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Lethbridge Herald Newspaper Archives

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Lethbridge Herald, The (Newspaper) - June 28, 1974, Lethbridge, Alberta Page 2 of whiskey trade brought with it a stream of greedy and ruthless free traders and a swift and destructive change in the lives of the Indians Mounties' birth was spurred by profligate south and fire water f fsr r 'i ft, C ft-'' This established the RCMP Order-in-council of 1873 signed by Sir John A. MacDonald and Lord Dufferin, governor-general. Profligate south and... Whiskey spurred birth of NWMP. More than anything else, whisky spurred the birth over 100 years ago of the North West Mounted Police, the coming of law and order to the Canadian West, and the development of the RCMP. The growth of the illegal whisky trade brought with it a stream of greedy and ruthless free traders and a swift and destructive change in the lives of Prairie Indians. The resulting bloodshed and violence led to the formation of the red coated force in 1873 and its Great March west from the Red River in the summer of 1874. When they struck out from the small southern Manitoba settlement of Fort Dufferin, the NWMP troopers were undertaking one of the most ambitious treks in the country's history. Their destination, about 700 little charted miles away, was the fork of the Bow and Belly rivers near the site of present day Lethbridge. Plagued There they expected to find Fort Whoop Up, headquarters of the booming whisky business, and make the first real start at cleaning up the West. Diaries kept by several men tell how the cavalcade of almost 300 troopers, 114 oxdrawn carts. 93 slaughter cattle and 73 supply wagons was confronted daily by the hardships of frontier travel. They were dogged by prairie dust and the throat parching -heat of summer, fierce winds and thunderstorms that drenched bedding and food. Mosquitoes and locusts descended in swarms. Wagons broke down, carts gave out, cattle became lost and horses and oxen staggered in the harnesses and died on the trail. The men themselves came down with dysentery and diarrhea. Spirits flagged and tempers flared. But. with it all, there was an underlying endurance and a drive that kept them going. Not all was upleasant. The western landscape was breathtaking and there was the camaraderie of the nightly campfire. At one point, several troopers formed a make shift band, using a large tin dish and tent pegs for a drum and drumsticks. By mid September, more than two months after leaving Fort Dufferin, the cavalcade, its supplies all but gone, reached the fork of the Bow and Belly rivers. But, to the amazement of Lt. Col. George A. French, the first NWMP commissioner, Fort Whoop Up was nowhere in sight. Instead, he found only three abandoned log huts. Not knowing his maps were erroneous and the fort lay another 70 miles to the west, French turned his men south through buffalo country to the Sweet Grass Hills near the international boundary. There they pitched camp while French went farther south to Fort Benton, Mont., to get supplies. New post In the meantime, plans were made to establish an NWMP- post at Swan River near the Hudson's Bay post of Fort Pelly, far to the northeast. On his return from Fort Benton, where he had communicated with Ottawa by telegraph, French set out with two troops for Swan River, leaving the remaining men to push northwest to a point on Old Man's River near the foothills of the Rockies. Here they would establish Fort Macleod, the first outpost of constituted authority in the far west. With French gone, the cavalcade moved on under the command of Assistant Commissioner James F. Macleod whose name the outpost would bear. On the way, the troopers located Fort Whoop Up at a strategic point between the Belly and St. Mary's rivers. But the whisky traders, warned of the approaching red coats by buffalo hunters, had fled in advance. All quiet The cavalcade pulled within view of the grey fort on Oct. 9 1874. ready for a hostile welcome. It discovered instead a setting of peace and tranquillity. The flag of a Montana trading company fluttered over the fort, but the troopers found only one old U.S. Civil War Veteran and two Indian squaws inside. Evidence of a once bustling business lay everywhere, but the Fort Whoop Up liquor trade had come to a standstill. With winter nearing and no need to linger at the deserted fort, the men pushed on to Old Man's River. They covered the final leg in five days and, by nightfall on Oct. 13, their tents were pitched on the spot where they would build Fort Macleod, a historic placename in the annals of the force. Construction started immediately and, as work moved ahead, the assistant commissioner turned his attention to the purpose of the long expedition. Fled fort Though the traders had fled Fort Whoop Up they had not fled the West. Word of the force's arrival had spread to every trader's rendezvous and Indian camp in the area but. before October ended, the first blow to the liquor trade was struck. A Mexican halfbreed and three others were taken into custody after an Indian chief told of trading two ponies for two gallons of whisky. With the arrests, the troopers seized two wagonloads of whisky. Two of the traders were fined each and the others They were the first outlaws brought to justice at Fort Macleod. A key priority during the first weeks at the fort was to establish good relations with the Indians. Without their trust, the task of-bringing order to the West would be hopeless. The red coats worn by the troopers proved an important asset in reaching this goal. Besides Mounties Continued o-n Page 9 ;