...and a Tale of Two Railroads©1997
As the ancient proverb says, "Sometimes you can't see the forest for the trees."
Such is the case with George Armstrong Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn. This one event has so enraptured the minds of the North American and world public, (not to mention historians), that all surrounding events have fallen into its shadow and consequently suffered a distorting assessment through its lens.
In one way or another this era of the North American West is celebrated in every corner of the planet. Little boys everywhere (age notwithstanding) dream of being one of these cowboys or Plains Indians. To roam the sun drenched Great Plains on horseback and live by the proceeds of the chase, enjoying the fruits of your labour while being free from the constraints of our so-called "civilized government" strikes an enormously deep chord in the human psyche. Somehow it seems that this was the way life was meant to be lived and given the chance most of us would gladly step into a time machine for the opportunity to experience it for a short while at any rate.
This subconscious craving and image affinity reveals itself in many ways. For instance, the conception of the feather bedecked warrior is so strong in Canada and the United States that to be considered an Indian on the national stage requires that the individual sport this strictly Plains Indian tribal dress or be dismissed as some sort of impostor. National Indian leaders, even those who do not originate from the Prairies,almost always choose to present themselves to both nations television viewers in this spectacular historical fashion.
Canada has come to be associated around the world with chiefly one solitary image, and that is of a totally Western extraction: the scarlet jacketed, Stetsons hatted "Mountie" of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police probably the most recognizable police force on the planet. (Never mind that the image is almost entirely incorrect from a historically accurate point of view. Your average frontier North-West Mounted Police officer only vaguely resembled the postcard conception currently presented to the public, and even then only on occasion. See Appendix: What did the Frontier North-West Mounted Police Actually Look Like?)
Non-Indians and Indians alike wear the typical accoutrements of the cowboy. Blue jeans, cowboy boots, stetsons and leather belts festooned with ornate buckles of brass and silver are highly coveted items all over the world, even more so than in North America. The cost of a pair of well-worn blue jeans in Russia is genuinely staggering.
Everyone, it seems, longs to be a Westerner.
Thus Hollywood movies and popular fiction have provided the world with a truly endless parade of heroes and villains drawn from the pages of the Old West. Much serious historical accomplishment has also been presented by publishers for the seemingly insatiable international consumption.
Yet no names have been accorded more lasting notoriety than those of George Custer and his Indian arch-nemesis, Sitting Bull. And no event from the Old West has been afforded more paper and ink than their Battle of the Little Bighorn.
Why this should be the case is at the same time both obvious and obscure.
Obvious because it has come to be (after some long fought and not entirely undeserved revision) the ultimate symbolization of the struggle for the North American continent between the advancing European civilization and the melting Indian resistance. Packaging such a concept in this readily recognizable form has proven nothing if not profitable.
Yet this is an unsatisfactory resolution of the issue to the honest and inquisitive student of history who might be seeking more than an elementary explanation for this cliché-ridden saga. There were other battles between whites and Indians that involved as many combatants and were strategically as important. One of them, the Battle of the Rosebud, happened a short distance south of the Little Bighorn only eight days earlier. Nor was this the worst defeat of the United States Army by Indians, as Evan S. Connell has pointed out in his popular Son of the Morning Star on page 356. This unfortunate distinction belongs to General Arthur St. Clair and 632 of his men, who met up with the wrong end of the sticks wielded by Miami chief Little Turtles warriors in 1791. And to the perceptive reader the first glimmerings of an answer can be found in the parochial point of view that this and the preceding paragraph have provided. Still, this is typically all that has been considered in evaluating this incident.
If we bother to take out a map of this region of the continent we will immediately notice that Montana is a border state. The proximity of another country Canada should be the first clue that there was perhaps more going on here than first meets the eye. The mass movement of troops in a border region is a cause for concern in virtually every country in the world and has been since the dawn of recorded history. Even the dullest person understands that to threaten another country the invader must exercise control over that part of his border, and then move sufficient numbers of troops into the area to successfully stage his act of aggression.
For certain loosely argued reasons, historians have ignored these facts when looking at the northern Plains Indian wars of the 1870s.
The first thing that must be understood is the reality that the majority of Americans have grown to be an insular-minded people when it comes to the North American continent. While this was not always the case, it has certainly become their dominant feature with regard to this topic as the twentieth and twenty-first centuries merge. North America is simply ascribed as "America" in the United States (a designation never used in Canada), i.e., news reports refer to "America and her European allies" or "the United States and her European allies in NATO." Historians trumpet that "American pioneers had at last conquered the continent," when in truth it was less than half of it. The North American Indian is called the "American Indian." Almost every book, documentary and feature film about the history of the Old West produced in the United States features maps, texts, photographs, commentaries and scripts that dont extend beyond the 49th parallel even though the Great Plains of western Canada were environmentally and anthropologically identical, and cover an enormous three hundred thousand square miles!
To Canada has been afforded the recognition of a goose named after it, the ubiquitous Mountie postcard and the (bizarre) reputation as a snow-bound wasteland.
A careful study of the matter clearly reveals that eighteenth and nineteenth century American politicians and captains of industry laboured under no such delusions. As the first chapter of this book has proven, American leadership was acutely aware of the vast country north of its border and wanted very badly to add Canada to its possessions. In pursuit of this goal they formulated two cornerstone tenets that are oftentimes oversimplified and sanitized by both county's citizens and historians. First was the "Monroe Doctrine," designed to halt expansion in the New World (professedly Latin America) of any European territorial holdings, or the overthrow of any newly declared independent former colonies, under threat of war. Later came the "Manifest Destiny" doctrine, which held that the North American continent was created by God exclusively as the domain of the United States. While some may wish to argue over the details, these were, nonetheless, their central tenets as understood at the time.1 From the advent of the American Revolution, the arch-foe, in the estimation of the United States leadership, was Great Britain and its colonial holdings on the continent. To be sure, there were other rivals to contend with, namely France and Spain, but no power even remotely aggravated American sensibilities the way Great Britain and her North American possessions did. In fact, it was almost a prerequisite to be exceedingly anti-British in order to succeed in the higher levels of the American political arena.
But somehow in the mind of every recent American historian this all ceased during the first of the two administrations of President Ulysses S. Grant.
Canadian historians, (largely consolidated in central Canada and apparently ready to take their cue on this subject from their cousins south of the border), also accepted this as a self-evident truth, even though there has been abundant documentation available showing that this was simply not the case!
By combining the evidence obtainable from the United States with what is at hand in Canada, it is possible to offer a much more satisfactory and credible explanation for the events and circumstances surrounding this famous battle. When the necessary amount of disciplined reasoning and logic is imposed, certain unanswered elements of this story are exposed. Then, by applying deductive rationale, a large number of surprising conclusions will emerge.
* * *
As was shown in chapter one, it is verifiable that President Ulysses S. Grant did not abandon the longtime American dream of a continental United States of America with the signing of the Treaty of Washington on May 8, 1871. While that is precisely what Grant and his few close advisors wanted everyone to believe, it is easily provable that he merely chose to bide his time on the issue and carry out further efforts in a less open fashion.
Why American historians have universally concluded that Grant suddenly turned a new leaf as an expansionist and annexationist is one of this story's great mysteries. Considering the infamy of the Grant years one would think that this change of heart would arouse suspicions in the historical community, but it didn't. Illustrative of explanations offered is the one put forward by Pulitzer Prize winner William S. McFeely in his Grant: A Biography,published in 1981. On pages 347 and 348 Mr. McFeely states:
"Grant was exasperated with the whole English business [the Alabama claims], and casually, but with great point, he told [Secretary of State Hamilton] Fish in November 1870 that he wanted it settled before the next presidential election. Furthermore, he told Fish to abandon hope of getting Canada joined to the United States through the negotiations. This critical decision was, perhaps, the turning point that led to the settlement. Grant thought no more now of the expansionism directed at Canada than he had in 1846 of the expansionism threatening Mexico. His silence amid the heady public talk of annexation did much to awaken a great number of Americans from the dream that Canada would, one day, inevitably be made part of a continental American union. And, privately, his lack of jingoism could be cited by Fish to help allay the fears of the British. Now they could negotiate without thinking that a grab for Canada lay behind every American move."
(The "Alabama Claims" arose from Great Britains building of high-seas raiders in British shipyards for the Confederacy during the Civil War. The losses incurred by Union shipping, especially through the actions of the Southern raider christened the Alabama,became the basis of American demands for remuneration after the war. One form these claims took was for the British government to pay an incredible indemnity of $2.5 billion! Other less exorbitant sums of two hundred million, forty-eight million and twenty-five million dollars were also floated back and forth. A third and vastly more palatable idea, as far as American expansionists were concerned and almost everyone boasted of being one was for the British Empire to surrender to the United States all of its territory in North America west of the 90th meridian and north of the 49th parallel. This, of course, would have sealed the eastern Canadian provinces fate because they had quite literally become overdeveloped, i.e., there was no more accessible farmland left in Ontario, Quebec or the Maritimes. To overcome the resultant small, stagnant, resource and agriculturally based economy, they would be forced to seek admission to the American union. Thus the United States overall strategy and long range goal lays revealed.)
Mr. McFeely goes on to reiterate that the international bankers did not want a war, they wanted investment opportunities and financial growth. Therefore, in this way the United States and Great Britain taught nineteenth century liberalism by example.
It would be unfair to single Mr. McFeely out for reproach or fault him for his conclusions, as they have been almost completely echoed both before and after his particular book, which is excellent in every other aspect, was published. Nevertheless, these standard failings clearly diminish the value of American works of Western history.
Yet a good deal of the blame lies more properly in Canada, where the information to refute this thesis has lain about in one instance since 1873, and in another since 1966.2 However, this latter was the approximate time that the Canadian federal government decided to discourage any development of a distinctively national Canadian identity that might foster the "melting-pot" approach to nation building favoured in the United States. Over the next three decades a "bilingual" (French-English) and "multicultural" (everyone else) dynamic was slowly developed and imposed, until by the 1990s it was almost impossible to obtain federal funding for historical research into anything other than the ethnicity of visible minorities. With the development of a national identity unwittingly (or perhaps not so unwittingly) discouraged, the control of most research and writing on the historical aspects of the growth of the Canadian nation fell into an increasingly small number of hands, concentrated mainly in central Canada that is to say the heavily populated provinces of Ontario and Quebec. Lathered in the emoluments of this and myriad other examples of federal largesse (taxed from other parts of the country), the region yielded a satisfying and self-sustaining quantity of votes and experiments in social activism for its political benefactors, but little in the form of identifying national history. Saddest of all (and unchanged from Pulitzer Prize winner Wallace Stegners critical lament in his seminal study Wolf Willow), school children were taught sparsely, if at all, of their section of the county's history, with the exception of central Canada. Consequently, works relating to the history of western Canada, which enjoys little harmony with the centrally inspired national model, are not overly numerous. Unremarkably, the chronicles which were produced generally reflected the political and social mandates of their funders almost always federally financed agencies, administered, of course, from Ottawa.
Nevertheless, a hard core of history loving Westerners and like-minded Easterners shunned these official governmental directives and independently produced a number of invaluable volumes. Information gleaned from these sources provides much of the substance for this work.
Ironically, the first proof of President Ulysses S. Grants continuing desire to annex Canada, after the signing of the Treaty of Washington in 1871, can be drawn from American Leonard B. Irwin's Pacific Railways and Nationalism in the Canadian-American Northwest, 1845-1873. In this book Irwin outlines the scheme that Republican party corporate financier Jay Cooke, of the Northern Pacific Railroad, embarked on only forty days after the aforementioned treaty was signed. On June 17, 1871, at the urging of fellow railroad baron William B. Ogden, Cooke began taking steps to literally bribe as many Canadian politicians, contrary business leaders and newspapermen as it would take to guarantee him the directorship of the proposed transcontinental Canadian Pacific Railway. Once this was achieved, Cooke planned to stall its construction for the benefit of his own competing Northern Pacific Railroad and the continental expansionary advantage of the United States.
This political absorption, Cooke had previously written early in 1870, would "without violence or bloodshed" be completed by "the quiet emigration over the border of trustworthy men and their families." Cooke continued that in this fashion there would be no nasty complications such as treaty violations. Besides, he prophesied, "The country belongs to us naturally "3 In 1869 Cooke had already had the railroads route carefully re-examined and a portion of the 49th parallel quietly surveyed.4 Thus the Canadian West was to be assimilated in exactly the same manner as the Oregon Territory had been in the 1840s.
On January 16, 1872, Jay Cooke defined his great endeavour in these words:
" the American work has to be kept [in the] dark for the moment and there is [to be at present] no hint of the Northern Pacific connection, but the real plan is to cross [the Canadian Pacific over to the United States at] the Sault Ste. Marie through northern Michigan and Wisconsin to Duluth, then build from Pembina [Minnesota] up to Fort Garry and by and by through the Saskatchewan [river valley] into British Columbia The Act [to be passed by the Canadian Parliament incorporating the Canadian Pacific railroad] will provide for building a North Shore Road to Fort Garry merely to calm public opinion, but it will provide for consolidation with other roads, so that the Michigan portion of the Northern Pacific clear to Duluth can be blended with the Canadian Pacific and the bonds sold as such in London we will have a straight route from Duluth to Montreal. This is all confidential. The parties have now gone to Canada to get the legislation for it, and I think Morton, Rose and Co. [Cooke's London based Canadian competitor for British capital and his Canadian partner Sir Hugh Allan's rival for the Canadian Pacific contract] will find themselves left out in the cold, except as they may come in with us."5 [italics added]
Besides swallowing the continent, there was obviously a great deal of money being contended for.
Interestingly, Cooke's letter reveals that there was no shortage of Canadian politicians and business moguls who disagreed with the idea of Confederation. For the right price anything, it seems, was purchasable. Yet this simply underscores the fact that a sizable percentage of the Canadian public was divided over the issue of Confederation and its alternative annexation to the United States.
These sentiments were not restricted to the eastern provinces either. In British Columbia, Frederick Seymour, the governor of the colony at the time of Confederation, was not convinced that Canada was the best route for his fiefdom to follow. Trade with the United States was much larger than it was with either Canada or Great Britain. Many of the colonists were American, especially in the mineral-rich interior. Newspaper articles advocating "Union" were far from unknown and reports submitted by the American Consulate in Victoria proved most encouraging to the Johnson administration in Washington, DC. In conjunction with the Alabama Claims, a resolution was even tabled in the US Senate in 1870 by Senator Corbett of Oregon calling for British Columbia's annexation.
But the colony was not called "British" Columbia without reason and this underlying sense of Britishness, given a goodly amount of outside stimulus, convinced the colonists to regard with more favour the offer of Confederation made by Ottawa, bound up with a transcontinental railroad. When Governor Seymour died in a most accommodating fashion in 1869, Prime Minister Macdonald had London transfer the pro-Confederationist governor of Newfoundland, Anthony Musgrave, into the newly vacated post. (The colony of Newfoundland had refused to become a part of the Dominion and continued to until 1949.) On July 20, 1871, the Province of British Columbia entered Confederation on the condition that the Canadian Pacific Railway be completed within ten years. This pledge, made by Macdonald's government, would be the bone of the most serious of contentions for many years.
Manitobans also had reservations about the viability of an all-Canadian railroad. In September of 1870 (after Riels provisional government had been deposed), two men of different nationalities, but not entirely dissimilar opinions, were given important appointments in Canada's newest province. One was its new lieutenant-governor, Adams G. Archibald. The other was the new United States consul in Winnipeg, James W. Taylor. Taylor, a longtime former agent of the treasury department, was replacing the former consul, General Oscar Malmros, whose actions in that capacity had been somewhat less than circumspect so much so that in March of 1870 he had been forced to flee back to the United States in both the dead of night and the middle of a blizzard! General Malmros had been actively advocating a true revolution that would deliver the British Northwest into the bosom of the United States, actions of a nature frowned upon by both the Provisional and Canadian governments. (Consuls Malmros and Taylor each owed much of their political position to their powerful benefactor, annexationist Republican Senator Alexander Ramsey of Minnesota.)6
What exactly had Consul Malmros been forwarding to the secretary of state and President Grant? The following, from Malmros September 11, 1869, dispatch, is totally illuminating and President Grant took pains not to let it reach the members of Congress who requested an update of the situation on December 8, 1869:
" if the settlers, in the case supposed, [an insurrection] should raise from among themselves a small regularly armed force of say 1000 troops, it would form a nucleus around which volunteers from the North Western States might collect The acquisition by our Government of the Hudson Bay Territory would of course render the building up of a great confederation north of the United States an impossibility."7
Also not forwarded by Grant to his inquisitive Congress was this, from the November 6, 1869, Malmros update:
"Should this revolution be successful it may, I think, be safely predicted that in less than two years time all the British Colonies on this continent will apply for admission into the Union."8
President Grant and his state department were indeed aware of, and secretly attempting to exploit, one of the formative Confederations Achilles heel sits less than enthusiastic West. However, they fumbled the ball rather sophomorically when they allowed one of Malmros unedited dispatches to reach the Senate in February 1870.9 Not realizing what had happened until the cat was out of the bag, the compromising manuscript was subsequently published as a Senate Executive Document and noticed by the very people in Canada that the Grant administration preferred to keep in the dark. Consul Malmros quite unceremoniously fled for his life.
An even greater threat to Canada was its terribly shaky economy, created by the unilateral cancelling of the treaty of reciprocity by the United States in 1866. Four years later Hamilton Fish gleaned from the British ambassadorial minister in Washington, Sir Edward Thornton, that if the US were to keep up this economic pressure Canada would likely buckle under the strain. Fish happily reported this plum to a meeting of Grants cabinet at the beginning of April 1870.10 In the hopes of annexation, non-reciprocity was to remain the mainstay of American policy toward Canada for decades.
James W. Taylor, Malmros replacement at Winnipeg, was hardly any less guilty than his predecessor he was simply undiscovered. For this reason he was the perfect secret agent in more ways than one. Secretary of State Hamilton Fish, Assistant Secretary John Chandler Bancroft-Davis and Minnesota Republican Senator Alexander Ramsey (who all employed him in that capacity) found his reports pleasingly illuminating and his goals of annexation were entirely in keeping with those of the Grant administration. Whats more, Jay Cooke had also found delight in Consul Taylor's attitude and vast knowledge of the British Northwest, and had made him one of his paid agents in 1869.11 Reports flowed from Taylor to the state department, Senator Ramsey and Jay Cooke with equal regularity.
The following, addressed to annexationist Republican Congressman Nathaniel P. Banks on November 24, 1870, (more than two months after taking control of the consulate), clearly reveals Taylor's goals in his own written words:
"I have accepted the Winnipeg consulate believing that I can advance the Annexation Policy, with which you are identified, more effectively here than elsewhere."12
Sensing an opportunity, Consul Taylor had already sounded out Lieutenant-Governor Archibald's feelings on the viability of the all-Canadian railroad and found them to be in agreement with his own. It was impractical and would take too long. Taylor excitedly forwarded this news to the state departments J. C. Bancroft-Davis on November 19, 1870. A copy also went to Jay Cooke, who, very pleased, determined to develop Archibald's views into a consensus of public opinion in Manitoba. In this they were successful, as many Manitobans wanted rail access long before the timetable proposed by Macdonald and his moneyed supporters of the all-Canada Canadian Pacific route.
It was Cooke's subsequent efforts to convince the Ottawa mandarins of the necessity of his plan that led him into contact with Sir Hugh Allan of Montreal. With an all-Canadian route, (above the Great Lakes), for the future Canadian Pacific Railway circumvented by these Jay Cooke and Company conspiracies, all of western Canada was to be totally dependent on this aristocrat of the Republican party. Confederation was evidently not yet a done deal.
Consequently, the inseparability of the annexationist manoeuvrings and goals of the Grant administration and Jay Cooke's Northern Pacific Railroad are conclusively proven.
Indeed, often skimmed over or not mentioned at all is the fact that Jay Cooke and Ulysses S. Grant were extremely well known to each other, and remained close political allies over the entirety of his terms in office. Without a doubt the most prominent of Northern financiers of the Civil War, Cooke was regarded far and wide as a fiscal genius. When Grant took office in March 1869, he was widely expected to name Cooke as his secretary of the treasury. Grant even held profitable stocks in interests that Cooke had promoted to him privately and in person in 1865, just after the conclusion of the Civil War.13
In his biography Ulysses S. Grant: Politician,author William B. Hesseltine reveals the following interesting even perplexing episodes.
In 1868, before Grant took office, Cooke complained about the new presidents observance of the (Sunday) Sabbath, or rather lack thereof, sermonizing that, "God will not bless us unless our rulers are righteous." Strange sentiments for a man who didn't flinch at bribing as many politicians as he may have found necessary. It also didn't prevent him from consorting with violent Fenian revolutionaries.14
As it is well known that money buys power, and the access to power, Hesseltine, not surprisingly, divulges that Cooke was by far the heaviest individual contributor to the Republican party during the Grant administrations, thereby enjoying Executive access right up to the moment his banking house went broke on September 18, 1873.15 President Grant was, in fact, a guest at Cooke's opulent fifty-two room Philadelphia mansion-estate called Ogontz on September 17, 1873the very night before Cooke's insolvency. Yet Cooke, a most astonishing host, did not mention his financial collapse even once, and Grant remained in ignorance of its totality until he arrived back in Washington, DC on the nineteenth!
Jay Cooke was truly a curious man.
On this return journey, Grants train was involved in a somewhat serious accident that severely injured a number of the passengers and crew. But Grant, reacting to the crash instantly, somehow remained stationary and picked up the thread of his conversation without missing a beat.
This Jay Cooke annexation scheme seems to appear in only one American work dealing with these issues and this era of history the already mentioned Pacific Railways and Nationalism in the Canadian-American Northwest, 1845-1873,originally published as part of Mr. Irwin's doctoral requirements at the University of Pennsylvania in 1939. Yet it was the revealing of this conspiracy that contributed in part to Cooke's financial collapse and also to the consequent fall of the then current Canadian government of Sir John A. Macdonald.
Intriguingly, President Grant's involvement with the Northern Pacific Railroad preceded Jay Cooke's by nearly five years! Grant was one of the original incorporators of the railroad when it was underwritten with public land grants by the United States Congress on July 2, 1864, while he was directing the Union armies from City Point, Virginia during the Civil War.16 (William B. Ogden, who encouraged Cooke to subvert the Canadian Pacific in his letter of June 17, 1871, was also one of the railroads original incorporators, as was Jay Cooke's brother, Henry.) The Northern Pacific was given just more than a dozen years to complete its construction. When for financial reasons the railroad was compelled to reorganize in 1866 and seek a Congressional extension of its charter, Grant, ever accommodating and now the first "General of the Army" since George Washington, provided a letter of endorsement praising the railroads value and aspirations.17
Demonstratively representative of what Grant was sanctioning are excerpts from two of the Northern Pacific's own promotional pamphlets, published in 1865 and 1867 for this very purpose. Herein lies the seeds of what was to be another mainstay of Grants foreign policy toward Canada over the extent of his terms in office:
"Puget Sound is marked out by nature for a great commercial entrepot. The northern route [that is the Northern Pacific's route] will give it to the United States, with all its grand elements of naval strength. An abandonment of the northern route will give it to Great Britain, which already has a rapidly increasing commerce and a large naval station in those waters."18
"The revenue to our government from this source alone [the British Northwest] would be very great indeed, and a road would not then be attempted to be built by England, and the whole country would soon become so Americanized (as already half the miners in that country are Americans) that they would in short time be asking for annexation to the United States."19
To assume that Jay Cooke's mere perpetuation of this longtime plan of continental expansion and annexation proceeded without President Grants knowledge and favour, (the details of which had constantly been forwarded to his secretary of state Hamilton Fish and assistant secretary J. C. Bancroft-Davis), would be to deny these irrefutably documented facts, and also the very historical purpose of the Northern Pacific Railroad!20
It is thus patently obvious that the only reason Grant instructed Fish to abandon his plans for annexation through the Alabama Claims, in November of 1870, was because he fully expected annexation to be achieved in a much easier fashion through Jay Cooke's Northern Pacific scheme. Keeping the economic screws turned tight on the squirming Canadians wouldn't hurt either. To this same scheme Grant lent the resources of the state department. In fact, Grant frankly admits in his Memoirs that due to his negative experiences in the Mexican War of 1846, commercial investment and mercantile manipulation were his preferred methods of territorial expansion.21Cleverly justified military conquest was reserved for those cases where aggressive capitalism had failed.
The cabal of annexationists associated with the 18th Presidency reads like a "who's who" of the post-Civil War Republican party. A far from complete list would include secretaries of state Elihu B. Washburne of Illinois and Hamilton Fish of New York, Vice-President Shuyler Colfax of Indiana, war-time Union generals and post-war congressmen Nathaniel P. Banks and Benjamin F. Butler of Massachusetts as well as James A. Garfield of Ohio, Congressman James G. Blaine of Maine, senators Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, Carl Schurz of Missouri, Alexander Ramsey of Minnesota (also that states two-time governor), Oliver P. Morton of Indiana, Jacob M. Howard and Zachariah Chandler of Michigan, John Sherman of Ohio along with his brother, General of the Army William Tecumseh Sherman, Lieutenant-General Philip H. Sheridan and, of course, Jay Cooke of Pennsylvania and President Grant himself.
Many of these men were also Fenian sympathizers when it was politically propitious to be so.
Senator Zachariah Chandler, (who will reappear in an intensely intriguing role several years later), made himself especially useful, zealously promoting land grants in Congress for the Northern Pacific's western Canada-bound spur line to Pembina on the international boundary. On April 19, 1870, during the 1869-70 Red River controversy, he entreated the Grant administration to recognize Louis Riels provisional government and immediately commence negotiations for annexation.22 Then on April 23 (apparently in a real hurry), Chandler wailed for a war of conquest against Canada, theatrically predicting that should the Dominion attempt to send an armed occupation force to secure its West, it could expect the deaths of up to one hundred thousand Canadian troops at the hands of overwhelming numbers of American freedom-fighters, in futile pursuit of their goal.23 (While Congress as a whole was not receiving the complete Malmros updates from Winnipeg, this previous statement indicates that Senator Chandler had been taken into President Grants confidence and was almost certainly serving him as an agent of the administration in the Senate, floating various ideas in order to gauge that body's opinions and reactions.) Senator Chandler, in conjunction with Senator Alexander Ramsey and Congressman Nathaniel Banks, even arranged an interview with President Grant for Fenian William O'Donoghue, the treasurer of Louis Riels failed provisional government, on January 28, 1871a scant three months before the Treaty of Washington was signed.24
O'Donoghue wanted to stage an invasion of Manitoba and was seeking presidential support. While Grant listened intently he decided not to lend him this assistance, partly because Consul Taylor had sent a report discrediting the fiery Irishman, and doubtless also because Cooke's plan seemed so assured. (The president regarded the Fenians fluctuating levels of American patriotism, but uniformly high levels of Irish patriotism, with annoyance anyway.) Undeterred, O'donoghue travelled on to Philadelphia and presented his plot to Jay Cooke, even pointing out how much easier it would be to annex western Canada with his railroad if there was a friendly government in power.25 But Cooke, continuously ruminating on the seeming infallibility of his own annexation plan, appears also to have declined assistance, although the highly placed Canadian spy "Henri Le Caron" was convinced Cooke provided him with money.26 O'donoghue went ahead with his invasion plan anyway and would have succeeded had Louis Riel, still ignorant of Prime Minister Macdonald's plans to render him a political exile, not influenced his multitude of Métis followers against their former comrade. Ironically, with its failure went Riels last opportunity to regain power.
While waiting for Cooke's central Canada scheme to bear fruit, the Grant administration began laying the groundwork to break the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty that had been signed with the Lakota Sioux. The agreement had made further construction on Cooke's Northern Pacific difficult at best and impossible at worst, as any additional westward movement on the American side of the border would most definitely be through territories that the mighty Lakota nation claimed as their own.
After being defeated in the prolonged 1866-67 guerrilla and siege war for control of the Bozeman Trail into the gold fields of Montana Territory, the American government was compelled to permanently cede to the Lakota Sioux, (under their famous warrior Chief Red Cloud), a gigantic reservation and "unceded Indian territory" covering a huge portion of the Montana, Wyoming and Dakota territories. The consequent "Great Sioux Reservation" largely encompassed all of what is now South Dakota, west of the Missouri River. The "unceded Indian territory," determined by the treaty on three sides as "the country north of the North Platte River and east of the summits of the Bighorn Mountains" to the west of the 104th meridian, had for some reason simply never been defined regarding its northern boundary. After framing additional reservations and agency forts for the generally non-hostile Shoshone, Crow, Assiniboine, Dakota Sioux, Arikara, Gros Ventre and Mandan tribes, the United States authorities were never able to exercise any extended control over this entire region, as far north as the Canadian border.
To bolster their forces in the northern sector of the Dakota Territory and support their forays west into the dangerous Montana Territory, (and later south into the Black Hills), the US government built Fort Abraham Lincoln, almost directly beside the "end of rail" at Bismarck, in September 1872. This fort was specifically erected to advance the purposes of the Northern Pacific Railroad.27
Signaling the commencement of President Grants second term, General of the Army William Tecumseh Sherman, on March 3, 1873, in a speech before Congress, put into words the manifold task ahead of the administration, the shrouded intentions of which few men knew.
"This railroad [the Northern Pacific] is a national enterprise and we are forced to protect the men during its survey and construction, through, probably, the most war-like nation of Indians on this continent, who will fight for every foot of the line."28
This indeed was the domain of the "Northern Roamers"the non-reservation Lakota, Northern Cheyenne and Northern Arapaho bands who eschewed any governmental control of their lives and chose to live the wild, free and war-like life of the Plains Indian as it had been practised for centuries. Foremost of the warrior chiefs of these groups were the famous Hunkpapa Lakota Sitting Bull and Oglala Lakota Crazy Horse, which is the English translation of the latter's Sioux name, Tashonka Witko (literally "sacred dog fool").29 These chiefs had never signed the treaties and laughed at the idea of holding themselves accountable to the edicts of the US government. As the decade of the 1860s spilled over into the 1870s, Dakota and Nakota (Yanktonais) Sioux refugees from the 1862 Minnesota uprising attached themselves to the Sitting Bull bands as well. Eminent among these war chiefs was the noted Yankton Dakota Inkpaduta or Red Point. Though they tended to concentrate south and west of the upper Missouri River during the winter moons, these Northern Roamers did not recognize any boundaries to their activities in the least. Wherever the great herds of buffalo might roam, or their enemy tribesmen congregate, is where you could reasonably expect to find them. It therefore was not unusual to encounter them on the southern plains of western Canada in what is present-day Saskatchewan, hunting and warring against their ancient enemies the Plains Cree, the Plains Ojibway (also called the Salteaux or Chippewa), the Métis, the Gros Ventres and the Assiniboine or Stoney (who were themselves Nakota Sioux).
Seldom, however, did these Northern Roamers come into contact with the equally militant and powerful Blackfoot Confederacy, headed by the warrior chiefs Crowfoot, Medicine Calf and Red Crow, and when they did it was usually the South Piegan of northwestern Montana, or perhaps the related North Peigan and Blood of what is now southern Alberta.30 Only rarely would they clash with the Sarcee and Blackfoot proper, who warred and hunted further north but contended to the east and north with the Cree and Métis, and on their west flank with several exceptionally tenacious bands of Assiniboine as well.
The resultant cauldron of shifting alliances and campaigns of conquest amongst these tribes of the northern Plains, further complicated by the periodic appearance of mountain tribes like the Kootenay, Flat Head and Nez Percé, became the source of constant conjecture and serious anxiety in both Canada and the United States.
But especially disconcerting was the indeterminate status of the tremendously powerful Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse Lakota bands, (heavily supplemented each summer by hunter-warriors from the reservations), who for many decades prior to the Battle of the Little Bighorn had displayed little appetite for an alliance with either country.
Thus, broadly speaking, there existed an absolutely enormous Indian and buffalo territory stretching from the North Platte River of the United States in the south, to the Saskatchewan rivers of Canada in the north. Between the extremes of these two river systems, outposts of white civilization appeared as insignificant dots in an ocean-like expanse of prairies, badlands and foothills. By 1873 (except for the brief 1874-75 Red River War, yet to explode over the western extremes of the Indian Territory and Staked Plains of the Texas panhandle), this was the last stronghold of the fabled Plains Indian tribes, and here they still ruled supreme.
Taking the military needs of the situation into careful consideration, General Philip H. Sheridan chose Lieutenant-Colonel George Custer and his Seventh Cavalry to garrison their new Fort Abraham Lincoln and spearhead whatever official activities against the non-reservation Indians the federal government might sanction. They were assigned to duty in Dakota Territory in March of 1873the same time that General Sherman was making his speech to Congress and President Grant was being sworn into his second term.
After designating two companies of the Seventh Cavalry under Major Marcus Reno to serve as military escort for the joint Canadian-American border surveying commission, Custer led the remainder of his regiment in protection duty for the Northern Pacific Railroads surveying expedition into Montana during the summer of 1873. This resulted in their first armed clashes with the non-reservation tribes of Sitting Bull on August 4, eleventh and sixteenth along the Yellowstone River.
But by that time disaster had struck American plans to corner western Canada with the Northern Pacific Railroad, and a consequentially worse catastrophe was just around the corner.
Decidedly dismayed by the unending threats and plots of American annexation, (as well as the increased depredations of American freebooter, whiskey and gun-running excursions into western Canada from their redoubts in this same upper Missouri region), the Canadian Parliament, at the urging of Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald, had passed a bill on May 23, 1873, creating the soon to be dispatched North-West Mounted Police.
Then, for other hotly denied but nevertheless closely related reasons, the Conservative controlled Parliament adjourned for the summer that same day. Macdonald's government was staggering under the weight of charges from the Opposition Liberals that they were acting in collusion with American interests from the Northern Pacific Railroad in order to subvert the Canadian Pacific.
After originally encouraging the enterprise, Macdonald had rather fancifully ordered the financiers headed by Canada's wealthiest individual, the shipping magnate Sir Hugh Allan of Montreal, to jettison their American partners, namely Jay Cooke and Company, or he would be unable to support their bid to build the Canadian Pacific.31 Perhaps with good reasons for doubting that Macdonald was serious, the self-serving Allan, while promising to do so, had at the last moment decided not to. When the prime minister finally discovered Allan's duplicity and howled his outrage in no uncertain terms, the apparently chastened Sir Hugh reputedly severed the link with Jay Cooke and Company on October 24, 1872 but as we shall see, he did no such thing.
Yet substantial damage had already been done to Macdonald and his Conservatives, and in more ways than one. In the interim both Allan and his chief legal advisor, the Conservative member of Parliament John J. Abott, had assured that same governing body that American interests were no longer involved, when, in fact, a great deal of documented evidence existed that they were still deeply immersed.
Woe was quite literally being piled upon woe. To wit; in an incredibly complicated sub-plot the prime ministers all-important Quebec lieutenant, Sir George Cartier, had on July 30, 1872, in exchange for election bribe money, practically given the written and guaranteed contract for (and invaluable presidency of) the yet to be formed Canadian Pacific Railway to none other than Sir Hugh Allan!
Whether Macdonald liked it or not, Sir Hugh, armed with this secret agreement, had the prime minister of Canada exactly where he wanted him. Should these corruptions leak out from any source it would mean political disaster to Macdonald and his newly reelected Conservative party secretly financed as they had been by many thousands of these same American railroad dollars!
In early-December of 1872, after months of trying to wriggle free by forming yet another possible financial consortium, Macdonald and his cabinet dutifully succumbed and delivered the charter for the Canadian Pacific Railway to Sir Hugh Allan and a board of directors to be chosen by the government.32
Subsequent amendments, however, insisted that these directors had to be British subjects. Another ensuing stipulation was that the main line must run north of Lake Superior, through Canadian territory. In addition, there was to be no connection with the Northern Pacific at Sault Ste. Marie or in British Columbia Jay Cooke having already completed 165 miles of his railroad just south of that province in Washington Territory.
Yet the less than patriotic and always thrifty Sir Hugh was determined, in one way or another, not to expend many additional millions of dollars on any all-Canadian route. While his actions proved that Allan was no ardent Confederationist, (and in this he was hardly alone), it must be admitted that he was faced with some practical problems that his political patrons were blissfully ignoring. Raising investment capital in London, then the financial centre of the world, was a real problem that both the Canadian Pacific and Northern Pacific promoters were faced with, and there were ever fewer pounds sterling available for any of the now thoroughly suspected North American railroads. Therefore it is somewhat understandable that in their continuing secret communications it was made clear that neither Allan nor Cooke wanted to contend with the other. Particularly when by setting aside Canadian nationalistic considerations, a much more profitable and complimentary blending of resources was possible.
On October 23, 1872, the day before he ostensibly ended his American connections, Allan assured Lycurgus Edgerton, the principal agent of Jay Cooke and Company in Canada, that once he had the Canadian Pacific's contract he would still somehow manage to hook the main line up to their Northern Pacific for the far more economical United States route south of Lake Superior.33 Edgerton's and Allan's clandestine meetings and communications were to persevere into the following year.
On December 18, 1872, (almost two full months after Allan assured the prime minister he had cut his ties to the Northern Pacific and Sir Hugh having now become confident of the charter), Edgerton sent the following confidential information to Jay Cooke:
"Sir Hugh estimates that the Canadian Pacific will cost rising of 150 millions of dollars. That Sir Hugh's financial project to be presently developed in Europe, will come into direct competition with the North [sic] Pacific seems to be apparent Sir Hugh's views in regard to the route which should be adopted for the Canadian road are well known and unchanged! His great Montreal Northern Colonization Road points to the Sault Ste. Marie, and to a connection with the United States system of Railways, and the Northern Pacific in particular, by the South Shore route "
On December 23, 1872, Edgerton forwarded this letter to Cooke, emphasizing their mutual needs and aspirations:
" it is very desirable that a perfect accord should exist between the two great railway interests, and that the people [of Canada] should acquiesce, and see that it is for their substantial interests to do so. The great point is to secure the cordial cooperation of the opposition [the Liberal party] which might otherwise embarrass the Government in exploiting the Canadian railway scheme in consonance with ours."
Obviously Allan and Edgerton were convinced that a few bribes in the right places would win over any political opponents. The important thing was for Sir Hugh and Cooke not to solicit the same London financing, or in any way have a falling out over it. Edgerton met in private with Allan later that same day and wrote to Cooke on the next, the 24th:
" his [Sir Hugh Allan's] views heretofore uniformly expressed, in regard to the route of the main line and connecting branches are unchanged there is nothing in the new charter that will conflict in carrying them out; although certain, unreasoning public opinion, had to be conciliated by an apparent concession to it, which, under the new programme, is more in form than in substance [the link with the Northern Pacific at Sault Ste. Marie] is the line of communication which nature has indicated, and which when an accomplished fact, no one will be found so obtuse of understanding and foolhardy, as to gainsay its obvious advantages over all other schemes, nor desire to make a useless expenditure for the North Shore road, which is dictated by a sentimental patriotism, and a narrow minded jealousy and prejudice for the next five or ten years if not for all time the Canada [sic] Pacific must be subservient and tributary to the interests of the Northern Pacific."34 [italics added]
Such unequivocal statements must have proven comforting to Jay Cooke, Hamilton Fish and their Republican president, Ulysses S. Grant, who had just been solidly reelected in the previous month of November 1872.
As we have already seen, Cooke had in January of 1872 correctly predicted the political difficulties facing Allan, and was well acquainted with the strategy needed to overthrow them. Now all that remained was to introduce Sir Hugh's scheme, monetarily smooth over the opposition and prevent any leaks.
Accordingly, the first day of the new year, 1873, witnessed this communication from Edgerton to Cooke:
" 42 votes in the Dominion Parliament, will sustain Sir Hugh's programme the opposition generally, in Parliament, headed by [Liberal party members] Hon. John Young, [Lucius Seth] Huntington and others, will coalesce with the Government, in sustaining him in it "
This letter frankly implies that the appropriate Liberal opponents had been satisfied in some fashion, to the point that they would not oppose whatever plans Sir Hugh Allan and his Conservative cohorts might push forward.
But as it turned out there was something the Liberal kingpins wanted more than wealthy benefactors, and that, of course, was ultimate political power. Sir Hugh's previous devious actions would deliver it to them.
George W. McMullen, (an expatriate Canadian and the leader of his group of side-investors whose bribe money the Northern Pacific had used in its backroom dealings with Sir Hugh), was especially unhappy when Allan dumped him and his Chicago associates on October 24, 1872, for it had cost him considerably more than a few thousand dollars personally. After complaining to the prime minister in person on December 31, 1872, about being dealt out of this potentially lucrative railroad deal, McMullen, rebuffed yet still hoping to recoup some of his losses, sold his collection of incriminating letters outlining the clandestine deals between Sir Hugh and the Northern Pacific to the Opposition Liberal party.
The Liberals, overjoyed, laid in wait while leaking tidbits through their partisan newspapers and at length levelled accusations of near-treason when Parliament reopened.
On April 2, 1873, in an event dripping with hypocrisy, the leading Liberal orator Lucius Seth Huntington, (a Canadian annexationist, one of the men Edgerton hinted had been paid off by Allan and widely believed to have been an investor with Jay Cooke himself), led the attack with information purchased from McMullen.35 The Conservatives, huffing and puffing as only politicians can (but squirming beneath the Liberal onslaught delightfully), denied everything and stalled an investigation as long as possible.
On July 4, 1873 as Americans everywhere prepared to celebrate their ninety-seventh Independence Day the Toronto Globe and Montreal Herald newspapers, (organs of the Liberal party), trumpeted their charges of conspiracy to their Ontario and Quebec audiences. And this time they printed the damning correspondences culled from the monetarily gratified George W. McMullen.
The fat of the "Pacific Scandal" was now quite literally in the fire and a Royal Commission was called to investigate. Pitched battles raged across the floor of the House of Commons until the moment of reckoning finally arrived. At 1:00 a.m. on November 5, by the contrary vote of one single Independent member of Parliament Donald A. Smith of Selkirk, Manitoba Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald lost a vital "confidence motion" and was thereby forced to call a national election. The ensuing political firestorm consumed both him and the Conservative party. They were bounced, disgraced and scandal-ridden, from office. Macdonald never forgave the nominally Conservative Smith, who ironically held a seat on Allan's board of directors.
Sir Hugh Allan's enormous briberies had in the end profited him not at all. They had only served to decisively remove him from significance in any future role with the Canadian Pacific Railway.
Neither had any of this vile news from North America proven favourable for Jay Cooke and Company's efforts to raise capital on the instantly jealous and possessive London money markets. Interfering so brazenly with the affairs of the British Empire earned the wealthy Philadelphian a sharp rap on his financial knuckles and his well of English capital, having already become exceedingly hard to pump, immediately ran dry. Seizing the moment, Cooke's multitude of American enemies closed in on his long overextended assets and finally on September 18, 1873, his banking house evaporated. Cooke is reported to have cried like a baby. But before it was all over many of his antagonists were doing the same, as their predatory actions precipitated the worst financial depression in the continents history, consequentially consuming them as well.
The Northern Pacific was stopped dead in its tracks at Bismarck, Dakota Territory.
The Canadian Pacific continued to exist on paper only. Yet it had reaped an important if pyrrhic victory. Should any westward construction ever begin, it was almost guaranteed that the route north of Lake Superior would be the one chosen.
Regardless, the contest for the North American continent was far from over.
Surveying the carnage created by this incredible case of capitalism gone crazy, American leadership concluded that different and still more covert tactics were now required.
1"Manifest Destiny" was originally defined by United States Magazine and Democratic Review editor John L. O'Sullivan in its July-August 1845 edition, and again in the October 13, 1845 issue of the New York Morning News. Unhappy at British censure of American stratagem in annexing Texas, (rather a case of the pot calling the kettle black), he editorialized:
"Our way lies, not over trampled nations, but through desert wastes, to be brought by our industry and energy within the domain of art and civilization. We are contiguous to a vast portion of the globe, untrodden save by the savage and the beast, and we are conscious of our power to render it tributary to man. This is a position which must give existence to a public law The acquisition of Texas, commencing with the earliest settlements under Austin down to the last conclusive act, may be admitted at once to be aggressive. But what then? It has been laid down and acted upon that the solitudes of America are the property of the immigrant children of Europe and their offspring. Not only has this been said and reiterated, but it is actually the basis of public law in America. Public sentiment with us repudiates possession without use, and this sentiment is gradually acquiring the force of established public law It will come to pass that the confederated democracies of the Anglo-American race will give this great continent as an inheritance to man. Rapacity and spoliation cannot be the features of this magnificent enterprise, not perhaps, because we are above and beyond the influence of such views, but because circumstances do not admit of their operation. We take from no man; the reverse rather we give to man. This national policy, necessity or destiny, we know to be just and beneficent, and we, therefore, afford to scorn the invective and imputations of rival nations. With the valleys of the Rocky Mountains covered into pastures and sheep-folds, we may with propriety turn to the world and ask, whom have we injured?"
O'Sullivan's formalization can hardly be considered accurate or incisive.
2Even the official history of the NWMP, John Peter Turners North-West Mounted Police 1873-1893, 2 Volumes (Kings Printer, Ottawa, ON, 1950), whose work long predates the political correctness mania that evolved out of the mid-1960s, maintains this curious fiction. On page 125 of volume one Turner states:
"The two great Anglo-Saxon countries of North America, in keeping with the spirit of the Oregon Boundary Treaty (1846), had extended their interests westward in full harmony and co-operation. The 49th parallel was on the way to becoming a symbol of peace and concord, an example to the remainder of the world."
The "spirit" of 1846s Oregon Boundary Treaty was defined by American President James K. Polk's campaign threat of "5640 or fight!" Turner only makes the vaguest reference to the matter which brought Sir John A. Macdonald's Conservative government down in the autumn of 1873 the Canadian Pacific Railway scandal, in which it was proven before the entire continent, (in gory detail through countless newspaper articles), that American railroad interests had been actively subverting Canada's western territorial interests with political bribe money from the Northern Pacific Railroad. Both of these issues had been a matter of the boldest public record for many decades when Turner was compiling his history of the force in the 1940s, yet, incredibly, he makes no mention of them. I am at a loss to adequately explain this outside of a preconceived historical misconception on Turners part, or perhaps an editorial bias imposed upon the work by its sponsors, the RCMP and the Canadian federal government. This was a period of collective relief and bonhomie between Canada and the US, following the Allies victory over Germany and Japan in the Second World War. The same sort of historical inaccuracies regarding the division of the continent were promulgated in the 1941 Academy Award winning film, The 49th Parallel.
3Berton, The National Dream: The Great Railway 1871-1881, 69.
Lamb, History of the Canadian Pacific Railway (New York, NY: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1977), 12.
4Irwin, Leonard B., Pacific Railways and Nationalism in the Canadian-American Northwest, 1845-1873, 109-10.
5Berton, The National Dream: The Great Railway 1871-1881,68. Morton, Rose and Company, the London, England based Canadian bankers, had also served as British negotiators with the US government in resolving the "Alabama Claims" dispute, once President Grant decided to let the issue be settled without outright Canadian annexation in November 1870.
Irwin, Leonard B., Pacific Railways and Nationalism in the Canadian-American Northwest, 1845-1873 (New York, NY: Greenwood Press, Publishers, 1968), 17172. Here is printed this Jay Cooke letter in its entirety. This volume is the treasure trove of information on the subject of American, (especially Jay Cooke), designs against western Canada. Originally presented and published in 1939 as a part of Mr. Irwin's doctoral requirements for a degree of Doctor of Philosophy, (of all things!), at the University of Pennsylvania, this manuscript must surely stand as required reading for anyone hoping to acquire anything remotely approaching a consummate knowledge of this era and the events which divided the northern Great Plains of the North American continent between Canada and the United States. Unfortunately, this book appears to be a rare and overlooked treasure, as very few Western historians include it in any of their works bibliographies. Consequently (and astonishingly), there has never been a volume which truly provided an insightful overview of this subject in either Canada or the United States! Pierre Berton lists Irwin's Pacific Railways and Nationalism in the Canadian-American Northwest, 1845-1873 in the bibliography of his The National Dream: The Great Railway 1871-1881. Doubtless, this was the source of much of his information. Inexplicably, however, Mr. Berton did not draw the connecting lines from Jay Cooke and his Northern Pacific Railroad to President Ulysses S. Grant and his two Republican administrations.
6Minnesota Republican Senator Alexander Ramsey was instrumental in having the American Consulate established at Winnipeg, for the express purpose of espionage and the annexation of western Canada.
7Irwin, Pacific Railways and Nationalism,79.
Gluek, Minnesota and the Manifest Destiny of the British Northwest, 269. (See footnote 15.) Consul Malmros and the Grant administrations embarrassing correspondences were published as Senate Executive Document No. 33,41st Congress, 2nd Session, Serial 1405.
8Irwin, Pacific Railways and Nationalism,79.
9Gluek, Minnesota and the Manifest Destiny,269.
10Gluek, Minnesota and the Manifest Destiny,279.
The paradox that reciprocity or free-trade presented successive American administrations is nicely illustrated by the agreement Grants government reached with that of Prime Minister Alexander Mackenzie in 1874. Having negotiated such a treaty, Grant and Fish simply allowed it to die in congressional committee later that year, obviously uncertain as to whether it would economically strengthen or weaken the object of their annexationary desires.
11Irwin, Pacific Railways and Nationalism,129.
12Irwin, Pacific Railways and Nationalism,135.
13McFeely, William S., Grant: A Biography (New York, NY: W. W. Norton and Company, 1981), 238.
14DArcy, The Fenian Movement in the U.S.: 1858-1886,381-82.
15Hesseltine, William B., Ulysses S. Grant: Politician (New York, NY: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1957), 280.
16Irwin, Pacific Railways and Nationalism,102.
17Irwin, Pacific Railways and Nationalism,103,104.
18Irwin, Pacific Railways and Nationalism,107.
19Irwin, Pacific Railways and Nationalism,108.
20 Irwin, Pacific Railroads and Nationalism. Read especially all of chapters three and four proof conclusive. In chapter one Irwin traces the American expansionary purposes of the Northern Pacific to the decade of the 1840s, and its genesis to the 1830s. The Mexican War of the 1840s turned into a much deeper quagmire than the United States had ever counted on. American leadership was far more interested in acquiring not only the Oregon Territory, but also New Caledonia (British Columbia) and every other inch of British western territory as far north as Russian Alaska. It was an act of faith in American ability to gain this part of the continent that led Secretary of State William H. Seward to advocate the purchase of Alaska in 1867the same year that Canada confederated.
21McFeely, Grant: A Biography,30.
22Howard, Strange Empire: Louis Riel and the Métis People,189.
Gluek, Minnesota and the Manifest Destiny of the Canadian Northwest,277-78.
23Stanley, The Birth of Western Canada: A History of the Riel Rebellions,127-28.
Gluek, Minnesota and the Manifest Destiny,277-78.
25Irwin, Pacific Railways and Nationalism,151-52.
26DArcy, The Fenian Movement in the U.S.: 1858-1886,381-82. As a major in the Fenian army, Le Caron was a close associate of his Civil War comrade, the Fenian General John O'Neill, who accompanied O'Donoghue on his abortive Manitoba invasion in October 1871. Thus Le Caron knew first-hand what O'Donoghue and his fellow revolutionaries were up to and who was giving them money. Prime Minister Macdonald's head of the secret police, Judge Gilbert McMicken, was also convinced that Jay Cooke was secretly financing the Fenians, particularly a cell operating in Minneapolis, Minnesota, which would have been the logical staging area for an invasion of Manitoba.
27Utley, Cavalier in Buckskins: George Armstrong Custer and the Western Military Frontier,115, 124-26.
28Utley, Robert M., The Lance And The Shield,111. From a speech made by General Sherman to Congress on March 3, 1873 the very time that Custer and the Seventh Cavalry were arriving for duty at Fort Abraham Lincoln, Dakota Territory.
29 There was no name for "horse" in the Plains Indian dialects of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as the species had been extinct in the Western Hemisphere for a very great length of time. The term the Sioux used in describing the animal, "sacred dog," reflects the staggering importance it wrought on their civilization. To them the horse was literally a gift from Wakan Tanka,the Great Spirit, as it greatly increased their mobility, allowing them to travel great distances in search of the buffalo. The Blackfoot and Sarcee also linked the horse to the dog in this fashion, naming them "elk dogs" and "seven dogs" respectively. Energized by its arrival, the Plains tribes standard of living soared, providing additional opportunities to raid their enemies for war honours, and ever more of the blessed "dogs."
30As explained to this writer by the foremost authority in North America on the Blackfoot Confederacy, Dr. Hugh Dempsey, the spellings of "Piegan" and "Peigan" differ between the United States and Canada in this fashion, respectively.
Similarly, the tribal group known as the "Chippewa" in the United States are called "Ojibway," "Ojibwa" or "Salteaux" in Canada. Amusingly, both Chippewa and Ojibway are white North Americans attempts to spell the same Indian word in English.
31Irwin, Pacific Railways and Nationalism,159. Macdonald had originally placed no restrictions on the composition of the Canadian Pacific's financial backers with regard to nationality, even telling Allan that American money would be wise to pursue. Thus Allan can be partially forgiven for ignoring the prime ministers counter-order to now remove American resources from the railroads prospectus.
32In a very real sense it can hardly be doubted that Prime Minister Macdonald suspected he was capitulating to Jay Cooke and his Northern Pacific conspirators when he and his cabinet delivered the charter for the Canadian Pacific Railway to Sir Hugh Allan in early-December of 1872. By the end of that month it was beyond doubt, when George McMullen visited Macdonald and revealed his assortment of correspondences which proved Sir Hugh had still been much involved with the Northern Pacific long after assuring the prime minister and Parliament that he wasn't. Historians have mostly hedged around the salient question that this issue raises: Was this in fact treason on Macdonald's part? A great many Canadian prime ministers have shown less than bountiful amounts of character when faced with similar questions of national integrity. Yet the issue cant conscientiously be left there.
Unquestionably, Macdonald should have resigned there and then. It is inconceivable that by the end of January 1873 he did not know that Sir Hugh Allan was still just a front-man for Jay Cooke and Company, indeed for President Grant and the entire Republican United States federal government! For the sake of the formative country he claimed to be a patriot of, he was obliged by good conscience to confess that he had honestly been out manoeuvred and thus bring this serious American inroad against Canadian sovereignty to a halt. In truth, it probably would have cost him and his party power, but by not coming clean Macdonald merely put off what thereby became inevitable, and then only for selfish and craven partisan reasons. There are few blacker episodes in Canadian political history.
33Berton, The National Dream: The Great Railway 1871-1881, 86.
34 Lycergus Edgerton's love for intrigue, bribes and trickery of all sorts would become evident once again during the administration of President Rutherford B. Hayes. Hayes reveals in his diary that one day Edgerton attempted to blackmail him into paying a large sum of money for allegedly making improper sexual advances toward a particular woman they both knew. Apparently Hayes called Edgerton's bluff and the professional con-man and political operative withdrew from the contest.
35Irwin, Pacific Railways and Nationalism,196, 206.
See also Berton, The National Dream: The Great Railway 18711881, 92.
What did the Frontier NWMP Actually Look Like?
The fact that the average North-West Mounted Police officer did not look at all like the typical museum presentation is almost completely unknown amongst Canadians, including many (if not most) of those in the historical community.
When the NWMP started West from Fort Dufferin, Manitoba on July 8, 1874, they were wonderfully uniformed in the classic "Red Coat" tradition, but there wasn't a solitary stetsons amongst the bunch of them except, of course, on the heads of their Métis guides, whose heads were also shaking back and forth at the foolishness of these NWMP departing across the Great Plains wearing their ridiculous pillbox hats and white pith or "puggaree" helmets. Soon the Mounties were ruing the useless objects as well. While they were adequate for the mild Eastern Canadian or British climate, they afforded little protection from the blazing, shadeless 100 degree Fahrenheit Western heat. Presently sunburn and worse was afflicting almost everyone. The pith helmets, designed for use in Africa and India, were little better than the pillboxes as the constantly rhythmic motion of the horses they rode made them rock irritatingly forward and backward on everyone's head. (After the "March West" the pillboxes were never again used for anything other than ceremonial purposes, while the pith helmets were rendered almost as scarce. Oftentimes these puggarees were used only as a portable oats container for feeding their horses!)
In less than a year everyone's uniform was reduced to tatters, and not one single original example of their red Norfolk jacket remains in existence today. Surplus U.S. Army gear was subsequently purchased, but this also proved inadequate even dangerous, as the Plains Indians associated "Blue" with "enemy"! By the second half of 1875 the NWMP were busy procuring buckskins from the Plains tribes and from that point forward they took on the look of every other sensible Westerner and Plainsman. (David Ross, The Royal Canadian Mounted Police 18731987,page 22.) Stetsons, derbies and sombreros adorned their heads in summer, with warm fur caps and buffalo coats in winter. Moccasins almost certainly replaced a good number of their boots as well. The image actually found "on the trail" was now complete and considerable informality was the norm, so much so that officers complained bitterly about certain constables who didn't pay them due respect, the latter claiming they couldn't tell from their clothing that they were even officers! Buckskin jackets and non-regulation stetsons endured into the 1900s.
Nevertheless, a scarlet jacket and tan riding breeches would not have been completely unknown, nor would the forces heavy blue military greatcoat. At least some part of the official uniform, like the scarlet jacket, would almost surely be carried on the trail, (rolled inside a blanket), to prove the policeman's authenticity. Scarlet dress and undress uniforms were normally left for parades, duty around the frontier forts, ceremonial functions like treaty sessions with the Plains tribes, and official visits to (or midnight raids on) their encampments.
The type of stetsons worn by the RCMP to this day did not, in fact, make its appearance until Queen Victoria's 1897 Golden Jubilee celebrations in London, England. The following year it was adopted in the Yukon, but not on the Great Plains.
(The U.S. Army began using a blue "Prussian" helmet in 1871, similar to the white British puggaree, but reserved them for dress occasions. For some odd reason the Americans started to covet the white cork puggarees at the same time as the NWMP marched West and in 1875 obtained some samples from Sir Edward Thornton, the British minister to Washington. Five years later, in 1880, they were issued to the U.S. Army but were as intensely disliked in the field there as they were in Canada. It seems that officialdom in both Washington and Ottawa yearned to find legitimacy by imitating the older and seemingly more distinguished European armies. The Americans dont appear to have resorted to this sort of nonsense in any big way until Generals Sherman and Sheridan made European tours in the early-1870s, though the American army had already displayed a decided fondness for French military stylings. Early in 1879 Colonel Nelson Miles eagerly endorsed the adoption of the British-style white cork puggaree, while serving as the head of the Army Equipment Board in Washington. Without a doubt he had seen some NWMP officers wearing them in Montana and fancied some for himself and his elite Fifth Infantry troops back on the frontier. On the other hand, Miles rival, General George Crook, took pains to convey an unorthodox image by habitually wearing both a pith helmet and a privates uniform, in addition to riding a mule, while in the field! See Robert M. Utleys Frontier Regulars,chapter five: "Weapons, Uniforms and Equipment" and Robert Woosters Nelson A. Miles & the Twilight of the Frontier Army, page 120.)
Stetsons of a type worn by the U.S. Cavalry were one design of headgear used by NWMP officers. Major James Walsh was often photographed in his buckskins and Cavalry stetsons, hardly the "official" uniform. In mid-June of 1878 Walsh was leading a new detachment of recruits from Fort Walsh to Wood Mountain when they were overtaken by the famous Lakota war chief Long Dog and two of his warrior followers. C. Frank Turner gives the following short description from his book Across the Medicine Line,on page 151:
"The Indians had easily identified them from a distance. Redcoats! (Some of the constables were wearing cowboy hats. Walsh had his U.S. Cavalry patrol hat.) The whites instinctively reached for their firearms and didn't relax until the major recognized the trio as Sioux. He remembered the one out in front; it was Long Dog reckless and fearless, a cheery, crazy, turbulent symbol of a charmed life in battle " [italics added]
Though the U.S. Cavalry stetsons won favour with Walsh, most troops on both sides of the border found that one good rain storm turned them into shapeless rags which quickly fell to pieces. The quality of felt appears to have been inferior to that found in commercial stetsons and derbies, (doubtlessly due to the infamous "government contract" scandals that plagued the U.S. Army from the time of the Civil War). Perhaps Walsh had his Stetsons custom made of superior material, as he really was a "Custer-type" of dandy, also sporting a heavily fringed buckskin shirt and fancy riding boots. At any rate, it was the "cowboy hat" style of stetsons which was most avidly sought by the average NWMP constable. American soldiers also eschewed government issue stetsons and Civil War "kepis" (the latter similar to the hats worn by the French Foreign Legion), preferring almost anything in exchange, from stetsons and derbies of every colour to utilitarian straw hats. Humorously, both NWMP Major James Walsh and the bulk of the frontier American army were described by contemporaries as looking like "bushwhackers"!
Colonel Acheson Irvine commented in one report, from late-April of 1878, about his troopers dress. He, another officer, and six constables had set out from Fort Walsh after nightfall to help some Lakota warriors recover about thirty horses that the Assiniboine had stolen from them. Irvine solicited the highly regarded tracking abilities of a Saulteaux (Plains Ojibway) chief named Red Dog, who readily assented to a good adventure.
"Red Dog and a group of warriors accompanying him were splendid horsemen and magnificent trackers. They spread out in skirmishing order over the prairie and took up the trail at a fast canter. On they swung, the chief with his blanket vivid with dyed porcupine-quills; the warriors in breech-clouts and little else but a feather in their hair and a quiver over their shoulders; the police followed in scarlet tunics, white helmets, long boots, spurs, and the cowboy hats they (the [six] constables) were permitted to buy at their own expense for summer wear " [italics added]
After nearly getting everyone scalped when they finally found the culprits, (several hundred outraged American Assiniboine, who hated to give up the fruits of a well-executed horse stealing foray), Irvine recovered the pony herd and retreated with no prisoners in tow. Discretion was obviously the better part of valour in this circumstance. J. P. Turner, North-West Mounted Police 1873-1893,Vol. 1, pages 386-88.
On page five of his official "Commissioners Report for 1879" Colonel James Macleod reported:
"The uniform, clothing and boots supplied to the force last year were very good; the underclothing particularly so. I think that a light grey felt hat would be preferable to the helmet. Very few wear the latter unless obliged to. On trips they are almost invariably carried in the waggons, and get greatly damaged by the knocking about. The men always wear felt hats when they can " [italics added]
Macleod doubtless wore one too, and was hoping to standardize the forces appearance with a light grey stetsons. It would have contrasted well with their scarlet jackets and looked quite smart. (Curiously, the only known pictures of Macleod have him wearing full dress uniform, usually with the universally hated pillbox.) Typically, Ottawa never would consent to providing the NWMP with the hats Colonel Macleod requested. The underpaid troopers, (earning the princely sum of about fifty cents per day), were compelled to continue footing this expense on their own. The next year Macleod quit the NWMP after a row about the forces expenditures with the notoriously parsimonious Prime Minister Macdonald.
Hollywood has also done its share to perpetuate this incorrect image. For instance, the 1954 Western Saskatchewan, starring Alan Ladd, Shelley Winters and Hugh O'Brian, must surely stand as one of the most ridiculous examples of this. Circa 1870s Mounties in modern dress abound, and the verity of the real story's details are not even remotely close. Scores of Red Coats "bite the dust," dropped by Lakota Sioux bullets, much of this happening in the Rocky Mountains, of all places. In reality, not one single NWMP officer was killed by any Lakota Sioux at any time in Old West history! In addition, there are no Rocky Mountains anywhere close to Fort Walsh, (which really is in the totally prairie province of Saskatchewan), yet the fleeing Mounties abandon their horses and float down a mountain river to arrive there about two hours later. And so forth.
I know of no even vaguely accurate Western movie dealing with the NWMP, and that is a genuine (but typical) Canadian embarrassment. With very few exceptions, painted and sculpted renderings of the frontier NWMP are equally inaccurate. (I am thinking specifically of a painting at the entrance to Calgary's Glenbow Museum and Archives depicting the construction of Fort Calgary in August or September of 1875, and a large sculpture of a Plains Indian and NWMP officer on horseback at Fort Walsh National Historic Park. Countless other similarly erroneous examples prevail across Canada.)
Historians, museum curators, writers, researchers, painters, sculptors and film makers should take careful note. For well over 100 years these details have not been paid attention to, and Canada now has a populace thoroughly ignorant of its real history. Image is, in fact, important and the NWMPs was not,the image of the typical British Imperial soldier. Canada's was a distinctively practical and "Western frontier" Red Coat appearance.