HomeAlbertaTreaty Indians Making Progress

Treaty Indians Making Progress

Back to The Riders of the Plains.

The following is an excerpt from The Riders of the Plains: A Reminiscence of the Early and Exciting Days in the North West (1905), by Cecil Edward Denny. This work is in the public domain.

Continued from Chapter XXVIII – Western Indians Become Restless.


Chapter XXIX


THE LIQUOR TRAFFIC, which in the first five or six years after the police arrived had been nearly stamped out, in fact none being sold to Indians, again began to grow into serious proportions as the country became settled. It was about as disagreeable a duty as the police had on their hands. By the temperance portion of the community they were condemned as being too lax, while on the other hand, the non-temperance portion found them too severe.

Information against these law-breakers was almost impossible to obtain, as no settler, however much he was against the sale of liquor, would turn informer, and none of the traders themselves would do so for the half of the fine to be derived from giving such information. The profits on the whisky itself was immense, as much as a hundred dollars often being realized from the sale of a 5-gallon keg. It was necessary that police detachments should be stationed near the boundary line as most of the liquor was brought from Montana. The trains on the Canadian Pacific had also to be watched, as much liquor was brought in that way. The mails on that road from Moose Jaw westward were also under the charge of members of the force. These men were sworn in as special officials of the postal department, and carried out their duties greatly to the satisfaction of that department. It will therefore be seen how varied were the duties of the police. In 1883-84 many new police buildings were erected at different points along the railroad, also in the vicinity of many Indian reservations, and patrols were constantly on the move through the country. A new town had been started at Macleod and Lethbridge was just coming into existence, although the town was not really built until ’85. The Galt company in ’84 opened their coal mines at that place on a large scale. Calgary had the beginning of a large town, Edmonton was beginning to grow; ranches were now to be found scattered through the country from that place to Calgary, and from there on to Macleod, and south to the boundary line. Regina, Battleford and Prince Albert were fast growing, and innumerable small places springing up along the line of railroad.

It is therefore seen what great strides the country had taken since the first advent of the police in 1874, or in ten years from that time. Then the buffalo roamed the plains in countless thousands, and the Indians were given the pick of the country as reservations. It never was at that time for a minute contemplated that a great transcontinental railroad would be built through the midst of it. This influx of settlers had, however, demoralized the Indians, and was also causing their decrease at the same time. They themselves saw this, and were becoming more reckless in consequence. The cutting down of rations on Indian reserves both north and south, all at once, had a disastrous effect, culminating in rebellion, of which it was one of the causes. The many millions spent by the Canadian government to quell that disturbance would have provided enough for all the Northwest Indians for many years. Even in the year 1882 up to which year the Indians received a fair ration, they were making good progress on their reserves. I quote a portion of my report of that year to the Indian commissioners to bear out this fact, and it was not until 1885, in which year I again, having charge of the western Indians, increased their rations, that they again began to show any signs of progress.

         My report for 1882 records as follows: “The Stoney Indians’ cattle are doing as well as can be expected, a few having mixed with the large herds of the Cochrane ranche company, but as that company’s cattle are moving south, there will be no further trouble on that point. I have made a contract to have all the lumber bought from the Stonies taken in rafts down the Bow River to the Crossing, to be used for flooring and roofing our buildings on that reserve.

         “The Stonies have a good quantity of timber on their reserve, which will last them for years if carefully used, and they might be allowed to sell small quantities now and then in the shape of lumber. A few more wagons are required on the reserve, which it would be well to give them, with a few sets of harness. They do well by hunting and trapping, and I think that before long they will be able to support and look after themselves. The Sarcees have about 175 acres under cultivation and I have great hopes of a good crop on the reserve. They have not been as quiet as I should have wished, and a few of the worst characters among them have caused trouble during the summer, but have been arrested and punished. The head chief, Bull’s Head, is an obstinate man, and it would be better for his tribe if some other held that position. The tribe is a small one and on the decrease. Many among them are good workers, and they all have good houses and are anxious to work, but on account of the close proximity of Fort Calgary to their reserve, there is great inducement for them to go there. The farm instructor has instructions to stop the rations of those who leave, and I hope this will help to keep them more permanently on their reserve. I think it will not be many years before this tribe will scatter through the country, getting work where they can find it, as all the country around them is now becoming more settled.

Stoney Indians

         “We have to be constantly on the watch to prevent people encroaching on this reserve, cutting timber, etc., as timber in other sections is scarce. Now the railroad is passing so close to the northern reserves, and the country getting so thickly settled, the interests of the Indians must be closely watched, and they must be encouraged and kindly dealt with, as this change has come upon them so suddenly that they scarcely understand it. I must say that, so far, the settlers who have come in contact with the Indians have treated them well and kindly, but as they get more used to them this will likely change, and unless the interests of the Indians are well looked after they will go to the wall altogether, and many petty depredations will take place. It is also all-important that the men in charge of reserves should be well acquainted with the Indians under their charge.

         “At the Blackfoot crossing all has been going on quietly with a few exceptions. None of the Blackfeet have been off horse stealing, but have remained quietly on their reserves. They have increased the number of houses in all their villages, and fenced good large fields as well. In the early spring I spoke to them in council, on the approach of the railroad, and pointed out the advantages which would accrue to them. They expressed their willingness that the road should pass through their reserve, and since that time no change has come over them in this respect. Grading parties have been working close to their village, and the Indians have mixed with the men and have always been well-treated. The road is now running past the Crossing, and they are all satisfied so far. Instances have occurred where some trouble was caused by men from working parties cutting firewood on the reserve, but as it could not be prevented, the Indians allowed dried wood to be cut on receiving a small remuneration for the same. Many people passed through the reserve, while the road was being built, but I think that this will now cease. Some of the chiefs are anxious to go down to Regina, and even to Ottawa, by rail, and it might be well for some of them to go, as they would see and learn much of the white men that now they only hear of. Next summer much of the freighting, if not all, for the south, will come from the railway via the Crossing. I have a ferry boat already built, and I am waiting instructions as to how it is to be run. It would be well to keep it in the hands of the department, letting it on shares, the rent to go to the Indians. The instructor now at the Crossing has long experience with the Blackfeet, and under his management they are progressing.

         “Mr. Pocklington, sub-agent, has spent a great portion of his time on the reserve, and by his good judgement has kept things in order, and prevented much trouble while the road was being built.

        “The crops at the Crossing look well, and there are over 200 acres under cultivation in different fields on the reserve. I sowed wheat on some portions of the land, and so far it has turned out well. I think there is little doubt that the land at the Crossing is well adapted for wheat, and should this crop turn out well, I should recommend that some kind of mill be sent, so that the wheat can be ground. A small portable steel mill would be best, so that the Indians could get flour made from their own grain. Some new buildings have to be erected on this reserve, both at the lower and upper camp. This will be done this summer. The lumber purchased from the Stonies will be used.

         “There is a prospect of a good crop, particularly of potatoes, and I have instructed Mr. Wheatley to take in all the potatoes he can get from Indians and keep them for seed. We shall build new root houses, and be able to store a large quantity. I should not advise the sowing of barley in the agency; although it is a sure crop, no use can be made of it, there being no means of grinding it for flour, and it does not sell well, as oats can now be brought in much cheaper.

         “Mr. Wheatley has instructions to keep the Indians away from the railroad as much as possible, particularly on account of accidents, one of which happened a few days ago, an Indian having his foot nearly cut off by a passing train. Much sickness has occurred amongst the Blackfeet this summer, many dying of a dangerous fever which has prevailed against them. Dr. Gerard has visited the reserve twice and gives his best attention to the sick. His presence in this Treaty is a great help, and although his work is very hard and not agreeable, he takes the greatest interest in the welfare of the Indians. The passage of this railroad through the Blackfeet reserve in such close proximity to the villages, can have but one result, which will be the final extinction or scattering of the tribe. I have shown the Indians fully that their future prosperity depends on their own exertions; that if they follow the advice of those in charge of them, and steadily work on their reserves with the intention of loving by their farms, and if they send their children to the schools the government open for them, they will do well and prosper, but if their habit of wandering over the country and troubling themselves little about the future, and doing as little work as possible, goes on, they will in the end be lost.

         “The Indians along the line of railroad are in more danger of this than the tribes in the south, as the Bloods for many years yet will enjoy what, to Indians, is freedom. The advancement of the Blackfeet altogether depends on their management, and the help they may receive from the government during the next few years. The young people growing up among these Indians, and in all the other tribes, are bright and intelligent, and have not had the teaching of their fathers in stealing and going to war. If earnest missionaries go among them now, with means at their disposal, not only to teach, but to make it interesting for the young, and if schools are erected where the children can be taught trades, and be kindly and indulgently dealt with, their future will be a prosperous one, as they are inclined to learn, but great kindness will be required at first. At present, however, they are totally ignorant. A Catholic missionary, Father Lacombe, has worked among them during the last three years, and could his idea be adopted, what I have stated would result. Other missionaries are also working on the Indian reserves, in many cases with fairly good results; but the field requires not only teachers, but the expenditure of money.

Blackfoot riders.

         “The late visit of the lieutenant governor was looked forward to by the Indians, as an opportunity for them to state their grievances: and on nearly every reserve they asked for tools and help to farm, which shows their wish to work, and that they see the necessity of it.

         “When it is remembered that, not many years ago, the Blackfeet tribe were considered the wildest and most untameable Indians on the continent, it is thus shown that they are possessed of great intelligence, which could be turned into useful channels.

         “My reason for writing so fully on this subject is, that I can see that it is not by the receipt of rations or annuities they will be made self-supporting, but by the encouragement they get in farming and being taught useful trades. The older Indians will die out without ever learning, or doing much, as their old habits and prejudices are too deeply-rooted: but there are several thousand children growing up, who can and will learn easily, and these are the material to work on.

         “The Blackfeet will doubtless raise good crops this year which will, I hope, settle and encourage them, but they will still visit the Bloods or Piegans with whom they are related.

Sarcee Indians.

        “I can understand that this treaty was to be divied, in which case the Blackfeet, Bloods and Piegans should be in one division, and the Sarcees and Stonies in the other. Mr. Nelson, D.L.S., is this summer definitely fixing the limits of the reserves, and also laying out the timber limits for the Indians. Mr. Nelson has taken great pains to take the chiefs with him, and has pointed out to them where the lines of the reserves run.

         “The Indian department’s herd of cattle did not do so well as might have been expected, and the sale of that herd not long ago at a good price takes away another source of expense and anxiety. Fifteen cows from this herd were sent by me, under instructions received, to Mr. Lucas, in charge of a government farm in the Edmonton district. I also sent cows to some of the reserves, for the use of the men employed. This herd of cattle has been kept up for the use of the Indians when they should require them, but as they could not keep them, and did not want them, it was thought best to get rid of the herd and the expense. As it is, the Indians have received many things from the government not promised in the treaty, and I do not think that they are entitled to anything in lieu of these cattle.

A modern-day replica of Fort Macleod.

        “The most central point for the headquarters of this treaty is certainly Fort Macleod, being close to more than half the Indians in the treaty (the Bloods and Piegans) and the next largest tribe, the Blackfeet, are within only a day and a half’s drive. As a new site is chosen for the town of Fort Macleod, good buildings should be erected for the agency storehouse; Indians’ waiting room and stables, also room for men who come in from the reserves, on duty, which will save much expense in the way of horse feed and board for the men. I am having a good supply of hay put in for the agency, so I hope that next winter livery bills will cease. A room will be put up for the medicines, and a room in which the doctor can see and attend to sick Indians. I am keeping down the blacksmithing expenses as much as possible, and since I have been allowed to have our work done by outside blacksmiths, and the salaried blacksmith has been dismissed, I think the work will be done cheaper than formerly. I have made many visits to the reserves in the treaty during the summer, and my time has been fully occupied in keeping matters running smoothly and in travelling among the Indians. The Commissioner’s late visit to all the reserves was a most satisfactory one, and in all the reserves the Indians were very glad to see him, and many matters that needed arranging were settled.

Crowsnest Pass.

         “I received instructions during the summer to have a trail cut through the Crow’s Nest Pass, in the Rocky mountains, to join the trail being cut from Kootenay. We are supposed to cut a good trail for cattle and horses, as many parties were waiting for the completion of the road to come over with stock. I sent a party of five men up in charge of Mr. McCord, instructor of the Blood reserve, and in two months the trail was finished at an expense of $1,500; the road cut is a ten foot trail, and a good one for a mountain road; bridges were built, and a few miles on the other side of the summit were also finished. Many parties have come through since, and all say the road is a good one. Some work will have to be done every year, as the timber which falls across the track must be cut out. This I understand has already occurred on the west end of the trail, as heavy timber fires have been raging for some time past. Our party did their work well, and Mr. McCord, as manager, deserves credit. It is a good thing for the Kootenay country to have a good trail cut through this pass, as stock can be driven over and goods packed in from this side. My report of last year is up to so recent a date, that it is not necessary to go back many months. I have, however, endeavored to touch on all matters of importance and interest in this treaty, and to show what has been done, and what improvements the Indians have made and are making.”

The above report was written in December, 1882, and requires no comment, as much of the subject has been touched upon in other chapters.

Continued in Chapter 30: The Northwest Rebellion.

Written by

I'm a Western Canadian writer, carver, and fiddler who has a special place in his heart for history and the unexplained.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.