The Mounted Police Head West:
Thousands of men from a variety of jobs volunteered for the North West Mounted Police. They were looking for excitement and adventure in the "Wild West." They underwent difficult military style training to make them fit and to teach them how to ride and shoot. Only 300 were selected to go.
On July 8, 1874, the North West Mounted Police who became known as the Mounties, began their march from a location south of Winnipeg. This march is described in a report written by Lieutenant -Colonel French:
The column ... presented a very fine appearance. First came A Division with their splendid dark bays and wagons. Then B with their dark browns. Next C with bright chestnuts drawing the guns and small-arm ammunition. Next D with their greys, E with their black horses , the rear being brought up by F with their light bays. Then a motley string of ox-carts, ox-wagons, cattle for slaughter, cows, calves, mowing machine, etc., etc.
As they marched west, they faced an uncertain future. Hundreds of whiskey traders and wolfers might choose to battle with them, or they might be attacked by thousands of Natives. In the United States, the army had to be used to fight wars against the Natives. In Canada, only 300 Mounties were sent west.
In the book The Law Maraches West, written by a Captain with the Mounties, Sir Cecil E. Denny writes that, "The horses, purchased in Toronto, were exceptionally good. They were all over 15 1/2 hands, and were admitted to be the best ever shipped from that city." But during the journey, Denny notes that the horses were "unaccustomed to grazing or looking out for themselves, could not stand up under the hardships. After leaving the Pembina River both men and horses suffered through lack of good water." Since the horses were easily frightened by a storm, "frequent thunderstorms made guard detail unpleasant."
This is how Denny describes the march west:
On 17th July we met a returning party of the Boundary Survey. They reported having fired on a party of Indians caught in the act of an attempted raid upon their horse herd. Our rations from this point were cut down, as it was evident the journey would take much longer than anticipated at the slow rate of progress, and it was doubtful if we had sufficient for the long stretch ahead. The horses now began to give out.
On 28th July . . . the horses were in bad shape from scarcity of feed and water, hundreds of miles remained to be covered, and the prospects for a successful termination to the journey began to look none too rosy. Rations for the men were again cut down, and they fared none too well.
Denny also notes that the men deserved a lot of praise. They "worked well and cheerfully under most trying and unfamiliar conditions." He then states that the first death occurred on August 6th to a man of ‘E’ troop who died from fever brought on by wet and exposure, and adds that "This event cast a gloom over the force."
Denny describes the rest of the march:
On 8th August we sighted the first buffalo, but could not get near enough for a kill. . . . I can well remember the view from the top of the plateau. . . . As far as the eye could reach stretched a boundless prairie, partly burned. It was indeed a wonderful sight to us who had never seen the western prairies in their wild beauty, a sight never to be forgotten by those who witnessed it.
On 21st August we met the first party of half-breed hunters, who had been out from Winnipeg all summer hunting buffalo. Their carts were loaded with pemmican and buffalo robes. They had left Winnipeg in the early spring, and been as far west as the Cypress hills. Their transport was ponies and carts. They reported no feed between us and the Cypress Hills, buffalo in great numbers having eaten off all the grass.
So as they continued their journey, the horses had little feed and water. Also, provisions were running low. Then, Denny notes that:
. . . . but for the buffalo we should have been in a bad way. We killed the first buffalo on 1st September. From this point on we had no dearth of fresh meat. The farther west we travelled, the more plentiful became the buffalo. There were places where, as far as the eye could reach, untold thousands were in sight, the country black with them. They had eaten the grass short, making feed very scarce; the lakes were fouled by them. These immense bands were moving north, and there seemed no end to them. . . .
On September 9th they finally reached the river and location where they expected to find Fort Whoop-up; but it wasn't there. They stopped here for six days while two parties were sent out to explored the area. From their camp, they could see the Sweetgrass Hills rising above the prairie, eighty miles to the south. When the parties returned they reported that the entire area was barren, and mostly deserted.
click to view a color photograph of The Sweetgrass Hills. (125 kb).
Looking south at the Sweetgrass Hills which are about 15 miles away.
This photograph was taken at a viewpoint which is above
Writing On Stone Provincial Park.
On September 15th, they left for the Sweetgrass Hills in a snow storm. During this trip, the weather remained cold with occasional storms. Many horses were giving out due to lack of feed. On the September 18th, they reached the foot of the Sweetgrass Hills where they stopped and pitched their tents. This is where they waited while Colonel Mcleod went to Fort Benton in the United States, to arrange for supplies and to hire a guide.
to Part 5: The Mounted Police Arrive.