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Fort Walsh

In response to the Cypress Hills Massacre of June 1, 1873, Sir John A. Macdonald passed a bill establishing a police force to be known as the North-West Mounted Police (NWMP). The force’s mandate was to bring law and order to the North-West Territories by suppressing the illegal whiskey trade, asserting Canadian sovereignty, and peacefully encouraging the First Nations to sign treaties. After 1869 the Hudson’s Bay Company had seldom ventured into the Cypress Hills area, allowing Americans to trade whiskey and bison robes without competition or interference. By 1873, at least four trading posts were operating along Battle Creek, which runs through the Cypress Hills. Two of the posts, one owned by Moses Solomon and the other by Abel Farwell, were located near the scene of the Cypress Hills Massacre.

On June 1, 1873, a group of American “wolfers” were staying at Farwell’s camp. The wolfers wrongly believed that the group of Assiniboine Indians camped nearby had stolen forty head of horses from them; after much drinking, the wolfers set out to take revenge. When the battle was over, nearly 30 Assiniboine and one White man had been killed. In June 1875, Inspector James Morrow Walsh and about 30 men of “B” troop, NWMP, were dispatched to the Cypress Hills region; there they built Fort Walsh, a short distance from where the massacre occurred. The NWMP investigation of the Cypress Hills Massacre showed that illegal whiskey trading by American “wolfers” and horse thieving had led to the event. Even though the police were unsuccessful in convicting any of the participants in the massacre, the First Nations people appreciated their efforts. The good relationship that developed between the police and the First Nations of the area aided in the implementation of the Canadian Indian policy. Adhesions to Treaty 4 were signed at Fort Walsh in 1877, and to Treaty 6 in 1879 and 1882.

The importance of Fort Walsh reached its peak during the Lakota refugee crisis, when Sitting Bull and 5,000 Lakota Sioux followers took refuge from the US Army after the battle of the Little Big Horn in 1876. After the Lakota refugees arrived in the area, Fort Walsh was reinforced and in 1878 it was made NWMP headquarters. All NWMP communication went through Fort Walsh, and new recruits received their basic training there. Inspector Walsh and his men were to ensure that Canadian law was enforced, that the Sioux did not conduct raids on the Americans, and that peace was kept between the Canadian and American First Nations. Walsh and his American counterparts were able to convince the majority of the Sioux refugees to return to the US by late 1879. The Lakota crisis finally ended when Sitting Bull and his followers were delivered to US authorities on July 17, 1881. The sixty Lakota who remained in the area were finally granted a small reserve in 1913.

During this same period, the buffalo declined to a point of near distinction, and First Nations peoples were forced to moved onto reserves where they could learn to farm to support themselves. The Cypress Hills no longer needed the presence of such a large force: in 1882 the headquarters were moved to Regina, where the territorial government and a railway station were located. Fort Walsh was closed in 1883. In 1942, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police bought the site of the old fort and constructed the RCMP Remount Ranch, where the force’s internationally recognized black horses were bred and raised. At three years of age, the horses were sent to Regina for training. The RCMP discontinued mandatory equitation training in 1966, and the breeding program was moved to Rockcliffe, Ontario. The Remount Ranch and a portion of its lands were transferred to Parks Canada in 1968. Fort Walsh is now a national historic site.

Daria Coneghan

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