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.
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 British Columbia Rocky Mountains had little more than a few garden plots as far east
as the Assiniboine and or Fort Red Rivers . (You may know it now as Gary .) The two year old country of Winnipeg had just taken over that vast stretch of land which
included the area the former manager ( Canada ’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. Hudson
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
’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 Hudson 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
’s Canada 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. North West Territories
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
to places like Montana , Fort MacLeod and Fort Walsh . Most of these were the wild, long horn animals that
had been trailed up from Fort Saskatchewan
during the nine years since the end of the Civil War. Texas
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 that created the antagonism. Ottawa
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
Territories in August 1875 but there was little sale
for their cattle since supply had already been received from Morley,
North West . Shaw rode north to see if there was sale for his
beef at Montana ( Fort Edmonton ’s
Bay) or Hudson (NWM Police) but those sites had also been supplied
by animals from the south. Fort Saskatchewan
There were several bringing cattle up from
in those early years most notably George Emerson and
Tom Lynch. The foundation for these animals was the Montana longhorn but in the 1870s they where beginning to be bread
with heavier animals from Texas . 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
’s Bay Company expanded their post and I.G Baker of Hudson built a post. Next to the Police post was the T.C
Power & Brother store, Harry Taylor’s billiard hall and some Métis cabins. Fort Benton
This new NWMP post which had been named
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 Fort Brisebois . The name of the post came from Calgary House on the
Isle of Mull in Calgary . The first cattle in Scotland ’s premier “cow-town” came from the Chilcotin and Canada 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 or US . A few years later the Homestead Act was instituted
and the large ranches gained neighbours of 160 to 640 acres. England
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
, selling many of them to the growing number of
settlers around the Montana 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. Fort Macleod
It will be evident that the few men mentioned are not the only ones who brought cattle into the
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. North
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
America. Several of those
millions had wound up in the slaughterhouses of . Several hundred thousand had become the foundation
of herds in those areas that are now the states of Chicago (1889), Montana (1890), and the Wyoming 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,
Fleet Street. In the case of the small operators the cash demands where from
bankers and suppliers. Consequently on ranches from to Fort Edmonton the land was overgrazed. El Paso
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
America that winter is 75%.
It was the beginning of the end of the open range.
Next time, I’ll mention some horses.