The Mass Murder Of Assiniboine Peoples: The Cypress Hills Massacre And Its Relevance To Current Times
Full Moon, Assiniboine
Photographer: Rinehart, F. A. (Frank A.)
Copyright date: 1900
These people were (allegedly) murdered by a group of American bison hunters, American wolf hunters or "wolfers", American and Canadian whisky traders and Métis cargo haulers or "freighters".
The death toll for this crime was twenty or more members of the Assiniboine tribe, and one of the "wolfers".
This is an unmodified recollected account of the incident as it stands at this page on Wikipedia
The incident began in the spring of 1873 when a small party of Canadian and American wolfers, led by Thomas W. Hardwick and John Evans, were returning from their winter hunt. While they camped on the Teton River a group of unknown Natives stole their horses. After determining that their horses were indeed stolen the men travelled to Fort Benton, Montana Territory, about five miles, with the intention of regaining their horses. At Fort Benton the wolfers pleaded for assistance and justice for the crimes against them, but were met with a refusal by the local military commander. On their own, the men began an expedition to retrieve the stolen horses. The party numbered 13 men, a collection of American and Canadian free traders. Described as typical frontiersmen, the group had had previous conflicts with Natives and were unwilling to seek peace. They were prepared to use violence to retrieve their stolen property.
The group quickly travelled from Fort Benton northward across the border in pursuit of the stolen horses. They eventually arrived at Abe Farwell's post, a small trading post located within the Cypress Hills region. While the group was there they met up with George Hammond, an unsavoury figure who had recently been selling whisky to the Natives with Farwell. Hammond was close friends with John Evans and Thomas Hardwick, the leaders of the group, and subsequently joined with the other wolfers in the search for the horses. Farwell assured Evans that Little Soldier, the leader of a small band of Assiniboine that was located near the trading post, had no horses with them. After a brief search it was determined by the group that Little Soldier showed no evidence that he stole their horses. Evans, Hammond, and the rest of the wolfers retired for the night at Farwell's trading post. The gang spent the evening and the next morning drinking Farwell's whisky with a group of recently arrived Métis freighters. In the morning it was believed that one of Little Soldier's men had stolen George Hammond's horse for a second time.
In response, Hammond grabbed a rifle and started towards Little Soldier's camp. He insisted that the rest of the wolfers join him and forcibly take back his horse. The wolfers, along with the Métis, followed Hammond towards the Assiniboine camp. Historical accounts differ on what happened during the skirmish, as there were no reliable testimonies. Abe Farwell testified that he tried to restrain Hammond in an attempt to avoid any violence. Hammond approached Little Soldier's tent asking about the missing horse. Little Soldier replied that his group had not stolen the horse but that it was grazing on a nearby hill. Both Little Soldier and Hammond's parties were intoxicated and negotiations between them fell through. Little Soldier was willing to avoid violence and gave Hammond two of his horses as hostage until the missing horse could be found. This did not avoid violence as the situation became increasingly tense as women and children were seen fleeing from the camp, and the Native men taking off their garments in preparation for violence.:135 The wolfers regarded these actions as a signal for a fight and lined up along a riverbank fifty yards outside the Assiniboine camp. Seeing these preparations, Little Soldier asked Hammond why his group was taking such menacing positions. In a last ditch effort to avoid violence Farwell pleaded with the wolfers, asking them not to shoot at the Natives especially when there was a white man among them. Before he could continue negotiating with Little Soldier and the wolfers, Farwell saw Hammond fire his rifle at the Natives. The rest of the wolfers, protected by the tall river bank, fired volleys onto the camp. The Assiniboine, using inferior weapons, attempted to return fire, but were unable to sustain an attack due to the wolfers' superior position and surprise. They did manage to kill one wolfer, a French Canadian named Ed Legrace. The number of casualties differs from accounts but the number of Assiniboine deaths was higher than twenty. In the personal account of Donald Graham, who joined the wolfers at Fort Benton and travelled with them to Cypress Hills, mentions that there were only 13 Indians dead. After the battle, the wolfers buried Legrace in a Native cabin and set the building ablaze. His wooden coffin still remains there to this day.
The site of the massacre was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1964. Artifacts from the Cypress Hills Massacre have also been preserved at nearby Fort Walsh National Historic Site, along with reconstructions of Farwell's and Solomon's trading posts.
A mini-series based upon Guy Vanderhaeghe's book: The Englishman's Boy was produced by the CBC. It takes up the story from the point of view of one of the Wolfers and surmises that most of the blame for the Cypress Hills Massacre lay upon the shoulders of Tom Hardwick, the lead wolfer. That mini-series can be watched (legally) here.
This would be the first case investigated by the newly formed North-West Mounted Police. It would also be one of the first uses of the Extradition Treaty signed between Canada and the United States.
James Mcleod, the Assistant Commissioner was given permission by the United States to start an official investigation in Helena, Montana in 1874. Of the Seven accused and arrested, two escaped and the other five were acquitted. The American commissioner refused the extradition request on the grounds of conflicting accounts and a decided lack of evidence. The acquitted men even attempted to charge Mcleod with false arrest though the charges were later dropped due to the permissions given by the American commissioner. Some time after the failure of the extradition case, two of the traders and a wolfer were arrested in Canada in 1876 but due to a weak case, and contradictory evidence, the case was dropped. The entire case was eventually scrapped in 1882 due to lack of and contradictory evidence. Ultimately the people responsible for the Cypress Hills Massacre were never brought to justice.
How ironic that we should once again find ourselves in a similar predicament, as if history and perhaps time itself were testing us in the face of the victims of similar crimes. We've experienced a generation of apparent genecide against Aboriginal Women evidenced through the case against Robert Picton and many other accounts of missing or murdered Aboriginal women.
The recent extradition case against Meng Wanzhou as well is a test of international treaty in the face of an apparent Witch Hunt by the interests of some Americans who seem hell-bent upon vilifying an entire culture of people through one of their most prominent companies. If the same thing were to happen to Apple or Microsoft in China, the United States would be livid. In fact, the same thing did happen as a result of a congressional case against Microsoft while it was under the leadership of Bill Gates, after which it was drastically reformed by the limits to the license agreements it was allowed to pursue with PC manufacturers and the inclusion of its Windows operating system.
More recently, we have the railway blockade by the Wet'suwet'en Nation of Canada and their quest to seek an agreement that puts the benefits of having these railways run through their land and the pipeline being constructed to deliver natural gas. Other first Nations have benefited through deals that give them part of the return for the presence of the pipeline on their land and some of the say for the use of their land in this way. Honouring their rights and forging a lasting deal is a step towards their gaining confidence as a people and distinct society within Canada.
It is interesting to note that this falls entirely upon the lap of the Government to solve with a fair deal for these people, who are a part of Canada too, though that also means some concessions are in order from both sides of the bargaining table.
It is also important to remember that the North-West Mounted Police, who one hundred years ago became the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, were formed as a result of the need to investigate and to seek justice for the Assiniboine people, more than twenty of whom were murdered in cold blood by those using Canada as their hunting grounds for profit and who escaped justice through a lack of evidence and the failed case during the extradition request against them. That was a murder case. Mass murder. So those mass murderers were kept from extradition to stand justice.
Hence, this case is one of great importance for Canada's progress towards reconciliation with the Aboriginal people. Unfortunately, many of the Aboriginal peoples are being used as pawns by other groups whose interests are purely profit-motivated and in many cases, related to the distribution and smuggling of contraband goods, including some of the hardcore narcotics. Those things have nothing to do with Aboriginal identity and history at all, nor do they have anything to do with the Wet'suwet'en people.
This is the mess that has arisen as a result of the neglect by the rest of Canada into these matters throughout its history. I'm confident that this will result in the impetus that these negotiations need to succeed for all parties. It requires us looking at this situation in the sense of fairness given our current state of affairs and the history of this country, and its commitment to the Aboriginal peoples. It is going to take strong and dedicated hearts to reconcile this history.
Also, it is important to note that this is by no means an attempt to vilify Americans. There are a great many Americans who agree with the platform of reconciliation and trying to right the wrongs of the past in order to progress into the future. My qualms are with the extradition request targeting Executive Officer Meng Wanzhou and the apparent witch hunt seemingly targeting Asian companies in a time when we should be making alliances for the future of civilization. At some point in the near future, within fifty to a hundred years, technology is going to play a huge role in the renewal of natural habitats and tech giants, and the Aboriginal people themselves will likely play a big role in that renewal effort, which will be global in scale. These steps we take now will heal many wounds. Let us be careful not to create more.
Sincerity before polarity.
I believe in gravity.