Monday, July 18, 2016

Fort Whoop-Up

Trip Date: July 2016

Before there was an Alberta, before there were Mounties, there was a Whoop-Up!
Welcome to Fort Whoop-Up!
Main Entrance
In 1869 Montana fur traders John J. Healy and Alfred B. Hamilton traveled north to British/Canadian territory (formerly Rupert's Land owned by the Hudson's Bay Company) that was largely absent of any government presence. The duo sought to build a trading post (originally called Fort Hamilton) where they could trade alcohol for bison robes from local First Nation groups after such business was outlawed in the United States. Within the first year the fort burned down, but it was rebuilt by William Gladstone, a former Hudson's Bay employee and boat builder, and was fortified with two bastions armed with cannons, loopholes for firing rifles, ramparts, and heavy gates. The newly built structure, now known as Fort Whoop-Up, took two years to construct, cost an estimated $25,000, and contained more than 6,000 hand-hewn Cottonwood logs.

Inside the fort
The compound
The site of Fort Whoop-Up was not chosen by accident. The confluence of the St. Mary's and Belly Rivers was a favourite wintering ground for the Blood and Peigan people of the Blackfoot Confederacy. Within six months of the original post being constructed Healy and Hamilton returned to Fort Benton in Montana with furs and bison robes in excess of $50,000! Word of their success spread quickly and more than 50 trading posts would eventually be constructed across what is now southern Alberta, but none larger or more notorious than Fort Whoop-Up.

Trade Room
Whiskey jugs in the Trade Store Room. It may come as no surprise but the whiskey being traded by the Americans wasn't whiskey at all, but a concoction of pure alcohol diluted with river water and spiced with whatever may have been available, such as lye, burnt sugar, oil of boron, red peppers, molasses, ginger, or even black chewing tobacco!
View of the fort from the Bastion
Enfilade and the Water Well
Violence followed the whiskey everywhere. Alcohol and Smallpox wreaked havoc on local First Nation groups and rifles only added to the devastation. Hoping to capitalize on the Blackfoot's decimated numbers the Cree and their allies invaded in 1870 only to suffer hundreds of casualties at the hands of the better-armed local tribes. The Battle of the Belly River, as this invasion came to be known, happened incredibly close to Fort Whoop-Up, only adding to its already infamous reputation.

Bear skin rug in the Head Trader's Quarters
Repeater rifles stored in the Armoury
Blacksmith Shop
NWMP uniforms in the Barracks
The Canadian Government, back in Ottawa, began hearing reports of the destruction, the fighting, the whiskey, and the lawlessness that was happening on the western plains. To combat these issues and bring some semblance of order to their western territories the government created the North West Mounted Police (NWMP), eventually becoming the modern Royal Canadian Mounted Police or RCMP. The newly formed police force headed west and arrived at Fort Whoop-Up in 1874, finding the place all but abandoned. The NWMP rent accommodations at the fort while establishing out-posts along the Canadian/US border to combat whiskey smuggling, horse raiding, and other criminal activity. A large portion of the fort was irreparably damaged during a fire in 1888 and by 1900 the entire building was uninhabitable. Many of the buildings were destroyed by fire or flood and others were removed for salvage.

The Wagon Shed at the far end of the Compound
Skeletal frame of Sweat Lodge
Spanish Mustangs and tipi frames
Flag flying above the Bastion
Today a commemorative plaque sits where the original fort once stood. In 1967 a replica was built in Lethbridge's Indian Battle Park, approximately 10km northwest of the fort's original location. None of Fort Whoop-Up's original structures survived beyond the early 1900's. Fort Whoop-Up is a National Historic Site of Canada and is operated by the Galt Museum.

Fort Whoop-Up and the Lethbridge Viaduct, better known as the High Level Bridge
Outside of Fort Whoop-Up is a fenced enclosure that contains two historical tipi rings. The commemorative plaque attached to a large boulder inside the fence reads, 
Stone Circles 
The beautiful skin tipi used by the nomadic plains Indian was a perfectly adapted dwelling. It was anchored with rocks, and when the buffalo herds roamed the prairies, thousands of rock circles marked the Indian campsites. 
Now the buffalo no longer roam free, the prairies are plowed, and these links to a Native culture are fast disappearing. 
These two tipi rings of quartzite, granite and limestone boulders were mapped and transferred from the Lindy Campsite, 7 miles southeast of Lethbridge.
            ~Archaeological Society of Alberta
The tipi ring enclosure with the boulder and plaque
Stones from the tipi ring
Also outside the fort sits a solitary stone of great cultural and spiritual significance...
The Medicine Stone 
The Legend: Many years ago a Native hunter saw a figure descend a coulee and sit down at the foot of it. The hunter thought it was a Medicine Pipe Man so he crossed the river, searched, but found only a granite stone. 
That night as he slept near the stone, a person appeared in his dream and said, "My son, I am the rock you saw. I want you and your children to come to offer me peace offerings at all times." 
The people of the Blackfoot Confederacy called the stone Mi'k(l)atowa'si, translated as "that which has become red-holy". Others called it 'The Painted Rock' as the stone was coated with reddish-brown soil to emulate the red blanket of the holy Medicine Pipe Man. 
            ~Archaeological Society of Alberta
Medicine Stone
You can read more about the NWMP out-post that's located in Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park by following this link.

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