The Rocky Mountain Rangers

“Armed to the Teeth, Should Occasion Require”

The Canadian prairies were anything but polite in 1885. In southwestern Alberta, rancher William Cochrane wrote his father: “There is a great deal of uneasiness about the Indians…Riel’s runners are in their camps, and it seems doubtful what they will do…we ought to make every effort to get more protection here from the Government.”

On the North and South Saskatchewan Rivers, discontent among the mixed-blood “Métis” society, and those of their Cree and Assiniboine allies, erupted into armed conflict. The intents of Blackfoot nations closer to the Rocky Mountains and the U.S.-Canada border were still in doubt. To newcomers like Cochrane, remote living brought fears.

A rout by the forces of Métis firebrand Louis Riel over the North West Mounted Police at Duck Lake that left 17 combatants dead on March 26, and the declaration of a provisional government, provoked the Canadian establishment to mobilize its militia. News of uprisings at Frog Lake and Battleford by Cree allies stirred the prairies and brought the loyalties of other bands into question.

As the Blackfoot, Blood and Peigan tribes watched their buffalo grounds become a cow pasture, they were confined into blocks called “reserves,” where they were handed out food and told how to live. With cattle herds belonging to ranchers like Cochrane appearing and the Canadian Pacific Railway laying track across the prairies, a way of life was drastically altered, and warriors were tempted into rebellion.


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