1873 – 1880

A Legendary Part of Canadian Development

In 1873, the government of what was then Canada established a special force called the North West Mounted Police to cope with a major situation in the West. That force was to put an end to illegal whiskey trading among the Indians, to thieving, plunder and murder. They were to erect Forts that would establish a Canadian presence in the West and open it for peaceful development.
The following year this 300-man mounted force left Dufferin, Manitoba on July 8 and made their historical march westward and northwestward deep into the little known North West Territories. In just under 4 torturous months they reached the Rockies in October, 1874.

Strategically located forts were quickly erected:

  • Fort MacLeod in the Fall of 1874
  • Fort Walsh in the Summer of 1875
  • Fort Calgary in the Fall of 1875
  • Fort Saskatchewan in 1875

And several others, plus small detachments throughout an area almost equal to that of France and Germany combined.
About 27,000 Indians of differing and often warring tribes occupied this space.

During these early days of the West, the Americans were experiencing great troubles with their Indians. Cruelty, bitterness and bloodshed coupled with great losses of human life and the expenditure of millions of US tax dollars were all part of the American settlement of areas where American Indians used to roam.

Canada was able to avoid similar trouble by fair treatment and diplomacy extended by the North West Mounted Police, who made the North West Territories safe before the settlers came for peaceful, secure settlement.

During these early days the Force’s legendary reputation to “Maintain the Right” was forged through intimate knowledge of the land and its people combined with fairness, dogged determination and courage, combined with long hours of hard work.

The illegal whiskey trading was quickly suppressed. Courageous conduct coupled with fairness and good judgement soon earned the Mounted Police and enviable rapport with the Indians and the few whites who then lived in the Territories.

The biggest challenge to peace began in 1876 when warlike Sioux retreated into Canada after slaughtering Lieutenant-Colonel George A. Custer and 263 soldiers of the 7th Calvary which he had commanded at Little Bighorn
Eventually there were 6000 Sioux in the Cypress Hills under Chief Sitting Bull with only a handful of Mounted Police under Superintendent James Morrow Walsh to control them.
Despite grave and often dangerous they succeeded by fair and peaceful means and by 1881 all of the US Indians had returned to the U.S.A.

Then the Blackfoot Nation gathered in 1877 to sign the treaty confining them to reservation, Crowfoot, their legendary Chief who had been wounded over a dozen times in his many battles summarized his people’s feelings:

“If the Police had not come to the country, where would we all be now? Bad men and whiskey were killing us so fast that very few, indeed, of us would have been left today. The Police have protected us as the feathers of the bird protect it from the frosts of winter. I wish them all good, and trust that all our hearts will increase in goodness from this time forward. I am satisfied. I will sign the treaty.”

Thus the tribes of the Blackfoot Confederacy were allotted reservations totaling over 930, 000 acres and 50,000 square miles of territory were surrendered to Canada.

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