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A Mountie’s March West

A Mountie’s March West

Published: 06/15/2009 by Kate Schutz

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“I had a blanket taken from every officer and man last night, so that each horse was covered and protected from the cold rain and wind, which set in about 9 p.m. I begin to feel very much alarmed for the safety of the Force. If a few hours’ cold rain kills off a number of horses, what would be the effect of a 24 hours’ snow storm.” Diary of Commissioner George Arthur French, September 1874

In May of 1873, men from Britain, Canada and the United States were asked by Sir John A McDonald to accept unknown challenges and become members of a brand new, barely defined organization. They were required to be between the ages of 18 and 40 years old, able-bodied, even-tempered horsemen who could read or write in English or French. What lay ahead, no one could predict. The 150 chosen men formed a “Mounted Police Force for the Northwest Territories” becoming what today is an internationally recognized symbol of Canada: the red-coated Mountie on his horse.

The Command was to be divided into Troops. The Commanding Officer was to be termed “Commissioner”. The Force was to be a paramilitary body, sent west to: stop liquor trafficking in the whiskey trade, to gain the respect and confidence of the First Nations, to collect customs dues, and to perform all the duties of a police force. They were to prepare the way for the CPR and, ultimately settlement in the west.

These recruits left Toronto in June 1874 traveling by rail through Chicago to Fargo, North Dakota. Here they disembarked and marched northward across the border, to join up with another three troops at the small boundary settlement of Fort Dufferin. A total of 275 officers and men covered 1500 km on horseback in three months. It was an arduous journey that some did not survive. Their eastern horses starved from the indigestible prairie grasses, men became ill and injured and were left behind and rations quickly diminished. Morale was very low among these young, unprepared men. NWMP survival depended largely on the help of the First Nations locals, particularly those who were recruited as scouts, such as the incredible Métis guide, Jerry Potts.

It was Potts who helped Assistant Commissioner James Macleod locate Fort Benton, Montana only to find the whiskey traders had fled. The traders left behind entire communities of First Nations people addicted to their whiskey and starving.
The need for a police presence on the western prairies was great. In October 1874, the Mounties began building Fort Macleod, the first police outpost in the far west. Shortly thereafter, the Mounties established an outpost at the confluence of the Bow and Elbow rivers. It was named by Colonel Macleod after a castle in his Scottish homeland: Fort Calgary. These forts were among the first public buildings in Southern Alberta and they, along with the Mounted Police who inhabited them, became a symbol of law, order and community through out Canada and also abroad. 

Mountie Resources

official RCMP website

Diary of Henry Julien, Artist invited to document the Great March West http://www.ourheritage.net/julien_pages/Julien1.html

North-West Mounted Police

Mountie Song
The Mounties March West: The Epic Trek and Early Adventures of the NWMP by Tony Hollihan (Young Adult)

M is for Mountie: An RCMP Alphabet by Polly Horvath

“Without Fear or Affection” The Men of the NWMP. This is an excellent Library and Archives Canada website with educators guides.