Historic Events

March West 1874

The initial force, commanded by Commissioner French, was assembled at Fort Dufferin, Manitoba. Most had departed Toronto June 6, 1874 via Chicago by special train. Special arrangements were made with the US to travel with guns and uniforms packed. They then departed Fort Dufferin on July 8, 1874, on a march to what is now Alberta.

The group comprised 22 officers, 287 men – called constables and sub-constables – 310 horses, 67 wagons, 114 ox-carts, 18 yoke of oxen, 50 cows and 40 calves. The youngest member of expedition was only 14 years of age; Sub-constable James Wilson (Riach) Thom (N.W.M.P. Reg. No. 172, Old Series) was born in Edinburgh December 28, 1859. A pictorial account of the journey was recorded in the diary of Henri Julien, an artist from the Canadian Illustrated News, who accompanied the expedition.

Their destination was Fort Whoop-Up, a notorious American whisky trading post located at the junction of the St Marys River and Oldman Rivers. Following incorrect maps, and low on supplies, a contingent rode south from the Cypress Hills to Fort Benton to hire a guide to lead them to the infamous outpost. After returning to the main column troop, Jerry Potts led the force west to Fort Whoop-Up. Upon arrival at the whiskey trading post, they were greeted by the few men remaining at the post. After being invited in for dinner, the force was unable to find any whiskey,[12] the Americans having been forewarned of the troops impending arrival by suppliers at Fort Benton. With no action able to be taken against the whiskey post, and no offer to buy the fort being agreed upon the troop continued a few miles north west and established headquarters on an island in the Oldman, naming it Fort Kaelen MacLeod. Their first strike on the alcohol traders came after a Native complained at Fort Kaelen MacLeod about a group of whisky traders who had sold him overpriced whisky. Shortly after, the North-West Mounted Police caught and fined the perpetrators, although they were not at Fort Whoop-Up at the time. Although the presence of the NWMP decreased the abundance of whisky trading, it still occurred.

Historians have theorized that failure of the 1874 March West would not have completely ended the Canadian federal government’s vision of settling the country’s western plains, but could have delayed it for many years. It could also have encouraged the Canadian Pacific Railway to seek a more northerly route for its transcontinental railway that went through the well-mapped and partially settled valley of the North Saskatchewan River, touching on Prince Albert, Battleford and Edmonton, and through the Yellowhead Pass, as originally proposed by Sandford Fleming. This would have offered no economic justification for the existence of cities like Brandon, Regina, Moose Jaw, Swift Current, Medicine Hat, and Calgary, which could, in turn, have tempted American expansionists to make a play for the flat, empty southern regions of the Canadian prairies.


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