the boundary to assume ownership of stray animals until claimed by the owner. Walsh, although he knew the Indian was lying, accepted the statement, and warned him never again to molest other people’s property in Canada.
White Dog realized only too well that he had been disgraced before the entire Sioux nation. It was a bitter pill to swallow. As he was about to turn away he sneered at Walsh and muttered threateningly in his own language, “I shall meet you again.”
The inspector immediately halted him and called an interpreter, then ordered White Dog to repeat his words. The Indian stood silent and sullen, refusing to speak, and when Walsh put into words his own interpretation of what had been said. White Dog remained stubbornly silent. Walsh again lifted the leg irons. “White Dog,” he said, “withdraw those words, or I shall put you in irons and take you to Fort Walsh for threatening a police officer.”
The Indian was completely subdued, and said he had not meant the words as a threat. Walsh knew that this statement also was a lie, but, having won his point, accepted it as true. He had humiliated White Dog in the presence of the whole Sioux camp, had made him show fear of the law.
The lesson was long remembered by Sitting Bull. Within twenty-four hours of their arrival in Canada the Indians had witnessed British law in operation. Nine or ten men in a hostile camp of six or seven hundred warriors had brought to submission one of the most feared and desperate chiefs of the plains.
Upon his return to Fort Walsh the inspector made a full report to Assistant Commissioner Irvine, who had arrived from Fort Macleod, and it was decided to strengthen the detachment at Wood Mountain. Preparations were made for this undertaking but before the expedition got under way six fine-looking warriors arrived with word that three Americans had been detained in the Sioux Camp, Sitting Bull, realizing that the prisoners’ lives would be in grave danger should any of his young braves decide to take vengeance, had sent the warriors to the police for instructions. He did not know the white man’s procedure regarding prisoners.
The envoys carried American cavalry carbines and belts full of ammunition, which they had taken from Custer’s men during the battle of the Little Big Horn. They also carried coup sticks – strong, slender shafts of wood with round stones attached to the striking ends; Sitting Bull’s nephew, who was in the party, had dispatched twenty-three of the enemy with his coup stick and proved it by notches in the handle.
The next morning at six o’clock Assistant Commissioner Irvine started out for Sitting Bull’s camp at Pinto Horse Butte. With him were Inspector Walsh, Inspr. Edmund Dalrymple Clark, Sub-Inspr. Edwin Allen, a few constables and scouts and the six Sioux warriors. The journey was accomplished in two days of hard riding. The police were greeted by a long line of savages, each of whom insisted upon shaking hands with the white visitors. Walsh had succeeded beyond all expectations in gaining the respect of these ‘tigers of the plains.’
Afterwards the police discussed the three American prisoners with Sitting Bull. One, the revered Martin Marty, a Roman Catholic priest, was apostolic missionary of Dakota territory, another, John Howard, was General Miles’ chief scout and the third was an interpreter. They had been sent by General Miles to ask the Sioux to return to the States – an ironical request, as Miles had been pursuing and fighting these Indians for years. The priest said he had been a prisoner for eight days. All three were immediately given their release.
Later the assistant commissioner and his men noticed some American horses among the Indian ponies.
Late that night Sitting Bull went into the lodge especially set aside for the assistant commissioner and told Irvine how Custer and his command had ridden blindly into the Indians; how the soldiers and Indians had fought in utmost confusion, with Custer’s men using the butts of their rifles.
“The soldiers could not load their carbines,” Sitting Bull said, “and the Indians pulled them off their horses killing them with knives and coup sticks. The horsemen were not even armed with swords.”
Before the police patrol’s return to Fort Walsh, the wily old chief expressed his pleasure at being in Canada and told of his intention to obey the laws of the Great White Mother.
* * *
In spite of his peaceful intentions, however, Sitting Bull found it hard to relinquish the power that once was his, and when a number of Nez Perces who were pursued by U.S. troopers to the border, joined the refugee Sioux with tales of woe, it was the Mounted Police who prevented another blood purge of American soldiers south of the line.
With the swift destruction of the last buffalo herds and the consequent poverty of the Sioux refugees, many dejected bands reluctantly turned southward to accept rations from the U.S. authorities. Those who clung to Sitting Bull remained in Canada until July, 1881. The period of their stay was fraught with peril and hazard, like a keg of gun-powder ready at any moment to burst into unpredictable destruction. But the Mounted Police sat tightly on the lid.
When Sitting Bull Left Canada
RCMP Quarterly Vol. 42, No. 3 Summer 1977
When Sitting Bull Left Canada
By Dr. George Shepherd
When Dr. Shepherd received his Fall 1976, Quarterly, one of the first things he noticed was the re-print of his article, “When Sitting Bull Came to Canada.” In a letter to the Quarterly, he told us he had written another article which concluded the story of Sitting Bull’s visit. At our request he very kindly submitted “When Sitting Bull Left Canada.”
The late 1870’s, when Sitting Bull and his Sioux sojourned at Wood Mountain in Saskatchewan after the Custer Massacre of 1876, could be likened to a cold-war period of modern times. Hot warfare was liable to break out at any minutes. If this had happened, the whole American and Canadian Northwest would have been set aflame.
It was an embarrassing situation for the American government. The Custer Massacre had been heralded around of world. Equally well-known was the fact that about five thousand Sioux had crossed the Medicine Line into Canada, and were living peaceably under the control of a mere handful of the North West Mounted Police. This was the epic story of the famous Force.
The Canadian government was also in an embarrassing situation. Two years after Confederation they were faced with an urgent, but delicate international problem. Thousands of miles from Ottawa, with the frailest communication system, the thin red line of police carried on, despite hardship and danger, in the best of their tradition to “Maintain the Right.”
For a while, the Sioux were still able to live by the hunt, but the buffalo were fast disappearing. Everyone recognized it would be beyond the Dominion’s ability to feed and care for so many Indians.
Both governments knew the Sioux must eventually return to reservations in the U.S.A. The problem was how to get them there. At last, Washington sent a Commission to ask them to return. The Mounted Police officers learned with amazement and dismay that this so-called peace commission was to be headed by General Terry, the man who had directed the campaign against the Sioux, and who had been fighting them the previous summer.
The United States government had asked for the negotiations, later to become known as the Sitting Bull-Terry Conference, to be held at Fort Walsh. They further requested that Sitting Bull and some of his head men be brought there for the purpose of inducing the Sioux to return to the U.S. In early June of 1877, Assistant Commissioner A.G. Irvine, with Major Walsh and Adjutant Dalrymple Clark, went down to Wood Mountain to see what could be done about such a meeting.
As the police officers rode into the Sioux camp, a long line of large and muscular Indians greeted them enthusiastically. When they shook hands with the police, the Indians almost pulled them off their horses. That evening Col. Irvine walked around the Sioux camp, the rows of lodges laid out in long lines just like streets. Irvine watched the little Indian boys playing sham war games, generally riding two to a horse.
But there was a sadder touch to Irvine’s stroll. Though most of the Indians had small ponies, some of the larger horses were those captured in the Custer battle. Col. Irvine saw one old grey horse with E7 branded on the hip, indicating that he was from E troop of the 7th U.S. cavalry. A great many of the Sioux carried American carbines and belts of carbine ammunition taken from the 7th cavalry – Custer’s regiment. A story had it that an Indian named White Clay Tracks was credited with having actually killed Custer.
That night, Irvine and Dalrymple Clark slept in a small Hudson’s Bay tent in the Indian encampment, and were almost asleep when an Indian poked his head through the flap. Clark was astonished to see it was Sitting Bull. The old Chief was invited in and quietly seated himself at the foot of Irvine’s bed, while the police interpreter was sent for and Irvine questioned Sitting Bull about the Custer fight.
Sitting Bull said he knew the soldiers were coming twelve days before Custer arrived at his camp. He said Custer rode arrogantly into the attack, with trumpets blowing and flags flying. Sitting Bull did not see Custer himself. Toward the last, U.S. cavalrymen were fighting with the butts of their rifles and revolvers. In many cases the breeches of the rifles were stuck and they were unable to reload their carbines. They had no swords, which Irvine thought was a grave mistake. The Indians pulled the cavalrymen off their horses and killed a great many of them with coup sticks.
It was after one in the morning when Sitting Bull left the officer’s tent. The Sioux wouldn’t even consider going to Fort Walsh to treat with Terry.
The report had circulated around the Sioux camp that if the Sioux leaders ever left Wood Mountain, they would be handed over to the United States authorities as prisoners as soon as they arrived at Fort Walsh. This, Walsh declared to be utterly false, and he gave his word the Sioux would have safe conduct to return to their camp.
His trump card was that if the Sioux refused to come to Fort Walsh on the direct invitation of the Police, they would be the first Indians to ever refuse. Even though Walsh thought the conference was foredoomed to fail, he felt the meeting should be arranged and carried out according to schedule. It was a motley cavalcade that left Wood Mountain; red-coated Mounted Police and befeathered Indian chiefs and guides in slouch hats and buckskin jackets. With many smokes along the way, the Sioux were still uneasy about what awaited them at the distant Cypress Hills and Fort Walsh. The journey was made through the most desolate country, a distance of about 160 miles, and at times both wood and water had to be carried. A winter trip from Fort Walsh to Wood Mountain was often a gruelling four-day experience.
Meanwhile, the Terry Commission, headed by Brigadier-General A.H. Terry, and the Hon. W. G. Lawrence and other officials, held left St. Paul, Minnesota, on September 14, 1877, for the far west. Travelling by the Union Pacific to the Great Salt Lake, Utah, they were destined to make the overland journey to Fort Walsh by wagon, carriages and horse back. By October 10, the Commission left Fort Benton on the Missouri for Fort Walsh, which lay over the treeless plains 180 miles to the north.
It was an impressive start. Included with the personnel were high ranking American officers, three companies of U.S. cavalry, one infantry company and two war correspondents. These were Jerome B. Stillson of the New York Herald and Charles Dehill of the Chicago Times. It was hoped the conference would be the grand finale to the long drawn-out warfare which was holding up settlement of the plains area of the United States.
This small army was met at the U.S. – Canada border by an escort of Mounted Police, headed by Col. J. F. Macleod. In his report to the New York Herald, Stillson made note of leaving the border in the vicinity of Wild Horse Lake, and the contrasting colors of the red-coated Mounted Police with their red and white pennons fluttering from their lance tips, and the blue uniforms of the United States cavalry. He also mentioned his first sight of Fort Walsh, nestling in the Battle Creek Valley with its twelve-foot high log stockade, enclosing the white-washed log buildings of the fort, all under the protection of an unfurled Union Jack. Added to the military scene he could hear bugles blowing at sunrise and sunset.
The Terry Commission camped east of the Fort Walsh stockade. The Sioux were camped to the north of the main gates of the fort. Sitting Bull had declined to enter the stockade, saying he had never been inside a white man’s stockade before, and he did not desire to camp in one now.
The actual conference took place during the afternoon of October 17, 1877, in the officers’ mess room at Fort Walsh. The officials of the Terry Commission were seated at a small table, while the officers of the Mounted Police, in dress uniforms were seated nearby. The American war correspondents were given every facility to observe the hearings. Sitting Bull entered the conference room and was seated on buffalo robes directly in front of Terry. He was accompanied by Spotted Eagle of the Sans Arcs of the No Bows, who, in the days before guns, hunted with the spear and knife. With them were Short Neck and Black Bull of the Uncapappas, a most formidable array of savage war lords. To add insult to the white man’s conference, the squaw of chief The-Bear-that-Scatters was included in the group, an unheard of proceeding for an Indian War Council. From the very start of the talks it appeared as though the conference was doomed to failure. The Sioux had entered the room and shook hands cordially with the police officers, totally ignoring the Terry Commission.
General Terry opened proceedings by giving a glowing, if somewhat overdrawn, account of life on Indian reservations. The Sioux listened in stony silence until Sitting Bull rose and, in angry sentences, tore Terry’s offer to pieces. He asked why the White men would come speaking with forked tongues and with blood on their hands, while still killing his people. He cried that in Montana the grass was stained with the Indians’ blood, while in the country of the Great White Mother there was peace. Other Sioux chiefs said in effect, “I don’t like you” and “You have come here to tell lies.” The squaw of “The Bear,” let loose a torrent of invectives. When Terry asked the interpreter what she was saying, he turned quietly to Terry and, in a low voice, said “She says, General, that you don’t even give her time to breed.”
The conference broke up almost in disorder. As the Sioux stalked from the room they shook hands effusively with the Police Officers, casting disdainful scowls at the Americans. The whole affair was a complete failure.
Healy’s Great Ride
The New York Herald reported that a famous scout, Johnny J. Healy, who had crossed the Line with the General Terry contingent, had vowed to shoot Sitting Bull if the conference failed. The newspaper correspondents with the Commission told Healy he would be hanged if he shot the old chief. The story goes that Healy replied, “Give me ten minutes’ start and all the Mounted Police in Canada won’t catch me.” It had been arranged that Healy would deliver the news of the conference for the New York Herald. When he was asked how long it would take him to get the despatches for the Herald through to Helena, some 340 miles away, which was the nearest telegraph office in Montana, he replied, “Forty-eight hours.” “You can’t do it in three days,” said General Terry. “I will, and will take the news of Sitting Bull’s death too,” said Healy.
Healy had his thoroughbred horse picketed outside the fort, and waited with his rifle in hand, until he could find Sitting Bull alone, he finally found the old chieftain standing by his teepee, an easy mark for a good shot. But fate was kind to the old warrior that night, and perhaps to Healy too. Healy ran back to get his despatches and to take a quick check of his horse. He found his saddle horse entangled in its picket rope, and useless for a long ride. However, the despatches still had to go through. After some delay an army officer’s horse was found, and Healy, forgetting about shooting Sitting Bull, was soon flying away over the bench lands that lay south of Fort Walsh with his exclusive news of the failure of the conference.
It was dark when he left, but by pushing on all night, Healy had covered close to one hundred miles and was at Milk River by morning. Here he found a freighting outfit camped, and he obtained the loan of a mountain bred cayuse. After a hurried breakfast by the camp fire, he was away again. The trail over the plain was good but it was hard riding in the coulees. By mid-afternoon Healy began to feel a wrenching pain in his back. He stopped only long enough for water, eating hard tack and venison as he rode along. At Twenty-Eight Mile springs he was able to make another horse change with a ranch man. From there to the Manas, he sped along as fast as his tough little ranch pony would carry him. His legs had become stiffened and seemed set in the saddle like a vise. The sand from the plain burned in his eyes until his vision became partly distorted. In twenty-four hours from the time he left, he was climbing over the hill into Fort Benton. As Healy dismounted at his own house, the horse he had ridden staggered, rolled over and fell to the ground.
After a hot bath and a bite to eat, Healy was off again. This time he had a finely-bred horse to make the run to Helena on the old stage road. He slept in the saddle, leaning over the horse’s neck. Another horse was found at the end of sixty miles and the ride down Prickly Pear Canyon was made on schedule. The change of horses and a different gait was a great relief to his aching muscles. The last thirty miles were the most difficult. A good horse was found at the stage station and Healy, as he was so sore that he could hardly move, was lifted into the saddles. His head grew dizzy as he struck the Prickly Pear Valley, but his heart lifted when he saw the lights of Helena twinkling in the far distance. He braced himself for the last effort and, within an hour, the plucky horse and still pluckier rider were flying down the old diggings road. They came around the corner of towering Mount Helena, and down again over the sharp foothills that mark the sides of the gulch, and then into Main Street. The sleepy telegraph operator heard a shout outside and opened a window. “Well,” he asked. “War news for the New York Herald,” yelled a voice and a bundle was tossed through the open window. The next morning the Herald had an exclusive report on the Terry Council meeting, three days after it had taken place. Healy had carried his despatches the 340 miles from Fort Walsh to Helena in forty-three hours, and the Herald had “scooped” the news of the failure of the Treaty Conference.
The balance of the story of the Sioux stay at Wood Mountain is one of dogged determination by the totally inadequate force of policemen. The highest degree of courage, patience and tact, were required often with split-second timing. The task of the police remained the same, to prevent bloodshed and open warfare at all costs. By quiet, but persistent, representations to the lesser chiefs, Walsh was successful in starting small groups of the Sioux back south. The situation was complicated by some of the remaining Sioux venturing over the Line into the U.S.A. to hunt. This brought sharp repercussions from Washington and a reprimand for Walsh from Ottawa – for allowing starving Indians to hunt buffalo south of the Line.
Soon the Sioux were reduced to eating their horses, even dead ones. So pitiable was their plight that police personnel shared what they could of their own scanty rations. In July of 1880, Walsh was informed that Broad Tail, Dull Knife, Stone Dog and Little Hawk were taking their people to American posts on the Milk River. A year later, in May, 1881, Sitting Bull and the starving remnants of his once mighty people surrendered to Lieutenant Brotherford at Fort Buford. His surrender ended this epic story in Mounted Police history, which deserves to be far more widely known than it is. That this was accomplished, without the loss of a single life on either side, is one of the marvels and miracles of our early West. So high was the old chieftain’s regard for the Mounted Police under Major Walsh that he said they were not men but devils. In return the police dubbed themselves Sitting Bull’s Angels.
The end of the famed old warrior of the plains was as stormy and as violent as his life. He had been making some trouble, assigned, or one might say banished to the Standing Rock Agency, and the army finally decided to place him under arrest. Buffalo Bill (Col. W. F. Cody), in whose Wild West Show Sitting Bull had starred for one summer, thought this an opportunity to gain a little more prestige, since both of them had got along well together, and asked to be allowed to make the arrest. Cody, however, was sent off on a false journey and some Sioux Indian police were assigned to make the arrest.
Early in the morning of December 15, 1890, the Sioux police, under a Lieut. Bullhead, entered Sitting Bull’s log cabin and dragged the old chief from his bed. “Catch the Bear,” leader of Sitting Bull’s bodyguard, hated Lieut. Bullhead, and as soon as he could discern him in the dim light, he shot him down. As Bullhead fell he fired at Sitting Bull. At the same moment Red Tomahawk shot the chief in the back of the head. Sitting Bull was dead before he struck the ground. A hand-to-hand struggle then ensued and, in a few moments, twelve were dead and three were wounded. So ended the career of this mighty chief of the plains, a victim of the onward march of white settlement. But his has been dealt with so many times before that it is unnecessary to do so here. We can leave the old chief to the verdict of history, and history will be good to him.
Dr. Shepherd has been associated with the RCMP for many years, and worked closely with Commissioner Stuart Taylor Wood in the purchase of the site for Fort Walsh. In fact, it was Commissioner Wood who encouraged Dr. Shepherd to write the story of Sitting Bull, and gave him access to some of the history of the Force to enable him to do it.
Dr. Shepherd is Curator of the Western Development Museum in Saskatoon, and is considered to be one of the leading experts in Western Canadian history. At 88, he is still writing and his expertise is frequently sought (most recently by Reader’s Digest), to verify the authenticity of historical articles. He had published two books dealing with the homesteading day of Saskatchewan, “West of Yesterday” and “Brave Heritage.” Ed.