Sunday, May 18, 2014

North West Mounted Police livestock


I mentioned already that the North West Mounted Police brought both horses and cattle into the North West Territories. A few of those animals even survived the trip.

If is apparent that those implementing the idea of a mounted police force to administer national and personal security in the territory had no idea of the area, the terrain, the numbers of people in residence, the weather or any other aspect of the country. The money spent on the venture was completely inadequate as was the equipment and animals chosen.

Of course, as is the case with ventures today, many of the choices were made due to the training and previous experience of those responsible for the decisions. The new commissioner of the force appointed by Prime Minister MacDonald was a man of military training and experience. He had attended Sandhurst military academy, been commissioned in the Royal Artillery and seconded to the Canadian militia where he eventually became head of the Gunnery School at Kingston.

Colonel French had very specific ideas about how a military command or a quasi-military police force should be directed and how such a group of troopers should conduct themselves. Those ideas where from the British Isles, from his military training, from his artillery experience and had nothing to do with the specifics to be found on the Canadian prairies.

This is probably a good time to mention the peculiar circumstances of rank to be found in the early NW Mounted Police since it might become confusing as we continue. Commissioner French had been a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Royal Artillery and retained the designation “Colonel” in the police force but this was not exactly a continuation of his army rank since the Act which created the force also designated that the rank of ‘Commissioner’ was equal to a military rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. Similarly, superintendent/inspector was equal to captain, superintendent/sub-inspector a lieutenant, paymaster a captain and a veterinary surgeon a lieutenant. Within the ranks those seven non-commissioned officers leading the six Divisions and Headquarters Troops (A through F and H) officially designated ‘chief constables’ were addressed by the men as ‘Sergeant Major.’ The full constables, close to sixty in number were called ‘Sergeant’ and to make it all more confusing the rest of the men (about 260 after the ‘weeding out’ process), officially designated ‘sub-constables’ and equal to a private were addressed as ‘sub-constable.”

However, back to the livestock and why it was chosen.

The original nine officers were chosen and appointed in 1873. That same summer the first hundred and fifty farmers, teachers and store clerks were chosen, quickly assembled at “New Fort” (in Toronto) then loaded on Great Lake freighters and sent to the lake-head. From Fort William (Thunder Bay) they walked the “Dawson Route” to Lower Fort Garry where they spent the winter.

The so-called Dawson Route, named after George Dawson the same civil engineer whose name is on Dawson Creek and Dawson City proved to be as much a warehouse as a route. More than half the equipment and supplies the fledgling policemen stepped off the ships with was stored along the trail. On two occasions camps made on low ground where subject to heavy rain followed by freezing temperatures. On each of those mornings something or several somethings could not be retrieved as they were frozen into the swampy ground. Some of it was recovered the following spring.

Following appointment of French as Commissioner in’73 he spent a great deal of his time ensuring that Canada’s Federal Government who had passed the Act creating the force would actually support it once it was more than a few words on paper. Having been assured of such support he began the recruitment of another 150 men and made arrangements for their initial training. That accomplished he went south to the US, caught a train for Fargo, Dakota Territory, a dogsled to Fort Dufferin, Manitoba, rented a horse and wound up in Fort Gary, Manitoba fifteen days later.

Colonel French was not particularly thrilled with what he found in Fort Gary. In his diary he remarked that “the officers generally are a good lot of fellows but … 15 or 20 of the men should never have been sent here being altogether too weak.” With the aid of a local civilian doctor (David Young) French had already discharged 19 men for a variety of maladies but rectified the shortfall in manpower by increasing the second recruitment to 200 men upon his return to Toronto in February.

He was also less than pleased with the horses. Thirty eight had been purchased locally and another thirty four where eventually purchased in Dakota Territory all of them “westernized” and mustangs. French’s comment in his notes is that “the animals are scarcely fit for our work.” He goes on to say that he believes they will need “200 or 300 horses which will have to come from Canada or the States as they are not to be had here.”

A constant micro-manager French insisted on interfering with aspects of the venture in which he had not experience whatever. For example travel in the west by large bodies of men had always been done with pemmican as the main staple. However French decided that instead of using the tried and true the Mounted Police would take a “walking larder” of cattle.

On July 8, 1874 the North West Mounted Police led by Commissioner George A. French left Fort Dufferin, Manitoba. In attendance was the Assistant Commissioner, James Macleod, 26 officers and non-commissioned officers, 247 constables and sub-constables and 7 Métis guides and scouts. Another 20 Métis assisted by troopers were driving and caring for 114 Red River carts and 73 wagons. Some of the wagons were pulled by horses but most and all the carts were pulled by the 142 oxen in the train. Of the 311 horses 240 of them had been brought by train from the east and those that where not thoroughbred did have a great many thoroughbreds in their ancestry. To round out their livestock was a herd of eleven bulls and fifty four cows that had already started calving.

(At this point some readers will understand how this tale fits in with previous posts concerning the growth of the cattle business in Western Canada.)

A few of the more senior officers had a vague idea of their destination. The troopers had been informed they would be going to the west to stop the whiskey trade. Commissioner French thought they would make the trip in less than half the time they would actually use. None of them had any idea of the horror they where stepping into.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Cattle Drives in Western Canada Part 3: Changing, Growing and Blending



            Earlier I mentioned the sources of the cattle that made their way to British Columbia and the Canadian Prairies or the North West Territories as they where called at the time. Also mentioned earlier, was that during the first fifteen years the beef business was growing in British Columbia the NWT didn’t have cattle because the Prairies were full of Buffalo though in the north these herds were already diminishing rapidly.
          Along the west coast of North America the cattle business had been building for more than two hundred years. Black Spanish cattle had been brought to California from both Mexico and by ship from Spain. North of there the heavier cattle or Shorthorns brought west from the mid-west and eastern States primarily during the 1840s and 50s where well established. These two west coast communities where relatively close to each other in relation to other established communities and as a result they each imported characteristics of each other’s cattle, horses and tack.
         In the beginning there was a great difference between the horses found in the two areas. Down in California the vaquero rode a long legged animal of a thousand or 1200 pounds which had developed from the military horses of the conquistadors. Up in Oregon the vast majority of horses were draft animals of around 2000 pounds which had been used along with teams of oxen to haul a family’s worldly possessions across the plains to a new home. The “light” riding horses started at a weight of about 1200 which was of  a size where the California horses where turned to cart or wagon work.
       To avoid breeding his cattle with close relatives the Californiahidalgo” might buy or trade for a bull from Oregon. This deal or several like it would bring the weight of California’s Spanish cattle up by two or three hundred pounds and in rare cases as much as 500 pounds.
       In Oregon a rancher or several of them may want a smaller bull for their heifers (young cows that have not yet had a calf) so that their initial births would be easier. A deal is made for one of the Spanish bulls which they hope will bring the weight of a heifer’s calf down from 80 or 90 pounds to 50 or 60 pounds. In practice the calves are slightly smaller and easier on the heifers but the blood line of the larger parent wins out. There is a decrease in the size of the resultant mature animals but not by a great deal. As a result the Oregon cattle were still larger than the California cattle despite the insertion of a few smaller animals into the herds.
        With a few years of ranching the desired characteristics of the breeds of cattle are strengthened and enhanced. The Oregon cattle tend to be larger with both more beef and flavor enhancing fat than their California parents. From the Spanish/California animals they inherit toughness and fighting ability (in many cases including enhanced horns) to contend with northern weather, mountain lions and wolves. These new Oregon animals also seem to survive and grow on far worse feed than the earlier Shorthorns and milk cows from Illinois and Kentucky.
         Along with the blood of the Spanish cattle Oregon pioneers also imported some drovers from the south. At least that is what they had called them back in Illinois and Kentucky when they trailed cattle on foot down the Mississippi to New Orleans. Out here in Oregon these drovers insisted on being called vaqueros which, as with many Spanish words twisted by an English speaking tongue soon became “buckaroo.”
         There are professions throughout history in which participants have not learned and practiced their professions solely for – and in some cases in spite of – the expected monetary remuneration. The buckaroo west of the mountains and the cowboy out on the prairies are prime examples as are a few contemporary professions. They all do it for the contribution they can make to society, to support an honorable or moral lifestyle, to maintain a measure of pride and/or to make a flashy or memorable mark as they go through life.
            The buckaroos took pride in their equipment and their ability to use it productively. From the vaquero they inherited the long (sometimes 60 feet) braided catch rope or lariat. In Oregon some learned from the mid-west and Mississippi drovers the use of a leather or rawhide, swivel handled “bull” whip to handle cattle. Ornate saddles with wide forks, large horns, intricate leather tooling and tapaderos hooding the stirrups.
            The equipment on the horse’s head was also unique in many respects and served to make the buckaroo stand out. The younger horses would be controlled or directed with a rawhide “bosal” around the nose and with the appropriate headstall creating a hackamore. Mounts of more than six years might still wear a hackamore or have any of several dozen styles of bit in their mouth. Whatever bit was chosen it would probably be very fancy if the buckaroo could afford it. They trained their mounts differently than the cowboys over the mountains, generally started them earlier and expected more of them.
            The buckaroo needed his equipment to operate as he had been taught. He had a single cinch saddle to save weight so used a long rope and a big, leather wrapped horn so he could wrap the rope around the horn (take a “dally”) and play it out until he could trip the steer he had caught or another rider could put a loop on it. Had he ‘tied fast’ to the horn he was likely to break his rope or have the saddle pulled from his mount.
            The equipment also served an important part in expressing the pride he felt in his profession and the image he presented. The ability to cast a loop a long way and actually catch something was a source of pride. Catching a steer as heavy as your mount and downing him without breaking any equipment was a large part of who the vaquero was. This also extended to the wide sombrero, fancy spurs, silver mountings on tack and personnel dress as well as the fancy leather work. Some of this was just for show but most of it also had a practical use.
            The drovers who brought cattle up from Texas and were eventually known as cowboys developed in somewhat similar ways from somewhat different forces. When the Texan came back from the Civil War he found the numbers of men between 15 and 35 had been drastically reduced by the recent conflict. With Northern “Reconstruction” forces controlling the whole state there was little work for anyone who had supported the Confederacy. The lack of work was doubly serious for those who had spent as many as four years marching at an age when they would normally be learning a trade.
            One thing that Texas did have in abundance was cattle that no one wanted. For several years before the war there had been little sale for the animals except for hide and tallow which didn’t bring much money and did not supply a reason to turn away from raising such crops as cotton. Thus, for at least ten years (and perhaps, depending on the country as many as 50 years) the Spanish cattle mixed with a few animals from Kentucky and Louisiana had developed into the Texas Longhorn.
            Up in the Industrial North manufacturing was growing as was the population. A railroad that had been started and halted due to the war was continuing on toward the west coast. All these people up there needed meat and Texas beef would do just fine, even if some of it was more than 10 years old. Thus began the many trail drives from Texas and Arizona Territory north to meet the railroad.
            There was thought to be tens of thousands of cattle out there in the brush. When they eventually began rounding them up and trailing them north there proved to be far more than expected. There was more than enough product but there just wasn’t enough equipment.
            The first problem was horses to drive the cattle. There were thousands of them as well, some in the bush but most on the plains since a horse’s defense from predators is speed. Most of them were fairly small animals, eight hundred to a thousand pounds and some even smaller. They were very fast and tougher than most animals twice their size. Once captured and broken well enough to carry a man they were known as “cow ponies” or “cayuses” and proved to be the best mount for working the Longhorn.
            The next problem was the tack to be mounted on the wild horse if enough could be caught and trained well enough to make a drive. There were saddles around but many of them in poor repair. Offsetting that was the large supplies of available leather from hides that had not managed a sale during the War. A large supply of metal items such as used horse shoes also existed and could be turned into cinch rings, bits, and re-enforcement for weak saddle trees.
            Following more than a year of training for both men and horses large herds where headed north to the rails. They drove to camps at the end of rail that grew overnight into towns and as the construction moved on disappeared completely. Some of those towns hung on and as the years passed grew into cities. Places like Hays City, Abilene, and Dodge City in Kansas. Later it was Cheyenne, Laramie and Saratoga in what is now Wyoming.
            When the east and the stock yards in Chicago had enough beef the price began to drop. There was still beef hiding in the thickets of Texas and young men who needed work and knew how to do little else than herd cattle. Now the cows were driven to ranges in Dakota, Wyoming and Montana Territories.
            Of course, these cattle on northern ranges needed a few men to treat them when injured or carrying parasites or to move them to better range when grass or water is in short supply. Caring for the herd on a specific range requires far fewer men than it takes to drive it but some of those Texas men stayed with the cattle, perhaps to have steady work, perhaps to avoid a problem in the south, or perhaps because they simply enjoyed the coutnry.
            In the late 1870s there developed a need for beef in the land north of the 49th parallel which, up until the late ‘60s had been British. Now it was a new country called Canada and they had 300 men up there called Mounted Police looking after it (also interpreted as interfering with free trade) and they needed to be fed. Every summer small herds of cattle were trailed up from Fort Benton to Fort Macleod, Fort Walsh and Fort Saskatchewan.
            Starting in 1881 that land to the north needed far more than a few hundred steers and a few milk cows. The Canadian railroad was across the prairies and their federal government began issuing large tracts of land to companies from Central Canada, the United States and Europe. These leases were cheap and tens of thousands of acres in size. They required thousands of cattle and dozens of cowboys to make them pay.
            In the early years it was easy to see the difference. For twenty years starting in 1860 the buckaroo west of the Rocky Mountains was likely to be mounted on a single rigged saddle cinched to a 1200 or 1500 pound horse, controlled with a hackamore, have tapaderos on his stirrups, two or three inch rowels on his fancy spurs and a sash around his middle that held his pistol. The “rieta” on his saddle might be of manila but it could be of hand braided leather or actually be a whip. His “chaparejos” or chaps may have been of ¾ length (mid-calf) and his boot tops reaching to just beneath the knee. All his gear, from hat to boots to bridle would be as fancy as he could afford.
            Over on the east slope the cowboy’s equipment and appearance was more utilitarian. In the late ‘70s and in real numbers starting in 1880 the cowboy on the east side of the Rockies would have been mounted on a cow pony of 800 to 1000 pounds. His saddle would have been double rigged and plain leather as were his chaps. His “lasso” would have been manila or hemp and his spurs no larger than required to do the job, not because he didn’t like fancy spurs but because he couldn’t afford them. His chaps would be of full length, reaching down to his ankle. His revolver might be behind a belt on his waist but more likely to be in a holster on his saddle, depending on the danger presented by the animals he was herding or the one he was sitting on.
            All these men were strong on individualism so there might be items that did not follow the general pattern. Perhaps the buckaroo did not have the money to dress as fancy as he would like or perhaps he traded his pistol and sash for fancy spurs. There where many native buckaroos (particularly of the Chilcotin and Similkameen peoples) and they often sent a great deal of their pay to family members and didn’t have enough to get too fancy in their dress. Over on the east slope a cowboy might spend all his pay on fancy dress and tack thus standing out from his contemporaries who spent their money on gambling, liquor (which was very expensive since the Mounties made the country dry), land and building their own ranches.
            Similar exceptions occurred in the animals. The horses that the Mounted Police brought with them had been chosen as the best suited for cavalry and artillery duty. A better choice would have been the “cayuses” favored by the Métis but some of the military horses survived and resulted in some larger horses in the Territories.
            As years passed the drovers on each side of the mountains drifted together and their differences disappeared.
            It started with the need for larger cattle. Those buying beef in the east wanted more fat on the animals for better flavor. Since beef was (and is) sold by the pound those raising cattle wanted more money per animal and for the animal to put that weight on as fast as possible. It was also discovered that though the Longhorn was tough and could handle winter weather and periods of drought the larger animals with some Shorthorn in their ancestry handled it well enough but recovered faster.
            Thousands of cattle where trailed in from both British Columbia and Oregon to the North West Territories. By 1890 the Longhorn had almost disappeared in the north and when the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan were formed out of the NW Territories in 1905 many people thought a “longhorn” was “that Hereford bull out there that needs to be de-horned.”
            Larger cattle meant a need for larger horses. As time and distance separated the buckaroo from the vaquero and brush country demanded a small loop and close work there were fewer who knew how to use the long braided rope and dally. Nineteen times out of twenty the stiff fiber lariat was tied to the horn of a double rigged saddle. The tough, quick little cow pony could still be found but more often than not the horse used to herd cattle or ride a fence line was between a thousand and fifteen hundred pounds.
            Over the years the preferences for tack and dress have blended until differences are difficult to detect. Riders on both sides of the mountains might prefer smooth, slick fork saddles with relatively high cantles. Likewise fancy spurs with big rowels and hat-bands with silver conchos will be seen on working dress in the Pincher Creek area of Alberta or in the Chilcotin Country of BC.

Research:
The information presented in the articles concerning the cattle business in Western Canada comes from a variety of sources.
“The West Beyond the West: a history of British Columbia” --- Jean Barman
“Frontier Days in British Columbia” --- Edited by Garnet Basque
“Frontier Cowboys and the Great Divide” - - - Ken Mather
“Buckaroos and Mud Pups” --- Ken Mather
“Cariboo-Chilcotin” --- Irene Stangoe
From interviews and conversations with old-time cattlemen, horsemen and a blacksmith from Southern Alberta; René Dhenin, George McLaughlin, Jim Cuelley, and Harold Baker.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Cattle Drives in Western Canada, Part 2


Almost anyone will agree that Southern Alberta is the centre of the Canadian Cattle Industry. There is an argument that a couple of ranches west of the mountains are larger than any on the east slope. Those on that east slope can argue that Southern Alberta produces more cattle both for feeding and for market. One argument that can not be denied is that Western Canada’s cattle business did not start off in the Southern Alberta area but in Southern BC.

            In 1869 British Columbia had already spent ten years establishing herds of cattle and horses and farms producing pork, dairy products, oats, barley, wheat and many other items. The land east of the Rocky Mountains had little more than a few garden plots as far east as the Assiniboine and Red Rivers or Fort Gary. (You may know it now as Winnipeg.) The two year old country of Canada had just taken over that vast stretch of land which included the area the former manager (Hudson’s Bay Co.) called Rupert’s Land. It was still the home of all the Hudson’s Bay trading posts that had been there before but the factors of those posts no longer managed or supplied security for anything more than the actual storage and trading areas.

            It is true that being responsible for several hundred thousands of square miles of land is a serious responsibility for a two year old government but that was a small fraction of their worry. They also had several thousand Métis residents who had been the work force that kept the Hudson’s Bay Company operational for several generations but where now French speaking Catholics in a world controlled by English speaking Protestants. They also had a neighbour to the south who was ten times larger by population, even after a devastating Civil War, many of whom believed it was their Manifest Destiny to govern all of North America. Whiskey traders were also bringing in alcohol, much of it lethal and selling it to the natives who, if they didn’t die from the so called “whiskey” itself wound up killing each other in alcohol induced fights or freezing in the snow. Then, the last straw was a drunken battle in the Cypress Hills between a group of wolfers and about three hundred Nakota where 23 of the Indians where killed.

            (This is the battle at the end of the award winning novel “The Englishman’s Boy” by Guy Vanderhaeghe which became the award winning TV mini series with Michael Eisner in the lead role.)

            The Prime Minister, John A. McDonald with a great deal of help from advisers, decided Canada’s North West Territories needed a police force the size of a small army. Eventually this force was formed – after the usual time and money wasting as is associated with any bureaucratic body – and called the North West Mounted Police.

            Despite his demands what John A actually got was a force the size of a small battalion.

            What does this have to do with cattle drives? It meant the immigration of a small body of consumers of beef and relative safety for settlers or more consumers.

In the late summer of 1874 two hundred and seventy former farmers and military men where living and working on the Canadian prairies and they needed to be fed. This doesn’t require a large herd every year but it does require some cattle and if possible a few pigs and chickens.

Those first cattle came from Montana to places like Fort MacLeod, Fort Walsh and Fort Saskatchewan. Most of these were the wild, long horn animals that had been trailed up from Texas during the nine years since the end of the Civil War.

Later it became apparent to commanding officers – Walsh, MacLeod, and many of those under them – that the Blackfoot where not going to receive the meat they had been promised. Though they didn’t have clearance or the money a few extra cattle where added to the herds from the south and, along with some trapping and hunting the Blackfoot people managed to survive.

When in 1876 Sitting Bull’s people came north of the 49th parallel after the Battle of Little Big Horn, money was found for a few more cattle.  Not enough to feed both the Lakota and the Blackfoot but, with a little special management, enough to avoid embarrassment for government people and enough to avoid an Indian war.

Feeding the various native tribes was a problem that continued for most of those last years of the nineteenth century. As a small example, George and Edward Maunsell had 103 head of cattle delivered to Southern Alberta in June, 1879 to start a ranch. In the fall of that year when the local ranchers completed their roundup the Maunsells (who had participated in the roundup) found they had 54 head. The Blackfoot, Cree, Assiniboine and Lakota managed to survive but relations between these people, the ranchers and the Mounties took a very long time to recover even though it was the “toffs” in Ottawa that created the antagonism.

Having heard of the arrival of the Mounted Police on the plains a man named John Shaw, along with Frank O’Keefe and Charles Ashton took two hundred cows and a hundred eighty seven steers through the North Kootney Pass. They arrived in Morley, North West Territories in August 1875 but there was little sale for their cattle since supply had already been received from Montana. Shaw rode north to see if there was sale for his beef at Fort Edmonton (Hudson’s Bay) or Fort Saskatchewan (NWM Police) but those sites had also been supplied by animals from the south.

There were several bringing cattle up from Montana in those early years most notably George Emerson and Tom Lynch. The foundation for these animals was the Texas longhorn but in the 1870s they where beginning to be bread with heavier animals from Oregon.

During the fall and winter a great deal of building took place a short distance from Morley where John Shaw had returned after his unsuccessful trip north. The Mounted Police built a new post, the Hudson’s Bay Company expanded their post and I.G Baker of Fort Benton built a post. Next to the Police post was the T.C Power & Brother store, Harry Taylor’s billiard hall and some Métis cabins.

This new NWMP post which had been named Fort Brisebois after the Officer Commanding the detachment was renamed by Assistant Commissioner Irvine at the suggestion of Colonel Macleod.  Thus in the spring of 1876 John Shaw, having completed a sale to the NWMP through an agent finally began delivering his BC cattle, the first herd to be sold in Calgary. The name of the post came from Calgary House on the Isle of Mull in Scotland. The first cattle in Canada’s premier “cow-town” came from the Chilcotin and Okanogan countries in B.C.

What really increased the cattle business was the railroad reaching into the plains. In 1881 the Canadian government opened large areas for ranching leases. These ranches, usually were of several thousand acres and supplied with financing from Eastern Canada, the US or England. A few years later the Homestead Act was instituted and the large ranches gained neighbours of 160 to 640 acres.

Going back a couple of years and a couple of paragraphs, many of the cattle that came in to stock these new ranches where driven by George Emerson and Tom Lynch. In both 1779 and 1880 they brought 1000 head in from Montana, selling many of them to the growing number of settlers around the Fort Macleod area but also building up herds for themselves.  In 1883 a herd of 3000 head for the newly formed North West Cattle Company and in ’84 another 2000 head.

It will be evident that the few men mentioned are not the only ones who brought cattle into the North West Territories during these years. By 1884 when the Transcontinental Railway was working its way up the foothills and into the mountains the range was already overstocked and full of many thousands of cattle.

In 1885 the Mounties went east to join the Canadian Militia in putting down the Riel Rebellion.

The three member nations of the Blackfoot Confederacy hunkered down on their reserves to ensure the white men didn’t think they where involved with the Métis and Cree fighting that war. While attempting to stay out of sight they began entertaining the idea of raising cattle along with the horses. They still had a few of each despite their living conditions and within a few years managed to acquire the government loan of bulls to build those herds.

During the years from the US Civil War (1865) until 1886 millions of cattle had been moved around on the surface of North America. Several of those millions had wound up in the slaughterhouses of Chicago. Several hundred thousand had become the foundation of herds in those areas that are now the states of Montana (1889), Wyoming (1890), and the Dakotas (1889) and through the usual forces of nature became millions.

The same forces where pressuring the Canadian cattle industry. Every year the price for beef would fall a little in the east and every year a little more money was demanded of those raising cattle. In the case of the large “combines” with several thousand cattle the demand was from the ranch owners in offices on Wall Street, Young Street or Fleet Street. In the case of the small operators the cash demands where from bankers and suppliers. Consequently on ranches from Fort Edmonton to El Paso the land was overgrazed.

During the winter of 1886 – ’87 nature solved the overgrazing problem. The most severe winter in many years that surprised everyone but the oldest trappers and natives killed thousands of cattle, horses, sheep, Wapiti, moose, deer and many other animals. Some of the smaller farmers who managed time to cut some hay and didn’t have many animals in the first place only lost 20% of their animals. Some of the larger ranches lost 80% and a couple even more. An estimated average for losses in Western North America that winter is 75%. It was the beginning of the end of the open range.

 

            Next time, I’ll mention some horses.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Cattle Drives in Western Canada, Part 1


Many movies and perhaps a hundred times as many novels have been made about the cattle that were moved from Texas to Kansas and Montana. It doesn’t take a great deal of contemplation to understand that the fifteen years of these cattle drives resulted in dramatic changes for all segments of society from the Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi. Some may not realize that these drives had an effect on all inhabited areas of North America, perhaps not at the time but a very short time afterward. Therefore the number of movies and novels and those still thinking and talking about it a hundred and thirty years after the fact is understandable.

There have been other historical and important movements of livestock that have been almost forgotten. Some of these took place in small numbers before the intrusion of European settlers, most notably by those of the Iroquois or Seminole Confederations and for other peoples who’s DNA has been absorbed by other peoples and, as a nation, no longer exist. It would take a very big book to document all of the livestock management from turkeys through to today so for this posting I’ll just go back to the mid 1800s.

Besides, the late 19th century is where most of my stories take place so that’s where most of my research has been centred.

Most agree that the first wagon train of immigrants heading to the west coast of what is now the United States did so in 1836. They where headed in the general direction of Fort Astoria which was started by what had been a group of “free trappers” operating in competition to the Hudson’s Bay Company and the North West Trading Company and eventually formed the American Fur Company. The Lewis and Clark expedition commissioned by Thomas Jefferson made the trip in 1804 several decades after the first trapper.

No, the first wagon trains did not go to California because in 1836 it was still part of Mexico. It would not become part of the United States until 1848 and the end of the Mexican-American War.

The immigrants to Oregon took with them Shorthorn Cattle and milk cows. By the start of the US Civil War these cattle, along with the Mexican and Spanish cattle in California (not to be confused with the wild Texas cattle descendant from the same stock) had grown into large herds that the owners couldn’t sell.

A great many things happened between 1836 and the Civil War but for the purposes of this article it all began in 1858. That year some Indian trappers brought, along with their winter’s catch of fur, a leather pouch of gold into the Hudson’ Bay trading post at Fort Hope.

The rush was on.

In the summer of 1859 the half dozen white trappers in what is now British Columbia where joined, much to their disgust by an estimated 8000 white gold hunters. The gold proved to be very fine and hard to gather. During those first years there were few pack trains operating, wagons where almost useless past Fort Hope and many tons of supplies where carried on some man’s back ... well several men actually. Thus supplies where very expensive and the gold to pay for them was not in great supply. Most of the miners left that fall but the following year more than 10,000 showed up.

It doesn’t take very many lead-footed, clumsy, loud talking, inconsiderate miners to chase the wildlife out of the country. If a miner hasn’t traded his rifle for a gold pan he might be able to hunt for venison but he also might be gone for a week. If he is gone for a week he won’t be collecting any gold and someone might try to jump his claim.

As a side note, not many miners where willing to give up their weapons for any reason particularly during those early years. Despite the advent of Gold Commissioners and Colonial Police appointed by Governor Douglas there were still instances of claim jumping and other thefts. In addition the Indian wars; in 1858 there was the Fraser Canyon War (aka the Thompson River Indian War) and in 1863 the Chilcotin War.  

Miners, if they have gold, will buy beef. Ten thousand miners will buy a great deal of beef. After several weeks eating dandelion greens, bannock and spruce tea they’ll buy thin, stringy beef.

The first small herds of cattle where driven down the Columbia River by land and boat or raft to head of Puget Sound. From there they where loaded on boats and shipped to Fort Victoria and the Lower Fraser. However, that was expensive and a new, cheaper route that could handle greater volume was required.

Several routs where tried and most of them required a drive from the source, the Willamette Valley or California’s Sacramento Valley perhaps, east on the Columbia to The Dalles and then north across the border. There where a half dozen trails each with detours demanded by weather, grass or water conditions but in general most cattle went through the Okanogan Valley to Fort Kamloops. From here the head drover (or buckaroo as they were called in BC) would decide what gold field they would go to, what butcher / packer / meat retailer would buy them or where they would be pastured until the price was better.

From 1858 until 1868 about 22,000 head of cattle crossed the border at the Osoyoos Lake customs station.

            Next time I’ll post a note about the start of the cattle and horse business on the east side of the Rocky Mountains in what was then called the North West Territories.

The primary source for information in this article is the work of Ken Mather. For reading that is both informative and entertaining along with some vitiage pictures check out his “Buckaroos and Mud Pups,” “Bronc Busters and Hay Sloops” or “Frontier Cowboys and the Great Divide.” There are another dozen sources that I have read over the years, all of them informative and most still in my collection. But I have found Mather’s work to be well supported by the others and the only ones I have referred too during this writing.
By the way, if you're interested in cowboys and cattle drives you'll probably be interested in western music and cowboy poetry. Check out Tom Cole and Brian Salmond at

Sunday, April 6, 2014

An Excerpt from “Jake’s Justice”


 
 
 
 
 
Here is a few pages from a novel I wrote last year and which I’m hoping to see published in 2014. I have three edited but this is the one I would like to do first. The story opens in the spring as Jake comes out of the mountains to sell his furs to the Hudson’ Bay Company. Except for four trips out to sell furs and buy supplies Jake has been hiding in those mountains, mostly from himself, for three years. He expects this trip out to be no more than two weeks long but his plans and his life are about to be changed once again.
 

 In the west of the 1890s Jake’s wife is raped and murdered, an image from which he attempts to escape and hide. When two thugs attempt to take what little else he has he realizes he must face the past and solve the crime to truly escape the image. To find the killer he will find more surprises.
 
        The first part of the trip went as Jake had planned; and since it was his fourth trip down to Ft. St. John this was not a particular surprise. It had been a short, mild winter and he was late enough in the season that he saw very little ice, except for a few small pieces melting away from their perches on driftwood where they had been forced by the earlier heavy run off. The water was still high enough that he could avoid portaging, but low enough that he managed to keep the canoe upright with his cargo inside the craft.
       Some stretches of river did create heart pounding moments. Jake was not one to admit it, even to himself, but adrenaline flowed and he worked hard to avoid rocks and whirlpools. Chester, in his assigned space at the front of the canoe, put his chin on the ribbing and his paws over his nose.
      There was just enough light for Jake to shoot the last rapids on the Finlay, and enough dark that he could steer wide around the settlement of Finlay Forks without attracting attention. Everyone stopped at the landing. After a winter in the bush most men wanted company and conversation. Jake wanted neither. He also didn’t want to put up with fur traders trying to deal him out of his pelts for less than top price.
       Two men did see him from the dock as he turned into the Peace River. One was known as Sam Twice. He had been born into the Beaver Nation but was accepted at no lodge, including that of his own family. The other was Martin Prentice, a man who definitely was wanted. He was wanted by the law in both the State of New York and the Province of Ontario. The town police in Winnipeg and Calgary would have also liked to talk to him, but they were not aware he was the one who had committed the crimes.
      In the twilight Sam Twice made a flicking motion with one finger toward the silhouette out on the water. “Him maybe got fur,” he said.
      “I expect he does,” Martin agreed. He took a swig from the jug he held and passed it to Sam. “Perhaps he also has a small poke of gold he’s panned out of streams.”
      “Why him not come in?” Sam asked. He flicked a finger toward the large cabin that served as store, saloon, and hotel as long as one wasn’t too particular about prices, liquor quality, or sleeping on the floor. He took a swig from the jug which the two had purchased at the store. Sam didn’t care about the quality of the refreshment since he had never had anything better.
      “I expect he wants more than half price for his pelts,” Martin replied. “He’ll take them down to Ft. St. John where he’ll get as much as he can get in this country.”
      “Don’ like that man boss that Fort John place,” Sam said. “He marry Beaver girl. She nice girl, one time.”
      Martin looked at Sam a moment. He knew there was much about Sam’s past that he didn’t know, but he didn’t really care. Sam was useful from time to time, and that was all the mattered. “I heard his wife was Cree, but what do I know? I’ve never even seen the woman.”
      Sam grunted, giving Martin no idea what he meant.
      Martin waved toward the silhouette of man and canoe fading into the gathering darkness. “Now, that pilgrim will undoubtedly stop for the night. Tomorrow he’ll go on to Portage Mountain. If we were to float down the river right now we could be at Portage to meet him.”
      “I like maybe stay here an’ drink,” Sam objected. He wasn’t one to hasten toward any effort that wasn’t absolutely necessary.
      “How would you like to have a nice canoe?” Martin asked.
      Sam looked at Martin with hard, cold eyes. “I get canoe an’ you get fur?”
      “No, no,” Martin objected. “We split the furs and you get the canoe. After all, I already have a canoe.”
      Sam nodded several times, then placed the cork in the jug and hit it with the heel of his hand. “We go.”
 

2

 
Peace River, Portage Mountain, British Columbia, 1898
 
      There was no question about pulling out of the water upriver from Portage Mountain. Even in late August, when the water flow may have dropped several feet, no one in their right mind would try to shoot the Peace Canyon.
      It was mid afternoon of their second day of travel when Jake pulled in to the river bank. Chester jumped out onto dry ground and ran to the nearest aspen where he lifted his leg.
      Pulling the canoe up so the current couldn’t take it, Jake said, “Mighty fine idea, Chester. You’re a smart dog.”
      Jake unloaded his canoe and dragged the craft up onto dry ground. Chester sat on his haunches, looked at the bales of furs and supplies, swung his gaze up the trail, and then looked back at the cargo.
      “We ain’t in a hurry, Chester. We’ll spend the night here. Go see if yuh can find a rabbit.”
      Chester headed off into the bush and Jake collected firewood.
      At the start and end of any portage there are well-used camp areas; and if the trail to more water is long enough, more stopping places along the way. The Portage Mountain trail - a long walk without carrying a pack - was no exception. There were several sites that had been used on the upriver end. Jake chose one of the spots as far back as possible from the trail end and riverbank and started his fire. If there were other travellers, he wanted to avoid company if possible. He didn’t mind carrying a little water.
      While the fire burned down to coals he moved his freight and canoe up to the camp site. Gathering firewood, he noticed a small aspen sapling and cut it with his knife. Back at the fire he skewered a piece of moose meat with the green stick and drove the butt end of the stick into the ground so the meat was suspended over the coals.
      As the meat was heating up to a sizzle he mixed up some bannock batter, wound it around another piece of green stick and propped that over the fire.
      Chester sauntered into camp and dropped to the ground at the edge of firelight.
      “You’re getting lazy, old man,” Jake said. “First smell o’ cookin’ meat an’ you come back.”
      He turned his gaze to the hound and saw the relaxed, satisfied look and the long tongue licking lips.
      “I apologise, old man. I don’t know what you mighta found t’ eat on this pile o’ rocks, but you’ve found somethin’.”
      When he finished eating and washing up, Jake threw a couple of sticks on the fire and propped the canoe up so it would collect and hold the heat for his bed. He propped himself up against a dry log, loaded his pipe and leaned back puffing contentedly.
       "Nothin’ wrong with this, Ches. Nice warm night.”
        Surprised at his master’s good mood, Chester grunted.
        During breakfast the next morning Jake decided to continue taking it easy. Even though the two bundles of furs were not very large he would pack them around the mountain one at a time. The four fresh plews had not been properly treated, but they were dry so he decided to tie them on to one of the bundles. He pulled a bag full of string and sinew from his possibles pack and wrapped the hides in places, cutting the ends of sinew off and putting them back in the bag.
       He was already on the trail when he realized he hadn’t put his knife back in the sheath. He hesitated, decided he would pick it up on the next trip, and started off again.
       He had only taken a few steps when he heard Chester off the trail to his right. There was the beginning of a bark followed by a howl that was abruptly cut off. Jake swung the pack of furs from his shoulders, dropped it to the trail, and stepped into the brush.
      There was blinding pain from the back of his skull. He saw a light as bright as the sun. Then he fell into blackness.

 

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Concussions are not a great deal of fun!


 
A month ago now I fell off a fuel storage tank and landed on my head. It was not one of my more favourable experiences. It could have been worse; for some reason my hard hat stayed on my head thereby avoiding a broken scull. As it is I’ve been a month attempting to give a “bleed” time to heal up. In addition I’ve had continual days of headaches. They have reduced now in intensity and are no longer filling every hour of every day.
I had intended to spend my time writing a short story which I would then post here but I have been unable to concentrate long enough to write such. Yes, I have begun one, but I have only managed to get started.
And will, at some point in the future complete it and offer it for your entertainment. Yes, as with most of my story efforts it will include some history and could be concidered "historical fiction" or a "western."
Speaking of entertainment I offer a link to some very excellent of such for your enjoyment. I discovered during this recuperation an excellent musician and a very funny entertainer. His name is Mike Rayburn and some clips of his work can be seen at
A goodly part of one of his corporate presentations can also be viewed at

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Partners in music acknowledging a leader


Over the years I’ve done a variety of things as it says on the bio on the back of my novels. That’s one of the requirements when one is interested in artistic endeavours such as writing novels and playing music. Doing all those things has built some marvellous memories brought back with great strength when musician, Ray Gathercole posted these pictures. I don’t have pictures of this event and Ray has graciously allowed me to post them here.

The event in question took place April 16, 1970 in the (old and long gone) Charlie Lake Community Hall. A fellow musician (one of those with a well paying steady job) had just taken a better position with a petrochemical company in Grande Prairie, Alberta and was leaving our area. The local musicians, (spear-headed by Gerry Chilli I believe who is pictured) rented the hall and spent an afternoon acknowledging and honouring Butch Peterson, an exceptionally fine guitar player.

Bob Slavik-steel, Ray Gethercole-guitar, Dave McGowan-rhythm&vocal, Gerry Chilli-drums

Lawson Clark-bass, (can't remember a name, Russ?), Buddy Clark-accordion, Lyle Lippert-guitar
 
A year before this event, during August and into September of 1969 some of those pictured toured from Dawson Creek, BC to Dawson City, YT where we played for “Discovery Days”. We played in almost every small community along the Alaska Highway except for the capitol of the Yukon, Whitehorse.
Those who made the trip:
Gerry Chilli, drums.
Buddy (James) Clark, accordion and bass
Shirley Clark, chief cook and door
Lawson Clark, bass
Chuck Gullion, pedal steel guitar
Dave McGowan, rhythm guitar, vocals.
Bob Slavik, lead guitar.
The steel Bob Slavik, is playing here, a Rogers, he bought from Chuck who replaced it with a ShoBud.
The guitar I'm playing is a Gibson Humingbird which was a great unit I wish I still had although it was not as good as the Gibson J-45 it replaced.