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History: Historical tales

Reprinted from the September 1952 issue of Canadian Cattlemen

By Senator F.W. Gershaw

Captain Palliser

In 1857 the lease of Indian territories granted to the Hudson Bay Company by the Imperial Government was drawing to a close. In order to get accurate, expert information the British Government organized an expedition to visit that great uncharted wilderness. Captain John Palliser was given command and Dr. Hector was the geologist of the expedition. They landed at New York, proceeded up the lakes by way of Detroit to Sault Ste. Marie. They then journeyed along the fur trade route to Fort Francis. Here a deputation of Indians waited upon them and the Chief said:

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“I do not ask for presents, although I am poor and my people are hungry. I know you have come straight from the Great Country and I want you to declare to us truthfully what the great Queen of your country intends to do with us when she takes over our land from the fur traders.

“The Long Knives (the Americans) are taking land from our neighbors and they are cheating and deceiving them. We will not sell or part with our lands.” The Rev. George Bryce, the recorder of this interview, does not say how Captain Palliser answered.

The explorers proceeded westward through Pembina, across the Souris River and on to the South Saskatchewan.

Palliser had now come to the Buffalo Country. His report says: “The whole region, as far as the eye could reach, was covered with buffalo in herds varying from hundreds to thousands. The grass was eaten to the earth as if the place had been devastated by locusts.”

During the summer the men of the expedition succeeded in finding a pass through the Rocky Mountains. As stated, it was not only practical for horses but, with little expense, could be made possible for carts also. They later discovered some six different passes including the “Kicking Horse Pass.”

Having explored the country along the Saskatchewan Rivers, he said it compared favorably with the Red River Valley and that the rule of the country should be given over by the Hudson’s Bay Company to the government and that a railway could be built from the Red River to the foothills of the Rockies.

Orders having reached Palliser to proceed, he undertook in the summer of 1859 a journey across the Rocky Mountains following an old Hudson Bay Trail.

One can visualize the great difficulties and hardships of such a trip. It was necessary to break a path through scrub and bush, to climb over rocks and wade through marshes and valleys and to venture along mountain sides where a fall or a misstep would result in being dashed into the icy waters of a turbulent stream below.

They arrived at the Hudson’s Bay Post called Vancouver, visited Victoria and then called at San Francisco and returned via the Isthmus of Panama to New York and England.

It was a well organized and managed expedition. The report is a well-balanced, minute and reliable description of the country passed over.

Lacombe President For An Hour

In the summer of 1883 construction of the C.P.R. west of Medicine Hat was proceeding at a rapid rate. As the Blackfoot Reservation was reached there was trouble. Six years before, the reserve by treaty No. 7 had been given to the Indians and they were determined to retain it against all trespassers. Rails put down during the day were torn up at night by the Indians. Armed resistance was threatened by the younger warriors as they realized that the treaty had been violated. With serious lack of foresight the government had not notified the tribe that the road was to be built through their lands and no compensation had been offered.

Chief Crowfoot displayed a tolerance and a nobility that distinguished him as the great leader of the Confederacy. He managed to restrain the warriors of the tribe as he had a high regard for the “Great White Mother” and her pale-faced subjects. He saw, however, that his people were being wronged and that the treaty was being wilfully broken. He hoped to prevent open warfare but realized that adequate compensation must be obtained for his people. The situation was tense, indeed, and Commissioner Irvine warned the Department at Ottawa that war with all the bloodshed that would be involved, was imminent.

Plans were being discussed for an attack on the railway working parties when Father Lacombe appeared on the scene. He was in charge of a parish in Calgary and had a great influence with the Indians who called him “The Man With The Good Heart.” Many times he had averted war between the Crees and the Blackfeet and he now saved the situation. Talking in the language they understood, he explained that only a small strip of land would be needed and he, on behalf of the government, promised adequate compensation. Crowfoot backed him up and their counsel prevailed. Mr. Van Horne expressed the Company’s appreciation by giving Chief Crowfoot a perennial pass over the C.P.R. and Father Lacombe received this and an even greater honor.

The first passenger train to reach Calgary carried the following senior officers: Lord Mount Stephen, Donald A. Smith, R.B. Angus and Mr. Van Horne. Father Lacombe was invited to lunch with them in a private car. In recognition of his service in smoothing out the misunderstanding, President Lord Mount Stephen resigned and, for one hour, this great missionary was President of the Canadian Pacific Railway System. After assuming his new vocation, he looked wistfully out of a window and remarked: “Poor souls of Calgary, I pity you.”

‘Our History’ is curated by former Canadian Cattlemen editor, Gren Winslow.

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