Ft. Walsh

The Cypress Hills Massacre

Saskatchewan, east of Medicine Hat, AB

July 30th, 2000

While staying in Canada's only inter-provincial park, situated along the Saskatchewan, Alberta border we traveled to the only historical site in the Park. Reconstructed Fort Walsh. A sprawling complex of a handful of buildings. Here we were introduced to the history of Canada's lawless west in the late 1800s. After browsing through their visitor's center museum which set our minds for the events that followed, we paid a small admittance fee and boarded a bus which took us down a winding road to the recreation of old man Farwell's trading post. Here on an open plane, stood a rustic trading post with several old wooden support building, all surrounded by a makeshift wall. The entrance was closed and as we stood around the gate, our interpreter engaged in argumentative dialogue with a girl on the inside who clearly had no desire to open up to just anyone. Finally after assuring her that we were in fact wolfers (wolf traders) prepared to exchange wolf pelts for the shabby goods which were available, she relented and opened the gate. The visit was short as the area was small. The young lady stood in the door of the trading post and offered various thing for what we were supposed to have. The conversation was interesting as some of the visitors, my wife as always, took on roles of various fictional characters playing out the trading scene. We then followed our pretty young interpreter out onto the open plane to the rear of the trading post. Through her, we heard in detail, the causative incident that pushed the Royal Canadian Mounted Police into existence. Prior to the introduction of the RCMP, this area was known as Whoop-up, because of the number of whiskey traders who worked the Indian tribes, trading fire water for anything of value. Farwell's trading post was one in particular known for watering down his whiskey and then adding color and some vile, and often poisonous ingredients such as strychnine, in an effort to put back the kick in the product he sold as "Montana Red Eye", and "Rotgut". Then on a moonlit night, a handful of drunken wolfers, thought a band of drunken Indians had stolen a horse. Although this assumption was later found to be in error, it afforded the confrontation necessary to light the spark of battle. Even describing what next occurred as a battle is a misnomer. Traders firing from points of concealment with Winchester repeating rifles, indiscriminately shot down all living forms in their sights. Men, women, children, it didn't seem to matter. Although there were only a dozen or so traders and over 300 Indians armed with smooth bore muskets, there was no match. The slaughter continued until a young Nakota Indian named Wahintoknaka, put a musket ball through the heart of Ed LeGrace, one of the traders. That was enough for the gang. The bodies of 23 Indians lay strewn about with many more destined to die in the woods and gullies where they crawled or were dragged after being shot down in the melee. The traders, believing that no Indian tribe would allow such a treatment to go unchallenged, buried Le Grace under the floor of Farwell's trading post, set it ablaze and skedaddled over the border into Montana, where they continued to drink, trade and brag about the Indians they had slaughtered on that fateful night. Ten soon became twenty and then fifty, and within time an eastern newspaper heard of the story and then it was all over New England in black and white, as graphic a tale of the wild west as had ever been printed. In turn, the Canadian government heard the story which sat grievously in the minds of the legislators. It was the incident needed to ignite the long time dormant idea of a National Police Force. With outrage and indignation the call went out for volunteers to serve the needs of law and order in the Canadian North West. Before the first snows, 30 hastily trained officers dressed in the bright red tunic, now famous throughout the world, rode west to create Fort Walsh at the massacre site and to hunt down and arrest 7 of the suspected killers as the first police action ever taken by the RCMP (originally called the North West Mounted Police). Though none were ever convicted, as all witnesses on both sides were drunk at the time, it was nevertheless, the first time a white man had ever been tried in Canada for a crime against an Indian. The warning bell of doom had sounded on the whisky trade in Canada. With their reputation well established, the Mounties rode forth in every direction, and where found, eliminated the practice of selling whiskey to Indians, which for a while brought a period of stability to the region. As we rode back through the wilderness that makes up Cypress Hills Park I reflected that we had yet another piece of the Canadian historical puzzle in place.

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