Many people around the globe would fail to identify the maple leaf or the beaver as a symbol of Canada, but most people would recognize a scarlet-coated member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
The famous force was organized by an act of Parliament on May 20, 1873, under the name Royal Northwest Mounted Police. (The name was changed to Royal Canadian Mounted Police in 1920.) The force was assembled at New Fort Toronto, and by June 1874, it was ready to leave for the West. Men, horses, and equipment travelled by United States railway lines to Pembina, just south of the Manitoba border. On July 9, they began their march to the Cypress Hills, Saskatchewan, and the Fort Whoop-Up country, now in the Calgary area.
They were greatly needed. Unscrupulous traders were bringing the proud Blackfoot Indians to a state of degeneration, taking their furs and guns in exchange for a potent drink called “Whoop-Up bug juice.” This was made by mixing a quart of whisky, a pound of chewing tobacco, a handful of red pepper, a bottle of Jamaica ginger and a quart of molasses; the mixture was then diluted with water and heated to make “fire water.”
There were terrible massacres among the Indians and the white traders. One of the worst was a battle at Cypress Hills, in May 1873, between a party of “wolfer” and a tribe led by Chief Little Soldier. The “wolfers” were men who killed animals for their furs by spreading strychnine poison over the ground. They were hated by the Indians and the other white fur traders.
The battle was started when a “wolfer” accused Little Soldier’s band of stealing this horse. Later it was found grazing on a hillside, having just strayed away. The “wolfers” rushed the Indian camp, killed Little Soldier and cut off his head, which they mounted on a pole. They then murdered the women and their children. It was this type of situation that the Mounties had to keep under control!
When the force reached Roche Percée late in July, it divided into two sections. One marched to Fort Edmonton which it reached on October 27, while the other set out for Fort Whoo-Up, which it reached on October 9, after a terrible journey.
As written up on Wikipedia, “After the US Army stopped alcohol trading with the Blackfeet Nation in Montana in 1869, traders John J. Healy and Alfred B. Hamilton started a whiskey trading post at Fort Hamilton, near the future site of Lethbridge. The post’s nickname became Fort Whoop-Up. The whiskey trade led to the Cypress Hills massacre of many native Assiniboine in 1873. The North-West Mounted Police, sent to stop the trade and establish order, arrived at Fort Whoop-Up on 9 October 1874. They managed the post for the next 12 years.”
I just love to write and say “Whoop-Up” … don’t you?