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Lethbridge Herald Newspaper Archives

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Lethbridge Herald, The (Newspaper) - June 28, 1974, Lethbridge, Alberta Page 3 They changed the course of history Scarlet force has been here 100 years They changed the course of history. The men in scarlet are 100 years old this year. Over a century ago, a straggly cavalcade of almost 300 scarlet coated men set out westward by horseback from Fort Dufferin, a small Red River settlement in southern Manitoba. The expedition altered the course of Canadian history. The men were members of the North West Mounted Police, formed in 1873 as forerunner of the RCMP. Those first Mounties were beginning what historians would record as The Great March a trek across the frontier west that would bring the first elements of justice to the vast territory that lay beyond the Red River. They did not know it, but the men who rode out that summer day were putting down the first roots of what would grow into one of the best known law enforcement bodies in the world the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Their destination, about 700 miles away, was Fort Whoop Up, headquarters of a booming illicit whisky trade carried on by hard faced, ruthless traders from the south. Suffering most from the whisky trade were the bands of prairie Indians who rapidly learned to crave the cheap raw liquid and willingly sacrificed their robes and ponies and buffalo hides to get it. Whisky brought a profound and painful change to their lives. Until the last half of the 19th century, the Canadian West was an immense Indian hunting and battle ground, and a gigantic buffalo pasture. Except for Hudson's Bay Co. traders and missionaries who roamed through the territory on their lonely travels, the Indians lived largely undisturbed, much as they had for centuries But the arrival of free traders in their whisky laden wagon trains from the Missouri Valley abruptly changed the placid complexion of life on the plains. With them, the traders brought an outbreak of lawlessness and bloodshed that, unchecked, would have rivalled the chaotic and violent development of the American West. The law of the gun began to take root and tales of massacre and robbery began drifting back east to Ottawa where Sir John A Macdonald, Canada's first prime minister, was struggling with the problems of his young dominion. The stones filtered in at a time when Ottawa was astir with the prospect of a greater Canada, Unity and expansion had become central themes in government offices and departments. The lieutenant governor of the Northwest Territories meanwhile dispatched a military officer to investigate in 1870- 71. No one wanted the tragic American experience repeated in Western Canada. The officer returned from his tour with grim news. The entire Six months after Prairie harvest during trek NWMP constables harvest Prairie grass used to feed oxen, beef cattle and horses. on Sept. 12 travel-worn NWMP cavalcade reaches the junction of the Bow and Belly rivers in the land of the Blackfoot. northwest, he reported was "without law, order or security for life or property." But Ottawa seemed less impressed by the need for urgent action. It was two years later that Parliament approved "An Act Respecting the Administraion of Justice, and for the Establishment of a Police Force, in the North West Territories." The legislation was approved without debate, along with a cluster of routine bills, in a rush on the last day of a session May 23, 1873 It authorized a 300 member force of active, able bodied men, capable of riding and able to write in either English or French. They were to be of good character and between the ages of 18 and 40. The minimum period of service was three years. The first three 50 man troops were recruited in the summer and fall of 1873 from the Maritimes, Quebec and Ontario. They were a diverse group comprising fanners, soldiers, tradesmen, surveyors, butchers, professors, lumberjacks, clerks and even one bartender. Assembling at Collingwood, Ont, they travelled by ship to the head of Lake Superior and took the so called Dawson route overland to the Red River. They arrived in late October and spent the winter at Lower Fort Garry, 20 miles down river from Winnipeg. The three final troops, bringing the force to its authorized strength of about 300, assembled the next spring at Toronto and travelled by rail through Chicago to St. Paul, south of the international boundary. From there, they moved "across the line" onto Canadian soil and joined the earlier recruits for the journey west from Fort Dufferin. Final preparations were made rapidly. And on July 8, 1874, a cavalcade of nearly 300 red coated troopers, trailed by ox carts, wagons and slaughter cattle, struck westward to the ring of bugle calls and the crack of bull whips. With them were 20 Metis drivers and Henri Julien, a Montreal journalist who went along as an artist and correspondent for the Canadian Illustrated News. The troopers began their trek in high spirits, eager for the challenge ahead. So did the Metis drivers, some of whom showed unmistakable signs of farewell carousing. They made just three miles that first day. halting for the night beside a small lake. But the journey had begun. A mere handful of men were on their way to patrol square miles of territory. While the outcome was far from clear it ranked as a bold experiment ;