Monday, 15 June 2009

My Town Monday - Samuel B. Steele

[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.]


Wikipedia -
Forty Years In Canada by Col. Samuel B. Steele, 1915, Herbert Jenkins Limited

Photo Credits: [1][2][3][4][5]-wikipedia.

Travis Erwin from Amarillo, Texas is the founder of My Town Monday. For other locations to visit please go to Travis' site here.


Barrie said...

I love anything to do with Louis Riel. And I can't believe I'm just putting this together, but....Red River Settlement to Manitoba to Red River cereal?! Right? I loved it growing up, even more than porridge.

SAPhotographs (Joan) said...

What an interesting post Barbara. I love this early hisory and think it must have been a very exciting time to have ived then. I think I would have done well as Calamity Jane. :)

Unknown said...

I get a wonderful lesson in history whenever I come to your blog Barbara...Thomas

David Cranmer said...

My ignorance on Canadian history knows no bounds but my fascination and respect for your historical posts only grows as a result... Samuel B Steele sounds like he lived one happening life.

debra said...

I love your historical posts, Barbara.
I am always amazed at the fortitude of the pioneers.

Teresa said...

I really enjoy your historical posts, Barbara. The part about how smallpox decimated the Indians was really sad, and all from an infected blanket...

Travis Erwin said...

That time period sure was filled with many a brave and tough individual. Good thing for the rest of us they took those chances.

pattinase (abbott) said...

You will have to give me a few unusual places to see when we come to Toronto in September.

Ddusty said...

Thank you, Barbara, for that peek at history. As another commenter said, Americans know so little of Canadian history. Heck, we have enough trouble with our own. ;) Rugged folks, indeed. And a terrible thing about the epidemic. The very landscape would be different but for that.

Linda McLaughlin said...

Another interesting historical post, Barbara. So sad about how smallpox decimated the native peoples. They just had no immunity to it. Guns, germs and steel, as Jared Diamond says.

Barbara Martin said...

Barrie, I will be doing a separate post on Louis Riel later.

Yes, my childhood mornings contained a lot of porrige and cream of wheat, though we didn't have Red River cereal.

Joan, I would think it was an uncertain time as the immigrants had to make a living at their location. People had to work very hard back then (no conveniences as we know it now).

Thomas, I'm pleased you like the post. There are many tales surrounding Sam Steele.

Barbara Martin said...

David, there will be many more historical posts to entertain you. There are also many adventures related to Sam Steele forthcoming in the Mondays ahead.

Debra, they made the best of their situations.

Teresa, the First Nations had never encountered smallpox before and they had a low tolerance for other diseases too.

Barbara Martin said...

Travis, the opening up of western Canada was similar to the United States but our dealings with the First Nations were different.

Patti, I'll see what I can come up with. There are my previous MTM posts to peruse.

Dusty, welcome. The Europeans did their own decimating of the buffalo herds on the prairies of both nations.

Barbara Martin said...

Linda, yes, and alcohol. Sam Steele and Fort Whoop-up is on the horizon.

Reb said...

Barbara I am currently reading a book about Sam Steele by Holly Quan. It seems so far to be a collection of highlights. I have just started though, so there may be more there than meets the eye in the first few pages.

Merisi said...

So much history in one place, so many lives interwoven in your town!
So very interesting what I learned from your post today, thank you! :-)

Barbara Martin said...

Reb, the history of Sam Steele is fascinating and important for any Canadian to read about the early days. Especially Albertans.

Merisi, although our country is young by European standards there is much history here.