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Severe Trip to Helena

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 XI – Slaughter of the Buffalo.

Chapter XII

Severe Trip to Helena

COL. MACLEOD, ABOUT the beginning of March 1875, found it necessary to proceed south to Helena, a town in Montana some 250 miles south of us, to communicate with the authorities in Ottawa by telegraph on police matters for the coming summer. He determined to proceed south on horse-back with two pack horses, a guide, an officer and two men. I accompanied him, together with Potts the guide, Sergt. Cochrane, and C. Ryan, constable. We took a pair of blankets each, bacon and hard tack being our provisions, and a supply of oats for the horses. We left March, 15th, the weather being cold but fine, and encamped at Whoopup the first night.

On leaving there the next morning Mr. Akens, who was in charge of that fort, pointed out to us two bright mock suns, or, as they are called, sun dogs, and predicted a severe cold storm before long. He also advised us to remain, but we put no faith in these signs and started out. It turned very cold before night. We camped on the open prairie that night, and felt the cold very much, not having much bedding. The horses also suffered, as the feed was scarce and the snow deep. The next night we made Milk river in a blinding snow storm and blizzard, the thermometer, as we afterwards found, going down to 63 degrees below zero. There was not a stick of wood on Milk river, and the snow was too deep for hunting buffalo chips. We were in a bad plight indeed. We set to work with our knives and scooped out a hole in a large snow bank, and all crept into it with the exception of one man, who took care of the horses, which he did by walking up and down in the snow holding the ends of the ropes fastened round the horses necks. There was no feed for them, and had they been let go it would have been the last of them, and of us. The buffalo were also very thick on the river bottom, being driven down by the storm. They would come quite close and right among the horses. We each took the work of herding an hour at a time, and it was all that we could stand, but it was almost as cold in our snow hole, though we were protected from the wind.

whiteout on the prairies

We remained for two nights and two days in the snow bank, with little or no sleep, and what I believe saved our lives was the eating of bacon, which we had no fire to cook. The storm continued, and on the second day we determined to proceed south, as we knew if we remained much longer where we were we would soon be frozen to death. We still saw each day the sun dogs, the foreteller of the storm. On the third morning we all started out on foot leading our horses, which were weak for want of food. The packs kept slipping and we got most of our fingers frozen putting them straight. There was no road or trail of any sort, and we had to trust altogether to our guide, who did nobly. His instinct, it could be nothing else, was wonderful. All that day we were surrounded by a blinding snow storm, so that no land marks were visible, but at night he brought us true to the spot to which he had been steering. This was a rocky butte on the open prairie, among which some springs flowed in the summer.

That day was a hard one on all of us. Ryan was the first to give out. I being in the rear, came up to him sitting on the prairie holding his horse, and on asking him what was the matter, he said “Go on Mr. Denny, you and the colonel. I am done up, and we shall never get in, I can go no further.”

         I found that he was wearing a pair of buckskin breeches, which had probably got damp while in the snow hole and had frozen stiff, and after repeated efforts to mount his horse had had given it up as a bad job, and given up altogether. However, I hoisted him on his horse and we joined the rest, and the colonel soon put some spirit into him, but we had good cause to be discouraged. Had it not been for our guide we should never have seen civilization again.

The night at Rocky springs was our last night out, and a miserable one it was. We all lay together, and in the morning were covered with six inches of snow, but the next morning was fine and bright and about noon we made an American trading post, some thirty miles across the line. There was a detachment of American cavalry at this point on the look out for whisky traders, and when they saw our dilapidated outfit coming down the hill, all turned out, thinking the whisky traders were coming to them without their having the trouble to go after them. When they found out who we were their kindness was without bounds. How we did enjoy the warm fires and good food they gave us! We were all more or less frozen. The colonel’s face was frozen, and I lost one of my toes, and was badly snow blind, and had to remain at Fort Shaw. This was an American military post which we reached the next day. I remained there for over a week, joining the colonel in Helena when I recovered. I went down to Helena in a government ambulance and had a most pleasant journey. The road passes through the Prickly Pear Canyon before reaching Helena, and the scenery is of the grandest description. The road runs over the summit of the Rocky Mountains to reach Helena, which lies in a beautiful valley right in the heart of the mountains. Helena, when we visited it in 1875, was a thriving mining town of some three thousand inhabitants, placer mining still going on at the time in the gulches near the town, the water being brought to the workings by flumes of several miles in length. There were some good hotels, at one of which, the St. Louis, we put up, and found the accommodation very good indeed. There were two banks and several wealthy business houses. The eastern portion of the town was composed of drinking and gambling houses, with several dance houses in full swing. China town was a place to be visited, a separate part of the town being set apart for the Chinese, who made good wages working the old placer diggings. Helena had only been in existence a few years, gold being discovered by a party of miners in 1856. They had worked at prospecting all the summer without success, and their provisions were nearly expended. They determined on one more chance in that gulch, when they made a rich find, naming the spot Last Chance Gulch, on which the town of Helena sprung up. It is now a city of 20,000 inhabitants, and the terminus of the St. Paul, Minneapolis and Great Northern railroad. The placer mines are worked out, but rich quartz mines are now in operation. Much farming and stock raising is also done in the district, and Helena is now the capital of Montana.

We remained some weeks in Helena, and were most hospitably treated by the American officers stationed there, and every courtesy was extended us by the leading civilians. We came across some of the men who deserted from Fort Macleod the month before, who had, after great hardships, arrived in Helena, and found their dreams of wealth easily acquired, not up to their expectations. Most of them, much ashamed, came to see Colonel Macleod, and endeavored to be taken back. A few of the best men returned with us to Fort Macleod.

My return trip to Macleod was a pleasant one. The spring having opened, the only trouble we had was in crossing the rivers, which were high, and the ice was just breaking up. There being no boats on the rivers in those days, we crossed as best we could, the crossings sometimes being very dangerous. Everything had gone on well at Fort Macleod in our absence. Several more arrests had been made of whisky traders and some Indians for various offences, but the Indians had been throughout the winter very friendly. Considerable work had been done on the barracks, larger stables having been built; some more buildings had also been put up in the village, and one or two more stores added.

 

On Colonel Macleod’s return in July from his second trip to Helena, Superintendent Irvine came with him on a visit, and when he left he took the prisoners under sentence overland to Winnipeg. He had come up to Benton by river steamer, and from there 180 miles by stage to Helena, his trip back being a much harder one than coming up.

Inspector Walsh, who had spent the winter at Sun river with most of the police horses in charge, which had been sent down there to winter, returned with Colonel Macleod, bringing the horses back with him, and also a good number of serviceable animals purchased in Montana for police purposes, which we were much in need of. Colonel Macleod had received instructions to build a fort in the Cypress hills, some 200 miles east of Macleod, as that section was also infested by whisky traders, the Cypress district being not far from the line. It was also a great hunting ground, and our Indians were continually at war with those across the line, and horse stealing between them was a regular business. The object in building a fort and stationing men at this point was to put a stop to this lawlessness. One troop of 50 men only could be spared, and in the early spring of 1875 Major Walsh, with B. Troop, proceeded with the baggage transport and horses to this point, where they built that summer a very substantial fort, almost in the centre of the Cypress hills, out of good material. There was plenty of pine timber to build with. This fort was named Fort Walsh, after the officer building and commanding it, and they had their hands full of work that summer in building, and in other police work.

It was also determined that one troop should proceed from Macleod north as far as the Red Deer river, two hundred miles from Macleod, and one hundred south of Edmonton, and there await the arrival of General Selby Smyth and escort of police from A troop, stationed at Edmonton.

General Smyth was an imperial officer in command of the Militia forces of Canada, and was to make the first tour of the North West Territories ever made by the authorities, under police escort. He was to make the journey from Winnipeg to Fort Pelly, at which point Colonel French, in command of the force, had built a fort and wintered with 100 men of D and E troops, and be escorted from there up the Saskatchewan to Edmonton, at which point Inspector Jarvis, with one troop, had arrived the previous autumn and wintered in the Hudson Bay Company’s fort. They would escort him from there, to be met by a troop from the south at the Red Deer river, and then proceed south to Macleod, and across the line to Fort Benton, and back home down the Missouri river, taking rail at Bismark. Colonel Macleod detailed F troop for the journey to meet the general, himself accompanying the troop, Inspector Brisbois being in command, and myself the second officer.

The troop consisted of 50 men, with a good troop of horses in good condition, also wagons enough for all supplies, tents, forage, and all the troop baggage, as it was not intended that this troop should return to Fort Macleod, but after meeting the General at the Red Deer we were to remain at some point on the Bow river, half way between Fort Macleod and the Red Deer, and at a point to be chosen by Colonel Macleod a post was to be built and occupied by this troop.

The Bow river was the headquarters for hunting and winter camping for most of the Blackfeet tribe of Indians, also the Sarcee and Stony tribes, and many whisky traders slipped into that country from the south without our being aware of it at Macleod. There were hundreds of miles of frontier by which they could cross over into the Territories without anyone being the wiser, and their whisky could be disposed of, and they could get out of the country, before men could be sent up to the Bow river.

We, therefore, were prepared to start north early in June with a rather more pleasant march ahead of us than we had the previous year, as we were by that time getting acquainted with the country and the people, both Indians and whites. The country we had to travel through was well watered, with wood on the rivers, feed for horses, and game in abundance.

We did not start on this northern trip until August 18, 1875. Colonel Macleod had returned to Helena in May, and there was met by Lieutenant-Colonel Irvine, who had been sent from Canada by the government on a special mission regarding the extradition of men implicated in Cypress hills massacres. These men were tried in Helena, but got clear. Colonel Macleod and Irvine did not return to Fort Macleod until August, Colonel Irvine being then appointed Assistant Commissioner, vice Macleod, appointed Stipendiary Magistrate.

B Troop had started for Cypress in May, and had their fort built by the time F troop started north in August; they had also done much good work in stopping the whisky trade and horse stealing round Cypress.

They found the district full of Indians from all parts of the country and from across the line, who were continually coming into collision with each other, and they had their hands full, with so few men, to stop this, but the work was well done, and things were going on quietly by the following spring, without having any direct conflict with the Indians.

We left everything going on quietly at Macleod. The whisky trade was pretty well broken, and quite a village was springing up at that place. The Indians had plenty of buffalo meat, and would be out on the plains for the summer. Captain Winder remained in charge at Macleod, with one troop of 50 men, and with plenty of work ahead of him in finishing the fort and outpost work. Another large Benton firm, Power and Bros., had opened a store at Macleod, and supplies were plentiful, although at an enormous figure. It is not to be wondered at that these firms became very wealthy a few years after, considering the amount of contract supplies purchased from them at very high figures, and it always seemed the greatest pity that this amount of money should all go out of Canada, as it did for some ten years, amounting to some millions of dollars, and that no Canadian or English firm had a finger in the pie.

Continued in Chapter 13 – Journey to Red Deer.

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Slaughter of the Buffalo

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 X – Critical Conditions.

Chapter XI

Slaughter of the Buffalo

I WILL CONFINE MYSELF in this chapter to giving some idea of the country in which we had established ourselves, and the trade principally carried on in it, its capabilities, climate, and other particulars regarding it. In the first place, the buffalo, which even when we entered the country, roamed the plains in vast herds, had been ten times more numerous in previous years. In those days they ranged as far north as the Peace river, while in 1874 very few were to be found much north of the Red Deer river, which lies about a hundred miles north of the present city of Calgary. A few buffalo of a larger type than those found on the plains, and termed wood buffalo, were indeed to be found in scattered numbers in the far north, and some I believe are still to be found in that region. These were no doubt the remnants of the herds that used to range in the northern section, remaining behind when the main herds went south, and the different feed found in the timber country, to a certain extent, changed their characteristics.

It is a curious fact that for centuries the Indians had followed the buffalo and subsisted nearly altogether off them, without any apparent diminution of their numbers. Bands of buffalo would be found grazing in close proximity to Indian camps, but the moment white settlers came in, as they did early along the north Saskatchewan, the buffalo immediately left the vicinity, never to return. So it was in the south; as soon as the country began to be settled, the buffalo disappeared, always drifting south.

Of course the disappearance of the buffalo finally, was caused by the wanton slaughter of tens of thousands, thereby leading to their extinction, but it must still be remembered that in the old days the Indians were five times more numerous than when we came into the country, and in consequence the slaughter was much greater, but the fact remains, that on the advent of the whites the buffalo gradually disappeared until today I doubt if one is left in his native state.

Sometimes we would travel over miles of country with nothing but buffalo in sight as far as the eye could reach. On other occasions we would ride at an easy lope and see a continuous stream of tens of thousands passing not over a hundred yards ahead, and closing in behind in the same manner. It is almost impossible to realize that they have been completely exterminated in such a few years.

Buffalo JumpThe slaughter however was tremendous. I saw twenty thousand robes sent south to Ft. Benton in the spring of 1876 trade at their posts at Ft. Macleod and Calgary, together with those bought by them from outside hunters, who would camp out all winter, either trading with the Indians,      or hunting themselves. Thousands were killed by the Indians themselves for their own use, not only for meat, but for their tents, which were renewed each year. A tent consumed from ten to twenty-five skins. Therefore thousands were killed, and only the robe taken. An enormous number died from wounds received, and were never touched. The halfbreeds were also a factor in the destruction among these animals, slaughtering whole herds for only a portion of the meat, leaving the rest to rot on the prairie.

The wolves were another cause of their destruction. When we arrived in the country the large grey wolves ran in packs and were always found near the bands of buffalo, pulling down weak or wounded animals, and destroying many young calves.

An attempt was made by the government after we had been in the country a few years, to stop the killing of calves, and a law was passed to that effect, but it was a dead letter, the country being so vast and the other duties of the small force of police so arduous, that it was found impossible to enforce it.

Our only meat during the first two or three years consisted altogether of buffalo, as no cattle came into the country for some years later.

Among other profitable furs in the country, that of the large grey wolf was not much behind the buffalo robe, being worth from two to three dollars each. Regular parties of “wolfers” used to start out in the fall, and remain out all winter, camped in tents, with a winter’s supply of food, and a good stock of strychnine. Their mode of procedure was as follows; a large number of buffalo would be killed, at considerable intervals from each other, each carcass being split in two and turned over, the ribs making a basin in which strychnine was mixed up with the entrails, and so left. The poison would permeate all parts of the carcass. The wolves readily took to this bait, and hundreds of them were killed. The wolfers would go out every few days and bring in the frozen carcasses of the wolves. They would pile them up until spring, and skin them when the warm weather thawed them out. Although the wolves are still numerous along the foot hills of the mountains, and do considerable damage to young stock, their numbers are as nothing to what they were in the buffalo days. Strange as it may appear, it is now almost impossible to poison them. They seem to avoid any bait set out, and considerable skill is required to successfully poison a wolf. The timber wolf was a distinct species, being generally found in the mountains, and being nearly black in color.

Deer of all kinds abounded on all the river bottoms, and grizzly, black and brown bears were numerous during the berry season. Elk were still in the country, but few in number, although not many years previously they roamed the plains in large herds, as the numerous horns testify. Moose and caribou were shot in considerable numbers along the mountains, principally by the Stoney Indians. They also killed numbers of sheep and goats, together with beaver and otter, but the hardest work was required to hunt them.

Beaver were very numerous on all the rivers a long way from the mountains, and when we arrived at the site of Calgary in 1875, a large beaver dam existed in full operation about a hundred yards below where the present Canadian Pacific Railroad bridge stands. Occasionally, rare skins could be purchased, such as white beaver, of which I have seen several, and white and black wolf skins. Silver and spotted buffalo robes, which were very rare, were to be had. A white robe I never saw, and from enquiries among the Indians, I doubt if such a thing as a genuine white buffalo robe was ever taken on the northern plains.

Birds of many varieties abounded, the grouse being the most numerous, and geese and ducks of many sorts frequented all the lakes in the spring and fall, but the country in the Edmonton district was the paradise for water fowl, as it still is.

The rivers were full of trout, but the plain Indians neither fished or killed the feathered game, with the exception of the Stonies. The Blackfeet were too indolent. They existed altogether on buffalo, which they killed with little or no trouble.

The prairies were, and still are, a vast pasture land, the grass although short being most nutritious. This prairie grass cures as it stands, in the fall of the year retaining all its nutriment, while the long coarse grass, growing in the north, and in the timber country, dries out, and makes poor feed when left standing. It was a curious thing that after heavy winters with plenty of snow the buffalo came out fat in the spring, while after open winters when plenty of water could be got from the rivers the buffalo were in poor condition. The buffalo ploughed the snow with their noses, to get at the feed, and the prairie where there was deep snow sometimes looked as if thousands of ploughs had gone over it, after a herd of buffalo had passed.

The native horses pawed away the snow, and thus got at the grass. We found that at first Canadian horses turned out in winter would starve, not knowing how to paw, but after one winter they soon learned from necessity.

The buffalo, in spite of all that has been said, was far from being a savage anima, and would seldom, even if wounded, attack a man. I remember seeing one of our men chased by a bull he had wounded. The animal was close behind, and he was swinging his carbine in one hand as he ran; by chance the butt struck the bull on the nose, when he immediately turned and made off, much to the relief of Trumpeter Pell.

The most savage and dangerous animals were those which had been driven out of the herds, on account of age, or some infirmity. These went by the name of “scabby bulls,” and were generally found in the patches of brush along the river bottoms. These animals would attack anyone on sight, and were dangerous to meet. Mountain lions and lynx were numerous in the country, and preyed on the carcasses of dead buffalo, but since the disappearance of those animals they are rarely seen.

The climate from the Red Deer river south, a strip about 100 miles wide, was subject to sudden changes or temperature, particularly in the winter. The thermometer might stand as low as thirty or forty below zero, a sudden west wind would commence, in temperature not much less than summer heat, and in an hour or so everything would be a sheet of water. These chinook winds could nearly always be foretold, as a dense black mass of clouds hung over the mountains in the west a day or two before the wind reached the prairies. These winds have been explained by many theories, but still are as far from solution as ever.

Long and severe droughts often prevailed in the summer on the plains, and still do. Nothing but irrigation will ever make this an agricultural county. That most certainly will, for the soil is excellent, and all it requires is water. For pasturage it has not its equal in the world. On these immense plains, where for centuries the buffalo roamed and waxed fat, both summer and winter, domestic cattle can surely do likewise, and are doing today.

Prospecting for gold had not commenced when we arrived in the country, and even today the mountains, except in a very few spots, easily accessible, are unexplored. But the day will surely come when rich mines of all sorts will be found on the eastern slopes of that vast range of mountains that stands like a wall on the western edge of the Territories. Across the line only a hundred miles south of the boundary, incalculable wealth has been mined at such places as Helena, Butte and many others, and it is hardly reasonable to suppose that this region abounding in gold and silver breaks off at the boundary line.

On our arrival in the country in 1874 the plain Indians numbered about 8,000, consisting of the tribe of Blackfeet proper, who were divided up into three branches, viz, Blackfeet, about 2,000, Bloods, 3,000 and Piegans about 1,000. These three branches were the same people, speaking the same language. A branch of them, the so called South Piegans, had settled for some years in Montana, in American territory, and had made a treaty with the American government, and were settled on a reservation near the line. There were also in the country the Stoney Indians, a branch of the Sioux tribe, living and hunting in the mountains, numbering about 1,000, and the tribe of Sarcee Indians, a distinct and separate tribe. These people originally came from the far north, and are no doubt a branch of the Chippiwayans who live near the great Slave lake, when the migrated south. None of their traditions tell when, but like the Blackfeet who also originally came from the far north, it must have been many hundred years ago. Their language was most guttural, and I have never met an Indian or white man who could speak or understand it. They soon picked up the Blackfoot and Cree languages, but to a great extent kept to themselves, mixing but little with other tribes. They were by far the most warlike Indians on the plains, and had been up to our advent at continual war with all other tribes on the plains. Their hand was against everyone, and every man’s hand against them, until from being a powerful tribe of several thousands they had dwindled down to a few hundreds. The balance was made up by a few scattered bands of Crees, who had left the north and intermarried among the Blackfeet. All these Indians were almost perpetually at war with the Sioux, Gros Ventres and Crows in the south, and with the Crees in the north, and they held their own well, being probably the most expert horse thieves in the west, and a terror to the settlers and Indians in the south. They would start out on foot in large war parties and travel hundreds of miles. I know of parties going as far south as Sault Lake city, and they never returned without large bands of horses. They were so expert that cases are known where white men, afraid of having their horses run off during the night, have slept with the picket ropes either held, or tied to their bodies, waking in the morning and finding their horses gone, the ropes having been cut during the night. Of course the Indians had to be continually on the watch on their return, for the Sioux and Crows were nearly equally expert and many a band of horses have they run off from the Blackfeet, and many fights have taken place between them in the Blackfeet country.

They counted their wealth altogether by the number of horses owned, and some of the chiefs owned as many as 500 head, when we first came into the country. The greater their wealth in horses, the more hunters they sent after the buffalo, and in consequence the more robes they had to tan. Thus they needed more women. Sometimes they had as many as twenty. It took years to only partly stop this inbred habit of horse stealing, and it will never be completely eradicated as long as an Indian remains. Like the buffalo, the plain Indians are fast dying, not many more than half the number remaining. Civilization has little effect on them, and only seems to decimate them faster. Those now left are but a poor sample, of the rich and free and warlike Indian we found on our first arrival in the Northwest. It will not be many years before they are extinct. They do not take to farming, and education either moral or physical, seems to have no effect on them. Missionary labor among the Blackfeet has proved from some cause a failure, and I know of no instance where a full grown man or woman among the Blackfeet has been converted to Christianity. In the north, among the Crees, it is otherwise, and much good has been done among them by missionary labor, of all denominations. It therefore seems certain that as this great country becomes settled, the Indian will become extinct in the same manner as the myriads of buffalo gradually disappeared before the onward rush of civilization.

Continued in Chapter XII – Severe Trip to Helena.

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Critical Conditions

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 IX: Building Fort Macleod.

Chapter X

Critical Conditions

THE NEWS I BROUGHT to the fort cast a gloom over all, and it was far from being a cheerful New Year’s greeting. They had been most anxious about me, and I certainly had a very narrow escape. The bodies of the storm’s victims were brought up the next day, and they were buried with military honors by their comrades, with whom they were great favorites. The months of January and February of 1875 were cold and stormy, and the work the men had to do was hard. Considerable grumbling ensued in consequence. Many of the traders camped round the fort had inflamed the minds of the men with stories of the wealth to be easily made in Montana gold mines, and the high rate of wages which, in comparison to the 90 cents the men received, appeared like a fortune. These stories had the effect of making many of the men dissatisfied, and in February some twenty or more deserted one night, taking their arms with them. They were no doubt helped by some of the traders with horses to get away on. Parties were sent after them but failed to overtake them, but the Government property was surrendered by them to the American authorities in Montana and afterwards recovered.

This was most disheartening to the rest of the men, as it made the work heavy on the few who remained. We were then reduced in number, in an almost unknown country, and surrounded by several thousand warlike Indians, whom we knew little about. It proved a very heavy responsibility on our commanding officer, Col. Macleod, and must have caused him the gravest anxiety. The firmness and justice with which the Indians were treated, made them respect us, and kept them on friendly terms, in a manner that force could never have accomplished. On many occasions and officer and two of three men would go into a camp of several hundred lodges, and arrest an Indian for some crime, and in no instance were we resisted, although they had the power to wipe out the whole force, had they wished, in a very short space of time.

Our journeys to different points in the country, on the watch for whisky traders, were also continuous, and these journeys, it must be remembered were over a great extent of territory without trails, and with no one to depend on but ourselves. Transport we had none, the blankets and provisions being carried on pack horses, and the desertion of these men made our work more arduous. As clothing was scarce among the men, none having been issued since we left Toronto, and most of what we brought from there being left behind, the men had many reasons to be dissatisfied.

The way the men would turn out on a parade was fantastic to say the least. Self made breeches of cow skin, buffalo coats and caps made by themselves, and Indian moccasins, would be part of the get up. The work in the fort was also of the hardest. There was wood to chop continually, and also to haul, the buildings were constantly requiring repairs, the roofs sometimes giving way, and the discomfort of mud roofs and floors, and continual arduous journeys in the [worst?] of weather, were enough to cause discontent among any body of men. There should be praise to those hardy men who toiled on through this hard winter, and some excuse made for those who left and went south believing that wealth could easily be gained in that country. Some of these men were taken back after they discovered their mistake, and a few of them are yet in the force, and of good character, and others are in the country, being prosperous settlers.

During the first winter our intercourse with the Indians was not as great as it afterwards became, as to a certain extent we were strangers to each other, but they showed their appreciation of our work in putting a stop to the whisky trade by helping all they were able. We were hardly able however to do much towards stopping their horse stealing expeditions, and other unlawful acts considered by them as meritorious. In fact it took years to do this, and these traits of Indian character can never be entirely eradicated.

They were hospitable in the extreme, and if on our journeys we came upon an Indian camp, we were welcome to their tents, and any food they had, and this often saved us from many bitter nights on the bare snow, in furious storm and intense cold. The food in an Indian tent in winter is not always the most appetizing. I remember on one occasion being with a guide only, having lost our way in a blinding snow storm, with no blankets, and the prospect before us of camping out in the open, coming upon an Indian trail in the snow. No sight was ever more welcome. They looked after our horses and invited us into one of their lodges. A pot was on the fire, and our hunger being extreme, we anxiously looked for supper. The food was handed round in wooden bowls, being a soft meat of some material of what we did not enquire, but made a hearty meal. We slept in the lodge that night the weather being very cold.

Next morning, being awake when the Indian and his squaw got up, I remained watching them prepare breakfast. The squaw pulled down the blankets on which they had been sleeping, and pulled from underneath a blue and hairless object on which they had been lying, no doubt to keep it from freezing, and commenced to cut pieces off and put in the pot over the fire. It looked to me more like a dead baby than anything I could imagine. I nudged the interpreter who lay alongside of me. He informed me that it was a buffalo calf cut out of the animal when killed, and was considered a great delicacy. Needless to say, I had no breakfast that morning, having partaken largely of the delicacy the night before. But they gave us the best they had, although not choice from our way of thinking. Many similar visits to Indian camps were made during this first winter, and they treated us well according to their lights. It was the first time these wild Indians of the plains had come in contact with friendly white men, who were working in their behalf. The Indian in those days was truly wild, the buffalo being all in all to him. His tent was made of the hide, his footgear, and clothing, and anything he procured from the trader was by barter of the robe. So as the buffalo moved, so moved the Indian camps. Today they might be near our fort, in a week a hundred miles away. So during the winter we were perpetually on the move, for where the Indian camp would be, there also was likely to follow the trader in whisky, and as the robes are prime in winter, great chances would be taken to procure them. Thus passed our first, and probably hardest, winter in the N.W. Territories.

Continued in Chapter 11 – Slaughter of the Buffalo.

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Building Fort Macleod

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 VIII: Among the Whisky Traders.

 

Chapter IX

Building Fort Macleod

THE WEATHER WAS cold when we arrived at the Old Man’s river, and we camped in tents on the river bottom. At that time there was plenty of cottonwood timber on the bottoms that could be used for building purposes. As soon as we had a few days’ rest, the men were all set to work felling trees and cutting them into 12-foot logs for building. We had such a short time to put up buildings and stables that they were run up in the quickest manner possible. This was by digging long trenches three feet deep, the length of the building required, then placing 12-foot logs upright side by side in these trenches, forming the walls, with logs across for beams. After covering the building with poles, a foot or two of dirt was added. The walls were plastered with clay inside and out, and putting in the windows and doors, the buildings were finished. Very little lumber was brought up by the bull teams with the window sashes. It was just enough for doors, so the ground was our only flooring. These buildings were built in a square, with two log buildings on each side. They consisted of men’s quarters and store room, stables on one side and two long buildings facing them, for officers’ quarters, orderly room, etc. These buildings were rushed up in quick tie, everyone taking a hand, and pretty tough work it was, particularly the plastering. The weather was pretty cold. The clay had to be mixed with hot water and thrown on by hand, which was freezing work. While we were at this work, Baker & company’s men had been at work and built some similar structures not far from the fort, one of which was a store. This was pretty well filled up with all sorts of goods, such as canned fruit at $1 per can and everything else in proportion. As we had received no pay up to this time it was all credit, orders being taken on the men’s pay, and when they did receive it, there was not much left after settling their bills. After the long march on short rations, no price was begrudged for luxuries. Parties had been sent north to Sheep creek after whisky traders, some of whom were captured and brought in, and fined or imprisoned, their robes being confiscated and the whisky spilt. Captain Crozier had the honor of the first capture, that of Taylor, and after that we all had plenty of travelling to do. The Indians had by this time come in, and had got over their fear of us, many councils being held. They were told the reason of our coming, and were all glad to have the whisky trade abolished. Large camps of many hundreds of Blackfeet, Bloods and Piegans camped near us, and were on the most friendly terms. They were in those days a splendid looking lot of men, well off. They owned hundreds of horses, fine large lodges made of tanned buffalo skins, some of them fancifully painted, with any number of buffalo robes for trade, and all they required to eat, and were the happiest people in the world.

As I said before, they soon became very friendly, and were of considerable help in finding where the different whisky traders were located. During the winter we were visited by the Blackfeet, Blood and Piegan Indians, some seven thousand comprising these three tribes at that time, although they have since dwindled down to half that number. They were totally without any idea of civilization, living altogether on the plains during the summer, and camping on the rivers near wood during the winter. They were constantly at war with the Crees in the north, and the Sioux, Crows and Gros Ventres in the south, and generally held their own. War parties of them would start out each summer, and travel hundreds of miles on foot on horse-stealing expeditions, and generally returned with large numbers of stolen animals. It took us years to put a stop to this wholesale stealing, and it is not over yet, and I doubt if it ever will be totally eradicated.

The Indian education is directly the opposite of that of civilized nations. They are taught when children that the more they steal, like or kill, the higher their state in the happy hunting grounds or sand hills, where the western Indians believe they go after death.

No mission work had been done among the plain Indians before we arrived. A few Catholic priests had been among them but made little impression. The mission work had been confined to the north, among the Crees, and a small mission near the mountains, up the Bow river at a place called Morley, was among a small tribe of Stoneys, a branch of the Assiniboia Indians. This mission was in charge of Rev. G. McDougall, part trader and hunter, and part missionary.

A great mistake has been made in expecting the Indians to be civilized all at once. It is impossible that they could reach the state of enlightenment in a few years which has taken whole generations to accomplish. It must be remembered that a vast change took place in a few years in their surroundings and style of living after the advent of the whites. What they learned among the whites was seldom to their advantage, either morally or physically, and their teachers did not always set the best example.

There were on our arrival no cattle in the country, except for a few domesticated cows, north along the Saskatchewan, and it was some time before the Indians would eat beef, believing it to be bad medicine. Flour they traded for but little, their chief demand being for tea, tobacco, and blankets. Buffalo meat was nearly altogether their only sustenance. Tea they were very fond of, and we used often to attend their dances, which were new to us, and generally held in the largest lodge in camp. A mixture of tea and tobacco was drunk, which had the effect almost of liquor on the Indians. A tragedy was enacted at once dance I attended. An old Indian, who had a young squaw of who he was very jealous, attended the dance. The old man left the tent, being jealous of another young fellow, leaving his woman in the dance. He went outside and cut a hole in the side of the tent, and while the woman was dancing quite close to where I was sitting, he shot her through the head with his pistol. The poor girl fell dead across the fire, and there was for a short time a good chance for a general fight. The man was captured and handed over to us, and afterwards sent down to Winnipeg for trial. He was imprisoned for some years, and is now in the camp, with another wife. In those days the Indians were very jealous of their women, who were really slaves. They were purchased for so many head of horses, and did most of the camp work, and the cutting up of buffalo, drying the meat, and preparing the robes in different ways. They also pitched and struck the lodges, cooked and did nearly all the work. It was the custom of the Indians in those days to cut off the nose of a woman for infidelity, and on some occasions they were killed. It took us some years to put an end to this custom altogether. Their dead were either left in lodges, with blankets or other offerings to the sun, or in the fork of some tree, where they remained for years. There were many of these bodies in the trees along the banks of Old Man’s river, and many dead lodges, from the time of the smallpox some years previously.

Of course, we received Indian names, and the crest of the force was taken from the name given Col. Macleod, that of Stum-ach-so-to-kan, or Buffalo Head, the names nearly always being that of some animal, or a part.

We spent our Christmas in the buildings, they having been finished by that time, and we were fairly comfortable. We had an abundance of buffalo meat, men being engaged to hunt for the force. We also killed numbers of deer not far from the fort, keeping the mess pretty well supplied with venison.

A small village had sprung up near the fort, two or three stores, and a billiard room of logs having been built, mostly by old traders in the country, who had come in and, as their whisky trade was stopped, tried to make a living in a more legitimate manner. We found them a very decent lot of men in spite of all we had heard against them. They were of all nationalities, and were either miners or traders and hunters. There were, of course, some hard cases among them, but these did not long remain, as they did not find law and order to their taste. We had by spring a guard room full of prisoners, one or two of whom were in for murder. They were not sent down to Winnipeg, our nearest jail, 900 miles off, until the following summer, and a hard trip it was for the escort.

The citizens in the village were most hospitable, and did what they could for us. Of course, more or less whisky circulated during the winter among the men, very poor stuff at $5 per pint bottle, but alcohol and Jamaica ginger were principally sold. Some whisky casks were unearthed by the Indians, and a general drunk ensued, some casualties occurring, and our time during the winter was fully taken up, travelling long distances, and trying to put a stop to the traffic, in which we succeeded very well.

Most of our horses were sent into Montana to winter on Sun river, where feed could be purchased, in charge of an officer, Major Walsh. We managed to purchase a little hay from a trader a few miles down the river at $30 per ton, and also some native horses were purchased for use on our expedition.

The second death occurred in the force a short time after we had begun to build the fort, poor Parks dying from fever brought on from exposure and the hardships of the march, but the force was generally healthy.

A small detachment was stationed some eighteen miles down the river at a small trading post going by the name of Ft. Kipp, after the original builder. This fort was built of logs, the same as all other buildings in the country, and surrounded by a log stockade, and had been built for a whisky trading post. The men were under an officer named Brisbois who was in command of F troop, to which I belonged. Two of the men from this detachment had been at our fort at Macleod for some time on leave, but left to return to Kipp the day before New Year. On that day word had arrived that one of I.G. Baker’s bull teams had got into Whoopup, about 30 miles from Macleod, and had a large quantity of mail for the police with them, but were not expected to arrive at Macleod for nearly a week. We had received no mail since the previous June, with the exception of a few odd letters now and then, and of course we were all most anxious to get this mail by New Year, if possible. I therefore asked permission to ride down to Kipp the day before New Year, and bring up the letters. Col. Macleod was very backward in granting this permission, but at last it was given and I started down a little before sunset, on a tough little native horse bred in the country. I intended to make Kipp that night and go on to Whoopup the next day. There was a little snow on the ground and only a faint trail to be seen. I had not got more than a few miles on the way, when the wind changed to the North very suddenly, and one of the Northwest blizzards set in. It turned very cold- some 20 degrees below zero. I turned round to come back, but found it utterly impossible to do so, as the wind and snow struck me in the face, and I could not prevent my eyelids from freezing together.

whiteout on the prairies

There was nothing to do but continue on the road, trusting to the horse taking me during the night into Ft. Kipp. I had a good warm buffalo coat on, but suffered intensely, only keeping myself from freezing by getting off now and then and taking a run, but this I could not keep up long for fear of losing the trail. When it got dark, I had to stick to the saddle, to the pommel of which I tied the reins, letting the horse take his own road, as I could see nothing, and did not know the country even if I had been able to see it. Luckily for me, the horse had been bred in that vicinity and was wonderfully intelligent. He could not go out of a walk. Hour after hour went by with use still plodding along, and the storm still continuing. About midnight it brightened up a little, and I saw before me a steep bank, at the bottom of which I supposed to be a river. However, there was nothing for it but to go ahead, letting the horse go where he pleased. It thickened up again, and for an hour nothing was visible, until I found myself suddenly surrounded by lighted windows.

The horse had walked in through the gate of Ft. Kipp without my knowledge and stopped in the middle of the square. It was lucky I let him have his head, as I should have perished had he become lost. A welcome sight it was. The blazing log fires and a good meal soon put my blood in circulation.

I inquired of Capt. Brisbois if the two men who were on leave, and who I knew had left Macleod that day, had arrived, but was told they had not. We therefore concluded that they had remained at another small trading post about half way from Macleod, and would come in the next day. The following morning being fine, I rode down to Whoopup and took all the letters for the police, returned to Ft. Kipp in the afternoon, and was informed that the two horses belonging to the men Baxter and Wilson, who were on leave, had come into the fort saddled but without their riders. A party of men, with some Indians, had been sent to search for them, and a short time after they came in bringing the bodies of the two men with them, one being dead and frozen hard, and the other with arms and legs and most of the body frozen stiff, but he was still breathing. The party had followed the tracks of their horses, and found where the men had led them round and round in a circle, and then, where they had left them. They found one man dead not far from the spot, but the other was found a long way farther on. They had got lost and bewildered, and on lying down, were soon frozen in that bitter wind.

I rode in to Macleod as fast as possible for Dr. Nevill, but before he reached Kipp that night Wilson was dead. Had he lived his life would have been a burden to him, as his limbs would have had to be amputated.

Continued in Chapter X – Critical Conditions.

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Among the Whisky Traders

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 VII: Lost on the Plains.

 

Chapter VIII

Among the Whisky Traders

WE REMAINED IN THIS camp until Sept. 29, when we received word from Ft. Benton, from Colonel Macleod, to the effect that we were only 60 miles from Ft. Whoopup, and that we were to move about 15 miles west, when we should strike a well beaten road leading to that place. This trail was the one used by traders coming up from Ft. Benton to trade with the Indians at the different forts and was much used. This was most welcome news, as the weather was growing cold and it was not a cheerful prospect to look forward to, spending the winter at the Sweet Grass hills. The messenger who brought the news gave us a good account of the country west. He said it was well wooded, with many rivers, and quantities of game. He also disabused our minds of the desperate character of the whisky traders and Indians. He told us the traders were few, most of them having returned to Benton for the winter with their summer loads of fur; that they had also had word of our advent, and we need not expect to catch many of them. The Indians were peaceable, he said, having an abundance of game, and were trading their wares amicably with the whites.

The horses being so few, and those left in such poor condition, we had to leave the guns and some wagons at the last camp, sending for them the following day. We rested in camp while they were being brought up. Our sugar and other necessaries had long since given out, but we had an abundance of antelope and buffalo meat.

While in camp Oct. 1 the first team of traders passed our camp going south with their summer pack of buffalo robes, which they had no

doubt traded for whisky. We searched this “outfit” as they called it in the west, but found no liquor. They were objects of great curiosity to us, and we plied them with questions. We camped on Milk river, Oct. 2, about 40 miles from Whoopup. At this point we waited until Colonel Macleod came up to us from the south, which he did Oct. 4. The weather had turned cold, and our fires were made with buffalo chips, as the dried dung is called. We hunted continuously, having no trouble in keeping a supply of meat on hand, only having to go just outside of the camp for game. The buffalo on one occasion came almost into camp, when one man killed six of them. Colonel Macleod was accompanied by Mr. Conrad and Jerry Potts, Blackfoot guide and interpreter, who was engaged at $90 per month, he knowing the country and Indians thoroughly. The halfbreed guides we brought with us had returned east with Colonel French. Mr. Conrad was one of the firm of I.G. Baker & Company, of Fort Benton, a firm doing a large general business in Montana. Mr. Conrad had been one of the first to build a trading post on Sheep creek, a point about 75 miles north of the present Fort Macleod. He had traded some time extensively in whisky, but had not done so for some years previous to our advent. Most of the traders in the North West purchased their goods from, and sold their furs to, this firm, who had the name of being responsible business men.  It was composed of I.G. Baker, the head and originator of the firm in Benton many years before, when it was only a stockade trading post, and Charles and William Conrad, who carried on the firm. I.G. Baker resided in St. Louis. This firm did considerable contract work for the different military posts scattered through northern Montana, having their headquarters at Benton. At that time Benton was a very small place on the Missouri river, of only a few hundred inhabitants, and these altogether traders or stock men. This firm together with that of T.C. Powers & company, another equally wealthy firm, owned several steamboats that ran to that place from Bismark, several hundred miles down the river, every summer, bringing in large supplies of goods of all descriptions.

The commissioner while in Benton had contracted with the firm of I.G. Baker & company to furnish us with all supplies needed for a year, by the troops going west. A bull team was on the road loaded with forage and supplies of all kinds, but would not be up for a week or more. These trains were an institution peculiar to the prairies, there being three wagons covered with canvas, to each team, which consisted of 12 yoke of oxen. There were sometimes as many as eight teams of 24 wagons to a train. The wagons were often loaded with 7,000 pounds of freight each, or 21,000 pounds to a team, and their rate of travelling was slow, 10 or 15 miles per day, but sure, and they could haul through anything. There was one driver to each team. A night herder and cook completed the outfit, with generally two or three saddle horses along for herding the cattle at night. The men walked alongside their teams during the day, and their heavy bull whips, which they would crack with the noise of a pistol shot.

All the wagons except what were actually needed to take on the bedding and necessary forage and rations, together with the guns, and all the sick horses, were left in my charge with 20 men, at Milk river, to wait until the bull teams came up. They would haul the wagons on from that point until we joined the rest on Old Man’s river, at a point to which the guide, Jerry potts, was to take them. This was a suitable place to establish a permanent camp and build a fort. It is now known as Fort Macleod, the men giving it that name after we had built it, in honor of our commanding officer.

 

The guide, Potts, was a Piegan halfbreed and had made his home in the North West, being well acquainted with the country and all the Indians in it. We could not have gotten a better man, and as proof of his capability in that line, I may say that he was in the employ of the police until his death in 1899, at Fort Macleod, the point to which he first guided us, 30 years ago. The party I had with me numbered 20 men, some of whom were sick. Only one horse fit for service was left, being my trooper. The weather, while we remained there was cold, but fine, and we enjoyed the rest; our time was passed principally in shooting antelope or buffalo, which surrounded us in thousands. A few days after we camped here, John Glenn, a trader, passed from Benton, loaded with canned provisions, sugar, syrup, and a miscellaneous assortment. He made haste to reach the police when he heard we were in the country, expecting to make a good trade with us, knowing we had been on short allowance for a long time. His expectations were fully realized, as he on that trip laid the foundation of the tidy fortune he accumulated afterwards. He had been an old miner and trader and knew the country pretty thoroughly.

The men clubbed together and purchased a sack of flour, and a barrel of syrup, which they had to pay a pretty stiff price for. The flour cost $20 a sack, and the syrup $3 per gallon. It was a sight to see the way these unusual luxuries were disposed of. The cooking went on continually until they were all gone.

The bull train arrived in a little over a week later, and our wagons were strung on behind their teams. Some of the men were placed in the wagons, and some on foot, and we once more proceeded slowly on the journey.

We arrived in three days at the St. Mary’s river and camped not far from Fort Whoopup. It had already been searched by the troops ahead, but nothing had been discovered. On our way into the fort we passed a dead Indian, lying near the side of the road. He was an Assiniboine Indian, killed by the Blackfeet, their deadly enemies, and left lying where he fell. He had dried up like a mummy with the hot sun, and was minus the scamp, which the Blackfeet had taken as a trophy.

         We found Whoopup to be a stockade fort, some hundred yards long and wide, being built in a square, out of solid cottonwood logs dovetailed together. The buildings on the four sides faced inward around the square. Loopholes had been cut in the bastions, and the fort was the proud possessor of two old fashioned brass field guns, which I doubt could have been used without bursting. Three or four men occupied the fort, being all traders, the owner of the post, D.W. Davis, doing the hospitalities. He took us over the fort and set before us a first-class dinner, with fresh vegetables of all sorts raised in his own garden. One of the rooms of the fort was used as a trading store, being full of Indian trading goods composed of blankets, cloth, brass and glass beads, and many other articles of Indian trade. They used coal in their stoves, there being a fine open seam not far from the fort. In fact all this river from that point down, abounds in coal. Where the Galt coal mine now is at Lethbridge, that point is only seven miles below Fort Whoopup.

The men in this fort nearly all had Indian women, having married them according to the custom of the country by purchase, probably for whisky. The squaws were of good feature and physique, and dressed in calico were very well respectable in appearance. There were no Indians camped at this place. They had heard of our arrival and had gone out on the plains. The traders had also been notified of our approach, and no doubt had hidden what whisky they had, thus accounting for the non-success of the search made by the troops in passing. We crossed the St. Mary’s river a few miles above Whoopup, and started on the north side of that river for the main camp on Old Man’s river, some 20 miles way.

A rather ridiculous incident occurred while pulling up a steep hill on the opposite side. One of the wagons hitched behind one of the teams, was loaded with empty 9-pound shells for the guns. The wagon happened to upset, and the shells rolling out and down the hill, caused a general stampede among the bull whackers, who could not be induced to return for a considerable time. The team being left to its own sweet will, swerved off the road, upsetting one of the team wagons, in which the night herder was asleep. We expected to find the man dead, after taking bags of oats, flour, and several cook stoves from the top of him, but he was alive and none the worse for his shaking up. However it delayed us a considerable time and we only got as far as the top of the hill that night.

We crossed the Belly river again the next day, at a place named by the traders, Slide Out, which name it bears to this day. The Rocky mountains were seemingly quite close to us, looking grand with their white winter covering. They had been in sight ever since we left the Sweet Grass hills, and a grand view we had of them all along from that point. A high range of hills lying to the north, were also in sight for a long time. These are named the Porcupine hills, and lie on the north side of the Old Man’s river. We arrived at that river on the third day, and you may be sure we were greeted enthusiastically by call. They were camped on the river bottom, where there was cottonwood timber for miles on both sides of the river.

I was glad to be told that it was the intention to locate here permanently and build a log fort at once. No Indians had come in, but the time had not been wasted. There were two prisoners in camp, one a white man, Taylor by name, the other a Spanish negro, who had been captured the day before up the river, while endeavoring to go south, with several hundred buffalo robes, and a quantity of whisky. The whisky was spilled, and the robes and teams confiscated. The men were fined $250 each, and in default, imprisonment for six months. Taylor’s fine was paid, but the negro’s was not, and he was confined under guard in a tent, and on the fort being built, in the log guard house, from which during the winter he made a bold attempt to escape. He was fired at by the sentry but got away, though wounded. His body was found in the spring by Indians, about 40 miles south. Taylor became a respectable citizen, and after being in many different lines of business, settled down to hotel keeping, in which he still is. He faithfully adhered to his Indian wife, having a large family by her, all of whom he educated well.

It was a relief after all the hardships we had gone through to find that we were at last settled down permanently, with the new country before us to open up, and that the tedious march of 1874, that had taken us over four months to accomplish, was ended.

Continued in Chapter 9 – Building Fort Macleod.

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New 2019 Oak Island Discovery- Another Wrinkle in the Wilkins Map

Another Wrinkle in the Wilkins Map

Hello, and welcome to Another Wrinkle in the Wilkins Map. In this video, we’re going to reveal a new research-related discovery pertaining to one of the strangest chapters in the history of the Oak Island treasure hunt. To give this revelation some context, we’ll first dive into the tale of Captain Kidd, a notorious Scottish pirate whose legendary lost treasure, some believe, may lie at the bottom of the Money Pit. Next, we’ll explore the story of the Wilkins Chart- the tale of an eccentric British journalist and a mysterious treasure map with an unusual connection to the Oak Island mystery. Finally, we’ll draw back the curtain on a secret that has remained hidden for over sixty years. Without further ado, here is Another Wrinkle in the Wilkins Map. Enjoy!

If you’re into mysteries, buried treasure, or the History Channel, chances are that you’re familiar with Oak Island, Nova Scotia, the site of Canada’s longest treasure hunt. As of 2019, no one truly knows what lies buried beneath Oak Island, although many theories have been put forth purporting to explain the nature of the island’s elusive treasure and the identity of those who buried it.

When Daniel McGinnis, John Smith, and Anthony Vaughan first discovered Oak Island’s so-called ‘Money Pit’ in 1795, they initially suspected that they had stumbled upon a cache of long-forgotten pirate loot. From the 16th Century to the late 18th Century, Mahone Bay, in which Oak Island is located, had been a frequent haunt of pirates, and as a result, local yarns of lost pirate plunder abounded. One particular legend favoured by the early settlers of nearby Chester, Nova Scotia, was that surrounding Captain William Kidd- a 17th Century Scottish privateer who, prior to his execution for piracy in 1701, is said to have buried a fabulous treasure on some undisclosed island. Following the discovery of the Money Pit, many locals believed Oak Island to be the repository of Captain Kidd’s legendary treasure.

 

The Tale of Captain Kidd

The tale of Captain Kidd begins in 1688- a momentous year in English history. The British throne was occupied by King James the Second, a Catholic monarch. At that time, most of England- and, more importantly, most members of the English Parliament- were Protestant, and many of them had little love for their Catholic king. Determined to put a fellow Protestant on the British throne, a cabal of Parliamentarians secretly plotted with King James’ nephew and son-in-law, Prince William III of the Netherlands. Their scheme resulted in a successful coup d’etat in which Prince William, with a fleet of 600 ships and 40,000 mercenaries, sailed through the Strait of Dover and across the English Channel. The Dutch prince and his soldiers disembarked at Torbay, marched on London, and seized the throne from King James in what the Parliamentarians dubbed the “Glorious Revolution”.

Although the deposed King James had been on friendly terms with Louis XIV, the powerful King of France, the Dutch prince-turned-King of England was an old and bitter enemy of the French monarch. Immediately after his coronation, King William the Third thrust Britain into the ongoing Nine Years’ War, a conflict between France and much of continental Europe.

At that time, a mysterious 35-year-old Scottish sailor named William Kidd was at sea in the Caribbean, serving aboard a French privateering ship called the Sainte Rose. Since France was now at war with England, the ship’s captain was given a letter of marque to capture English vessels.

Naturally, Kidd and seven other patriotic British crewmembers were loath to attack fellow Englishman. Under the leadership of Kidd and a Cornish privateer named Robert Culliford, the Britons mutinied against the Sainte Rose’s French crew, renamed the ship the Blessed William, and nominated Kidd their new captain.

Captain Kidd and his crew sailed the Blessed William into Nevis, a small English island colony about 190 nautical miles southeast of Puerto Rico, where the governor of the colony welcomed them into his own small fleet. Although the governor could not afford to pay Kidd and his crew, he allowed them to take whatever plunder might be had from any French ships and settlements they came across. And thus William Kidd became a respectable English privateer.

After a year of defending the island of Nevis from the French navy- an occupation which offered little in the way of treasure- Kidd’s old friend and fellow mutineer, Robert Culliford, decided that he’d had his fill of privateering. While Kidd was ashore the island of Antigua, Culliford and the rest of the crew, tired of the strictures of licensed privateering, left the docks and sailed into the Caribbean to pursue the pirate life. Relieved of his command, Kidd boarded a ship to New York, where he promptly married a wealthy English widow and became one of the richest men in town.

Despite being an active and upstanding member of the little colony, Kidd quickly tired of domestic life and returned to sea. For four years, he worked as a merchant captain, shipping goods to and from New England and the Caribbean, and earning himself a good reputation in the process. His new occupation did little to satisfy his appetite for adventure, and so in December 1695, William Kidd sailed for London, England, where he hoped to apply for a captain’s commission in the British Royal Navy.

By pure chance, Kidd bumped into a fellow New Yorker on the streets of London- a wealthy businessman named Robert Livingston. When Kidd told Livingston of his ambition, the businessman introduced him to his Irish friend Richard Coote, the Earl of Bellomont, who also happened to be the newly-appointed Governor of New York. The two men asked Kidd if he would consider accepting a commission to lead a pirate-hunting expedition along the so-called Pirate Round, a sailing route that led across the Atlantic, around the Cape of Good Hope, past Madagascar, to the Arabian Sea and the Red Sea beyond. There, pirates plundered Indian passenger ships filled with exotic goods and wealthy Mecca-bound pilgrims, as well as the British East India Company’s merchant vessels which often accompanied them- predations which strained England’s valuable relationship with India’s Mughal Empire.

For William Kidd, the offer seemed the opportunity of a lifetime. He accepted the invitation and secured financial backing from Livingston, Coote, and four powerful English aristocrats who insisted upon the condition that they receive three quarters of any treasure that Kidd and his crew managed to acquire. Finally, King William the Third himself gave Captain Kidd a letter of marque reserving 10% of the loot for the British Crown, and giving Kidd royal license to capture or sink pirate ships or French vessels he came across.

Equipped with a brand new 34-cannon oared frigate called the Adventure Galley and accompanied by a hand-picked crew, Captain Kidd sailed down the River Thames. On the way to the sea, his men disrespected the crew of a yacht of the Royal Navy. As punishment for the offence, the yacht’s captain pressed most of Kidd’s sailors into naval service, leaving the Scottish captain with a barely functional skeleton crew.

Short-handed, Kidd sailed across the Atlantic to the port of New York, where he supplemented his meagre crew with a large number of hardened pirates. In order to convince these rough sailors to sign aboard his ship, Kidd agreed to give them 75% of whatever plunder they might acquire as opposed to the 25% stipulated by his license. In doing so, Kidd violated his letter of marque- a misdemeanor which would contribute to his eventual undoing.

His ranks filled, Captain Kidd set out on the Pirate Round, determined to abide by the conditions of his license. Rather than French or pirate vessels, however, Kidd and his crew met only with misfortune. On December 11, the Adventure Galley was approached by a convoy of British Royal Navy men-of-war. The flotilla’s commander, Commodore Thomas Warren, ordered Kidd to accompany him to the Cape of Good Hope on the southern tip of Africa, hoping to impress some of his sailors into service in his own fleet.

Rather than deliver members of his own hard-won crew to Commodore Warren, Captain Kidd decided to slip away in the night and continue on alone. This evasion led Warren to believe that Kidd and his crew had something to hide, prompting him to spread the rumour throughout the British East India Company that privateer Captain Kidd had gone rogue.

The crew of the Adventure Galley rounded the southern tip of Africa and sailed along the coast of Madagascar. When they failed to encounter any enemy ships in that notorious pirate haven, they sailed northwest to the Comoro Islands to patch up their ship. There, two thirds of the crew came down with dysentery. Forty of them died within a week.

When the disease ran its course and the survivors had regained sufficient strength to continue their voyage, the crew of the Adventure Galley headed north to hunt for pirates and Frenchmen. In late June, they arrived at the mouth of the Red Sea and lay at anchor, ready to pounce on any enemy ships that approached. By this time, Captain Kidd’s crew was growing restless, and whispers of mutiny rippled throughout the decks.

Although the crew of the Adventure Galley never encountered any pirates in the Arabian Sea, they were fired on by English, Dutch, Portuguese, and Arabian ships whose captains thought they were pirates themselves.

Weeks turned into months, and by the fall of 1697, Kidd’s crew was on the brink of mutiny. On October 30, 1697, one of the crewmembers- a gunner named William Moore- sat on deck sharpening a chisel and muttering under his breath. When Kidd inquired as to Moore’s rumblings, the gunner urged Kidd to attack a nearby Dutch ship and plunder its cargo- a flagrant act of piracy. When Kidd refused, a quarrel ensued which ended with Kidd cracking Moore over the head with an iron-ringed bucket. The blow fractured Moore’s skull, and the gunner succumbed to his wound the following day.

Not long after Moore’s death, Kidd and his crew, through the practice of flying false colours, managed to capture a French ship without a shot being fired- a capture in accordance with Kidd’s commission. The crew of the Adventure Galley appropriated two chests of opium, twelve bales of cotton, and other odds and ends from the French vessel before continuing down the Malabar Coast of southwestern India.

On January 30, 1698, the Scottish captain, using similar tactics, captured the massive Quedagh Merchant, an Indian merchant vessel loaded with silk, satin, gold, silver, jewels, and a variety of valuable East Indian goods. Kidd learned that the ship was chartered by the French East India Company and owned by a company of Armenian merchants, and was initially satisfied that this capture was a legitimate one. However, upon further investigation, he learned that the ship’s captain was English, and that the vessel was part of the same Muslim fleet whose piratical predators he was tasked with combatting. Worse, a large proportion of the ship’s cargo was owned by a senior official of the Mughal Empire. Kidd tried to convince his crew to return the ship’s cargo, but the disgruntled sailors would have none of it. Unwilling to risk a mutiny, Kidd reluctantly acceded to their demands and set sail for New York. His capture of the Quedagh Merchant branded him a pirate, and his notorious reputation quickly preceded him throughout the Atlantic.

With the two freshly-captured merchant ships trailing behind them, Captain Kidd and his crew sailed across the Indian Ocean to Madagascar. Before heading home, the Scottish captain decided to pay a visit to Ile Sainte-Marie, an infamous pirate haunt off Madagascar’s eastern coast. Sure enough, he found a pirate ship bobbing in the harbor- the first of its kind that he and his crew had encountering throughout their entire grueling voyage. Kidd soon learned that the frigate was captained by none other than Robert Culliford, the pirate who had mutinied against him in the Caribbean.

Hungry for revenge, the privateer donned his cutlass, loaded a brace of flintlock pistols, and asked his crew to help him take the ship. Many of his sailors were former pirates themselves however, and had come to despise their strict Scottish captain. Rather than attack Culliford, the vast majority opted to throw in their lot with the Cornish buccaneer. They defected to the other ship, leaving Kidd with a mere fifteen loyal sailors. Having miraculously retained most of their precious cargo, Captain Kidd and his tiny crew abandoned the rotting Adventure Galley for the Quedagh Merchant and headed for home.

The privateers followed trade winds across the Atlantic to the Caribbean. There, they learned that the governor of every English colony had orders to arrest them for piracy. After bartering silks and other fabrics for provisions and a new ship, Captain Kidd followed the Gulf Stream north to New England.

Just outside the New York harbor, Kidd received word that one of his main backers, Richard Coote, the Governor of New York, had agreed to offer Kidd clemency for his piracy. In a letter, the Irish aristocrat invited Kidd to sail into Boston Harbour, where he was currently doing business. Captain Kidd decided to accept the invitation. Before heading to Boston, however, he cached a large part of his treasure on Gardiner’s Island, off the eastern shores of Long Island, New York, just in case he found himself in need of leverage.

Captain Kidd’s suspicions were well founded. Less than a week after arriving in Boston Harbour, he and his crew were arrested by the local police and imprisoned in the city jail. Richard Coote, one of his major backers, had betrayed him.

Over the following year, Kidd enduring a long imprisonment followed by a hugely unfair trial in which he was convicted of piracy and the murder of his gunner, William Moore. After the verdict was passed, Kidd sent a letter to the Speaker of the English House of Commons claiming that he had hidden a hoard of treasure valued at 100,000 pounds sterling- worth twenty million American dollars today- and that he would help find it for the Crown if he was spared the noose.

His entreaty fell on deaf ears. On May 23, 1701, at London’s Execution Dock, Captain William Kidd was hanged. His body was then suspended in a gibbet over the River Thames for three years as a warning to pirates.

 

Captain Kidd’s Treasure

Following Kidd’s execution, Englishmen throughout the Empire speculated as to the nature and whereabouts of the treasure the pirate captain claimed to have hidden. Could Kidd have invented the tale as a desperate attempt to delay his appointment with the gallows? Or was there truly a hoard of gold and silver hidden away on some lonely shore, just waiting to be discovered?

Legend has it that, half a century later, in the mid-1700s, an old sailor from New England lay dying. On his deathbed, he confessed to his family that he had been a member of Captain Kidd’s crew. Before passing away, he disclosed that he had helped the pirate captain bury his sizeable treasure on an island east of Boston.

Naturally, when Daniel McGinnis, John Smith, and Anthony Vaughan discovered a depression in the soil on Oak Island, with a block and tackle suspended from the oak tree that grew at its edge, they hoped that they had stumbled upon Kidd’s legendary loot. So did most of the other treasure hunters to try their luck on Oak Island throughout the 19th Century.

 

Wilkins’ Map

In 1934, the Oak Island treasure hunt was taken up by Gilbert Hedden, a retired steel manufacturer from New Jersey. His brief and exciting tenure on the island was marked by one of the most bizarre chapters in the history of Oak Island.

In 1937, Hedden’s lawyer, Reginald V. Harris, read a recently-published book written by British journalist Harold T. Wilkins entitled Captain Kidd and his Skeleton Island. The first twelve chapters of this book describe the life of Captain Kidd and the aftermath of his execution. The next seven chapters detail various hunts for his supposed treasure. The final chapters of Wilkins’ book reveal a new break in the case: the discovery of four 17th Century treasure maps said to have once belonged to Captain Kidd.

These treasure maps, Wilkins claimed, were recently discovered by a wealthy Englishman named Hubert Palmer, who collected genuine pirate artifacts as a hobby. Throughout the 1930s, Palmer acquired four pieces of 17th Century furniture bearing engravings which indicated that they once belonged to William Kidd. Within each of these artifacts was a secret compartment, and within each compartment was a treasure map depicting a particular island in the South China Sea.

At the end of his book, Wilkins included a number of photographs featuring the four pieces of antique furniture, Kidd’s letter of marque, and various portraits of the notorious 17th Century pirate. Hidden among these photographs is an image of a hand-drawn treasure map with a reversed compass, which an accompanying description describes as the first chart that Palmer discovered in Captain Kidd’s supposed sea chest. The map included a cryptic legend which reads:

18 West and by 7 East on Rock

39 Southwest 14 North Tree

7 by 8 by 4

Reginald Harris couldn’t help but notice that this treasure map, when flipped right-side up, bore remarkable resemblance to Oak Island. Even more intriguing was the fact that many of the map’s features corresponded with landmarks on Oak Island. The lagoon, for example, was eerily congruent with Oak Island’s swamp; the elevations shown on the map were in the same locations as hills on Oak Island; and cross on the map matched the location of the Money Pit. In total, Harris identified fourteen resemblances between Wilkins’ map and Oak Island, and only one minor discrepancy.

Harris showed the map to Gilbert Hedden, who was similarly fascinated by its uncanny resemblance to Oak Island. Hedden became convinced that Wilkins’ chart might, in fact, be a real Oak Island treasure map drawn up by the original Money Pit builders, and so he sent a letter to Harold Wilkins voicing his suspicion.

Wilkins sent a letter back to Hedden assuring him that the treasure map in his book was not a map of Oak Island, but rather a depiction of an island in some ‘eastern sea’ far from the Atlantic. Hedden was unconvinced. To him, the similarities between Wilkins’ map and Oak Island were too strong to be coincidental. He then turned his attention towards the mysterious directions at the bottom of the chart.

The first line of directions seemed to suggest that the first step in the treasure hunt was to locate some sort of prominent rock, probably situated on the beach somewhere near the spot at which treasure hunters would be most likely to disembark. In the case of Oak Island, that beach was probably Smith’s Cove, the section of the island most exposed to the ocean. While discussing this possibility with an elder treasure hunter named Frederick Blair, Hedden learned that two mysterious drilled rocks had been discovered on Oak Island long ago, and that one of these rocks lay on the shores of Smith’s Cove. Hedden had his crew search for these stones, and sure enough, a rock with a 2-inch-deep, 1-inch-in-diameter hole was discovered at Smith’s Cove. Another rock with a similar hole was subsequently found about fifty feet north of the Money Pit.

The rocks were found to be exactly 25 rods apart from one another, rods being an old English unit of measurement amounting to about five metres, or five and a half yards. Exactly seven rods west of the stone at Smith’s Cove, and eighteen rods east of the western stone, lay the Cave-in Pit, a mysterious depression believed by many to be the site of an airshaft dug by the builders of the Smith’s Cove flood tunnel. The Cave-in Pit appeared to be the place indicated by the first line of directions on Wilkins’ map.

After making that tantalizing discovery, Hedden focused on the second line of directions. First, he had one of his employees, named Amos Nauss, run a line thirty rods southwest of the Cave-in Pit. In Nauss’ words:

“Hedden gave me some idea that there was something down there at the beach that he wanted to find. So I explored around there with a hoe. I was clawing around and suddenly I hit one rock, then another and another, all in line with each other. So I decided there was something there, and I started clearing it and called Hedden over.”

Nauss had rediscovered the stone triangle, a mysterious arrangement of beach stones on the South Shore Cove forming an arrow which pointed due north, in the direction of the Money Pit.

Astonished, Hedden ran a line fourteen rods north of the stone triangle. Sure enough, the line ran to the edge of the Money Pit, where legend says a large oak tree once stood. The directions on Wilkins’ map seemed to apply perfectly to Oak Island.

Although he could make neither heads nor tails of the last line of directions, Hedden was convinced more than ever that the chart in Wilkins’ book was a genuine Oak Island treasure map. Determined to follow this new and exciting lead, he decided to travel to England and meet Harold Wilkins in person. When Hedden informed the writer of his intentions, Wilkins wrote back that he was willing to meet with the treasure hunter, but that such a journey would be a waste of time, as the map in his book was definitely not an Oak Island treasure map. Nevertheless, Hedden made the trip to England and met with Wilkins in December, 1937, in his London hotel room outside Green Park, Piccadilly. His experience was both strange and discouraging.

Upon meeting Hedden, the English author confessed that the map in his book was, in fact, a diagram of his own devising. His publisher had demanded that he include some sort of authentic-looking treasure map in his book. Hubert Palmer, the owner of the four Captain Kidd maps which Wilkins described in his book, would not allow him to publish photos of his charts, and so Wilkins had no choice but to draw his own treasure map based on his recollection of Palmer’s maps. When his publishers further stipulated that his map contain instructions on how to locate the treasure for added spice, Wilkins fabricated the three lines of directions using nothing more than his imagination.

 

Baffled by the remarkable connection between Wilkins’ ad-libbed treasure hunting instructions and the landmarks on Oak Island, Hedden told the journalist all about the mysterious drilled stones, the stone triangle, the Cave-in Pit, and the oak tree believed to have once stood beside the Money Pit, and the uncanny relationship between these landmarks and the instructions on Wilkins’ map. As Hedden explained the extraordinary coincidence, Wilkins became convinced that he must be the reincarnation of a 17th Century pirate, perhaps even Captain Kidd himself, and that his subconscious mind had conjured up some long-forgotten memory of the map leading to Kidd’s lost treasure, buried on Oak Island. After Wilkins enthusiastically revealed his conviction to Hedden, the latter began to suspect that the journalist was, in his words, “every bit as crazy as his book would make him seem.”

 

Bill Burrud’s Treasure Map

Although many Oak Island enthusiasts today are familiar with the mystifying saga of the Wilkins Map, very few are acquainted with its strange follow-up – a puzzling sequel which will be presented for the first time in this video.

In 1958, a former child actor and WWII veteran named Bill Burrud [BURR-rud] produced a TV series entitled Treasure. This series was essentially a collection of documentaries on buried loot, forgotten gold mines, and lost cities. One of the episodes, incidentally, is on the mystery of Oak Island.

Another episode of Treasure, entitled “Shipwreck of the Dry Tortugas [tor-TOO-guz]”, follows the hunt for a shipwreck located off deserted island located about 90 miles west of Key West, Florida, just beyond a cluster of islands called the Dry Tortugas. The episode opens with a shot of a large treasure map. The viewer may recognize this document as an augmented, coloured replica of the chart from Harold Wilkin’s book Captain Kidd and his Skeleton Island.

In the first few minutes of the program, we are informed that the map was brought to the show’s producer by one of their viewers, a Mr. David Buckner of Key West, Florida, and that it had been in Buckner’s family for generations. The map allegedly shows the location of a French merchant ship which had wrecked off the island in 1883, stranding its valuable cargo on a coral reef.

After introducing us to the map, the show follows the journey of actors Gene McCabe and Lee Hanson, who set out in search of the shipwreck. First, the pair travel to Key West, where they meet with a tanned, rugged-looking skin diver named Ed Soszynski . The treasure hunters show Soszynski their treasure map and tell him the story of the French shipwreck. The skin diver claims to know the island, locating it on his own nautical charts, and agrees to take the treasure hunters to it. With that, the three men climb aboard Soszynski’s boat and head west.

On their way to the shipwreck, the treasure hunters pay a visit to Fort Jefferson, a huge American fortress built in 1825 for the purpose of suppressing piracy in the Caribbean. There, Soszynski tells the treasure hunters that, according to legend, the sole survivor of the French shipwreck had washed ashore at Fort Jefferson clinging to a piece of wreckage. The survivor informed the fort’s garrison that he and his crew were beset by a ferocious gale. Worse, they had been led aground a coral reef by mysterious signal lights which suddenly appeared at the height of the storm. No one knew where the lights came from.

On the advice of Fort Jefferson’s caretaker, the treasure hunters then proceed to Bleaker’s Island, named for a hermit named Vincent Bleaker who lived there in the late 1800s. According to the caretaker, rumour had it that Bleaker would stand in his beach shack during storms and hoist a lantern in the hope that some unfortunate ship would run into the coral reef that fronted his island, leaving its cargo for the taking. Perhaps, the narrator suggests, Bleaker had a hand in the demise of the French ship.

After exploring the deserted island, the trio head towards their final destination. True to his word, Soszynski leads the treasure hunters to a sunken ship entombed in coral. Donning scuba gear, the treasure hunters explore the ship and recover a few interesting artifacts, including a cannonball, an old hatch cover, a swivel gun, a piece of ivory, and some sterling silver tableware. Pleased with their discoveries, the treasure hunters head for Key West as the sun begins to set.

The shipwreck that Gene McCabe, Lee Hanson, and Ed Soszynski explored in this episode of Bill Burrud’s Treasure is undoubtedly real. The legitimacy of the treasure map which ostensibly prompted their treasure hunt, however, is another question entirely. Upon close inspection, the map appears to be artificially weathered, apparently for the purpose of making it older. The map, it seems, is probably a hoax intended for dramatic effect.

Somewhat more puzzling is the fact that the map appears to conform in shape with some unnamed island allegedly located off the Dry Tortugas, as evidenced by the nautical chart produced by Soszynski prior to the treasure hunt. Although the resemblance is probably coincidental, it adds yet another twist to the convoluted tale of the Wilkins Map and the most bizarre chapter in the history of the Oak Island treasure hunt.

Thanks for watching! If you enjoyed this video and would like to help support this channel, check out the Oak Island Encyclopedia, the unauthorized guide to The Curse of Oak Island, which you can find by clicking the link in the description.

 

Sources

  • The Oak Island Mystery (1967), by R.V. Harris
  • The Secret Treasure of Oak Island (2004), by D’Arcy O’Connor
  • Captain Kidd and His Skeleton Island (1935), by Harold T. Wilkins
  • “Mystery of the Pirate’s Chart” in the December 1950 issue of FATE; courtesy of American Fortean researcher Mr. Gary S. Mangiacopra
  • “Shipwreck of the Dry Tortuga” (1958), in Treasure, by Bill Burrud Productions; courtesy of Mr. Gary S. Mangiacopra
  • “On the Treasure Trail of the Wicked Old Pirates,” by Harold T. Wilkins in the February 18, 1940 issue of the San Francisco Examiner; courtesy of Mr. Gary S. Mangiacopra
  • Maps, Mystery, and Interpretation: 1,2,&3 (2013), by G.J. Bath
  • Treasure and Intrigue: The Legacy of Captain Kidd (2002), by Graham Harris
  • The Pirate Hunter: The True Story of Captain Kidd (2002), by Richard Zacks

Lost on the Plains

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 VI: On the March.

Chapter VII

Lost on the Plains

AFTER MEETING THIS party bands of buffalo were often seen, but in small numbers and a long distance off, so we had no chance to kill any for several days after. Some time pre our wood had given out. We had used dry buffalo dung as fuel. This makes a capital fire, but requires considerable quantities to keep it going. We used this for all our cooking during the remainder of the trip, except when we happened to camp near wood, which was seldom. Sundays were not exactly our day of rest, as after church parade in the morning all hands turned to washing clothes, etc., which could not be done on any other day of the week. Most of the water we found was not fit to drink unless boiled, some being salt. However it was the best to be procured, and we had to put up with it. The salt water did the horses much injury and in fact killed many of them.

Aug. 25 we came in sight of the Cypress mountains and camped at a creek of clear cold water with very good feed near it. Some of this hay we cut and carried with us. We camped for several days at the north end of the Cypress hills with plenty of wood and water. Dome deer and antelope were killed. This was the first fresh meat for a long time, and there was not enough of it. We were joined here by Colonel Macleod who had gone back with the best teams for more oats. The horses picked up wonderfully as long as these oats lasted but they were getting into terrible condition. The work of the men was nearly doubled as they had to drive and look after so many exhausted horses. The men had worked splendidly through great and unaccustomed hardships, and well deserved the thanks for their behavior which were issued in general orders on the evening of Aug. 30. In spite of the unusual amount of extra work, with scanty fare very little grumbling was indulged in.

The Cypress hill country was fairly wooded, there being much underbrush loaded with berries of all kinds. It used to be a great country for grizzly bear but although we saw plenty of tracks we did not come across any of the beasts. We crossed the Cypress hills in 1874 not far from what is now the town of Maple Creek, on the Canadian Pacific railroad, but all vestige of game has disappeared years ago. The weather while here was cold, wet and very disagreeable, and more dead horse were left behind.

We had now been out nearly three months and were nearly 700 miles from Dufferin, but we had far to travel yet, and our stock were daily diminishing. What were left were very weak. Our provisions were also getting short, and but for the buffalo we should have been in a bad way. We killed our first buffalo Sept. 1 and a great hunt it was. Nearly every one joined in it. Guns were going off in every direction, and the officers were in the greatest state of excitement. One officer distinguished himself by his headlong chase after an old bull with an unloaded revolver. He had forgotten to load it in the excitement. Away he went alongside the bull, pounding away at it with his revolver slung at the end of a strap, until some one came to his assistance and brought down the game.

We killed four on this first hunt; the robes were carefully taken off and preserved and the meat made a welcome addition to the different messes. From this time on we had no dearth of fresh meat. The further west we went the more plentiful became the buffalo. We came to places where, as far as the eye could reach, thousands and tens of thousands were in sight, the country being fairly black with them. They had eaten the grass very short making food scarce, and all the lakes were polluted by them. These immense bands seemed to be travelling north, but there seemed to be no end of them.

The killing was easy, and many times we killed them from the saddle without going out of the line of march. The robes were not in good condition at this time. It is only in the winter and spring that they are in their prime. The animals shed their coats during the summer season, making the robes useless. It was at this time I shot my first buffalo and cut off the best pieces myself.

One day I was out alone, and my horse got down in a quicksand hole up to his neck, only his head and saddle being in sight. I had to walk several miles in a burning sun to get help to extricate him. That was done by hauling him out bodily with ropes hitched to a team, and he was none the worse for it, serving me for many years afterwards on many a hard ride. By this time our supply of oats was getting very short, the horses being put down to four pounds per head. The country after we left the Cypress hills was hilly, making hard pulling especially with the guns. Twelve horses were often hitched to them, with as many men as could lay hold, to help them up the hills.

September 6 we camped on the South Saskatchewan river, our guide telling us that the Bow river entered into it only 12 miles above where we first struck it. We very shortly found that he knew nothing whatever about the locality, going only on hearsay, never having been in that section before. We travelled from here up the river, but keeping out from it a considerable distance to avoid the deep coulees that sometimes ran back several miles from the river. We found the feed very light and the water scarce. We had a slight snowstorm on Sept. 9, which killed many horses. As we were travelling through sand hills there was little or no feed. We camped at the mouth of the Bow river which runs into the South Saskatchewan at this point. Our guides were completely at a loss, not knowing up which river Fort Whoopup lay, and really not being sure which of the two rivers was the Bow and which the Belly. The South Saskatchewan receives the name of the Belly river after the junction of the Bow. Whoopup in reality lies about 120 miles up the Belly river from the point where we were then camped, at the mouth of the Belly and St. Mary’s rivers. But we were utterly ignorant of this fact. Had we known, it would have saved us going round some 200 miles or more. It was decided that I should proceed up the Bow river on the south side, taking with me three halfbreeds, with only our ponies and sufficient rations to last us three days. We were to go up the river as far as we could to see if any signs of settlement or any white men could be met with. Another officer, Captain Welsh, was to proceed up the Belly river for the same purpose.

One troop was to be detached here under command of Major Walsh to proceed north to Edmonton, but this order was afterwards cancelled, and a good thing it was, as he could never, with the horses in such condition and the season so late, have reached that point. It lies nearly 200 miles north, with a swampy country to go through.

I started up the Bow river Sept. 12 with the three halfbreeds. We had a tough little halfbreed pony apiece. We had our three days’ rations and one blanket each. We made 40 miles that day and saw nothing but thousands of buffalo. We were in a heavy storm of sleet during the night, and had no sleep as the buffalo stampeded our horses, and after we recovered them we had to watch them until morning.

We made a start at daylight, without breakfast. We killed a buffalo during the morning and cut off the best pieces, which we cooked for breakfast on striking a small creek with timber, some distance ahead. On that day about noon while riding along the river, we saw two Indians on foot coming from the prairie, and making for a deep gully running out from the river. We tried to cut them off to get into communication with them, but they got down into the gully before we could get near them. We rode towards the gully and when within about 100 yards of it, up sprang about 50 Indians, all armed, and pointing their rifles at us. We kept our rifles ready and kept on the move round, making signs to them. There was no fear of them being able to catch us, as they were on foot and there were no horses in sight. The halfbreeds spoke to them, but could not understand what they said. They lay down behind the bank, with just their heads and the muzzles of their guns in sight. They did not fire, and showed no signs of hostility. One man stood up and went through a pantomime of signs which the halfbreeds could not understand. The latter were thoroughly scared, and insisted on riding off, as they said they were Sioux Indians, and would kill us if they got a chance. The Indians were uncertain what to do, not knowing but that another party might be behind us. One Indian waved a scalp at us. They were evidently a war party on some expedition. I much wished to get near and into communication with them, but on the halfbreeds riding off and leaving me alone, there was nothing for it but to follow. It took me hard riding to catch up with them, as they were on the back track, making for camp. It took me a long time to persuade them to turn back and resume the journey up the river, which we eventually did, making a wide detour around the gully in which the Indians lay. We found out afterwards that this was a party of Assiniboia Indians out on foot on the war path. They had been up the Bow river over 100 miles from the point where we met them, and had attacked a party of white men who were camped on the river with two or three wagon loads of goods, trading with the Blackfeet. They attacked this party at night, stole all their horses, killed one man, captured and burned the wagons and destroyed what goods they could not take with them.

A. La Chapelle, one of this party, is still in business in this country. It was a good thing indeed for us that they were undecided what to do. They no doubt were at a loss to know what kind of a party we were. My red coat must have puzzled them considerably. After this we travelled at night, as we thought the Indians might follow us, which indeed they did. On our return we found their tracks, they having followed us a considerable distance. We travelled about 40 miles farther up the river, having gone altogether about 90 miles from camp. No sign of any trail or habitation was seen, and we might have gone 100 miles further before we should have met with any. This of course we found out afterwards.

There was no timber on the river as far as we went, and the country was broken and hilly. We saw a fine sight here- some thousands of buffalo swimming across the Bow river, which is at this point a considerable stream and very swift. Our rations had given out and we killed buffalo for food. We returned to camp the third day, on our return journey travelling mostly at night and resting part of the day. We had made a hard and long ride of at least 60 miles a day. The Indian ponies we rode were wonderfully tough and enduring. The last night thousands of buffalo passed us on a stampede going south; their tread fairly shook the ground, and a lucky thing it was for us that we were not in their road. On our arrival in camp we found that Welsh had returned from his trip up Belly river, without seeing any signs of white men or settlement. Had he gone 50 miles further up, or 100, he would have struck camps of traders. This, of course, we did not know at that time.

It was now decided to travel south to the Sweet Grass hills, or Three Buttes, which we could see in the distance, about 80 miles off. We would remain in camp there, whole the commissioner and assistance commissioner proceeded south to Ft. Benton, Montana, about 100 miles from the Sweet Grass, to communicate with Ottawa and to procure provisions and information. We therefore left Belly river Sept. 15, arriving on Milk River, just north of the West Butte, Sept. 18, after a most dismal journey, many horses being scattered all along the trail, unable to travel for want of food. We had one or two snow storms on the road and the weather was cold. On Milk river we had good feed and water. We crossed this stream and camped at the foot of West Butte, near the site of an old boundary survey camp. The boundary line was only half a mile south of us. There was a great scramble for some provisions left in this camp, and one mess was the lucky possessor of a gallon of molasses, a spoonful of which you could not purchase for a fortune, and they were looked upon with envious eyes.

We found some very good coal on Milk river, and signs of iron were very abundant. No doubt some day they will be developed as there is lots of coal there for smelting purposes. At this place it was decided that D and E troops, with Colonel French, should return east. They wintered near Fort Pelly, on the North Swan river, and Swan River barracks was the name given to the place. They were to pick up the wagons and horses left on the road, on their return. We said goodbye to them, and they started on their return journey Sept. 21. Colonel French, after leaving Benton, caught them some distance to the eastward.

The remaining three troops, C, B and F, were to remain at the Sweet Grass hills until the return of Colonel Macleod, who would take command of that force, and we should then proceed northwest to do the work we originally came for. Colonel French and Colonel Macleod proceeded to Ft. Benton Sept. 22, leaving us in camp with good feed and water, with Captain Winder in command.

Continued in Chapter 8- Among the Whisky Traders.

On the March (NWMP)

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 V: Off for the West.

Chapter VI

On the March

JULY 9 WE resumed our march, but did not start until well into the afternoon. During the night, in a heavy storm, about 50 head of cattle strayed off and 20 head of horses stampeded. These were, however, recovered the next morning, and it was not until late at night that the carts all got in, the half breeds being in the sulks. We had to send three wagons back to Dufferin, as we had not horses enough to draw them. They contained luxuries which the commissioner thought could be spared. One of our officers let us here and returned east and did not rejoin the force. We travelled for some distance along the Pembina river, and were all sorry to leave. We did not expect too much water on the plains, and the weather being hot, a bath now and then after a hard day’s march was delightful. We were kept on the lookout for several days by reports coming in of depredations committed by Sioux Indians across the line, not far from us. Mounted sentries were placed at night over the horses. Good water was scarce after the first few days, and both men and horses suffered considerably for want of it. Our rations also, without tea, were not of the most dainty kind. Hardly a night passed without a heavy thunder storm. This country seemed to be the home of those kinds of storms, which we experienced almost every day.

We travelled for a considerable distance along the boundary survey road, which made the marching comparatively easy. At Pembina mountain, which is a beautiful spot, we remained a short time. Here we met with the first locusts, the air being literally alive with them. A tremendous hail storm struck us here, with hail stones as large as pigeon eggs, causing another stampede of the horses. They were all recovered.

On July 13 we camped at Calf mountain. Here hay was cut for the horses with the mowing machine we had with us, it not being deemed safe to turn the horses out to herd. Pembina mountain was a hard pull to cross, pretty well tiring out the horses. What made matters worse, we had to camp that night without water. The locusts were as thick as ever, and the mosquitoes nearly ate us up. Our travelling had been so far at the rate of about 20 miles a day, which was quite enough, as the horses suffered considerably.

The only game seen had been a few antelope, none of which we could get near. We saw the first buffalo skulls west of Pembina mountain, but many hundred miles would have to be travelled before we came across the living animals. At Pembina mountain a party of halfbreeds selected by the governor of Manitoba joined us. They brought presents for Indian chiefs and were supposed to assist the force as interpreters and guides, but they knew little or nothing of the country after getting beyond the Cypress hills. The only Indian language they could speak was Cree, which was of no use to us. We did not go near the Cree country, which lies along the North Saskatchewan river, several hundred miles to the north. We met a party of the boundary survey going east for supplies. They reported having fired at some Indians who were trying to run off with their horses. From this point our rations were cut down. It was seen by our slow progress that the journey would be longer than anticipated, and unless we were very careful our supplies would give out before we got through. July 17 the horses began to give out and the wagons were strewn all along the road. They did not all arrive in camp until ten o’clock at night. We had no water frequently for man or beast, making it much harder on all of us. No doubt so many dry camps were due to the ignorance of the guides, on whom we had to place all dependence, knowing nothing about the geography of the country ourselves. July 18 I was on rear guard, and a day I had of it! Some 20 sick horses, and 15 or 20 horse and ox teams had to be gotten along. I had to camp out that night without shelter or food, being unable to bring them into camp, and in a pouring rain, which came pretty hard on all of us.

I caught up with the main body the next day, when we made the Souris river, at which place we had a welcome rest of several days. This made us forget the last few days of wet and hunger which we had experienced in making the 200 miles from Dufferin to that point. The two days we remained at this point did us all much good. We had a good rest and clean up, and overhauled the baggage, which had been well soaked. It is a beautiful spot and we should have liked to have remained much longer. At that time there were no settlements on the Souris river, but it is today thickly populated with thriving towns and farms. It is splendid wheat growing country. We had to leave some sick horses behind at that point, they being unable to keep up.

At the second crossing of the Souris we met some more of the boundary survey party returning, having completed their work. The feed here was scant. Our horses suffered considerably, and we had to abandon some more of them. We passed the hill of the murdered scout on July 23. The story goes that an Indian scout had been murdered by one of his tribe. The stone with which it was done is said to be still on the top of the hill. We reached Roche Percee July 24. The horses being nearly played out from fatigue and want of food and water, many of them laying down by the roadside, and the rest were hardly able to drag along. This looked ominous for our success, as our journey had only begun. Many hundred miles had still to be travelled, and the stock was already in bad condition. The eastern horses failed rapidly on prairie grass. Rations had been cut down, being barely sufficient to keep us going with the hard work we had to do. At Roche Percee we made a long halt, and at this point a troop, under command of Lieutenant Colonel Jarvis, left us, going north via Ft. Ellis, Ft. Pitt and Carleton to Edmonton, on the North Saskatchewan river. That was the point at which they were to be stationed. Fifty men went with him and over half of our wagons were sent by him to Ft. Ellis. This troop had a long and hard trip before they reached Ft. Edmonton. They remained that winter in the Hudson’s Bay company’s fort at that place. We did not hear from them again that year, and no communication was had with them until the following spring. They were, however, within easier reach of communication with the east, as there was regular mail communication between Edmonton and Winnipeg, via Ft. Pitt and Carleton, run by the Hudson’s Bay company. They took with them most of our sick horses, thereby relieving us of that encumbrance.

While resting at Roche Percee we had time to get our transport into pretty good shape. We found an abundance of coal, which was used in our portable forges. Roche Percee is a beautiful spot, with plenty of good feed and water. We also laid in a considerable supply of wood, which we did not expect to get for a long time. A week’s rations were cooked in advance, so by July 30 we were ready to start west again, with a diminished force of both men, horses and wagons. We made 26 miles July 31 and still found good feed and water. The weather had turned cold and the horses did fairly well. We were making pretty long day’s journeys, being up at daybreak. The camp was struck and ready to move by five o’clock. The guard duty was heavy. One officer, a picket, and a camp guard of some 15 men were detailed every night, and the officer on duty the whole night generally had to take either the advance or rear guard the next day. We therefore found we had enough to do, especially as when on rear guard we had to bring up the stragglers and teams that were exhausted, often not arriving in camp for many hours after the camp had been pitched and settled down.

We had so far seen no game except a few antelope, but birds were abundant. We killed large numbers of ducks of all kinds. The country through which we were passing was full of lakes, and this kind of game was very plentiful. Several of the men got lost while duck hunting, and in one instance, although rockets were fired at night to guide them to camp, were not found until the following day. They had quite enough. Aug. 3 we had a bad night, tents being blown down by a tornado. We had to stand by the horses until morning.

We had lived on bacon so far, and on August 4 we went into camp and our assistant commissioner, Lieutenant-Colonel Macleod, with several wagons, left us to go south some 40 miles to a small halfbreed and trading settlement named Wood mountain, to procure pemmican and if possible more forage for the horses. He was to meet us some days’ journey farther west. At this point we left the boundary survey road which we had followed, and struck out across the open prairie, travelling principally by compass. On August 6 we crossed a high wooded country, laying in a stock of wood. Here we saw our first prairie fire, the country for miles round being ablaze. The feed was becoming very scare and the horses were giving out and dying daily. We had lost over 10 head since leaving Dufferin, and our line of march was sometimes stretched over many miles. We had so far come across no Indians, although we were coming to the country in which they might be looked for. The guns were giving us a good deal of trouble, as at this point they had to be left miles behind, the horses being unable to draw them up the hill. More teams had to be sent back to bring them up. The first death occurred here, a man of E troop dying from fever brought on by wet and exposure.

Aug. 8 we sighted the first buffalo in the distance, but did not get near them. On that day I had charge of the rear guard. Many teams and oxen had given out. I remember what a beautiful view there was from the top of a high hill to which I had ridden. The Old Wives lakes were in the distance, and as far as the eye could reach was a boundless prairie, partly burnt. Our party was moving along in the distance, and a few buffalo could be seen near the lakes. I had to send forward for rations, as I was two days in bringing in the party. A miserable looking lot they were. We remained several days at the Old Wives lakes. The water is slightly salt, and abounds with ducks, geese, and pelicans. We killed large numbers, which made a welcome addition to our mess. Lieutenant Colonel Macleod arrived while we were here, and brought a good supply of dried buffalo meat and pemmican with him. He left again at once for the same place for a further supply of oats, which we could not do without, as the horses were dying every day. At that rate we should soon have none left to take us through. Aug. 12 we met the first Indian camp on the plains. They were a party of Sioux returning from hunting buffalo further west. They were a very dirty looking lot, and did not give us a high opinion of western Indians.

We were over 500 miles from Dufferin, and pretty well out on the plains. We had met no white men since leaving the Souris river, and probably would not meet any for a long time to come. The grass was getting very short and dried out and we had to send a day ahead to find pasturage and water, a party being sent back to guide us to it. Aug. 15 a white man came in alone, saying he was a scout and had come up from Ft. Benton, Montana. He undertook to guide us to our destination, and was engaged as guide, but he afterwards proved to be as big a fraud as the rest of them. He told us many startling stories of the Blackfeet in the west being on the warpath, and the lawlessness and strength of the whisky traders at Fort Whoopup and other places.

Colonel Macleod came in on August 15, bringing a good supply of oats, which arrived just in time to save a general break-up of all our horses, which would have left us, as they in the west, afoot. Colonel Herchmer, of the boundary survey, came in with him t pay us a visit. Their camp was not more than 40 miles to the south of us. Aug. 19 we struck a good camp for feed and water, where we left a detachment of men in charge of a sergeant, with all our sick and played out horses. We also left a considerable supply of provisions, as it was intended that two troops would not remain in the west over winter, but return after the work of putting down the whisky traders was done. They could pick up these men and horses on their return.

Our rations were now pretty short, our allowance of bread bing not much over half a pound a day. It was looked upon as worth its weight in gold. Sugar we had been cut off from for some time. Many a fight occurred over a piece of bread, as each in the mess had his slice issued and the distribution was watched with jealous eyes. Many a good laugh we have had since over the rows we used to start over the rations, but it was a serious matter with us then.

Aug. 21. We met the first party of halfbreed hunters, who had been out from Winnipeg after buffalo and were well loaded with pemmican and buffalo robes. A Catholic priest was with them. They had their families, and had been as far west as the Cypress hills. They had left Winnipeg in the early spring and had been out all summer. Their transport was mostly carts, drawn by small Indian ponies. They reported no feed between us and the Cypress hills, the country being all eaten off by buffalo.

These parties of halfbreeds started in those days every spring to go west to hunt the buffalo. They killed enormous numbers, as it took several animals to make one sack of pemmican, weighting about 150 pounds. Only the choicest parts were used. The rest was left lying on the prairie. A hundred or more animals would be killed in one hunt by a small party of hunters and the waste was enormous. They lived a happy life, camping out all summer, with plenty of game, and returning in the fall well loaded with pemmican and robes, from the sale of which they were provided for the winter and had enough over to give them a good start again in the spring. Their guns were primitive, being nearly altogether flint-lock muskets purchased from the Hudson’s Bay company, repeating and breach-loading guns being rarely seen among them. They were good shots and often came into collision with the Blackfeet and other Indians, who used to camp around the Cypress hill country to hunt. Many of them were killed, but they generally had the best of it, and they were active in running off bands of Indian horses in retaliation for thefts committed by the Indians.

Continued in Lost on the Plains.

Continue Reading

Off for the West (NWMP)

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 IV: Organization of the Force.

Chapter V

Off for the West

WE LEFT TORONTO by two special trains for St. Paul, June 6, 1874. We carried 300 men, 350 horses, baggage, camp equipage, and transport. Our quarters during the journey were rather cramped, particularly as regards sleeping. We had to sleep on the train, travelling both day and night. The horses were taken off three times a day for food and water, which delayed us considerably. On these stops we took meals at the different stations, arrangements having been made beforehand, so that everything was ready on our arrival. Several occasions our number taxed the accommodation at many of the stations. However, we did fairly well and no pains were spared to give us the best they had.

We arrived in Chicago June 7, and put up at the stock yards, unloading our horses and keeping them in pens during the night. A strong picket of two officers and 30 men was established over the stock. We had a heavy thunder storm that night which made it very unpleasant on duty. The men were thoroughly soaked and tired out by morning. It was difficult to procure provisions for so many men, the stock yards being some distance from the city, and hotels at that time being few in that vicinity.

The men slept in the cars sand were glad enough to get away on the evening of June 8. We had no time to see the town, but were kept busy nearly all day reloading the horses, and getting all settled for another start. Everything so far had gone well, no accident having happened since we left Toronto. Our run to St. Paul was made by the noon of June 10. It was a continuous rain from our arrival at St. Paul until we left. Few of us owned such a thing as a waterproof, our uniforms being packed away, the men travelling in plain clothes. We had to march all the horses from the station into the town, a considerable distance. We took up all the empty stables to be found in St. Paul, which was at that time a small place. We had rather more time to stretch ourselves there than we had in Chicago, as the officers put up at a good hotel, the Metropolitan, and the men at the Merchants. The dealers in plain clothing made a good thing out of it, as we bought up all the waterproof and other overcoats in town. This break in the journey was appreciated by all after being so long cramped up in uncomfortable railway carriages.

        We left St. Paul for Moorhead, about 400 miles distance, in Dakota, June 11, in a pouring rain, and a dismal outlook It was. We arrived at Fargo, the station near Moorhead, in the afternoon of June 12, in very pleasant weather. This place then consisted of the station, a few small stores, and an hotel. It is now a thriving town of several thousand inhabitants. This point was the end of our railway journey, and the beginning of our march across the plains to Fort Dufferin, in Manitoba.

We unloaded everything and went into camp, pitching our tents for the first time. All of June 13 and 14 was taken up unloading, putting together the wagons, twenty in all, and loading them with goods. They were distributed among the three troops, D troop being the strongest in horses, getting 30, and E and F 20 each. The job was a long one, as the quantity of the baggage and other freight making a tight squeeze in the 70 wagons. Much of the stuff we had brought would have to be left behind at Dufferin, and we should have a hundred or more carts at that place to lighten the balance. We worked at this until midnight. I remember I had the guard of some 20 men in charge that night. This was the first real duty on the plains.

We finished loading June 14, and numbered the horses that day. We lost four which got away from the picket and were never recovered. D and E troops pulled out that day and camped on the prairie some five miles away. My troop, F, remained until evening to finish the work that was left. We then struck camp and joined the remainder that night, being ready to start across the plains the next morning for Fort Dufferin, 180 miles from Moorhead, and 60 miles from Winnipeg.

On June 15 we started for Fort Dufferin, 180 miles distant, with horses in prime condition. The wagons were too heavily loaded. We travelled in troops, D in advance with an advance guard, and F in the rear, supplying the rear guard. We made 36 miles the first day and camped on the bank of the Red river. This first day’s trip was much too far. In fact, was the seeds of disease, and the cause of so many of our horses dying and giving out on the after journey, is to be attributed to the long marches we made between Moorhead and Dufferin. We enjoyed a refreshing bath in the Red river. The day, though fine, had been very hot, and the mosquitoes were thick. On June 16 we again made a long journey of 34 miles, and both men and horses were pretty well played out, not being used to the hard travelling. One of our horses in F died during the day from fatigue. The following day we made 30 miles. The day was hot and we were beginning to get a little hardened. Our provisions were scanty, as our supper that night consisted of hard biscuits and tea. This was not very satisfying fare after a hard day’s march. We made 35 miles the following day and another horse died. We saw the first Indian camp, of Sioux, which of course was quite a curiosity to us.

June 19 we made Pembina, an American military post on the frontier between Dakota and Manitoba. That place has since become a thriving town. The American officers were very hospitable.

We crossed over into Manitoba and reached Fort Dufferin a very small settlement, on the afternoon of June 19. Here we met B and C troops that had arrived the day before from Winnipeg, where they had been stationed since the previous year. We very very glad to turn in after corralling the horses and pitching our tents. We lost three horses during the day, and the rest were pretty well done up. The next few days were taken up by making acquaintance with the officers of the two Winnipeg troops, unloading and reloading the wagons for our 1,000 miles journey across the plains, dividing the horses and wagons between the six troops, transferring men, branding horses, and getting generally ready for our march.

On the night of June 21 one of the most terrible thunderstorms I have ever experienced, struck our camp, blowing down all the tents. What was worse, at the height of the storm, when the camp was in confusion, and the darkness so great that you could not see your hand before you, 200 of our horses that were picketed in a board corral near the camp, stampeded right through the camp. They upset men and anything that came in their way. Several men were severely injured, and we were in complete confusion. Many men started after the herd, but the darkness was so great that they soon returned without finding a trace of them. We had to pass the night in the open, in a drenching rain, soaked through and through and utterly miserable. This seemed rather a gloomy beginning, but when the next day opened, warm and bright, we dried our clothes, repitched the camp and were soon cheerful again. Sixty men were sent after the horses, and it was some days before the majority of them were recovered. Some 25 were never seen again, a few were found dead, and those brought in were much pulled down. We had several more bad storms while in Dufferin, but kept our horses hobbled and well guarded, and had no more stampedes.

Colonel French proceeded to Winnipeg and purchased more horses, and a week or more was taken up in getting everything together, numbering and dividing horses, and getting all six troops into shape.

The troops were numbered from A to F and composed of an inspector and two sub-inspectors. This rank has since been changed, an inspector now being superintendent, and a sub-inspectors, an inspector. Fifty men was the strength of each troop, the horses and transport being equally divided. The two nine-pound guns were in charge of D troop an inspector, Captain Jackson, being in command of the gun detachment.

The horses had to be shod and much other work done before we could get off. Several parades were held and much drilling done. Whisky was plentiful and some of our worst characters were discharged from the force while here for drunkenness and other offences. The weather was unsettled during our stay, frequent storms making it hard on the men to get through the work. There was, in consequence, considerable grumbling.

While here the men and officers received their first pay, including a fair allowance for travelling expenses, since we left Toronto. This was the last pay any of us received for nearly a year. On our arrival in the west it was a time before we had matters arranged and direct communication was opened with the authorities in Ottawa. Some six or seven men deserted while we remained here, which rid us no doubt of some useless characters.

Our allowance of baggage over and above the kit was 50 pounds to each officer and 10 pounds per man. One hundred and twenty-five ox carts were engaged, with some 30 halfbreeds to drive them. By July 6 we had all in order to start, when news was received that a large band of Sioux Indians had attacked and murdered a large number of settlers at St. Joe, a small town near the line in Dakota. The officer commanding the American troops in that vicinity sent word to Colonel French, asking his cooperation to cut off these Indians, should they cross the line. Five of our troops, consisting of 250 men, started out, armed and mounted, for the point where it was supposed the Indians might cross. They returned the next day without seeing any signs of the Indians. This put us back a couple of days, and our last night brought us another tremendous thunder storm, but it did no damage. We, however, started on our westward journey on July 8, 1874, with 300 men and officers, 340 odd horses, 70 wagons, and 125 ox carts, driven by 25 half breeds. We were loaded with a six months’ supply of tea, sugar, flour, biscuit, and bacon, together with baggage, ammunition and forage. We left considerable baggage behind that we did not have transport for. Much of this was never seen again. We lost some 20 men altogether by desertion while at Dufferin, and about 20 horses, lost and dead, but the force was in good shape when we started, and in good spirits.

We made some 25 miles the first day, and camped on Murray river the first night. This was our real start for the west, which we had all been looking forward to since the first organization of the force.

Continued in On the March.

Organization of the Force (NWMP)

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 III – Cypress Hills Massacre.

 

Chapter IV

Organization of the Force

IN THE YEAR 1873 the Canadian government determined to organize a force of mounted men for service in Manitoba and the North West Territories. Three troops of this force, called the North West Mounted Police, were organized late in that year. The men were enlisted in Canada, and consisted as far as possible of strong young men, lumbermen and farmers being preferred.

The troops were supposed to be 50 strong, with the pay of the sub-constables at 90c per diem, rations and uniform being provided. The constables or sergeant’s pay was also good, being from $1 to $1.25 per day. Applications by men wishing to enlist came from all parts, as the pay was exceptionally high, and there was the very best material to pick from. In consequence the men enlisted were the best to be found in Canada, and would more than compare favorably with any corps. The officers, of which there were three to a troop, an inspector and two sub-inspectors were for the most part men who had for several years held commissions in different militia corps in Canada. A few were old countrymen with not much knowledge of military work.

The uniform of this force consisted of ordinary cavalry riding breeches with scarlet stripes, afterwards changed to yellow, the full dress being trousers of the same style; red tunics and white helmets, or forage caps, for full dress. A leather belt and ammunition and revolver pouches on the sides; cavalry boots and spurs; a Snider carbine, which, when mounted, was carried in a carbine bucket at the side of the saddle; white leather gauntlets, cavalry cloak and cape, completing a comfortable, serviceable and neat looking uniform.

It was the intention of the government to make this force 300 strong, consisting of six troops from A to F, of 50 men each, but as it was considered necessary to send some men at once to Manitoba on account of the expected halfbreed trouble, only two troops were organized in 1873. These were dispatched to Winnipeg, on the Red river, in the summer of that year.

No horses for these two troops were purchased in eastern Canada it being expected that the animals necessary could be got on arrival in Manitoba. It was not intended these two troops should be sent west in to the North West Territories until the complete organization of the force, the following year. As they went by the lakes to Winnipeg the horses and transport were not contracted for and forwarded until the spring of 1874.

The senior officer and in command of these troops was Lt.-Col. Jarvis, who formerly served in an English regiment, and for many years had been lieutenant colonel of militia in Canada. Lt.-Col. Macleod, the second in command, although a Scotchman, had resided for many years in Canada and had been on the Red River expedition under Sir Garnet Wolseley as brigade major and had received the cross of St. Michael and St. George for his services. This officer at the time of the organization of the force was in England, and was recalled by cable to take the position of inspector to the portion of the force about to proceed to Manitoba.

The commissioner, or head of the force, Lt.-Col. French by his rank in the militia of Canada, was an imperial officer of the Royal artillery, being loaned to Canada, as the term then was, to take command of the School of Gunnery at Kingston.

Lt.-Col. French had an active part in the organization of these two troops but did not accompany them to Winnipeg, although he went up shortly afterwards. Until his arrival the two troops were under command of Lt.-Col. Osborne Smith, then military commander of Manitoba, but not connected with the North West Mounted Police.

It will thus be seen that the first detachment sent to Manitoba was more particularly for service during the winter of 1873-74 in Manitoba with the ultimate view of increasing the force to the desired number of 300 and then march westward into the North West Territories in the following year.

The third officer in command of C. troop was Capt. W. Winder, also an officer of Canadian militia and he also formed one of the expedition of 1873. Besides these officers, who commanded the three troops, there were four sub-inspectors, the full complement of six not having been made up. These officers were Captains Brisboin, Thurtcliff, Crozier and Young, all being officers of the militia in Canada.

The journey made by these three troops was tedious and arduous, as they went by way of the lakes. Many portage or transfers of all baggage from one point to another had to be made, but the men behaved well and showed that they had the right stuff in them.

         On their arrival at Winnipeg, at that time a small town of a few thousand inhabitants, they took possession of the Stone fort, which was built by the Hudson’s Bay company many years previously. It had been occupied at different times by the Hudson’s Bay Company and by a portion of the troops that came up in the first expedition. The winter spent by the men and officers of these troops was a pleasant one. As with the exception of a few expeditions in the environs of Winnipeg, owing to false rumors of half breed depredation, nothing arose to justify the idea of trouble originally entertained by the government from that source. The time was well spent in drilling the men on foot and horseback and in firing practice. Much had to be done in the way of gaining all the information possible regarding the territory west of Manitoba and in devising the best mode of transport for that long march through an almost unknown country. Transports by carts had to be prepared, guides engaged and march preliminary work done.

The time was beguiled by entertainments of all kinds, from dog sleighing to learning the intricacies of the Red river jig with the dark eyed maidens of Manitoba. The officers of the provincial battalion stationed at Winnipeg under command of Lieutenant Colonel Smith showed the greatest courtesy toward those of the police. No doubt there must have been some envy on their part for the lucky fellows who would the next summer make the journey westward across those unknown plains lying between Manitoba and the Rocky mountains. Some disgust must have been felt at their bad luck at having to remain in such an uninteresting place as Winnipeg. In after years, however, many must have congratulated themselves that they had to remain, for on the rapid increase of the population of Winnipeg, and the advance in the value of real estate, many of those officers and men must have made tidy fortunes as there were but few who did not own land either in or near Winnipeg.

These two troops of North West Mounted Police were therefore the first portion of that force to enter Manitoba. They remained there until joined in the following spring by the men and horses that made up the full complement of 300, as originally intended by the Canadian government.

         It was difficult to find fit guides to the far west. Although most of the half breeds in Winnipeg had been every summer on the plains after buffalo, they never went west of the Cypress mountains, which lie about 400 miles west of Winnipeg, and the points to which the mounted police were intended to go, lay at least 200 miles west of that point. However some halfbreeds were engaged who pretended to know the country as far west as the Rocky mountains and a large number of Red river carts, drawn by oxen, were also engaged to carry extra supplies and baggage.

The boundary line between the United States and the North West Territories was being run on the 49th parallel of latitude, by a large survey party of both American and Canadian engineers, who, as they travelled west, left a plain and broad trail behind them. The instructions of the Canadian government were to the effect that the police should not take this trail, but travel a considerable distance to the north, through country without roads or trails of any sort, so that good guides were indispensable. The boundary surveyors in the spring of 1874, when the police started on their westward journey had nearly finished their survey. Long before our arrival in the west they had completed the line to the boundary between British Columbia and the North West Territories.

In the spring of 1874 the remainder of the force was organized in Canada, amounting to some 200 men. Supplies were purchased together with over 350 head of horses of a very good class, for team and saddle. These horses were picked, and large prices paid for them, an average of $125 each. A large number of wagons were also purchased. They were supposed to carry not over 3,000 pounds each. Tents and other camping materials of the best were procured and two nine-pounder rifled guns sent from England, with suitable ammunition, were taken along. These guns might have been left behind, as it turned out that their services were never required.

The headquarters of the new force was in Toronto, at the old fort, which had been used in previous years by whatever Imperial regiment was stationed at that place at the time. The barracks were good, with stables, parade ground and officers quarters.

Our time was occupied from the spring until June 6, on which day we left Toronto, in drilling the men, in both mounted and foot drill and firing practice, also in enlisting men. There were large numbers to pick from, of all nationalities and standing in society. Many young Englishmen of good family enlisted. The examination was of the strictest. Only those of the very best physique were taken, and a fair education was required. Our regimental sergeant major was an old Imperial officer, having held a captain’s commission in one of the Hussar regiments. There were also a considerable number of old army men among us, who had seen considerable service. The 200 men were of the best possible stamp for the work before them. The officers had for the most part belonged to the Canadian militia and were all enthusiastic over the journey before them into the almost unknown country.

The commissioner or commander of the force was Lieutenant Colonel French, of the Royal artillery. His brother also held a commission as inspector. He was an old Irish militia officer. Many an evening did we spend in our mess room, listening to what information the commissioner could give us as to the country we were going to and what work we should find cut out for us when we arrived there.

It was understood that very little personal baggage was to be taken along, as the transport was limited and it would take nearly all of it to convey provisions and forage. It is curious today to remember what a vague idea we really had of the journey before us, and of the country westward along the mountains. I doubt if any expedition of such importance ever before undertook a 700-mile journey across vast plains without competent guides, believing that at the end of it, they would have to subdue lawless bands of desperadoes, with such complete faith in themselves and such utter ignorance of what they were undertaking.

Our stay in Toronto was taken up with hard work. For not only were most of the men to be drilled, but many of the officers, and in the three months we were at it, much progress was made. When we left we were a fairly organized force.

The people all over Canada took the greatest interest in our organization and success of the expedition and many were the good wishes and kindnesses we received. The journey all through was watched by almost everyone in Canada and many in England, and the greatest anxiety was manifested as to our fate, when many months passed after our departure, without word of any kind being received from us.

The spring had been spent in organizing the force and it was necessary to make as early a start as possible. We had to meet near Winnipeg that portion of the force which had been the previous winter stationed at that point and a considerable delay was expected to complete the organization with them. We had to distribute to them their share of the horses and transport and fitting up those troops with their proper complement of men. As it was form that point the real start was to be made, much information would have to be secured as to the best route to take and guides to be engaged. We were to go by rail via St. Paul, Minn., and from there by rail to Fargo, N.D. From there we should put our transports together and journey overland by permission of the United States government to Ft. Dufferin, about 180 miles distant, in Manitoba.

After much delay the department officials had completed the purchase of the remaining supplies. Lieutenant Colonel Richardson, of the department of justice, under which the police force then was, being a civil one, although guided in military matters by the Queen’s regulations, arrived from Ottawa before our departure and had a last conference with the commissioner. He also conveyed the last instructions from the Dominion government. We were ready to load our transport horses and baggage on Friday, June 5, 1874, in two special trains that were to take us through without change via Chicago and St. Paul to Fargo, in Dakota. This was all finished after the hardest kind of work. Both men and officers had their hearts in the work and it was finished in good style and in a very short time considering the loading. The horses gave use the hardest work. It is no small job to load 350 horses, in find condition and unused to railroad travelling. Lieutenant Colonel Richardson was present and many were the useful hints he gave us.

We were from the start to the finish the objects of the greatest interest to the public, being surrounded from morning to night with crowds of people, ever ready to assist us. There was nothing they would not and did not do for us. However by the morning of June 6 we were ready to start and many were the adieus spoken and kind wishes given and presents forced upon the men. We left about mid-day, amid the blast of bands, explosions of torpedoes, and encouraging cheers.

Our journey I will leave to be described in another chapter.

Continued in Off for the West.