Sunday, November 08, 2015


1670:  2,300,00 square miles (bigger than the Louisiana Purchase) of Western Canada was granted by England to the Hudson’s Bay Company.  The area was called “Rupert’s Land.” It was basically the drainage of the Hudson’s Bay, parallel to the Louisiana Purchase being the drainage of the MIssissippi basin.  (Remember this blog thread is about water.)  It was named after Prince Rupert of the Rhine, a nephew of Charles I and the first Governor of the Hudson's Bay Company. 

1821: The HBC monopoly was extended from Rupert's Land to the Pacific coast, where it was eventually the Oregon Territory, the drainage of the Columbia River.

Dr. John McLoughlin, much admired
They called him the "white-headed eagle."

1824 to 1845Dr. John McLoughlin, baptized Jean-Baptiste McLoughlin, (1784 – 1857) was a Chief Factor and Superintendent of the Columbia District of the Hudson's Bay Company at Fort Vancouver. He was Quebecois with an Irish grandfather.  He really was an MD and so was his son.  (His wife was tribal and went by the name of McKay, which she got from her first husband.)

Late 1840s:  McLoughlin's store in Oregon City was famous as the last stop on the Oregon Trail.  The prairie was settled from both the east and the west, but first settlement developed early in Oregon country, along the drainage of the Willamette River.

1866:   Isaac Gilbert Baker and George Amos Baker, as I. G. Baker and Brother, founded their mercantile and grocery company which operated from Fort Benton up into what is now Alberta, basically along the Whoop-Up Trail.

1869:  Hudson’s Bay transferred Rupert’s Land to Canada.  The company continued its existence as a business until today.

1872:  Sanford Fleming made a surveying trip through Whoop-Up country and was queried by Mennonites about forming settlements there.  They were worried because of the reputation of the whiskey trade and hostile tribesmen.

1873:  Charles E. and William G  Conrad were admitted as partners to Baker and Brother and the name of their company was changed to I.G. Baker and Co.

Charlie Russell's version

1873:  This is the year the "Mounties" were formed. 

1874:  Conrads bought out George Baker but kept the name.

1891:  Hudson’s Bay Co. bought the Canadian assets of the I.G. Baker Co.

When Canada was suddenly presented with so much territory to govern, they had two ideas based on their experience, one British and the other French.  One idea was to create something like the British Raj bureaucracy in India, and the other was a sort of French Foreign Legion, a small tough quasi-military group who had to be on horseback to cover territory.  The latter is the one that changed the Eastslope West.

Their image was not quite upheld by their actions at first.  They kept getting lost and nearly starved because of missing their points of resupply.  They were spooked by the Western practice of terrorizing Easterners with story of atrocities and attacks.  In truth, there was just so much space -- esp. after the plagues had swept through the tribes -- that confrontations were few and the Metis moved around with confidence.  It took a while to figure out what sort of men could handle the life.  I suspect they included many second-sons of gentry looking for a way to earn respect.

Sharp, the author of “Whoop-Up Country”, is plainly an admirer of the Mounties, rather more than the mercantilists who created the web of outposts and connecting trails and taught the Mounties to use them.  But he is willing to point out that it was those Bakers and Conrads who saw that it was in their best interests to give up the wild times.  They put the Mounties on the right track because it was time.  The bullwhackers became guides.

In Canada things went well because of the emptiness.  Even the tribes had gone to the States in pursuit of the last buffalo.  This gave the new body of a few hundred order-keepers a little breathing space while they developed strategy and reputation.  Canada sent religious leaders to help with this.  The end of the beavers meant the end of the income for whiskey traders.  Rumors of gold in California pulled out a lot of hopeful men.

Now the traffic was reversed and the big money was to be made from the steamboats arriving in Fort Benton to support the development of the railroad and homesteads.  Here’s where Jerry Potts enters the story, a both-and sort of guy, something like the original Kipp.  Jerry Potts (1840 – 1896), (also known as Ky-yo-kosi, meaning "Bear Child"), was an American-Canadian plainsman, buffalo hunter, horse trader, interpreter, and scout of Anglo-Métis heritage.”  Charles Conrad and Jerry Potts escorted a bull train of supplies up to Fort Whoop-up.  Expecting possible armed resistance, Potts and Major Macleod left the cavalcade at a safe distance and walked up to the big fort gates.    They were welcomed and fed -- amazed.

Society often hosts many small changes which finally reach a tipping point and everything shifts.  Even addressing the changes in old ways sometimes succeeds and transforms.  Not that there isn’t resistance.  The story of Weatherwax and Wetzel, mercantilists who had a hard time giving up their whiskey trade, though they tried to go underground.  Their descendants are teachers, wrestling with today’s imbibers of illicit substances.  This article linked was presented by Bob Doerk,  who left his excellent research library to Blackfeet Community College where Marvin Weatherwax is a professor.

Ryan King, Jim Weatherwax, Greg Withall
Back at it in a micro-brewery

Sharp feels that the Mounties and governors of Canada succeeded better than the order-keepers of the southern side of the border because they were a little more resilient, more inclined to find solutions, headed by the Queen mother, and not so quick to hang bad guys, possibly in kangaroo courts.  Maybe.   The Montana folks kinda liked their wild reputation. Next chapter, Chouteau County.

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