POLICING THE PLAINS
BEING THE REAL LIFE RECORD OF THE FAMOUS ROYAL NORTH-WEST MOUNTED POLICE
By R. G. MACBETH, M.A., Author of "The Romance of Western Canada."
HODDER AND STOUGHTON, LTD. LONDON NEW YORK TORONTO
I A GREAT TRADITION 7 II ENTER THE MOUNTED POLICE 25 III MOBILIZING 33 IV THE AMAZING MARCH 48 V BUSINESS IN THE LAND OF INDIANS 57 VI HANDLING AMERICAN INDIANS 78 VII THE IRON HORSES 93 VIII RIEL AGAIN 106 IX RECONSTRUCTION 126 X CHANGING SCENERY 141 XI IN THE GOLD COUNTRY 153 XII STIRRING DAYS ABROAD AND AT HOME 175 XIII MODESTY AND EFFECTIVENESS 206 XIV ON LAND AND SEA 233 XV GLORY AND TRAGEDY IN THE NORTH 255 XVI STRIKING INCIDENTS 266 XVII THE GREAT WAR PERIOD 281 XVIII GREAT TRADITIONS UPHELD 297
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
Mounted Police Rounding Up Horse Thieves (Frontispiece) Sir John A. Macdonald 16 Hon. Alexander Mackenzie 16 Hudson Bay: R.N.W.M. Police with Dogs 17 Major-General Sir A. C. Macdonnell, K.C.B., C.M.G., D.S.O. 32 Major-General Sir Samuel B. Steele, K.C.B., etc. 32 Superintendent A. H. Griesbach 33 Inspector J. M. Walsh 33 Commissioner A. G. Irvine 48 Commissioner George A. French 48 Commissioner James F. Macleod 49 Commissioner Lawrence W. Herchmer 49 Sitting Bull 64 Colonel James Walker 65 Colonel T. A. Wroughton 112 Lieut.-Col. Aylesworth Bowen Perry, C.M.G. 112 Colonel Cortlandt Starnes 113 R.N.W.M. Police Wood Camp, Churchill River 113 Indian Tepee 128 Dog-Train 129 Yukon Rush: Summit, Chilcoot Pass 144 Group of Indian Children on Prairie 145 Chilcoot Pass: R.N.W.M. Police and Custom House 160 Klondyke Rush: Squaw Rapids, between Canyon and 161 White Horse Rapids, 1898 Supt. Constantine in Winter Uniform on the Yukon 176 Piegan Indians at Sun-Dance 177 Rev. R. G. Macbeth, M.A. 192 Group, R.N.W.M. Police, Tagish Post, Yukon 193 Fort Selkirk, Yukon 208 Esquimaux Family 209 Coronation Contingent, London, 1911 224 Indians Receiving Treaty Payment on Prairie 224 Fort Fitzgerald, Athabasca 225 Ice-bound Government Schooner 225 Herschell Island, Yukon Territory 240 Esquimaux Visiting R.N.W.M. Police Tent 240 Barracks at Fort Fitzgerald, Great Slave River 241 R.N.W.M. Police Shelter, Great Slave Lake 241 Cabin of Rev. Fathers Le Roux and Rouvier 241 R.N.W.M. Police Barracks, Churchill, Hudson Bay 256 Police with Dogs and Equipment on Split Lake, N.W.T. 257 Inspector Fitzgerald 272 Supt. Charles Constantine 272 Inspector La Nauze 273
A GREAT TRADITION
A few years ago I was away north of Edmonton on the trail of Alexander Mackenzie, fur trader and explorer, who a century and a quarter before had made the amazing journey from the prairies over the mountains to the Pacific Coast. We looked with something like awe and wonder at the site of the old fort near the famous Peace River Crossing, from which, after wintering there in 1792, he had started out on that unprecedented expedition, and we followed up the majestic Peace to Fort Dunvegan, past whose present location Mackenzie had gone his adventurous way. And during our trip we came across a little frontier encampment building itself into a primitive wooden town in view of the advent of a railway that was heading that way. It was a characteristic outfit with lax ideas in regard to laws which touched upon personal desires as to gambling, strong drink, Sunday trading and the rest. These men were out to make money as their type has been on most of the frontiers of civilization, and the unwary traveller or the lonely settler who ventured unduly was promptly fleeced of his possessions and turned out amidst a good deal of revelry in the hours of night. And then one day there rode into that shack-town a young athlete in a uniform of scarlet and gold, the rough-rider hat, the tunic of red, the wide gold stripe to the top of the riding boots and the shining spurs. He rode in alone from the nearest post some 60 miles away and, when he dismounted, threw off the heavy saddle and picketed his horse, a sudden air of orderliness settled on the locality. The young man, going around with that characteristic cavalry swing, issued a few warnings, tacked up a notice or two and then saddling his rested steed rode away at a canter over the plain. But the air of orderliness remained in that region after the horseman had disappeared over the horizon just as if he were still present. This was puzzling to a newcomer who was along, and he asked me what manner of man this young rider was that he was received with such deference and that his orders, so quietly given, were so instantly and so continuously obeyed.
The answer was made out of a life-long acquaintance with the history and the real life of Western Canada: "Well, it is not the young constable himself that counts so mightily, though he is a likely looking fellow enough who could be cool anywhere and who could give ample evidence of possessing those muscles of steel which count in a hand-to-hand encounter. But you see he is one of that widely known body of men called the Royal North-West Mounted Police. They have patrolled and guarded and guided this whole North-West Country for the last forty years and more. During that period they have built up a great tradition which rests on a solid foundation of achievement. Their reputation for courage is unchallenged, their record for giving every man of whatever race or colour a square deal is unique, their inflexible determination to see that law is enforced is well known and their refusal to count the odds against them when duty is to be done has been absolutely proven again and again. All these elements and others have created the Mounted Police tradition to such an extent that the one constable you saw is looked on as the embodiment of the Empire which plays no favourites but which at the same time will stand no nonsense from anyone. And perhaps most wonderful of all is that part of their record which shows that they have done all this and more without any violence or repression, except as a last resort. They were always more ready and anxious to save human life than to destroy it."
"All that is very interesting," said my friend; "I would like to hear more about these men, and would be glad if you would tell me something of their history." And out there under the open sky of the North Country, with the stars sparkling above us and the Aurora Borealis dancing and swishing over our heads in a wonderful panorama of colour and movement, we talked long into the night about the men in scarlet and gold. Their whole story could not be told in a night, but the eager interest of the listener and the creation of a new pride in things Canadian in his heart, led me to resolve that the history he was seeking should some day be published to the world. Many requests for the story have come since that night in the Peace River country, and now that one period of Police history is closing through the extension of the jurisdiction of the Force over the whole Dominion, East as well as West, accompanied by the word "Canadian" in their title instead of "North West," the time seems opportune for a real-life record of what these men throughout the years have meant to Canada. Such a record should cause every Royal Canadian Mounted Police recruit to realize that he has to be worthy of the tradition built up by the achievements of nearly half a century through valorous men, many of whom have now passed over the Great Divide. It will deepen in all men of sincerity a respect for authority in a restless age. And it will bring into the light facts hitherto unrevealed that will fill all men with pride in their country.
I know that the men of the Mounted Police have been averse to saying anything about themselves. They have the usual British characteristic of reticence intensified. But though I have been brigaded with them on active service, I have not been a member of the corps, and hence do not feel bound by their policy of silence. Let the plain truth, which is always stranger than fiction, be told about these gallant riders as an inspiration to young Canadians and to men of the blood everywhere. With this purpose in view I am now keeping the resolution made that night in the North, as I am in this book extending and telling to a larger audience the story then unfolded to an individual. My humble hope is that the larger audience may be equally interested.
THE WIDE WESTLAND
In the year of Grace 1920, we, in the West, celebrated with enthusiasm the birthday anniversary of the Hudson's Bay Company, which has attained to the ripe old age of 250 years. Yet the eye of this ancient organization is not dimmed by time, nor does its power show signs of impairment. As it is around this old and honourable commercial and colonizing concern that the early history of Western Canada principally revolves, a few paragraphs on this subject seem to be necessary as we begin our story. We must have proper historical setting for the entrance of our famous police force on the stage of Western Canadian history.
About the end of the first decade of the seventeenth century, Henry Hudson, the intrepid navigator who was looking for a North-West Passage by water through the North-American Continent to the Western Sea, discovered the great Bay which bears his name to this day. Marooned by a mutinous crew, he paid for the discovery with his life, after the manner of many pathfinders, but he had unlocked a new Empire for the human family. Then for years there was silence around the Bay which Hudson had opened at such great cost to himself.
Away in the East, following the early explorations along the banks of the St. Lawrence in old Canada, adventurous hunters and trappers began to push their way westward and northward, past the Great Lakes to the prairie land beyond. This was about the middle of the seventeenth century, and at that period the New World was full of opportunity for the daring who saw visions beyond the sky-line.
And so it came to pass about half a century after Hudson's time that two French adventurers, Radisson and Groseilliers, reaching out from the St. Lawrence to the wide north-west, came into contact with Indian tribes who told about the great bay to the north and the vast riches of the region in furs and skins. These adventurers went to see for themselves and they found that the half had not been told. And because, despite many theories, no one has ever discovered a way to carry on a big enterprise without capital, these hardy pioneers returned to the East and endeavoured to organize a trading company from amongst their French compatriots. But the enthusiasm of the men who had seen could not awaken response in the men who had not seen. The faculty of faith was not very highly developed in these French habitants by the St. Lawrence. But the zeal of Radisson and Groseilliers was unquenchable. They tried Boston in vain, and then betook themselves to France, where they were not any more successful, except that they got a letter of introduction to some men of leading in England. The Englishman generally loves a sporting chance for exploration and discovery, and so Prince Rupert, more or less a soldier of fortune who had lent his name and his sword to almost anything that offered a possibility of adventure or substance, took up the matter of the fur trade and was instrumental in sending out vessels with Radisson and Groseilliers to prospect on the shores of Hudson Bay. Once again the men who went and saw came back, not only with tales of an El Dorado in fur, but with the furs themselves, and the dashing Prince forthwith secured from the easy-going Charles II a monopolistic charter to trade and generally to control the whole vast region drained by rivers that emptied into Hudson Bay. The territory thus granted, with more added later by licences, extended generally speaking from the Great Lakes to the Pacific and from mid-continent to the North Pole. It was as large as half a dozen European Kingdoms and has become one of the greatest adjuncts of the British Empire, but King Charles did not know nor care much more about it than the French king who later on gave up Canada with a light heart, saying it was only "a few hundred acres of snow."
It is not our duty in this book to follow the fortunes of "the Governor and Company of the Adventurers of England trading into Hudson Bay" as the Royal Charter described this little band of less than a score of men to whom had been handed over the control of half a continent. It is enough to say that the Hudson's Bay Company, as the popular habit of shortening long titles rendered it, held this vast region for two whole centuries. During that time the immense resources of the country tempted others to disregard the monopolistic provisions of the Royal Charter and to venture in upon forbidden ground. Companies such as the North-West Fur Company, formed by the Scottish merchants of Montreal, rushed to secure part of the rich harvest in trade that was being reaped by the English Company, whose employees, it may be said, were largely the hardy Scots from the Highlands and Islands. But the leaders of the Hudson's Bay Company, "stabbed broad awake" by this opposition and strengthened by the trustworthiness and endurance of their employees, held their ground and extended their operations till they by degrees absorbed all opponents and became in 1821 monarchs of all they surveyed.
Meanwhile in the Old Land many things of world-wide interest and influence had been transpiring. The years around the opening of the nineteenth century were made stormy by the Napoleonic effort to subjugate Europe and while their men of military age were away fighting for the liberty of Europe against "the little giant of Corsica," certain areas in the north of Scotland were "cleared" of their inhabitants by heartless landlords who felt that sheep were more profitable for the owner of estates than human tenants. To these evicted crofters in the Highlands came that noble altruist and philanthropic colonizer, the Earl of Selkirk, who, having obtained from the Hudson's Bay Company an immense district principally in what is now Manitoba, offered the outcasts of a tyrannous land system homes in the great free spaces of Rupert's Land, as the Hudson Bay territory was called. The offer was accepted thankfully, and in the years from 1812 to 1815 these Selkirk colonists came to the Red River of the North.
It is not part of this story to follow the fortunes of these famous colonists of whom I have written more particularly in The Romance of Western Canada. They encountered unaccustomed climatic obstacles, they were persecuted and hunted by the fur-trading opponents of their benefactor, they were tried by the disasters of floods and by plagues of devouring locusts, but with the dogged and stern determination of their race and creed they held on and demonstrated to the world the possibilities of a country which is now the granary of the Empire.
And the world got to hearing of this Arcadian Colony of Scots in the new North-West. So when the old Provinces of the East were brought together under the name of the Dominion of Canada in 1867, the men of light and leading at Ottawa lost no time in looking westward to secure the vast western domain for the new Confederation. Despite the difficulty of travel, settlers had already begun to percolate from Eastern Canada through the States or the wilderness spaces west of the Great Lakes, into the Red River country made famous by the Selkirk Colony. And it had been becoming more and more apparent to the Hudson's Bay Company itself as well as to others that the great fur-trading and mercantile organization could no longer adequately administer an area which was soon to overflow with the human sea of an incoming population. For many years previous to Confederation the Hudson's Bay monopoly in trade had been more or less of a figment of the imagination and no one knew that better than the Company itself. It still retained its monopoly nominally, but it made very little effort to restrain the half-breed and other "free traders" who opened up stores and bartered for furs with the Indians. In any case in one form or other all the trade of the country practically came, in the last analysis, through the Hudson's Bay Company, who controlled the money market by having their own bills in circulation. But the wise old Company saw what was coming and began to get ready to let go its monopolistic fur-trading charter and adjust itself to the new conditions.
Hence it was not a difficult matter to persuade the Company to give up its charter for a consideration. My father, who was a member of the Council of Assiniboia, a magistrate, and a close personal friend of Governor McTavish, who was in charge at Fort Garry on the Red River where settlement had begun, always used to say that the Hudson's Bay Company was glad to find a reasonable way of getting the responsibility for the government of the growing country off its hands.
Accordingly, when the Canadian Government deemed the time was ripe, two members of that Government, the Hon. Sir George E. Cartier and the Hon. William McDougall, were sent to London to negotiate with the Imperial authorities for the transfer of the North-West to Canada. In view of the attitude taken by the Hudson's Bay Company, as stated above, the matter was not difficult to arrange. And after a brief discussion in London, the famous old fur-trading organization, which had held charter rights since the days of Charles II, relinquished those rights to the Imperial Government for L300,000 sterling, certain reservations around their trading posts, along with one-twentieth of the land in the fertile belt. Then, as previously understood, the Imperial Government was to transfer the vast North-West to Canada, which in turn undertook to respect and conserve the rights of the people in the area thus added to the Dominion. This arrangement was concluded in the spring of 1869, and it was then expected that the purchase money would be paid on the 1st of October following, and that probably on the 1st of December the Queen's Proclamation would issue, setting forth these facts and fixing the date of the actual transfer to Canada.
So far all was well. The ideas leading up to the acquisition of this great domain were in every sense statesmanlike, and, if carefully carried out, were calculated to be of the greatest benefit to the people in the new territory and the Dominion as well. We should pay unstinted tribute to the men whose ideals were for an ever-widening horizon, and who felt that "no pent-up Utica should confine the powers" of the young nation just beginning to stretch out and exercise its potentially giant limbs. Once the older Provinces in the East were brought into Confederation it was wise to look forward to a Canada stretching from ocean to ocean, and to take the necessary legal steps to secure the broad acres of the West as part of the Dominion. But just when everything seemed to be going well a cog in the diplomatic equipment of the Canadian Government power-house slipped and taking advantage of the occasion, one Louis Riel, the son of the old hot-headed agitator on the Red River, threw a wrench into the machinery.
The Canadian authorities who wisely carried through the negotiations with the Hudson's Bay Company and the Imperial Government seem to have blundered by overlooking the fact that the new territory had within its borders some 10,000 people, apart from the Indians, who ought to have been informed in some official way of the bargain that was being made, and of the steps that were being taken to conserve the rights and privileges of these early settlers.
It is true that rumours of the transaction reached the Red River country through unauthoritative sources, but the main result was to produce a feeling of uneasiness amongst the people there. And especially was this the case when the rumours were given point by overt acts. Even before the transfer of the country had been legally completed men were sent out from the East to open roads from the Lakes into the settlements. Surveying parties entered the new territory and went hither and thither, driving their stakes and erecting their mounds, to the bewilderment of the people, and to cap all the indiscretions, a Governor, the Hon. William McDougall, was dispatched from Ottawa to the Red River before the Hudson's Bay regime was formally superseded and before a Queen's Proclamation, which would have been instantly recognized by all classes in the community, was issued.
The Selkirk Settlers and other people of that class, however perplexed at the procedure, had the utmost confidence that the Canadian authorities would ultimately do substantial justice to all, and hence they awaited patiently though somewhat anxiously the developments of time. But the French half-breeds, more fiery and more easily excited, more turbulent of spirit and warlike in disposition, accustomed to more or less fighting on the plains, and withal, as a class, less well informed than their white brethren, were not content to wait. They felt that the course being followed by the Canadian authorities might lead to the loss of their rights, and so they rose in a revolt, that while accomplishing some of the objects that could have been reached by constitutional means, left its red stream across that early page of our history. But in the midst of all our statements let it be remembered, in mitigation of the attitude of the Canadian authorities, that communication between Ottawa and the West at that period was very difficult. There were no railways nor telegraphs and the mails were few and far apart. Though, on the other hand, that condition of things should have made all parties more tolerant and cautious.
Strange that the two Louis Riels, father and son, should lead in agitations that were somewhat contradictory. The elder Riel was a famous antagonist of the Hudson's Bay Company regime with its apparent or alleged monopoly in trade, and the younger Riel, while no lover of the Company, opposed the Canadian Government which was to replace it. The truth seems that they were both temperamentally against authority and that they were both afflicted with a megalomania which led each to imagine that he was some great one.
The younger Riel had the "bad eminence" of leading two rebellions in Western history before winding up his tragic career on the scaffold at Regina. He it was who opposed the entrance of Governor McDougall to the Red River in 1869. He it was who, after having stopped the Governor, rode down and captured Fort Garry in which he and his men fared sumptuously all that winter out of the Hudson's Bay Company store. He it was who imprisoned those who opposed him and ordered the shooting of Thomas Scott, a young Canadian prisoner—an act which estranged from the rebel chief the sympathy of many who believed that he had some grounds for protest against the incoming of authority without any guarantee of the settler's rights.
But the reign of the rebel was not long. The Imperial authorities who have never forgotten the teaching of history in the loss of the American colonies, have more than once called the governments in free colonies to a sense of their duty and have followed up their advice with military backing if necessary. And both were forthcoming in this case. The hand of the good Queen Victoria is seen in the following dispatch from Earl Granville to Sir John Young, Governor-General of Canada:
"The Queen has heard with surprise and regret that certain misguided persons have banded together to oppose by force the entry of our future Lieutenant-Governor into our territory in Red River. Her Majesty does not distrust the loyalty of her subjects in that settlement, and can only ascribe to misunderstanding and misrepresentation their opposition to a change planned for their advantage.
"She relies on your Government to use every effort to explain whatever misunderstanding may have arisen—to ascertain the wants and conciliate the goodwill of the people of Red River Settlement. But in the meantime she authorizes you to signify to them the sorrow and displeasure with which she views the unreasonable and lawless proceedings which have taken place, and her expectation that if any parties have desires to express or complaints to make respecting their conditions and prospects, they will address themselves to the Governor-General of Canada.
"The Queen expects from her representative that as he will be always ready to receive well-founded grievances, so will he exercise all the power and authority she entrusted to him in support of order and the suppression of unlawful disturbances."
The closing paragraph of this fine message indicates the traditional British Empire position, that though grievances will be heard and remedied, there will be no quarter given to any nonsense on the part of rebels. And it was in keeping with this position that Colonel (later Field Marshal Sir Garnet) Wolseley was dispatched to the Red River country with regular troops, who arrived at their destination only to find that Riel and his forces had decamped before their arrival. Two regiments from Eastern Canada came later and remained on duty at Fort Garry for some time after the regulars under Wolseley had returned home.
The Red River country was ushered into Confederation as the Province of Manitoba, and the Hon. Adams George Archibald, of Nova Scotia, was sent out from Ottawa in 1870 as Lieutenant-Governor. He took a rough census of the country and with the resultant crude voters' list the first regular Western Legislature was soon elected and at work.
But west and north of this little Province of Manitoba, itself sparsely settled, lay an immense hinterland stretching nearly a thousand miles to the Rocky mountains and northward to the pole itself. This enormous area, then commonly called "The Saskatchewan," was unpeopled except for thousands of Indians, many groups of nomadic buffalo-hunters mostly half-breeds, a few scattered missions of various churches, and a large number of Hudson's Bay Company trading posts. Manitoba was under the oversight of a regularly constituted Government and Legislature. But out in the vast north-west hinterland it was a sort of interregnum time, in view of the fact that the Hudson's Bay Company, which had controlled the country for two centuries, had given up its charter and authority to the Dominion of Canada which had legally but not yet visibly taken possession. Or, to change the figure, the period was, governmentally speaking, a sort of "No man's land" with one party technically out of possession and the other not yet recognized by the traders or Indians as being in control. Such a situation gave a great deal of opportunity for lawlessness by warring tribes, horse-thieves, whisky peddlers, boot-leggers and all the rest of that ilk. And the proximity to the American boundary line making escape easy was an additional temptation to the lawlessly inclined. That this class did not allow the opportunity to go by unused soon became apparent to men who were upon the ground. Mr. Lawrence Clark, a noted Hudson's Bay officer, whom I remember in his later years, handsome, eager, alert and well-informed, said that both traders and Indians were learning the dangerous lesson that the Queen's orders could be disregarded with impunity.
And it is now pretty well known that our good Queen and her advisers who had been shocked by the Riel outbreak in 1869 were concerned for the good government of the vast domain that had been recently handed over by the Imperial Government to Canada. It was not the British way to allow things to get out of hand, nor to permit wards of the nation, like the Indians, to become the victims of the lawless in trade and in morality. Hence the Governor-General of Canada received for himself and his responsible advisers more than one dispatch from the Headquarters of the Empire admonishing that steps should be taken to preserve peace in the vast new domain and to give all who would immigrate thither the proper British safeguards as to life and liberty and the pursuit of their lawful avocations. And, of course, the Canadian authorities, chagrined over the Riel outbreak and having some knowledge of the immense responsibilities they had assumed by taking over the North-West, were anxious to prevent anything that would make the new country unattractive to the people who were desirous of coming with their families to settle within its borders.
As a result of all this, Governor Archibald, of Manitoba, within a few weeks after his arrival in Fort Garry, took steps to secure a report on conditions on "The Saskatchewan," outside the Province where he was the representative of the Crown. The fact that he did this so soon after assuming office and when matters in his own Province required special attention, indicates strongly the pressure that had been brought to bear upon the Canadian authorities by headquarters. And when a man was required for the special mission out over the far North-West he was there on the spot in the person of Lieutenant W. F. Butler of the 69th Regiment, afterwards famous as Sir William Butler, of South Africa. On account of his splendid powers of endurance, his great faculty for observation and his remarkable literary genius, he was a man with unique qualifications for the task—the difficult and delicate task—to which Governor Archibald called him. A person has to be sadly destitute in the religious sense to believe that Butler was on hand by accident. It is exceedingly interesting to find that another man, who afterwards became noted in South Africa, namely the bluff and valiant fighter, Redvers Buller, was in the Red River expedition with Wolseley and had been mentioned in connection with the mission to the North-West hinterland. Years afterwards in the Boer War time this same Redvers Buller, then commanding the British forces on the veld, said to Colonel Sam B. Steele, of Strathcona's Horse, who also had served under Wolseley: "I know Lord Strathcona very well: when I was at Fort Garry on the Red River Expedition he spoke to me about going out over the plains to investigate conditions, but I was recalled to my regiment and Governor Archibald sent Butler out instead, a good thing too; for he wrote a very good book on his journey which I could not have done." And this big-hearted, manly, generous reference by Buller properly indicated that he not only recognized his own limitations, but was glad to pay tribute to the literary genius who wrote that Classic The Great Lone Land and the noble biography of General Gordon of Khartoum.
But Butler had more than literary gifts. He had, as already stated, great powers of observation and that remarkable faculty for forecasting, which was exemplified, then, on Canadian prairies as it was later on the South African veld.
In the book The Great Lone Land, to which allusion has been made, Butler tells us with manly frankness that in 1869 he had come to a standstill in his career as a soldier, because he had neither the means nor influence to secure any promotion in such a piping time of peace. And so, when news of the Riel Rebellion in the far West drifted to London, Butler cabled to Canada for an opportunity to serve in the Red River Expedition. He immediately followed his cablegram, but on his arrival found himself too late for a place. However he was given a special mission to go from Toronto to Fort Garry by way of the United States in order to find out how the people of that country along the boundary looked at matters on the Red River. Butler went on to Fort Garry, passed through the rebel zone, met Wolseley and with him entered Fort Garry, which had just been evacuated by Riel. As things quieted, Butler was going to leave for the East, when Governor Archibald got hold of him, as stated, and sent him out over the West to report on conditions and make recommendations. He left Fort Garry in October, 1870, treked 900 miles to the Rocky Mountains, then wheeled northward to Edmonton and down the Saskatchewan River to Lake Winnipeg, boxing the compass so far as the great hinterland of the plains was concerned. He heard much and saw more, witnessed the smallpox scourge lashing the Indian tribes, saw the general disquiet and disorder with no one in control. The steed of the far West was riderless, the reins had been thrown away and the country was running wild. Butler's report is graphic in the extreme and has many recommendations, but the one that mainly concerns us just now is that which advises the establishment of constituted authority with sufficient force to back it up, for it was that recommendation which led to the establishment, though delayed strangely for two years more, of the famous corps known originally to history as the North-West Mounted Police.
The particular wisdom of Butler's recommendation lies in the fact that he advocated along with the civil government a material force which would be located "not at fixed points or forts." For he said that any force so located "would afford little protection outside the immediate circle of these points and would hold out no inducements to the establishment of new settlements." Wise man was Butler who saw that settlers must be secured to pour into this vast country and make it the granary of the Empire, and that a force movable enough to be readily at the call of scattered settlements would be absolutely necessary. The sequel has proven how well Butler forecasted events because settlers by the thousand soon desired to come and it was the presence of the Mounted Police that gave to these settlers the sense of security that made it possible for them to turn the vast plains into waving fields of grain and cause the wide areas of pasture land to shake under the tread of domestic herds.
And the other special point in which Butler's wisdom in recommendation comes out in regard to the force to be established is where he states that such a force should be independent of any faction or party either in church or state. His wise hint in this regard was taken and followed, and hence all through their history the Mounted Police have gone their way, caring for nothing and for nobody in their intentness on doing their duty. It is quite well known to some of us that in many places on the plains, in the mountains and away in the land of the golden Yukon, the Police were often strongly urged to relax their vigilance in the interests of some political party or some business that was financially concerned. But all such temptations fell on deaf ears, and the scarlet-coated riders, looking on intimidation and efforts at bribery with contempt, pursued the even tenor of their way and gave every man a square deal according to his deserts no matter who he was or to what colour the sun and the wind had burned his skin. Such was the force which this wise recommendation of Butler called into existence.
That such a force would have no sinecure and would have no room for "misfits or failures," Butler tells us in 1870 in that clause of his report in which he says, "As matters at present rest, the region of the Saskatchewan is without law, order or security for life or property; robbery and murder for years have gone unpunished; Indian massacres are unchecked even in the close vicinity of the Hudson's Bay Company posts and all civil and legal institutions are entirely unknown." It was high time for government control with an adequate material force to give it power.
And because I have referred to Butler's foresightedness it would be unfair to his memory to close this section without quoting the magnificent paragraph with which he ended his report in March of 1871. It reads as follows:
"Such, sir, are the views which I have formed upon the whole question of the existing state of affairs in the Saskatchewan country. They result from the thought and experience of many long days of travel through a large portion of the region to which they have reference. If I were asked from what point of view I have looked upon this question, I would answer—From that point which sees a vast country lying, as it were, silently awaiting the approach of the immense wave of human life which rolls unceasingly from Europe to America. Far off as lie the regions of the Saskatchewan from the Atlantic seaboard, on which that wave is thrown, remote as are the fertile glades which fringe the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains, still that wave of human life is destined to reach those beautiful solitudes, and to convert the wild luxuriance of their now useless vegetation into all the requirements of civilized existence. And if it be matter of desire that across this immense continent, resting on the two greatest oceans of the world, a powerful nation should arise with the strength and the manhood which race and climate and tradition would assign to it—a nation which would look with no evil eye upon the old motherland from whence it sprung; a nation which, having no bitter memories to recall, would have no idle prejudices to perpetuate—then surely it is worthy of all toil of hand and brain, on the part of those who to-day rule, that this great link in the chain of such a future nationality should no longer remain undeveloped, a prey to the conflict of savage races, at once the garden and the wilderness of the central continent."
These great words were written nearly half a century ago. What has taken place in Western History within that time shows how this remarkable man "had his ear to the ground," as the Indians used to express it and that he was in effect saying, with Whittier:
"I hear the tread of nations, Of Empires yet to be; The dull low wash of waves where yet Shall roll a human sea."
ENTER THE MOUNTED POLICE
Great bodies are proverbially slow in their movements, and in this regard all governments seem to be great bodies. It may be that a healthy difference of opinion within a cabinet tends to cautious procedure, but that type of caution is rather trying on people whose nerves tingle for action.
The first Government of Canada under that astute and tactful statesman, John A. Macdonald, was a sort of composite organization which needed careful handling to prevent explosions, and some vast new problems such as the construction of a transcontinental railway were in that day swinging into politics. So, despite Butler's urgent report in 1871 and the rumours more or less exaggerated of intertribal Indian fights with the accompaniments of massacre and scalping-knife torture, the Government took another year to think over it, and in 1872 sent Adjutant-General P. Robertson-Ross to make a general reconnaissance and bring back further expert opinion. And Colonel Ross, after many many months of travelling, brought in a quite pronounced series of suggestions pointing out the great need for such a force as Butler had suggested, and definitely advised the placing of detachments of "mounted riflemen" all the way from Manitoba to the Rockies, and for that matter from the boundary line to the Pole.
It is interesting to note in this report of Colonel Robertson-Ross a reference to the matter of the uniform of the proposed force in the following paragraph:
"During my inspection in the North-West, I ascertained that some prejudice existed amongst the Indians against the colour of the uniform worn by the men of the Rifles, for many of the Indians said, 'Who are these soldiers at Red River wearing dark clothes? Our old brothers who formerly lived there (meaning H.M.S. 6th Regiment) wore red coats,' adding, 'we know that the soldiers of our great mother wear red coats and are our friends.'"
The Indians like the bright colour, but they also in this case connected it with the regular regiment that had come to the Red River to keep the peace. Referring to this same subject of uniform, Mr. Charles Mair, noted author and frontiersman, recently said: "There is a moral in colour as in other things, and the blind man who compared scarlet to the sound of a trumpet was instinctively right. It does carry with it the loud voice of law and authority so much needed in this disjointed time. It disconcerts the ill-affected and has no small bearing in other ways."
The Hon. Frank Oliver, of Edmonton, who has known the West from the early days, wrote not long ago on this point:
"For nearly half a century throughout Canada's great plains, the red coat of the Mounted Policeman was the visible and definite assurance that right was might. A red speck on the horizon was notice to both weak and strong, honest and dishonest, that the rule of law prevailed; while experience taught white men and red that 'Law' meant even-handed justice as between man and man without fear or favour."
"The red coat was evidence that wherever the wearer was, he was there with authority. In any other colour he might have escaped hostile observation. Not so when clad in red."
Following Colonel Ross' report in 1872 the Government at Ottawa was subjected to a sort of fusillade on the question from the floor of the House of Commons. Hon. Alexander MacKenzie (afterwards Premier), Hon. Dr. John Schultz (later Sir John, Governor of Manitoba, who had been imprisoned by Louis Riel and had escaped with a price on his head), an ardent Canadian, Hon. William Cunningham, a newspaper man from Winnipeg, Hon. Donald A. Smith, a Hudson's Bay Company man (who as Lord Strathcona was to have such a large share in the making of the West) and the Hon. Letellier de St. Just were some of the members who wanted to know what the Government was contemplating in view of all the reports received. Sir John A. Macdonald, who took special pride in the police in later years, and the Hon. Joseph Howe, whose office was to look after the West, said that the Government was fully alive to the situation and would act in due time. As a matter of fact the Government, especially Sir John, had been for some time in consultation with experienced service men, notably Major (later Colonel) Arthur Henry Griesbach, who was in Ottawa for many months advising in regard to the force of which he was afterwards to become one of the earliest and most honoured members. It also emerged later that Sir John and his associates had been making some study of such famous organizations as the Irish Constabulary, and that he had set his mind on having a force that would be distinguished for hardiness in service and readiness in response to calls of duty rather than for "fuss and feathers," as he expressed it in his favourite way.
Finally, on May 3, 1873, the Premier moved for leave to introduce a bill dealing with the administration of justice and for the establishment of a police force in the North-West Territories. It was adopted by the House on May 20, and so the organization of the now famous corps was definitely on its way. An interesting fact was that this was to be a civil force in uniform, not a military organization subject to the Queen's regulations, but dependent for discipline upon the personality of the officers, the esprit de corps that would be generated and the noblesse oblige idea that would emerge in the course of service. And all these things actually developed as we shall see in the process of this story.
Having finally passed the Act, the legislators rested on their laurels a few months more, for it was not until September that actual enrolment of the new force began to take place. The process of enlistment was then hurried somewhat and later on some sifting was done in order to throw out any culls. But in the main the men measured up well to the demands of that most interesting and important clause in the Act, which says:
"No person shall be appointed to the police force unless he be of sound constitution, able to ride, active and able-bodied, and between the ages of eighteen and forty years, nor unless he be able to read and write either the English or the French language."
This was sane legislation, for these men were not going out on a picnic. They were going to patrol the widest and wildest frontier in the world. And that frontier has always said in the words of Robert Service:
"Send not your foolish and feeble; send me your strong and your sane: Strong for the red rage of battle; sane, for I harry them sore. Send me men girt for the combat, men who are grit to the core. Them will I gild with my treasure; them will I feed with my meat; But the others—the misfits, the failures—I trample them under my feet."
And in order that readers may have other testimony than that of the author on the question of the need for strong men, let me quote words written by the Hon. N. W. Rowell, who, as President of the Council and Governmental head of the force, had specially studied the history of the Police:
"When the Canadian West first saw the scarlet jacket the prairies were in a transition stage which contained grave possibilities of danger. The old era, in which the Hudson's Bay Company and the Indians had dealt peaceably together, was breaking up, and the private trader, irresponsible and often not too scrupulous, was laying the seeds of trouble in a land where the Indians still were numerous and powerful. Tribe waged war against tribe, and formidable hosts, fresh from fighting against the American army, surged across the forty-ninth parallel."
And the words also of the frontier statesman already mentioned, the Hon. Frank Oliver, of Edmonton:
"Ordinarily speaking no more wildly impossible undertaking was ever staged than the establishment of Canadian authority and Canadian law throughout the Canadian prairies by a handful of Mounted Police. The population consisted chiefly of warring tribes of Indians, of whom the Blackfeet Confederacy was the most important, the most warlike and the most intractable. Next to the Indians in numbers were scattered settlements of half-breeds, who lived by the chase; no less warlike although more tractable than the Indian. Then a few white and half-breed traders and missionaries; and last and best, the commencement of white settlements at Prince Albert and Edmonton. An imaginary line separated Canada from the United States for a distance of 800 miles. South of that line, strategic points were garrisoned by thousands of United States soldiers; an almost continuous condition of Indian warfare prevailed; and the white population in large measure ran free of the restraints of established authority. There had been an overflow of 'bad men' from Montana into what is now Southern Alberta and South-Western Saskatchewan, who repeated in Canada the exploits by which they had made Montana infamous. In large measure, world opinion took for granted that lawlessness must accompany pioneer conditions. Canada's Mounted Police Force was the challenge to that idea."
And as evidence of the way in which the police backed Canada's challenge nothing finer is written than the following in a letter to me some time ago from Governor Dr. R. G. Brett of Alberta, who has been on the frontiers for nearly forty years:
"The manner in which so small a force kept down the liquor traffic, controlled the savage tribes of Indians, protected the lives and property of the settlers, affords an illustration of paternal administration that is probably without parallel in the world's history."
These are tributes from men who know. And Governor Brett goes on to commend the idea of a history of the Police when he adds:
"Every Canadian cannot but be a better citizen after reading the history of the lives of the modest heroes, whose devotion to duty and even-handed distribution of justice have commanded the admiration of the civilized world."
From the beginning the officers of the force have been almost invariably of outstanding strength who won the respect of the men under their command by their willingness to share all the perils of the service and by being always ready to be in front of the troop when there was danger ahead. Not long ago a veteran hospital Sergeant of the Force, Dr. Braithwaite, of Edmonton, said finely, "I know of no officer in the force who would order any man to do any work at all, that the officer would not do himself. A man would not be asked to ride a refractory horse that his officer would not or could not ride. This is what has given the Force its reputation—the absolute confidence of the men in their leaders, and the complete esprit de corps that was always there."
That the general spirit of the original legislation which insisted on good physique and respectable character in the men of the force was carried out in practice, those of us who have known these men in almost all circumstances and places can testify. To illustrate, I recall in Winnipeg seeing the men who were going over to form part of the Empire's tribute on the occasion of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. After a stop-over for a couple of hours they fell in to the bugle call on the railway platform. The men looked like models for the statue of Apollo, and with the clear eye, bronzed faces and alert movement born of their clean and healthful outdoor life on the plains, they were goodly to behold. And when I remarked to Major (now Commissioner) Perry, who was in command, that it was generally looked on as rather a dangerous thing to let a body of men loose amid the temptations of a strange city, Perry replied: "That has no bearing on these men, even though there was a saloon on every corner. Every man feels that the honour and good name of the force depend on his individual conduct, and so he can be trusted." And when in London, the Mounted Police won golden opinions, not only for their splendid appearance, but for their gentlemanly bearing.
Still another general remark may be made here. It will be remembered that Butler had recommended that the force to be organized in support of constituted authority be independent of any party or faction either in Church or State. And here also Butler's advice has been borne in mind. Governments have come and gone in regular cycle of years according as they were thought worthy or otherwise of the people's support. And partisan politics have played a considerable, and not always a creditable, part in Canadian history. But the Mounted Police force has never been in the game. Mounted Policemen have always been strictly non-partisan in politics and no interference with them by politicians of any party would be tolerated for a moment. These law-enforcers have always been absolutely independent of any local or other influences except the commands of their officers in the line of duty, and to this in large measure is due the remarkable reputation of the force for giving every man a square deal, regardless of race or creed or colour. Mounted Policemen have never been respecters of persons. They treat every one alike. Referring to political parties, for instance, it is recalled that the corps was scarcely organized when Sir John Macdonald was retired by the Canadian electorate and the Hon. Alexander Mackenzie was elevated to the premiership. But this made no change in the matter of the force which from the beginning has been the servant not of any political party but of the nation. It is historically correct to say that Sir John Macdonald started the organization, but it fell to Mr. Mackenzie's lot to perfect the organization, and start it definitely on its Western career. Governments may come and governments may go, but the Police have kept on the even tenor of their way throughout all the years.
Perhaps the startling story of "The Massacre Ground" at Cypress Hills, some 40 miles north of the boundary line, and kindred stories were the last straws which, added to the weight of evidence for the necessity of an armed force in the West, moved the Dominion Government to active organization work. This Cypress Hills event is a gruesome story enough, but it is part of the setting for the entrance of the Mounted Police on the stage of Western life.
It appears that a party of men—we call them men by courtesy as they were human beings of the male persuasion—crossed over from Montana on a trading expedition. They were white men, but perhaps of various races, for they were mostly adventurers who had served in the American Civil War and had not much regard for human life. These men deluged an Assiniboine Indian Camp with deadly whisky in return for every valuable thing the Indians had to trade. And when the Indian Camp was ablaze with the light of campfires and was a mad whirl of dancing drunkenness the miscreant traders from the South, in a spirit of utter wanton devilry, got under cover of a cut bank by the creek where the camp was, and proceeded to shoot the Indians who were defenceless in their orgy. A volley or two accounted for two score killed and many wounded, only a few escaping to the hills. And this carnival of bloodshed was witnessed by an American trader, Abe Farwell, who, being alone, was helpless to prevent, but who testified as to the frightful occurrence.
Nor was this very far from the general order of the day. Bloods, Piegans, Blackfeet, Crees, Assiniboines and the other tribes maddened with doped liquor from outlaw traders, fought each other whenever they met. And some cases were known where Blackfeet and Crees, implacable enemies, happening to meet at some trading post, struggled with fierce brutality, while the Hudson's Bay trader in the fort had to barricade his gate and let them fight it out amongst themselves. I have myself seen Indian braves with half a score of scalps dangling from their belts, and others with no end of nicks in their rifle stocks to indicate the number they had slain. Buffalo-hunters from the white and half-breed settlements by the Red and the Assiniboine Rivers only ventured westward in large companies heavily armed. Explorers ran great risks, and the famous Captain Palliser had to hunt one whole winter with Old Sun, the Chief of the Blackfeet, that he might become as one of that fighting tribe and get leave to draw his maps.
Communication was difficult, but the news of these events of frightfulness percolated through to Ottawa and the order went out in September, 1873, that officers already appointed should proceed to recruit in the Eastern Provinces and rush some part of the force to the far West, so as to be on the ground by the next spring. The principal recruiting officer seems to have been Inspector James Morrow Walsh, who became one of the noted men of the Force in later years. It is a somewhat remarkable coincidence and a decided testimony to the directness with which the Mounted Police when organized struck at the very heart of the lawlessness in the West, that Fort Walsh, called after this recruiting Inspector, was built as a Police post not many months later practically on "The Massacre Ground" in the Cypress Hills country. That Fort was a direct and visible challenge to every outlaw, white or red, who expected to have his own way in British territory.
We shall meet Walsh from time to time in this story and his name simply occurs here as one of the earliest recruiting officers. I knew him at different stages in his career, but most particularly when he had retired from the Force and entered the coal business in Winnipeg. Later on he was the Civil Governor of the Yukon Territory. Clean-cut in figure, athletic, wiry and always faultlessly dressed, Walsh was a good-looking type and bore in his carriage the unmistakable stamp of his cavalry training. In Winnipeg he was popularly known as the man who had tamed Sitting Bull, the redoubtable Sioux of Custer Massacre fame, but others of the Police also had a hand, as we shall see, in that extraordinary experience.
There was no difficulty in getting men to enlist in the Mounted Police. This was clearly not due to any mercenary motives on the part of men enlisting. The remuneration for both officers and men was small, as it remains comparatively speaking to this day, when we remember that the work has always called for an unusual degree of endurance, initiative, reliability and courage. But the Government no doubt placed considerable reliance on the fact that the spirit of adventure is strong in the hearts of young men and that the lure of a new land would draw them with compelling magnetism. In this the authorities were not disappointed. In fact, Colonel George A. French, a Royal Artillery Officer, then at the head of the School of Gunnery at Kingston (who died recently after much distinguished service to the Empire during which he rose to a Major-Generalship and a Knighthood with many decorations), and who was early given command of the Mounted Police with the title of Commissioner, saw the danger of a rush for places in the new Force and took steps to weed out undesirables. More than once in Toronto and again at Dufferin in Manitoba when the great venture of the march out into the unknown began, Colonel French put the matter before the men in a sort of forlorn-hope admonition. They were to be one of the few forces in the world constantly on active service and neither Garibaldi nor Bruce of Bannockburn ever warned men more distinctly of what possibly lay ahead of them. And the picture, as after events proved, was not overdrawn. These men were to face cold and hunger and the perils of drought in the various seasons of the year; they were to leave the comforts of civilization and live under the canopy of the sky amidst the storms of summer and the blizzards of winter; they were to be called to root out nests of outlaws who had no scruples about taking human life, and they, a mere handful of men, were to control and guide Indians whose brethren to the south of the boundary were engaging attention of thousands of soldiers in the endeavour to keep them in order. All this and more did French tell the new recruits. But only a very few dropped out and throughout the years the force has attracted a fine class of men both from Canada and the British Isles. Young men from the towns and farms of the old Provinces, University Graduates and younger sons of the nobility in the Mother Land, men of birth and breeding and social advantage have always been in the ranks. But once in the force there were no social distinctions sought or recognized. Genuine manhood was the only hall-mark allowed as a standard. The fine democracy of Robert Burns,—
"The rank is but the guinea stamp; The man's the gold for a' that,—
has had right of way. There was an intangible but real atmosphere in the corps which in some quiet but quite definite fashion, eliminated any man who did not measure up to the mark which the members felt they ought to reach. Mr. Charles Mair, the author and frontiersman, already quoted, says finely, "The average Mounted Policeman was an idealist regarding the honour of his corps; and if, as sometimes happened, a hard character crept into it, physically fit, a good rider or a good shot, but coarse, cruel and immoral, he fared ill with his fellows, and speedily betook himself to other employment."
The men who first enlisted in the East, mainly in Ontario, in September, 1873, were sent away westward by the Great Lakes and the difficult Dawson Route to the Red River country in order to be on the ground and get down to work preparatory to the trek towards the setting sun. The Dawson Route, so-called after the designer of it, was a trail which utilized the water-stretches and on the whole was more suited to amphibious animals than human beings. Some of the men now coming over it with the police had travelled it with Wolseley a few years previously and would have vivid recollections of the flies and mud and portages and the need of manufacturing skidways over the bogs, but they would also recall the irrepressible and uproarious spirit in which they used to sing of their additional accomplishments in the rollicking "Jolly Boys" chorus:
"'Twas only as a volunteer that I left my abode, I never thought of coming here to work upon the road."
The Police, however, were coming in the fall of the year and escaped some of the plagues of the earlier seasons. They duly landed at Lower Fort Garry, the old Hudson's Bay post still romantically standing on the banks of the Red River some 20 miles north of the present city of Winnipeg. They came in three troops or divisions, "A," "B," and "C," of fifty men each, which was the number of the Force which the law-makers at Ottawa thought would be sufficient to patrol 300,000 square miles of territory where lawlessness was beginning to be rampant. In the meantime it was not very pleasant for the Police to land at the Fort near the beginning of winter and to learn a few days afterwards that their winter clothing had been commandeered by the weather and frozen in somewhere on the Dawson Route. But this too was accepted with good grace by the men who had declined to be sifted out of the Force by the warnings given them as to hardships ahead.
These men at Lower Fort Garry had been on the pay-roll since their enlistment in September, but they were not actually on service till the 3rd of November, 1873, when they were sworn in by Lieut.-Colonel Osborne Smith, who was then in command of the Western Military District with headquarters at Winnipeg. It is not generally known that Colonel Osborne Smith, who had seen service in the Crimea and the Fenian Raid in 1866, was really appointed Commissioner of the Police so as to give him full authority until a successor was invested with the command. But I have before me as I write the elaborate parchment which so appointed Colonel Smith. It is dated September 25, 1873, and bears the signature of J. C. Aikins (afterwards Governor of Manitoba) as Secretary of State as well as that of Sir John A. Macdonald. Colonel Osborne Smith, whom I knew well in later days and under whom I served in the Winnipeg Light Infantry, brigaded in 1885 with some of the Police of this original troop, was an ardent Canadian Imperialist, and I imagine it was he who drew up the enlistment oath that was subscribed before him that day at the old Fort. In view of the fact that the word "Canadian" has been substituted in the name of the Force for the word "North-West" and that the jurisdiction of the corps has now been extended over the whole Dominion, it is suggestive of prophetic vision that the original oath should have borne the heading "Mounted Police of Canada."
It is also interesting to note in connection with this oath, which pledges faithful performance of duty and the protection and due care of their equipment and other public property, that the first signature is that of Arthur Henry Griesbach, who was then Regimental Sergeant-Major, but who later on became one of the ablest Superintendents. He has already been referred to as the special adviser of Sir John A. Macdonald in Ottawa for some months prior to the organization of the Police, and on this account shares with Sir John the designation of the "Father of the Force." Griesbach's signature was witnessed by Samuel B. Steele, who was then Troop Sergeant-Major, and who, after very notable service in the Police and the Militia, was promoted to a Major-Generalship and Knighted. Amongst other well-known signatures is that of John Henry McIllree, then a Sergeant who, with much excellent work in the Force to his credit, became Assistant Commissioner and is now retired with the rank of Colonel and the Imperial Service Order. The list of men on that first roll holds the signatures of many whose names became household words in Western Canada and whose contribution to the Empire was of far-reaching value. They were the real originals of a corps which was looked on by many as an experiment in the beginning. But their work set such a high standard for those who came after them that men who joined in later years felt the pressure of prestige to which they must live up if they were to hold their place in the organization. The result has been that the reputation of this remarkable corps has grown with the years and any writer of their history would be sadly lacking in the historical sense if he did not see how profoundly they have influenced for good the trend of life west of the Great Lakes.
It is worth while at this point to emphasize and illustrate this statement for the sake of readers who may not know the history of the West as some of us do who have lived in the country all our days and have witnessed the developments throughout the passing years. Nothing could be a greater mistake than to look upon the Mounted Police as a body separate from the elements that have gone to the making of the Canadian West. As a body, it is true, they were aloof from partisan political strife, from class struggles in the social order and from the activities of commercial endeavour, but their influence was felt constantly on the pulse of the growing country which, like a boisterous growing boy, needed restraint and guidance in reaching the fullness of its powers. They were not party men, politically or socially, but they saw that every person and every organization that was sane and law-abiding and constructive, got fair play without interference from anyone. The Police did not as a body engage in commercial activities themselves, but they made it possible for the settler and the miner and the railroad-builder and others in all lawful occupations to go about their work in peace and develop the country under the shield of police protection. In brief, the record of this famous corps is woven into Western history to such a degree that without the fibre of that record the present great fabric of a new land, strong, sound and unbreakable, would have been impossible.
Two things specifically might be said here in this regard. Butler, in the famous report already quoted, dwelt eloquently, it will be remembered, on the necessity for the organization of a force that would be a protector and guide to the settlers who would flow into the West. It is rather a curious coincidence that when the first of the Mounted Police contingent came over the Dawson Route they assisted families on the way to the Red River country who would probably never have got through without the help of these kindly giants. And that was just a prophecy of what was to be the rule. Settlers did not hesitate to go where there was Mounted Police protection and the occasional patrol to remote homesteaders to see whether there was anything required made the lot of many a lonely household much more carefree and happy than it would otherwise have been. There is absolutely no doubt that the tide of humanity flowed freely into the vast new frontier land by reason of the fact that the scarlet-coated riders had made the wilderness a safe abode and a place of opportunity for the law-abiding and the industrious. Thus did the Police fulfil the vision of Butler and make the settlement of the great areas not only possible but speedy.
Another impressive way in which the Mounted Police made history was their extraordinary handling of the Indian tribes who were the original possessors of the soil. History, both ancient and modern, is full of the bitter tragedies created by the way in which incoming people have treated original inhabitants of the lands they were coming to possess. In our own day just across the border, owing to mishandling by some unfaithful Government agents and other causes, there was war for decades between the Government and the Indians, who looked upon the cavalry and other military bodies in that country as their enemies. This was never the case with our Western Country. The first business our Mounted Police did was to stand between the Indians and the vile creatures who would give them drink and rob them of all they possessed. So that some two years after the scarlet tunic had made its appearance in the foothill country, Crowfoot, the famous Chief of the warlike Blackfeet, referring to the Police, said in his beautiful imagery, "They have protected us as the feathers protect the bird from the frosts of winter." The Indians knew that they could not commit crime and go unpunished any more than the white man, but the Indians also knew that the Police would see that every man, whether red or white, got fair play. Hence the Indians recognized the Police as their friends and not as their enemies. With thousands of Indians, accustomed to almost constant war, thrown upon their hands, the Police never had any real revolt on the part of the Indians to deal with save only when the mad Riel inveigled a few of them on the war-path by cunning guile. And with some personal knowledge of that whole affair we venture to say that had the warning given by Superintendent Crozier and other Policemen months before the outbreak been taken, and had the Police Force been doubled and given a free hand, there would have been no rebellion and no bloodshed. But when the outbreak did come we are also ready to affirm, as amongst those who took part in its suppression, that but for the missionaries and the Police the rebellion would have been far more widely spread. And equally are we ready to declare that the Police were the backbone of every brigade in which they served, and this we say without any desire to minimize the arms of the service to which we belonged.
It was the swearing in of the "originals" of the Mounted Police that led to the writing of these special reflections. For on looking back over the years of this West that I have known from childhood, it seems to me that the day of that first enlistment oath was a pivotal point around which much of the destiny of Western Canada would turn for the rest of recorded time. Hence it is at this stage of the story that the formative day at Lower Fort Garry should be noted.
That winter in the old stone-walled fort was a busy one for the new recruits. After they were sworn in by Colonel Osborne Smith, that officer returned to his duties at Upper Fort Garry. He had done a good day's work, and if he addressed the men in the crisp, incisive style I have often heard him use on patriotic occasions, then he had made additional contribution to the considerations that inspired the Police to determined endeavour. On his leaving Superintendent W. D. Jarvis, who had seen service in Africa and became a very popular officer, took over the duties of Adjutant and Riding Master, Griesbach took charge of discipline and foot-drill, while S. B. Steele, popularly known in the West to the close of his days as Sam Steele, looked after the breaking of the broncos and gave instruction in riding, which latter proved to be highly necessary. There were no eight-hour days, the only limit being the daylight each way. Steele drilled five rides a day in the open, and the orders were that, unless the thermometer dropped beneath 36 degrees below zero, a rather cool temperature, the riding and breaking were to proceed. The broncos were of the usual exuberant type, given to every device to throw a rider, and falls on the frozen ground were not infrequent, but by spring the men knew how to handle broncos so as to become the pioneers of fine horsemanship amongst the riders of the plains.
Lieut.-Colonel French came in November, 1873, and assumed his command. It did not take him long to see that a handful of 150 men, however gallant, would be totally inadequate for the gigantic undertaking ahead of them. The Force has always been too small in numbers, but at the outset the proposed strength was absurdly below the mark. Fortunately the news of the lawlessness that was abroad in the far West made it possible for Colonel French to get the proposed number doubled and brought up to the 300 which Constable T. A. Boys made famous in his well-known poem "The Riders of the Plains," from which we quote the following verses:
"We muster but three hundred In all this Great Lone Land, Which stretches from Superior's shore To where the Rockies stand; But not one heart doth falter, No coward voice complains, Tho' all too few in numbers are The Riders of the Plains.
"Our mission is to raise the Flag Of Britain's Empire here, Restrain the lawless savage, And protect the Pioneer; And 'tis a proud and daring trust, To hold these vast Domains, With but three hundred Mounted Men, The Riders of the Plains.
"And though we win no fame or praise But struggle on alone To carry out good British rule, And plant old England's throne; Yet when our task is ended, And Law and Order reigns, The peaceful settler long will bless The Riders of the Plains."
Meanwhile down in Eastern Canada the left wing of the Force was being recruited and, permission being obtained from the United States, three divisions, rather over strength, left Toronto on June 6, 1874, and came west via Chicago and St. Paul to the end of steel at Fargo in North Dakota. Colonel French had gone back East to come out with them. It was a motley outfit that dumped itself out of the train on that Dakota plain. The men were a carefully selected and fine appearing lot, and the horses were of the handsome Eastern type; but the wagons in pieces to be assembled, and the saddles shipped from England in parts, were strewn over the ground for acres. The Fargo people rather enjoyed the idea of these men with their interesting mission being amongst them for a week or so getting ready for the trail. But to the amazement of those townsfolk the Police starting at four o'clock in the morning and working in four-hour relays "hit the trail" within twenty-four hours and pulled out their cavalcade for the trip to Canadian Territory. It had taken two weeks from Toronto, including the rather testing experience for men of a day off in Chicago and St. Paul, so that we like Colonel French's note at this point saying, "I must say I felt a great load off my shoulders at again being on Canadian soil." But the Police had begun early to create a good impression, and he adds, "The conduct of the men had been most exemplary, their general appearance and conduct invariably attracting the favourable notice of the railway officials and others en route." In preparation for the march westward to the foothills of the Rockies the three divisions "A," "B," and "C" that had been quartered for the winter at Lower Fort Garry left that point on June 7, 1874, and were at the rendezvous at Dufferin near the boundary line to greet the Commissioner and the three divisions "D," "E," and "F," which had come through as related from Toronto.
Just before leaving Lower Fort Garry with the original divisions, Inspector James Farquharson McLeod had been appointed Assistant Commissioner of the Force. Thus one of the noted figures in the after history of Western Canada came upon the scene of his future work and triumphs. McLeod had served as Assistant Brigade Major in Wolseley's Red River expedition and for his services then received the brevet rank of Lieut.-Colonel and the C.M.G. He was originally from Calgarry in Scotland (hence the name of the city of Calgary in Alberta in his honour) and had all the judicial faculty of the Scot coupled with the ardour of his Highland ancestry. His absolute reliability and fearless fairness gave him an influence over the Indians in later days that can only be described as extraordinary, and the time came when that commanding power over the warlike Blackfeet stood Canada in good stead.
Commissioner French lost no time in getting his men into shape at the rendezvous. From the divisions he brought with him he drafted fifty men to bring the original divisions up to strength. He arranged the night camp with the Eastern horses inside the zariba of wagons, and the Western horses, mostly broncos, on the outside—an arrangement that turned out well in view of a stampede that took place. The occasion of the stampede (and there is nothing more fearful than a stampede of maddened animals) was a terrific thunderstorm, which transformed the prairie into a sea of electric flame and sent bolts crashing into the zariba amidst the horses that were tied to the wagons. Sergt.-Major Sam B. Steele (that was then his rank), who was riding near this enclosure, thus vividly described the scene: "A thunder-bolt fell in the midst of the horses. Terrified, they broke their fastenings, and made for the side of the corral. The six men on guard were trampled under foot as they tried to stop them. The maddened beasts overturned the huge wagons, dashed through a row of tents, scattered everything, and made for the gate of the large field in which we were encamped. In their mad efforts to pass they climbed over one another to the height of many feet. I had full view of the stampede, being not more than 50 yards from the horses as they rushed at the gate and attempted to pass it, scrambling and rolling over one another in one huge mass." Inspector (now Colonel) Walker leaped on a passing horse and went out with them into the night. He pursued the frightened animals for some 50 miles across the boundary, and helped to round them up and bring them back twenty-four hours after they had stampeded. Colonel Walker says: "The horses did not get over their fright all the summer, and had to be watched closely as any unusual noise would stampede them." This was truly an exciting introduction to prairie life.
Commissioner French, who had been sworn into his office on December 16, 1873, was handling the situation with the thoroughness and ability of a trained soldier. He believed in discipline and showed independence by declining to tolerate any outside interference with the work of the Force. Perhaps it was French who laid the foundations for the non-partisan character of the Police by resisting anything which bore the resemblance of using political pull to secure place and promotion in the corps. He stood strongly for merit as the basis for preferment. Evidence is not lacking to show that Ottawa was rather too much disposed to run the Force by long-range activity on behalf of some favourites. Dispatches came from the seat of Government, showing pronounced lack of knowledge of local circumstances and requirements. To some of these French replied so forcibly that interference with the internal management of the Force largely ceased in time. In one case, amongst French's books of letters, I found this recently: "Sub-Constable —— has not as yet shown the necessary qualification to justify his promotion to the position of Acting Constable, much less to that of a Commissioned Officer." In another case he wrote: "I beg to point out that if the members of this Force are encouraged to communicate with the Department direct, thereby ignoring all those supposed to be placed in authority over them, it will be very difficult to maintain anything like proper discipline in the Force." Wise man, who saw a dangerous tendency, and courageous man to point it out with frankness. At another time some wise person suggested to pay by cheque, to which French replied, "Who will cash them in the wilderness?" Similarly, he objected to members of the Force being encouraged to write of their grievances to the newspapers.
That French looked carefully into details for the sake of the men's comfort is evidenced by letters in his book which protest against an inferior kind of tea being sent out for use in the Force, and that he was very watchful against the class of people who, on various pretexts, try to get some of the Government property, is attested by the following letter to a man whom I remember well to be of that shark type: "In answer to your letter of the 28th of August, I beg to say that I do not see the necessity of giving you a Government wagon, because, through some carelessness in your business arrangements, you have lost one of your own." There is wit as well as rebuke in that communication. On the whole we repeat that, though he had a task of unusual difficulty, French laid the foundation of the Force, and gave the superstructure a trend that affected for good the after history of the famous corps. It was this man who was now to lead his column on the longest march in history for a column carrying its own supplies. He was leading it "out into the unknown," but though many prophesied disaster, he was not to fail.
THE AMAZING MARCH
That thunderstorm, with the resultant stampede at Dufferin, along with some blood-curdling prophecies of attacks by the scalp-gathering Sioux Indians, had the good effect of weeding out the few non-adventurous spirits who, up to now, had thought that the hardships and dangers of the expedition had been painted in too lurid a colour. This suited Colonel French, as he had no desire to venture into the wilderness with any but the very best of men. A very necessary part of Police equipment, namely their revolvers, did not arrive from England till early in July, but once they had come French, who was impatient of delay in beginning so tremendous a trek, gave orders on July 8 for a "pull out," or what the old traders used to call "a Hudson's Bay start." The idea of a "pull out" before the real journey began was to shake the line of the caravan into shape, take out any kinks that might need straightening, and generally see that everything was working satisfactorily. With field guns and mortars, seventy-three wagons, and 114 of the wooden prairie conveyances, known as Red River carts, new harness and other equipment that needed testing, the "pull out" in this case was highly desirable, but every care had been taken, and after a 2-mile test, camp was pitched for a day or so till the real trip, across the 1,000-mile plain, was commenced on July 10, 1874, a red-letter day in Western history.
The prairie had witnessed many a remarkable outfit striking out over the plains with dog-trains in winter and carts and buffalo-runners in summer, but it had never seen anything so business-like and highly picturesque as this Police marching-out state. The six divisions or troops of the mounted men, with the convenient alphabetical designation from "A" to "F," had been given horses of distinctive colour, so that in order there came for the start, dark bays, dark browns, light chestnuts with the guns, greys, blacks and light bays. After these came wagons, carts, cows and calves, beef cattle, and a general assortment of farming implements. Meat would be necessary when the buffalo were not available, and it would keep better "on the hoof." Posts would have to be supplied with food, and haying, ploughing and reaping would be necessary if men and horses were to live at some of the remote points. So they took the necessaries along as far as they could. Of course, the impressive order of march at the beginning could not be maintained throughout the gruelling expedition. A thousand miles across swamp and coulees and rivers, over areas of waste and desolate prairie, where fires had swept every vestige of grass away, through sections where flies and drought and excessive heat, turning into cold as the autumn approached, played the inevitable havoc. All these elements combined to throw that ordered line into confusion at times. Here and there cattle died, oxen gave out and quit, horses broke down through lack of food and water, men, hardy as they were, took ill sometimes, but none succumbed, and as Colonel French observed in concluding his first report to Ottawa: "The broad fact is apparent that a Canadian force, hastily raised, armed and equipped, and not under martial law, in a few months marched vast distances through a country for the most part as unknown as it proved bare of pasture and scanty in the supply of water. Of such a march, under such adverse circumstances, all true Canadians may well be proud." And so say we all.
It would be impossible to follow that amazing march in detail—that would take a whole volume, but the main outlines are within our reach. The officers who led in that remarkable episode in Canadian history deserve mention, for it has always been a Police tradition that officers would never ask men to go anywhere where they were not prepared to go themselves. Personally, or by reputation, at one time or another, I have known practically all of these officers, and they would all measure up to requirements, though some would excel others in initiative and activity. They were Lieut.-Colonel George A. French, Commissioner; Major James F. MacLeod, C.M.G., Assistant Commissioner; Staff-Dr. J. G. Kittson, Surgeon; Dr. R. B. Nevitt, Assistant Surgeon; W. G. Griffiths, Paymaster; G. Dalrymple Clark, Adjutant; John L. Poett, Veterinary Surgeon; Charles Nicolle, Quarter Master. Division "A": W. D. Jarvis, Inspector; Severe Gagnon, Sub-Inspector. Division "B": G. A. Brisebois, Inspector; J. B. Allan, Sub-Inspector. Division "C": W. Winder, Inspector; T. R. Jackson, Sub-Inspector. Division "D" (Staff Division): J. M. Walsh, Inspector; J. Walker and J. French, Sub-Inspectors. Division "E": J. Carvell, Inspector; J. H. McIllree and H. J. N. LeCaine, Sub-Inspectors. Division "F": L. F. N. Crozier, Inspector; V. Welsh and C. E. Denny, Sub-Inspectors. These were the originals amongst the officers, and the originals always attract our special notice. The Force has been as a whole, wonderfully fortunate in its officers. Here and there, as in the rank and file, there have been some throughout the years who were less strenuous and able than others, but their uniformly high character, and their incorruptibility at the hands of men who were ready to pay large sums if the Police would look the other way, have never been questioned. Many of these officers throughout the years might have become wealthy had they either neglected their duty to take business investments on the frontier, or had they been susceptible to anything like bribery. It stands to their credit that those of them who have passed on, died in comparative poverty, and that those who survive have nothing but their not too generous pay, or the still less generous pension allowance.
The original officers above named set a high standard in that famous march across the wilds in 1874, and they were supported by as gallant and hardy a body of men as ever crossed the plains. Most of them were young men from the Eastern Provinces, who had no experience in the life of the prairies, and hardly any conception of the difficulties to be met and overcome, but they faced situations as they arose, and with the same initiative, resource and courage that have characterized Canadians on other fields of service, they persevered and won.
Broadly speaking, the aim of the Police expedition was to strike at the lawlessness which was specially defiant and open in the foothills of the Rockies, where the proximity of the international boundary line made it easy for outlaws of all types to evade the consequences of their crimes and depredations on both sides in turn. Besides that it was proposed, by a sort of triangular distribution of the 300 Police, to cover the whole North-Western territory, and in that way give visibility to authority in all localities. To fulfil these aims and reach these objectives, the main body of the Police was to be sent on this march out to the Bow and Belly Rivers, near the Cypress Hills, made infamous by the massacre already described, and countless other criminalities. Another detachment, separating from the main body, was to go northward to Edmonton, by way of forts Ellice and Carlton, while a third, under the charge of the Commissioner, was to return to the proposed headquarters at Fort Pelly or Swan River, on the north-west boundary of Manitoba. These objectives were all reached after many serious hardships, the only modification in the places being in regard to the Swan River. On returning to that point in the beginning of winter, Colonel French found that the barracks were not ready for occupation, some wiseacre having started to build them amid granite boulders on a hill. Moreover, prairie fires had burned the hay intended for the Police, and the Hudson's Bay Company, having lost their supply also, could not assist. Consequently the Commissioner left only one division there, under that very competent officer, Inspector Carvell, and with the rest he pushed on to Winnipeg and the original starting-point at Dufferin, where he arrived in 30 degrees below zero, November weather, after a total march for his contingent of nearly 2,000 miles. We shall look at these three movements of the Force briefly.
The whole column kept together as far as La Roche Percee, or the pierced rock, on the banks of the Souris, a distance of nearly 300 miles from the starting-point at Dufferin. Near here the Commissioner established what he called Cripple Camp for the maimed and halt, both of man and beast, for already the hardship of the route had begun to take its toll. But there was no time to lose, and French throughout was insistent on getting forward, for the way was long, and it was necessary to get out to the Cypress Hills country, get some shelters erected for the men and horses, and lay in some stores of provisions. By the end of August they were pretty well to their destination. In the meantime, Colonel French had gone over the line to Fort Benton, Montana, the nearest telegraphic point in those days, secured some stores and learned from Ottawa that after arrival at the foot-hill points, he was to leave Assistant Commissioner MacLeod in charge and return himself with "E" and "D" Divisions to Fort Pelly or Swan River, as the headquarters of the Force. While Colonel French was in Montana for a few days several half-breed buffalo-hunters visited the Police camp and told some ferocious stories about the desperadoes who were entrenched out in the cattle-stealing and boot-legging belt waiting to dispute possession with the new-comers. The scarlet-coated men took in all they said and smiled. Forts "Whoop-Up," "Stand-off" and the rest, with some of the outlaws in garrison, would have been a welcome diversion after the hardships they had experienced.
Perhaps the leading incident of this particular part of the big trek was the discovery by the Commissioner of Jerry Potts, a short, heavy-set, taciturn man, half Scot and half Piegan, a wonderful plainsman, skilled in the language of the Indian tribes and a past-master in all the lore of the prairies. His father was an Edinburgh Scot, who was killed in Missouri by an Indian, and it is said that Jerry, though a mere boy, followed the Indian into camp and shot him. Anyway, Jerry Potts became a splendid help to the Police, a trainer of scouts, a matchless diplomat with the Indians, an incomparable interpreter, and a highly respected guide who, without consulting maps, seemed to know the way by instinct either in summer or winter. He began to be useful as soon as he took service with the Force in that fall of 1874. He guided them to the best feeding-places for the horses and cattle, and to the watering-places which were so constantly needed. And when, a few days after he came, the column struck herds of innumerable buffalo, it was Jerry Potts who warned against shooting at certain times, lest the bisons would stampede and trample the whole cavalcade under foot. Potts remained with the Police as interpreter till his death in 1906, making a long service of twenty-two years. We shall meet his name here and there in this story—a diamond in the rough, entitled to a niche in the hall of the men who helped to shape the early years of our history.
Shortly after this trip to Montana, Colonel French, with the divisions above named, left the foothill country, and, coming back by way of Qu'Appelle, Fort Pelly and Swan River, he reached Dufferin, as already mentioned, in the 30 degrees below zero weather, he and the men with him having travelled about 2,000 miles since leaving there in July.
The third party already mentioned as leaving La Roche Percee was a small detachment under Inspectors Jarvis and Gagnon. With sick and played-out horses, a lot of cattle, and not much general provision, and hardly enough men to keep up the rounds of duty, the lot of this detachment starting out on a march of 850 miles was not very enticing. The detachment left La Roche Percee on August 3, and reached Edmonton, by way of Fort Ellice and Carlton, on the 27th of October. Pasture was poor, water was scarce and, except where they struck Hudson's Bay posts or, as in one case, met a caravan of traders from whom some rations in the shape of pemmican were purchased, the outlook all the way was hazardous. When the weather began to get cold the weakened horses often had to be lifted in the morning and their joints rubbed, before they could proceed on the journey. During the last 25 miles it seemed as if the enterprise would collapse near the goal, as the cold had so stiffened the half-starved horses that they could not travel over the hard-frozen and icy ground. They had to be lifted and rubbed hour after hour. No wonder Inspector Jarvis said after reaching Edmonton, "Had these horses been my own property I should have killed them, as they were mere skeletons." However, the detachment got through finally, and were warmly welcomed by Mr. Hardistry, the Hudson's Bay factor, who, in addition to his own open-hearted nature, had joy in exercising to the full that generous hospitality for which the old Hudson's Bay men have been famous for two and a half centuries. They had ruled in a benevolently autocratic way throughout the years, and one would almost imagine that they would have looked askance at the scarlet-coated men who were representing the powers that were superseding them. But the Mounted Police had no more loyal friends and helpers than these grand men of the old Company, who were of enormous assistance to the Government and the Police in the critical days when there was a change of rulers taking place and the problem of the Indians had to be peaceably and satisfactorily settled.
Inspector Jarvis, who was a gallant and popular officer, has this notable paragraph in his report to Colonel French: "In conclusion, I may state, on looking back over our journey, I wonder how we ever accomplished it with weak horses, little or no pasture, and for the last 500 miles with no grain, and the latter part of it over roads impassable. We made them, that is to say, I kept a party of men ahead with axes and, when practicable, felled trees and made corduroy over mudholes, sometimes 100 yards long, and also made a number of bridges and repaired the old ones. We must have laid down several miles of corduroy between Fort Pitt and here. Streams which last year when I crossed them were mere rivulets, are now rivers difficult to ford. And had it not been for the perfect conduct of the men and real hard work, much of the property must have been destroyed." Loyal men were those splendid pathfinders, who would do their utmost to conserve the equipment which belonged to their Sovereign. They had a keen sense of honour and a fine appreciation of the trust reposed in them.
It is highly interesting to find emerging occasionally in these reports the names of men who afterwards became outstanding figures in the Force. Constable Labelle is especially singled out for mention by Inspector Jarvis, because of his special attention to the horses which were pulled through largely by his assiduous care. A man of that kind wins our respect and appreciation. A horse is perhaps the most sensitive animal in the world, and the West is full of stories of the positive attachment which grew up between the men on the frontier and the faithful animals to whose endurance and courage in storm and blizzard the troopers often owed their lives.
And Inspector Jarvis mentions another in his first report from Edmonton when he says, "Sergt.-Major Steele has been undeviating in his efforts to assist me, and he has also done the manual labour of at least two men."
That Steele, whom we shall meet more than once in this story, could do the manual labour of at least two men we can well believe. Years after the date on which this tribute was written by Jarvis I met Steele in the foothills of the Rockies, and in his tall, powerful figure, deep-chested proportions and massive shoulders, he suggested prodigious strength to the onlooker. And that Steele not only could but would do two men's work if it seemed his duty, goes without saying to those who knew him. Lieut.-Colonel J. B. Mitchell, of the 100th Grenadiers in Winnipeg, one of the original '73 men of the Mounted Police, tells us that when he went to Kingston to take an artillery course, before the Police Force was organized, he was told by Battery Sergt.-Major John Mortimer that some of the sergeants might try to take advantage of him, as he was new at the business but Mortimer added, "You can always rely on Sergeant Sam Steele." And the certificate of that grizzled old Sergt.-Major never had to be cancelled.