AuthorHammerson Peters

HomeArticles Posted by Hammerson Peters (Page 6)

Indian Medicine Dance

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 XVII- Winter in Calgary, 1877.


Chapter XVIII

Indian Medicine Dance

THE TRADE OF WHISKY to the Indians had by this time pretty well stopped, although occasional instances there were of it being traded in the camps. But the quantity of whisky brought into the country was still large, as a great deal was sold to the police and other whites in the country. The very poorest quality, costing in Benton about $4 per gallon, would readily sell at Macleod or any of the other settlements for even as high as $10 per bottle. A very large quantity was sold, and although the penalty was most severe, the fine ranging as high as $300 for the third offence, the profits were sufficient to keep the trade in full swing, and all chances of capture were taken in bringing the liquor in.

All through the years of prohibition in the Territories it was found impossible to totally stamp out the liquor trade, and it could always be procured at a high price at any of the small towns or settlements in spite of the constant patrolling along the line, and the close watch kept on all suspected whisky traders. Many, of course, were caught, and fined or imprisoned, but the profits were so enormous that the fines would generally be paid, the trader nearly always remaining in the business. At Fort Macleod in the old days, the vilest compounds were sold, Jamaica ginger being a favorite. It sold at $1 for a six ounce bottle, and was composed of alcohol and a few drops of extract of ginger. The men who sold these compounds made plenty of money, but it was easy come and easy go, as all of them were gamblers, and as gambling was rife at all the posts, this ill-gotten money quickly changed hands. Liquor permits were granted in those days by the lieutenant-governor, but applications had to be recommended, and then only two and a half gallons were granted, supposed to be for medical purposes.

These permits were much abused, being transferred indiscriminately. Men detected with hundreds of gallons of liquor in their possession had permits to cover it all, and therefore it could not be touched, although the permits may have been for several different individuals.

In the years 1877 and 1878 many of the men in the force took their discharge, the term of service being at that time three years. It was changed a few years afterwards to five, which it now is. Many of these time-expired men took their discharge in the country, and either worked out for wages, or took up farms of their own, and bought a few head of cattle and horses. Most of them settled in the vicinity of Fort Macleod, and a good many in the north along the Saskatchewan river. This was the beginning, in a small way, of the stock industry in Southern Alberta. A few men from Idaho and Montana also brought in small herds of cattle, and settled in and near Macleod. Some of them went in for farming and gardening, making large profits out of their grain and vegetables, which they could always sell to the police, oats often fetching 5 cents per pound, and potatoes 7 cents. Several of the police who took their discharge in the country had saved considerable money, and in some cases brought in quite large bands of cattle, which have largely increased, making the owners wealthy men to-day.

         In the spring of 1878 I contracted with two men from southern Montana, Lynch and Emerson by name, to drive in the following fall 100 head of yearling heifers, which they agreed to deliver at Calgary for $10 per head. Cattle could be purchased at that time in Montana and Idaho at a very low figure. These men delivered the cattle at the time stipulated, bringing in also several hundred head of cows and steers, which they had a ready sale for, also making the first start for themselves. They in after years became large stock owners. This was the first year cattle were brought into the western Territories, and our diet of buffalo meat was changed for that of domestic beef, I.G. Baker & Col having the contract to supply the force, which they did by driving in herds of beef cattle and opening butcher shops at different posts. Their contract p[rice for beef was 14 cents per pound, and they made enormous profits on their cattle, which they bought at a low figure in Montana.

The summer of 1878 was an unusually rainy one, the rivers all being very high, and there being no boats at that tie the crossing was always most difficult and dangerous. The Old Man’s river at Macleod had changed its course, breaking through its banks, and overflowing the bottoms on which the fort and settlement were built. Several houses in the village were washed away, even the fort was nearly flooded. The bottom on which the fort was built was converted into an island, with a branch of the river both north and south, and the river now flowed over the spot where buildings once stood, and where the main road through the village ran.

The fort at Macleod had been improved, as the mud floors and roofs had given place to lumber, a small saw mill having been shipped up the Missouri river, and then taken by bull team to Macleod. It cut, however, only a limited quantity of lumber. Great difficulty was experienced in booming the river, as in high water these mountain streams are very swift and many thousand of our logs were carried down the river by the breaking of the boom, and never recovered. Logs had to be cut and driven down the river for sixty miles and our force being so small, and the work increasing yearly, it was found that men could not be spared for this work. The buildings then only received repairs where absolutely necessary, and in wet weather they were decidedly uncomfortable. At Calgary, Fort Walsh, and Edmonton, halfbreeds were engaged to cut lumber by whipsaw, and a great deal was got in this manner. At Edmonton plenty was to be obtained, and the fort at that place was comfortable and substantial. Horses for the use of the force were being sent up from Canada, via the Missouri river, but they were found to be not nearly as serviceable as those bred in the country, which could stand the hard winter journeys, without grain, and keep in good condition on the wild grass, while the Canadian horses, used to stabling and good feed, very soon become useless, or died from hardship.

A good many mares were brought into the country by the police in 1874, and a herd of them was started at Pincher creek, thirty miles west of Macleod, with the purpose of breeding for the force. A good, well bred stallion was sent up, but although a good many colts were bred which turned out well, the scheme was not a success, there not being men enough to spare for the farm. A great many of the mares having been, as it was supposed, stolen, the idea was abandoned, and the herd broken up, the mares being returned to duty.

In July, 1878, I proceeded to the Blackfoot crossing to notify the Blackfeet of the date of their payments, and found that tribe, and also the Sarcees, camped on the old treaty ground. They had just finished their medicine dance, which this year had been held with great ceremony, many braves having been made, and much talk of going on the war path against the Sioux indulged in.

Tobacco had been sent to the Blackfeet from the Sioux, with messages of peace, the smoking of tobacco sent from one hostile tribe to another, and smoked by them, being considered the end of hostilities. However, the Blackfeet refused to smoke this tobacco, and were more hostile against the Sioux than ever, considering that their presence in the country had much to do with the diminution of the buffalo, which were yearly becoming fewer in numbers.

The Blackfeet had a curious custom, and one I had found among no other Indians, of smoking tobacco at the medicine dance grown from seed by themselves. They had no record of when or where this seed was obtained, but as far back as they had any record, the custom prevailed among them. This tobacco seed was carefully gathered when ripe by their medicine men, and planted in a particular spot at the Blackfoot crossing, and gathered and dried by them before the medicine dance was held. It was very much venerated. I have seen the tobacco growing and it seemed the ordinary plant, and did remarkably well.

This custom, I believe, has died out, and the seed is lost, but it must have continued for ages, and it would be interesting to know from where the seed was first obtained, and how they got the knowledge of its cultivation.

The Blackfoot crossing, or the “Ridge Under Water|, as it was termed in Blackfoot, had been an old camping and burial ground of the Blackfoot tribe from time immemorial, and was in fact looked upon by all the tribes of plain Indians with veneration. That, prior to the advent of the Blackfeet into the country, many hundred years ago, some warlike tribe of Indians existed here and made the crossing one of their chief camping places, is shown by mounds raised in a half moon shape, there having been embankments thrown up of considerable height, the remains of which still exist, the crescent shape being clearly defined. Indians have informed me of pieces of pottery having been dug up there. I have myself found flint arrow and spear heads, also stones worn into grooves made by the sharpening of the flint weapons, near these old mounds.

It would be worth while, I think, to thoroughly search this locality, as no doubt many relics could yet be obtained.

I found Crowfoot and his chiefs and Indians in very bad humor, and explained to them that the Bloods were to be paid separately, at a certain date, and also that they would have a separate reservation in the south, and that surveyors would come up the following year to lay out all the reserves. I also asked him to set the time for the Blood and Blackfoot payments to be made.

This for two days he would not hear of, insisting that the Bloods and Blackfeet should have their reserve together, as agreed in the treaty the previous year, and also that the Bloods should come to the crossing, Blackfeet and Bloods to be paid together.

It was about the most difficult job I ever undertook to make him agree to the change, and it was only after two days’ steady talk that he finally gave in, and the day was set for the Blackfeet payments.

The Blackfeet had many complains to make, the principal one being that of the Sioux, together with the scarcity of buffalo, and the entry into the country and on to the plains, of the Crees from the north, whom, they claimed, never previous to the advent of the police, dared to hunt buffalo in their country.

I, however, told them to bring up all their grievances at the time of the payment, about a month from that time, and I then returned to Fort Macleod, after notifying the Stony Indians at Morleyville, and setting the date of their payment at that place, after that of the Blackfeet had been finished.

Word was sent to the commissioner at Fort Walsh, of all the different dates agreed upon, and I remained at Fort Macleod until his arrival, some time afterwards.

Continued in A Strange Adventure.

Continue Reading

Winter in Calgary, 1877

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 XVI – Treaty of 1877 Described.

Chapter XVII

Winter in Calgary, 1877


AFTER SEEING EVERYTHING clear at the crossing, and the Indians beginning to move off, I returned to Calgary with F troop. The usual amount of work had to be done during the winter, and a good many trips made to the Indian camps. A continual watch on parties trading among them was kept, but the winter altogether was a pleasant one. H. Taylor, who erected a billiard room, near Baker’s store, held several dances during the winter, and jolly affairs they were. We celebrated the anniversary of our arrival at Fort Macleod by a big dinner, and dance in the mess room afterwards, to which all civilians near us, and many from Morleyville, were invited.

The shooting was good up the Bow river, deer and grouse being plentiful, and a welcome addition to our bill of fare, as buffalo meat was still our chief article of diet.

Mr. Davis, who had been in charge of I.G. Baker’s store at Calgary up to this winter, had moved to Fort Macleod, and was in charge of their store at that place, C. Conrad, one of the firm who had been at Macleod since the police arrived, having returned to look after their business in Fort Benton. G.C. King, an ex-police corporal, had taken charge of the store at Calgary, and remained with the firm for some years.

At Fort Macleod all went on quietly that winter, with Captain Winder in command, Fort Walsh being then made the head quarters of the force, with Colonel Irvine, the assistant commissioner, in command.

General Terry had been met on the line the previous fall by Colonel Macleod and escort, and conducted to Fort Walsh, where many counsels were held with Sitting Bull and his chiefs. These Indians showed great dislike for the American officers, refusing even to shake hands with them, and they positively refused to return to the States, although strongly pressed by both Americans and police to do so. It was an anxious time while these officers remained, as the Sioux were many thousands strong, and bitterly hostile to the Americans, but great judgement was shown, and all went off well, the American party returning under our escort to the States, without accomplishing the object they came for.

This large number of Sioux Indians was a source of great anxiety to the Canadian government, and also to us, upon whom the burden fell most heavily. They were hostile to all Indians in the country, whose old enemies they were, and our Indians were much dissatisfied and uneasy at their presence. They killed enormous numbers of buffalo, which at that time began to show signs of depletion. When the animals migrated south there was this large band if Sioux along the line, and they only returned in greatly diminished numbers each year, until they failed to return at all but in very small bands. The Sioux were distinctly told by the authorities that they would receive no help whatever from the Canadian government, and would have to respect the laws as long as they remained. They moved this winter from Fort Walsh to Wood mountain, some two hundred miles east, and near the American line. Continual journeys had to be made during the winter of 1877 to that point, to watch their movements, and it was necessary to build a small post there the following year. A number of men, with an officer, were stationed there as long as the Sioux remained.


The journey from Fort Walsh to Wood mountain was about the hardest in winter of any we had to make, the country being bleak and desolate with no wood for hundreds of miles. Journeys also had to be made between Fort Walsh and Fort Macleod through a country also without a stick of wood, and generally through deep snow. The mail was carried every three weeks between these points. It can, therefore, be seen that the small force of not much over 200 men in the west were kept continually on the move, and had to suffer the greatest hardships to carry out the duties assigned them, but this was always cheerfully and well done, as was proved by the suppression of the whisky trade, and by the manner in which peace was kept between the different tribes of Indians scattered over a vast area of country.

Our mail communication was at long intervals, as a monthly mail in the winter was all we received, the mail coming from the nearest railroad- the Union Pacific- at a place named Corin about 300 miles south of Helena, Mont., and at least 500 miles from Fort Macleod. In the summer the mail journey was not so long, as the mail came up the Missouri river by another steamer to Fort Benton, and so on to Fort Macleod, from which place all mail for Calgary or Fort Walsh had to be forwarded. In the north at Edmonton or at Fort Saskatchewan, the police post built in 1876 near Edmonton, they were not so badly off, their mail being carried direct from Winnipeg along the Saskatchewan river, there being several Hudson’s Bay Company posts on the road to stop at.

The troop at Edmonton did not have the work to do that was imperative in the south, as the Crees and halfbreeds with whom they had principally to deal, were peaceable and fairly law abiding. They had, however, plenty of work, and did it well. It was also only at long intervals that they received communication from the headquarters of the force at Fort Walsh, and nearly all matters pertaining to police work had to be left to the discretion of Lieutenant-Colonel Jarvis, the officer commanding. B. Hardisty, the Hudson’s Bay Company’s chief factor at Edmonton, gave them every assistance, and his knowledge of the country and the Indians was of the greatest possible service to them.

The settlement at Fort Macleod had increased in numbers, and a few more small stores had been built, but no actual settlers had come in, and no cattle had arrived, buffalo being the only meat procurable.

         In the spring of 1878 Mr. Crozier returned from Fort Walsh, and remained a short time at Calgary. He was accompanied by Captain Williams, an American officer who had arrived at Fort Macleod from the American military post at Fort Shaw, in Montana, to recover some mules, the property of the United States army, taken by deserters from that place. He recovered these at Macleod, and took a short trip to Calgary with Major Crozier for a holiday. Captain Williams and I visited the Methodist mission at Morleyville, and were hospitably treated by the Rev. John McDougall. We spent a few days in the mountains at Devil’s lake, hunting and fishing, killing many deer, and catching more fish than we knew what to do with.

Major Crozier remained the first part of that summer at Calgary, but was ordered during the latter part to take down half of F troop to Fort Walsh. I remained behind for a short time with the rest, leaving Calgary about midsummer with all the remainder of the troop except ten men and a sergeant, who were left in charge at Calgary. We journeyed from Macleod to Fort Walsh, where I remained until the fall. While at Fort Walsh, it was a continual series of journeys to different Indian camps, and it took us all our time to keep the different tribes from coming into collision. Mr. Dewdney had been appointed Indian commissioner that year, and visited Fort Macleod and the different Indian camps. The Indians were finding it more difficult to obtain buffalo, as they had begun to diminish in numbers, and the hunting parties had to go far out on the plains after them, making our journeys much longer and more arduous.

       Fort Walsh had become a small village with two or three stores, and a few smaller settlers living there, but it was an unhealthy place, being built in a deep valley about the middle of the Cypress hills. Fevers were very prevalent, and several men and one officer died from typhoid fever while the police remained there. It was a fort very much disliked by both officers and men, but had to be kept up, being a most important point particularly while the Sioux remained in the country. I was sent to Fort Macleod about August, 1878, to see the different tribes of Indians in treaty No. 7, and to set the time of their annual payments. The Bloods and Piegans were paid at Fort Kipp, about 18 miles below Fort Macleod, and the Blackfeet and Sarcees at the Blackfoot crossing, while the Stonies were to be paid at their reservation at Morleyville.

I had to inform Crowfoot, the head chief of the Blackfeet, that the Bloods would have a separate reservation given them in the south. This I did not look forward to with pleasure, as it was known that Crowfoot, whose word with the Blackfeet was law, was much against the Bloods and the Blackfeet separating, thereby curtailing the reservation at the Blackfoot crossing. Crowfoot was one of the most obstinate Indians to deal with that I ever came across. However, it had to be done, and after notifying the Bloods and Piegans, who were at that time camped near Macleod in expectation of the payments, that they would be paid at Fort Kipp on a certain date, and notifying the commissioner at Fort Walsh of this arrangement, I proceeded across the country to the Blackfoot crossing, where the Blackfeet were then encamped.

Continued in Indian Medicine Dance.

Continue Reading

Treaty of 1877 Described

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 XV – Arrival of Sitting Bull.


Chapter XVI

Treaty of 1877 Described

MAJOR CROZIER HAD laid out the grounds of the camp, having all in readiness for the arrival of the Governor’s party.

The river bottom at the Blackfoot crossing on the south side of the river, where the treaty was held is of great extent, being some three miles long by about one in width with plenty of wood along the river, and good feed for horses on the open bottom itself.

There must have been nearly 1000 lodges of Indians camped on both sides of the river, as they had by this time nearly all come in, bringing with them large supplies of buffalo meat dried, they having only just left the herds of buffalo, down the river to the east. Their bands of horses were in thousands and covered the uplands to the north and south of the camps. There were Indian herders over the separate bands both day and night. It was a thrilling sight, these thousands of horses grazing, with the Indians constantly riding among them, and with the white Indian lodges without number along the river bottoms as far as the eye could reach.

There was the howling of countless dogs and constant drumming in different tents, night and day. There was always either a dance in progress, some medicine being made, incantations over the sick or for successful hunts or war expeditions. It was a sight only seen once. Never again in this country did such a camp of Indians congregate.

The camp consisted of Blackfeet, Bloods, Piegans, Sarcees, Stonies, and many Crees drawn there from curiosity. There were numberless tents of half-breeds who hoped to derive some gain from the annuities paid to the Indians. Traders from all parts both north and south had arrived and set up tents in which they displayed their stock of blankets and other goods. These men were already doing some trade in robes, for although the summer robes are of no market value, there were many hundreds in camp over from the last winter’s hunts.

Numerous bands of horses were brought in to trade, by white men from Montana, as in those days a fair sized pony, or one that would make a buffalo runner would always fetch a good price from the Indians.

I.G. Baker & Co. and T.C. Powers Bros. had both set up large stores, built of logs and covered with canvas. Their stock of goods was large and assorted, consisting chiefly of clothing, blankets, tobacco, tea, sugar, ammunition and rifles. The Hudson’s Bay company also had their store here, and their chief trader in the country, Mr. Hardisty of Edmonton, with his family, was on the spot, together with his relative, John McDougall of Morleyville, who had succeeded his father as missionary to the Stoney Indians. He accompanied those Indians to give them the benefit of his advice, they camping on the north side of the river, away from the main body of Blackfeet, with whom they were not on the best possible terms.

The Governor and police escort of about 60 men arrived after we had been on the ground some days, and camp was at once pitched, a large tent being also erected as a council tent. It took some days before everything was ready to go on with the treaty, and the chiefs of all the tribes met the governor and officers of the force day after day to discuss the preliminaries, and more than once it looked as if all chance of making a treaty would have to be abandoned. The Indians more than once were on the eve of moving their camps and leaving the grounds, on cause of this delay being that old jealousies, between not only different tribes, but different individuals, had to be adjusted, and the patience shown by the commissioners was beyond all praise.

However after about a week of talk and negotiations, the terms of the treaty were finally agreed upon, and the next day was set for signing the treaty by the different chiefs and head men, or the reading of it to all Indians assembled, and the final witnessing thereof.

The treaty was to the effect that the Indians agreed to give up all and whatever claim they might have to the land in Treaty No. 7, comprising that portion of the country from the Bow river to the boundary line and from the mountains as far east as the Cypress hills. They were to receive from the dominion government in cash each year $5 per head each man, woman and child forever. The chiefs were to receive $25 and the minor chiefs $15. There were two head chiefs to both the Blackfeet and Bloods, the other tribes having one each with the number of minor chiefs in proportion to the strength of the tribe.

They were also to have a reservation laid out as soon as possible for each tribe. The Blackfeet and Bloods however, received theirs together, on the Bow river. This was changed the following year, the Bloods getting their reserve about eighteen miles south of Ft. Macleod, between the Belly and St. Mary’s rivers.

The Indians, when they chose these reserves took the pick of the country, and this land being theirs forever, was a most valuable gift, although not thought to be so at that time, as no one then dreamed of railroads being built, or the country ever becoming settled.

The Indians were also offered cattle, but with the exception of the Piegans and Stonies, they refused to take them and scoffed at the idea. Those two tribes received their cattle some years later, and have done well with them, their herds having increased and they are making a good start toward stock raising.

They were also to receive ploughs, harrows and other tools as soon as they were ready to settle on their reserves, and a small supply of clothing was to be given the chiefs and minor chiefs every three years. All the head chiefs received a large silver medal commemorating the treaty. The Indians had the right to hunt over and travel in any part of the Northwest, they being amenable to the law of the country, and the government reserved the right of way for all roads whatsoever, through their reservations. This was about the sum and substance of the treaty then made, and after many days of great anxiety it was finally signed and witnessed. The chief interpreter at this treaty was an old Hudson’s Bay Company employee named Bird, who had lived with the Blackfeet for many years, who had married a Piegan woman, and who could speak both Blackfoot and English perfectly.

After the treaty was finally made and signed, the business began of paying the Indians, it being agreed that this first payment should be double that or those to come after, so that each individual Indian was to receive at this payment $10, and each chief and minor chief $25 and $15 respectively. The treaty was finished on Saturday, and the payments were to begin on the following Monday.

The Sarcee Indians also were to have their reserve with the Blackfeet at the crossing, but as they could in no way get along together, they had a separate reserve given them two years afterwards, near the present town of Calgary, their reserve being on that account the most valuable of all to-day.

On Sunday, church parade was held, and with the exception of the camp guard, all attended service. The Indians had been in a state of excitement all the morning, and while we were at service five or six hundred mounted warriors, stripped with the exception of a blanket round the loins, and in their war paint and feather head-dresses, started a mounted war-dance round our camp. These men were all armed with Winchester rifles, and on the dead run circled round us firing off their rifles, loaded with ball, in the air, the whistle of the bullets often coming unpleasantly near. This, together with their unearthly yells, was far from pleasant. They were half in fun, half in earnest, and had fear been shown by us, it is hard to tell what would have occurred- a very little would have made the war dance one of grim earnestness, but we went quietly on with the service, and after a while the Indians tired themselves out, and by degrees returned to their camps.

While this lasted it was an anxious time, as many of the Indians, we knew, were dissatisfied that any treaty had been made at all, and a few unruly spirits might in a moment have started a general massacre, out of which none of our small handful could have escaped.

On Monday the payments commenced, and a long and trying time it was. The money, nearly $100,000, was brought by Baker and Company from Benton, and consisted of both American and Canadian bills, from dollar bills to twenties, and as the Indians knew nothing about money, it was most difficult to make them understand the value and amount of what they received.

Tickets were issued to each head of a family, with his name and the number of men, women and children paid; these tickets to be presented at the next payment. It was very difficult to obtain the names and numbers in each family, as the Indians even to-day will not tell their own names, and it is generally necessary to ask a second Indian the name of the first.

They also have some superstition regarding their numbers; so that our work was long and arduous, much patience having to be used. These payments were made by the police officers. I paid the Stonies and Sarcees. It took us a week to get through, but it came to an end at last, and the treaty was finished most satisfactorily. A dinner was given that night in the officer’s mess tent to celebrate the event, and the Hudson’s Bay Company officials and other traders were invited. The dinner was graced by the presence of a few ladies, the wives of the Hudson’s Bay officials and the police officers.

Many speeches were made, and although we had no wine a most pleasant evening was passed. The traders were given a week from the last day of the payment to remain on the groun and trade, after which time they had to move off, and the police of course had to remain to see that all was quiet, and to protect the Indians in their trading, as money was unknown to them, and cheating was most rife. Many instances I remember where an Indian would come to one of us to count his change, after having made a horse or other trade, and we would find that the trader had given him the labels off fruit or other cans as money, the Indian being none the wiser. We would then have to hunt up this man, and either make him return the animal or give the proper change.

Many instances of this kind came under our notice, and the Indians placed the utmost confidence in us to see them justly dealt with. Tens of thousands of dollars were taken in by traders at this treaty, and it was the beginning of wealth to many of them, particularly those dealing in horses.

The Indians held a medicine lodge before they broke up, and many braves were made, for although to-day the making of braves has nearly died out among them, at that time it was at its height, and torture was always practiced. A splinter of wood was passed through the muscles of the breast or back, a rope tied to the top of the medicine pole being fastened to the splinter, when the Indian danced round the pole, until the muscle broke with the strain. They fastened a buffalo skull or tied a horse to themselves in the same manner until it broke loose. They showed great endurance, and the more fortitude they showed, the greater became their standing among the tribe.

A great deal of this took place during the first treaty, as their enemies, the Sioux, being in the country, many war parties were planned to go against them.

The weather had turned cold towards the end of the treaty, and a considerable fall of snow came on, making it far from comfortable under canvas. Towards the end of the last week, word was received that the American government was sending General Terry, as United States commissioner, to interview Sitting Bull at Fort Walsh, and to make terms for his surrender to the United States troops.

Colonel Macleod had to immediately proceed to Fort Walsh, to act for the Canadian government, and to make preparations for meeting General Terry with a suitable escort at the line.

He therefore left early in September with Major Crozier and escort for Fort Macleod, Governor Laird returning across the plains to Battleford. I remained a few days with F troop at the crossing to see the traders all off the ground and then proceeded with that troop to Calgary, at which post we were to winter.

Continued in Winter in Calgary, 1877.

Continue Reading

Arrival of Sitting Bull

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 XIV – Building the Village of Calgary.


Chapter XV

Arrival of Sitting Bull

THE SUMMER OF 1876 was a busy one with the police. Much improvement was made to the different forts, rendering them more comfortable, such as flooring the rooms with lumber, which had to be cut by hand. Beef cattle were also brought in, and from that time domestic beef took partly the place of buffalo meat, although now and then this meat was used.

At Fort Macleod quite a little village had started, and a few of the old-time whisky traders had taken up small farms near the forts, and raised both grain and vegetables, for which they found a ready sale at high prices to the police. Cattle had not yet been brought into the country except for beef purposes. The Indians had begun to feel the benefit they derived from having the whisky trade eliminated, and equal justice for both Indians and whites. They were for the most part on the plains hunting, and did not remain long round the forts. Their behavior was wonderfully good, considering the number of them, and crime was very rare, and arrest seldom having to be made, and when so, very little difficulty was experienced considering that they had been altogether left to their own free will to within a little over a year before. The white man’s law was altogether unknown to them, and no doubt, according to their lights, seemed hard, so that their behavior more than favorably compared with the same population of whites. In fact the number of arrests among the few whites in the country was greater than that among the larger Indian population. It, of course, took years to put a stop to some of their customs (which they were brought up to follow as their law) such as cutting off the nose of the unfaithful wife, mutilating themselves on a death occurring in their family, horse stealing, and other customs, many of which still limber among them. As regards the purchase and plurality of wives, the custom continues to-day, in spite of missionary work among them, which cannot be said to be a success.

        The summer of 1876 was a busy one, much good work being done by the police at Macleod, Fort Walsh (which fort was now finished), and Fort Edmonton. The work at Fort Walsh was hard, and the men were continually out on expeditions, which sometimes took them as far as Wood mountain, over 200 miles east of Fort Walsh. The American Indians were also a source of anxiety, as this post was not more than forty miles from the boundary line, and the Sioux, who were then at war with the American government, would often cross over, and commit depredations on our side. They would now and then come into collision with our Indians, and steal horses, and occasionally some Indian would be killed. This kept the police at that post pretty busy, and too much credit cannot be given to the men for the excellent manner in which they did their work, both in summer and winter.

In the north the principal work was among the halfbreeds and Indians, there being but few settlers yet in that section the halfbreeds principally lived along the North Saskatchewan, only going south on their hunting excursions, although a few remained round Ft. Macleod and Ft. Walsh, taking any work they could get, such as freighting between the different ports, sawing timber, and other work. A new fort was finished at Ft. Saskatchewan, and Col. Jarvis in command, with only fifty men, had a tremendous tract of country along the Saskatchewan for 400 miles to look after and keep in order. At Calgary we were kept busy, as the Indians, large camps of whom were in the vicinity, had continually to be looked after. A few trips were made north, prisoners having to be brought from there for trial in the south. The officers commanding posts had the power of justices of the peace, and under the North West Territories Act, almost unlimited power in dealing with liquor cases, an act having been passed prohibiting the sale or use of liquor, under heavy penalties.

Col French had resigned the commissionership of the police at this time, and Lt. Col. Macleod had been appointed to that position, also with the civil powers of stipendiary magistrate. Lt. Col. Irvine had been appointed assistant commissioner, and the headquarters of the force after the year 1876, at Ft. Macleod, were moved the following year to Ft. Walsh, as that post was nearer Ft. Benton, Montana, from which point all our mail, and other communications with the east started by steamer, via the Missouri River to Bismark and from there by rail. Our recruits, freight, etc, also came that way to Ft. Walsh, being so much nearer. Ft. Benton was made headquarters in 1877 and all other posts were supplied from that place, goods and all supplies being freighted across the plains in ox trains supplied by our Montana contractors, I.G. Baker and Co., and from Calgary to the north generally by ox carts also, as the country from fifty miles north of Calgary was impracticable for heavy trains owing to the swamps in summer and the deep snow in winter. The commissioner had to be continually on the move, as the distances were so great between the different posts that as soon as he made the rounds once it was time to begin over again. A journey in the winter across the plains, in every kind of weather of 300 or 400 miles, was an ordinary occurrence and when it came to winter journeys to Edmonton, it was sometimes fraught with the greatest hardships. In the spring of 1876, Col. Macleod and Col. Irvine started to Edmonton from Calgary with two dog sleighs, two halfbreed drivers accompanying them. Pemmican was all the food they took with them, and tube snow was so deep that they had to walk most of the way, and on their return journey had to travel with the thermometer at thirty below zero, and no tent with them. In those days there was no house for two hundred miles, that is, between Calgary and Edmonton.

During the year 1876 a Lieutenant Governor was appointed to the North West Territories, with a North West Council of less than twelve appointed members. Battleford, on the North Saskatchewan river, but in the north east corner of the Territories, was the seat of government. The governor Mr. Laird, was also appointed as Indian commissioner, but this appointment, as far as it affected the plain Indians, was a sinecure, as they did not at that time require any assistance from the government, being most independent and having all they wanted in the buffalo, out of which they got all they required. So the work of the Indian department was light among those Indians until the buffalo began to fail.

It was, however, different with the wood Indians in the north, along the Saskatchewan, as to a great extent their supply of buffalo meat was cut off, the buffalo having left the northern country, except in rare instances, where a few small bands would now and then be found in the timber, so that the visits and hunts the wood Indians used to take to the plains were becoming more rare, and help had to be given them and reserves laid out along the Saskatchewan river.

Lt. Governor Morris of Manitoba had made several treaties with the Crees of the north prairies, and the year after the advent of the police, particularly one at Ft. Qu’Appelle, a Hudson’s Bay post in the Northwest Territories. Many of the Indians included in this treaty belonged along the north Saskatchewan river, and reserves were set apart for them and help was given by the government in the way of seed and tools. Instructors also were sent on these reserves to start them farming. Gov. Laird in 1876 also made a treaty with these Cree Indians who had not yet been treated with at Ft. Pitt, Carlton, and Edmonton, so the northern Indians had nearly all been taken into treaty, with the exception of one or two bands who still remained on the plains and were wilder and more warlike than their brothers in the north.

A chief called Big Bear was the head of these Indians, and they were the last of all Indians in the North West to take the treaty, and even when they had done so it was found almost impossible to get them to remain on their reserves, and in future years this band was the one that gave the most trouble in the halfbreed rebellion of 1885. They were a wandering band, sometimes on the Canadian side of the line and sometimes in Montana, giving trouble wherever they might be. All the dissatisfied spirits of the northern tribes were among them. Governor Laird treaded, as I have said, with the Indians along the Saskatchewan, but did not visit the plain Indians until 1877, when the Blackfeet treaty was made. The council consisted altogether of members appointed by the government, among whom, very properly, were the Commissioner and Assistant Commissioner of police. The first session was taken up by organization work, although some acts were passed, but many of them became a dead letter, such as the act to restrict Indians or others from killing buffalo calves which was found impossible to enforce, but other acts came in force to the benefit of the Territories.

The North West council of those days did not of course represent the people of the Territories, who were too few in number in any one district to elect a member for themselves. There was a Dominion act which enacted that it required a population of a thousand in a thousand square miles to make that an electoral division. Legislation, the first few years after the forming of the North West government, was directed more towards Indian matters than any concerning the whites, who had not yet begun to settle in the country, and indeed but few thought that the immense country would ever be at all settled, or support any but the Indian tribes who then inhabited it. A new beginning might be said to have been made for the Territories on the arrival of the Police as their appearance was the beginning of law and order. Previously everyone did almost as he liked.

In the spring of 1877 the commissioner received word at Ft. Macleod that the government intended that summer to make a treaty with the Blackfeet and other tribes of plain Indians, and give them reservations and other government allowances as might be deemed necessary, that Governor Laird would proceed to Ft. Macleod from Battleford during the summer, and that the treaty would be held at Blackfoot crossing, and all tribes of Indians coming under that treaty (No.7) had at once to be notified. This was no easy task, as the Indians were all widely scattered after buffalo, and it took us till July to finish the work and have all in readiness for the majority of the two troops stationed at Ft. Macleod and Calgary to proceed with their transport and camp equipage to the Crossing.

At Ft. Calgary Inspector Brisbois, who had been in command since the building of the fort, had been removed, and Inspector Crozier was in command, I being stationed there with him.

The fort was first named Brisbois by that officer, but the name had been cancelled the previous winter by Commissioner Macleod and changed to Calgary, named after a castle in Mull belonging to the Macleod family, and said to mean clear water.

Col. French, the first commissioner, had resigned the command of the force in 1876 and returned to his duties in the Imperial service in England, and the assistant commissioner, Col. Macleod, had been appointed to the head of the force, with Lt. Col. Irvine as assistant commissioner, the headquarters of the force being in the west at Ft. Macleod. Ft. Pelly being almost abandoned, the majority of the 300 men comprising the force at that time were divided between Ft. Walsh, Macleod, Calgary, and Edmonton, and few enough they were to look after and rule over such a vast territory.

No men were ordered from either Edmonton or Ft. Walsh to attend this treaty, the escorts being supplied from Macleod and Calgary.

At Walsh they were having their hands full, as Sitting Bull and his Sioux Indians had been driven across the line the previous winter by General Miles after the Custer fight, and were all congregated in that vicinity. So far they had given no trouble. The buffalo were still plentiful in that section and the Sioux knew that our side of the line was their last haven for the American troops were stationed along the Missouri on the look out for them, preventing them returning. It was a most difficult matter to keep things quiet with these thousands of hostile Indians in the country, as the Blackfeet, their hereditary enemies, were not too well pleased to have them in the country, killing their game.

Peace was kept, however, and it is astonishing too, with that mere handful of men, there not being more than 50 at Ft. Walsh, in the very centre of the Sioux, and the nearest police post to that place being Ft. Macleod, 200 miles away, with only 100 men even there. The six troops were at this time divided as follows: – two stationed at Ft. Macleod, one at Walsh, one at Calgary, and one at Edmonton, the sixth being then at Battleford, the seat of the North West government, and part of this troop was to escort Gov. Laird across the plains some 300 miles to Ft. Macleod. F. troop was ordered to leave Calgary about the end of August, and to proceed to the Crossing and pick out the camp ground in readiness for the arrival of the Governor and the majority of the two troops stationed at Macleod. A small detachment was left at Calgary, and Capt. Crozier, with the troop, proceeded to the Crossing some twenty miles east, at the end of August. I remained behind for a couple of days to see that all was left in order at the fort, and then went down the Bow river with Mr. Davis, of I.G. Baker & Co, who were ordered down to assist in the store that Baker & Co. were to open at the Crossing.

We left together, going down the river in a boat, and calculated to make the trip in two days. This was the first party that ever went down the Bow in that manner, and we greatly looked forward to the trip, especially as the weather was warm and pleasant, the nights at that time of the year being short.

We made a very pleasant trip the first day, with the exception of being nearly swamped several times while running some of the rapids, which we found very numerous, and the river being very swift, we would often come upon them round some bend before we had time to avoid them.

We passed many small bands of deer grazing on the river bottoms, but did not stop to hunt them, and saw one bear, which quickly disappeared in the underbrush. We camped the first night on a wooded island, and built a roaring fire which lasted the night, for we had no tent with us, as the weather was dry and warm.

The second day our work was heavier, as a stiff wind blew all day up the river, giving us plenty of rowing, and it was not until late on the second night that we arrived at the Crossing, coming very nearly running past the camp in the darkness, which we should have done had it not been for the barking of dogs in one of the Indian camps near the river.

However, we reached our camp about midnight, and found that the party from Macleod had not yet arrived, although many thousand Indians had come in and were scattered in camps for many miles along the river.

Continued in Treaty of 1877 Described.

Building the Village of Calgary

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 XIII – Journey to Red Deer.


Chapter XIV

Building the Village of Calgary

AFTER WE HAD SETTLED in the camp a few days we were visited by a Catholic priest who had been living for some months in a log hut some thirty miles up the Elbow river. He had seen no one for three months except a young Indian boy he had living with him, and was half starved, not having had any substantial food for a long time. It did us good to get a square meal into him and watch the gusto with which he ate it. He had only been a few months in the country from France, and had been sent south to learn the Blackfeet language, among which Indians he was to remain as a missionary. Father Ducet was not long in acquiring the language, and in a few years was a useful missionary among the plain Indians.

We were visited by Mr. McDougall of Morleyville, who held service at our camp every other Sunday. A few camps of Indians now and then came in to visit us. All were very friendly and well off for food and clothing with large bands of horses in their camps. We found an old Indian death lodge standing on the bank of the river containing the bones of some three or four Indians who had been killed the previous summer in a fight with some whisky traders from the south. Their remains were scattered about the tent and outside, having been eaten and dragged out by wolves. It was the habit of the Indians in those days when buffalo skin tents were plentiful and only used for one year, to leave their dead in lodges, covered with robes, blankets or other articles supposed to be of use to them after death, when they went to the Sand hills. The Indians supposed that their people after death went to the great Sand hills on the South Saskatchewan river and there hunted mice instead of buffalo. I have often had Indians stop in the Sand hills near the Blackfoot crossing, gravely showing me the track of mice in the sand, and assure me that some of their dead friends were hunting them. A few years before we came to the country the Indians were in the habit of killing a horse or two when any chief or Indian died, so that they should have their riding animals with them in the Sand hills.

We also found the remains of a white man who had been killed and buried by his trader friends some seven miles up the Elbow, at which place a trading post had stood some two years before with a party of whisky traders living in it. They had been attacked by Blackfeet their horses run off and one of their number killed and several wounded. Mr. Davis who was trading whisky a few miles above, had loaned them horses and they had all gone south. The Indians sacked the stores and burnt them to the ground. They buried their comrade, but we found that wolves had dug him up and we reburied what remained of him.

I.G. Baker’s men arrived a few days after we went into camp and proceeded up the river to cut dry pine logs, fourteen feet long to build the fort. They found all the timber they required about six miles up the Elbow from the mouth, and building a boom, a little above the mouth, soon had all the logs they required driven down the river.

Mr. Davis had been engaged and placed in charge of the party and it did not take them long to put up a picket fort to accommodate fifty men and stables for about the same number of horses. The buildings were covered in with earth and between the logs, closed with clay, all being surrounded with a loge stockade about ten feet high and the buildings facing inwards round a good-sized square. Lumber for doors and flooring was cut with a whip saw, by half breeds, many of whom had camped in the vicinity.

Our buildings were ready for occupation before Christmas and good fire places had been built in most of the rooms out of good building stone found on the rivers. Firewood was plentiful and a party of men went up the river and drove enough of it down to last all the winter. Baker’s men had also built a good substantial store and a couple of dwelling houses, and it was not long before they had it stocked with a good assortment of all kinds of trading goods with Mr. Davis in charge and an ex-police sergeant as clerk.

A billiard table was also put in by an enterprising ex-whiskey trader, and cider, made from raisins, sold at 25 cts per glass. This establishment coined money for some years and I.G. Baker’s store made a fortune with their white and Indian trade. In 1876 as many as 15,000 buffalo robes were shipped south by this store alone, costing them in trade about fifty cents each and fetching in Benton from five to ten dollars according to the quality.

The Hudson’s Bay Co. moved down one of the buildings from Ghost river, and adding to it, soon had up a good trading store and dwelling house, and did a fair share of the trade for some years.

Contracts were given for hay, which was cut as late as October, and although not of the best quality, answered the purpose well. The grass in that section and all over the plains in the Northwest cures standing, with all the strength in it, thereby making the Northwest plains such a rich grazing ground both winter and summer for cattle and horses.


We were settled in the new fort about the beginning of December and were glad to get under shelter as the weather was pretty cold by that time. I made a trip to Ft. Macleod before the fort was finished and found things going on well there, much good work having been done and the whisky trade pretty well stamped out as a regular business. The guard room was full of prisoners, Indian and white, some serving a short term in the country and others to be sent down to the penitentiary in Winnipeg the following spring. Many new buildings had been erected at Macleod, which was by that time a good roomy fort, although built of cotton wood logs, which make the poorest of building material. This was unavoidable, as pine timber could only be procured some thirty miles up the river as we arrived so late in the season, and the horses were in such poor condition, we had to take the first timber available, which was the cotton wood on the river bottoms.

I returned to Calgary on Christmas night and found the troop spending the evening in old Christmas style, a Christmas dinner being given by the non-commissioned officers and men, to which most of the civilians at Calgary were invited.

A pleasant evening was spent, the first Christmas ever celebrated at Calgary. The previous evening a dance had been held at the billiard hall, built that fall. The ladies consisted of the half breed belles who turned out in numbers well dressed, and some not at all bad looking. A jolly time was had, and some of those old time dances, held at Macleod and Calgary the first few years the police came in, went far ahead for fun and good hearty exercise, of any of the prim and select affairs held since the country has come to be settled.

During the winter of 1875-6, I was instructed to proceed to Ft. Edmonton with money for the payment of the troops stationed there, they only having received pay at irregular intervals since they arrived at Edmonton in the fall of 1874. I took a guide and one man with me, and as the snow was deep and no doubt much deeper in the north, I took a flat sleigh, with a sort of bag made of raw hide in which I could sit and drive, with the provisions consisting of pemmican, biscuits, tea and sugar together with oats, securely lashed behind. This conveyance is easily drawn over the snow either by dogs or one horse, and 30 or 35 miles can be made in a day, a man riding ahead and beating a trail.

We had to do without a tent, and the first two days, until we struck the timber line sixty miles north, were pretty rough. We had to camp without wood with very cold weather for two nights. In reaching the timber, which continued to Edmonton, though we found the snow deeper, we always made a good camp and had roaring fires, which made the camping bearable. The distance from Calgary to Edmonton is about 200 miles which we made in six days and rather enjoyed the trip. We met with plenty of deer, two of which we killed. We crossed the Red Deer river on the ice and met a camp of Crees on a hunting trip and spent a night in their tents. They gave us a tea dance to celebrate the occasion, the principal feature of which consisted in the custom they had of a woman stepping from the dance up to whatever man she had picked and kissing him. He had then to make her a present. If an Indian, he would strip himself of his robe or blanket and throw it round her; if a stranger, they generally made a good thing of it. It was one of the Indians’ chances of levying toll on the unsuspicious strangers.

We arrived at the Saskatchewan river on the sixth day and crossed it on the ice. Ft. Edmonton is built on the north side of the river, on top of the bank overlooking the river, some 200 feet above the river bed. It is a very old H.B. Co. fort, probably 100 years old, with numbers of log buildings, all surrounded by a high log stockade with strong bastions at two of the corners. Many an Indian fight had occurred outside the walls. Often trading parties of Blackfeet or Bloods from the south would be met by parties of Crees at this point and bloody fights always took place. The gates of the fort would then be closed and the Indians were left to fight it out on the outside, trading goods or whisky being passed out to them through a wicket in the gate. However the Hudson’s Bay company had given up the sale of liquor some years before the police arrived and no collision had taken place between the Indians since.

Col. Jarvis with a troop of some forty men was living at this fort which was in charge of Mr. B. Hardisty, a chief factor and a life long employee of the company. In the summer of 1876 Col. Jarvis moved down the Saskatchewan river some twenty-seven miles and built a police fort on the south side of the river which was named Ft. Saskatchewan, and is today the head quarters of the police in that district. I remained a few days at Edmonton, my visit with money for the troops being much appreciated, as they had been without pay for a long time. The old fort was quite a curiosity to go over, only a portion of it being inhabited and even then quite a little village was collected within the walls. Many dog trains had come in during the winter loaded with fur from the northern forts as far north as the Athabasca river. These trains would return loaded with provisions and trading goods.

At that time all the fur from the far north along the Great Slave and Great Bear lakes and the Mackenzie river, came into Carleton, some hundreds of miles down the Saskatchewan river, and from there was taken overland to Winnipeg, and it was not until some three years after this time that the company put two steamers on the river, which landed goods at Edmonton, and from that time most of the far northern trade came via the Athabasca landing to Edmonton. I remained a few days at Edmonton and after a cold stormy trip returned to Calgary, the account of which I give in another chapter.

We had some trips after whisky traders during the winter, which passed off quietly. The game along the rivers and the buffalo on the prairies gave us an abundance of fresh meat. There were no cattle in the country that year, with the exception of a few cows brought in near Macleod from the south by intending settlers, and these did not amount to fifty head. It was not until some years afterwards that any number of cattle were brought in, and the country was found to be a good stock country. One herd of cattle was brought through a pass in the mountains west of Ft. Macleod named the Crow’s nest, by a man from southern Montana. He made a successful drive and found the pass a first-class one for driving stock through. It no doubt is one of the lowest and easiest passes in the mountains, with not nearly such heavy grades as that through which the Canadian Pacific railroad passes.

The herd of cattle wintered near Calgary, and before a year the owner had sold them at a great profit, and returned the way he came to Montana.

Fort Edmonton must have been built over 100 years ago, and had always been the head trading post of the Hudson’s Bay Company along the Saskatchewan. It was visited by all the tribes of Indians from the south, it being in those days the only trading post in the west, and was the scene of many fierce fights between rival tribes of Indians. The plain Indians, such as the Blackfeet, always were at war with the northern or wood Indians, among whom were the Crees. When these parties happened to come to trade at the same time, they were not allowed inside the fort, but a wicket was opened in the wall, and the furs taken, and whisky or trading goods handed out. The Hudson’s Bay company was always careful to have nothing to do with any tribal matters among the Indians, particular their wars among themselves, and so kept good friends with all the different tribes with whom they traded.

The profits of the company in the old days were something enormous, as a glass of rum was their price for a beaver skin, and in the same proportion with everything they traded. A silver fox skin would be bought for a few yards of tobacco, which was put up in rolls of the old pig tail, and a handful of tea or sugar. They had the monopoly of the Indian trade in the west to within a few years before the police arrived, when some of the American traders had found their way into the country. But they traded principally whisky, and confined their trade to plain Indians, none going farther north than the Red Deer river, which was about 250 miles from the American boundary, and a hundred miles from Edmonton.

Our return trip from Edmonton, mentioned in the last chapter, was a cold and stormy one, the snow being very deep, and after we left the timber and reached the plains, our dried meat gave out, and we had to kill a buffalo to supply ourselves with meat; but the camping at night in the snow was the worst, as continuous watch had to be kept over the horses, and the cold was too great for sleep, it being 40 degrees below zero.

We arrived at Calgary after a six days’ hard journey from Edmonton, and glad enough we were to be once more inside the fort, with good blazing log fires, and something better than frozen meat to cheer us.

The winter of 1875-76 was a very cold one, and we had to make a good many trips during some of the coldest weather after whisky traders, some of whom were captured. On one or two occasions camps of Indians were found drunk, and then we had our hands full to avoid coming into collision with them. It was wonderful how well the work was done with so few men, not one instance occurring where any difficulty was experienced in making arrests among them.

During this winter a Methodist missionary among the Stoney Indians, whose camp was about thirty miles west of Calgary, was frozen to death. He and two sons were on a buffalo hunting trip out on the prairie some distance from any wood, and after cutting up and skinning some animals they had killed, they returned separately to their camp, which was some miles off. All arrived safely except the father, Mr. G. McDougal. A heavy snow storm prevailed at the time, and the weather was very cold. The two sons came into Calgary for help to search for their father, and for some days parties were scouring the country without success. The horse he was riding came into camp on the second day without the river; it was then known that there was no help for the lost man.

His body was found about a week afterwards, some miles from the camp. He had lain down from exhaustion, and was soon overcome by the cold. The body had been partly mutilated by wolves. This was the first death since our arrival at Calgary, and cast a shadow over our New Year.

I had a very narrow escape while looking for Mr. McDougal. The weather had turned quite mild, and I and Mr. Bunn, who was in charge of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s post at Calgary, rode up the river one afternoon, in the hopes of coming across the lost man’s horse. The weather was so mild that we neglected to take overcoats, or to wear moccasins, which are absolutely necessary in cold weather. We rode some ten miles up the river, when one of those sudden changes occurred that are peculiar to this country in the winter. From clear sunshine and a soft wind, the wind suddenly changed to the north, very cold, and a snowstorm, or blizzard, set in in a few minutes. We rode for our lives, struck the river a mile or so above it, but luckily recognized the locality; we arrived at the fort nearly frozen. A very short time longer, and my feet would probably have been frozen, as my boots were frozen solid, and it was a long time, though keeping my feet in the snow, before I regained feeling in them.

The following spring we had plenty of work among the Indians, as although they had patched up a temporary peace with their enemies the Crees, they would steal horses from each other, and now and then one would be killed, and to watch the movements of the different bands scattered along the Bow and Red Deer rivers kept us fully occupied. On several occasions I had to go down to a point on the Bow river, named Blackfoot crossing, some sixty miles below Calgary. This was an old camping and burial spot of the Blackfeet from time immemorial. There was also a good ford on the Bow river at that point, whereby it derived its name of the Blackfoot crossing, or the “Ridge under Water.” The Blackfeet venerated this point, as for years unnumbered their dead were placed either in the forks of the trees along the river bottom, or in lodges on the bluffs overlooking the river, where they would be left with blankets, guns or any other articles the Indians thought might be useful to the dead in the land to which all the plain Indians believe they will go after death. This point had also for all previous time with the Blackfeet been the scene of many a bloody battle between them and the Crees on the north, who on their hunts to the south would generally meet the Blackfeet at this point, in their endeavor to penetrate to the south by this ford.

As I have stated, during this spring many journeys had to be made with only a few men to this point, and our intervention, not by force, but quiet handling between the different bands of Indians, on more than one occasion prevented serious fights between the Blackfeet and other bands of Indians camped in that vicinity.

On some occasions when some horses had been stolen by either Crees or Blackfeet from each other, or some Indian had been killed, we found it best to let the chiefs of the camps settle the matter in their own way, for it must be understood that the old habits of the Indians could not be eradicated in two or three years, nor could the white man’s law be instilled into the Indians in such a short time.

If on any occasion any individual Indian of the same tribe had committed an offence against the law of the tribe, or any foreign Indian had been caught who had stolen horses, or who had killed a man of the tribe, the offence could always be condoned by the payment of a number of horses, according to the gravity of the offence, so that on many occasions we found it well to let them settle such matters in their own way, particularly as it was often most difficult to get direct evidence to convict. We had to use a great amount of circumspection in our first intercourse with the plain Indians.

A murder, the stealing of a woman or horses, could be, and was previous to our advent, always settle in this manner. The exception was only when a war party from a long distance started out, and in nearly all such instances, if caught, no mercy was shown or expected.

I made another journey to Edmonton during the summer of 1876, to bring down a half-breed prisoner fro that place, for murder committed some years before we arrived in the country. This man, Godin, had killed his wife in a particularly cruel manner, and so far had gone free, there being no power in the country to punish him. However, he was arrested by Colonel Jarvis shortly after the police arrived at Edmonton, and I was sent to bring him down, so that he could be sent to Winnipeg for trial.

I had a light wagon for provisions, etc., and for the prisoner, and before I left Edmonton Bishop Grandin, of Edmonton, requested to be allowed to join our party, as he wished to visit the Catholic Missions established the previous year at Fort Macleod and Calgary. It was the first time he had ever visited the southern country.

Our journey south was uneventful, excepting a very near escape of capsizing in the Red Deer river, the river being very high, and the flat bottomed boat very leaky.

The prisoner was sent down to Winnipeg, and afterwards released, as much influence was brought to bear in his favor by the Catholic missionaries in the north, the plea being his youth at the time the murder was committed, and the length of time that had elapsed. He was, however, arrested some years after, and put in a term for horse stealing, which he richly deserved.

Bishop Grandin remained some time in the south, making arrangements about establishing missions and other church work.

The first priest to visit us on our arrival at Macleod was Father Scullin, who had travelled more among the Blackfeet than any other missionary from the north. He proved of great assistance to us, as he could speak the language, and knew the country fairly well.

Nothing so far had been attempted in the way of converting the Blackfeet, and what missionary work he had done in the south was among the few half-breeds who would go on the plains on their annual hunts. These parties he would generally join, and remain with them during the summer, returning to Edmonton during the winter to the Catholic convent and mission, St. Albert’s, near Fort Edmonton, where there was also quite a half-breed settlement commenced.

Continued in Arrival of Sitting Bull.

Continue Reading

The Oak Island Encyclopedia – The Unofficial Guide to ‘The Curse of Oak Island’

The Oak Island Encyclopedia

Your Unauthorized Guide to The Curse of Oak Island

Ladies and gentlemen, I’m pleased to announce that my new book, the Oak Island Encyclopedia, is now available for purchase on Amazon. This tome is the new and improved edition of my book Oak Island, which I published back in 2016. It includes a history of the Oak Island treasure hunt; a description of the various theories regarding the nature of the treasure and the identities of those who buried it; and a plot summary and analysis for each episode of ‘The Curse of Oak Island’ from Seasons 1 through 6.

In case you are unacquainted with the subject, Oak Island is a small island located in Mahone Bay off the coast of Nova Scotia where people have been searching for buried treasure since 1795. To date, no one truly knows what, if anything, lies buried there, although theories abound. The purpose of this book is to provide you with a comprehensive report of the facts and speculation surrounding Oak Island so that you might come to your own conclusion regarding the nature of this great Mystery of Canada.



In the first section of this book (History), you’ll find a chronological account of all major treasure hunts on Oak Island from 1795-2005.

Each chapter is subdivided into a History section recounting the story of each respective treasure hunt, a Discoveries section detailing the various findings made by the treasure hunters; and a Characters section describing the colourful men who risked social condemnation, financial ruin, and even their very lives in an effort to get to the bottom of the Oak Island mystery.


The Curse of Oak Island

In the second section of this book (The Curse of Oak Island), you’ll find a detailed analysis of the current treasure hunt on Oak Island, conducted by Michigan brothers Rick and Marty Lagina and their crew, and documented in the History Channel’s TV series The Curse of Oak Island.


Each chapter is subdivided into a Plot section outlining the synopsis of each of The Curse of Oak Island’s episodes from Seasons 1 through 6, and an Analysis section in which the discoveries made in the episodes are thoroughly investigated.



In the third section of this book (Theories), you’ll find the various hypotheses formulated by Oak Island researchers regarding the nature of Oak Island’s supposed extraordinary treasure.

Each chapter is subdivided into the ‘Five Ws’ of research, namely Who? What? When? Where? and Why?, along with an Evidence section describing the hard facts and circumstantial evidence which led proponents of each respective theory to come to the conclusions they did.



The fourth and final section of this book (and this author’s favourite section) is the comprehensive Index.

Here, you’ll find listed (in alphabetical order) all the names, places, and topics that The Curse of Oak Island has ever mentioned- a tool which will enable you quickly and easily brush up on any topic that the show fails to flesh out.


Where to Purchase

For Canadians:

For Americans

For Britons


Journey to Red Deer

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 XII – Severe Trip to Helena.

Chapter XIII

Journey to Red Deer

F TROOP STARTED FOR the Bow river in August, and arrived on the south bank of that river after a pleasant journey of five days. The feed was good and game plentiful. The horses were in good condition and the wagons lightly loaded. We found the river very high, the width being about 200 yards. We had no boats, so took two wagon boxes and covered them with tarpaulins, and with the two tied together made a boat with which we ferried everything over, including the wagons, in two days. The work was of the hardest kind, the men having to be in the water all day, but the weather was warm, and we did not mind it. Everything was taken over on the second day without accident, and we pitched our tents on the north side of the Bow, and waited for Colonel Macleod, who had remained behind at Fort Macleod. He caught us up the day after we had crossed. We ferried him and his wagon over in short order, and started for the Red Deer river, 100 miles further north, on Aug. 15. About forty miles north of the Bow we left the prairie country and struck the timber line, which extended from that point hundreds of miles north of Edmonton. The country is rocky, and the hills are covered with willow and cottonwood, pine only being found along the streams, of which there are many. The whole section of country the farther you go north abounds with lakes and swamps full of ducks and geese, on which we mostly lived. The travelling was of the heaviest kind, as we had no road, and had to pick our way between, and sometimes through, the lakes and swamps, often getting stuck in the  mud and causing much delay in pulling out.

The mosquitoes were frightful, making the horses wild and almost ungovernable. We had to build great fires at night, and the horses would crowd around them for the protection of the smoke, and it required great care to prevent them standing in the fire and burning their hoofs. However, as we neared the Red Deer we found them less numerous than on the skirts of the wood.

We arrived at the Red Deer on the sixth day from the Bow river, and camped on the south side. There was a Cree half-breed’s house on the north side, and he having a boat, we made many visits to his camp, where we found a white trader from Edmonton married to a half-breed woman, daughter to the owner of the house. The Red Deer country to Edmonton was the Cree country. They did not go much south of the Red Deer as the Blackfeet were at war with them, and made it unpleasant for any party of Crees going on the plains.

The Crees physically are not such fine looking Indians as the Blackfeet or plain Indians, and had to work harder for their living, as, although there were plenty of buffalo sometimes in the timber country, at other times they were hard to find, migrating for a long time south on to the plains. The Crees there had to depend on fish, of which the large lakes were full, and small game such as deer, and often killing both elk and moose.

The Crees dressed more in the fashion of the half-breed, with whom they were intimately associated; the half-breed mostly intermarrying with them.

Their arms were inferior to those of the plain Indians, as they had little or no intercourse with the American traders, who supplied the Blackfeet with repeating rifles and fixed ammunition, while the Crees traded with the Hudson’s Bay Company, and were only armed with the old fashioned flint lock musket, and powder and ball. These guns were about as dangerous to the user as to the game at which they fired, and we came across many half-breeds with a finger blown off, or the hand mutilated, from the explosion of these guns.

The half-breeds were in the habit, while on the gallop after buffalo, of filling their mouths full of bullets, and as they rode at full gallop poured a charge of powder down the barrel of the gun, and spat a bullet in after it, holding the muzzle up till they came to shoot, which, when they did, often resulted in the bursting of the gun.

The Hudson’s Bay Company supplied these people in trade with blankets of a very superior quality, and a good class of woolen clothing, particularly the blue blanket coat with a hood, and the tobacco they sold was much prized by all the Indians in the country, it being expressly manufactured in England for the Indian trade and put up in carrots or rolls. Another kind of black tobacco, which was sold by the yard, was bought in large quantities, being more portable than cut or plug tobacco, and went further.

We remained at this camp for several days, and went through a daily course of mounted drill, which we were much in need of, for the inspection to come from General Smythe.

We found good fishing in the Red Deer, but no trout, the only fish being gold eyes and pike. The Red Deer is a slugging stream, with high wooded banks until you get about fifty miles east of the point at which we were encamped. From there the timber ceases altogether until you reach the mouth.

The trees along the banks are cut and torn, sometimes thirty feet up the trunks, by the ice that raises the river every spring, and generally causes it to flood the bottoms on both sides with many feet of water.

We received word while here that the general, with the police escort, was going to cross the river some forty miles above where we were encamped, so we struck camp and moved up the river to that point. It was a terrible road, nothing but mud holes and thick brush, and there were mosquitoes enough to eat us up alive; but after one or two stampedes we got to the upper crossing all right, and the day after we arrived the party came in from the north after a very hard march, about the same as we had coming from the lower camp. Their stock was in a bad way owing to the horses having contracted a hoof disease, caused from travelling in so much mud and water, the hoofs finally dropping off. We had to leave many of the horses behind.

While on the Red Deer river we came across every indication of coal, iron and oil. Large blocks of coal lay along the river bed, and no doubt that whole section is underlaid with coal seams. Not many miles north of the river, and not far from where we camped, there exists a burning coal seam; the ground is seamed with cracks and a sulphurous smoke exudes from the ground. It is not known how long this has been on fire. The Indians have no record of the commencement of it, and the old men say that in their forefathers’ time it was burning. It was no doubt started either by lightning or bush fires, as the coal lies very near the surface. Great coal and iron mines will some day be opened in this section when the timber is all cut and the population increases.

The mineral wealth of all the vast region north of the Red Deer river to the Mackenzie river must be prodigious, for coal, iron, oil, gold, silver and coper are known to exist in quantities, and precious stones, such as emeralds and rubies have been found on the shores of the Mackenzie river. The climate and cost of provisions and transport are the only drawbacks, but with a population these can easily be overcome, and a vast extent of the richest mineral country opened to the world.

The party of Col. Macleod and General Smythe crossed the Bow river at our old crossing and in the same manner, but not quite as successfully, meeting with several upsets and the narrow escape from drowning of a man or two. After inspecting Fort Macleod the general proceeded south via the Missouri September and from there back to Canada via the Missouri river.

We crossed the Bow in the wagon boxes without accident, and chose a site for a fort not far from the mouth of the Elbow as it was generally known the river was well wooded not [far] up from the point at which we had crossed that river in going north. It was intended to locate and build a fort on the south side of the Bow river, near the mouth of the Elbow, where Calgary now stands. Baker and company had already contracted to send men and bull teams up to that point to meet us, and to construct a stockade and picket fort, the timber to be got out at the nearest point available, it being from the mouth.

Our troop journeyed south to the Bow river by easy stages having lots of hunting on the road, and crossed the Bow a little above the mouth of the Elbow river, which at the mouth runs between two beautiful wooded river bottoms, each several miles long and wide, gradually sloping upwards to the open prairie.

We went through an inspection parade here, which was considered satisfactory, and the party divided, General Smythe and escort, with Colonel Macleod, following our old trail back to Fort Macleod and F troop, with Captain Brisbois and myself, taking another road farther west, and proceeding to a point on the Bow river forty miles above the Elbow, on the west side, on a point of rising ground, a most beautiful spot with a grand view of the mountains some fifty miles to the west, and at this time covered with snow. There was no one living there within miles of the spot, the only habitation being a small Hudson’s Bay company’s trading post on Ghost river some twenty-five miles up the Bow and a small Methodist mission some six miles above the Hudson’s Bay post, for the Stoney Indians, with Rev. George McDougall in charge. His son kept also a trading post at the Mission, making a good thing out of those Indians in the fur trade. They did most of their hunting in the mountains and went far north in the winter after fine fur, which was very valuable and which was mostly purchased at this point.

The market for the fur was Winnipeg, and McDougall and other traders started out over the plains every year or so, with a long string of Red river carts with oxen and horses, loaded with robes and fine fur, and after several months tourney across the plains, returned in the fall with their loads of trading goods and provisions for the winter.

This half missionary and half trader was a paying business making those who engaged in it wealthy in a few years and able to retire young, as they have today.

We went to work near the site picked out for the fort to make ourselves comfortable, by digging trenches in the ground and covering them with brush and earth, with a fire place inside; some of these huts held six and eight men, and with plenty of wood we had no trouble to keep warm. The nights were getting pretty cold, it being September when we arrived at the Bow river.

Continued in Building the Village of Calgary.

Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading