On the Way to Old Man River

14 Oct
English: The Old Man River at sunrisee

English: The Old Man River at sunrise (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is said that “the Mounties always get their man.”  One of the best men they got was Jerry Potts, but he was not a criminal.  He served as police scout and guide for twenty-two years.  No gallery of famous characters in Canadian history would be complete without a picture of Jerry:  round-shouldered, bow-legged, pigeon-toed, and scarred from head to foot from fights with the Indians.

Jerry was half Indian himself and could get along with Indians or with white men equally well.  Some of his adventures are described in Grant MacEwan‘s book, Fifty Mighty Men.

The Mounties discovered him when they were making their long march west in 1874.  They were trying to get to Old Man River to set up a base, but they became lost when they reached Sweet Grass.  Colonel Macleod made a side trip to Fort Benton on the Missouri River, and heard about Jerry Potts.  He persuaded him to help the new police force, and they went to Sweet Grass together.

Needless to say, the Mounties were not impressed by Potts at first, but they soon learned that there was no better man on the prairies to help them out of trouble.  When water was needed, Jerry could find a spring.  When food was scarce Jerry could find a buffalo.  He was never lost, even in the dark.

On one occasion when he was looking for a pile of stones as a landmark, Colonel Macleod asked, “What’s the matter?  Are you lost?”  Potts answered, “No, stones lost!”

He seldom spoke when he was travelling, but concentrated on looking for the landmarks that would show him the way.  He guided the first force from Sweet Grass to Old Man River where they began building Fort Macleod on October 14, 1874.

In one of his early Indian fights, Jerry Potts received a gun pellet in the flesh below his left ear, but refused to let it be taken out.  It was his good-luck charm.  Somehow the pellet worked its way out in 1896 and he was greatly disturbed.  He died later that year, and was buried at Fort Macleod with full military honours.

For more about Jerry Potts, I suggest going to the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, and the Encyclopedia of the Great Plains.


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9 responses to “On the Way to Old Man River

  1. seeker

    October 14, 2013 at 6:08 pm

    Tk, I must apologize. I have been wondering why I am not getting any feed of your blog. I just found out that I am not following your post. I do not know how it happened, I am sorry. I want to wish you a Happy Thanksgiving and that I am thinking of you. Thank you for all the history I learned from you and we have talked about the war of 1812, Blessings. Perpetua

    • tkmorin

      October 15, 2013 at 9:00 am

      Happy thanksgiving to you and yours as well, P! I just thought it was because you were busy with your travels! LOL. 🙂

      • seeker

        October 15, 2013 at 10:54 am

        No, iI think because of the iPad how the icons so close to one another and I must hit the wrong button. Plus with long nails. Guess what? No turkeys here but the 17 Canadians and 1 American. 😆

        • tkmorin

          October 15, 2013 at 11:34 am

          It must be weird not having Turkey. But I also expect that these “compatriots” make it okay. The only thing I’d never want to experience is a green Christmas! I hope it’s still going well for you! Enjoy!! 🙂

        • tkmorin

          October 15, 2013 at 12:13 pm

          Terrible earthquake in the Philippines! I hope your family is safe!

  2. L. Marie

    October 14, 2013 at 9:12 am

    Wow. He was hardcore! How did he die? I wonder if he or others thought the loss of the pellet was the key factor leading to his death.

  3. weggieboy

    October 14, 2013 at 8:09 am

    The pellet anecdote added an interesting zest to this story!

    • tkmorin

      October 14, 2013 at 10:56 am

      Thank you. I also imagined the horror he must have felt when the bullet dislodged itself, thereby leaving him “lucky charm free.” I wonder if he manipulated his own demise by dying that year …


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