Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Discovery of a New Element

I must first state that I did not write this.
I must then admit that I don't know who did or where it came from.
I was scrolling through some things from long ago and there it was.
Whoever wrote it, I thought it was funny, brilliant and, saddly, accurate.
Scientists at CERN in Geneva have announced the discovery of the heaviest element yet known to science. The new element Governmentium (Gv). It has one neutron, 25 assistant neutrons, 88 deputy neutrons and 198 assistant deputy neutrons giving it an atomic mass of 312. These 312 particles are held together by forces coiled morons which are surrounded by vast quantities of right-on-like particles called peons.
Since Governmentium has no electrons or protons, it is inert. However, it can be detected because it impedes every reaction with which it comes into contact. Even a tiny amount of Governmentium causes a reaction which normally takes only a few days to complete to four years or more to finish or resolve.
Governmentium has a normal half-life of 2- 6 years. It does not decay but instead undergoes a reorganization in which a portion of the assistant neutrons and deputy neutrons exchange places. In fact, Governmentium 's mass will actually increase over time since each reorganization will cause more morons to become neutrons, forming isodopes. This characteristic of moron promotion leads some scientist to believe that Governmentium is formed whenever morons reach a critical point of concentration. This hypothetical quantity is referred to as critical morass.
When catalyzed with money, Governmentium becomes Administratium, an element that radiates just as much energy as Governmentium since it has half as many peons but twice as many morons. Vast sums of money are consumed in the exchange yet no other by-products are produced.
By the way, here is another page you can check out;
along with the videos and interviews off to the right.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

David Milton McGowan: Remembering trips on the Heritage Highway

David Milton McGowan: Remembering trips on the Heritage Highway: I just found – through some help on FB – a link to some great videos of the country around Tumbler Ridge , BC . A couple of years ago I...

Remembering trips on the Heritage Highway

I just found – through some help on FB – a link to some great videos of the country around Tumbler Ridge, BC.
A couple of years ago I was going up there once a week or more but now don’t get up there much at all. These pictures will give you some idea of why I enjoyed the trip and why I elect to be in this country.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Corporal Nathan Cirillo, October 22, 2014

On October 22, 2014 a man shot one of Canada’s soldiers who at the time stood guard over the memorial for those who have defended our country and way of life and whose sacrifice is otherwise not recorded. He was also representing those men and women who have died to maintain the country and the freedom its citizens enjoy. As a serving member of Canadian forces he also represented those who did serve, survived and returned to life as a citizen and part of the fabric of this great country.

Corporal Nathan Cirillo. If you are a Canadian he represented YOU.

Corporal Nathan Cirillo. If you live in a country where you have the opportunity to express your views, however small and fleeting or large and long-standing that opportunity may be, then he represented YOU.

Corporal Nathan Cirillo. An attack on him was an attack on civilization.

Kevin Vickers, Sergeant-at-Arms within the Canadian Parliament buildings shot the attacker and brought to a halt this atrocity.

In Canada we have some of the best armourers and security training personnel to be found anywhere in the world. We have people with the fortitude – the “parts” if you will – and training to handle any situation that they may face.

Therefore the fact that Mr. Vickers stopped the attack before it became a massacre does not particularly surprise me.

The fact that Mr. Vickers had the training necessary does not surprise me too much since he is old enough to have, perhaps, received proper training such as is not usually enjoyed by some entering the security professions in the last few years. Perhaps he has had time to privately and at his own expense augment whatever initial training he did receive.

What does surprise me is that with the illogical and antiquated attitude toward firearms that is usually broadcast by Canada's traditional media Mr. Vickers was not only allowed to carry a firearm it was actually loaded and useful. I do expect our politicians will continue to spread false, misleading and un-supported information about firearms because they see such statements bringing votes ... even though it is obvious some of their lives were saved by a man with a firearm who knew how to use it.

I do hope a few real people (those who actually contribute thereby assuring the country grows and prospers) remember this event the next time firearms are vilified.

But more important, remember Corporal Nathan Cirillo.

RememberSergeant-at-Arms, Kevin Vickers.

The attacker? Forget him. He was either a fool who believed lies or he was unbalanced ... probably both. His only contribution was providing a focal point to show how important real Canadians can be to each other and the continuation of the country.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Old Time Threshing

No (for some of the younger) this is not a post about talking to some un-likable person by hand. It’s about separating cereal grain from the (ripe) dry plant in a manner in many areas prior to 1955 and in some places well into the 1970s.

My Uncle Sam cut and bundled about 8 acres on the front of the field next to his house and my cousins and their children stooked (standing the bundles up so they will continue to ripen and dry) it. With the help of many friends who also have heavy draft horses and some wagons a threshing was held on Sept. 20, 2014. I didn't actually count them but there was well over 100 people in attendance, helping, watching, and either evoking memories or building new ones.

Here are a few pictures from the day.
There was also a team of tough little Fjords there hauling children (and the occassional adult) around but for some reason that picture does not want to down-load.

Here's a pretty paint team bringing in another load of oat bundles.

A couple of hard working volunteers feeding the threshing machine.

Sam's Oliver 88 powering the threshing machine with little effort

Sam Roberts and his team heading for the field and another load of bundles

Having just hauled a load of oats to the grainary

Sam Roberts and Gordon Meek

1928 "General Motors Truck" almost finished restoration - and the usual cell phone interruption but they did help to record the event.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Securing Supplies or “Possibles”

            Today we call them necessary supplies. Soldiers might call them “gear” or “rations”. In the early days of the mountain man they were “possibles” because there was a good possibility you would need them to survive and if you didn’t have any there was a good possibility you would not --- survive that is.

            Some time ago an agent, commenting on one of my stories, wrote that he had “never heard of a log cabin built high in the trees.” He was commenting on a stores cache I had described in a story and I couldn’t believe that anyone who had read historical history, history, or any story depicting mountain men and homesteaders had not heard of a permanent storage cache or understood a description of same.

            But then, once I had given it some thought I realized that there are very few such structures described in either fiction or non-fiction. Any pictures of such that I now hold in my imagination are not from description but from an actual, perhaps a half dozen actual structures.

            Without a method of storing supplies in the bush and particularly in mountainous country those supplies will not last long. Wolves, bears, wolverines, lynx, and many other animals eat and enjoy the same items humans eat. If those items are not kept away from wildlife by some method then the human will not have the supplies he thought he had.

            There are several descriptions of temporary caches such as one Lloyd Cushway describes in one of his stories. He has several collections of short stories, “Trail Smoke” being one but I think this particular story appears in “Upwind of the Fire.”

            Lloyd and a partner had heard of a mineral find in the upper reaches of the Cameron River in North-East British Columbia. Since they had some experience with the area they decided that they would attempt to stake claims before the “big outfits” (primarily Gulf Minerals) could take it all. They put together supplies for two weeks and flew up near the area. They landed and with each carrying a heavy pack, hiked for an hour to a good camp.

            The partner had to hike back to the plane and fly out to a meeting in Ft. St. John, so they quickly put together a meal consisting primarily of fried bacon and bannock. Before he left the partner helped Lloyd cut and limb a tree creating a pole which was then hauled up into two trees and tied between them in place.

            When the partner had left Lloyd threw a length of rope over the suspended pole. He tied one end of the rope to the extra pack and hauled it high then tied off the other end of the rope to one of the supporting trees. This is a temporary method of creating a cache safe from marauders that has been used by thousands if not millions and several times by Lloyd.

            A week later, having staked several claims in the pouring rain and crossing a rain-swollen river Lloyd discovered that his oft used temporary cache had this time failed. In his hurry he had forgotten to wash his hands after creating lunch and the rope he had used was therefore covered with bacon grease. Perhaps not enough to be noticed by a human but Mr. Black Bear found it very tasty. After chewing on the tasty rope for a while the rope broke and Mr. Bear perhaps became a convert to the Jewish faith for like those who followed Moses he suddenly found himself gifted with manna from heaven; a bag full of all manner of tasty treats.

            When Lloyd returned to his cache there was nothing left to make a meal. What had not been eaten by Mr. Bear had been destroyed.

            The native population of North America had several methods for creating caches but didn’t have the same problem as the solitary mountain man. A village by its very existence serves to keep foraging wildlife at bay although stories of unwelcome visitors during particularly rough periods do exist.

            The lone trapper or the small holding, whether miner, farmer or trapper did not however have sufficient numbers to scare away wolves, bears, coyotes or wild cats. Therefore, if the human in question intends to remain in one place for any length of time it is worth his while to build a permanent cache that can be used year after year and will protect supplies and, in the case of the trapper, the product of his efforts, the pelts.

            Of course there are certain quailifications in almost anything. For example, in the case of Ursus arctos horribilis better known as the Grizzly bear even in early times with few humans in their territory they went (and go) anywhere and eat anything they want to. If your cabin or cache is in an area he or she fequents perhaps a move is in order.

            Permanent caches or storage houses were and are built in the trees as high as fifteen feet. Such a height may not be necessary in summer but may not be enough once there is several feet of snow on the ground. It will appear, should you happen to look up and notice it blending in with the trees, to be a small log cabin tree-house. It will not have any windows and the door will be very strong. On the end where that door is there is a good possibility that the floor will extend beyond the front of the building forming a “porch” to offer a place to load and unload supplies. The roof may be of several materials such as shakes split from local trees, a tarpauline changed every few years or even some material hauled in from “outside”. Access is likely to be via the ladder leaning against the main cabin, but there may be a rope ladder attached to the “porch” or a few cross-pieces attached to one of the supporting trees.

            By the way, Lloyd did make it out to civilization and food. He was exhausted, wet, cold, and tried himself in many ways he should have known to avoid, but he made it to a ranch and then back to town. I see one of his collection of stories on Amazon and others can be found at Bill’s News, 250-782-2933.

            Another one of the places where you can find my novels but you can also click on the book covers to the right or go to where you can "look inside the book."

Sunday, August 3, 2014

North West Mounted Police livestock Part 2

Is it not about time I finish this story?

            Yes, the Mounted Police had left Dufferin on July 8 but on the afternoon of July 24th they had only made it to La Roche Percée less than a third of the distance the Commissioner expected to travel that summer. The trail behind them was already littered with broken wagons and carts and the many oxen and horses that had succumbed to hunger and fatigue.

            It must be acknowledged that they really only knew the distance they had travelled and not how much more trail lay in front of them. Due to the excellence of the maps French had and his inability to listen to anyone, they didn’t really know how far they where going. Nor could they guess about the weather they would experience, the land and vegetation or shortage of water.

            The “westernized” horses and mustangs were faring marginally better than the “proper” horseflesh that had been purchased and imported from Ontario and the Eastern US. Unlike the “high-bred” animals the mustangs could almost manage on a diet of prairie grass and some oats but they too where being over-worked and needed rest. Seeing the state of the animals Colonel French sent Colonel MacLeod for more oats which helped but what the expedition really needed was to move slower, haul less freight or have more animals that could be traded out to off-duty status every few days.

            During their sixteen days of travel they also discovered that their “walking larder” was, instead of the benefit envisioned by French, a millstone slowing their progress. In all that time two beef had been butchered and the result was that every man suffered from Diarrhea sever enough that it could have caused a death. Those who had travelled in the west, including the Métis who accompanied them and the Doctors both with the troupe and in Dufferin predicted the result of eating beef from animals that where being worked but French didn’t listen. 

            It was while they rested at Roche Percée that Colonel French made decisions that would greatly affect the type of livestock found in Western Canada in the years to come. First he sent his “walking larder”, the now 52 cows and 11 bulls along with more than a dozen calves that had been born on the trail east and north to Fort Ellis. Lead by Inspector Jarvis they were to eventually turn west and make for Fort Edmonton.

            Having made that decision he then turned to the horses and their sorry state. He separated the better mounts – which, surprise, surprise, proved primarily to be the western animals and “ratty little mustangs” – and kept those for the troupe continuing west. Since French expected Jarvis’ troupe would have no trouble making Fort Ellis before winter and could move at any pace they chose much of the heavy equipment such as hay mowers and heavy forges would go with them.

            Some of this equipment had to be retrieved the following year.

             There where immediate advantages for both the men and their commander in these decisions. The primary and most welcome change for the men was that they were now, after yet another trip by Colonel MacLeod, eating pemmican. Had they started out on such supplies they may have been in much better health on July 24th and at the end of their trip that autumn.

            French also sent most of the Métis back with the Jarvis troupe. He had found them to be far too independent, ignoring his orders in some cases but now and then acting counter to his orders. He did however keep a few of the guides which may not have been wise.

            In a general sense Inspector Jarvis and his men managed to complete their mission. Upon arrival in Fort Ellis some chickens, a few beef and oxen found a home. A half dozen men with a variety of maladies including cholera complicated by a lack of nutrition where sent south to Dufferin where two of them died. Another dozen in slightly better health but badly weakened by their ordeal remained in the Fort Ellis post and cared for the animals but suffered a terrible winter. The remainder eventually made it to Fort Edmonton.

            Upon arrival in Edmonton the welcome for the Mounted Police was not what they expected. True the Hudson’s Bay Company factor and his staff fed and helped to treat the troopers for their ailments. The presence of those troopers helped to curtail and would eventually eliminate the problem of liquor trade which was interfering with “The Bay”, or “The Company’s” business. However the proximity of all those uniformed police also tended to interfere with the Company’s regular business and turn the trappers toward free traders. The following year, down river (the North Saskatchewan) from Fort Edmonton about 18 miles the North West Mounted Police established Fort Saskatchewan.

            In the meantime the main body of Mounties far to the south did make it to what is now Southern Alberta. They confronted a few well built and some ram-shackle whiskey forts, closed them down and destroyed them. They established Fort MacLeod, Fort Calgary and Fort Walsh and several outposts. They passed laws banning whiskey from the North West Territories, caught whiskey traders defying those laws, confiscated their equipment, destroyed the whiskey and locked men up in the various posts or sent them east to Stone Mountain Penitentiary.

            The trek west wasn’t truly over when Commissioner French resigned. He and the new commissioner, Colonel MacLeod and a few troopers rode south to Billings Montana where they were wined and dined by some of the very people who had been behind the whiskey trade but now became suppliers of goods for the North West Mounted Police. During this first trip to Billings they bought horses to replace the many that had died along the trail and a few cattle.

            One of those who supplied horses was Jerry Potts, known by his mother’s people (the Kainai of the Blackfoot Confederacy) as Bear Child. He became THE guide for the Mounted Police and, eventually, an Auxiliary Constable. In this writer’s opinion Jerry Potts and Colonel James MacLeod are the two men primarily responsible for the initial survival of what was to become the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

            In the beginning the N.W. Mounted Police livestock and thus the horses and cattle brought into the Territories were a mixed lot. The cows and bulls that started with the trek and mostly wound up in Fort Saskatchewan were Shorthorn and Hereford. Those cattle brought up from Billings were Shorthorn or Shorthorn-Longhorn cross but most of these steers and only a few cows. A few of the Thoroughbred horses survived to add their genes to the mix as did a few Belgian and Percheron draft animals. The mustang, Morgan (those that had been “westernized” by the US Army), and some Nez Percé animals (today’s Appaloosa) also added to the mix.

            These where the types of livestock to be found in Canada’s North West Territories when cattle and horse began coming in from Oregon, British Columbia and Montana as outlined in earlier posts.

            Cattle came to British Columbia because of gold discovered in 1859. Cattle came to the east side of the mountains in 1875 (a few in ’74) because of the arrival of 270 policemen but the police came because of the whiskey.

            Colonel MacLeod resigned as Commissioner after 3 years of service but remained a Crown Magistrate.

            Jerry Potts remained with the Mounted Police and received full recognition and honours from the Force upon his death and received similar recognition from his mother’s people.

            Many of the policemen remained in the west when they left the Force and became the cattlemen and horsemen of the Prairies. During the North West Rebellion or Métis Rebellion of 1885 the “Rocky Mountain Rangers” was formed to protect civilians in Southern Alberta. About a third of the Rangers, perhaps more were former Mounted Policemen.

            The influences of California, Texas, Europe and Britain can be seen in the methods, tack and livestock breeds in the Canadian West of today. Over the years however there are things that are distinct and unique to Canada and differences between those East of the Rockies and those to the West.



Sunday, May 18, 2014

North West Mounted Police livestock

I mentioned already that the North West Mounted Police brought both horses and cattle into the North West Territories. A few of those animals even survived the trip.

If is apparent that those implementing the idea of a mounted police force to administer national and personal security in the territory had no idea of the area, the terrain, the numbers of people in residence, the weather or any other aspect of the country. The money spent on the venture was completely inadequate as was the equipment and animals chosen.

Of course, as is the case with ventures today, many of the choices were made due to the training and previous experience of those responsible for the decisions. The new commissioner of the force appointed by Prime Minister MacDonald was a man of military training and experience. He had attended Sandhurst military academy, been commissioned in the Royal Artillery and seconded to the Canadian militia where he eventually became head of the Gunnery School at Kingston.

Colonel French had very specific ideas about how a military command or a quasi-military police force should be directed and how such a group of troopers should conduct themselves. Those ideas where from the British Isles, from his military training, from his artillery experience and had nothing to do with the specifics to be found on the Canadian prairies.

This is probably a good time to mention the peculiar circumstances of rank to be found in the early NW Mounted Police since it might become confusing as we continue. Commissioner French had been a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Royal Artillery and retained the designation “Colonel” in the police force but this was not exactly a continuation of his army rank since the Act which created the force also designated that the rank of ‘Commissioner’ was equal to a military rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. Similarly, superintendent/inspector was equal to captain, superintendent/sub-inspector a lieutenant, paymaster a captain and a veterinary surgeon a lieutenant. Within the ranks those seven non-commissioned officers leading the six Divisions and Headquarters Troops (A through F and H) officially designated ‘chief constables’ were addressed by the men as ‘Sergeant Major.’ The full constables, close to sixty in number were called ‘Sergeant’ and to make it all more confusing the rest of the men (about 260 after the ‘weeding out’ process), officially designated ‘sub-constables’ and equal to a private were addressed as ‘sub-constable.”

However, back to the livestock and why it was chosen.

The original nine officers were chosen and appointed in 1873. That same summer the first hundred and fifty farmers, teachers and store clerks were chosen, quickly assembled at “New Fort” (in Toronto) then loaded on Great Lake freighters and sent to the lake-head. From Fort William (Thunder Bay) they walked the “Dawson Route” to Lower Fort Garry where they spent the winter.

The so-called Dawson Route, named after George Dawson the same civil engineer whose name is on Dawson Creek and Dawson City proved to be as much a warehouse as a route. More than half the equipment and supplies the fledgling policemen stepped off the ships with was stored along the trail. On two occasions camps made on low ground where subject to heavy rain followed by freezing temperatures. On each of those mornings something or several somethings could not be retrieved as they were frozen into the swampy ground. Some of it was recovered the following spring.

Following appointment of French as Commissioner in’73 he spent a great deal of his time ensuring that Canada’s Federal Government who had passed the Act creating the force would actually support it once it was more than a few words on paper. Having been assured of such support he began the recruitment of another 150 men and made arrangements for their initial training. That accomplished he went south to the US, caught a train for Fargo, Dakota Territory, a dogsled to Fort Dufferin, Manitoba, rented a horse and wound up in Fort Gary, Manitoba fifteen days later.

Colonel French was not particularly thrilled with what he found in Fort Gary. In his diary he remarked that “the officers generally are a good lot of fellows but … 15 or 20 of the men should never have been sent here being altogether too weak.” With the aid of a local civilian doctor (David Young) French had already discharged 19 men for a variety of maladies but rectified the shortfall in manpower by increasing the second recruitment to 200 men upon his return to Toronto in February.

He was also less than pleased with the horses. Thirty eight had been purchased locally and another thirty four where eventually purchased in Dakota Territory all of them “westernized” and mustangs. French’s comment in his notes is that “the animals are scarcely fit for our work.” He goes on to say that he believes they will need “200 or 300 horses which will have to come from Canada or the States as they are not to be had here.”

A constant micro-manager French insisted on interfering with aspects of the venture in which he had not experience whatever. For example travel in the west by large bodies of men had always been done with pemmican as the main staple. However French decided that instead of using the tried and true the Mounted Police would take a “walking larder” of cattle.

On July 8, 1874 the North West Mounted Police led by Commissioner George A. French left Fort Dufferin, Manitoba. In attendance was the Assistant Commissioner, James Macleod, 26 officers and non-commissioned officers, 247 constables and sub-constables and 7 Métis guides and scouts. Another 20 Métis assisted by troopers were driving and caring for 114 Red River carts and 73 wagons. Some of the wagons were pulled by horses but most and all the carts were pulled by the 142 oxen in the train. Of the 311 horses 240 of them had been brought by train from the east and those that where not thoroughbred did have a great many thoroughbreds in their ancestry. To round out their livestock was a herd of eleven bulls and fifty four cows that had already started calving.

(At this point some readers will understand how this tale fits in with previous posts concerning the growth of the cattle business in Western Canada.)

A few of the more senior officers had a vague idea of their destination. The troopers had been informed they would be going to the west to stop the whiskey trade. Commissioner French thought they would make the trip in less than half the time they would actually use. None of them had any idea of the horror they where stepping into.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Cattle Drives in Western Canada Part 3: Changing, Growing and Blending

            Earlier I mentioned the sources of the cattle that made their way to British Columbia and the Canadian Prairies or the North West Territories as they where called at the time. Also mentioned earlier, was that during the first fifteen years the beef business was growing in British Columbia the NWT didn’t have cattle because the Prairies were full of Buffalo though in the north these herds were already diminishing rapidly.
          Along the west coast of North America the cattle business had been building for more than two hundred years. Black Spanish cattle had been brought to California from both Mexico and by ship from Spain. North of there the heavier cattle or Shorthorns brought west from the mid-west and eastern States primarily during the 1840s and 50s where well established. These two west coast communities where relatively close to each other in relation to other established communities and as a result they each imported characteristics of each other’s cattle, horses and tack.
         In the beginning there was a great difference between the horses found in the two areas. Down in California the vaquero rode a long legged animal of a thousand or 1200 pounds which had developed from the military horses of the conquistadors. Up in Oregon the vast majority of horses were draft animals of around 2000 pounds which had been used along with teams of oxen to haul a family’s worldly possessions across the plains to a new home. The “light” riding horses started at a weight of about 1200 which was of  a size where the California horses where turned to cart or wagon work.
       To avoid breeding his cattle with close relatives the Californiahidalgo” might buy or trade for a bull from Oregon. This deal or several like it would bring the weight of California’s Spanish cattle up by two or three hundred pounds and in rare cases as much as 500 pounds.
       In Oregon a rancher or several of them may want a smaller bull for their heifers (young cows that have not yet had a calf) so that their initial births would be easier. A deal is made for one of the Spanish bulls which they hope will bring the weight of a heifer’s calf down from 80 or 90 pounds to 50 or 60 pounds. In practice the calves are slightly smaller and easier on the heifers but the blood line of the larger parent wins out. There is a decrease in the size of the resultant mature animals but not by a great deal. As a result the Oregon cattle were still larger than the California cattle despite the insertion of a few smaller animals into the herds.
        With a few years of ranching the desired characteristics of the breeds of cattle are strengthened and enhanced. The Oregon cattle tend to be larger with both more beef and flavor enhancing fat than their California parents. From the Spanish/California animals they inherit toughness and fighting ability (in many cases including enhanced horns) to contend with northern weather, mountain lions and wolves. These new Oregon animals also seem to survive and grow on far worse feed than the earlier Shorthorns and milk cows from Illinois and Kentucky.
         Along with the blood of the Spanish cattle Oregon pioneers also imported some drovers from the south. At least that is what they had called them back in Illinois and Kentucky when they trailed cattle on foot down the Mississippi to New Orleans. Out here in Oregon these drovers insisted on being called vaqueros which, as with many Spanish words twisted by an English speaking tongue soon became “buckaroo.”
         There are professions throughout history in which participants have not learned and practiced their professions solely for – and in some cases in spite of – the expected monetary remuneration. The buckaroo west of the mountains and the cowboy out on the prairies are prime examples as are a few contemporary professions. They all do it for the contribution they can make to society, to support an honorable or moral lifestyle, to maintain a measure of pride and/or to make a flashy or memorable mark as they go through life.
            The buckaroos took pride in their equipment and their ability to use it productively. From the vaquero they inherited the long (sometimes 60 feet) braided catch rope or lariat. In Oregon some learned from the mid-west and Mississippi drovers the use of a leather or rawhide, swivel handled “bull” whip to handle cattle. Ornate saddles with wide forks, large horns, intricate leather tooling and tapaderos hooding the stirrups.
            The equipment on the horse’s head was also unique in many respects and served to make the buckaroo stand out. The younger horses would be controlled or directed with a rawhide “bosal” around the nose and with the appropriate headstall creating a hackamore. Mounts of more than six years might still wear a hackamore or have any of several dozen styles of bit in their mouth. Whatever bit was chosen it would probably be very fancy if the buckaroo could afford it. They trained their mounts differently than the cowboys over the mountains, generally started them earlier and expected more of them.
            The buckaroo needed his equipment to operate as he had been taught. He had a single cinch saddle to save weight so used a long rope and a big, leather wrapped horn so he could wrap the rope around the horn (take a “dally”) and play it out until he could trip the steer he had caught or another rider could put a loop on it. Had he ‘tied fast’ to the horn he was likely to break his rope or have the saddle pulled from his mount.
            The equipment also served an important part in expressing the pride he felt in his profession and the image he presented. The ability to cast a loop a long way and actually catch something was a source of pride. Catching a steer as heavy as your mount and downing him without breaking any equipment was a large part of who the vaquero was. This also extended to the wide sombrero, fancy spurs, silver mountings on tack and personnel dress as well as the fancy leather work. Some of this was just for show but most of it also had a practical use.
            The drovers who brought cattle up from Texas and were eventually known as cowboys developed in somewhat similar ways from somewhat different forces. When the Texan came back from the Civil War he found the numbers of men between 15 and 35 had been drastically reduced by the recent conflict. With Northern “Reconstruction” forces controlling the whole state there was little work for anyone who had supported the Confederacy. The lack of work was doubly serious for those who had spent as many as four years marching at an age when they would normally be learning a trade.
            One thing that Texas did have in abundance was cattle that no one wanted. For several years before the war there had been little sale for the animals except for hide and tallow which didn’t bring much money and did not supply a reason to turn away from raising such crops as cotton. Thus, for at least ten years (and perhaps, depending on the country as many as 50 years) the Spanish cattle mixed with a few animals from Kentucky and Louisiana had developed into the Texas Longhorn.
            Up in the Industrial North manufacturing was growing as was the population. A railroad that had been started and halted due to the war was continuing on toward the west coast. All these people up there needed meat and Texas beef would do just fine, even if some of it was more than 10 years old. Thus began the many trail drives from Texas and Arizona Territory north to meet the railroad.
            There was thought to be tens of thousands of cattle out there in the brush. When they eventually began rounding them up and trailing them north there proved to be far more than expected. There was more than enough product but there just wasn’t enough equipment.
            The first problem was horses to drive the cattle. There were thousands of them as well, some in the bush but most on the plains since a horse’s defense from predators is speed. Most of them were fairly small animals, eight hundred to a thousand pounds and some even smaller. They were very fast and tougher than most animals twice their size. Once captured and broken well enough to carry a man they were known as “cow ponies” or “cayuses” and proved to be the best mount for working the Longhorn.
            The next problem was the tack to be mounted on the wild horse if enough could be caught and trained well enough to make a drive. There were saddles around but many of them in poor repair. Offsetting that was the large supplies of available leather from hides that had not managed a sale during the War. A large supply of metal items such as used horse shoes also existed and could be turned into cinch rings, bits, and re-enforcement for weak saddle trees.
            Following more than a year of training for both men and horses large herds where headed north to the rails. They drove to camps at the end of rail that grew overnight into towns and as the construction moved on disappeared completely. Some of those towns hung on and as the years passed grew into cities. Places like Hays City, Abilene, and Dodge City in Kansas. Later it was Cheyenne, Laramie and Saratoga in what is now Wyoming.
            When the east and the stock yards in Chicago had enough beef the price began to drop. There was still beef hiding in the thickets of Texas and young men who needed work and knew how to do little else than herd cattle. Now the cows were driven to ranges in Dakota, Wyoming and Montana Territories.
            Of course, these cattle on northern ranges needed a few men to treat them when injured or carrying parasites or to move them to better range when grass or water is in short supply. Caring for the herd on a specific range requires far fewer men than it takes to drive it but some of those Texas men stayed with the cattle, perhaps to have steady work, perhaps to avoid a problem in the south, or perhaps because they simply enjoyed the coutnry.
            In the late 1870s there developed a need for beef in the land north of the 49th parallel which, up until the late ‘60s had been British. Now it was a new country called Canada and they had 300 men up there called Mounted Police looking after it (also interpreted as interfering with free trade) and they needed to be fed. Every summer small herds of cattle were trailed up from Fort Benton to Fort Macleod, Fort Walsh and Fort Saskatchewan.
            Starting in 1881 that land to the north needed far more than a few hundred steers and a few milk cows. The Canadian railroad was across the prairies and their federal government began issuing large tracts of land to companies from Central Canada, the United States and Europe. These leases were cheap and tens of thousands of acres in size. They required thousands of cattle and dozens of cowboys to make them pay.
            In the early years it was easy to see the difference. For twenty years starting in 1860 the buckaroo west of the Rocky Mountains was likely to be mounted on a single rigged saddle cinched to a 1200 or 1500 pound horse, controlled with a hackamore, have tapaderos on his stirrups, two or three inch rowels on his fancy spurs and a sash around his middle that held his pistol. The “rieta” on his saddle might be of manila but it could be of hand braided leather or actually be a whip. His “chaparejos” or chaps may have been of ¾ length (mid-calf) and his boot tops reaching to just beneath the knee. All his gear, from hat to boots to bridle would be as fancy as he could afford.
            Over on the east slope the cowboy’s equipment and appearance was more utilitarian. In the late ‘70s and in real numbers starting in 1880 the cowboy on the east side of the Rockies would have been mounted on a cow pony of 800 to 1000 pounds. His saddle would have been double rigged and plain leather as were his chaps. His “lasso” would have been manila or hemp and his spurs no larger than required to do the job, not because he didn’t like fancy spurs but because he couldn’t afford them. His chaps would be of full length, reaching down to his ankle. His revolver might be behind a belt on his waist but more likely to be in a holster on his saddle, depending on the danger presented by the animals he was herding or the one he was sitting on.
            All these men were strong on individualism so there might be items that did not follow the general pattern. Perhaps the buckaroo did not have the money to dress as fancy as he would like or perhaps he traded his pistol and sash for fancy spurs. There where many native buckaroos (particularly of the Chilcotin and Similkameen peoples) and they often sent a great deal of their pay to family members and didn’t have enough to get too fancy in their dress. Over on the east slope a cowboy might spend all his pay on fancy dress and tack thus standing out from his contemporaries who spent their money on gambling, liquor (which was very expensive since the Mounties made the country dry), land and building their own ranches.
            Similar exceptions occurred in the animals. The horses that the Mounted Police brought with them had been chosen as the best suited for cavalry and artillery duty. A better choice would have been the “cayuses” favored by the Métis but some of the military horses survived and resulted in some larger horses in the Territories.
            As years passed the drovers on each side of the mountains drifted together and their differences disappeared.
            It started with the need for larger cattle. Those buying beef in the east wanted more fat on the animals for better flavor. Since beef was (and is) sold by the pound those raising cattle wanted more money per animal and for the animal to put that weight on as fast as possible. It was also discovered that though the Longhorn was tough and could handle winter weather and periods of drought the larger animals with some Shorthorn in their ancestry handled it well enough but recovered faster.
            Thousands of cattle where trailed in from both British Columbia and Oregon to the North West Territories. By 1890 the Longhorn had almost disappeared in the north and when the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan were formed out of the NW Territories in 1905 many people thought a “longhorn” was “that Hereford bull out there that needs to be de-horned.”
            Larger cattle meant a need for larger horses. As time and distance separated the buckaroo from the vaquero and brush country demanded a small loop and close work there were fewer who knew how to use the long braided rope and dally. Nineteen times out of twenty the stiff fiber lariat was tied to the horn of a double rigged saddle. The tough, quick little cow pony could still be found but more often than not the horse used to herd cattle or ride a fence line was between a thousand and fifteen hundred pounds.
            Over the years the preferences for tack and dress have blended until differences are difficult to detect. Riders on both sides of the mountains might prefer smooth, slick fork saddles with relatively high cantles. Likewise fancy spurs with big rowels and hat-bands with silver conchos will be seen on working dress in the Pincher Creek area of Alberta or in the Chilcotin Country of BC.

The information presented in the articles concerning the cattle business in Western Canada comes from a variety of sources.
“The West Beyond the West: a history of British Columbia” --- Jean Barman
“Frontier Days in British Columbia” --- Edited by Garnet Basque
“Frontier Cowboys and the Great Divide” - - - Ken Mather
“Buckaroos and Mud Pups” --- Ken Mather
“Cariboo-Chilcotin” --- Irene Stangoe
From interviews and conversations with old-time cattlemen, horsemen and a blacksmith from Southern Alberta; René Dhenin, George McLaughlin, Jim Cuelley, and Harold Baker.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Cattle Drives in Western Canada, Part 2

Almost anyone will agree that Southern Alberta is the centre of the Canadian Cattle Industry. There is an argument that a couple of ranches west of the mountains are larger than any on the east slope. Those on that east slope can argue that Southern Alberta produces more cattle both for feeding and for market. One argument that can not be denied is that Western Canada’s cattle business did not start off in the Southern Alberta area but in Southern BC.

            In 1869 British Columbia had already spent ten years establishing herds of cattle and horses and farms producing pork, dairy products, oats, barley, wheat and many other items. The land east of the Rocky Mountains had little more than a few garden plots as far east as the Assiniboine and Red Rivers or Fort Gary. (You may know it now as Winnipeg.) The two year old country of Canada had just taken over that vast stretch of land which included the area the former manager (Hudson’s Bay Co.) called Rupert’s Land. It was still the home of all the Hudson’s Bay trading posts that had been there before but the factors of those posts no longer managed or supplied security for anything more than the actual storage and trading areas.

            It is true that being responsible for several hundred thousands of square miles of land is a serious responsibility for a two year old government but that was a small fraction of their worry. They also had several thousand Métis residents who had been the work force that kept the Hudson’s Bay Company operational for several generations but where now French speaking Catholics in a world controlled by English speaking Protestants. They also had a neighbour to the south who was ten times larger by population, even after a devastating Civil War, many of whom believed it was their Manifest Destiny to govern all of North America. Whiskey traders were also bringing in alcohol, much of it lethal and selling it to the natives who, if they didn’t die from the so called “whiskey” itself wound up killing each other in alcohol induced fights or freezing in the snow. Then, the last straw was a drunken battle in the Cypress Hills between a group of wolfers and about three hundred Nakota where 23 of the Indians where killed.

            (This is the battle at the end of the award winning novel “The Englishman’s Boy” by Guy Vanderhaeghe which became the award winning TV mini series with Michael Eisner in the lead role.)

            The Prime Minister, John A. McDonald with a great deal of help from advisers, decided Canada’s North West Territories needed a police force the size of a small army. Eventually this force was formed – after the usual time and money wasting as is associated with any bureaucratic body – and called the North West Mounted Police.

            Despite his demands what John A actually got was a force the size of a small battalion.

            What does this have to do with cattle drives? It meant the immigration of a small body of consumers of beef and relative safety for settlers or more consumers.

In the late summer of 1874 two hundred and seventy former farmers and military men where living and working on the Canadian prairies and they needed to be fed. This doesn’t require a large herd every year but it does require some cattle and if possible a few pigs and chickens.

Those first cattle came from Montana to places like Fort MacLeod, Fort Walsh and Fort Saskatchewan. Most of these were the wild, long horn animals that had been trailed up from Texas during the nine years since the end of the Civil War.

Later it became apparent to commanding officers – Walsh, MacLeod, and many of those under them – that the Blackfoot where not going to receive the meat they had been promised. Though they didn’t have clearance or the money a few extra cattle where added to the herds from the south and, along with some trapping and hunting the Blackfoot people managed to survive.

When in 1876 Sitting Bull’s people came north of the 49th parallel after the Battle of Little Big Horn, money was found for a few more cattle.  Not enough to feed both the Lakota and the Blackfoot but, with a little special management, enough to avoid embarrassment for government people and enough to avoid an Indian war.

Feeding the various native tribes was a problem that continued for most of those last years of the nineteenth century. As a small example, George and Edward Maunsell had 103 head of cattle delivered to Southern Alberta in June, 1879 to start a ranch. In the fall of that year when the local ranchers completed their roundup the Maunsells (who had participated in the roundup) found they had 54 head. The Blackfoot, Cree, Assiniboine and Lakota managed to survive but relations between these people, the ranchers and the Mounties took a very long time to recover even though it was the “toffs” in Ottawa that created the antagonism.

Having heard of the arrival of the Mounted Police on the plains a man named John Shaw, along with Frank O’Keefe and Charles Ashton took two hundred cows and a hundred eighty seven steers through the North Kootney Pass. They arrived in Morley, North West Territories in August 1875 but there was little sale for their cattle since supply had already been received from Montana. Shaw rode north to see if there was sale for his beef at Fort Edmonton (Hudson’s Bay) or Fort Saskatchewan (NWM Police) but those sites had also been supplied by animals from the south.

There were several bringing cattle up from Montana in those early years most notably George Emerson and Tom Lynch. The foundation for these animals was the Texas longhorn but in the 1870s they where beginning to be bread with heavier animals from Oregon.

During the fall and winter a great deal of building took place a short distance from Morley where John Shaw had returned after his unsuccessful trip north. The Mounted Police built a new post, the Hudson’s Bay Company expanded their post and I.G Baker of Fort Benton built a post. Next to the Police post was the T.C Power & Brother store, Harry Taylor’s billiard hall and some Métis cabins.

This new NWMP post which had been named Fort Brisebois after the Officer Commanding the detachment was renamed by Assistant Commissioner Irvine at the suggestion of Colonel Macleod.  Thus in the spring of 1876 John Shaw, having completed a sale to the NWMP through an agent finally began delivering his BC cattle, the first herd to be sold in Calgary. The name of the post came from Calgary House on the Isle of Mull in Scotland. The first cattle in Canada’s premier “cow-town” came from the Chilcotin and Okanogan countries in B.C.

What really increased the cattle business was the railroad reaching into the plains. In 1881 the Canadian government opened large areas for ranching leases. These ranches, usually were of several thousand acres and supplied with financing from Eastern Canada, the US or England. A few years later the Homestead Act was instituted and the large ranches gained neighbours of 160 to 640 acres.

Going back a couple of years and a couple of paragraphs, many of the cattle that came in to stock these new ranches where driven by George Emerson and Tom Lynch. In both 1779 and 1880 they brought 1000 head in from Montana, selling many of them to the growing number of settlers around the Fort Macleod area but also building up herds for themselves.  In 1883 a herd of 3000 head for the newly formed North West Cattle Company and in ’84 another 2000 head.

It will be evident that the few men mentioned are not the only ones who brought cattle into the North West Territories during these years. By 1884 when the Transcontinental Railway was working its way up the foothills and into the mountains the range was already overstocked and full of many thousands of cattle.

In 1885 the Mounties went east to join the Canadian Militia in putting down the Riel Rebellion.

The three member nations of the Blackfoot Confederacy hunkered down on their reserves to ensure the white men didn’t think they where involved with the Métis and Cree fighting that war. While attempting to stay out of sight they began entertaining the idea of raising cattle along with the horses. They still had a few of each despite their living conditions and within a few years managed to acquire the government loan of bulls to build those herds.

During the years from the US Civil War (1865) until 1886 millions of cattle had been moved around on the surface of North America. Several of those millions had wound up in the slaughterhouses of Chicago. Several hundred thousand had become the foundation of herds in those areas that are now the states of Montana (1889), Wyoming (1890), and the Dakotas (1889) and through the usual forces of nature became millions.

The same forces where pressuring the Canadian cattle industry. Every year the price for beef would fall a little in the east and every year a little more money was demanded of those raising cattle. In the case of the large “combines” with several thousand cattle the demand was from the ranch owners in offices on Wall Street, Young Street or Fleet Street. In the case of the small operators the cash demands where from bankers and suppliers. Consequently on ranches from Fort Edmonton to El Paso the land was overgrazed.

During the winter of 1886 – ’87 nature solved the overgrazing problem. The most severe winter in many years that surprised everyone but the oldest trappers and natives killed thousands of cattle, horses, sheep, Wapiti, moose, deer and many other animals. Some of the smaller farmers who managed time to cut some hay and didn’t have many animals in the first place only lost 20% of their animals. Some of the larger ranches lost 80% and a couple even more. An estimated average for losses in Western North America that winter is 75%. It was the beginning of the end of the open range.


            Next time, I’ll mention some horses.