[1 - Samuel Benfield Steele]
Samuel Benfield Steele (5 January 1849 to 30 January 1919) was a famous member of the North-West Mounted Police and in later years a distinguished soldier. (This post and the next cover only his early life in the military and the NWMP as it relates to Canada.) He was the fourth son born to Elmes and Anne Steele (2nd marriage) in Medonte Township in Upper Canada. His family had military connections and in 1866 he joined the militia at the time of the Fenian Raids.
[2-The Red River Expedition below Kakabeka Falls by Frances Anne Hopkins circa 1877]
In 1870 he participated in the Red River Expedition that had been authorized by Sir John A. MacDonald to confront Louis Riel and the Métis at the Red River Settlement (near current Winnipeg, Manitoba). The expedition was headed by Colonel Garnet Wolseley (later Field Marshall Viscount) when he joined them at the Sault. The military crossed through a Canadian route as the U.S. government refused them access over U.S. soil.
The troops were required to transport all their provisions, weapons including cannons over hundreds of miles of wilderness. In each of the boats the loads weighed about 4,000 pounds made up of: barrels of biscuits, flour, pork, sugar; tea chests, sacks of beans. cases of potatoes, ammunition boxes, arm chests, ball pouches, tents, soap cases, candles, boat nails, and one bottle of mosquito oil. At numerous portages special roads were required to be built with logs over muskeg (swampy areas). The one place they did not portage was the Winnipeg River, where the rapids and cataracts had to be navigated. This trip was undertaken during two months in summer heat combined with swarms of blackflies and mosquitoes.
[3- Voyageur Canoe Passing Waterfall by Frances Anne Hopkins 1869]
Steele made note in his biography of a voyageur carrying two barrels of pork and 1,000 rounds of ammunition with a combined weight of 528 pounds without showing any distress.
When the troops arrived at Fort Garry, they found Riel had abandoned it.
[4-Upper Fort Garry - early 1870s]
At that time, Winnipeg, was located half a mile north of Fort Garry with about forty houses, lining the Stone Fort trail (now the main street of Winnipeg). There were: nine stores, three chemist shops, one saddlery, one hardware store, several saloons named “Hell’s Gates”, “The Red Saloon”, etc.
[5-Three Piegan Chiefs by Edward Curtis 1900]
Shortly before Steele had arrived with the military contingent at Fort Garry, smallpox had been spreading in the far west from the Missouri River to the North Saskatchewan River. The disease had been brought into Montana by a merchant who had left a blanket on a Missouri steamboat from St. Louis, the blanket in turn being stolen by an Indian. He caught the disease and spread it through his tribe which killed them. A war party of Bloods who had gone to steal horses, found no one alive, took the horses and as many buffalo robes as they could, not realizing their mistake. The disease spread throughout all the Indian tribes: Peigans, Blackfeet, Crees and Stonies, and then to the plains hunters, the employees of the Hudson’s Bay Company and missionary families. The chiefs of the Blackfeet nation were gone, leaving few capable of leading their people. One tribe whose lodges had numbered 2,000 in their main camp, with each lodge containing eight persons, was reduced to one-tenth of its number.
For the whisky trader who had brought in the contagion to the North West Territory (as the Canadian prairies were then known), a member of the military, Lieutenant Butler, undertook the duty to prevail upon him “that British law was supreme”. Butler travelled there and back on horseback and by dog train over 2,700 miles to perform his task. [What Butler did to the whisky trader is not revealed in Steele’s narrative, though a book The Great Lone Land is mentioned.]
TO BE CONTINUED
Forty Years In Canada by Col. Samuel B. Steele, 1915, Herbert Jenkins Limited
Photo Credits: -wikipedia.
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