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A Pioneer Rancher

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In 1874, The newly created North-West Mounted Police wanted men who could withstand danger and hardship: nights without beds, days without meals, and storms without shelter. James Walker, resplendent in teh scarlet Northfolk jacket and pillbox forage cap of the force, was such a man. Colonel James Walker
Man of the Western Frontier
Copyright 1989 Western Producer Prairie Books
171 pages,
ISBN 0-88833-304-8.

After six years of pioneer policing and a legacy of rich memories, Superintendent James Walker stepped out of the handsome uniform in which he could never pass unnoticed and into the world of busy people wearing plain clothes and the serious expressions of the self-employed.

As a police officer, he had been both successful and popular and might have remained in the force until the age that brings enforced retirement and the presentation of an engraved walking stick or easy chair. But working against such eventualities were two contrary influences: First, the advice of his wise father, who counselled solemnly in 1874, "Remember, lad, you don't have to limit yourself to a single career; you'll like the life of a policeman, but if I know you, you'll have a better life if you bring a variety of interests into it-and don't rule out farming as one of them."

The other influence favouring change came from his wife, Euphemia, a charming lady who was never completely at ease on the frontier. Walker was not one to complain about hardships and privations but he had the justice to concede that a police officer's wife living in an isolated community was more likely than her husband to be overtaken by loneliness and depression.

Euphemia Quarrie Walker had grown up in a comfortable threestorey home in Galt, Ontario, where her father, William Quarrie, was the postmaster and a pillar of the Presbyterian church for forty years. She met James Walker when he was on one of his rare trips to the East. A short year later, the commanding officer at Battleford requested a leave-of-absence to be married.

The ceremony was at the Presbyterian church in Galt. Despite their Scottish heritage of economy and caution, the newly-weds left at once to honeymoon at the centennial exposition in Philadelphia, which marked the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

The high living at Philadelphia ended all too quickly. The Walkers started on the long and fatiguing journey to the Battleford home Euphemia had never seen. They had the relative luxury of train travel to Chicago, St. Paul, and Moorhead, which was just across the Red River from Fargo and was like a coupling link between the Northern Pacific Railway and steamboat service on Red River. For Walker, Fargo brought back a flood of memories of the great police trek of 1874, and he related them vividly. The most memorable feature of the trip for Euphemia was the riverboat journey on the Red, which offered more turns and loops than the merrygo- round at the world's fair. It made her dizzy but it wasn't rough and it turned out to be the most agreeable part of the journey to Battleford.

Finally, there was the five-hundred-mile wagon ride behind NWMP horses from Winnipeg to their destination. During the trek, the unsuspecting bride of a few weeks faced the realities of a prairie fire crossing the Battleford trail, a confrontation with Cree Indians well streaked with warpaint, a no-bridge crossing of the Saskatchewan River, and some chilly nights in a tent. The scenery changed from mile to mile, but one thing didn't: the jolting of the wagon on the rough trail, making her think her bones were being shaken apart. The great distance made that part of her trip-"part 2 of the honeymoon"-both tedious and tiring, although her husband tried to make it more interesting by pointing out landmarks.

Battleford was a big disappointment, a feeling that Euphemia tried to keep to herself. Even she could see that the log house that was to become her home was poorly drawn and poorly finished. The chinking between the logs was all too ready to let the cold breezes enter, and the windows rattled like the police wagon on a rough trail because they didn't fit properly. Adjusting to the commanding officer's house at Battleford, and later to the smaller quarters at Fort Walsh, deep in the Cypress Hills, was more difficult than the girl from one of the finest homes in Galt ever admitted. The Fort Walsh scenery was unbelievably beautiful, but it did nothing to dispel the haunting feeling of being permanently cut off from Galt. Naturally, there were some serious evening discussions concerning the family's future, often lasting far into the night. James would always promise to consider a change of career if a promising prospect appeared, but Euphemia wondered how long they would have to wait.

Walker had been thinking about alternative occupations more than he admitted. He knew he could get a homestead, and with the small amount of money he had saved in six years, he could start farming. But he doubted that his wife would be any more contented on a homestead. Would she accept ranching any more readily?

Like many others, Walker was feeling the lure of ranching. The opportunity to range cattle on public lands, now available by lease under the terms of the Canada Land Act, was attractive. The government had announced that it would grant grazing leases for up to one hundred thousand acres at an annual rental of one cent per acre.

Cattle ranching was a Texas creation that emerged from an estimated three-and-a-half million unclaimed, unbranded, and untamed longhorn cattle of Spanish origin grazing on the Texas grass at the end of the Civil War. It was almost an invitation to hardy entrepreneurs to cut out herds of the wild critters and drive them to market. But the best market was at Chicago and driving these undomesticated cattle was both difficult and dangerous. The prevalence of roaming Indian bands added to the hazards in driving. The earliest trail herds were driven to New Orleans and Galveston; a single herd was driven all the way to Chicago in 1856.

It was for J. G. McCoy and brothers from Illinois to devise a practical marketing plan. Railroads were being built in a southwesterly direction through Missouri and Kansas; the McCoys fixed upon the railroad point of Abilene, which they figured was about halfway between San Antonio and Chicago. If the Texas cattle could be loaded at Abilene, the trailing distance would be reduced to half. Boldly, the McCoys began building facilities that would attract the drivers of herds. Couriers were sent south to inform the cattlemen on the trails that they would find everything they wanted at Abilene: a big stockyard, a cattlemen's hotel, plenty of stock cars on the rails, saloons, and dance halls. The response was instant. Forty thousand cattle were shipped from there in 1867, more than 350,000 in 1869, and roughly 700,000 in 1871. The main stream of traffic then shifted to Dodge City, also in Kansas, and by 1887, when trailing ended, not less than six million cattle had been shipped from the northern end of the trails.

The cattle kingdom was moving north, and many Texas herds were soon bypassing Abilene and Dodge City on their way to stock new ranges in Wyoming, Dakota, and Montana. There were those who believed that good grass and favourable weather ended abruptly at the border, but they were soon proved wrong. When the buffalo herds disappeared, the Government of Canada already had a land act in place that offered grazing leases at low rentals. Hundreds of Canadian men, blissfully ignorant about roundups, blackleg, mange, stampedes, and dogie calves, applied for grazing leases and prepared to stock them, and still more were longing to become cowboys.

Many mounted police constables and sub-constables recruited in 1873 and '74 knew they were entitled to a retirement grant of 160 acres of Crown land after three years of police service and were planning to start farming or ranching. A quarter section wasn't much of a ranch, but if they used their quarter section grant as ranch headquarters for buildings and corrals and operated it in conjunction with an adjacent or nearby grazing lease, they could get started with a minimum of capital. E. H. Maunsell, to whom reference has been made on previous pages, started this way and became one of the biggest producers of his time. John Herron, another police pioneer of 1874 and subsequently a Member of Parliament for a southwestern constituency, started in about the same way, and so did William Winder, who rode with Assistant Commissioner Macleod to Fort Whoop-Up in '74 and rose to the rank of superintendent before retiring to pursue ranching in 1880. There were many more who turned to ranching, and most of them made good.

At about the same time, the best ranching regions in British Columbia and the Prairies were being invaded by wealthy individuals and companies from eastern Canada and overseas, most holding leases of one hundred thousand acres or close to that amount. The first of these was Senator Matthew Cochrane of Hillhurst, Quebec, already well known in eastern Canada as a leader in the business world and no less successful in breeding and importing the most popular strains of beef and dual-purpose cattle on the continent.

Matthew Henry Cochrane was born in 1823 on the Hillhurst farm on which he died eighty years later. At eighteen years old, he turned his back on the land and went to Boston in search of fortune. He found it in the business of manufacturing boots and shoes. Twentythree years later he took the footwear operation back to Montreal and continued to prosper.


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