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Western Indians Become Restless

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 XXVII – Trouble with the Southern Indians.


Chapter XXVIII



A modern replica of Fort Calgary in Calgary, Alberta.

THE GENERAL WORK of the police from 1883 until 1994 was most severe, as the field of the operations was much greater, and as in all parts of the country the influx of settlers was great, and in consequence, crime of all sorts was more prevalent. In the year 1884 five cases of murder are recorded; two by Indians, two by white men, and one by a negro. Calgary had by this year become quite a thriving village, and had moved from the first townsite on the east side of the Elbow river, which was owned by Major Stewart and Col. Irvine, to the west side. These gentlemen had taken up the land originally owned by me as a ranche and laid it out in town lots, making at first many sales of land. As this company held their land at a high rate, and would give the railroad company little or no inducement to build their station and other buildings there, the railroad company decided to erect their station on their own land on the west of the said river, where the present town now stands, and were shortly followed by all those who had erected buildings on the east side. The policy of the owners of this land was disastrous, in a financial sense, for had they held their lots at a reasonable figure, not only would the town have been located on their land, but they would have realized a tidy fortune from the sale of it.

Sam Steele.

The first murder case at Calgary in February, 1884, is about as follows: A report was made to Major Steele, commanding the police at that point that a man named Adams had committed suicide in the town. Inspector Dowling and Dr. Kennedy were dispatched to the place to examine the body, and they reported that murder had been committed. A negro named Williams, had been seen in conversation with Adams shortly before the deed must apparently have been committed. Sergt.-Major Lake visited the tent occupied by the negro, and found him with traces of blood on his hands and clothing. He explained this by stating it was caused by beef he had been carrying, but it was found on inquiry that the beef he had bought was frozen hard.

A razor was found in his tent covered with blood, and his tracks were followed in the snow leading to the back door of the murdered man’s house; a glove and some bills were also discovered near the same house and identified as the property of Williams, and the negro shortly afterwards confessed his guilt. He was tried before Judge MacLeod and a jury of six at Calgary, and sentenced to death, being executed at Calgary on the 29th March.

Up to January, 1884, I had remained in charge of Treaty No. 7, having charge of five reserves already mentioned, together with the two Indian supply farms. I was naturally kept on the road from one reserve to another most of each month, and being allowed a clerk stationed at the head quarters of the treaty, Fort Macleod, he had the returns etc., ready for me when I arrived at the end of each month, when after being signed by me they were forwarded to the Indian Commissioner. A teamster was also necessary, together with a man to look after and issue Indian and farm stores at Macleod, where scarcely a day passed without something being needed, and this was not surprising when it is remembered at what long distances some of the reserves were from the point of supply.

This staff, together with an interpreter, certainly was not a great one, when the amount of continual work the one agent had on his hands day by day, is remembered. However, the government, or at least its representative, the Deputy Superintendent-General of Indian affairs, thought it too large and about the end of January I received a letter from that official, part of which I quote:

        “I have to inform you that the superintendent general is of the opinion that there exists no necessity for employing a clerk in your office, consequently you will, after giving him a month’s warning, discharge him, as it is considered that you ought to be capable of performing all the office work in your agency, as well as supervising the issue of supplies from the store. The store-keeper should therefore be dismissed and you are consequently required to act as store-keeper, and to restrict yourself to one visit each month to each of the reserves within your district, and on making your visits, you are to lock your office and storehouse, and take the interpreter with you to act as servant and interpreter.”

This letter goes on further to say: “The superintendent general is of the opinion that no assistant instructors are necessary, and that the employment of officials has a bad effect. The instructors ought to be able to supervise all the Indians in their respective districts.”

         When it is known that on my leaving the treaty in the summer of 1884, treaty No. 7 was divided up into three separate agencies with each agent at the same salary that I received while in charge of the whole, and that each agent had not only a clerk, but farm instructor and assistant, with many other subordinates, such as issuer of rations etc., the short-sightedness and absurdity of the above order becomes apparent, and this short-sightedness, or want of knowledge of the northern and western Indian reservations, was one of the causes that led to the outbreak among the northern Indians in the year following.

I resigned the agency in the summer of 1884 in the following letter:

“Macleod, 1884

        “Sir, – I have the honor, in reply to your letter No. 5989, to state that I have notified my clerk, and also the storekeeper, of the instructions contained therein. This is most hard on the clerk, who has only just arrived here after a long journey. I beg to inform you I cannot undertake to do this work, and I therefore think it best to notify you of the same, as I have always, and shall always, do my work thoroughly, and I do not see my way to do so in this instance. The work of a clerk in my office takes all his time from one month’s end to the other, and I cannot do this and look after my treaty. My work has been difficult since I came here, but I am glad to say that I have everything in this treaty now in perfect order, and do not wish, while I am here, to see it upset; I therefore beg that I be allowed to resign my position as agent of this treaty, as soon as convenient to the department. I have applied for leave from the 1st March, and if my place is filled up before that time I shall be glad while I am here to assist the new agent all in my power, and will turn over the treaty in good order.

         “To the Honorable The Superintendent General of Indian affairs. Ottawa.”

I therefore gave up the agency this year, and it was during the summer divided up as I have stated, and I took up a ranche after turning everything over, on Willow creek about three miles from Ft. Macleod.

A modern replica of Fort Macleod.

The commissioner of police this spring forwarded a report to Ottawa, which was called for by a suggestion made by the deputy-superintendent general of Indian affairs to the effect that Indians should not be allowed to leave their reserves without a permit from the agent. This showed a total want of knowledge on his part of the treaties made with the western Indians, in which it was distinctly stipulated that they might travel anywhere through the country subject to the law of the land, and as the police commissioner states in his report, I pointed out that the introduction of such a system would be tantamount to a breach of confidence with the Indians generally, inasmuch as from the outset the Indians had been led to believe that compulsory residence on reservations would not be required of them, and that they would be permitted to travel about for legitimate hunting and trading purposes. This concession largely contributed to the satisfactory conclusion of the treaty with the Blackfeet.

The Indians nearly all over the country began to give a good deal of trouble this summer. Sergeant Fury of the Police, with one constable and the interpreter, arrested a Blackfoot, by name Whitecap, at the Blackfoot crossing, for horse-stealing. They were surrounded by about eighty Indians who threatened to take the man away from them, and also demanded more rations. I might mention that their rations had been much reduced. The sergeant got away with his men by showing a bold front, and next day Superintendent Steele, who was in command at Calgary, visited the camp with a party of thirty men, with the view of arresting the leaders in the obstruction the previous day. But the leaders had gone to Calgary, where they were afterwards arrested, and being reprimanded by the judge, were eventually released.

Superintendent William Herchmer of the NWMP.

Trouble also occurred this summer with a camp of Crees at Crooked lakes, near Broadview, where a number had collected in a house to hold a medicine dance. After dancing for a week and getting into a great state of excitement, a large party went to the reserve and broke into the agency store-house, stealing a large quantity of provisions; police were sent and a party of ten under Inspector Dean proceeded to Broadview. They could, however, make no impression on the Indians, or arrest the culprits, and had to send to headquarters for reinforcements, which arrived the following day under Superintendent W. Herchmer; the whole party then proceeded to where the Indians were camped and were waved off by a large band of armed Indians. A parley took place in which the ringleaders of the robbery were demanded without success, and a determined show of resistance took place, the house bristling with muzzles of rifles, and as most of the party were covered at short distance, it would have been foolhardy to fight under the circumstances. After a good deal of talk the police drew off and camped for the night at a house near by. After two days’ talk and persistence on the part of the police, four of the Indians were given up, the Chief, Yellow Calf, being released, as he had given help to the police during the disturbance. The other three were also afterwards tried and discharged by Judge Richardson at Regina being, as the commissioner stated in his report, probably the most satisfactory conclusion to a troublesome affair.

Other Indians were becoming very troublesome, leaving their reserves and going north. A man named Pollock was shot at Maple Creek, presumably by Indians, whose trail was followed by Sergeant Patterson and a party of police as far as the boundary line, but without coming up to them, though they travelled over a hundred miles. This party was supposed to be Blood Indians, and no doubt were, as the agent on that reserve reported parties of Bloods of the reserve at the time. At the same time that Pollock was shot a band of horses was stolen from the same vicinity, but not recovered.

Cree Chief Poundmaker

The Indians near Battleford were also very unruly, particularly on the Cree chief Poundmaker’s reservation, where the farm instructor, Craig, was assaulted by an Indian, and the Indians refused to give up the offender. Superintendent Crozier with twenty-five men then proceeded to the camp to take him, and as they found a sun dance in progress, concluded to wait until its conclusion, and at the same time send for reinforcements- moving into the old agency buildings some three miles from the camp and taking the Indian department stores and cattle with them. As they passed the camp on their way to the buildings it was at one time feared that an attack would have been made on their small party, as the Indians made a great demonstration, firing off their guns in the air over the heads of the police, and some of the bullets coming unpleasantly close.

The buildings were put into as good a state of defense as possible, and reinforcements having arrived, and the sun dance being finished, negotiations were opened, with the final result of the capture of the Indian, but nor without at one time very nearly coming into hostile contact with the Indians, who were very loath to give him up. In this camp were Poundmaker, Big Bear, Lucky Man, and other old chiefs who took a leading part in the rebellion of ’85. Superintendent Crozier gives the greatest praise to the detachment under his command, stating that their coolness and steadiness were most praiseworthy.

Twenty-five horses were stolen from Maple Creek this summer, and twenty-two of them recovered from the Bloods and Piegans near Macleod. At the time these horses were stolen, a half-breed, who was herding them, was found dead, having been shot; but it was never possible to identify the murderer. Two of this war party were subsequently arrested and sent to the penitentiary for two years respectively.

The police commissioner found it necessary to again recommend that an increase of 500 should be added to the force, and a great portion stationed at Macleod. Every possible assistance was given to the Indian department by the police, and it would have been impossible for that department to have done its work without them. In many cases the Indian payments were made by the police, such as at Fort a la Corne by Sergeant Brooks, and at Green Lake by Sergeant Keenan. Inspector Steele with a detachment was stationed in the mountains along the line of the Canadian Pacific railway west of Calgary, and on to the end of the track, having about 150 miles of road on which work was being done under his supervision, extending about twenty miles west of the Columbia river. This officer reported no injury done to the road whatever, and all the contractors were satisfied that this was mainly due to the work performed by him and those under his command.

       The police commissioner states in his report regarding horsestealing that the prevalence of horsestealing by white men, half-breeds and Indians indiscriminately throughout the Territories is a marked feature of this year’s annals of crime. There is no doubt that the commissioner was right in this, case after case continually being referred to the police, and the settlers seemed to think they had only to report the loss of stock to have it immediately recovered. An instance of this occurred in June, ’84, when a telegram was received at a police post as follows: “Pieapot’s Indians stole team of horses from me last night. Will you please find them.”

Numbers of horses were this year stolen by American Indians, and white men from the other side, and little nor no help could be got from the American military officers at the posts along the line to aid in putting down this practice. The commissioner instructed Superintendent McIllree in July to proceed to the American post nearest the C.P.R., (Fort Assiniboine,) to enquire whether the military authorities on the other side would be willing, and at liberty to co-operate with us in the suppression of horse-stealing. Colonel Coppinger replied that the United States troops would be glad to aid us in every way to put an end to this crime, but he would first have to get authority from his superior officer. He communicated with General Ruger at Helena, who referred the matter to Washington.

On September 1 Col. Coppinger telegraphed to Superintendent McIllree his regret that he was not permitted by the authorities to enter into any negotiations on the subject. Colonel Coppinger explained to Superintendent McIllree that his powers were limited to recovering government horses and putting intruders off Indian reserves. While Superintendent McIllree was at Assiniboine he saw a member of a gang of horse-thieves- which included a fugitive from justice on this side- and considered that many horsethieves and whisky smugglers fitted out there. It is therefore obvious that many cases occurred in which it was impossible to recover stock stolen from settlers, because they had been driven over the line and out of reach.

Continued in Chapter 29: Treaty Indians Making Progress.

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

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