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Manitoba History No. 89
Manitoba
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No. 89

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Manitoba History: Review: Occasional Papers in Archeology and History #21

by John Jennings
Trent University

Manitoba History, Number 2, 1981

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make it available here as a free, public service.

Please direct all inquiries to webmaster@mhs.mb.ca.

This collection of articles is the latest in a highly competent series produced by the National Historic Parks and Sites Branch and published by Parks Canada. Two of the three articles in this collection, both written by Philip Goldring, deal with the early history of the North West Mounted Police. The third article, by Edward F. Bush relates the sudden rise and protracted fall of Klondike journalism.

Goldring’s article “The First Contingent The North-West Mounted Police, 1873-74”, covers the period of the formation of the Mounted Police and of the winter spent by the first contingent at Fort Garry. The first part of the article overlaps S. W. Horrall’s article in the Canadian Historical Review in June 1972, “Sir John A. Macdonald the Mounted Police Force for the Northwest Territories”, but comes to a somewhat different conclusion concerning the influence of the Cypress Hills Massacre in the spring of 1873 on the formation of the Mounted Police. Both authors effectively destroy the old myth, found in practically all previous sources on the early Police, fictional or historical, that the North-West Mounted Police were hurriedly formed after the news of the massacre to protect the Indians of the Plains from unscrupulous American whisky traders. Both stress the long range planning, mostly on the part of Sir John A. Macdonald, which preceded the actual formation of the Police. But Goldring questions Horrall’s claim that the plans for the Police might have died on the drawing board if the news of the Massacre had not jolted the government into action before it was thrown out of office in November 1873 by the Pacific Scandal, to be replaced by the Liberals, who were most unreceptive to the idea of a police force for the Territory. Goldring’s argument is convincing that the Conservative government had decided on the immediate formation of the Mounted Police before news of the massacre reached it. Goldring makes a good case of the continuity of Canadian Indian and police policy, putting to rest most effectively, in this case at least, the old theme that Ottawa’s responses to the West were usually abrupt and ill-informed.

Another important aspect of this article is the description, based on very thorough primary research, of the first winter of the Police at Fort Garry. The author takes a rather neglected bit of Police history and most effectively demonstrates its importance. The Mounted Police were really born at Fort Garry and it was there that the values and training were instilled in them which were to be so important for the history of the Canadian West.

Goldring’s second article, “Whisky, Horses and Death The Cypress Hills Massacre and its Sequel” sets straight, as far as is possible, an incident that has been shrouded in inaccuracy. He makes good use of the available sources to recount the butchery and mutilation of a group of drunken Assiniboine Indians by wolfers from Fort Benton who mistakenly accused these Indians of stealing one of their horses. Goldring also deals with the sequel to the massacre, the attempted extradition of the wolfers by the Mounted Police and the eventual trial in 1875 of some of them.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this article is the attempted extradition at Fort Benton. Increasingly, American frontier writings are revising the picture of the Plains Indians hounded by all elements of American society. Goldring shows that not only did the American army cooperate enthusiastically with the Mounted Police to bring the wolfers to justice, but that there was a very definite split between Republican elements, who sought the extradition of the wolfers, and frontier Democrats who demonstrated a pronounced anti-Canadianism and saw the Cypress Hills murderers as the courageous upholders of American frontier justice.

Edward Bush’s, “The Dawson Daily News Journalism in the Klondike”. has little in common with the two preceding articles, but does share the theme of the clash of ideals on the Canadian-American frontier. Dawson City at the height of the gold rush had the largest population west of Winnipeg, a population which was 80% American. Bush most ably describes the journalistic war between the American papers, which advocated local self-determination by such means as establishing a legislature and courts from camp meetings, and the Yukon Midnight Sun, an imperialist, anti-American, ultra-Royalist and Orange paper which backed a federal government intent on maintaining a vice-like hold on the Klondike. Of the eight newspapers which sprouted at Dawson, only the Dawson Daily News lasted. Bush’s method of tracing the history of the Klondike largely through this paper gives an immediacy to his subject of the evolution of Dawson from rough frontier town to sophisticated centre, complete with a Dawson Philharmonic Orchestra and fashion column, and finally to its gradual demise. It is a most effective way to relate an important part of the Yukon’s social and political history.

Page revised: 23 April 2010

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