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The Whoop-Up Trail

Water Works Wonders
A History of the White, Wilson, McMahon,
River Junction School Districts Page 8

With the arrival of the horse on the prairies in the mid 1700's and the arrival of the white man with his interest in the fur trade, routes of travel between trading posts were established across the prairies. These trails were originally travelled by pack horses, then by Red River carts and wagon trains. One such trail, the trunk road winding 210 miles from Fort Benton on the Missouri River to Fort Whoop Up at the junction of the St. Mary and Old Man rivers near Lethbridge, became famous as the Benton Trail and infamous as the Whoop-Up Trail. Back and forth along the trail mule trains passed and repassed rolling in the whiskey barrels and taking back hides and furs.

With the coming of the R.C.M.P. in 1874 and the ending of the whiskey trade, the bull (oxen) teams continued to ply their way back and forth over the Whoop Up Trail, bringing in supplies to the new town of Fort Macleod which had grown up around the police fort. The merchant princes of Fort Benton, the I. G. Baker Company and the rival T. C. Power & Bros. had erected well stocked stores in Fort Macleod and a two way trade flourished.

From time to time some of the whiskey traders had pried a few loads of coal out of the southern Alberta riverbanks. When Nicholas Sheran came to Alberta in 1870 looking for gold, he hit his own bonanza at the junction of the St. Mary and Oldman rivers. There he started a coal mine. In 1872, finding that site unprofitable, he selected a new one close to the present city of Lethbridge. Before long he was shipping coal down the Whoop Up Trail to Fort Benton, and when the police built Fort Macleod he supplied coal to them. The site of his new mine - the future Lethbridge - was called Coal Banks.

With every wagonload of coal hauled across from Coalbanks 35 miles away, Fort Macleod's dominating position was threatened. From its original bearing the Whoop Up Trail branched east and then north to cross the Six Mile coulee at the Tiffin farm and then northeast into Coal Banks.

The coming of the railway quickly ended the long established connection with Fort Benton and from 1883 the Whoop Up Trail began to decline in importance. The last bull train to pass through Lethbridge from Fort Benton was in the spring of 1885.

The old Whoop Up Trail assumed a new significance in 1919 during the Prohibition Era when a flow of Canadian liquor was chugging south in tightly side-curtained McLaughlin Special, Marmons, & Hudson Super Sixes.

When the land is uncropped traces of the wagon trail can be seen to this day on the southeast corner of the Tiffin farms, south of Stan and Ina's residence.

Acknowledgments:Lethbridge - A Centennial History by Alex Johnston/Andy den Otter, and A History of Alberta by James G. MacGregor.

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Copyright 2000
Mary Tollestrup