Illegal whisky trading was rampant in the Canadian West during the 1800s. Operated by both Americans and Canadians, one of the prohibited outfits was run by Abel Farewell, out of a trading post in Cypress Hills. He sold alcohol and other goods to the First Nations and Metis people. He was also involved in the Cypress Hills massacre, which was a violent incident that occurred on June 1, 1873, right near his trading post. 20 Assiniboine people were murdered by American wolf hunters.
Farwell was born in 1836 in the state of Vermont. Farwell came to Canada and established his trading posts in Cypress Hills in 1872. Fort Walsh was established two kilometres from the trading post three years later in 1875
Farewell was part of the whisky trade, which was a lucrative, but illegal business. The whisky trade was known for exploiting First Nations peoples’ dependence on alcohol and other goods, such as guns, ammunition, blankets, and tobacco. The majority of whisky traders were Americans who came from neighbouring Montana to set up their outposts in the Cypress Hills. Cypress Hills, being a wooded area, was frequently used by First Nations and the Métis for hunting and trading. It was common for the whisky traders to sell their products at exorbitant prices. The whisky traders also had little regard for the Canadian authorities and were known to bribe or intimidate the local people to secure their interests.
In 1873 American wolf hunters, led by Thomas W. Hardwick and John Evans had lost some of their horses while camping on the Teton River. They suspected that the Cree had stolen their horses. They tracked their horses from Montana into Canada but lost the trail near Farwell’s trading post. They ended up spending the night at the trading post, drinking, where they met a trader named George Hammond, who claimed that one of his horses had been stolen by the Assiniboine people, who were camping nearby. He convinced the wolf hunters to join him in retrieving his horse from the Assiniboine camp.
When confronted, the Assiniboine people denied stealing the horses and refused to give up any of the horses in their possession. This eventually led to an argument, and shots were fired. The wolf hunters ended up overwhelming the Assiniboine people, who only had arrows and muskets. At least 20 Assiniboine people were massacred, including women and children. Many more were wounded. The wolf hunters then fled the area, returning to Montana, where they were outside the jurisdiction of Canadian law.
This event, now known as The Cypress Hills Massacre lead to drastic changes in the Canadian West. The massacre outraged the First Nations and the Métis leading them to fear further attacks from the Americans. The massacre also exposed the weakness and negligence of the Canadian government, which at this point had completely failed to enforce Canadian law in the western frontier.
The massacre highlighted the need for a stronger Canadian authority in the West. To address this, Prime Minister John A. Macdonald established the Northwest Mounted Police (NWMP) in 1873 to enforce Canadian law and sovereignty. The NWMP arrived in present-day Alberta in 1874, with a mandate of investigating the Cypress Hills massacre and bringing the perpetrators to justice. However, with a lack of cooperation from the American authorities and trust from the First Nations people, investigating the incident was a challenge.
Eventually, three of the wolf hunters were arrested and put on trial in Winnipeg, Manitoba. However, with very little evidence, and contradictory testimony, they were acquitted and released.
The Cypress Hills Massacre displayed the violence and injustice that resulted from the whisky trade. It also led to the creation of the NWMP, which marked the beginning of the Canadian presence in the West, bringing both law and order to the region, and imposing Canadian sovereignty upon the First Nations people.
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Latitude: 00.00000, Longitude: 00.00000