Sunday, March 20, 2016

NW Mounted Police or BC Provincial Post Fort St. John

The Old Fort Jail
            From the first week of June through September of 1964 I worked on the “Penalty Ranch” which was owned by an excellent horse trainer and rodeo bronk rider by the name of René Dhenin. He had called it the “Penalty” since that was what was offered if you dropped paper or garbage on the ground or left a gate open. The penalty, stipulated by René would be something like cleaning out the horse barn, one of the calving barns or hoeing the garden.
            I did clean the horse barn that summer but not as a penalty. No one received any penalties that summer and being the new hand ----
            The ranch was (is) located on the south bank of the Peace River and south of Fort St. John, BC. The city is now on the high ground a few miles from the river but the Hudson’s Bay trading post of that name, built in 1858 is on the north bank of the river across from the ranch. There were several other trading posts and supply sites along the river, the first being Alexander Mackenzie’s “Rocky Mountain Fort” upriver from the mouth of the Pine River but called the Sinew River at the time (1794).
            There is argument about the location of Rocky Mountain Fort but I’m going with Lloyd Cushway’s research presented in “River of Controversy”. Not only does it make sense but I’ve seen some of the things he mentions in his book during my own limited travels.

 This is a picture of the "Old" Fort St. John started by the Hudson's Bay Company in 1858 on the North bank of the Peace from 1875. This is the Fort mentioned in "The Making of Jake McTavish".
            There is also argument about the building of the police barracks at the old fort. René and John Brown both told me it was built by the North West Mounted Police in 1898. Many others state that it was built by two local men for the British Columbia Provincial Police when they began policing the region in 1910. In the early ‘60s someone who supported the BC Police version spray painted “1910” on the front of the old barracks/jail. This version is also displayed on the plaque in front of the copy of the barrack built for the Fort St. John museum. In my novel “The Making of Jake McTavish” I use the NWMP version.

This is the copy of the Police building built and displayed at the Fort. St. John museum. Where it sat on the Penalty Ranch the main door faced south with the back of the building/lean-to facing the trading post across the river. The addition facing us in this picture did not exist by 1964 but there was a porch across the length of the south side.

For those wondering about the veracity of the sources of my information René Dhenin came to the area in 1924 and John Brown in 1898. The NWMP have in their records the reports of Inspector Moodie and four officers looking for an overland route to the Klondike gold fields in 1897-‘98. They apparently spent November ‘97 building something on the south bank of the Peace, left one officer there and continued on to Fort Graham where they wintered. There are also records stating that the officer left in Fort St. John was relieved and replaced. That is the extent of my recorded and verbal information.
In other words, I don’t know but I do know that either version makes a good story.
René used the old jail for storage. During those four months in 1964 and while spending a few days or weeks on the ranch in subsequent years I was in the building many times.
On entering the front door there was an office type complex to the left. A hall way about three feet wide led off to the immediate right giving access to two jail cells separated and surrounded by log walls. Each cell was entered through a four inch thick plank door with a window about two feet square and barred by one inch steel rod set in between the two layers of two inch plank. The back of each cell had a small barred window the height (and width) of one of the logs or about eight inches.
Standing back at the door and facing the back of the office area there was a stair way leading up the back wall and starting at the far corner to the left. This stair led to a loft arrangement in front of the stair and to a bunk area above the two cells. An officer jumping out of one of those bunks in the morning would not want to stand up too fast or too straight for he would jamb his head into the roof.
The explanation on the plaque for the rebuilt jail at the Fort St. John museum situates the cells in the lean-to outside the building. Sorry, not so. The lean-to held firewood, tack for both horse and dog teams and any other storage. I have read somewhere of a murder victim’s corpse being returned (by the BC Police as I recall) and being stored in the woodshed during the winter’s cold. I can’t remember the location of that story and am not going to look it up right now.

Might cause quite a shock to a stranger being sent for an armload of wood.
When I was on the Penalty the jail sat in a sixty acre hay field about 400 yards from the river bank. Frank Beaton (son of the HBC factor for many years) said that during the heavy trading days in the spring the "Jail Field" would be covered with shelters of all types - tee pees and tents - with overflow onto the field to the south. The police building would be surrounded by this encampment.
Frank and his father are also mentioned in "The Making of Jake McTavish".
The "Old" Fort is situated on the North bank about where the "P" in Peace River is on this map. The Penalty Ranch buildings are west of the "C". The river entering SW of Taylor is the Pine or what was called the "Sinew River" in the early 1800s
This picture of the Catholic Mission at the Old Fort was probably taken in the 1960s

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Rocky Mountain Rangers of 1885

Today the Rocky Mountain Rangers are a reserve infantry regiment of the Canadian Army headquartered in Kamloops, BC. However, in 1885 the Rocky Mountain Rangers was a volunteer militia charged with ensuring the safety of the range between the Cypress Hills and the Rocky Mountains.
North of the Cypress Hills in that part of the Northwest Territories which is now Saskatchewan lived a few thousand Métis who were being ignored by government officials. The offspring of Hudson’s Bay Company and Northwest Company employees, primarily of French and Scottish ancestry who had lived with Cree, Ojibwa and Salteaux the Métis where those who actually made the fur trade work. After the Hudson’s Bay Company turned Rupert’s Land over to the new country of Canada and the fur trade became a very different business from what it had been the harsh life of the Métis became even rougher. At the same time the plains buffalo or Bison, the “prairie larder” had been virtually wiped out. They did not have a treaty such as the full blood peoples of the plains and had to eek out a living through methods they knew nothing about.
Those people with treaties where also not fairing very well. Dishonest Indian agents issued short rations or damaged goods and sometimes both. Primarily this was due to racism or ignorance on the part of government officials but it was also aggravated by the fact that the Federal Government didn’t have any money in their coffers. There are several instances recorded both officially and unofficially of the North West Mounted Police securing provisions for a starving community. It wasn’t their job but they where on the ground seeing the devastation.
Whatever the reason, in 1885 the Métis, led by Louis Riel (political leader) and Gabriel Dumont (military leader) demanded better. High handed and insulting responses from government agents (including NWMP officers) resulted in violence. In a very short time the Métis were joined by some Cree and Assiniboine. It has been called the Second Riel Rebellion, the Métis War and other names but in recent years it appears we have settled on the Northwest Rebellion.
There have been countless essays and books written on the subject with views from both sides and including far more details than will be found here. No one has reached a definitive understanding but it is apparent that several people died and both sides were wrong.
With many peoples represented in the rebel forces the white settlers, farmers and ranchers were afraid that the violence would spread. For most of the five month duration of hostilities it was feared the members of the Blackfoot Confederacy would join although that never happened due primarily to their treatment by the NWMP and the agents who served their locations. To heighten everyone’s fears a contingent of Mounted Police were sent to assist the Canadian soldiers in quelling the uprising thus reducing an already undermanned force.
To counter this threat the Rocky Mountain Rangers were formed, a militia made up of volunteers. They were primarily ranchers and cowboys with some of them being retired Mounted Policemen. The General Order creating them called for them to “guard the two hundred mile frontier between Lethbridge and the Cypress Hills; protect the cattle herds from thieves and rustlers; and act as a buffer to keep warlike American Indians from surging north to join their Canadian cousins.” There were 114 members led by a Major John Stewart. The members were to supply their own mounts, tack and sidearms but since this last resulted in a variety of questionable weapons Major Stewart arranged for the issuance of some NWMP rifles including a few of the obsolete single shot Snider-Enfield .577 and forty of the new 1876 .45-75 Winchesters. As for sidearms they might have anything as can be seen in the accompanying pictures.

Rocky Mountain Ranger Major John Stewart
with what appears to be a Smith & Wesson Model #3
Rocky Mountain Ranger Jack Clark 
w 1873 Winchester
RM Ranger Henry Boyle, brother of
Richard (Lord) Boyle who Captained one of the troops.

            Divided into three troops the Rangers patrolled their designated area. They had three major confrontations, border crossing Indians rustling horses near the Cypress Hills, outlaws near Medicine Hat and a rustler ring near High River.

 R M Ranger patrol near Medicine Hat
R M Ranger patrol in the Cypress Hills

            After three months service the Northwest Rebellion had been quelled and those NWM Policemen on war service had been returned to their original duties. The Rocky Mountain Rangers were ordered back to Fort Macleod and disbanded on July 17, 1885. Major Stewart arranged for them to receive the North West Canada Medal and they were eligible for 320 acres of homestead or eighty dollars.

For a more comprehensive study of the RM Rangers go to and look for The Cowboy Cavalry: The Story of the Rocky Mountain Rangers by Gordon E. Tolton 

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Changing times, changing the image

Clarence E. Mulford created a character he named Bill (Hopalong) Cassidy and the first novel was released in 1906. I’ve read that Mulford’s idea was that his character had been injured in one of the many disasters that can change the life of a horse-bound farm laborer working around and on top of wild animals. The result of this accident was a broken leg set out on the land the other non-medical personnel present and resulting in a distinctive gate resulting in the nickname.
The character was very popular and 29 novels featuring Hopalong appeared between 1906 and 1941.
In 1935 a movie entitled “Hop-along Cassidy” and staring William Boyd in the title role was released. It was eventually re-released and re-titled as “Hopalong Cassidy Enters”. Thus the hyphenated nickname disappeared and the broken leg was now the result of damage from a gun-shot.

Over the years Hopalong’s outfits became fancier and cleaner. In the first movies he wore many of the trappings that a working cowhand would use but as time passed there was less worn leather and more silver showing. By the early ‘40s Boyd had developed the Hopalong Cassidy “brand” that was black, white and silver mounted.

 On the left is Mulford's vision for Hop-along and on the left is Boyd's version.
It may be that Mulford was unhappy with what had been made of his original creation or it could be that he was too busy with other projects but whatever the case when more stories were needed he wouldn’t write them and others had to found. One of those who wrote four Hopalong novels under the pseudo name Tex Burns was Louis L’Amour.

They can be found at the Louis L’Amour trading post

Monday, March 7, 2016

New Praise for "Partners"

Here is a review from Tracy Lynn of one of my earlier novels, “Partners” a short explanation of which I posted not many days ago. (That is, scroll down and take a look)
Tracy has been to Diamond Willow a couple of times and performed many of the songs she has written (along with a few “covers”) and she does a great job not only as an entertainer but as a song writer.
Take a look at Tracy Lynn on Facebook or at Sound Waves Lesson Studio also on FB.
Which reminds me, if you are any where in the Courtenay, BC area (mid Vancouver Island) and are looking for music lessons, give her a call.
Guitar Instructor at SOUND WAVES Lesson Studio
Tracy also has a couple of CDs which are awesome.

Review of “Partners” by Tracy Lynn

'Swinging around in the saddle to check the loads on his two pack horses, he thought of that other life.' Those words could not have met my eyes at more timely juncture in my own life. I turned the overhead light on and commenced reading Dave's  book Partners. As the plane rumbled around me I was taken back through time to experience the unlikely partnership of Tom and Frank. Dave's attention to detail left me drawing my shoulders up close to my ears as I  sneaked through the bushes behind level headed Tom...hoping I wouldn't be spotted! Frank's feisty inquisitive character made me chuckle aloud as Dave articulates the young man's youth and inexperience as well as his education through many hard knocks. The conversations between this pair are believable. Their exchanges build a unique and respectful relationship that made me laugh and sometimes shake my head! Dave's knowledge of guns, the outdoors, hours in the saddle and his subjects in general make for a very interesting read. The story unfolds and introduces new characters at just the right time, all integral. Partners is a keeper for my library. I enjoyed every word on every page. I look forward to reading more of Dave's work.  Tracy Lynn

Follow the song in your heart.