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Indian History

Fort Macleod - Our Colourful Past - pages 7 - 16

The relationship between Fort Macleod and its neighboring Indians has been one of extremes. One reserve, which borders the town on the south, is the largest in Canada, covering 541 square miles. The Bloods that live there have been characterized as haughty in demeanor, dignified in bearing, and independent in spirit, as well as the most progressive and intellectual Indians in Western Canada. To the town's west is the Peigan Reserve, taken by the country's smallest Blackfoot tribe to sign a treaty, progressive in its own right, being among the first in the province to demand a vote in Alberta elections and the first to assume administration of its own reserve.

The Indians were welcomed in the town, then discouraged from coming, called savages one forced to adopt a foreign way of life and showed quick adaptability. They faced severe setbacks but had resiliency that saw them recover both from a decimated population and failures in the fields.

The Bloods and Peigans are part of the Blackfoot confederacy. The political division was apparent when both groups first came in contact with the white man. According to an article by Rev. S. H. Middleton printed in the Lethbridge Herald in 1921, they were found by Mackenzie during his exploration of the upper and middle northwest. They occupied the territory from the North Saskatchewan River to the headwaters of the Missouri River in Montana and from a line just west of where Regina was later located to the foot of the Rocky Mountains.

The Bloods

The nomadic Bloods, or "kai-nau"-many chiefs-followed the buffalo, hunting them on foot and by the 1700's, by horseback. Hugh Dempsey, director of history for the Glenbow-Alberta Institute, writes that the horse and gun"were largely responsible for the high degree of organization and mobility of the Bloods." Horses became an integral part of their lives shortly after they first obtained them in the early 1700's. They broadened the Bloods horizons, providing "a means of easier hunting and, as a symbol of wealth, a reason for warfare." Their aggression led to frequent battles with enemies the Crees, Assiniboine, Sioux, Crow and Kutenai.

When fur trading posts were established on the border of Blackfoot country just before 1800, traders tried to persuade the Bloods to trap animals other than the buffalo, such as beaver, for their pelts, but the Bloods refused to succumb to the temptations of alcohol that was offered them.

However, by the 1860's, whisky traders that followed the gold miners and ranchers into Montana created the conditions under which the tribe began to degenerate. Fire water - whisky diluted by red ink and fortified with tobacco- brought the demoralized Bloods to a level of poverty. Ironically, their shrewd bargaining helped to do them in. The following sketch was carried in the Lethbridge Herald:

"The traders were a bad lot, although they themselves acknowledged there was nothing bad but bullets. They had a neat little habit of dealing out liquid refreshment to the Indians sort of along the lines of 'put and take' but it was mostly take on the traders part. For two tin cups of the liquid, they took one buffalo robe and so on. The alcohol was usually highly-diluted, but some Indians, particularly the Blackfoot, knew their alcohol and demanded something that would light when you put a match to it - real firewater."

Their state-the trading of anything of value to the Americans and the resulting starvation and susceptibility to harsh winters-brought the North West Mounted Police to establish Fort Macleod, from which they stopped in short order the trade of whisky that had led to the Indians' demise.

The decline of the buffalo, which were slaughtered for their hides in far greater numbers after the repeating rifle was introduced to the hunt, combined with the endless other problems the Bloods faced to bring them to the 1877 treaty talks with the federal government at Blackfoot Crossing on the Bow River. But, there was some concern the chiefs would not show up.

Treaty Number Seven

The Bloods were angry because the federal government had agreed to change the location for the treaty talks to Blackfoot Crossing from Fort Macleod. Crowfoot, a key negotiator for the Blackfoot nation, would not meet in a white man's fort and pressured the Queen's representatives to make the change, even though Fort Macleod was a convenient, centrally located meeting place. Blackfoot Crossing, on the other hand, was solely within Blackfoot territory and the Bloods regarded the move as an inconvenience to themselves, the Peigans and the Sarcees.

When negotiations began on September 17, 1877, only a few Peigans were present and the Bloods were absent, except for Chief Medicine Calf who, ironically, was among the most distrusting of white man. Blood chief Red Crow finally showed up after a two-day boycott.

A report in the Toronto Globe and Mail following the talks documents the delay. Lieutenant-Governor David Laird, representing the Queen and the government, said: "We appointed this day and I have come a very long distance to keep my promise, and have called you together to discover if you all have responded to my summons, and if any chiefs are now absent, to learn when they shall arrive. You say that some of the Blood Chiefs are absent, and as it is our wish to speak to them as well as to you, and as they have a very long way to come to reach this place we shall give them until next Wednesday to come in."

The Globe and Mail report also included evidence of the wide-spread interest the talks held for people in Fort Macleod: "On Wednesday, the Commissioners met the chiefs at the great Council House. A guard of honor of fifty mounted men accompanied them, commanded by Major Irvine. The police band received them and at one o'clock the guns fired a salute as the Governor and Colonel Macleod took their seats. There were present at the opening of the treaty a number of ladies and gentlemen who had come long distances to witness this novel spectacle. Mrs. Winder, Mrs. Shurtliffe and a number of other ladies from Morleyville and Edmonton, also the Reverend Messrs. Scollen and McDougall, Mr. de l'Heureux, Mr. Conrad, Mr. Bogy, and the whole white population of Fort Macleod. Nearly all the chiefs and minor chiefs of the Blackfoot, Blood, Peigan, Stony and Sarcee tribes were seated directly in front of the Council House; and forming a semi-circle of about one-third of a mile beyond the chiefs, about four thousand men, women and children were squatted on the grass . . ."

The terms of the treaty were outlined by Lieutenant-Governor Laird. Because "in a very few years the buffalo will probably be all destroyed," the Queen offered a way by which the Indians could make a living and support themselves and their families, but there was a price. For allowing white men to bring cattle onto their land, the Indians would be provided with cattle of their own and would be shown how to raise them and how to grow grain, Laird told the chiefs.

Reserves designed for one square mile of land for each five Indians were set aside on the north side of the Bow River twenty miles northwest of Blackfoot Crossing and extending to the junction of the Red Deer and South Saskatchewan Rivers for the Blackfoot, Bloods and Sarcees. The strip of land averaged four miles wide. After ten years, the reserve was to be moved to the south side of the Bow River. The Peigan reserve was to be near the foot of the Porcupine Hills on the Old Man River at Crow's Creek.

Each person was to be paid $12 upon the signing of the Treaty and $5 a year after that. Chiefs were to be paid $25 each, minor chiefs $15 and $2,000 a year was to be paid for distribution among the Indians for ammunition. Once every three years, chiefs and minor chiefs were to receive a new suit of clothing. With the signing of the Treaty, each chief was to receive a flag and medal and during the next year a Winchester rifle. Each band was to be given ten axes, five handsaws, five augers, one grindstone, files and a whetstone.

For the instruction of children on the reserves, the government would hire and pay the salaries of teachers, according to the terms of the treaty.

Each family of five was to receive two head of cattle; families of from five to ten persons, three cows, and families of more than ten, four cows. One bull per band was also to be provided. For those who wanted to try farming, they could take in the place of one cow two hoes, one spade, one seythe and two hayforks. One plough and one harrow would be shared by three families. Potato, barley, oats and wheat seeds would be provided.

The following day, the chiefs replied:

Medicine Calf (Button Chief) of the Bloods: "The Great Spirit sent the white man across the Great Waters to carry out his (the Great Spirit's) ends. The Great Spirit, and not the Great Mother, gave us this land. The Great Mother ( the Queen) sent Stamixotokon (Colonel Macleod) and the Police to put an end to the traffic in firewater. I can sleep now safely. Before the arrival of the Police when I laid my head down at night every sound frightened me; my sleep was broken; now I sleep sound and am not afraid. The Great Mother sent you to this country and we hope she will be good to us for many years. I hope and expect to get plenty; we think we will not get so much as the Indians receive from the Americans on the other side; they got large bags of flour, sugar, tea, and blankets; the next year it was only half the quantity, and the following years it grew less and less, and now they give only a handful of flour. We want to get fifty dollars for the chiefs, and thirty dollars each for all the others, men women and children, and we want the same every year for the future. We want to be paid for all the timber the Police and whites have used since they first came to our country. If it continues to be used as it is, there will soon be no firewood left for the Indians. I hope, Great Father, that you will give us all this that we ask."

Lieutenant-Governor Laird replied: "I think Button Chief is asking too much . . . Why, you Indians ought to pay us rather for sending these traders in firewater away and giving you security and peace, rather than we pay you for timber used." The Indians laughed.

Representing the Peigans was Sitting on an Eagle Tail, who observed that ". . . the advice and help I received from the Police I shall never forget as long as the moon brightens the night, as long as the water runs, and the grass grows in the spring, and I expect to get the same from our Great Mother. I hope she will supply us with flour, tea, tobacco and cattle, seed and farming implements."

The next day, the government's terms were accepted and Button Chief reluctantly agreed. " I must say what all the people say, and I agree with what they say. I cannot make new laws. I will sign."

The great chief of the Bloods, Red Crow, was among several others who spoke the day the treaty was accepted: "Three years ago, when the Police first came to the country, I met and shook hands with Stamixotokon (Colonel Macleod ) at Belly River. Since that time, he made me many promises. He kept them all-not one of them was ever broken. Everything that the police have done has been good. I entirely trust Stamixotokon and will leave everything to him. I will sign with Crowfoot."

Five days after the negotiations had begun, the chiefs and councillors signed the treaty, on September 21. The correspondent for the Globe and Mail was a little concerned with what transpired the following day.

"On Sunday afternoon the Indians fought a sham battle on horseback. They only wore the breech cloths. They fired off their rifles in all directions and sent the bullets whistling past the spectators in such close proximity as to create most unpleasant feelings. I was heartily glad when they filed past singly on the way back to their lodges and the last of their unearthly yells had died away in the distance."

The next three days were taken up with paying off the tribes. Inspector Winder, Subinspector Denny and Sub-inspector Antrobus did the honors, helped by constables from the force. "It was hard work to find out the correct number of each family. Many after receiving their money would return to say that they made a wrong count; one would discover that he had another wife; another two more children, and others that they had blind mothers and lame sisters. In some cases, they wanted to be paid for the babies that were expected to come soon," the Globe and Mail reported. In the end, 4,392 Indians received a total of $53,000.

When the final addresses were made by the Indians, the lieutenant-governor and Colonel Macleod, police interpreter and guide Jerry Potts observed that he had never heard Indians speak out their minds so freely in his life before.

Signatories for the Bloods were head chiefs Red Crow and Rainy Chief and minor chiefs Medicine Calf, Bad Head ( Father of Many Children), Hind Bull, Many Spotted Horses, Running Rabbit, Eagle Rib, Bull Backfat, White Striped Dog, Stolen Person, White Antelope, Wolf Collar, Heavily Whipped, Moon, Eagle Head, Weasel Bull, White Calf, One Spot, Eagle Shoe, Bull Turn Around and Going to the Bear.

For the Peigans, Sitting on an Eagle Tail, Many Swans, Morning Plume and Crow Eagle signed.

Fort Macleod took an immediate part in the signing of the treaty- those who were unable to make it to Blackfoot Crossing signed at the Macleod detachment and received their treaty money. Unfortunately, most did not realize the value of their newly- acquired wealth and ruthless traders soon had it all. The result contributed to the destitution which was soon upon them.

When the Bloods were faced with settling on the arid stretch of land assigned to them along the Bow, they balked. They preferred their winter camping area along the Belly River so officials drew up a new treaty in 1883 setting aside a reserve between the Belly River on the north, the St. Mary River on the east,and a line between the two rivers and the international boundary at 49 degrees, 12 minutes, 16 seconds north latitude.

The 1880's saw both progress and disaster for the Bloods. Some adapted to their new lifestyles, showing an aptitude for farming and even prospered at it. They built cottonwood log houses along the Belly and planted small gardens. From 250 acres of land broken in 1882, 70,000 pounds of turnips and potatoes were harvested. Later, wheat, oats, barley and other vegetables were successfully grown. However, diseases introduced by the white man took their toll and reduced their numbers to 1,776 in 1885 from 2, 488 in 1878. Influenza, whooping cough, measles, scrofula and tuberculosis became epidemics with the help of the conditions under which the Indians lived, their cabins unhealthy and their food scarce. By 1920, the Blood population was less than half what it was a year after the treaty was signed.

During the 1890's, cattle ranching was started on the reserve when Red Crow and Crop Eared Wolf exchanged some of their horses for 15 head of cattle each. Some others acquired lesser amounts, but by 1900 there were 1,500 head of cattle on the reserve.

In 1907, another economic change came with the purchase of a steam ploughing outfit and the hiring of farming instructors. The result, by 1916, was a tally of 65,000 bushels of wheat, 27,000 bushels of barley and 7,600 tons of hay harvested. The Indians had accomplished that by themselves. Crop failures and the First World War caused temporary delays in the progress of the Bloods, but they were on their way as farmers and ranchers.

The Peigans

The post-treaty Peigans followed a pattern similar to that of the Bloods. They started out in the early 1880's planting crops, under the direction of a farming instructor, and were quite successful until a drought in 1886 started about 15 years of crop failures. But, it took the government a while to catch on, to admit its policy of encouraging farming on the Peigan reserve was a mistake. In 1898, Indian agent H. H. Nash finally got through to the government in his report, which suggested that "climatic conditions of wind, drought and frost prohibit successful farming on this reserve." He recommended attention be turned to cattle raising, which, started in the late 1880's, had proven viable.

The cattle industry provided opportunities also for those Indians who did not own any. Jobs were created in herding, rail cutting, hauling and hay sales.

Indian agent Nash's report of 1897 paints a detailed picture of life on the Peigan Reserve. The reserve, sixteen miles west of Fort Macleod, covered 181 square miles, with a timber limit of 11 square miles. Stock-raising and root-growing were listed as resources. Population that year consisted of 189 men, 230 women, 157 boys and 163 girls, a total of 739. The 28 births were surpassed by 41 deaths, mostly from old age, scrofula and consumption. Nash noted a high infant mortality rate, with many children dying before they reached their fourth birthdays. He concluded that the Indians enhanced their health in the spring by moving from their houses to lodges. "The houses in this way get thoroughly aired before winter. The premises are kept fairly clean, all refuse being either burnt or hauled away.

Besides their lucrative ranching operations, the Peigans also made a living working for settlers surrounding the reserve, by freighting, butchering, making rawhide ropes, hackamores, fancy bridles, beadwork and buckskin gloves. "The men also kill wolves and break horses and the women sometimes wash and do other work for settlers."

The agent's assessment was that the Indians were becoming better off with each passing year and were starting to show initiative. He singled out Lost Big Swan, Otter Above, Good Prairie Chicken, Muggins, Pretty Face, Many Chiefs, The Rider, Wolf Robe, Spider, Strong Buffalo, Grassy Water, Commodore, North Peigan, Many Guns, Iron Shirt and Sunday as having well-kept houses.

Missions and Schools

Agent Nash's 1897 report on the Peigan reserve mentioned that the "Indians are not at all susceptible to religious influences, " but it wasn't for a lack of effort on the part of the missionaries.

Starting in 1874, seven missions were established to bring Christianity to the Indians in the Fort Macleod area. Along with the religion, some school was taught at the reserves. The St. Croix parish was built at Fort Macleod in 1874 and was followed by Conversion de St. Paul, St. Charles and St. Paul des Peigan parish on the Peigan reserve and St. Francois Xavier, St. Leon and Ste. Catherine missions on the Blood reserve. Father Scollen and Father Doucette figured prominently in the first missions, founding St. Croix and assisting with others.

Bishop Emile Legal was school inspector for the area from a base at Stand Off between 1883 and 1897. He established a classroom on the Peigan reserve in 1890, which was run by Father Foisy and Brother Jean, a teacher.

In 1885, Bishop Grandin decided to close down the missions in Southern Alberta, but the missionaries here asked him to reconsider. He acceded to their wishes.

Two years earlier, an industrial school for Blood and Peigan children was built near High River. Dunbow School was one of four established on the Prairies to teach academics and trades, largely agriculture, to the Indians. The others were in the Qu'Appelle, Battleford and Edmonton districts.

Father Lacombe chose the Dunbow site and, according to his journal, visited there with Father Vantighem on a trip from Edmonton to Fort Macleod in 1883. A Gazette editorial acknowledged that "it is possible that this school will be under the charge of the Roman Catholic Mission. If this is the case there is no one we should like to see at the head of it more than our good friend Father Lacombe, whose noble and gentle character would soon attach the Indian children to their new home."

According to the Gazette, "The object of the school and proposed method of arrangement are briefly as follows: Young Indian children are to be taken from the camp and placed in the school, where their parents can go and see them as often, in reason, as they choose. They are to be taught gradually the different trades and a little education. The first object will be to attach them to the surroundings and to attain this end, they will be furnished with all kinds of amusement and recreation."

The school remained open until 1922. In 1926, St. Mary's Residential School was opened at Stand Off and the same year Sacred Heart School started at Brocket.

As suggested at the introduction of this chapter, the effect the Indians have had on Fort Macleod and its residents-or, at least Fort Macleod's view of the Indians - has varied greatly. When it came to payment of the treaty money each year, town merchants rubbed their hands in anticipation. When parades accompanied the annual fair and exhibition, the In- dians in their colorful dress were the highlight. At other times, however, many were treated with at best indifference.

Relatively good times in the late 1880's brought new faces to the territories, and the Gazette ran an article on September 20, 1888 for the newcomers entitled, "Indian Trading, What They Buy and How They Buy It." "A Curious Mixture of Humanity and Yellow Dogs":

"One of the important annual events in this part of Alberta is the treaty payments to the Blood and Peigan Indians, or rather the trading in town which follows. The Indians were paid last week, nearly 4,000 of them in all, and for the subsequent two days there was a constant stream from the reserves to town. The Peigans came first. On Saturday the Blood procession began, and all day Sunday they arrived in droves of hundreds. Each family could probably boast of about three dogs to the individual.

On Monday morning it was estimated that there was close on to 2,000 Indians in town. The stores were simply packed with men, women, children and dogs. During almost the entire morning it was absolutely impossible to get from one end of I. G. Baker and Co's store to the other. It is safe to say that no city in the Dominion of Canada presented the same stir as Macleod did on Monday last. An individual examination of the motley crowd was very amusing. The day was very warm, and yet one would see the solemn and dignified visage of some of the old men sur- mounted by the most extra-ordinary designs of heavy fur caps, pulled down well about the ears. Usually these fur caps were minus any top. Everyone talked at once, and the interior of a store was probably as near an approach to bedlam as one would meet in a lifetime.

By the middle 1890s there seemed to be a prevailing attitude that the "savages" must be kept out of Macleod. New settlers moved into the district and a new morality came with them; the wicked uncivilized past would no longer be tolerated .

An editorial carried in the November 14, 1899 edition of the Macleod Advance recognized a resulting problem and the indifference town residents showed toward the Indians:

"In former years during treaty times the merchants of the town were not averse to spending a few dollars for the benefit of the Indians, and to encourage them to come into town to do their trading. The merchants were in the habit of brewing large quantities of strong tea, which would be placed in some convenient spot in the store where the Indians could get at it readily. A barrel of biscuits could be left uncovered close beside the tea and the Indians were then allowed to regale themselves to their hearts' content. Money would also be subscribed and this would be spent in furnishing the dusky customers with sport in the way of horse racing and other kinds. Nowadays, our businessmen, in their eagerness to obtain possession of poor Loo's crisp new dollar bills, seem to have forgotten their old-time custom.

This custom should not be allowed to drop. It is a great drawing card, this consideration for the comfort and pleasure of the Indians. For sometime past, we find that a great many Indians have been visiting Lethbridge, Cardston and Pincher Creek directly they became possessed of the long green, and have almost completely left Macleod men out in the cruel cold. The reason for this is not hard to find. Has this state of things been brought about by the fact that Indians can get better action on their money in those places than in Macleod? No, we think not, but the merchants doing business in the places we have mentioned have drawn the Indian trade their way by reason of the consideration they have shown for the Indians themselves, and are not tight-fisted in the matter of expending a few dollars for the people whose trade they seek to cater to. Macleod was a thriving town years before any of the above mentioned places came into existence. Our businessmen held the confidence of the Indian populace and if they have of late years lost their grip, they must blame themselves for it. The businessmen of Macleod are in shape to cater to this trade, having brought in large quantities of goods suitable for the needs of the Indians. Let them chuck a brace, and those who are in any way likely to benefit by an influx of Indian visitors let them, we say, get up something in the way of sports so that the Indian trade may be directed to Macleod and kept here."

The editorial not only recognized the indifference, but was a good example of it.

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Mary Tollestrup