The Blackfeet Treaty – On our journey

On our journey, while within the limits of Treaty Number Six, we met scarcely any Indians, but after we crossed Red Deer River we met a few Cree and Half-breeds, and several hunting parties of Blackfeet. The former generally use carts in traveling, but the Blackfeet and their associates are always on horseback.

The Cree appeared friendly, but were not so demonstrative as the Blackfeet, who always rode up at once with a smile on their countenances and shook hands with us. They knew the uniform of the Mounted Police at a distance, and at once recognized and approached them as their friends.

We resumed our journey on Monday and arrived at Fort McLeod on the Old Man’s River, on Tuesday the 4th September. The distance between the Blackfoot crossing of the Bow River and the Fort is about seventy-nine miles, thus making the length of our journey from Battleford three hundred and sixty-five miles as measured by Major Irvine’s odometer.

A few miles from Fort McLeod I was met by the Commissioners of the Mounted Police and a large party of the Force, who escorted me into the Fort, while a salute was fired by the artillery company from one of the hills overlooking the line of march. The men, whose horses were in excellent condition, looked exceedingly well, and the officers performed their duties in a most efficient manner. The villagers presented me with an address of welcome, and altogether my reception at Fort McLeod was such as to satisfy the most fastidious lover of display, and more than enough to satisfy the writer.

At Fort McLeod, on my arrival, I received your dispatch of first August, covering the Commission relating to the Treaty and a copy of the Order in Council of 12th July, in terms of which the commission was issued. Also your letter of 27th July informing me that it had been thought desirable to place the services of the Rev. Father Lacombe at the disposal of the Commissioners while negotiating the treaty. A few days afterwards I was sorry to learn by telegraph that the reverend gentleman had been taken by illness on the journey and would be unable to be present at the meeting with the Indians. Here, however I was happy to meet Rev. Father Scollen, a Roman Catholic missionary, who has labored for some years among the Cree and Blackfeet in the western portion of the territories. He kindly furnished me such information as he possessed, and afterwards went to the treaty, where his assistance was of some value, particularly in dealing with the Cree present.

While at the fort I had interviews with several of the Blood Chiefs, who called upon me to inquire if they could not be treated with there instead of at Bow River. I explained that hereafter the Government would endeavor to pay them their annuities at places most convenient for them, but that on the occasion of making a treaty it was desirable that the several Chiefs and their principal head men should meet together to talk over the matter, so that all might feel that they had been consulted as to the terms of the agreement. They went away satisfied, said they would do as the Great Father advised, and go to Bow River.

I cannot speak too highly of the kind manner in which the officers and men of the Mounted Police at Fort McLeod treat their Indian visitors. Though the red man is somewhat intrusive, I never heard a harsh word employed in asking him to retire. The beneficial effects of this treatment, of the exclusion of intoxicants from the country, and of impartially administering justice to whites and Indians alike, were apparent in all my interviews with the Indians. They always spoke of the officers of the Police in the highest terms, and of the Commander of the Force, Lieut.-Col. McLeod, especially as their great benefactor. The leading Chiefs of the Blackfeet and kindred tribes, declared publicly at the treaty that had it not been for the Mounted Police they would have all been dead ere this time.

Having rested a week after my tedious journey of over seven hundred miles, I then occupied myself for a few days in viewing the surrounding country. In the village I found some excellent stores, supplied with almost every article of dry goods, hardware and groceries, that any inland community requires. Notably among these were the stores of J. G. Baker & Co. and Messrs. T. C. Power & Bro. There is also a good blacksmith’s shop in the village in which coal is used from the Pelly River, at a place some twenty miles distant from Fort McLeod. I was told by the proprietor of the shop that the coal answers tolerably well for blacksmithing purposes, and in the fort it is extensively used for fuel. It burns nearly as well in a stove as some varieties of Pictou coal.

The land around the fort, and indeed for almost the whole distance between the Bow and Old Man’s Rivers, is well adapted for grazing; and where cultivation has been fairly attempted this season, grain and vegetables have been a success. In short, I have very little doubt that this portion of the territories, before many years, will abound in herds of cattle, and be dotted with not a few comfortable homesteads.

Lieut. Col. McLeod having attended to forwarding the supplies to Bow River, which had been previously delivered at the fort, left for the Blackfoot crossing with some eighty officers and men of the Police Force, on Wednesday, the 12th September. I followed on Friday, and reached Bow River on Sunday morning. The Police having arrived on Saturday, the Commissioners were fully prepared for business on Monday, the 17th, the day which I had from the first appointed for the opening of the treaty negotiations.

The Commissioners were visited by Crowfoot, the principal Chief of the Blackfeet, shortly after their arrival. He desired to know when he and his people might meet us. We ascertained that most of the Indians on the ground were Blackfeet and Assiniboin or Stonie, from the upper part of Bow River. But as the 17th was the day named, the Commissioners determined to adhere to the appointment, and sent a messenger early in the morning to invite the Indians camped around to meet them at the council tent at two o’clock, p.m.

Half an hour before the time appointed a gun was fired as a signal for the Indians to assemble. The meeting was well attended. The Chiefs came forward first and were introduced to the Commissioners, and their followers, on being invited, sat up close to the tent.

I addressed them, stating that the Queen’s Government had last year promised that they would this year be visited by Commissioners to invite them to make a treaty. That months ago I had named this very day to meet them, and that in accordance with the promises made, the Commissioners were now here to discuss the terms of a treaty. Yet as we had learned that very few of the Bloods, Sarcee or Piegan had arrived, we would not unduly press forward the negotiations, but wait until Wednesday to give the others time to arrive.

The Indians listened attentively to what was said, and several of the Chiefs expressed their satisfaction at not being asked to meet us on the morrow. The Commissioners then told them there were rations provided for them by the Government, and that those who were in need of provisions might apply to certain of the Police officers detailed to see to their proper distribution.

The Stonie and one Blood Chief applied for flour, tea, sugar and tobacco, but said they were not then in need of beef. Crowfoot and some other Chiefs under his influence would not accept any rations until they would hear what terms the Commissioners were prepared to offer them. He appeared to be under the impression that if the Indians were fed by the bounty of the Government they would be committed to the proposals of the Commissioners, whatever might be their nature. Though I feared this refusal did not augur well for the final success of the negotiations, yet I could not help wishing that other Indians whom I have seen, had a little of the spirit in regard to dependence upon the Government exhibited on this occasion by the great Chief of the Blackfeet.

Among the visitors at the treaty I was pleased to meet the Rev. John McDougall, Wesleyan missionary at Morley Ville, and son of the late lamented Rev. George McDougall, so well and favorably known in connection with Indian affairs in the North-West. Mr. McDougall was present at the first interview the Commissioners held with the Indians, and acted as interpreter for the Stonie, who do not understand the Blackfoot language. He, as well as the Rev. C. Scollen, rendered the Commissioners all the assistance in their power. Traders, with large supplies of goods, were arriving on the ground. They desired to erect buildings of logs to protect their property, but as some of the Indian Chiefs objected to the trees along the river being cut down for such a purpose until after the treaty, the Commissioners deemed it prudent, to prevent complications, to ask the traders to erect only temporary stanchions sufficient to support canvas coverings. They complied with our wishes, and the Indians gave us no further trouble on the subject.

On the evening of Monday I also received a message from Bobtail, a Cree Chief, who, with the larger portion of the band, had come to the treaty grounds. He represented that he had not been received into any treaty. He, however, had not attended the meeting that day, because he was uncertain whether the Commissioners would be willing to receive him along with the Blackfeet. I asked him and his band to meet the Commissioners separate from the other Indians on the following day.

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