ORGANISATION OF THE
How the Authority of
the Dominion was Advanced Eight Hundred Miles Westward, from Manitoba to
the Foot Hills of the Rockies, by the Big March of 1874.
AS the late Sir John A.
Macdonald had from the first manifested the greatest possible interest
in the acquisition by Canada of the Hudson Bay Territory, and later, in
the development of the country, it was only natural that he should have,
taken a leading part in the organization of the force designed to
establish law and order in the North-West. In fact, Sir John has been,
not inaptly called the father of the Royal North-west Mounted Police
The Adjutant General's
reconnaissance was undertaken at the special request of the Prime
Minister, and all of the preliminaries leading to the organization of
the force were not only made, in his department, but under his personal
This was one of the
most strenuous periods in the history of the. Dominion's first great
prime minister The legislative and administrative machinery of the. new
Confederation was being got into perfect running order by the exercise
of great sk il and attention. There were new positions to fill, and new
officials to shake down into the places they had been selected to
occupy. There were provincial differences to be reconciled and various
systems of colonial government to be brought into harmonious accord. The
International frontier was being surveyed and marked, a new province,
Manitoba, being organized, and a plan being evolved for the carrying out
of that gigantic undertaking, a railway connecting the Atlantic with the
With work and
responsibilities accumulating fast, Sir John never lost sight of the
importance of providing an effective instrument to enforce the law and
provide for the protection of life and property in the then new
North-West, but caution had to be exercised to prevent mistakes at the
very inception of the proposed force, and time was naturally exhausted
in making enquiries and arranging preliminaries. Meantime all sorts of
exaggerated stories as to trouble with the Indians and the far-western
whisky traders reached eastern Canada. At one time thousands of refugee
Indians from the United States were reported to be massacring settlers
in Canadian territory. At another, desperate, fights between United
States and Canadian Indian tribes were reported to be in progress on
Canadian territory. Still another circumstantial report would relate
that the whisky traders from across the Lines were erecting forts to
assert the authority of the United States over thy new region.
As a result of the
circulation of these sensational tales some uneasiness was created in
the older provinces, and numerous questions were from time to time put n
April 28, 1873 Mr. II.
11 Cook, M P. asked in the House whether it was the intention of the
Government to despatch a mounted force to Manitoba, or whether it was
intended to send reinforcements of any description to that territory,
and if so, at what date would such expedition be organized and ready to
Sir John Macdonald
replied that it was the intention of the Government to ask Parliament
for an appropriation for the purpose of organizing a boundary police.
April 30, 1873 a
similar query was made in the Senate by the Hon. Mr. Letellier de St.
The Hon. Mr. Campbell
said the government had nothing \ery definite on the subject. No precise
information seemed to have reached Fort Garry. The acting Lieutenant
Governor telegraphed that tidings had reached them that Indians from the
United States and from Yellowstone River were coming into the Dominion
territory. There was nothing beyond that. By way of precaution, certain
steps had been taken, which, should anything occur, he thought would
prove sufficient for the protection of our people and the country.
April 29, 1873 Mr.
Alexander Mackenzie enquired in the House of Commons whether there was
any truth in the rumors of an Indian outbreak in the North-West.
Sir John A. Macdonald,
the Prime Minister, reported acres might be made to any constable or
sub-constable who should have conducted himself satisfactorily during
the three years of his service. The outfit of 300 men would cost about
$50,000, but the force would have to be selected by degrees, and it was
not probable that it would comprise 300 men at first, or for a long time
yet. It was the intention of the government to reduce the military force
in Manitoba by d°yrees
The original intention,
it will be observed, was to provide a force of comparatively modest
proportions. It was Sir John Macdonald's idea, moreover, after
thoroughly weighing the respective merits of purely military and purely
police organizations, to have the new force combine as far as possible
the advantages of both. It was to be a military police, in fact,
organized very much after the system of the famous Royal Irish
Constabulary, but necessarily differing from that body in uniform and
equipment. With regard to the former Sir John was very specific in his
instructions that the Government had no information on the subject
further than the rumors which had been current, but these had been so
continuous that it was difficult to believe they could be without
foundation. The Government had received no reports.
Twenty-eight Years After—Full Dress Parade of R.N.W.M.P
. in Honour of H.R.H. the Duke of Cornwall and York, 1901.
May 3, Sir John
Macdonald moved for leave to introduce a bill respecting the
administration of justice and for the establishment of a police force in
the North-West Territories. With reference to the proposed mounted
police, the Premier explained, the Act provided that the Governor might
appoint a Police Commissioner and one or more Superintendents, a
paymaster, sergeants and veterinary surgeon, and the Commissioner would
have powe'r to appoint such a number of constables and sub-constables as
he might think proper, not exceeding three hundred men, who should be
mounted, as the Governor might from time to time direct. The
Commissioner and Superintendents would be ex-officio justices of the
peace. A free grant of land not exceeding one hundred and sixty.
He wanted as little
gold lace and fuss and feathers as possible, not a crack cavalry
regiment, but an efficient police force for the rough and
ready—particularly ready—enforcement of law and justice.
The bill introduced by
Sir John, (36 Victoria, Chapter 35), was concurred in May 20, 1873.
Section 13 laid down
the general standard for the rank and file as follows:—
"No person shall be
appointed to the Police Force unless he be of sound constitution, able
to ride, active and able-bodied, of good character, and between the ages
of eighteen and forty years; nor unless he be able to read and write
either the English or French language."
At the time the bill
was passed, there was so much uncertainty as to the new country that it
was deemed best to leave the question of the headquarters in abeyance,
Section 18 reading as follows:—
Governor-in-Council shall appoint the place at which the headquarters of
the force shall from time to time be kept; and the office of the
Commissioner shall be kept there, and the same may be at any place in
the North-West Territories or the Province of Manitoba."
Section 26 fixed the
scale of pay as follows:—
exceeding $2000 a year and not less than $2,000; superintendent not
exceeding $1,400 and not less than SI.000; paymaster not exceeding $000;
quarter-master not exceeding $500; surgeon not exceeding $1,400 and not
less than $1,000; veterinary surgeon not exceeding S600 and not less
than $400; constable not exceeding $1 00 per day; sub-constable not
exceeding 75c. per day."
Sir John Macdonald, at
this time, besides being President of the Council, held the portfolio of
Minister of Justice, and section 33 of the Act provided that, for the
time being at any rate, the new force should remain under the direction
of that department. The section in question read as follows:— the east,
most or all of them from the Active Militia. It was expected that some
of the time-expired men of the force in Manitoba would enlist in the new
force, as quite a number of them did, but most of the men had to be
enlisted in the east and forwarded to Manitoba over the Dawson route.
Each officer selected
in the east was required to recruit and take with him to the west,
fifteen, twenty or thirty men as the case may be, and as they were
required to report with their quotas at Collingwood within three or four
days after receiving orders, they had not much time to make as careful a
selection as many of them would have desired.
arrangements as to the command, these nuclei of the Royal North-West
Mounted Police were ordered, on arrival at Fort Garry, to report to, and
remain under the temporary command of I.ieut.-Col. W. Osborne Smith, the
Deputy Adjutant General of Militia, but there seems, it appears, never
to have been carried out.
"As Little Gold Lace and Fuss and Feathers as Possible."—Deladimenl of
the R.N.W.M.P. in Service Uniform, Calgary, 1905.
"The Department of
Justice shall have the control and management of the Police Force and of
all matters connected therewith; but the Governor-in-Council may, at any
tune, order that the same shall be transferred to any other Department
of the Civil Service of Canada, and the same shall accordingly, by such
order, be transferred to and be under the control and management of such
The year 1873 was a
very busy one for the government, and it was really September, 1873,
before the plans for the organization of the force took shape.
It was decided to
organize at first three troops or divisions of fifty men each, the
mobilization and organization to take place at Fort Garrv or Winnipeg.
It was decided to take some officers from the militia force ser\mg 111
Manitoba, others were selected in been any intention of continuing
permanently the connection with the militia force.
The. permanent militia
force on duty 11 Manitoba was being kept up with some difficulty and
considerable expense, owing to the short term of service. Up to 1873 the
recruits for this force had been drawn exclu-sive'v from Ontario and
Quebec, hut 111 May, 1873 two detachments of recruits of fifty men each
were raised in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, respectively and
despatched to Manitoba to replace time expired men of the permanent
force on duty in that province.
The permanent force in
Manitoba under the direct command of hkut.-Col. A. (i. Irvine in 1873
consisted of the following:—Battery of Artillery, 3 oflicers, 80 non-commisoned
officers and men; Provisional Battalion of Infantry, 17 oflicers,
including the regimental staff, acting for both corps, 244
non-commissioned officers and men.
Osborne Smith, D.A.G. of Military District No. 10 (Manitoba) in his
annual report, Jan. 2, 1873, stated that during the year 1872 a
considerable amount of extra duty had fallen on these corps in
consequence of requisitions in aid of the civil power. For instance, on
July 2 a detachment of 50 men had to be rapidly despatched by night to
White Horse Plains to repress riots and to aid in effecting the capture
of rioters, a duty which was satisfactorily accomplished. A company of
the Provisional Battalion of Infantry was detached to the Northwest
Angle of the Lake of the Woods as an escort and guard for His Honor the
Lieutenant Governor, during the negotiations for a treaty with the
Objibway Indians. This duty, which occupied about three weeks, was
satisfactorily performed; the party returning to headquarters on October
In October 1873 the
officers and recruits destined to compose the first three divisions of
the North-West Mounted Police, some 150 in all, were assembled in
Manitoba and quartered at the Stone Fort or Lower Fort Garry.
Organization and drill were at once proceeded with, but under great
difficulties owing to the non-arrival of the necessary equipment. As a
matter of fact a considerable proportion of the uniform and equipment,
including the winter clothing, was frozen in on the Dawson route,
causing much inconvenience and discomfort to the officers and men of the
Shortly after the
mobilization of the three first di\ is-ions, which were distinguished by
the first three letters of the alphabet, the Government tendered the
command of the force to Lieutenant Colonel George A. French, of the
Royal Artillery, who was just completing three years service as
Inspector of Artillery and Warlike Stores in the Militia Service and as
Commandant of A. Battery R.C.A. and the School of Gunnery at Kingston,
Ontario. Colonel French promptly accepted the position of Commissioner
and proceeded to Manitoba to take up his duties.
After the arrival of
the Commissioner, the organization of the three divisions made rapid
progress, and they were in a condition to perform considerable service
during the winter, in spite of the shortages of equipment.
November 6, 1873, the
keen political tension which had prevailed in parliament and throughout
the country over the so-called Pacific Railway scandal culminated in the
resignation of Sir John A. Macdonald and his ministry, and the following
day the Hon. Alexander Mackenzie formed his administration. The Hon. A.
A. Dorion, as minister of Justice in the new Government, became the
responsible head of the Mounted Police.
Meantime, it became
very evident to the Commissioner, to the Government and to all
concerned, that to open up the new region, to suppress lawlessness
throughout its length and breadth, and to put a stop to the frequently
recurring Indian scares, the force would have to be increased for the
purpose of conducting an expedition across the country to the base of
operations of the Yankee whisky traders near the Foot Hills of the
Having this end in
view, the Commissioner, after his arrival in Manitoba, endeavoured to
make himself as well acquainted as possible with the affairs of the
North-West at large, as also with regard to the kind of transport
usually employed, the best trails westward, the distances, nature of the
country to be traversed, &c.
boundary survey, then in progress, having been carried out to a point
420 miles west of Red River, he was fortunate enough to be able to
obtain much reliable information concerning a portion of country of
which so little was known, and for this he was indebted to Captain
Cameron, R. A., (2) the Boundary Commissioner, as well as to Captain
Anderson, R.E., the Chief Astronomer. It being understood that an
expedition westward would be undertaken in the spring, Colonel French
went very thoroughly into the question of supplies and transport, the
general conclusions arrived at being:—
1st. That the stores
and provisions for the force should be transported westward by the
force's own horses and oxen.
2nd. The cattle for
slaughter should be driven on foot, accompanying the force, instead of
carrying pork or pemmican in large quantities.
Returning to Ottawa in
February, 1874, fully prepared to press on the consideration of the
Government the propriety of increasing the strength of the force to the
limit allowed by Act of Parliament (viz., 300) before attempting to
coerce the outlaws and whisky traders in the Far West, Colonel French
was somewhat surprised to find that the members of the Government were
even more fully imbued with the gravity of the case than the
Arrangements had to be
made for the supply of arms, ammunition, and stores of every
description, a uniform had to be designed and supplied, men to be
enrolled, requisitions had to be made on the Imperial Government for
field guns and stores, which could not be supplied in the country,
horses purchased, &e. An enormous amount of work had to be done in a
very short time.
In April. 1874, the
greater number of the men to be raised were brought together at the New
Fort, Toronto, and every endeavour used by all ranks to pick up as much
instruction as possible in the very limited time available for drill,
riding, target practice, &c..
A considerable number
of the men enlisted had served either in Her Majesty's Regular Servieein
the Royal Irish Constabulary, or in the schools of gunnery at Kingston
and Quebec; and there were very few indeed who had not some military
experience, either in the Regular Service or the Militia. From these
circumstances, as well as from the fact of the intelligence and
respectability of the great bulk of the men enrolled, the progress in
drill was extraordinary, and the scores made at target practice would
indeed have been astonishing to any one unacquainted with the natural
aptitude of Canadians in this particular.
In the matter of
riding, the progress was much less satisfactory. According to the Act,
all men should have been able to ride; but when put to the test, it was
very evident that a good many rated their abilities in this line too
It was too much to
expect that much advance could be made in riding in such a limited time
and with untrained horses; however, the Commissioner consoled himself
with the reflection that, whereas little drill and no target practice
could be carried out on the line of march to the West, there would be
ample opportunity for the practice of equitation.
The force mobilized at
Toronto was organized into three new" divisions, designated "D," and
"F," and Inspector J. F. McLeod, C.M.G., who was on duty with the three
original Divisions in Manitoba, was promoted to be Assistant
Commissioner. The following appeared in the Canada Gazette:—
Department of Justice,
Ottawa, June, 1st,
His Excellency the
Governor-General has been pleased to make the following promotions and
Farquharson McLeod, C.M.G., to lie Assistant Commissioner.
Morrow Walsh to be Inspector vice McLeod promoted.
Edwm Allan Gentleman,
to be Sub-Inspector, vice Walsh promoted.
In view of the
difficulty which had been experienced with transportation over the
Dawson route the previous autumn, and having regard to the importance of
despatching the expedition to the West without the least possible delay,
negotiations were opened with the United States government with the
object of despatching the force at Toronto to the Manitoba frontier via
Chicago, St. Paul and Fargo. The required permission was obtained, and
on the 6th June the force left Toronto, at 2 p.m., by two special
trains, the marching-out state showing 16 officers, 201 men, 244 horses
(5). On arrival at Sarnia, nine cars containing the waggons and
agricultural implements, and, at Detroit, two cars, containing 34
horses, were attached to the trains.
The force arrived at
Chicago at 5 p.m. on the 7th. The horses, being taken out. were fed in
the stockyards, and appeared little the worse of their trip. On the
evening of the 8th the force left for St. Paul arriving there at 4 a.m.
on the 10th. The horses had another day's rest here, and left on the
11th, arriving at Fargo (1300 miles from Toronto) on the morning of the
12th. The trains being shunted on a siding about noon, and the horses
disembarked and attended to, the men began getting the waggons out and
putting them together. This was a very tedious business, as the persons
who furnished the waggons had bundled them into cars in detached parts;
and instead of getting so many waggons complete in each car, the men
hail to hunt right through the trains to get all the parts required.
Finally all the cars had to be emptied together, and the parts placed on
the ground, and in this manner more rapid progress was made. The
saddlery, imported from England, was all in pieces, but each box was
complete in itself, and consequently the saddlers, working under the
saddler-major, got them together pretty quickly.
When the Commissioner
looked round, on this evening, and saw acres of ground covered with
waggons and stores of all sorts, it did look as if he could not get away
under several days. The Fargo people quite enjoyed the sight; they
considered that, it would at least be a week before the force could get
off; but they had little idea of what could be done with properly
organized reliefs of men
At 4 o'clock a.m. of
the 13th the saddlers were at work at the harness and saddlery, the
wheelers putting the waggons together, and another and 30 men getting
out stores and loading them. This party was relieved at 8 o'clock a.m.,
again at noon, and again at 4 o'clock p.m. At 5 o'clock p.m. D Division
drove out with 29 loaded waggons, at 7 p.m. E Division followed; and by
the afternoon of the 14th F Division cleared up everything (with the
exception of heavy stores, going down by steamer), and came to where the
other divisions were camped, about six miles from Fargo. The 14th being
on Sunday, the force remained in camp.
On the 15th the force
made its regular start, doing about 27 miles; and as the waggons were
lightly loaded (11 cwt. being the maximum), some being empty, and having
a number of spare horses, it kept up and exceeded this rate to the 19th,
and, without any particular mishap or accident to speak of, arrived at
Dufferin, (now Emmerson) in Manitoba on the evening of the. 19th June;
and the Commissioner felt a great load of responsibility taken off his
shoulders at again being on Canadian soil. 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
At Dufferin the
Commissioner's column met the Assistant Commissioner with "A," "B" and
"C" divisions from Winnipeg, and the whole force, now together for the
first time, was encamped on the north side of the Boundary Commission
On the night after the
arrival of the Commissioner's column one of the most dreadful
thunderstorms ever witnessed in Manitoba burst over the camp. There was
apparently one incessant sheet of lightning from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. About
midnight 250 of the horses stampeded from the coral in which they were
placed, breaking halters, picquet ropes, &c., &c., and even knocking
over some of the waggons which encircled them. It was a fearful sight.
Several of the men had the hardihood to attempt to stop some of the
horses, but it only resulted in their being knocked over and trampled
on, and in this manner six of the pluckiest men got hurt, one of them
being seriously injured about the head.
The police had the good
fortune to recover most of the horses within a distance of 35 miles,
probably in a great measure due to the freshness having been taken out
of the animals by their 160 mile march from Fargo. Many days were lost
in recovering the horses, and much injury done, riding in every
direction looking for them. The loss eventually was reduced to one, and
this one was supposed to have been drowned in the Pembina River.
"A," "B," and "C"
Divisions being much below their proper strength, 50 men were
transferred from "D" and "E" Divisions to make them up. Uniforms, arms,
ammunition and clothing, saddlery, harness and general stores, were
served out, and parties kept busy loading waggons and ox-carts for the
march. Parties from each division had to be detailed daily for herding
the horses upon the prairie, and the disorganized state of the
Quarter-Master's department added materially to the ordinary camp
duties. Altogether there is no question but that the men were hard
worked at this time.
The work the little
force under the command of Colonel French had undertaken to do was a
most important one from a national point of view, the opening up of half
a continent, almost, to Canadian rule and enterprise. And there was no
doubt it would be accomplished with great hardship. It was reasonable to
anticipate much danger too, but to men of the character of those who
composed the original divisions of the North-West Mounted Police, it was
the expectation of danger that supplied the spice to their service.
instructions to Colonel French were to make as direct as possible for
the forks of the Belly and Bow Rivers, in which vicinity the worst of
the much-discussed whisky forts were understood to be located. This
illicit whisky trade with the Indians, and in fact all illicit trading,
was to be suppressed, and the authority of the Dominion Government
asserted. A post, or posts, were to be established, garrisoned and
provisioned in this unknown region, the Indians, as far as possible were
to be visited and impressed with the power and good intentions of the
Government, notes taken of the main physical characteristics of the
country travelled over, and the headquarters of the force temporarily
established near Fort Ellice, where arrangements were being made for the
construction of barracks and other necessary accommodation.
Colonel French had
endeavoured before leaving Toronto to get rid of any of his recruits who
were not willing "to rough it." On two distinct occasions, he assembled
all ranks on parade, plainly told them that they would have, and must
expect, plenty of hardship; that they might be wet day after day, and
have to lie in wet clothes; that they might be a day or two without
food, and that he feared they would be often without water, anil he
called on any present who were, not prepared to take their chances of
these privations to fall out, anil they would have their discharges, as
there were plenty of good men ready to take their places. A few did thus
accept their discharges, and one feels they acted properly in the
The marching out state
dated Dufferin, July 8, 1875, showed the following strength:—staff, 4;
inspectors, 4; sub-mspectors, 11; surgeon, 1; veterinary surgeon. 11;
constables, 30 5 acting constables, 20; sub-constables, 204; total 274.
Horses, public, 308; private, 2; guides and half-breeds, 20; field guns,
2; mortars, 2; working oxen, 142; cattle, 03; waggons, 73; ox-carts,
On command. at: Fort
Ellice, sub-inspectors, 1; constables, 1; acting constables, 1;
sub-constables, 12; total, 15; horses, 17. At Dufferin, staff, 2;
inspectors, 2; constables, 5; sub-constables, 14; total 23.
The revolvers for the
force did not arrive from England until the first week in July, and on
the 8th July the force drew out to a camp about two miles from Dufferin,
more to see that all was right than with the idea of making a start.
Next day Col. French sent back two waggon loads of articles, such as
syrup, which, being rather luxuries than necessaries, he thought could
be dispensed with. The force moved on to the river Marais. Next day, the
10th, having brought up two loads of oats, in lieu of articles sent
back, and the half-breed ox-drivers being mostly sobered, the force made
a march of ten miles, striking across the country, as the Boundary
Commission road, (used for teaming the surveyors' supplies) in some
parts passed south of the Boundary Line.
The police train was
probably the largest ever seen m these parts; when closed up to a proper
interval it was a mile and a half long. But from advanced to rear guard,
it was more usually from four to five miles, owing to the uneven rate of
travel of horses and oxen, and the breaking of axles and wheels of that
imposition of the country, the "Red River cart."
"The column of route,"
according to the Commissioner's report, "presented a very fine
appearance. First came "A" division with their splendid dark bays and
thirteen waggons. Then "B" with their dark browns. Next "C" with bright
chesnuts drawing the guns, and gun and small arm ammunition. Next "D"
with their greys, then "E" with their black horses^ the rear being
brought up by " F" with their light bays. Then a motley string of
ox-carts, ox-waggons, cattle for slaughter, cows, calves, &c., mowing
machines, &c., &c.
"To a stranger it would
have appeared an astonish-ng cavalcade; armed men and guns looked as if
fighting was to be done. What could ploughs, harrows, mowing machines,
cows, calves, etc., be for?
"But that little force
had a double duty to perform: to fight, if necessary, but in any case to
establish posts n the far west.
"However we were off at
last, the only man in Winnipeg who knew anything about the portion of
the country to which we were going encouraging me with the remark:
'Well, if you have luck vou may get back by Christinas, with forty per
cent, of your horses.'"
After being a few days
on the march, every one and every thing settled down into their proper
places. The cooks, by degrees, got into the way of cooking and baking in
the open air, and loaves of bread no longer bore the appearance of lumps
of dough. Being on The Boundary Commission Road, and having a good
sketch of the route, the marches could be arranged with a certainty of
finding wood, water and grass, at definite points. Although by marching
early the column nearly always halted during the heat of the day, at
noon, or thereabouts, yet the excessive heat of the weather told heavily
on both horses and oxen. Many of the men had little skill as teamsters,
and the bulk of the horses, having been purchased more for the saddle
than draught, ran rapidly down in condition when placed at such work;
other riding horses being transferred to the waggons in their places,
were frequently put to work in the harness of the horses they had
replaced, and as the harness did not always fit them well, many sore
shoulders were caused thereby, but these horses were made available for
From Dufferin to Roche
Perere, a distance of 270 miles, the force had a fair amount of grass
and good water. It had also some oats for the first few-days, but
nevertheless many of the horses ran down rapidly in condition. It is an
admitted fact that almost all Canadian or American horses fail during
the first season they are fed on prairie grass, and therefore it is
little to be wondered at that those of the police should have failed.
Just before he left
Dufferin, Colonel French's orders were changed to the effect that the
arrangements for leaving men on the Bow or Pelly Rivers were cancelled,
and it was ordered that- part of the Force was to go to Edmonton. The
Commissioner therefore altered his arrangements accordingly and sent off
from Roche Perctfe to Fort Ellice and Edmonton "A" Division under
Inspector .Jarvis, with a number of cattle, agricultural implements,
general stores and a very large quantity of provisions, (including over
25,000 lbs. of flour.)
On the 0th August the
main force ascended the Cotcau again, crossing the Dirt Hill, the
highest part of the Coteau, estimated to be nearly 3,000 feet above the
sea level. Here the force bad to halt a day to rest the horses after
such heavy work, (particularly on the gun horses) and making a big march
next day, arrived at the easternmost of the Old Wives Lakes; but finding
the feed very poor and the water rather saline, French felt that he had
to push on, and camped on the Old Wives Creek on the 12th, and finding
tolerably good feed, he determined to give the horses their well earned
rest. While camped here the force was visited by a number of the Sioux
of the Sipeton Tribe.
Hearing there was a
probability of obtaining some oats from the Boundary Commission at Wood
Mountain Depot about 40 miles south, Col. French despatched the
Assistant Commissioner thither with a party to obtain some. McLeod on
his return, brought out with him some 15,000 lbs., and Col. French
arranged with the Commissary of the Boundary Commission for the delivery
of 20,000 more at the Cripple Camp, or Depot, which he had decided to
form at the site of the camp, and for the delivery from the Commission's
trains coming east of 25,000 more (in all 60.000 lbs) but eventually the
force was only able to receive 20,000 more from this latter source.
On the 19th, the
Commissioner established his Depot of Cripple Camp at a point two miles
west of where the force had been camped, as there was good grass, water
and wood there. Here he left 14 waggons, 28 of the poorest horses, 7
men, (five being sick) a half-breed and some footsore cattle, also 20
days' provisions for the returning Force, and stores of all kinds that
were not absolutely necessary to take on, pushing on the same afternoon
12 miles farther. For the next few days the force made good marches,
sighting the Cypress Hills on the afternoon of the 24th and camping
close under them on the 25th to await the arrival of the Assistant
Commissioner with the oats. During this period there was no particular
incident to record except the stampeding of the horses of "D" troop on
the night of the 20th, carrying away with them some of " B " troop.
A Typical Group of Indians and their Mounts.
In addition to
stampeding from ordinary causes, throughout this historical prairie
march, the officers of the force had reason to fear stampeding by
design, either on the part of Indians desirous of obtaining remounts, or
on the part of whiskey traders, or their emissaries. From start to
finish every endeavour was used to prevent stampeding.
From Fargo to Dulferin
the horses were after dark enclosed inside large corrals, formed by
waggons and the picquet ropes. The grass being very good, the days long,
and plenty of oats being available, this system did fairly. After
leaving Dufferin, for many days the police were able to cut grass with
the scythes and mowing machines taken along with the Force, tying up the
horses at dark, and feeding them with grass as well as oats. Then the
Commissioner had to risk leaving them out all night, and the freshness
being taken out of them by this time, and their being, where possible,
sent out by divisions (each division guarding their own) they got on
fairly under ordinary circumstances, nearly all the horses being hoppled
or "knee-haltered." Hoppling or knee-haltered will not prevent the
horses stampeding, but it checks the pace, and gives more time to those
in charge to head the runaways. This system had to be pursued for the
greatest portion of the trip, and with very strong guards and picquets,
day and night, the force managed to keep the horses together. Still the
fear of stampeding haunted all ranks. A clap of thunder at night was
sufficient to banish sleep from the eyes of those who felt themselves
more particularly interested in the success of the expedition; and if
the storm grew nearer, although desirous of letting the horses have
every mouthful possible from the scanty pasture, yet the commissioner
felt compelled to order them in before it was perhaps too late. On the
4th August Col. French was nearly too late in giving the order as the
following extract from his diary will shew, "Tuesday, 4th. Tremendous
thunderstorms between 12 and 1 a.m. Nearly all the tents blown down; in
great anxiety lest the horses should stampede; fortunately had ordered
in most of them before the storm broke over us; two lots of horses broke
away, but were stopped by the picquets."
The Force remained from
the 24th to the 28th August at a small lake (where a large party of
Plain Hunters and Indians had been camped) awaiting the arrival of the
Assistant Commissioner with the oats. On the 29th the force moved about
four miles further to get feed for the horses, and on the morning of the
30th there was another stampede in broad daylight. This was in a very
awkward place for such an event to occur, hills and hollows rendering it
impossible to see a horse unless quite close to him. The Commissioner
had begun to hope that he was done with stampedes, in fact that the
horses were too poor both in flesh and spirit to attempt to run, but
although the annuals were in a very poor condition, and had marched just
594 miles from Dufferin they were off in the same way as usual, and,
although hoppled, many of them ran several miles. All were however
While waiting at this
camp, the members of the force were regaled with stories brought by
half-breeds relative to the doings of the whisky traders, the toughest
yarn being that 500 of them were working at their forts all the summer,
that the Mounted Police guns would be little good, as the
"free-trailers" had constructed underground galleries into which to
On the 31st the
Assistant Commissioner arrived with the oats, and having sent off
letters, pay lists, etc., by the returning guide, Col. French pushed on
nine miles the same afternoon. On the 2nd of September the column
sighted buffalo for the first time. This created great excitement as may
naturally be supposed. Out of a band of six bulls the police killed
live, one of these, killed by Col. French himself, making 953 lbs. of
ration meat clear of all offal.
The following appeared
in the Commissioner's diary at this date:—
2nd.—Started about7a.m. When out about two hours rode up to the advance
guard, and observed some moving objects near the left flankers, rode out
there. Flankers thought they were ponies. On going a little farther I
felt certain they were buffaloes. Presently they began running, leaving
no doubt in the matter. I took a carbine from one of the men, and made
after them, headed them and turned them towards the train, fired at one
which dropped back, and was despatched by some one else; three went
across the creek. I went after them, and was joined by the Scout Morreau
and Lavallee, we each shot one, I fired into the Scout's buffalo as he
stood at bay, and dropped him. This was a very fine beast about ten
years old; he made, when dressed, 953 lbs. ration meat.
"Thursday, 3rd,left at
7 a.m.—I find that although 1720 lbs. of ration meat were issued
yesterday, from the two buffalos which had been cut up. there is nothing
to show for three others which had been killed, the half-breeds merely
cutting slices of the meat off. and earning it along. .Julien ran a
buffalo, and killed him. I came ip for the finish, had the beast cut up,
and brought it on an ox-cart. The men having plenty of meat. I had this
fellow cut up, placed in one of the water barrels and well salted. The
salt we had carried so far now conies in useful. There be ng no grass
had to make a stretch of 17$ miles without halting. Next stage, 20
miles, no water.
On the 4th September
the force was visited by a party of Sioux, to whom Col. Trench gave some
presents. The country the force had been travelling iu had been very
hard on horses and oxen; there being no trail for the last 150 miles,
and the little swamps that the force used to depend on for feed and
water had been destroyed by the buffalo. French's only reliable guide
knew the country no farther. On the 6th the column struck the Saskatchew
an, it being half a day's march nearer than had been supposed, and an
American scout accompanying the force insisted that, the force was at
the Forks, but as there were no Forks in the vicinity he had to admit he
was wrong, and added that the Forks were 12 miles more north To his
disgust Col. French told him he would steer south-west instead. In fact
he had little doubt then as to the situation of the force, and on the
9th.camp was pitched within three miles of the Forks of the Bow and
Belly Rivers without knowing it. On the 10th the column moved seven
miles farther, finding water by watching the flight of some ducks, and
camped there. Some sandhills the column passed denoted that they ought
to be in the vicinity of the Forks, but not having seen a very prominent
landmark mentioned by Palliser, French was very doubtful of the
Sending back Inspector
Walsh with a small party to near where the force camped on the 9th to
examine the river there, he reported that another large river came in
from the north, and he found also the landmark French had been looking
for, thus leaving no doubt in the matter.
Three deserted log huts
without roofs were the only forts visible.
And so the force were
at last at their journey's end, the Bow and Pelly Rivers.
The force had marched
westward across the unknown prairie a distance of 781 miles from Red
River, and after the first eighteen miles had not seen a single human
habitation, except a few Indian tepees.
It was now the middle
of September, and the appalling fact was ever pressing upon the mind of
the Commissioner that on the 20th of September the previous year the
whole country from the Cypress Hills to the Old Wives Lakes was covered
with a foot of snow, several men and horses having been frozen to death.
Starting on the return
march at once Colonel French could not possibly reach that portion of
the country till well into October. However the snow storm above
mentioned had been exceptionally early, and he hoped for the best, while
determined to prepare for the worst.
From what the
Commissioner had heard of the fertility of the soil on the How and Belly
Rivers he had hoped that the horses and oxen would have been able to
have pulled up greatly in condition by a week's rest in that vicinity,
but in reality the force had to leave there as quickly as possible to
prevent their being actually starved to death. In fact several of the
oxen did die of starvation, but the mistake is now readily the Rocky
Mountains, reporting on the fertility of the soil on the head waters of
the Bow and Belly Rivers, and somehow these reports got to be applied to
the whole courses of these rivers.
On the 11th the force
moved up to the Belly River, but could not find a ford at first, the
water being too deep and rapid. Pushing up along the river to a point
about 16 or 18 miles above the Forks a ford was found. After
reconnoitering up both rivers, the force proceeded to the Three Buttes
or Sweet Grass Hills, half way between the Forks and Benton, where there
was reported to be plenty of wood, water and grass.
It was decided that as
soon as a satisfactory place for a camp could be found, to move there,
and after obtaining reliable information regarding the whisky trading
posts, to open up communication with the Government at Ottawa. This
latter could comparatively easily be done via Fort Benton, across the
International boundary line, in Montana.
The choice of a camping
ground, was not so easy as it might seem owing to the poor condition of
On the 19th September
the Force arrived at a Coulee close to the West Butte and halted, as the
grass appeared a little better and the water was good. Colonel French
now found that although the boundary line crossed the West Butte high
up, yet all the best wood was south of the line. This did not look so
very promising. Notwithstanding, however, the Assistant Commissioner
w7as satisfied to build quarters there and remain for the winter.
Without any unnecessary
delay the arrangements were completed for the selection and equipment of
the force to remain in the Bow River district under the Assistant
Commissioner, and also for the return of the rest of the force, which it
was decided to march to Swan River via Cripple Camp depot, Fort
Qu'Appelle and Fort Pelly.
It was decided that
"B," "C" and "F" divisions should remain with the Assistant
Commissioner, "D" and "E" divisions to return to the new headquarters
with the Commissioner. On the 21st the Commissioner arranged for the
departure of "D" and "E" divisions, selected all the best horses and
oxen, left behind all stores not absolutely necessary, and moved on with
them to the Boundary Commission Road, about 7 miles south.
On the morning of the
22nd Colonel French detached himself from the column and started for
Benton with the Assistant Commissioner and a small party, (with empty
carts) to communicate with the Government, receive instructions, and
obtain some necessary supplies of oats, moccasins, socks, &c., &c.
On arriving at Benton
on the 24th the Commissioner he learned that the Government approved of
a strong force being left on the Belly River, and by another, that Swan
River in the vicinity of Fort Pelly, and not Fort Ellice had been
selected as the site for the headquarters of the force.
At Fort Benton, Colonel
French got at last some reliable information about the whisky traders
and their doings, and arranged with the Assistant Commissioner that he,
with a portion of the force, should move to the vicinity of Fort "Whoop
Up" on the Pelly River, this being the whisky traders' headquarters and
main scene of operations.
The officers of the
force at Benton also found to their satisfaction that the cost of
getting in supplies via the United States would not be half as much as
if the force had been stationed at Edmonton. Having purchased 16 horses
and ponies and a small quantity of supplies, Colonel French left Benton
on the 26th to rejoin the force.
obtained at Benton as to the whisky forts in the Bow River and Belly
River country proved very reliable.
With regard to the
forts supposed to be at the Forks of the Bow and Belly Rivers which had
been particularly mentioned in Col. French's instructions, the forts
were really at the junction of the Saint Mary and Belly Rivers. Persons
travelling along the Porcupine Hills, and across the head waters of the
Bow and Belly Rivers on being told that Fort "Hamilton" Fort "Whoop Up"
or Fort "Stand Off" was at or near the "Forks" had readily supposed that
the Forks of the Bow and Belly Rivers were meant, when their Indian or
half-breed guides did not mean those Forks. In this manner, no doubt,
the Adjutant General of Militia, Colonel Robertson-Ross, fell into the
error of locating Fort Hamilton at the Forks of the Bow and Belly
The word "Fort" as used
in these regions was also explained. It is no wonder that people should
have felt alarmed at hearing that there were eight or ten forts between
the Belly River and Edmonton; but when it was explained that any log hut
where a trader makes his headquarters is a Fort, the cause for alarm
disappeared. These forts were usually named after the trader who built
them, as Fort "Ivipp", Fort " Hamilton," &c. Fort "Whoop Up," in its
day, appears to have been a central depot for most of them, and this was
by comparison a fortification.
On October o, Col.
French, with his returning column arrived at the Hudson Bay post on the
Qu'Appelle, the first human habitations (wigwams and tents excepted)
seen by the force since the 10th July. The force had marched 363 miles
in the past lo£ days, including some time lost at the Cripple Camp,
being an average of over 24 miles per diem. At the Qu'Appelle the police
received much civility and kindness from Mr. Maclean, the officer in
charge of the Hudson Bay Company's post.
Hawng sent off
despatches to Government via Fort Ellice, announcing the safe arrival of
the force thus far, Col. French moved the main body across the River
Qu'Appelle on the evening of the 16th, camping on the top of the bank,
where the feed appeared pretty good. At Qu'Appelle, the force became
aware of some extraordinary stories that had been going the rounds of
the Eastern press relative to their safety, to the effect that not alone
were the horses all dead, except four, but that the men were all
starving, and liv 110 possibility could they return.
Leaving the north bank
of the Qu'Appelle on the morning of the 17th, the force marched through
a fine park-like country, good soil, grass abundant, and nice clumps of
timber dotted over the surface. After the first few miles, however, the
force found the country completely burned in every direction.
On the 21st Col. French
rode ahead of the force, passing Fort Pelly and then proceeding on ten
miles to Swan River. Here he found the barracks in course of erection on
the south bank of the Swan River; the fires had run up almost to the
buildings, the woods a few hundred yards to the west were all on fire.
Xo part of the barracks was finished, and some of the buildings had not
even been begun; the amount of work done in such a short time was
marvellous nevertheless, and if the buildings were not ready for
occupation, t was not for want of zeal and energy on the part of the
gentleman superintending their construction, Mr. Hugh Sutherland.
But there was worse
news than this in store for the Commissioner, half the hay had been
burned, and the Hudson Bay Company, from whom he might have bought some,
lost 300 loads, and had not enough for their own stock. The total amount
of hay the Company's chief officer supposed he had remaining was 00
tons, and that having been cut in October did not appear particularly
nutritious. Some cattle that the Commissioner had sent to Fort Ellice on
the westward inarch had been taken up to Swan River, thus making over
200 head of cattle to be wintered. It appeared to Col. French that it
would be impossible to carry out the instructions of Government; but not
wishing to depart therefrom solely on his own judgment of what was
advisable, he assembled a Hoard of Officers to enquire into and report
upon the situation of affairs.
A few extracts from
Colonel French's diary at tins point are interesting:—
Oct.—Rode on ahead of force to Pelly, and then on to Snake Creek, a
distance of ten miles farther. To my horror found barracks in course of
erection on top of a hill covered with large granite boulders, no trees
to protect the buildings, and these latter strung out in a line a
thousand feet long,exposing a full broadside to the north, the ground
burnt up to within 20 feet of the barracks, where it was stopped by Mr.
Sutherland's men. Shurtiiff's news was still worse—that half the hay cut
had been burnt, the Hudson Bay Company (from whom we might have
purchased) losing 300 loads.
being evident that the whole force could not be wintered here, I sent a
messenger last night and ordered the force to halt at any good grass
near Fort Pelly, three of the senior officers and the doctor and
veterinary surgeon to come on and form a board to enquire into and
report 011 the present situation. Fire raging in woods close by. Sent
some men to assist Mr. Sutherland's men in keeping the fire away from
the saw mill. The Board report that there are only seventy-five tons of
hay of a very inferior quality.
matters at Swan lliver, and rode up to Pelly where D and E troops were
encamped. Picked out the best horses and strongest oxen to take on with
us, left all surplus stores, drew out across the Assiniboine and camped
at the first patch of grass we came to; delayed considerably by cattle
breaking away through the bush. A horse of D troop could not be found.
One ox lost in the woods, but believe it went back to E troop camp."
the Board which reported against remaining at Swan River, recommended
that not more than SO head of stock should be left there, Col. French
risked leaving over 100 head, and there he also left "E" division, with
Inspector Carvell in command, and again picking over the strongest
horses and oxen, on the evening of the 23rd he moved across the
Assiniboine with "D" division and the staff, en route to Fort Mice.
The weather now
remained cold and foggy. On the 27th Col. French's now small column was
met by a drove of 84 head of cattle, en route to Swan River, and he
turned them back. On the 28th the Commissioner arrived in the valley of
the Assiniboine opposite Fort Ellice. On the 1st November he met
Paymaster ('lark and his small party en route for Fort Pelly and turned
November 7.—10 division
reached Winnipeg, and on orders from Ottawa, proceeded by easy stages to
Dufferin to pass the winter.
In his report, which
has been drawn upon largely in this chapter, Lieut.-Colonel French
embodied the following remarks on the objects of the expedition and the
spirit evinced by the officers and men composing it.
"For the credit of the
Dominium and of humanity, it was absolutely necessary that a stop should
be put to the disgraceful scenes that were daily being enacted on the
Bow and Belly Rivers and the Cypress Hills. The immense distance to this
place, and the shortness of the season for operations, necessitated a
mounted force being despatched.
"The Mounted Police
were being organized for the preservation of law and order in the
North-West Territories, but consisted only of about 120 men and 50
horses at the time this expedition was contemplated. Nevertheless it was
decided, for very good reasons, that the work of establishing law and
order where all was lawlessness and violence should be entrusted to the
"Tied down by no
stringent rules or articles of war, but only bv the silken cord of a
civil contract, these men by their conduct gave little cause of
complaint. Though naturally there were several officers and constables
unaccustomed to command, and having little experience or tact, yet such
an event as striking a superior was unknown, ami disobedience of orders
was very rare. Day after day on the march, night after night on picquet
or guard, and working at high pressure during four months from daylight
until dark, and too frequently after dark, with little rest, not even on
the day sacred to rest, the foree ever pushed onward, delighted when
occasionally a pure spring was met with. There was still no complaint,
when salt water or the refuse of a mud hole was the only liquid
available. And I have seen this whole force obliged to drink liquid
which when passed through a filter was still the color of ink. The fact
of horses and oxen failing and dying for want of food never disheartened
or stopped them, but pushing on, on foot, with dogged deterinination
they carried through the service required of them, under difficulties
which can only be appreciated by those who witnessed them.
"Where time was so
valuable there would be no halting on account of the weather. The
greatest heat of a July sun or the cold of November in this northern
latitude made no difference; ever onward had to be the watchword, and an
almost uninterrupted march was maintained from the time the force left
Duffenn with the thermometer 95° to 100° in the shade, till the balance
of the force returned therein November, the thermometer marking 20° to
30° below-zero, having marched 1959 miles."
The complete list of
officers upon the occasion of the departure of the force from Dufferin
in 1S74 was as follows:
Lieut.-Col. George A.
Major James F. Macleod,
C.M.G., Assistant Commissioner.
Staff: J. G. Kittson,
M.D., Surgeon; Dr. R. B. Nevitt, Assistant Surgeon; W. G. Griffiths,
Paymaster; G. D. Clark. Adjutant; John L. Poett, Veterinary Surgeon;
Charles Nicolle, Quartermaster.
"A" division—W. D.
Jarvis, Inspector; Severe Gagnon, Sub-Inspector.
"B" division—G. A.
Brisebois, Inspector; J B. Allan, Sub-Inspector.
Wilder, Inspector; T. R. .Jackson, Sub-Inspector.
"D" division (Staff
division)—.J. M. Walsh, Inspector; James Walker and John French.
Carvell, Inspector; J. H. Mcllree and H. J. X. I^ecaine, Sub-Inspectors.
"F" division—L. N. F.
Crozier, Inspector; Vernon Welsh and C. R. Denny, Sub-Inspectors.
By special invitation
of the Commissioner, Mr. Henri Julien, of Montreal, accompanied the
expedition as artist and correspondent of the "Canadian Illustrated
News." Mr. Julien, who still resides in Montreal, in the exercise of his
art, and m conceded to be the most talented black and white artist in
Canada, as he is one of the most skilful newspaper artists in America,
was attached to the staff of the force during the expedition.