Organization of N.W.M.P.—General fatigue—Indian Summer— Cold—Provost
guard—Prisoners—Escape of Sioux—The Broncho—All sorts and conditions of
men—Horse-thieves— Pay—Fever—The irate doctor.
organization of the force, in those days, was as follows. There were
five troops, each supposed to consist of 100 officers, non-commissioned
officers and men. I do not think any of them, with the exception of "D"
Troop, contained their full complement. Each troop was commanded by a
superintendent with the relative rank of captain, and there were three
inspectors as subalterns. The commissioner and assistant commissioner
ranked as lieutenant-colonel and major respectively.
Troop had headquarters at Maple Creek, with a detachment at Medicine
Hut. "B" Troop was stationed at Regina, and supplied detachments along
the line of railway. "C" Troop held Fort Macleod, away in the grassy
ranching country, among the Bloods and Peigans, at the foot of the
Rockies. "D" Troop comprised the northern division on the North
Saskatchewan. There were outposts from Battleford at Prince Albert and
Fort Pitt. In the October of 1884, the hapless Fort Carlton was taken
over from the Hudion Bay Company, and garrisoned by the majority of the
reinforcement which had just left Regina, many of them never to return.
At Calgary, in the Blackfoot country, and at the then limit of the C.P.
Railway, was "E" Troop, with detached parties up in the mountains where
construction was going on. There were also outposts at Edmonton and Fort
Saskatchewan; near to which the river of that name first springs from
its glacier bed.
day following the departure of the Battleford contingent was Saturday,
October 4th, and a day of general fatigue. Every one was engaged in
cleaning out empty rooms, and there was a general redistribution of
quarters. I found myself billeted in No. 5 of the smaller rooms, which
actually possessed a couple of corporals. One of these had served in the
6th Carbineers, in Afghanistan and India, and the other was formerly an
officer of the Galway Militia. Poor Talbot Lowry ! he was killed at
Cut-Knife Creek. Light lie the turf on his head, for a finer fellow
This afternoon I drew my kit. I must confess, I do not think that to any
other corps in the world do they supply a better outfit—if as good. Not
only was the quantity abundant, but the quality was excellent. I do not
know anything of the articles supplied to-day. This is a list of my rig
pairs long riding boots, 7 pairs in 5 years.
1 pair ankle boots, 3 pairs in 5 years.
3 pairs riding breeches (blue, yellow stripe) annually.
1 brush, blacking.
1 „ polishing.
1 „ brass.
1 „ cloth.
1 button stick.
3 pairs blankets (10 lbs. each).
1 pair blanket straps.
1 ,, braces.
1 cloak, cape, and belt (blue cloth).
1 forage cap, annually.
1 fur cap (busby shape, yellow bag).
1 helmet (white) 2 in 5 years.
1 kit bag (like a large valise, waterproof)-
1 cup, plate, knife, fork, and spoon.
2 pairs flannel drawers, annually.
1 buffalo overcoat (not issued now, buffalo extinct).
1 pair gauntlets.
1 „ mitts (buckskin) annually.
2 pairs moccasins (moose) 7 pairs in 5 years.
1 hold-all with razor, comb, shaving-brush, and sponge.
2 pairs sheets.
2 „ long stockings (wool).
14 „ socks (wool).
2 over shirts, flannel. ? Annually.
2 under shirts „
1 tunic, scarlet serge.
1 „ „ cloth, 3 in 5 years.
1 tuque (red woollen nightcap).
1 waterproof sheet.
1 palliasse and pillow-case.
1 pair overalls (brown duck).
I pair steel spurs. Horse-brush and curry-comb.
were armed with the Winchester repeating carbine, holding nine rounds
('45-75) in the magazine. The Deane and Adams revolver has now been
superseded by the Enfield. We rode in the high-peaked California!!
saddle made by Main and Winchester in San Francisco. While I am running
through a list of dry details, I may as well give the scale of rations
per man per diem.
lbs. beef, or 1 lb. bacon.
bs. bread, or 1¼lbs. flour, or 1¼lbs. biscuit.
1 lb. potatoes, or 2 ozs. dried apples, or 2 ozs. beans.
When out on the prairie, on "active service," these rations are
increased one half.
After a few days of biting cold, accompanied by drifting showers of
sleet, the Indian summer descended
upon us like a halo of heaven-sent glory. We enjoyed a fortnight ofthe
most perfect weather. A soft stillness, with a thin filmy haze of gold,
lay upon the slumbering plain. Nature seemed hushed in prayer, before
withstanding the ice-blasts of the coming winter. Over in front of the
officers' quarters^ the ladies amused themselves with lawn tennis. But
after this beautiful vision of a magic season the cold period began in
earnest, and increased daily in intensity. We were to experience the
most severe winter known since the advent of settlement. After the 21st
of October you could not expose your ears to the nipping air. Fur caps
were taken into wear; and forage caps consigned to a temporary burial
under the white helmets on the shelf. I found the routine to be very
easy, as I was dismissed drill in about a week. Owing to the scarcity of
duty men it was impossible to provide a proper barrack guard, so a
provost-guard—as it is called—was mounted instead. With this guard there
is no sentry posted in the daytime. There were a few prisoners, mostly
Indians, confined in the guard-room cells. This was the only prison in
the Territory. The names of some of our captives were highly edifying
and entertaining. "Frog's Thigh," "Lizard Hips," "Blue Owl/' "Cunning
Funny," "Bear Door," and "Woman-who-sits-during-the-day" are a few of
the poetic epithets. These prisoners were taken out to work, such as
chopping wood and carrying coal around the barracks at 8.30 a.m. and
1.30 p.m. They were brought in for their dinner at noon ; and were each
locked in a cell at night. A certain number of troopers were told off
daily to attend them as escort, with loaded arms. This provost guard was
a very trying piece of business, and it "caught" me twice in three
weeks. The non-commissioned officer in charge of this guard was changed
daily at 10 a.m. The four men comprising the guard remained from Monday
at 10 a.m. till the following Monday at the same hour. You took up your
quarters in the guard-room and bid adieu to society for a week. You were
not supposed to go to your room under any pretext, or to remove any
article of clothing, arms, or accoutrements during your entire turn of
duty. You slept upon the wooden guard-bed in turn; being allowed to send
to your room for your blankets, and your cleaning things. There was a
wash-basin in the guard-room, and the prisoners performed the functions
of attendants. One jovial little Cree, whom we called " Fatty," used to
clean the boots, and, with the advantages of tuition, he became a
superior boot-black. The guard-room was connected with the small prison
by two grated wickets. Each one of us acted as a flying sentry during
the night for three hours each. When " rations" sounded in the afternoon
we took one of the prisoners to the quartermaster's store; where a
supply of tea, sugar, and bread was issued which we generally indulged
in at the witching hour of midnight. A prisoner was escorted to the
troop kitchen for our meals. When the week was completed, and other
unfortunates took your places, what a blessed relief it was! To remove
the spur-strap across the instep and draw off the boots was bliss! To
cast aside your under-garment of cobwebs and assume a change of clothing
was rapture! And to stretch your legs between clean sheets at night was
simple ecstasy! No one who has not slept in uniform for a week can
appreciate the luxury, though it was only the narrow couch of a soldier.
Sioux prisoners escaped very cleverly from the escort one dark night. He
had taken them to the W.C., and thinking them, like the lad in the
ballad, "lang a comin'," he kicked open the door. He found them gone,
and the prison clothing provided by a paternal government disdainfully
left lying upon the floor. They were never seen more, and the
unfortunate escort was ordered to fill the place of one of them for a
month. It is supposed they made for the Sioux camp at Moosejaw, a
distance of forty miles. A party scoured the country as far as the Dirt
Hills; but the untutored noblemen had left no trail. Shortly after this,
a white man—a horse-thief—had the most elaborate arrangements made to
elope through the silence of the night. His plan was discovered by the
corporal of the guard, who had sentries posted around the prison, ready
to drop him ; but he must have scented a rat, as he failed to come up to
time. A number of articles were found secreted in his cell, and he was
at once decorated with a ball and chain, and continued to wear that
uncomfortable piece of jewellery until sent down to Stony Mountain
Penitentiary, in Manitoba, for two years. All prisoners sentenced to
terms exceeding twelve months are removed thither.
the early part of November a number of remounts, young bronchos, were
sent down from Calgary by rail. A party of us were marched down to bring
them up to barracks. The broncho is a cross between the native cayeuse
and the American horse or English thoroughbred. The majority of
saddle-horses in use in the Mounted Police are of this class. They
average about fifteen hands in height, and this is large enough. Indeed
the standard might be lowered, as the smaller horses are better coupled.
There is another point iu their favour; in travelling they are much
easier on themselves, and require less food. The best bronchos come from
British Columbia and Oregon, as the breeders in those countries have
been using thorough-bred stallions with the native mares for a much
greater length of time than the breeders in Montana and Alberta.
entire nonchalance with which a young broncho will regard a railway
train is one of those things which no fellow can understand. They have
been bred and reared, on horse ranches, far away, amid the waving grass
of the lone prairie, and amid the strange silence of these Western
plains. The playground of their youth, where they scampered in joyous
"Wild as the wild deer,"
far distant from the puffing roar of the demon-like machine that glides
swiftly along the iron rails. Yet, on their first introduction to this
weird object, they will merely raise their winsome heads, and gaze at it
with comic impassiveness.
woe to any one who suddenly approaches one of these youthful steeds, in
an overcoat of shaggy buffalo skin. They have a shuddering horror of
this, and will snort and strike out in abject fear. I once saw a recruit
nearly get his brains knocked out, by rushing into the stall of an
unbroken broncho, in one of these comfortable but uncouth coverings. The
broncho has a bad name, especially among a certain class of American
humorists of the Bill Nye order of
litterateurs. But nowhere is there a more
docile animal, if he be properly broken. Of course there are exceptions
; and a bad broncho
is bad and no mistake. After he has thrown
his rider, he will go for the unfortunate being, lying prostrate on the
ground, with his teeth. It is from such examples as these that much of
the legendary lore surrounding the name of the animal has sprung. Light,
active, and wiry, they combine the sterling, serviceable qualities of
mustang and thorough-bred.
When we hear of men riding to Macleod and back to Calgary (200 miles) in
four days, on ponies scarcely fourteen hands high, and know that they
thrive and do well on prairie grass alone, even although severely
worked, coming out after the hardest summer's work in the succeeding
spring, after rustling all winter for a living, fat and sound, every one
must agree I am writing of a notably tough and hardy race of animals.
Such is the mustang, or cayeuse, or native horse, the exclusive mount of
the Indian. The bronchos, bred from these, have immense powers of
recuperation and endurance, and are able to travel long distances
without water. In 1884, the horses in the Mounted Police consisted of a
number of heavy teams from Ontario for transport requirements. There was
so much trouble and risk in acclimatizing these that it was resolved to
gradually supply their places with the larger specimens of bronchos, and
the latter are universally driven in harness now.
rough-riding corporal at Regina was a very pleasant young Englishman. He
now holds a commission. He possessed any amount of pluck, and many a
bouncing toss he received in trying to subdue these fiery untamed
youngsters, which we led up to barracks on a cold, bleak November day,
the north wind piercing fur coat and woollen under-garment. About a
dozen of us were picked out to ride these "desert-born" steeds. There
was a pretty extensive circus at first. In fact one young chestnut had
to be blindfolded before he would allow you to go near him with the
the full foam
of wrath and dread"
the angry colt would struggle and rear in the hands
of his taskmasters. We were allowed to make our choice of mounts, and,
as we went over to the stables, I thus soliloquized,—
"Women, pianos, cigars, razors, and horses are all, more or less, a
lottery. Therefore, I shall go in for Hobson's choice."
I pitched upon the first I came to, in the first stall to the left; a
little mouse-coloured beggar with a quiet, slumbering eye. He turned out
as tame as one of those towel-racks which are for hire, in the season,
on Scarborough Sands. We used to take them out on the manege daily,
where, at first, several were seized with a strong desire to explore the
surrounding country, and visit the land of their birth. After a time
they settled down to the fanciful manoeuvres of the school.
After having been about two months in the corps, I was able to form some
idea of the class of comrades among whom my lot was cast. I discovered
there were truly " all sorts and conditions of men." Many I found, in
various troops, were related to English families in good position. There
were three men at Regina who had held commissions in the British
service. There was also an ex-officer of militia, and one of volunteers.
There was an ex-midshipman, son of the Governor of one of our small
Colonial dependencies. A son of a major-general, an ex-cadet of the
Canadian Royal Military College at Kingston, a medical student from
Dublin, two ex-troopers of the Scots Greys, a son of a captain in the
line, an Oxford B.A., and several of the ubiquitous natives of Scotland
comprised the mixture. In addition there were many Canadians belonging
to families of influence, as well as several from the backwoods, who had
never seen the light till their fathers had hewed a way through the bush
to a concession road. They were none the worse fellows on that account,
though. There were none of the questionable characters then, who crept
in after the Rebellion, when recruiting parties went through the slums
of Ontario towns. Several of our men sported medals won in South Africa,
Egypt, and Afghanistan. There was one, brother of a Yorkshire baronet,
formerly an officer of a certain regiment of foot, who as a
contortionist and lion-comique was the best amateur I ever knew. There
was only an ex-circus clown from Dublin who could beat him. These two
would give gratuitous performances nightly, using the barrack-room
furniture as acrobatic "properties."
sergeant and a couple of constables rode into barracks one clear frosty
morning, after an eventful trip. Some horses had been stolen from the
celebrated Bell Farm, and this non-commissioned officer and his party
were detailed to follow the thieves. These of course belonged to the
marauding gentry, who have their haunts on the frontiers of Dakota and
Montana, and in the wooded fringes of the Missouri. In the bluffs, among
the lakes that nestle in the rounded hollows of the Moose Mountain, the
sergeant—a smart fellow—took up the trail. Over the sparsely settled
prairie, through swamp and coulee, by clumps of poplar balsam, by the
tamarac-clad banks of sluggish creeks, over white patches of alkali
deposit, and across desert spaces of cactus-plant and sand he followed
up the hoof-marks, and ran his quarry to earth in a log shanty, standing
in a gloomy thicket, a short distance from Miles City. The thieves were
lodged in prison there by the United States Marshal ; whence a posse of
free and independent citizens hauled them to the nearest convenient
place of execution and hanged them. In those days this crime was
indulged in to a great extent all along the border. The Moose Mountain
district had to be garrisoned by small detachments of redcoats scattered
about in the farmers' houses, for these freebooters were the terror of
the pioneers. They went about like moving arsenals, armed with the most
improved type of weapons. Making unexpected raids upon lonely stables at
night, they would drive their booty over the line to wild fastnesses
only known to such outlaws. They would even hold up the unprotected
settler at the plough, and force him to unhitch his horses. The
heinousness of the crime will be understood when the value of a team to
the struggling pioneer is taken into consideration. He is cut off from
the world, and his principal aid to life is taken from him. Even in
Manitoba, where settlement was comparatively thick, the Provincial
Government were obliged to ask for the services of the Mounted Police.
The Turtle Mountain district was another nest of brigandage.
About the end of November all the scattered detachments were called in,
and returned to headquarters. Thus the barracks became pretty well
occupied once more. We had a recreation-room, which was very cosy and
well looked after, and attached to this was a lending library. One of
the buglers had his quarters here, and kept the place in order. Weekly
Illustrated London News, Graphic, and the
Times; also the principal daily Canadian
papers. There was a bagatelle-table in the room, and also draught-boards
and cards. A large stove gave out ample heat. Pennsylvanian coal was at
that time burnt at Regina.
Over on the prairie beside the railway line was a frame building of the
bungalow style of architecture, painted white, with a slate-coloured
roof of shingles, This was the canteen, the presiding deity being a
swarthy civilian from " down East." There was a billiard-table, of
uneven tendencies, in the saloon. All sorts, of canned goods, such as
lobster, sardines, and salmon, were dispensed here at visionary prices.
I call them visionary, as they were so seldom realized. Pies of
quartz-like solidity and granitic cakes also adorned the counter. There
was a flash bar, gorgeous with mirrors, and photographs of American
danseuses with elephantine legs and busts,
surpassing in development the wildest imagination. These seductive
creatures grinned hideously at you while you imbibed flat cider or hop
beer. These latter beverages were non-intoxicating, and were not
calculated to tickle the palate.
"ran" a mess in barracks. Each man contributed ten cents per diem
towards messing, and we appointed a caterer, who laid out the aggregate
sum to the best advantage. Thus, in addition to our rations, we had milk
and butter, and pies, and plum pudding, and other luxuries. The pay of a
trooper on joining was fifty cents (two shillings) per diem, free from
all stoppages. This was increased annually by five cents, till in the
fifth year of service it amounted to seventy cents. A man on
re-engagement received seventy-five cents as his daily pay. Certain men
for special services received extra pay at the rate of fifteen cents,
while a corporal's pay was eighty-five cents, or three shillings and
sixpence, daily. During the winter, letters only arrived at Regina three
times a week.
had a muster parade, at the end of November, both of horses and men. The
sky was overcast, and a merciless wind swept across the plains, and
through the open square. It is indeed a very rare occurrence to enjoy a
calm day upon the prairie. At night, when I went to bed, I did not feel
very well, and could not get to sleep. I was hot and feverish, and my
mouth was parched. " Sick call" sounds at 8.30, and, after having my
name put down on the sick report, I was marched up to the hospital. The
doctor stuck a clinical thermometer into the corner of my mouth, and
suddenly jerking it out, laconically ejaculated, "Fever." Thereupon I
was bundled into a large airy ward, the walls of which were hung with
pleasant pictures; put into bed, given a dose of calomel, and handed a
bundle of illustrated papers.
shall never take calomel again, if I know it. Balls of lead seemed to be
moving about all over my body, poking their way all through my interior
economy, making a rush from my mesenteric region, and trying to get out
under my ribs and between my shoulder blades. I complained to the
hospital sergeant about this internal disorganization, and he gave me
castor oil! Oh, delicious mixture
This fever is known all over the world by various titles, and is just as
sweet under any other name. The Principal Medical Officer, in his annual
report, speaks of it as " endemic fever," and one of the assistant-sun
geons says it is an anomalous form of fever peculiar to the tract of
country indicated by him. But there is also recorded the fact that it is
of" malarious origin." In fact it is the typho-malarial scourge; known
as Red River fever in Manitoba, jungle fever in India, rock fever at Gib,
Maltese fever at the other shop, West Coast fever among the rotten fens
of Africa, and Rocky Mountain fever in British Columbia. It is of an
intermittent type, and the doctor at Regina used to treat it very
successfully by giving fluid extract of eucalyptus when the thermometer
was above 98°; but when the fever was off duty he used to ram in
quinine, in big doses. No doubt the causes of this outbreak at Regina
were the poisonous miasma from the standing pools that represented the
course of the mysterious Wascana. The water for washing purposes was
carried to the barracks from the creek, and kept in barrels in the
read in a Government pamphlet, published at Ottawa, the following
unblushing assertion :—"There is no malaria, and there are no diseases
arising out of, or peculiar to, either the climate or territory." The
climate is healthy enough, but there is no need to publish a deliberate
mis-statement. This sort of thing only damages the value of any truths
which may appear in emigration literature.
Suddenly there arose a violent storm in matters medical at Regina. A big
sacrilege was committed in the eyes of the P.M.O. His sanctuary was
desecrated. A young civilian was stricken by fever in the town, and the
people with whom he was residing and for whom he had been working, in
their inhuman selfishness, turned him to the door. The capital city did
not then possess a hospital, and it was decreed by the Colonel, after
representations from the Mayor, that the youth should be placed in the
police hospital. Thereupon our AEscula-pius was roused to fury, and he
took to writing protests and despatches all over the shop. He showed his
lofty contempt for the
elite of the capital, by withdrawing his name
from the club. He cleared the hospital of police patients, and sent them
into a barrack-room. I must say he treated the primary cause of this
disturbance with the utmost attention, tenderness, and skill. I was
convalescent at the time, and was allowed to roam at large around the
wards. When we were removed to our new sanatorium, he ordered me to lie
down on a stretcher, and I was thus borne away by a fatigue party of
four strapping troopers.
would rather walk, sir," I feebly protested.
"You are not to walk, I tell you."
I reclined upon my litter, amid the jokes of my comrades: "The coroner's
waiting, old man;" "The firing party is ready under old Mahogany," and
other ghastly sallies of the same kind of wit. There were about half a
dozen of us in this temporary infirmary, and we had a high old time of
it. One young fellow was carried in after a slight difference of opinion
with a broncho as to which was to have his own way. The quadruped
conquered, and the biped was laid by the heels for a spell.