The Blackfeet Treaty – Government House, Battleford, North-West Territory
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Sir,–I have the honor to inform you that on the 4th August I received at Swan River your telegram dated on the first of that month.
It notified me that a Commission appointing Lieut.-Col. James F. McLeod, C.M.G., and myself, Commissioners to negotiate a treaty with the Blackfeet and other Indians of the unsurrendered parts of the North-West Territories adjoining the United States boundary, had been forwarded to Fort McLeod.
I immediately made preparations for the journey. These occupied me a week, as arrangements had to be made for the removal of furniture and other property to Battle River, where the Government House for the territories, in course of construction, would probably be ready for occupation on my return from the treaty negotiations. On the 11th August I left Swan River for Fort McLeod, via Battleford, proposing to go from the latter place by Cypress Hills to my destination. I took the Quill Lake trail and came to the telegraph line, about four miles from Big Stone Lake. Thence I followed that line until I came to the trail at the elbow of the North Saskatchewan leading to Battle River. Where the telegraph crosses the South Saskatchewan I found an excellent ferry scow, and a ferryman placed there by the Public Works Department. I arrived at the ferry about noon on the 20th, and though a high wind rendered it difficult to manage the scow, the horses, with the vehicles and their contents, were safely ferried before sunset. On the following evening I reached the Elbow, and the morning thereafter before leaving camp, Inspector Walker, of Battleford, drove up, on his way to Carlton, to arrange for the distribution of certain of the articles intended for the Indians of Treaty Number Six, which had not arrived when he paid the annuities at that post in the early part of the month. Some of the Indians had not dispersed since they received their payments, and interested parties were causing dissatisfaction among them by reporting that the provisions intended for them, while assembled to receive their annuities, having now arrived, should be distributed to them, as well as the agricultural implements and other articles promised.
I advised Inspector Walker to distribute to those Indians still around Carlton their share of the presents, and to give them a small quantity of provisions from the Government supplies, to enable them to proceed without delay to their hunting grounds. I then continued my journey to Battleford, which I reached on Monday, the 24th, at noon. Here I was happy to meet Major Irvine, who had come straight from Fort McLeod, across the Great Plains, to conduct me on my journey, and to inform me that for satisfactory reasons adduced by Crowfoot, the leading chief of the Blackfeet, Lieut. Col. McLeod, my associate Commissioner, had consented that the meeting of the treaty should be held at the Blackfoot crossing of the Bow River, instead of at Fort McLeod. Major Irvine had reached Battleford only a few hours before me, and having a Blackfoot Indian as guide, I abandoned my intention of going to Fort McLeod by Cypress Hills, and resolved to take the more direct and much shorter course by which that officer came.
On Friday I had interviews with several parties on business, among whom were Red Pheasant, the Chief of the Battle River Cree, and a portion of his band. He desired explanations about the articles promised in the treaty of last year, and the reason they were so late in being forwarded. I explained that the unusually heavy rains in Manitoba and the eastern portion of the territories had made the traveling so bad that the freighters had not been able to overtake the journey in the time which they expected; that the Government were very sorry at the disappointment, as it was their desire to faithfully carry out all their promises. The officers here had done their best to meet the difficulty and satisfy the Indians, though at no little expense to the country.
The Chief appeared to be quite satisfied with the explanation, and after some further conversation about the reserve, which he desires to be located at Eagle Hills, he and his companions retired to their lodges, situated for the present close to the south side of Battle River, under the bank in front of Government House.
Inspector Walker having kindly given instructions to the non-commissioned officer in charge of the Mounted Police in his absence, that every assistance in his power was to be afforded to me for continuing my journey, I was enabled to leave Battleford for Fort McLeod with Major Irvine, on the 25th August. Besides us two, the party consisted of four police constables, my personal servant and the guide.
For the first day we followed a trail leading southward, but afterwards our course was across the trackless plains until we approached near our destination. On the third day out we first sighted buffalo, and every day subsequently that we traveled, except the last, we saw herds of the animals. Most of the herds, however, were small, and we remarked with regret that very few calves of this season were to be seen. We observed portions of many buffalo carcasses on our route, from not a few of which the peltries had not been removed. From this circumstance, as well as from the fact that many of the skins are made into parchments and coverings for lodges, and are used for other purposes, I concluded that the export of buffalo robes from the territories does not indicate even one-half the number of those valuable animals slaughtered annually in our country.
Antelope, though not very abundant, are widely scattered over the plains. The numerous lakelets abound with water fowl. Some of the pools contain alkali, but we experienced no inconvenience on the journey from scarcity of fresh water. The grass in many places is short and thin, but in the hollows feed for horses is easily obtained. Altogether, though the plains are perfectly treeless, not even a shrub being visible, a journey across them in fine weather, such as we experienced, when the “buffalo chips” are sufficiently dry to make a good camp fire, is not disagreeable.
On the afternoon of the 29th we reached the lowest ford of the Red Deer River, one hundred and sixty-eight miles, by our course, from Battleford. On the north side of the river at this ford there is quicksand. The water too, in mid-stream, was deep enough to flow over the sideboards of our wagons, and at one place the current was dangerously rapid. After repeated trials by some of the men on horseback to find the best footing, we made the attempt, and the whole party got safely across by nightfall. On Saturday evening, the 1st of September, we arrived at the Blackfoot crossing of the Bow River, one hundred and eighteen miles from where we forded the Red Deer River. The Bow River is a noble stream. The current is pretty rapid, but at this “ridge under the water” (which is the literal translation of the Blackfoot name for the ford) the bed of the river is pebbly and the footing consequently good. Though we found the water almost as deep as at the Red Deer River, yet under the guidance of Mr. French, a small trader who lives near the ford, we, without almost any delay, crossed bravely over and camped until Monday morning on the south bank of the river.
At this crossing, where the Indians had latterly been notified to assemble for the treaty, there is a beautiful river bottom on the south side of the river. It extended about one mile back from the river, and is some three miles in length. The river, as far as the eye can reach, is skirted close to the water by a narrow belt of cotton-wood and other trees.
When I surveyed the clear waters of the stream, the fuel and shelter which the wood afforded, the excellent herbage on hill and dale, and the Indians camped in the vicinity crossing and re-crossing the river on the “ridge” with ease and safety, I was not surprised that the Blackfeet were attached to the locality, and desired that such an important event in their history as concluding a treaty with Her Majesty’s Commissioners should take place at this spot.
On Saturday evening and Sunday several of the Indians called to shake hands with me, among whom was the Rainy Chief of the North Bloods. Here also I met Monsieur Jean L. Heureux, a French Canadian, who had spent nearly twenty years of his life among the Blackfeet. From him I obtained much valuable information respecting the numbers and wishes of the Indians, together with an elaborate list of the different Chiefs and minor Chiefs of the Blackfeet, Bloods, Piegans, and Sarcees, with the principal families of their respective tribes and clans of divisions. This list the Commissioners found very useful in enabling them to understand the relative influence of the several Chiefs and the strength of their bands.