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Trouble with the Southern Indians

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 XXVI – Trouble with Blackfeet.


Chapter XXVII



A GOOD DEAL OF TROUBLE was caused during the years 1882 and 1883 by southern Indians, particularly the South Piegans, coming over to our side and camping with our Indians, to whom they were related, being an off shoot of the Blackfeet who had settled in Montana, and had taken the treaty from the United States government. The American authorities had been having a good deal of trouble with them during the year 1882, and at one time had to send troops on to their reserve, thereby causing many of them to cross over on to our side. They were a source of unrest to the Blackfeet and the police had trouble returning them to their own country.

A detachment of police under Inspector French had been left at the crossing, but it was found better to withdraw them. They therefore went to Ft. Calgary, being the first force of police since 1879, who had been stationed at that place, and from this time on the force was year by year increased as the town sprang into existence. The Canadian Pacific railway was this year surveyed into and past Calgary. During the building of the Canadian Pacific only one case is known of any obstruction caused by Indians, and that occurred near Maple Creek, a tomahawk being driven in between the ends of two rails, and a few yards further on a rail was laid across the line. Sergt. Blight and three men were despatched from the police detachment at Swift Current, and arrested three Assiniboine Indians on suspicion, who, after some questioning, gave the name of the Indian, also an Assiniboine, named Buffalo Calf, who committed the offence. This man was sent to the penitentiary for two years for the crime.

As Lt.-Col. Irvine states in his report, it is fortunate that the Indians, generally, have not developed this terrible method of redressing their grievances, whether fanciful or not.

Much trouble has been caused at the annual Indian payments in the west, and in the fall of 1882, owing to the large number of Indians who had been overpaid at the previous year’s payments, I had great difficulty in making anywhere near the necessary reduction. I found that the Indians had begun to ascertain the value of money, and to use it more sensibly than heretofore, buying principally blankets and clothing, of which they were much in need, having now no buffalo robes as substitutes. The issue of government ammunition to the Indians I recommended should cease, and that some clothing should be sent instead, and common cotton print for the women, who suffered most, being literally in rags; indeed the women would fight over old cotton flour sacks, of which they made dresses.

This years’ payments showed that the Blackfeet and Blood Indians had begun to decrease, a natural consequence of their coming in contact with the whites, and this decrease has been steadily going on to the present day, when these tribes are now about half what they were when the first treaty was made with them. It will be but a few more generations before they will be nearly extinct, as happens with all Indian tribes, sooner or later.

        The police found it difficult to eradicate the old customs among the tribes, many of which were crimes according to the white man’s law, but an article of faith and teaching among the Indians. I think that too much was expected when it was thought that these old customs of generations could be eliminated in a year or two. It must be remembered that the western Indians, through their forefathers, had been brought up to believe that stealing, lying and killing were virtues to be cultivated, and could not understand why they should be punished- the greatest chiefs among them were those in whom these qualities were most prominent, and to be a chief was the aim of all young men in the camp. I think that the first few years the sentences of the Indians who had committed crimes against white man’s law were most severe. However, as the country was now beginning to settle it was no doubt necessary. A great deal of trouble was taken to put a stop to a punishment the Indians had among themselves for infidelity among their women, which was the cutting off of the nose of the offender. They were loath to give this up, and severe punishments had to be meted out to them.

The missionaries and teachers on the reserves were not very successful, although indefatigable in their labors, and I still think, as I represented at that time, that the only way to teach the children and to bring them up as useful members of society, is to separate them altogether from the tribes, as their parents will never force the children to attend school if they wish to shirk. I recommended the same plan as now adopted in the United States with success, to establish industrial schools some hundreds of miles away from the reserves, which would effectually prevent all intercourse between the children and their parents, and at intervals the parents might be taken to see them, in order that they might, by their reports of the advancement made, induce others to send their children.

In Sept. 1882 Inspector Steele in command of B. troop, who had the previous year been stationed at Ft. Qu’Appelle, was moved to the Pile of Bones creek, and erected the first buildings

in what is now the town of Regina, the capital of the Northwest Territories. The buildings put up were portable houses, and were erected for the use of the police. The government buildings were shortly afterwards built, and the town of Regina came into existence. Inspector Steele was engaged for the next year in looking after the construction parties on the Canadian Pacific railway as that road was building west, and the quietness and absence of disturbances among the thousands of workmen engaged in building that road were largely due to the watchfulness and energy displayed by him, and the non-commissioned officers and men under him. Inspector McIlree, who had remained at Ft. Walsh after I left in the spring of 1882, and who had a difficult job in looking after the Indians assembled there, was this summer promoted to the rank of superintendent, and was the next spring stationed at Ft. Calgary, where he had his hands full of work, the Canadian Pacific railway being built through that place during this year. In 1883 Ft. Walsh was finally abandoned and the men and officers stationed there moved to the west, and to Regina, which was this year made the headquarters of the force.

The old fort at Walsh did not long remain standing, as it was shortly afterwards burnt down by Indians, and the old village also soon disappeared much in the same manner; although a good deal of material from the old houses was moved when the railroad passed Maple Creek, at which point many of the old inhabitants of Ft. Walsh took up their residence.

In the north, around Battleford and Fort Pitt, the Cree Indians and halfbreeds were giving the police no end of trouble during the years 1882-3, and the seeds were growing that sprang into rebellion in 1885. There is no doubt that the Crees in the north were insufficiently fed.

At Ft. Macleod there was plenty of work for the increased force of police and that work was ably performed. The village of Macleod had slightly increased in population, and many ranches had been started in that section and also from High River to Calgary. The first newspaper was established in 1882 at Ft. Macleod, the Macleod Gazette, which is still in existence and was edited by C. Wood, formerly in the Mounted Police. This was the second newspaper started in the Territories, the first being the Battleford Herald, which started a year or two previously.


Many thousand head of cattle now grazed on the plains in the west, the first few years’ success of this industry inducing many others to embark in the business. It was however a new thing to most of the large companies, and for the first year or so the want of knowledge caused, during the hard winter that prevailed in 1882-3, some serious losses, particularly to the Cochrane Ranche Co., which had some 7,000 or 8,000 head ranging on the north side of the Bow river in the vicinity of Calgary. Many of these cattle were driven in from a long distance south, in the fall of 1882, and came in thin. It seemed to be thought by the management that it was necessary to close herd the cattle, and the result was that, the winter of ’82 and ’83 being an unusually severe one, many thousands of their cattle died before spring, and the country round Calgary was fairly poisoned by the stench of the carcasses. After this year the Cochrane Co. decided to move their cattle from Calgary and obtained a large grazing lease between the Belly and Kootenay rivers, some twenty-five miles south of Ft. Macleod where they have remained ever since, with great success in stock raising. They have lost no cattle during the winters, of any account, the only loss they have really sustained being by Indians, the Bloods having their reserve just across the Belly river and in close proximity to the Cochrane ranche. This however was to be expected as hundreds of head of cattle would cross over and graze close to the Indian villages, which was a temptation almost impossible for the young men to resist. A police detachment was always kept near the reserve, and good service was done by them in hunting up and arresting the offenders, and many an Indian was sent to the penitentiary for numbers of years for this offence. Strange as it may appear, when the Indians were practically wild, and only recently on their reserves, cattle killing was not nearly as prevalent as it has been in the years from 1890 until today.

In 1883 a new town site for Ft. Macleod was surveyed, where the town now stands, about two miles west of the old fort, and a more unsuitable situation could hardly have been chosen- high up on the bench land, above the river, on a bed of loose stones, with little or no soil fit for cultivation in the whole plot. A new fort was also built west of the town, and very respectable buildings erected. The contract was taken and the work done by the Galt Co., who had built a saw mill in the Porcupine hills, to the west, where most of the lumber was manufactured.

It was found necessary to abandon the old fort and town, as the river had broken through its banks and carried away some buildings, and had formed a new channel on the south, converting what had been the mainland into an island. The Indian Department also put up buildings, those put up by me being the first built in the present town of Macleod. Most of the buildings in the town were erected in the following year, in which year the fort was finished and occupied by the police, with Superintendent Cotton in command. Major Crozier having been appointed Assistant Police Commissioner, was stationed at Battleford, that point causing more anxiety to the government than any other place in the Territories.

         The game that existed in plenty apart from the buffalo when we first arrived, had nearly altogether disappeared. Where deer used to be found in numbers, none were now to be seen. We used to kill many in the wooded bottom near the old fort, but for some years there had been scarcely any there, and save in the foot hills and mountains, no game, with the exception of a few bands of antelope, geese, and ducks, in the spring and fall, now existed in the country. Most of the hunting in the mountains was done by the Stoney Indians, who went far back in the range, and managed to kill a good many deer of all kinds, including elk now and then, and also a good many sheep and a few bears.

Geese, ducks and grouse, were still plentiful on the plains, and the game laws that now came into force helped towards the increase of the latter, although, each fall, the flight of geese to the south was less in numbers, no doubt caused by the great slaughter that was always going on in the north, and particularly by the destruction of the eggs during the laying season by halfbreeds and Indians. The geese were not protected by law as it was supposed that the damage done by them to the crops necessitated their destruction. However this might be, flights were not nearly as numerous in 1882-3 as in previous years, unless the waveys be excepted. These geese, white in color with black tips to the wings, were, and still are, as numerous as ever, and strange as it may appear, neither I nor any other resident or Indian in the north, ever saw or heard of a nest of one of these birds having been seen. Indians in the north have often told me that they had heard that the wavey nested very far in the north, in a marshy spot of many miles in diameter, and this swamp was impassable. The truth of this story is hard to substantiate, but no doubt these birds do nest far inside the Arctic circle.

Rabbits, both the cotton tail and the jack rabbit, the latter being a species of hare, turning white in the winter were still numerous; in fact the genuine rabbits, or cotton tails, are fast increasing in the north, and if steps are not taken in time, will eventually prove as great a pest as in Australia. In 1877 none of these rabbits were to be found south of the Red Deer river, 100 miles north of Calgary, but they have year by year crept south till they are now quite numerous in the vicinity of Ft. Macleod. As the wolves are killed off, which animals live principally on these rodents, they increase enormously in numbers. The wolves, since the buffalo had gone, were most destructive to stock, both horses and cattle, and although nothing like as numerous as in the buffalo days, when parties of “wolfers” who had been out all winter poisoning wolves, would return in the spring with many hundred pelts, they killed and maimed many animals annually among the cattle herds. In late years a bounty has been offered by the Territorial government and cattle companies of $5 per head killed, but still the damage goes on and comparatively few are killed. They will not ear the poisoned baits as in the old days, no doubt growing wiser with experience, and riding down and shooting them is about the only successful method yet discovered, and this thins them but slowly. Hounds were for some time used, but a couple of large prairie wolves would stand off a whole pack, and the dogs soon become afraid to tackle them. Therefore as a game country unless long trips are made into the mountains, which necessitates a good outfit for camping, the western portion of the Territories is a failure, and whoever comes out with the intention of shooting will be disappointed. However, a journey to the far north, about 150 miles north of Edmonton, on the Lesser Slave lake, or Peace river, would well repay the journey, as much game, such as elk, many kinds of deer, caribou, and now and then a wood buffalo are still to be found, and a party prepared for the rough work in the mountains, would still find many sheep, goats and bears to reward their labors.

Continued in Chapter 28: Western Indians Become Restless.

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Trouble With Blackfeet

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 XXV – Governor General Visits Northwest.


Chapter XXVI

Trouble With Blackfeet

MATTERS AT THE Blackfoot Crossing had not been going on well during the winter of 1881, and early in the spring of ’82, I was instructed to proceed via Ft. Macleod to the Crossing and take charge of the Blackfeet, also the Sarcees, who had their reserve near Calgary, and the Stonies, who were located at Morleyville, some forty miles west of Calgary.

A good deal of trouble had been caused at the Blackfoot agency owing to a flaw in the beef contract, which gave the contractors the right to dispose of all heads and offal of animals killed; these parts they sold to the highest bidder among the Indians, and in many instances exorbitant prices were charged.

The Blackfeet had only the previous year returned from a long sojourn across the line and had done little or nothing in the way of building, but were mostly congregated around the agency. Flour had on some occasions run out during the winter, and, remembering the starving conditions they had been in previous to crossing the line, they were afraid of a recurrence. They were therefore dissatisfied; after spending nearly two years in Montana stealing horses and trading for whiskey, the young men among the Blackfeet were a pretty wild lot, and under the control of the soldier lodge which they had organized while on the other side. This band of soldiers was the cause of the greatest trouble to the Indian department of employes on the reserve, and things had come to such a pass that on several occasions shots had been fired in close proximity to men working on the reserve, and finally a shot was fired at one of the men employed by the butchers, who, the Indian stated, had sold him a beefhead, and then had delivered it to some other Indian. A party of police from Ft. Macleod, under Inspector Dickens, was sent to arrest the Indian, Bull Elk, who had fired the shot. But the Blackfeet resisted the arrest, this being the first serious resistance shown towards the police since they had been in the country. Although the party of police was small, vigorous efforts were made to take him, and it was not until the prisoner had been forcibly taken away from Sergt. Howe and Constable Ash, who showed a brave front, and Inspector Dickens even knocked down, and many shots fired by the Indians pretty close to the police, that they had to desist, and send in word to Ft. Macleod for reinforcements.

Major Crozier immediately started for the Crossing with all the available men he could muster, and these only amounted to 20. He found the Indians in a most excited state, and they positively refused to give up the Indian, Bull Elk. The situation was a most serious one, and required prompt action, as it would have ruined the prestige of the police with the Indians, had this man not been taken.

Major Crozier informed Crowfoot, the head chief, that if the Indian was not given up by the following day, he would take him by force. At the same time a temporary fort was made out of one of the Indian department buildings, and sacks of flour were used as a barricade. A very good fortification was made in a short time, and every precaution taken in the event of the Indians showing fight.

This prompt action overawed the Indians, who although in large numbers, did not dare to go to extremities. The Indian was taken the next day without resistance, and sent into Fort Macleod, where he was tried by Judge Macleod and imprisoned. This was about as close a shave of coming into actual conflict with the Indians as had yet occurred; and only the coolness and courage shown by the officers and men averted an Indian war, which would most certainly have followed, had an Indian or white man been killed.

This happened only a week or so before my arrival to take charge of the Blackfeet, and I found them in a most excited and unsettled state; and it would have taken very little to have made them leave their reserve, and go south again, in which event they would have made a slaughter of settlers’ cattle before they left. A small detachment of police under Inspector French had been left at the Crossing, and their work was far from being safe or pleasant.

I found that the Indians were anxious to go to work, but as yet had no tools. These I shortly supplied the, and I also took over the heads and offal of all animals killed, and issued them as rations, thus removing one of the chief causes of trouble.

I also made arrangements for seed for the Blackfeet, Sarcees and Stoney Indians, and started the Blackfeet in building houses, the villages being scattered along the Bow river, some distance from each other. It was necessary to break up the large numbers congregating together.

Mr. Norman Macleod, who was Indian agent at Ft. Macleod, shortly afterwards resigned, and I was appointed agent over the whole of Treaty No. 7, which comprised the five tribes: Blood, Blackfeet, Piegans, Sarcees, and Stonies.

The headquarters of the agency was at Ft. Macleod, but I had to be constantly journeying from one reserve to another, having to visit each at least once a month, and sometimes oftener, and when it is remembered that the reserve farthest south- the Blood- was at least a hundred and fifty miles from that to the Stonies, and the other reserves, at distances proportionately great, the amount of travel was indeed large. There were also two experimental farms, west of Ft. Macleod, and the other on Fish Creek, seven miles from Calgary. These also had to be visited. I had the assistance of a sub-agent, Mr. Pocklington, who was, however, stationed permanently at the Blackfoot Crossing, but he saved me much work; also valuable assistance was always given by the police, particularly among the Bloods, on which reserve a detachment was placed.

I found the Piegan and Stoney Indians getting on much better than any of the other tribes, they having quite a large tract of land under cultivation. However, I managed this summer to get quite a large acreage under crop on all the reserves, principally potatoes, barley and turnips, and got the Bloods and Blackfeet to make a good start in the way of house-building, which they had done little of previous to my arrival.

The Stoney and Piegan Indians took the cattle promised them at the treaty, and did well with them, but the rest of the tribes in the treaty refused them, and it was just as well they did, as what with the hundreds of dogs in these camps and the unfitness of these Indians to take care of cattle, they would either have soon been all killed or else lost past recovery.

The two supply farms were given up and sold the following year. This was just as well, as they were a great expense and of little use for the purpose they were originally intended.

The police in the west had their hands full this summer, as continual raids were made by the Crees and Southern Indians on the Bloods and Blackfeet, after horses, many of which they ran off. Of course these Indians retaliated, but a check was put to this after a while, as many Indians were captured red-handed, and sent down to the penitentiary.

One instance of this horse-stealing that occurred, I well remember. One of the Blood Chiefs, White Calf, came and reported to me at Macleod that forty of their horses had been stolen by Crees on the night previous, and he was anxious to take a war party and go after them. This I would not allow, but gave him a letter to Col. Irvine, the Police Commissioner at Ft. Walsh, in which I asked him to try and recover the stolen horses, and I stipulated that only three Bloods should go; however, without my knowledge, quite a party started, in fact about ninety, and after they were well on the road they sent me word that this large party had gone, as they were afraid of being attacked by the Crees at Cypress Hills; I much doubted this explanation, and the sequel showed I was right. They gave Col. Irvine and the police at Ft. Walsh endless trouble to keep them from coming into hostile contact with the Indians congregated round Cypress, and did in fact kill a Cree as they were leaving. Of course they had endless excuses. They had seen their horses among the Crees, who refused to give them up. The Chief, Pie-a-pot, had thrown the tobacco they had offered him to make peace into the fire. With the exception of this band I had no trouble with the Indians during the summer, they remaining quietly at work on their reserves, but I had to be constantly among them, and the talk was without end. By this time it was known that the C.P.R. railroad would be built through the Blackfoot reserve, and indeed the survey had been made, and it was to be expected that the Blackfeet would cause trouble over it, but such was not the case. They showed no signs of displeasure, but only curiosity, which was to be expected, as they were totally ignorant of what a railroad was.

I, on many occasions, spoke to the Blackfeet on the subject, and was asked a thousand questions, I pointed out to them the advantage they would derive from the road running near them, and they appeared satisfied; I however recommended that when the road was actually building through the reserve, it would be well to have police detachments near or on the reservation. This was afterwards carried out, and no trouble whatever was caused by the Blackfeet to the working parties. The road was built without a single hitch, much to the credit of the Indians.

The Blackfeet asked me on many occasions the meaning of the surveyors’ mounds and stakes, stating that they had been told that wherever a mound was erected, a house would be built. I over and over again took pains to fully explain the nature of the surveyors’ work, but the Indians were so superstitious that they more easily listened to false than true reports.

Although the country was fast filling up with cattle, but few cases of cattle-killing occurred this year, and although cattle belonging to the Cochrane Ranche company were running on the Blackfoot reserve in close proximity to the Indian villages, none were killed, a vast difference to what now exists after ten years, when the same company are complaining every year of the number of cattle belonging to them that are killed by the Blood Indians near their reservation. In fact the whole time I was in charge of treaty No. 1 very few cases of this kind occurred.

As the year 1882 might be said to be the first year in which the plain Indians undertook to farm, the result was most surprising, and in fact the crops raised from ’82 until ’84 have never since been equaled. In fact from 1892 until the present time it was seldom if ever, that enough vegetables were grown on the different reserves to even furnish seed for the following year.

An extract from my annual report to the Indian Commissioner for 1882 reads as follows:

“The summer has been a good and fine one, and large crops have been raised on all the reserves, with the exception of the Stonies, where as usual early frosts destroyed what crops there were. The Bloods raised as much, I should think, as two hundred thousand pounds of potatoes, and a large quantity of turnips, also some oats and barley, but principally potatoes. The Piegan crop of potatoes, oats and barley, is even greater than this. The Blackfeet have, I should think, about one hundred thousand pounds of potatoes, some turnips, and some goods fields of barley for the first year’s crop. The Sarcee crop is not very large owing to the land being bad, and the potatoes being hurt by the frost in the early part of the summer. Previous to the harvest I visited the reserve and advised the Indians to turn in as much seed for the next year as possible, telling them that the government would not furnish them with seed another year.

         “I also had large root houses built on the different reserves to hold the seed. The result is that the Indians have turned us over an abundance of potatoes, more than we can use for seed; the rest will be issued instead of flour. On the Blood Reserve we have three root-houses full of potatoes, about seventy thousand pounds, received in various quantities from different Indians, from one bag up as high as fifteen from individual Indians.

         “The Bloods have besides this a large amount of seed, many thousand pounds, in their own root-houses. We have in the last month allowed the Indians to use their potatoes, and have cut the rations one-half. It has saved many hundred sacks of flour already, and I hope to keep to this ration for the winter. We should be able to double the amount of land in crop next year.”

The report further goes on to state:

         “The result of the work done on this reserve is most satisfactory. On the Piegan reserve the potato crop is very large. The Indians have turned over for next year’s seed about fifty thousand pounds of potatoes and I have purchased fifty thousand pounds from them at 2½ cents per lb., to issue as rations at the same rate as flour, which will effect a saving of nearly 4 cents on every pound issued, as flour is $8.75 per 100 lbs., on that reserve, and it is also a great encouragement to the Indians to sell some of their produce. I have allowed some of the Piegans who had more potatoes than they could use, to sell to people in the country by giving them permits. They have, I should think, sold $1,000 worth, and have still large quantities on hand.

         “We are making also on this reserve a great reduction in the rations, letting them use their potatoes in lieu. The Indians are all fond of potatoes and it is about the best crop they can raise. At the Blackfoot Crossing we have taken in from Indians for seed, between twenty and thirty thousand pounds of potatoes, and they have a good many on hand to use. Here we are also making a reduction in the rations of flour.”

It will be seen from the above that wonderful progress had been made by these Indians this year, and it is all the more astonishing, as up to this time they were rightly considered the wildest and most warlike Indians on the plains. They have never since those first two or three years done anything near so well, from what cause it would be difficult to say. There is, however, no doubt that the seasons have been getting drier for the last six or seven years, the three or four weeks of heavy rains that always came in June of every year do not now put in an appearance, and in consequence crops are a failure nearly every year, the grass also being less luxuriant. Therefore, the only way in which this country will ever be fit for farming will be by the aid of irrigation, and even then the great expense will stand in the way, without assistance from the Canadian government.

Continued in Chapter 27: Trouble with the Southern Indians.

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The Curse of Oak Island- Season 7, Episode 6: Closing In

The Curse of Oak Island- Season 7, Episode 6: Closing In

The following is a plot summary of Season 7, Episode 6 of the History Channel’s TV series The Curse of Oak Island.






Plot Summary

Rick Lagina, Dan Henskee, and other members of the Oak Island team head to the South Shore Cove, where the terminus of an old searcher tunnel (called the Shaft 9 sluiceway) was discovered at the end of the previous episode. Doug Crowell, Billy Gerhardt, and contractor Scott Barlow, using shovels and a backhoe, uncover enough of the structure to determine the sluiceway’s orientation. The crew then decides to dig a hole 25 feet along the supposed line of the sluiceway in order to verify that they have correctly estimated the structure’s subterranean route.

Later, Rick and Marty Lagina, Craig Tester, and Steve Guptill head to the Cave-In Pit, where they meet with Alex Gauthier and other members of Eagle Canada. We learn that the seismic exploration company has laid crisscrossing lines of geophones and dynamite charges across Smith’s Cove and the Cave-In Pit area, and will be detonating around 1,000 (out of a total of 18,000) charges in the Cave-In Pit area that evening. The seismic crew proceeds with the operation as the sun sets.

The next morning, the Eagle Canada crew begins laying out geophones in the section of island between the swamp and the Money Pit area, which the narrator refers to as the “Highlands”. While the jughounds go about their work, Gary Drayton and Peter Fornetti do some metal detecting on Oak Island’s Lot 32, not far from the swamp. First, the pair uncovers what Drayton identifies as an 18th Century decking spike at the edge of the beach. After that, the treasure hunters unearth a curved, hand-forged, wrought-iron rod which Drayton likens to the crib spikes discovered on Oak Island’s Lot 26 back in Season 6, Episode 3. The treasure hunters agree that they ought to have the artifact analyzed by blacksmithing expert Carmen Legge.

Meanwhile, Billy Gerhardt, Scott Barlow, and other members of the Oak Island team dig a hole about 25 feet uphill from the terminus of the Shaft 9 sluiceway in the hopes of intersecting the searcher tunnel. Gerhardt digs the hole as deep as his backhoe will allow and finally uncovers the very top of the sluiceway.

Later, various members of the Oak Island team meet in the War Room with Canadian journalist and writer D’Arcy O’Connor, author of the excellent book The Secret Treasure of Oak Island: The Amazing Story of a Centuries-Old Treasure Hunt, and his daughter, Miranda. O’Connor presents his theory that the Oak Island treasure constitutes the contents of a Spanish treasure galleon bound for Spain, which foundered off the island’s coast during a storm. When prompted by Marty Lagina, the writer states that, throughout the course of his research, he read about approximately 200 Spanish treasure galleons which disappeared on the route from Havana, Cuba, to Europe. “They carried large crews,” O’Connor continues, “as well as engineers who’d been opening up the new silver mines in Bolivia and other places. So they had intelligent people aboard, and so I came up with a theory that maybe one of these ships got caught in a storm as they were following the Gulf Stream and was driven all the way north to a little island in Nova Scotia- maybe Oak Island.” Rather than attempt to sail their precious cargo through waters patrolled by the French and English- their colonial rivals- the Spaniards decided to bury the contents of their ship on Oak Island and protect it with flood tunnels. The narrator then recites several pieces of evidence which bolsters O’Connor’s theory.

The next day, Alex Lagina and Gary Drayton drive to the Ross Farm Museum in New Ross, Nova Scotia, where they show blacksmithing expert Carmen Legge some of their recent Lot 32 finds. Legge verifies that the decking spike is indeed what Drayton initially suspected it to be. Alex then concludes the meeting by saying, “So, we’ve got a deck spike, and then a mystery item that we need to do a little bit more work on,” implying that he and Gary, in a scene which failed to make this episode’s final cut, showed Legge another item- perhaps the supposed crib spike- which the blacksmithing expert was unable to identify.

Later, Gary Drayton meets with Charles Barkhouse, Billy Gerhardt, and Scott Barlow at the Money Pit area, at a location at which the treasure hunters believe Shaft 9 once lay. Gerhardt begins excavating the area with a backhoe, and Drayton proceeds to sift through the spoils he removes with a metal detector. About six feet below the surface, Gerhardt discovers cribbing from what must be Shaft 9. That accomplished, the contractor- assisted by shovel-wielding Rick Lagina and Scott Barlow, who have since joined the operation- proceeds to uncover all four corners of the 6’x12’ shaft. Shortly thereafter, the team discovers the beginning of the sluiceway connecting Shaft 9 with the South Shore cove, whereupon water seeps in to fill the hole they dug. The treasure hunters, all of whom appear visibly pleased with their discovery, agree that they ought to have Steve Guptill plot the coordinates of Shaft 9 so that they might be able to estimate the location of the original Money Pit.

Later, Rick Lagina, Jack Begley, and Doug Crowell meet with Alex Gauthier of Eagle Canada, whose team has completed the massive seismic scan of the eastern half of Oak Island. The narrator informs us that it will take several weeks for the data from the seismic survey to be analyzed and prepared.


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The Curse of Oak Island- Season 7, Episode 5: Tunnel Visions

The Curse of Oak Island- Season 7, Episode 5: Tunnel Visions

The following is a plot summary and analysis of Season 7, Episode 5 of the History Channel’s TV series The Curse of Oak Island.






Plot Summary

This episode begins just north of the Cave-In Pit, at one of the anomalies discovered during the ground penetrating radar scan conducted in Season 7, Episode 2. We learn through Terry Matheson’s conversation with Doug Crowell that Choice Drilling is in the process of sinking a hole in this location. While core samples are retrieved from the hole, the narrator reminds us that the Oak Island Treasure Company, back in 1897, discovered the junction of the Smith’s Cove flood tunnel and the Money Pit at a depth of 111 feet.

Matheson, Crowell, Jack Begley, and Paul Troutman examine a core sample from Cave-In Pit 2, taken from a depth of 99-109 feet. The sample contains four feet of sand which stands out from the surrounding till, which the treasure hunters- including an especially enthusiastic Doug Crowell- speculate might be remnants of the Smith’s Cove flood tunnel. The four men call over Rick and Marty Lagina, Craig Tester, and Dave Blankenship and inform them of the potential discovery. Rick observes that the core sample contains no wood, unlike the sample discovered on Smith’s Cove’s Upper Beach in the previous episode. Marty responds by remarking that, if he had been tasked with constructing a flood tunnel that was to last a thousand years, he might have packed it with sand rather than support it with cribbing. The treasure hunters agree to sink another hole west of Cave-In Pit 2, on a line connecting the U-shaped structure with the Money Pit area, in order to determine whether or not the sand continues in that direction.

Later, Gary Drayton, Jack Begley, and Peter Fornetti go metal detecting on Oak Island’s Lot 27, first owned by Daniel McGinnis. After passing over some unknown metallic object which Drayton dismisses as “modern junk”, the metal detecting expert discovers a rusted iron chisel. When prompted by Jack Begley, Drayton speculates that the object might be as old as the swage blocks which he discovered on Lot 21 in Season 7, Episode 2, and that it might have been used for tunneling through rock.

That afternoon, the Oak Island crew returns to the Cave-In Pit area, where a hole 5 feet west of the so-called “Cave-In Pit 2” is being drilled. A core sample taken from a depth of 99-109 feet contains some sand mixed with clay, but nothing resembling the four feet of pure sand found in “Cave-In Pit 2”. In light of this setback, the crew decides to abandon the drilling operation and later conduct a seismic scan in the area.

The next day, members of the Oak Island team meet with Alex Gauthier and Scott Graychick of Eagle Canada. During their subsequent conversation, we learn that Eagle Canada has been tasked with conducting a massive seismic survey of the entire eastern end of Oak Island.

That afternoon, Craig Tester, Alex Lagina, and Laird Niven meet with GPR experts Steve Watson and Don Johnston at the foundations of the old McGinnis family cabin. We learn that the Oak Island team has decided to conduct an archaeological investigation of the foundations, and that the first step in this process is to perform a Ground Penetrating Radar scan of the area. “We’re going to have you guys come in and do your work,” Niven explains to the GPR experts, “and identify anomalies that could be significant, and based on that data, we’re going to write a new permit application for some subsurface testing- some excavation.”

Later, the Fellowship of the Dig meets in the War Room with naval historian Chipp Reid, who has come to share his theory regarding the nature of the structures discovered at Smith’s Cove. Reid shows the boys a diagram depicting a ‘water battery’, which he describes as “an artillery position that’s constructed as close to the shoreline as possible” (although it is not mentioned in this episode, this diagram is from a map of Cartagena, Colombia, drawn by English engineer John Thomas the Elder in 1741). He claims that the particular water battery depicted in the diagram was common from roughly 1600-1850. He then points out structures on the diagram which closely resemble the U-shaped structure, the L-shaped structure, and the slipway, respectively, implying that the mysterious workings at Smith’s Cove constitute the remains of a water battery. Reid then suggests that, if the structures discovered at Smith’s Cove indeed comprise a water battery, and if the structures indeed date to the mid-18th Century (as the dendrochronological dating carried out in Season 6, Episode 21 indicate), then the battery was probably constructed by members of the French military. The narrator proceeds to lecture us on the history of the Fortress of Louisbourg, an enormous French fortress constructed on Cape Breton Island from 1713-1740. Reid concludes his presentation by theorizing that the French military used Oak Island as a water battery in the early 1700s, and that they hid the treasury of Louisbourg on the island prior to the First Siege of Louisbourg in 1745.

Following Reid’s presentation, Craig Tester, Alex Lagina, and Laird Niven meet at the foundations of the McGinnis family cabin. There, Steve Watson and Don Johnston, who have already carried out their GPR scan of the foundations and surrounding area, point out some of the anomalies they came across. The strongest of these is a four-foot-wide anomaly located four feet below the surface. The treasure hunters agree that they ought to excavate these anomalies, for which they will need to acquire a permit from the provincial government.

Later, the Lagina brothers and Doug Crowell drive to Oak Island’s Southern Shore. During the drive, Crowell explains that, according to Dan Henskee, Triton Alliance went through the papers of former Oak Island treasure hunter Mel Chappell and learned an interesting piece of Oak Island history. Back in 1863, the Oak Island Association dug a 120-foot deep shaft, called ‘Shaft 9’, about 100 feet southeast of the Money Pit. In order to prevent this tunnel from flooding, they constructed a sluiceway which directed any water which might collect in the tunnel towards the South Shore Cove. That accomplished, the Association built another 108-foot-deep tunnel from Shaft 9 towards the Money Pit. Unfortunately, the Oak Island Association went under before the workers were able to complete this tunnel. Doug Crowell hopes that, if the Fellowship of the Dig manages to locate the sluiceway beneath the South Shore Cove, they may be able to trace it back to Shaft 9 and the tunnel connected to it, which extends in the direction of the Money Pit.

Doug Crowell directs the Lagina brothers to the site at which the mouth of the sluiceway is believed to lie, whereupon Marty Lagina begins excavating the area with a backhoe. At first, Marty unearths nothing besides a rusted length of pipe. When he reaches a depth of about ten feet, water begins flooding into the hole. The younger Lagina brother proceeds to dig in the direction of the water source and discovers a wooden tunnel which appears to be the mouth of the sluiceway. The treasure hunters watch with pleasure and surprise as water gushes from the opening, marveling that sluiceway still works after 156 years. They agree that they ought to follow the sluiceway to Shaft 9, and hopefully to the Money Pit beyond.



The Composition of the Smith’s Cove Flood Tunnel

In this episode, the Oak Island team drilled into one of the anomalies near the Cave-In Pit discovered during a GPR scan carried out in Season 7, Episode 2. Although nothing of interest appeared at the depth of interested indicated by the GPR scan (either 82 feet or 91 feet, depending on which anomaly was investigated), a core sample taken from 99-109 feet contained four feet of pure sand. Some members of the crew believed that this sand might be remains of the Smith’s Cove flood tunnel. Indeed, Marty Lagina, who is an engineer by profession, remarked that if he had been tasked with constructing a flood tunnel that was to last a thousand years, he might have packed it with sand rather than support it with cribbing.

The notion that the Smith’s Cove flood tunnel might have been packed with sand is a new idea that has not previously been suggested on the show. This notion appears to conflict with the generally accepted purpose of the coconut-eelgrass filter discovered at Smith’s Cove by the Truro Company in 1850, namely that the filter was designed to prevent the Smith’s Cove flood tunnel from becoming clogged with sand and debris. It also runs contrary to the idea that the tunnel is supported by wooden cribbing, as suggested by members of the Oak Island team following the discovery of hand-cut beams in OITC-6 the previous episode. Perhaps most importantly, however, it conflicts with a discovery made by the Oak Island Treasure Company, which was mentioned in this episode. In the spring of 1897, the men of the Oak Island Treasure Company cleared out the Money Pit to a depth of 111 feet. There, they got a good look at the entrance of the Smith’s Cove flood tunnel before floodwater overcame their pumps. According to the workers, the flood tunnel was 4 feet high, 2.5 feet wide, and constructed from rock.

Whatever the case, a second hole sunk five feet west of the sand anomaly, on a line connecting the U-shaped structure with the Money Pit area, yielded nothing of interest, prompting the crew to abandon their drilling operation.

Upcoming Seismic Survey of the Eastern Drumlin

In this episode, we learned that the seismic exploration company Eagle Canada has been tasked with conducting an enormous seismic scan of the entire eastern end of Oak Island. This operation will be the third seismic scan conducted on Oak Island. Throughout Season 6, Eagle Canada carried out seismic scans in the Money Pit area, the Swamp, and a place northwest of the swamp dubbed the ‘Mega Bin’ area. Although these scans revealed several tantalizing anomalies, further investigation of these anomalies failed to yield anything of interest.

Chipp Reid’s Theory

In this episode, naval historian Chipp Reid presented his own theory regarding the nature of the mysterious workings discovered at Smith’s Cove the previous season. Using a map of Cartagena, Colombia, drawn by English engineer John Thomas the Elder in 1741, he demonstrated that some of the structures discovered at Smith’s Cove- including the U-Shaped structure, the L-shaped structure, and the slipway- bear remarkable resemblance to components of a ‘water battery’, or a beachside artillery station. He went on to suggest that the battery was constructed by members of the French military, who had a major presence in Nova Scotia throughout much of the 17th and 18th Centuries. He also suggested that the battery was constructed in the early 1700s, and expressed partiality towards the theory that the Oak Island treasure consists of the treasury of the Fortress of Louisbourg, buried by members of the French military prior to the First Siege of Louisbourg in 1745.

One major problem with Reid’s theory, of which the naval historian is doubtless aware, is the dendrochronological dating of the various Smith’s Cove structures carried out in Season 6, Episode 21. Specifically, wood from the slipway was dated to 1771, and wood from the U-shaped structure was dated to 1769. If the dendrochronological dating is accurate, then it is unlikely that the French had a hand in the structures’ construction. The French lost peninsular Nova Scotia to the British during Queen Anne’s War (1702-1713), the North American theatre of the War of Spanish Succession, only retaining the large island that lies north of the peninsula, known today as Cape Breton Island. Although the French made several attempts to retake peninsular Nova Scotia, including the disastrous Duc d’Anville Expedition of 1746, they never succeeded in their endeavors. The French lost their Nova Scotian holdings to the British for good in 1758, following the second Siege of Louisbourg. By 1769, when the trees of which the U-shaped structure is comprised were felled, all of Nova Scotia was firmly in British hands.

Shaft 9 and the Sluiceway

Near the end of this episode, we learn about a lost Oak Island landmark discovered years prior by Dan Henskee and members of Triton Alliance, who made the discovery while looking through the papers of former Oak Island treasure hunter Mel Chappell. Back in 1863, the Oak Island Association dug a 120-foot deep shaft, called ‘Shaft 9’, about 100 feet southeast of the Money Pit and 20 feet south of the Smith’s Cove flood tunnel. In order to prevent this tunnel from flooding, they constructed a sluiceway which directed any water which might collect in the tunnel towards the South Shore Cove (it must be mentioned that, in his 1958 book The Oak Island Mystery, Oak Island lawyer R.V. Harris stated that this tunnel connecting Shaft 9 with the South Shore Cove was intended to intercept the South Shore Cove flood tunnel). That accomplished, the Association built another 108-foot-deep tunnel from Shaft 9 towards the Money Pit. Although the narrator informed us in this episode that the workers were unable to complete this tunnel, R.V. Harris, in his book, stated that this tunnel “entered the [Money] Pit at a point 100 feet down and there they found the hard bottom of the Pit on the west side.”

Whatever the case, Doug Crowell, in this episode, directed Rick and Marty Lagina to a place on the South Shore Cove where the mouth of the Shaft 9 sluiceway was believed to be located. Marty Lagina excavated this area with a backhoe and unearthed a wooden tunnel from which water gushed forth. The crewmembers then agreed that they ought to follow this tunnel to Shaft 9, and to the Money Pit beyond.


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Nakani: The Wildman of the North

Deep in the wilderness of Northern Canada lies a mysterious region around which strange tales have swirled for more than 100 years. Located near the junction of British Columbia, Yukon, and the Northwest Territories, the Nahanni Valley is region replete with stories of headless prospectors, hidden gold mines, tropical oases, lost tribes, evil spirits, Indian curses, prehistoric monsters, and a mysterious “White Queen”. For about a year now, the legends of the Nahanni have enjoyed a resurgence in popularity. They have been mentioned in many different YouTube videos and podcasts. A group of filmmakers from Calgary, Alberta, are currently in the process of making a brilliant documentary on them called Secrets of Nahanni. Quite a few people have seen my video Interview with a Cryptid Hunter, in which I interviewed Frank Graves, and adventurer who made an expedition to the Nahanni region in 1965. By the way, if you enjoyed that video, I have a feeling that you’ll love another of my videos entitled Legends of the Nahanni Valley: Northern Canada’s Greatest Mysteries, which also features and is narrated entirely by the actress Kelsea Crowe. To find that video, just type the word “Nahanni” into the YouTube search bar.

The popularity of the Nahanni legends seems to wax and wane over time, and to change with every generation. Back in the early 1900s, the most popular of the Nahanni stories was the tale of the Lost McLeod mine- a golden bonanza in the Mackenzie Mountains discovered and lost by two brothers who were found headless on the banks of the South Nahanni River. In the 1940s, newspaper readers across Canada and the United States were captivated by tales of a tropical oasis hidden away somewhere in the Nahanni region, where snow never fell and ice never formed. In the 1970s, the stories of all the trappers and prospectors who have disappeared or turned up headless in the Nahanni region turned the heads of magazine readers across the North American continent. Today, however, the most popular of the Nahanni tales are undoubtedly the stories of the many strange animals which are said to inhabit this secluded vale in the Canadian subarctic. In this video, we’re going to focus on one of those creatures, namely a mysterious figure said to haunt the frozen forests of Northern Canada. Very little known outside of the Canadian Territories and Alaska, this figure most closely resembles the Sasquatch said to roam the rainforests of the Pacific Northwest. To the Dene people who have inhabited the Athabascan wilderness since time immemorial, however, these creatures are known as Nakani.

The following article is essentially made of up excerpts from my book Legends of the Nahanni Valley, edited slightly for the sake of context and continuity. If you haven’t done so already, please consider getting yourself a copy of this book. It consists of thirteen chapters detailing various stories and legends endemic to the Nahanni region, and is the first and only book to deal exclusively with the topic. It would make a great Christmas gift for anyone with an interest in history, folklore, mysteries, cryptozoology, or the far-flung corners of the globe. To get yourself a copy of this book, please click the following link:



Nakani: The Wildman of the North


“That he had nowhere seen the slightest Indian sign bore out the redskin reports that the country was taboo and recalled their superstitions that it was haunted by a race of prehistoric Troglodytes, or Nakanies, as they called them, with repulsive gargoyle-like faces who lived in caves cut from the living rock; creatures reported to be twice the size of ordinary humans, who never missed a chance to carry off unwary hunters or stray squaws in their powerful, gorilla-like arms.”

– Philip H. Godsell, The Curse of Dead Man’s Valley, 1950

FROM THE YOWIE OF AUSTRALIA to the Yeren of China to the Yeti of the Himalayas, huge hairy wildmen feature in folklore around the world, and Canada is no exception. Undoubtedly, the Great White North’s most famous wildman is the Sasquatch, the shy, reclusive giant said to roam the rainforests of the Pacific Northwest; often colloquially referred to as Bigfoot. Less well-known are the Sasquatch’s coastal counterparts: the emaciated, long-haired Bukwus, or “Wild Man of the Woods”, said to haunt the rivers and streams of Vancouver Island and the Queen Charlotte Sound; and the huge, dimwitted Dzunukwa of Kwakiutl and Nootka legend- an old, black-skinned, red-lipped ogress purported to snatch up mischievous children and carry them off in a basket to her forest lair. More obscure wildmen have been reported in other parts of the country, from the Rocky Mountains of Western Alberta to the rocky highlands of Labrador. Perhaps most mysterious of all, however, are the various subhuman hominoids said to inhabit the taiga, tundra, and alpine areas of the Canadian North. Among the most prominent of these are the Nakani.

Long before Alexander Mackenzie dipped his paddle into the Deh Cho, Dene tribes from all over the North, from the eastern shores of the Mackenzie River to the forests of Alaska, spoke of mysterious wildmen who harassed them at night, often lurking in the shadows just beyond the light of the campfire. The Dene were terrified of these elusive creatures, who were as vividly real to them as the wolf and the raven, and went to great lengths to avoid crossing paths with them.

One of the first frontiersmen to write about these wildmen was Father Emile Petitot, a 19th Century Oblate missionary who lived among the Slavey and the Sahtu Dene of the North Country’s two great lakes. In 1876, Petitot wrote of a fear that spread among the Indians each summer like an epidemic: “They live at times in continual terror… of an imaginary enemy who pursues them without rest and who they believe to see everywhere even though he doesn’t exist at all.”

According to ethnographer Cornelius B. Osgood, belief in the Nakani was strong among the Slavey, Dogrib, and Sahtu Dene as late as 1929. When they suspected that a Nakani was lurking nearby, entire Dene bands would often abandon their camps and seek shelter on a nearby lake island, secure in the belief that their pursuer, for one reason or another, was unable to cross over to their new campsite from the shore. On other occasions, according to a Hudson’s Bay Company trader named John Firth, entire encampments would instead stand their ground and fire their muskets “into the forest at suppositious wanderers in the night.”

According to HBC trader B.R. Ross in his 1879 report entitled Notes on the Tinneh or Chipewyan Indians of British and Russian America:

          “A strange footprint, or any unusual sound in the forest, is quite sufficient to cause great excitement in the camp. At Fort Resolution I have on several occasions caused all the natives encamped around to flock for protection into the fort during the night simply by whistling, hidden in the bushes. My train of hauling dogs also, of a large breed of great hunters, would, in crashing through the branches in pursuit of an unfortunate hare, frighten some women out gathering berries, who would rush in frantic haste to the tents and fearfully relate a horrific account of some strange painted Indians whom they had seen. It was my custom in the spring, during the wild fowl season, to sleep outside at some distance from the fort. Numerous were the cautions that I received from the natives of my foolhardiness in doing so…”

The names that the Indians applied to their mysterious unseen enemies varied from place to place and from tribe to tribe. To the Slavey, Kaska, and Mountain Indians of Mackenzie Country, they were the “Nakani”. The Gwich’in who lived further to the north, in the frozen forests that skirt the Arctic Circle, referred to them as “Mahoni.” The Koyukon Indians of the Yukon River Valley called these creatures “Nakentlia,” or “Sneakers,” while the Tanaina of Southwest Alaska referred to them as “Nant’ina,” or “Hairy Men”. Other appellatives included “Bad Indian,” “Bellowing Man,” and “Bushman.” Although the labels attached to these wildmen were numerous, Indian descriptions of them were eerily consistent across the Northland.



Physical Appearance

Most 19th and 20th Century frontiersmen who wrote about the Nakani in their books and journals were under the impression that the Dene regarded them as hairy cannibalistic giants, vaguely human in appearance, with red eyes and long, muscular arms.

According to English adventurer Michael H. Mason in his 1924 book The Arctic Forests, the Gwich’in of Peel River Country in Northern Yukon described the Nakani (or “Mahoni,” as they called them) as “terrible wild men, with red eyes, and of enormous height, completely covered with long hair.” Their tremendous size was attested to by the three-foot-long, human-like footprints that they left in their wake, as well as their alleged ability to tear entire birch trees from the earth with their bare hands, roots and all. Similarly, Philip Godsell, who spent much time around the campfires of the Slavey and Kaska during his years as an inspector for the Hudson’s Bay Company, described the Nakani as “troglodytes, twice the size of ordinary humans, who went about naked save for a coating of evil-smelling hair…” In some articles, he likened them to gorillas and gargoyles, and commented upon the superhuman strength and speed they were said to possess.

Many frontiersmen wrote about the incredible size of this creature’s footprints, which they left behind in the snow and muskeg. Their tracks were purportedly manlike in appearance, yet much longer and narrower. In some accounts, their big toe stood out from the remaining four. Although their footprints never bore any nail marks, some said that the Nakani’s fingers were tipped with long, nail-like claws.

By the mid-20th Century, the image of the Nakani as an enormous hairy monster was making its way into books and popular magazines, often in dramatic fashion. For example, an article entitled “Cursed Treasure of Deadman’s Valley,” published in the June 1968 issue of the magazine Saga, maintained that the Nakani (or “Naconni,” as the author called them), were “hairy demons who stand as high as a Kodiak bear, are as swift as a bird in flight, and… kill all things they can reach by cutting off their heads… Their skin is so tough that a bullet will not penetrate it, and cutting it with a knife is more difficult than cutting stone.”


The Kaska, Slavey, and Mountain Indians of Mackenzie Country long maintained that the Nahanni Valley was the domain of the Nakani, and that these fearsome monsters resided within its foreboding caves and canyons. This belief is attested to by the region’s toponymy; according to Dene language expert Allan Adam, “Na’aahdee”, an old native word for the South Nahanni River, means “River of Giants.”

The Nakani were by no means confined to these remote mountain hideaways. Many of these monsters tirelessly traversed the subarctic forests in search of prey, often travelling extraordinarily long distances without stopping for food or rest, usually alone. Natives all over the Northland, from the coastal regions of Alaska to the forests of the Yukon, lived in almost perpetual fear of them.

Nakani attacks occurred almost exclusively during the spring, summer, and early autumn. The subarctic winter, on the other hand, though dark, miserable, and bitterly cold, was mercifully devoid of these dreaded encounters. Where the Nakani retreated to during the winter months was a mystery to the Dene. Some said that they retired to carefully-concealed burrows that they dug from the permafrost, where they spent the winter hibernating like bears. Others claimed that they migrated south to a place where their kind were more numerous.


Like the Nahanni Indians, the Nakani have been blamed for the unusual number of mysterious deaths and disappearances that have plagued Nahanni Country since the days of Willie and Frank McLeod. Legend has it that these monsters did their grisly work at night, prowling about the river valley in the dark and quietly dispatching any campers they happened to encounter, perhaps tearing, twisting, or hacking their victims’ heads from their shoulders.

Outside the Mackenzie Mountains, the Nakani hunted travelling Indians, stalking them from concealment in the brush. Oftentimes, a Nakani’s intended victims only became aware of its presence when one of their number- perhaps a scout on reconnaissance duty- stumbled upon its strange tracks in the forest, or caught a glimpse of its dark figure out of the corner of his eye, darting noiselessly into the bush. In other instances, the uncanny feeling of being watched might serve as sufficient proof that a Nakani was somewhere nearby.

When a Nakani targeted a particular camp, it took up residence in the trees just beyond the light of the campfire and waited. Sometimes it taunted its intended victims by throwing rocks or sticks at them. It also, on occasion, emitted strange whistling sounds or noises resembling human laughter. Often, it would slip into camp in the middle of the night and steal food- typically fish, either from drying racks or smokehouses- or destroy fish nets and other equipment.

Legend has it that the purpose of the Nakani’s visits were twofold. Its primary objective was stealing women; girls who strayed too far from the camp, especially at dawn or dusk, were in serious danger of being abducted and dragged away into the woods, never to be seen again. The other motivation that drew these monsters to Dene camps was sustenance. If afforded the opportunity, Nakani would snatch children and lone hunters and carry them off into the woods, where it would devour them.

On rare occasions, intended victims- most often young women- narrowly escaped the Nakani’s clutches and returned to tell the tale. Those who survived such encounters often described a powerful, nauseating odor which preceded the attack. Others reported being beset by an overwhelming, almost petrifying sense of dread, as if the Nakani had exercised some sort of hypnotic power over them.



Wild Indians

Frontiersmen weren’t the only white men to document the Nakani phenomena; another category of Caucasian to write about these subarctic wildmen were ethnologists and anthropologists- professional academics who included the tale in their peer-reviewed articles on Dene culture and beliefs. Interestingly, the majority of these scholars extracted an entirely different version of the Nakani legend from the Indians whom they interviewed. In this version, the Nakani are not huge, hairy hominoids, but rather strange-looking bedraggled Indians.

Most academics who wrote on the subject agreed that the Nakani, according to their Dene informants, were Indians who became wild after engaging in murder or cannibalism. As a result of their hard life in the bush and their separation from society, they acquired a frightening, grotesque appearance. Their faces were gaunt and their bodies emaciated on account of malnutrition. Their skin was often caked with filth and grease, their hair unkempt, and their clothing worn and ragged. Oftentimes, their outfits were strange or incomplete. One knife-wielding Nakani, for example, was said to have been seen wearing nothing more than hard-soled shoes made from untanned hide and a headscarf. Others were purported to wear strange boots which could not be purchased at any trading post in the region.

Although the Nakani described by academics were literally wild men bereft of civilization, some of the attributes with which they were ascribed were distinctly inhuman. For example, although Osgood described the Nakani as “a human being, generally an Indian… dressed either in the fashion of an Indian or a white man…” he also maintained that it wore “tremendously large boots which are noted by the tracks he leaves in the mud”- tracks evocative of the long, narrow footprints left by the hairy giant of frontier legend. In a similar vein, anthropologist Richard K. Nelson wrote that the Koyukon Indians of the Yukon River Valley described the Nakani as being among the “large mammals”- a creature that was neither Man nor Beast, but something in between.

Most academics dismissed these inhuman qualities as inevitable distortions added by Dene storytellers who hoped to make their tales more interesting to the listener.  The Nakani, they firmly maintained, was nothing more than a man (or, in rare occasions, a woman) who became separated from society, either having been banished for some crime he committed, or isolated through some tragedy such as starvation or revenge warfare which claimed the lives of everyone else in his band. The Dene were afraid of these wild Indians because they considered them crazy and unpredictable, well aware of the deleterious effect of extreme isolation on one’s mental state.

A Dene Fairytale

Many of those who have written on the subject have concluded that the Nakani was a boogeyman who served to dissuade women, children, and lone hunters from wandering too far from the safety of the camp. These people maintain that the Nakani legend is probably a relic of bygone times, when the Dene tribes of the Canadian North were in a state of total warfare with one another. During those days, Dene raiding parties would stealthily approach their enemies’ camps during the night and, hiding in the brush, would steal any women and children they found alone on the outskirts. As Poole Field put it on one of his letters:

“In trying to run the stories down and by careful investigation I have finally come to the conclusion that it originated from the old days, when practically all the Indians at one time or another used to make raids on each other and would take anything of value found in the camp conquered, killing the men and taking any women or young girls or boys back to their own camp. After Dawson was struck and the civilized portion of the country became policed, it was given up, but still some of the younger men and also some of the older ones would take hunting trips into the country that was claimed by other tribes, and while doing this they would hang around any Indian camp at night in some case they would capture a young girl that some of them had taken a fancy to and take her back to their own tribe. Each tribe if the occasion just came right would give a foreign tribe a good scare any way even if they didn’t do any worse. In the tribe that I was travelling with, there was a grandmother that had been stolen as a girl from the Pelly’s and another from the Loose Shoe tribe at Peel River and I know several on the Pelly at the time of which I write.”

Some believed that the Nakani legend specifically derived from warfare between Dene tribes and the more southerly Cree, who, equipped with HBC muskets that were far superior to traditional Dene weapons, invaded the North Country in the late 1700’s, pressured by their fur trading rivals to the south.

The Cryptozoological Explanation

One of the most intriguing theories regarding the nature of the Nakani is that this figure is a cryptid, or “hidden animal”- specifically a species of great ape endemic to North America. Some cryptozoologists, as experts in the study of hidden animals are known, suggest that the Nakani might be the same species as the Sasquatch, another suspected North American hominid. Some have theorized that it is a remnant Neanderthal or Denisovan- archaic humans generally believed to have gone extinct about 40,000 years ago. Others believe that it might be a relative of Gigantopithecus, an enormous, possibly bipedal ape that disappeared from the jungles of Southeast Asia around 100,000 years ago. Others still hypothesize that the Nakani is an entirely new species of hominid which has yet to be accepted by the scientific community.

Homo sapiens, or modern humans, are the only species of great ape widely believed to have migrated to the Americas in ancient times, although the ancestors of New World monkeys, as improbable as it sounds, are suspected to have voyaged from Africa to the eastern shores of South America via vegetation rafts sometime during the Paleogene Epoch, preceding Christopher Columbus’ first trans-Atlantic voyage by about 50 million years. If archaic humans or some other variety of great ape really travelled to the Americas in prehistoric times, how did they do it?

Most anthropologists believe that the first humans to arrive in the Americas travelled from Siberia to Alaska via an ancient bridge of land and ice, formally referred to as Beringia. The first of these nomads are believed to have followed large game herds across the Bering Strait around 13,000 year ago, near the end of the last ice age. At that time, North America was dominated by two great glaciers: the western Cordilleran ice sheet, and the easterly Laurentian ice sheet, which met at a point just east of the Rocky Mountains. During an event known as the Wisconsin Glacial Episode, these glaciers began to melt, opening up a longitudinal passage that ran down the length of the continent. Seeking greener pastures, many of the nomads followed this passage south. Their descendants multiplied and scattered across North and South America, forming the various nations whose members are collectively known today as Amerindians.


Is it possible that other less-advanced hominids- perhaps the ancestors of the Sasquatch and the Nakani- also crossed from Siberia to the Americas via Beringia? Fossil evidence clearly indicates that both Neanderthals and Denisovans inhabited Northeast Asia around the same time as Homo sapiens. And intriguingly, Russian folklore contends that the Altai Mountains of Central Asia and the boreal forests of Siberia are home to hairy subhumans eerily evocative of North American wildmen, known respectively as the Almas and the Chuchunya.

Although most scientists believe that human beings were the only hominids to make their way to the New World prior to the Age of Exploration, a tantalizing archaeological discovery made near the Gwich’in village of Old Crow, Yukon, in the late 1970’s indicates that the Canadian North was occupied by intelligent, tool-wielding animals at least twelve thousand years before the first Paleo-Indian set foot on Alaskan soil. In the Bluefish Caves, located about 110 miles from the shores of the Arctic Ocean, anthropologist Jacques Cinc-Mars discovered a mammoth bone which appeared to have been fashioned into a caribou fleshing tool around 23,000 B.C.

More recently, some archaeologists have argued that a mastodon bone unearthed near San Diego, U.S.A., during a routine highway excavation in the early 1990’s- coupled with a handful of primitive stone tools discovered nearby- constitutes proof that some sort of intelligent hominid lived in the Americas as early as 130,000 B.C. The bone in question bore spiral fractures which indicated that someone or something had smashed it with a rock when it was still fresh, presumably in an attempt to gain access to the nutritional marrow within. Flat cobblestones and round stones discovered nearby bore markings which implied their employment as primitive hammers and anvils.

One of the most intriguing pieces of evidence supporting the notion that the Nakani are real, flesh-and-blood cryptids is that the fact that they share a number of peculiar attributes with other supposed wildmen from all over the world. For example, 19th Century Slavey trappers, whose only connection with the Outside was through a handful of missionaries and the HBC traders with whom they haggled, claimed that the Nakani made whistling calls, left behind huge footprints, had a penchant for stone-throwing, and emitted a putrid odour somewhat akin to the smell of rotten flesh- characteristics which the Coast Salish of the Fraser Delta ascribed to the Sasquatch, and Aborigines of the Australian Outback to their own wildman, the Yowie.



The Nakani of Old Crow, Yukon

Harrowing stories of encounters with the Nakani have been a staple of Dene campfire conversation for countless generations. Unfortunately, most of these tales have long been lost to history, as is so often the case with oral lore.

One old Dene story which survived to the present day, recorded as it was in 1964 by Northern folklorist Charles J. Keim, tells of Nakani which haunted the woods surrounding Old Crow, Yukon, not far from the Bluefish Caves. According to this narrative, a young girl tasked with gathering spruce branches for her bed wandered a little too far from the camp. The Nakani, who had been watching her from concealment in the trees, “snatched the girl and took her back to his cave.” There, he bound her hands with babiche and tethered her to a tree stump situated just outside the cave’s mouth so that she could not escape.

After spending several days outside the Nakani’s lair, the girl asked the wildman to give her some privacy. The monster obliged and turned his back while she moved behind the tree stump, contenting himself with holding one end her tether in his hand. Somehow, the girl managed to free herself from her bonds when the Nakani was not looking. She stripped naked, dressed the stump with her clothes and bonnet, tied her tether to the stump, and stealthily slipped away into the woods, homeward-bound.

When some time had elapsed, the Nakani, oblivious, called out to the girl to see if she still required privacy. When she failed to answer him, he tugged on her tether and was surprised to find that he could not move her. The wildman began to sing a love song and moved towards what he thought was his prisoner, dancing as he went. “What a surprise he had,” wrote Keith, “when he leaped and hugged a stump.”

Eliza Andre’s Tale

In the 2007 book The History and Stories of the Gwichya Gwich’in, Eliza Andre, a Gwich’in elder from the settlement of Tsiigehtchic, NWT, located at the confluence of the Mackenzie and Arctic Red Rivers, related an old local story involving a Nakani:

Once, an old woman and her grandson went out into the bush to snare rabbits. One day, when they were inspecting their traps, the grandson stopped dead in his tracks. “Grandmother,” he said, “I hear something.”

“What do you hear?” the old woman asked.

“Back past our trail, someone is making noise.”

The old woman listened very carefully until she, too, heard the sound. Immediately, she stuffed the rabbits she had snared into a bundle, threw the bundle over her shoulder, and set out for camp as fast as she could, urging her grandson to follow quickly.

When the pair finally reached their tent, the old woman promptly built a fire, hastily skinned the rabbits, and threw their intestines onto the burning wood. Slowly, the intestines began to sizzle.

“By this time,” wrote Andre, “they could both hear someone making noise outside their camp; someone was approaching their camp, drawing nearer and nearer.” In preparation for their encounter with what could only be a Nakani, the old woman gathered the hot intestines and crouched by the door of the tent, waiting. Sure enough, the intruder, who was indeed a Nakani, poked his head through the tent opening. His ravenous eyes fell upon the old woman and her grandson.

Immediately, the old woman slapped the creature in the face with the hot intestines. The Nakani howled in pain and surprise and reeled back from the tent, clutching his scalded face. With a heavy thump, he landed on the ground and lay still.

“The following morning,” Andre continued, “they went out to investigate the incident of the previous night. They found a big bushman stretched outside their camp. They did not bother to do anything to him but instead retired to their tent, never to be bothered again for a long, long time.”

John McLeod’s Experience

It is possible that the first white men to have a brush with the Nakani were HBC engage John McLeod and his crew, during their expedition up the ‘West Branch’ of the Liard River in the summer of 1831. One night, while resting by the fire after a long day of tracking and portaging, the voyageurs were harassed by an unseen assailant, who hurled stones at them from the shadows. Although McLeod speculated that this marauder was probably a Nahanni Indian, native legend suggests that this stone-throwing provocateur, considering his behavior, may have been a Nakani.

Paul Peters’ Sighting

In his 2002 book Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology, author George M. Eberhart related a Nakani encounter had by a native named Paul Peters in August, 1960. While at his fishing camp, located ten miles down the Yukon River from Ruby, Alaska, Peters watched a Nakani make its way along a rocky beach towards his dogs, “which were whining and acting strange.” The creature was broad-shouldered and very muscular, and walked on two legs like a man. It was covered in black hair, and was about 6’6’’ tall. Suddenly, perhaps frightened by the dogs, the Nakani altered its course, climbed a steep hill overlooking the river, and disappeared into the bush.

Recent Eyewitness Accounts

Far from being obsolete phenomena relegated to the 19th and 20th Centuries, Nakani sightings still occur with casual frequency in the wilderness of Northern Canada and Alaska. On July 28, 2016, for example, the CBC (the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation; a major Canadian media company) published an article describing a Nakani encounter reported by Tony Williah, a Dogrib native from the settlement of Whati, NWT.

Earlier that month, while boating from his hometown to the northern tip of Lac La Martre (the third largest lake in the Northwest Territories, situated roughly halfway between the Great Slave and Great Bear Lakes), Williah spied a plastic bag bobbing in the water. Hoping to retrieve the object, he pulled his boat alongside it. While he reached down to grab the bag, a rogue wave tipped his boat over, and Williah found himself immersed in freezing water. After struggling in vain to right his vessel and climb back inside, he decided to swim for the nearest island. Hampered though he was by his waterlogged clothing, he managed to reach the island and crawl onto its rocky shore, exhausted and chilled to the bone.

“All of a sudden,” Williah told the CBC, “there was a big man standing beside me. He must have walked away, because I heard some branches break throughout the bushes. I packed up my clothes in a white bag and readied myself to leave.”

And leave he did, though not before spending a terrifying 48-hours alone on the beach, certain that the isle’s mysterious resident was watching him from concealment. On July 19, 2016, Williah was rescued by an RCMP and Canadian military search party and taken to the Stanton Territorial Hospital in Yellowknife, NWT, where he made a full recovery. He later claimed that he never slept a wink throughout the entire ordeal.

One blogger who commented upon Williard’s experience suggested that the Dogrib’s Nakani sighting may have been a case of what has been called “Third Man Syndrome”- a phenomenon reported by explorers, outdoor athletes, and disaster survivors in which a mysterious, guardian angel-like figure appears in times of extreme difficulty to offer comfort and assistance. Intriguing though it may be, this explanation cannot account for another potential Nakani sighting reported in the fall of 2012 by two Inuit women from Quebec’s northern Nunavik region.

While picking berries near the village of Akulivik, Maggie Cruikshank Qingalik and her friend spotted a strange creature out on the tundra. Initially, the two ladies thought that that the figure was another berry picker. As it got closer, however, they realized that it was covered in long, dark hair.

“We weren’t sure what it was at first,” said Qingalik in an interview. “It is not a human being, it was really tall, and kept coming towards our direction and we could tell it was not a human.” Qingalik estimated that the creature was around three metres tall (9’10’’). Its footprints were later found to be 40 centimetres (15.7 inches) long.


Other Northern Wildmen

Over the years, hundreds of wildman sightings have been reported on the Pacific Coast of Alaska, the historic homeland of the Tlingit Indians. Although many witnesses referred to the figure they encountered as a “bushman”, evoking the Nakani of Dene lore, some of the descriptions they furnished correspond more closely with the classic portrait of a Sasquatch- a supposed ape-man whose coastal range, some believe, extends from California to as far north as St. Michael, Alaska.

Indeed, the Nakani is not the only wildman said to inhabit the North Country. As Pierre Berton put it in his 1956 book The Mysterious North:

“The Mohoni, who flit through the Peel River country in the northern Yukon, are enormous hairy giants with red eyes, who eat human flesh and devour entire birch trees at a gulp. The predatory Sasquatches of British Columbia’s mountain caves are eight feet tall and covered with black woolly hair from head to foot. There are others, all akin to these: the terrible Brush Man of the Loucheaux in the upper Mackenzie, with his black face and yellow eyes, preying on women and children; the Weetigo of the Barrens, that horrible, naked cannibal, his face black with frostbite, his lips eaten away to expose his fanglike teeth; the eight-foot head-hunting ‘Mountain Men’ of the Nahanni; and those imaginary beings of Great Slave Lake whom the Dogrib Indians simply call ‘the Enemy’ and fear so greatly that they must always build their homes on islands safe from the shoreline where the Enemy roam.”

In my book Legends of the Nahanni Valley, I talk about eight more wildman legends endemic to Northern Canada and Alaska, including the Wendigo of Cree and Algonquin folklore and the Kushtaka, or Land Otter Men, that the Tlingit say haunt the Alaskan Coastline. I also offer a more thorough description of the various ethnological theories regarding the nature of the Nakani, and include a few more Nakani sightings that require more context than I was prepared to give in this video, including a fascinating encounter that took place right inside the Nahanni Valley itself. If you’d like to get yourself or a special someone a copy of this book, please check out the link below:

Governor General Visits Northwest

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 XXIV – Indian Farm Started.


Chapter XXV

Governor General Visits Northwest

THE COMMISSIONER of the Police was notified from Ottawa during the summer of 1881, by the Comptroller of the force, Mr. F. White, that it was the intention of the Marquis of Lorne, the Governor General of Canada, to visit the North-west Territories during that summer, and to have escorts of police in readiness to accompany his party in their journey through the country. In July an escort left Fort Walsh in charge of Sergeant-Major Lake for Qu’Appelle, it being arranged that Superintendent Herchmer should meet them at that place. I might mention that, as heretofore the ranks in the force had been constables, acting constables and sub-constables, they had this year been changed to sergeants, corporals and constables, and the commissioned ranks, being previously inspectors and sub-inspectors, were now superintendents and inspectors. The uniform had also been materially changed. The party from Fort Walsh consisted of sixteen constables, three corporals and three staff sergeants, with thirty one horses and three wagons. The party under Superintendent W. Herchmer’s command was to meet the Governor General at Fort Ellice, which was situated about 400 miles from Fort Walsh, so they had a nice little journey before their actual work began. Relays of horses were sent to Battleford and Calgary, together with forage and other supplies.


The Commissioner met the Governor General and party at the Blackfoot crossing on the 11th of Sept., where a grand war dance of the Blackfeet had been held, in honor of the visit, and proceeded with the party to Ft. Macleod via Calgary, at which latter place they rested a day or two.

At Ft. Macleod the escort was changed, and Superintendent Crozier took command for the journey south into Montana, the Governor General intending to return east by the United States.

The officer in command of the 3rd U.S. Infantry, Colonel Kent, at Fort Shaw, Montana, situated something over 200 miles south of Ft. Macleod, was notified by Col. Irvine of the Governor General’s intended visit, and the notice was received by him and the officers under his command with the greatest satisfaction. Lt. Col. Irvine and Col. Kent, with an escort of United States cavalry met the Governor General with the escort of mounted police, at the South Piegan Agency, Montana, and the two escorts proceeded together to Ft. Shaw, where the Governor General and the Canadian police were most cordially received and all honors shown them. From this point the Governor General travelled under the escort of United States troops, Superintendent Crozier returning with his party to Ft. Macleod. Altogether the journey from the beginning to the end was most satisfactory, and the behavior of the different police escorts beyond all praise, as the following copy of a letter written on the old escort from Winnipeg to Macleod, will show.

Ft Macleod, 18, Sept., 81


I am commanded by His Excellency the Governor General to desire you to express to Superintendent Herchmer his entire satisfaction with the admirable manner that officer has performed his duty while in command of the force of mounted police which has escorted his Excellency from Winnipeg to Ft. Macleod. I am further to request you to convey to the non-commissioned officers and men who formed the escort, his Excellency’s thanks for the services rendered by them while on the march, and the pleasure it has afforded him to witness the discipline and efficiency of the corps.

I have the honor to be, Sir

Your obedient servant,

(Sgd.) F. De Winton, Lt. Col.


The same thanks were also given to Supt. Crozier and the escort under his command before they returned north from Fort Shaw.

The whole of the Northwest Territories were now beginning to settle, not it is true, with great rapidity, but slowly and surely, and it was becoming evident that the strength of the police force, about 300, was not sufficient for the work they were called upon to do, more particularly as nearly all the Indians had now settled on their reserves. The force was stationed and divided up between thirteen posts, as follows; Fort Walsh, Qu’Appelle, Shoal Lake, Swan River, Ft. Macleod, Blackfoot crossing, Calgary, Macleod Farm, Blood Reserve, Battleford, Saskatchewan, Prince Alberta and Wood Mountain. These different stations were in most cases at long distances from each other, and being so numerous, their strength was very small. The commissioner therefore recommend this fall to the government the necessity of increasing the force by at least 200 men, giving many good reasons for doing so, the most particular being the necessity of protection for the settlers now entering the country against the Indians, and vice versa. I quote a portion of the recommendation as follows:

“Since the beginning of Treaty 7 in 1877, the Blackfeet, Bloods and Piegans have never been even temporarily assembled in Canadian territory up to their full strength. In 1877 it must be remembered that large quantities of buffalo were to be found in the country. The Indians were then self supporting, in fact almost rich, and certainly contented. Thus notwithstanding the fact of these three tribes being nothing less than savages, they were not dangerous. Now matters have completely changed; the savage nature alone remains, and they are purely dependent on the government for a living. The yoke of dependence weighs somewhat heavily upon them. It is true that the policy of settling the Indians on reserves, and instructing them in agricultural pursuits has been adopted; small bands have from time to time straggled in, food homes on the reserves and adopted the new mode of life, but the majority are fresh from the south of the international boundary line, where they have been employed in hunting buffalo. It must be remembered that these Indians have led a lawless and roving life, that they have been accustomed from infancy to regard other men’s cattle and horses as fair plunder, and that the habits of a life time are not easy to unlearn. It is not natural to suppose that they will at once settle down to a quiet, humdrum life, and devote themselves heart and soul to farming. Discontent may, in fact more than probably will, break out, and the spirit of unrest show itself, particularly among the young men, which, if not suppressed in time, will result in periodical raids on the cattle and horses of settlers. This would in a short time lead to acts of retaliation and a serious outbreak would follow as a natural consequence.

“The number of Indians in the Northwest Territories, all under the jurisdiction of the police, may be taken as 27,000. The area of territory is some 375,000 square miles, almost equal to the area of France and Germany combined, or nearly twice that of Spain and Portugal.”


It was also recommended that the fort at Macleod should be rebuilt on another site, as the river bottom on which the old fort stood was fast being washed away by the Old Man’s river. Ft. Walsh was also recommended to be abandoned, as the site was far from being a good one, and the Cypress Hills would never be a farming country, as summer frosts were too prevalent. No settlers whatever had come into that district in the six years the police had been there, and I doubt if in 1881 there was a single settler within a hundred miles of that place. The Canadian Pacific was now creeping towards the Northwest and it would soon become necessary that the headquarters of the force should be on the line of railway as soon as it was built to a suitable point, which would soon occur. During the summer of this year, 1881 the coal mines at the present town of Lethbridge were first opened by Capt. Bryant, working for the Galt company, who had leased the coal seams in that locality from the Canadian government. Capt. Bryant also visited the coal seams on the Blackfoot reserve on the Bow river, and started men cutting timber on the Company’s timber limit in the Porcupine Hills, west of Ft. Macleod, where a saw mill was afterwards erected and timber cut and hauled to the Old Man’s river, at Ft. Macleod, where barges were built and sent down the river to the coal mines, where they were, until the advent of the C.P. Railway, loaded and towed down the south Saskatchewan river.

During the stay of the Marquis of Lorne at Calgary I was offered by Mr. Dewdney, the Indian Commissioner who was with the party, the agency of the Cree and Assiniboine Indians at Fort Walsh, which I accepted, together with Mr. Dewdney, proceeded from Ft. Macleod across country to Ft. Walsh after the Marquis had gone south.

There were about 700 Assiniboine and about 1,000 Crees camped at Ft. Walsh and in the neighborhood, and these were in a very destitute condition. An experimental farm had been started for them on Maple Creek, on the north side of the mountains, but owing to the summer frosts, had not proved much of a success; although some wheat had been raised it had not fully ripened. No beef cattle had been contracted for these Indians, and as there were no buffalo now in that section, it was difficult for them to get a living, which they managed to gain principally by fishing. Some of the lakes in the Cypress Hills were full of fish, principally suckers, and on these they had to live. A great many of the Cree Indians were non treaty, and it was the aim of the government to get them all, both Crees and Assiniboines, away from Cypress, and on to reservations east of the present Regina. They had, however, shown great unwillingness to go, and as the season was far advanced, it was necessary that some provision should be made for them at Ft. Walsh, and with the scanty supply on hand, I and Inspector McIllree, who was in charge of the police at that place, had our hands full. The winter was a very hard one, and the Indians suffered greatly, bacon, a little pemmican, wheat and fish, being altogether their food during the winter, and our work was of the hardest to keep them quiet on these short rations. Too much credit cannot be given the commanding officer and those under him for the manner in which they handled the Indians this winter and kept them quiet. There were many bad characters among the Crees assembled there, such as Lone Man, Little Pine, and many others who took an active part in the rebellion of 1885.

Mr. Dewdney the Indian Commissioner was this winter appointed Lt. Governor of the N.W. Territories, Lt. Governor Laird’s time having expired. Mr. Dewdney at the same time was Lt. Governor and Indian Commissioner, and Mr. E. Galt Asst. Indian Commissioner. It was not until late in the summer that the Assiniboines and most of the Crees left Ft. Walsh, and then they went south along the Missouri river, as they had received word that buffalo were to be found in that direction, and it was with great difficulty that most of them were induced to go on their reserves near Qu’Appelle, but after the payments they again went south after returning all tools etc., that they had received from the government.

Big Bear and a large following of Crees, all non-treaty Indians, who refused to sign the treaty, as they said they objected to hanging as the punishment for murder, had for years off and on, been hanging round Ft. Walsh, sometimes going south to the Missouri river after buffalo, but always returning to Cypress; these Indians had given endless trouble but in December, 1882, they took the treaty at that place, and went north in 1883, only, however, to foment discord and to join the rebellion in 1885.

Regarding these Indians, the Indian Commissioner in his report of November 1882, remarks:

“The wish of the government that all Indians south, should go north, as, I am sorry to report, been only partially successful, but had Ft. Walsh been abandoned as determined on last winter, I have no doubt the bulk of them now south would have been on their reserves, and some of the restless ones who went north would not have risked returning south as they did. The knowledge that if the buffalo failed, they could fall back on Ft. Walsh, made them visit what would otherwise have been starvation. At one time during the summer it looked as if we should have had a return of the buffalo in large numbers, as several bands were north of the Missouri River, on the Milk River, but the United States troops stationed south of the boundary to prevent the return of the Indians, coupled with the burning of the grass along the boundary line by the American Indians, drove them back, and they are still south of the Missouri river.

“Our Indians who expected to meet buffalo this fall, remained south, and when starvation actually stared them in the face, they congregated round Ft. Walsh. They were in a most deplorable condition and begged to be paid their annuities at that place.”

The Indian Commissioner goes on to report Big Bear being admitted to treaty No. 6, and states that: “Big Bear, who has, I think, borne unjustly a bad character, will make one of the best of chiefs.” This prediction of the Commissioner was far from being realized, as Big Bear was one of the most mischievous and stubborn Indians of the Rebellion.

During the summer of 1882, the Northwest police, which up to this time had been only three hundred strong, was increased to 500 in number and the western posts greatly strengthened thereby. It was time this increase was made, as the Indians were all through the south and west giving a great deal of trouble in getting them to remain on their reserves, and to put a stop to horse stealing in the south, which was becoming very prevalent and giving rise to complaints from the American government. The small force of police had more than they could do, and it was high time that an increase in the strength of the force should be made.

Continued in Chapter 26: Trouble with Blackfeet.

Indian Farm Started

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 XXIII – Trouble with the Indians at Calgary.


Chapter XXIV

Indian Farm Started

IN NOVEMBER 1880 Col. Macleod, the commissioner of the police, resigned that position, and the Assistant-Commissioner, Lt.-Col. Irvine, was appointed in his place, the headquarters of the force still being at Fort Walsh. Col. Macleod was appointed stipendiary magistrate for the Northwest Territories, his district being a very large one, comprising the Fort Walsh district, and that of Macleod, Calgary and Edmonton. Lt.-Col. Jarvis who had been in command of a troop at Edmonton since 1874, he having taken that troop there in that year, building Ft. Saskatchewan the following year, on the location where it now stands, was moved from Edmonton to Ft. Macleod and given command of that district, I and Sub-Inspector Dickens being his subalterns. During the winter of 1880 a serious fire occurred in the fort, all the stables being burned; the buildings were not much loss, being only old log buildings, the roofs being of mud, but much harness and saddlery were destroyed, and at one time it looked as if the quarter-master’s stores would also go, but with the assistance of many of the civilians from the village the fire was at last extinguished, with only the loss of the stables. The buildings in the old fort had not improved very greatly since they were first built; floors had been laid, but the mud roofs still remained, and the buildings even now were far from comfortable. Ft. Walsh was much ahead of Macleod, the buildings being all roofed in and fairly comfortable.

A police farm had been started at Pincher Creek, about twenty-five miles west of Macleod, under the charge of Sub-Inspector Shuortcliff, but it did not turn out a success, and was shortly afterwards abandoned. The Indian department had also started an experimental farm at the same place, with the view to raising grain to be supplied to the different Indian reservations in the treaty. Some fairly good crops were raised here, but the expense was greater than the return, so this farm was, after a few years, also abandoned, and sold shortly afterwards. The section of country in and around the vicinity of Pincher Creek was, and is to-day, by far the best farming section in Southern Alberta, and in that section, as time went on, most of the settlers located, that is, those who went in for mixed farming and stock-raising, while the country east on the plains was taken up by the large stock-owners, and in after years large leases of grazing land were secured by these companies, which had a tendency to keep back the settlement of the country by making it impossible for settlers to take up land.

I resigned my commission in the police force in the early spring of 1881, as I intended to start ranching at Calgary that year. I therefore went to Calgary in February and started building and ploughing land to crop. There was at that time only I.G. Baker and the Hudson’s Bay company stores at that place. Both were small stories, as indeed there was little or no white trade there in those days, there being only half a dozen or so settlers anywhere in the country between Macleod and Calgary, and from there to Edmonton. Sgt. Johnstone was alone in charge of the old fort at Calgary but at Morleyville mission, at which place the Stoney Indians had their reserve, David McDougall had a store, and did a very good business with those Indians who confined their hunting and trapping altogether to the mountains, going far south on their hunts, into the states, and also a long way north, and in those hunts they collected large quantities of fine fur, such as silver and black fox, beaver, martin, bear and deer skins, of many varieties. These they nearly altogether traded to Mr. McDougall, who made a yearly trip to Winnipeg, where he disposed of his fur, and brought a supply of trading goods back with him. The Stonies did some trade with the Hudson’s Bay company, both at Edmonton and Calgary, but little or none with the American traders. They had some cattle given them by the government, and this, together with a little farming they had begun to do, made them better off, as they were more industrious than any other tribe on the plains.

The Crees had nearly ceased coming south altogether, since the buffalo went south, with the exception of a large band of non-treaty Indians under Big Bear, who hung around the Cypress hills and who joined the half-breeds in their rebellion in the year 1885. There was, as I have before mentioned, a small band of Iroquois Indians, who lived altogether by themselves in the Jasper Pass, northwest of Edmonton. These Indians were brought out from Canada many years ago, to act as boatmen and hunters for the Hudson’s Bay company; and, settling in the mountains, have remained there to this day.

I started ranching at Calgary with a small band of cattle and some horses, but the prospect of making anything was not encouraging, there being no market in the country, and even in 1881 we never expected to see a railroad built in that section, although rumors were in circulation that the C.P.R. would be commenced before long; the survey was made near Edmonton, and it was at first thought that the road would be built through that section.

Lt.-Col. Jarvis also left the force in this year, going to Edmonton and locating. A new fort had been built at Qu’Appelle, and Inspector Steele with D troop was in charge there for some time. Mjr. Crozier had been removed to Fort Macleod, and Capt. Winder who for some years had been in command there, left the force that year and went into stock ranching in the vicinity of Macleod, and started the ranche today known as the Winder ranche. He also built and stocked a trading store in the old village of Macleod, and did very well in business for some years, in fact until his death at Macleod in 1885. A good many men left the force about this time, many remaining in the country and taking up farms. It was in 1881 that the first large herd of cattle was brought to the country by the managers of the Cochrane Ranche Co., who were also the first to obtain a grazing lease from the Canadian government, on the Bow river in the neighborhood of Calgary.

       They bought their cattle in Montana and Oregon at low figures in those days, and they brought in this summer about 7,000 head; they had to employ American cowboys almost entirely to drive them in, many of these men- all first class cattle men- being permanently engaged by the Cochrane Co., and as other cattle companies were started many more came in and found good wages on the different ranches, the pay being from sixty to one hundred and twenty-five dollars per month. Major Walker, an ex-police inspector, who had come with us as far as the Sweet Grass hills in 1874 and who had been stationed at Fort Pelly until he left the force, was engaged as manager of the Cochrane ranche, whose headquarters at first were at Calgary, but he was a good deal across the line during the first year, buying and starting the herds of cattle north.

The year 1881 saw therefore the beginning of the stock industry, on a large scale, in this western section, and as time went on, many large cattle ranches, now paying well, were started in Southern Alberta. This summer matters were very busy in police circles. In July, after long negotiations, Sitting Bull and his band of refugee Sioux surrendered to the United States government at Fort Buford, on the Missouri river in Montana. For a long time the Canadian government had tried to forward this end. The Sioux, about six hundred and fifty lodges, had for the last year been put to great straits for food. The buffalo had disappeared, and, as our government had refused to feed them, they were in a bad way indeed, and had nothing left them but surrender or starve, and they chose the former. The commissioner, Col. Irvine, in his report to the government in 1882, says as follows:

         “It is, I think, a matter of the utmost congratulation that the Canadian government has peaceably effected the surrender of a warlike and powerful nation of Indians, whose presence in our country has necessarily been a source of continual anxiety. In connection with this surrender I trust the government has every reason to be gratified with the manner in which its policy has been carried into effect by the force under my command.”

         It will be remembered that in 1877, soon after the latter fight, Sitting Bull and his followers, numbering some hundred and fifty lodges, crossed the boundary line to seek shelter in British possessions. It was astounding with that rapidity the news of Sitting Bull’s safe arrival in Canada was transmitted to other branches of Sioux, who had up to this time remained in the United States. This news quickly had the effect of rendering out country attractive to the remainder of the hostile Indians who had taken part in the Custer fight; their numbers being augmented by large bands of Indians of the same tribe, who previously had been located on American reservations. In other words, a general stampede took place, and in an extremely short time Canada became the home of every Sioux Indian who considered himself antagonistic to the American government. In all they numbered some seven hundred lodges and these lodges being crowded it may safely be estimated that they contained eight souls to the lodge. Thus suddenly we had our Indian population increased in a very undesirable manner by some five thousand six hundred souls. In addition to Sitting Bull, we had such celebrated chiefs as Spotted Eagle, Broad Tail, Bear’s Head, The Flying Bird, The Iron Dog, Little Knife, and many others.

It will be seen by the above extract from the commissioner’s report that by this surrender we got rid of a very large band of strange Indians, and ones who were a thorn in the side of our own Indian tribes, with whom they had always been at war. It also took a great deal of laborious duty off the hands of the police, who constantly had to maintain control and supervision over them, more particularly during the hard and severe winters, when the travelling was at its very worst.

The police commissioner had in the year 1880 reported to the government that in his opinion the Sioux would in the end be forced to surrender, although much contrary opinion was held in Canada, and no doubt much underhand influence was brought to bear by traders and others to induce them to remain, which caused so long a delay in their ultimate surrender.

Therefore, in July, 1882, Sitting Bull with his camp moved south towards Fort Buford, to which post an officer of police had gone ahead to notify the American authorities of his coming with the intention of surrendering, which he did July 21.

He was afterwards sent south into exile and his band altogether broken up, being sent down, the majority of them, into the Indian Territory. Sitting Bull himself, as will be remembered, in 1890 headed another Indian rising and was shot by one of the government Indian scouts. Rain in the Face, the Sioux chief who killed General Custer, was also shot some years before while trying to escape from confinement at one of the American military posts.

Continued in Chapter 25- Governor General Visits Northwest.

Trouble with the Indians at 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 XXII – After a Murderer.


Chapter XXIII

Trouble with the Indians at Calgary

SHORTLY AFTER MY arrival at Fort Walsh, I obtained two months’ leave, to return to Fort Calgary, at which place I intended to take up a ranche on the bottom where the present town is now built, and I wished to make arrangements with an ex-policeman, an old servant of mine, Joe Butlin, to build a house before winter set in. As Colonel Macleod was returning to Fort Macleod himself, I took the opportunity of travelling with him, he having a four horse team and spring wagon. I was also able to take my baggage along, riding my troop horse. The Indian agent, Macleod’s son, Norman, was also with us, having just arrived via the Missouri from Canada, and was on his way to join his father at Fort Macleod. Jerry Potts, and two other men formed the balance of the party.

         Our journey was uneventful until we came to the Belly river at Whoopup, where we found the stream very high, and just managed to cross without swimming. We dined here and went on to Slide Out, that being the second crossing of the same river. It was then about six in the evening, and Colonel Macleod having taken my horse, I rode in the wagon. He and Jerry crossed the river, and being on the ford they got over without swimming. I told the driver to drive in after him, but when we were nearly half way over, on the south bank, and come over in the morning, and that himself and Jerry Potts would go on to Macleod that night, nine miles north. We turned and went back, although I was loath to do so, having made a good start to cross. However, we had to obey orders, and went back.

We put in a most unpleasant night. Having no tent we slept under the wagon. The mosquitoes were very bad all night, and sleep was almost impossible. During the night two of our horses crossed the river, although hobbled, and in the morning we could see them on the other side. A little after daylight I sent the driver, Hooley, over after them, and also instructed him to pay particular attention to the ford, so that he would know where to drive when we started over. He got across all right, and brought back the two horses. I watched him cross, and saw that the water was about breast high, and a swift current running. He informed me that he considered the ford all right and that we would have no trouble in getting over.

We therefore loaded the wagon and hitched up, and started for the river. There was a small log shanty on the north side, not far from the river bank, owned and occupied by two ex-policemen, Bell and Patterson, who had a short time before left the force, and taken up a ranche at this point, intending to go into farming and stock raising. These men were in the house at this time, but it being very early, they were still in bed. We had reached the middle of the river, which was about breast high on the horses, when the lead team baulked. It seems that they were sometimes given to this habit, although I was not aware of the fact. I took the reins of the leaders, and the driver held those of the wheel team, and after a short interval, we started them all together, and I handed back the reins I held to the driver. We had only gone a few steps when they stopped a second time, the leaders swerving down stream, dragging the wheel team round with them, and tilting over the wagon, throwing me out into the river among the horses. How I escaped being injured by them I cannot tell, but, half drowned, I managed to gain the shore, and scrambling up the bank, saw that young Macleod and Stewart had jumped off and swam ashore. The team and wagon were going down the centre of the river; the driver had let go of the reins, and was holding on to the side of the seat, the water being up to his waist. The horses were swimming, and the leaders having turned round, were frantically pawing on the team behind them. The driver, who had completely lost his presence of mind, called out, “Mr. Denny, come and help me!”

I of course jumped into the river, swam down towards the wagon, and had come within a few yards of it when it turned completely over, with the man underneath, and the whole, horses, man and wagon, disappeared. I swam over the spot, and down the river for a quarter of a mile, without any signs of any part coming to the surface, and being nearly exhausted, I had to make for shore.

In the meantime, the two young men had watched this horrid catastrophe from the bank, and being young, were naturally in a very nervous state. I called up Mr. Bell and Mr. Patterson, and, borrowing two horses from them, sent Macleod and Stewart into the fort for assistance. I, together with Mr. Bell and Mr. Patterson, went down the river and found that the wagon, with the drowned team still attached, had landed on a bar in the middle of the river, about half a mile down. Of poor Hooley there was no sign. We could do nothing until assistance arrived from Ft. Macleod, as there was no boat on the river. We waited about an hour and a half, when a party of men, with a boat loaded on a wagon, arrived, and we went out to the wreck, and after many hours’ hard work, managed to disentangle the horses, and bring the wagon and harness and some baggage ashore, but no sign whatever of Hooley’s body could be discovered. We then went many miles down the river, searching, without success, and towards evening reluctantly had to relinquish the search. Most of our baggage was lost, but, curious, as it may seem, not a thing belonging to Col. Macleod was missing, even his waistcoat that contained a gold watch, and had been left on the driver’s seat, was recovered. I lost, among other things, a good part of my uniform, together with three months’ pay I had in my uniform case.

Poor Hooley’s body was not recovered for nearly a month afterwards, when it was found about twelve miles down the river from where the accident happened, and was buried with military honors at Macleod. This was one of the many fatal accidents that occurred in those days in crossing the dangerous rivers in this country, and many more occurred in after years. These mountain streams are very dangerous, the current being so swift that the different bars are constantly changing, and where you found a good ford one year, you might be swimming the next.

We found on arrival at Ft. Macleod that summer, that the Sarcee Indians, who were camped at Calgary, and very badly off for food, were making themselves very unpleasant to those in charge of the Hudson’s Bay Co., and I.G. Baker & Co’s stores at that place, and there being no police then stationed there, they had it pretty well their own way and we had not been long at Macleod before word was sent us from there, that the storekeepers were in danger of their lives, and asking for assistance. These Sarcee Indians, although a small tribe of only about 500 all told, were by far the most troublesome Indians in the west. They came originally from the far north, somewhere in the vicinity of Great Slave Lake, and their language was similar to that of the Chipewayans who still live in that section. This portion of the tribe must have migrated south very long ago, as they themselves have no record among them when this migration took place. They were at one time a large tribe of several thousands, but were continually at war with the Blackfeet and all other tribes of plain Indians, and this, together with the smallpox, which killed off hundreds, was the means of bringing the numbers down to what we found them on our arrival.


They had been given their reserve with the Blackfeet at the Blackfoot crossing, and were told that only at that place would they receive rations. They could not get along with the Blackfeet, and went in a body up to Calgary, to demand food, and when they found the place without police protection and the two stores there well provided with goods, they began to demand in a very threatening manner that they be supplied with all they required.

The Indian agent, Col. Norman Macleod, together with myself in charge of a police detachment of eight men, and Sgt. Lawder, a N.C. officer, therefore proceeded at once to Calgary to move the Sarcees away from that place, and to punish any who had committed depredations. There was not much lagging on the road, and we made Calgary on the second day, and right glad the few settlers at that place were to see us.

The Indians had, up to this time, gone no farther than threatening, and firing off their guns inside the stores. The agent held a council in the fort, and on the Sarcees refusing to go back to the Crossing, promised to issue them rations at Ft. Macleod, if they would go there, which they were very loath to do, wanting to be rationed at Calgary, but this was altogether out of the question, there being no cattle or other supplies at that place. The agent then left Calgary and proceeded to Morleyville to visit the Stoney Indians, leaving us the job of getting the Sarcees out of Calgary and on the road to Ft. Macleod.

We had very hard work for them; for three days they refused to move and even threatened us in the fort. We had to nearly all keep on guard day and night, as it looked very much as if they would attack us, and they no doubt would have done so had we not shown a bold front. We, as they say in this country, “bluffed” them off, and on the third day they promised to go the following morning, and asked help to move their tents and goods, as their horses were all very poor. This I promised them in the shape of carts, and also told them that if they did not move on the following morning, I would pull down their tents and take them off. This was a pretty bold threat, but we had to see it through. I therefore engaged Sam Livingstone, a rancher in that vicinity, and an old Hudson’s Bay Co. man, to bring a number of carts the next day to take them south. On the following morning I went to the camp with all the men I could collect, (I think ere were thirteen of us,) and found no sign of any move on the part of the Indians. I therefore drew up the men with their rifles loaded, just on the outskirts of the camp, and I and Sgt. Lawder commenced to pull down the tents. The Indians swarmed out and were very nasty for a time, but cooled down at the sight of the

armed party outside the camp, and presently began to pack up their goods into the carts we had handy. One shot was fired from the back of a lodge that was still standing, and the bullet came unpleasantly close to Sgt. Lawder. We could not ascertain who fired the shot, and as the Indians were well under way in their moving, we paid no more attention to it. We got them well on the road south by the afternoon, stayed with them for one day, and then rode on to Ft. Macleod. The camp arrived at that place in four days, and for the next year remained there drawing rations, after which time they had a separate reserve given them on Fish creek, about ten miles from Calgary, where they have remained to the present day.

A sad death, and one that cast a gloom over us for a long time, occurred this fall. Capt Clarke, the adjutant of the force, and a great favorite with all ranks, died at Ft. Walsh of gastric fever. This was always an unhealthy post and a good many men died there of fever during the few years it was occupied. Capt Clarke was the first officer we had lost since we came to the country, and his death was greatly felt by all. Dr. Kittson and Dr. Kennedy, our two police surgeons, and both very clever men, attended him with all that skill could accomplish, but he died in spite of all, and was buried at Ft. Walsh. The monument over his grave was still standing a year or two ago, although the fort itself and all the builders of the old village have long since disappeared most of them having been burned down by Indians some years after it was abandoned.



Continued in Chapter 24: Indian Farm Started.

After a Murderer

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 XXI – Famine Among the Blackfeet.


Chapter XXII

After a Murderer

WE RECEIVED WORD during the winter of 1879 at Fort Walsh that the Indian, Star Child, on whom suspicion rested as having been the murderer of Greybourn, was in an Indian camp south of Fort Benton, Montana, and Major Crozier who was in command of Fort Walsh that winter, instructed me in the early spring to proceed to Benton, and try indirectly, with the sheriff of Fort Benton, to have the Indian given over to us. I was authorized to offer as high as $500 to attain that object. Colonel Macleod was that winter at Fort Macleod, which place was for the time being headquarters of the force, on account of the disturbed state of the Indians in that district. An Indian agent had been appointed during the winter for Treaty No. 7, with headquarters at Fort Macleod, and the commissioner’s brother, Lieutenant-Colonel Norman Macleod, was the one appointed. He was expected to arrive in Benton in the spring, and the commissioner was to be there to meet him. Commissioner Macleod had the previous year brought his family out west, and his wife, with the exception of Mrs. Winder, and the wives of two of our officers who came out in the same year, 1877, but a few months earlier, was the first white lady in the Fort Macleod district of the North West. These ladies attended the treaty in 1877, and shewed the greatest courage and cheerfulness through all the hardships and dangers they had to encounter, through long and rough journeys with poor transport, and living in mud-roofed huts; through which the water streamed during the rainy season. They were often left alone with only the company of each other, while their husbands were away on duty, sometimes for long intervals, and this in a country only inhabited by thousands of warlike Indians, and a white population not the most select.

I rode to Fort Benton, about 150 miles from Fort Walsh, in the early spring of 1880, and tried to make arrangements to have Star Child turned over to us. Extradition was out of the question, as our evidence was very slight, and I endeavored by the offer of a reward to have this Indian captured, but the terms asked were out of my power to give, according to the instructions I had received. I, therefore, waited for the arrival of Colonel Macleod, who came in after I had been in Fort Benton a few days, with Jerry Potts, our guide, Sub-Inspector Neal, who was on his way to Ottawa, and Staff-Sergt. Norman, the commissioner’s secretary. We remained in Benton for five weeks, waiting the arrival of Col. Norman Macleod, the new Indian agent who was coming by way of the Union Pacific, and from there by stage to Helena and Benton. This was my first visit to Fort Benton, and of course I had to “take in the town.” At that time Benton was quite a busy western town of about 1,000 inhabitants. It is the head of the navigation of the Missouri River, and for fifty years back had been a great Indian trading post. The old fort, built of unbaked bricks, or “adobies,” as they were termed, still stood, although some handsome business blocks and residences were to be found in the town. It was a very rough place. Gambling and dance houses, together with liquor saloons, occupied the whole of Water street, facing the river, and the sidewalks and streets were a mass of playing cards, thrown out from the different gambling places as the easiest way to get rid of them after use. Mr. C. Conrad, of the firm of I.G. Baker and Co., who had spent the first two years at Fort Macleod when we first came out, showed us the greatest hospitality, placing his very comfortable house at our disposal. They boasted of a club in Benton at that time, the Choteau, called after the name of the county, and our names were immediately enrolled as members. We found it to consist of a very mixed array of members, among whom we met Colonel Donnelly of Fenian memory, who was a justice of the peace, practicing law in Benton, and not at all a bad fellow socially. He seldom referred to the little unpleasantness that existed between himself and the Canadian Government. We also met the colonel and officers of the portion of the Seventh United States Infantry stationed at Fort Benton, the headquarters of the regiment being at Fort Shaw about 10 miles west of Benton. As it was, we spent a very pleasant time in Benton, and were quite sorry to say good-bye on the arrival of Mr. E. Galt, our assistant Indian commissioner, and Colonel Norman Macleod, Indian agent.


Colonel Macleod, the commissioner, together with his brother, proceeded to Fort Macleod, with the guide Jerry Potts. Mr. Galt and I went to Fort Walsh, as Mr. Galt, as assistant Indian commissioner, was on a tour of inspection of the western Indian reservations comprised in Treaty No. 7. Colonel Macleod’s trip was an uneventful one, with the exception that in crossing the St. Mary’s river, the stream being high and the ford rough, Staff-Sergt. Norman, who had acted as Colonel Macleod’s secretary for some years, and who was sitting in the rear seat of the wagon, was thrown into the river, and by hard swimming reached shore without anyone being the wiser, with the exception of Jerry Potts, who was sitting beside him. Shortly before reaching the farther shore, Col. Macleod noticed a woolen cap floating down the river, and turning to the driver said: |Hold up, I think Jerry has fallen in.”

Jerry, sitting behind and hearing this, became most indignant, and answered back, “No, sir, not by a d—-d sight, but your d—-d sergeant is drowned.”

However, Sergt. Norman was found none the worse, and no further accidents happened on the journey, and on arriving at Fort Macleod everything was found to be going on well. After a few weeks’ stay at that place, the commissioner proceeded to Fort Walsh, which then was the headquarters of the force.

I proceeded with Mr. Galt, assistant Indian commissioner, to Fort Walsh, where he inspected the different Indian camps in that vicinity. I then accompanied him to Fort Macleod, making a five-days’ trip of it, as the weather was cold and stormy. We met Colonel Macleod on the road, on his way to Fort Walsh. Mr. Galt and myself visited the Indians at Macleod and Calgary, Colonel Norman Macleod going with us, and taking over the duties of Indian agent of Treaty No. 7, his headquarters being at fort Macleod. A farm instructor and issuer of rations was stationed with the Blackfeet at the Blackfoot Crossing; one at Calgary for the Sarcees, and another at Morleyville for the Stonies. Instructors were also placed on the Piegan reservations, twelve miles above Macleod, and on the Blood reserve, south of the Belly river.

I remained at Calgary that summer with only ten men and a non-commissioned officer. It was necessary that some force should be stationed at this point, as a good many Blackfeet were camped at the Crossing, and there was also a large camp of Crees in that vicinity, and the two did not agree at all. In fact, at one time open collision between them nearly took place. Word was brought to Calgary that a Cree Indian had been killed by a Blackfoot at the Crossing, and that the Crees were about to avenge his death, and attack the Blackfoot camp. I, therefore, started for that point with what men I could spare, only six all told, with an interpreter, and made the ride to the Crossing in one day, arriving there late at night. We took a light wagon with us, but very little bedding. Some of the men were recruits, who had only come up that year, and the ride tried them severely. It was as much as I could do to get them in that night. We camped on the river bottom until morning, when we found a Blackfeet camp of about 1,000 Indians on the edge of the bluff overlooking the river, and the Cree camp, nearly equal in numbers about three miles distant. Many of the Blackfeet chiefs came down to see me. They had many complaints against the Crees, and on my asking if it was true that a Cree had been killed, they informed me that it was so, but they had lots of excuses. I demanded the Indian, but found that he had left the camp and gone no one knew where the day after the killing was done. I then told the Blackfeet to put up a large lodge in their camp, and that I would go to the Cree camp, and try to get their chiefs to come over and meet the Blackfeet, and try and make peace between them. This they promised to do, and also to talk reasonably and do their best to straighten matters.

I rode with the interpreter to the Cree camp, and found them more amenable to reason than I expected. In fact, they were pretty badly scared, as being in the Blackfoot country, and a long way from any of their friends, they were very much at their mercy. However, they felt pretty sore over the killing of one of them, but were willing to overlook it if the Blackfeet would pay them, and agreed to come over on the following day and make peace with them, after which they promised to move camp and go back to the Cypress Hills, and join the rest of their tribe. On my return to camp, I informed the Blackfeet of this, and they were satisfied. I found that some of the Indians had brought dried meat to our camp, and had pitched a lodge for us, as we had no tent with us. This showed great friendliness on their part, and the meat was most welcome, as we had only bacon with us.

The following morning I and the interpreter went to the Blackfoot camp, and were shown the tent they had pitched for the Council. The two of us seated ourselves alone at the head of it. After a short interval the head chief, Crowfoot, arrived, and with great ceremony paced round the fire, and shook hands with me, at the same time throwing down before me a fine head and tail buffalo robe. I told the interpreter to tell him that I had not come to take presents, but to settle the trouble between them and the Crees. The interpreter advised me to take the robe, as it was given to show that they were friendly towards us, and that if I did not do so, the Indians would think that we were not friendly to them. I, therefore, threw the robe behind me, and after doing so, thirty-three chiefs, both Crees and Blackfeet, filed in and shook hands, and each chief threw down a robe. After having taken the first, I now had to take all, as had I taken the one and refused the rest, they would have been deeply affronted. I, therefore, had thirty-four robes piled up behind me. However, these robes came in most usefully, as we all were short of bedding, and the cold weather was coming on before we got back to Calgary. I divided them equally among the men, who were delighted to get them.

After a solemn smoke all round, I advised the Crees to move, and also the Blackfeet to settle with the family of the Indian killed in the usual Indian fashion, by paying so many horses, and altogether gave them lots of advice. I had, however, to sit for several hours and hear the different grievances they had against each other, and sometimes the talk waxed pretty hot. However, I managed to settle their troubles, and the Crees promised to move the following day and the Blackfeet to give up the murderer should he come into camp. I made them shake hands all round and, after seeing the Crees out of camp, returned pretty well done up to our camp, near the river. We remained here for two days until the Cree camp was well started on its way to the east. We then pulled out for Calgary, being two days on the road, with very cold stormy weather all the way. But for a little management there might have been most serious trouble between these two large camps, and had it once started, it would have spread to other camps, and a general Indian war between the Crees and Blackfeet would have followed, which, with our small force, would have been nearly impossible to quell. Our hands were pretty full all this summer, the Indians being very restless, and being unaccustomed to remaining for any length of time at one place, it was difficult to keep them on their reserves, where they could receive their rations.

Although the buffalo were in vast herds when we arrived in 1874, they must in the olden days have been many times more numerous. There are, at the foot of a bank of about fifty feet in height, on the Elbow river, six miles south of Calgary, the remains of many thousand animals, which must at one time have been driven over this bank. Below the soil at the foot of the cliff there is a thickness of at least three feet of nothing but old bones, pressed by the weight of the soil into a solid mass. How far back this extends, it is impossible to say, but ages ago an enormous number of buffalo were in some manner slaughtered there. I have found flint arrow heads mixed among these bones, which shows that the Indians had a hand in the slaughter.

I returned to Fort Walsh in the early part of the summer of 1880, leaving one man in charge at Calgary, and he, with the exception of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s trader, A. Fraser, and G.C. King, who had charge of a small trading store belonging to I.G. Baker, was the only white man left at Calgary.

At Fort Macleod things were about the same. A few more settlers had taken up ranches along the Old Man’s river, being principally old policemen who had taken their discharge in the country and having saved a little money, had invested in a few head of stock and settled down. Most of these early pioneers did well and many of them are still in the country and well off.

The Indians in the vicinity of Macleod now and then killed cattle but, horse stealing was their principal pastime. This we found was impossible to put a stop to, and the guardroom was generally pretty well filled up with these Indian horse thieves.

Jingling Bells, the Blackfoot Indian who killed the Cree at the Crossing in the spring, was captured this summer and after being in the guardroom at Macleod for a month, made a desperate break for liberty, and after swimming the river, with a volley fired after him by the guard, managed to effect his escape. He was again captured about two years afterwards and sent to the Manitoba penitentiary, where he died, after being in jail only one year.

Star Child, the Indian supposed to have killed Constable Greybourn, was captured after considerable resistance in a Blood camp. He was tried by Colonel Macleod in the fort and although there was little or no doubt that he was the man who committed the murder, there was no proof whatever to convict him, and he was therefore released. He was arrested about a year afterwards, and sentenced to give years in the penitentiary for horse stealing, and he also died in prison before his time had expired. This was the case with nearly all the Indians sent down; they very rarely lived any length of time in confinement, consumption carrying them off in nearly every case.

The village of Macleod had not increased at all, but still a good deal of money was in circulation and there was plenty of work. Mr. C. Conrad had returned to Fort Benton, and Mr. D.W. Davis was in charge of I.G. Baker & Company’s business at Macleod.

From time to time a whisky trader was arrested and fined or imprisoned, but whisky could nearly always be procured, (a vile compound at $5 per pint bottle) but the popular beverage was Jamaica ginger or alcohol with a little essence of ginger, at $1 a six-ounce vial.

It was seldom that an Indian could now procure liquor, and the whisky illegally smuggled in was sold altogether to the whites. The permit system had now come into force. A permit was granted by the lieutenant-governor to any party well recommended, for not more than two and a half gallons of liquor, said to be for medical purposes. These permits were unfortunately transferable and the system was thereby abused.

At Fort Walsh things were more serious than in the west. Indians of all tribes were congregated in its vicinity and endless trips into the camps had to be made, and the greatest judgement had to be shown in making arrests, as the Indians, particularly the Crees, showed a sullen and unfriendly attitude towards us. They were at this time half starving, little or no rations being issued them by the Indian department at Fort Walsh, so the burden of all was laid on the shoulders of the brave little band of police, under Assistant Commissioner Irvine at that post.

Continual journeys had to be made to Wood mountain, near which post the Sioux in large numbers still camped, causing ceaseless anxiety to the police. Some remarkably fast journeys were made by the assistant commissioner to this post, through a country devoid of wood and game for one hundred and seventy-five miles. Up to my arrival there in the summer of 1880 from Calgary no trouble had occurred, but the work done was remarkable, and the steadiness and forbearance of the men beyond all praise.

Continued in Chapter 23- Trouble with the Indians at Calgary.

Continue Reading

Famine Among the Blackfeet

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 XX – Troubles with the Sioux.


Chapter XXI

Famine Among the Blackfeet

IN THE SPRING OF 1879, Mr. Dewdney, the Indian commissioner, arrived at Macleod, and visited the various reservations in Treaty No. 7. The Indians were beginning to return from the south, bringing some dried meat with them, but not enough to last long. The buffalo had now nearly altogether disappeared from off the plains, and the Indian commissioner left word that should the Indians suffer from hunger, cattle were to be slaughtered for them, arrangements being made with I.G. Baker and Co., to supply both beef and flour, should it be necessary to issues.

Considerable numbers of cattle had been driven into the country the previous fall by men intending to settle, most of them locating near Macleod or Pincher Creek, a few only going north. By the beginning of summer, nearly all the Blackfeet and Sarcee Indians had returned to the Blackfoot Crossing, and a large number of Bloods had returned to their reserve on Belly river. They could not procure no game, and the Bloods in the south commenced to commit depredations by killing what cattle they found. They slaughtered a large number, and although as soon as word would be brought to the fort that cattle had been killed, parties of police would at once go out and try to arrest the perpetrators, none were caught.

The Indians posted sentinels on the hills at long distances apart, who, as soon as a party of police would leave the fort, flashed signals with glasses they carried for that purpose from one another, until the party engaged in cattle killing were warned, and had ample time to escape.

This cattle killing near Macleod finally became so bad that many of those owning stock drove them back across the line, preferring to pay the heavy duty over there to the risk of losing all their stock. Some of the parties remained on the American side several years, eventually returning to this side when the Indians were finally settled on their reserves, and drawing regular government rations.

At Calgary, at which fort I was in command, matters began to be very serious, as the summer advanced. The Blackfeet were actually dying of starvation, and had I not taken the responsibility of feeding them, an outbreak must most certainly have occurred. It was a pitiably sight to see the parties brining in their starving fellows to Fort Calgary for food, some of them being mere skeletons. I have seen them after I had an animal killed, to issue, rush on the carcass before the life was out of it, and cut and tear off the meat, eating it raw. The Blackfeet showed great gratitude for the food I issued them, and never afterwards forgot what was done for them, and I found in after years, when I had charge of them as Indian agent, that to this one cause I greatly owed the success I had in dealing with them on many a critical occasion.

The following is the report written by me to Colonel Macleod, who was at that time expected at Fort Macleod, although Capt. Winder, who was in command at that post, had authority to forward supplies to any Indian camp in need of food:

“Fort Calgary, 5th July, 1879


       “Sir: As Mr. Merent leaves this fort to-day to proceed via the Crossing to Fort Macleod, I have the honor to report how the Indians are situated at this post and the Crossing, and the action I have taken in the matter of feeding them. On the first arrival of word from the Crossing that there were nearly 200 lodges there starving, and waiting for supplies, I immediately despatched S.C. Christie to Fort Macleod with a letter to you, also stating the condition of the Indians, and asking permission to purchase beef for them. Ever since that time the Indians have been coming in here in hundreds, always headed by a chief, for food, as they are actually dying of starvation. (I have heard already of 21 cases of death.) As they are and have been getting no assistance from any post, I took upon myself the responsibility of purchasing and issuing beef to them; for the last three days I have been obliged to issue beef at the rate of 2,000 lbs. per diem. I have advised the Indians not to move their camp up here from the Crossing, as I expected you would have been at Fort Macleod when Sub-Constable Christie arrived there, and that some of the Indian cattle would be sent to the Indians at the Crossing. I have told them all that as soon as you arrived at Fort Macleod provisions would be sent to them, and that in the meantime I would supply them with meat, which I have done, and am now doing. Until assistance arrives from Fort Macleod I can manage to keep them in meat the way I am now doing for a week or two, but of course the expense will be great. I am buying cattle from Mr. Emerson of this post, at 7 cents per pound. There is no doubt whatsoever that if I had not fed them, and do not continue to feed them, they will take the matter into their own hands, and help themselves.

         “Crowfoot sent up here yesterday, asking me to go down to see and talk to them in their distress. It is utterly impossible for me to leave here until the Blackfeet receive assistance from some other post. Crowfoot himself will, I think, be here to-morrow. All the other chiefs have been in, with the exception of Three Bulls, who is at Cypress. The Blackfeet are utterly destitute, there being no buffalo in the country. I have had to send meat out to parties coming in here who were eating grass to keep themselves alive. The rush here is not quite so great as it was, as I have established some order in the going and coming. Every part that tomes in is headed by a chief, who sends a man some hours ahead to notify me of their coming. Every party that comes in is headed by a chief, who sends a man some hours ahead to notify me of their coming, so that I can have meat ready for them. I am keeping careful note of what I issue, and to whom, and in what quantity. I am paying the men from whom I purchased beef by voucher on I.G. Baker and Co. I am nearly out of flour, and can issue no more without running myself short. It is impossible for me to keep meat for our own use any length of time, because of the scarcity of salt. I sent some time ago to Macleod for salt, but could procure none. I am not only feeding the Blackfeet, but also Stoneys and some halfbreeds, who have come off the plains starving. I have asked Mr. L’Hereux to go himself to Fort Macleod. He will be able to state the exact nature of the case. I have advised the Blackfeet not to move up from the crossing until I hear what is going to be done for them, and when supplies will be sent. They are now within easy reach of this post, coming up from the Crossing in a day and going backwards and forwards with meat. I hope that I have your approval in the action I have taken, and trust to have full instructions before long, as this is rather a trying situation.

         “I have the honor, sir, to be your obedient servant,

         “C.E. DENNY, Inspector commanding Fort Calgary.”

         I had received orders from the Indian commissioner in the spring not to ration Indians at Calgary, but of course such a state of affairs as I have described was not apprehended, and not long afterwards I received a letter from the Indian commissioner, thanking me for the action I had taken. The price of beef, 7 cents per lb., was in those days considered high, strange as it may seem, as to-day the country is overrun with cattle, and beef sells as high as 10 and 12 cents per lb. The reason of this was that cattle could be purchased in Montana at a low figure, there not being much market in that country at that time for them, and the ranges were much overstocked. The herd of yearling heifers purchased by me in 1878, cost, delivered at Calgary, $10 per head, of which $3 per head was allowed for driving, and say $2 per head profit for the purchaser. This would leave the original cost $5 in Montana. As soon as possible after things had come to this pass with the Indians, cattle and flour in large quantities were contracted for, and sent to the different reservations. Men were also engaged to butcher, and police went to see to the fair issue of rations. From this year dates the beginning of the issue of regular rations to the Indians under treaty No. 7, which has continued ever since. For a year or two after this many bands of Indians would be away for months at a time in quest of buffalo, sometimes going far south along the Missouri river, and in fact scouring the country for them. It was hard to make them believe that the buffalo had become extinct, as for years after they believed they would reappear.

Their belief was that the buffalo originally came from a hole in the ground, in the centre of a lake, located in the north, and that on the advent of the whites, they had returned into this lake, ultimately to reappear.

         The ration given to the Indians at that time was 1 lb. of beef and ½ lb. of flour per head all round, and this ration has been little altered, although the tendency has been during the last few years to cut it down, but it is little enough, where they have nothing else whatever to live upon.

Since we came to the country in 1874 up to this year, 1879, no man of the force had been killed or molested by an Indian. Many had died from various causes, but no death was occasioned by Indians. But the clean record was broken in October, 1879, by the deliberate murder at Fort Walsh of Constable Greybourn, stationed at that post.

It was the custom to herd the horses belonging to the fort about three miles away where the feed was good, and a permanent herd camp was established of four men and a non-commissioned officer stationed there under canvas, one man being continually on herd during the day, and the horses being driven into the fort and stabled at night.

At the time the murder occurred, a camp of Blood Indians was not far off from the herd camp, and they made themselves very obnoxious by continually prowling round and begging in the camp. Greybourn left camp that morning to take his turn on herd, and shortly thereafter an Indian, named Star Child, also left. This Indian had given a good deal of trouble, and in fact at one time Greybourn had strong words with him. Some hours after Greybourn’s departure his horse returned to camp along, and the men at once went out to search for him. About a mile away they came upon his cap, and a further search disclosed his dead body, lying at the bottom of a gully and in some brush. On examination a bullet hole was found in the back of his head, no doubt causing instant death.

Word was immediately sent to the fort, and the body removed. A party proceeded to the Blood camp, as suspicion at once centred on Star Child, who was known to have had a grudge against Greybourn. The camp was thoroughly searched, but the Indian could not be found, and no information whatever could be gained from any Indian in the camp. It was afterwards learned that Star Child had that morning left for Montana, where he remained for two years, and although efforts were made to have him extradited they were without effect.

He returned to the Blood camp near Macleod in 1881, and was, after much trouble, captured. He was tried for murder at Fort Macleod, but, although it was a moral certainty that he had committed the murder, there was not the slightest evidence to prove it, and he therefore was acquitted. He, therefore, was arrested a few years afterwards for horse stealing, and sentenced to five years in the Manitoba penitentiary, where he died before completing his sentence. Poor Greybourn was buried at Fort Walsh with military honors, and a gloom was cast over the whole force at the end of this year by the sad event.

Continued in Chapter 22 – After a Murderer.

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