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.