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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.

With increasing affluence, Cochrane wanted nothing more keenly than the recovery of the home farm in Quebec's Compton County from which he had once walked away. He bought the farm and made it into a cattleman's paradise. There he bred the best strains of shorthorn, Hereford, and Aberdeen Angus cattle, hackney horses, and Shropshire and Hampshire sheep bought in England and Scotland. For some years his English shorthorns of the Bates strain were seen as bovine aristocrats, commanding some of the biggest prices being paid in international circles.

Appointed to the Canadian Senate in 1872-the year in which the Dominion Land Act was passed-Cochrane may have been one of the first to hear about the new grazing regulations of 1881. When the naturally aggressive Cochrane heard about investment opportunities in ranching in the Canadian foothills, which prairie bison had so recently vacated, he acted.

Friends speculated that Matthew Cochrane would be the first up on the morning of the resurrection. He was seen driving a democrat and team of lively horses north from Fort Benton on the Whoop-Up Trail before the winter's snow melted in the early spring of 1880. His first task was to convince himself that the sea of grass on the Canadian side of the border was as nutritious as on the south side.

As John George "Kootenai" Brown related the meeting to a friend: "Riding on the range one day I met a man driving a buckboard and team of bronchos who announced his intention of driving in several thousand head of cattle and remarked searchingly: 'They ought to live where buffalo lived and we shouldn't have to feed them hay in a mild winter climate where you have so little snow.'"

The traveller was Senator Matthew Cochrane. Brown agreed with Cochrane's theory that where buffalo chose to graze, domestic cattle could be expected to do well; but Brown offered a warning that cattlemen should still take the precaution of cutting hay for winter feed.

Cochrane's chief interest was in the rolling grasslands along the Bow River west of Fort Calgary. When he arrived back at Fort Benton, he dispatched telegrams to Ottawa to confirm his intention of applying for a lease extending far in all directions from Big Hill. The Senator was a personal friend of the prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, and a first-class lobbyist. The prime minister was keenly interested in the government's role in ranching, soon to be announced, and may have taken it upon himself to find a strong candidate for the crucial position of resident manager of his friend's proposed ranch. He received a tip from Edgar Dewdney, who as Indian commissioner in the Territories had travelled extensively with Superintendent Walker. The two men had similar friendly views about Indians and developed a high regard for each other. Dewdney, when in conversation with the prime minister, dropped the remark that if their friend Matthew Cochrane was to proceed with his plan for ranching, he'd need a strong man to manage the enterprise. He said he thought he knew the man for the job, Superintendent James Walker, farm-raised and resourceful, "if he could be persuaded to leave the Mounted Police."

Walker, when about to take over the command of E Division of the NWMP at Fort Walsh in the autumn of 1880, was ordered on a special assignment to Fort Benton. There, he received a message from Commissioner Macleod informing him of the prime minister's wish to see him. A trip to Ottawa was convenient for the NWMP as well: Assistant Commissioner Irvine wanted him to accompany the widow of the late Superintendent Edmund Dalrymple Clark to Ottawa.

In Ottawa, Macdonald informed him of Senator Cochrane's plan to venture into ranching; Sir John, who was interested in the Senator's bold experiment and in the future of the ranching business, asked Walker to consider accepting the position of ranch manager.

Things moved along briskly. Walker met the senator, accepted the new position, and submitted his resignation from the force. On May 14, 1881, the Cochrane Ranche Company was incorporated with capitalization of five hundred thousand dollars. Among the shareholders were Senator Cochrane, the senator's son, James Cochrane, James Walker, Dr. Duncan McEachran, and J. M. Browning. McEachran, a prominent eastern veterinarian and a man of growing eminence in Canadian livestock circles, was to be managing director. Browning would become the company treasurer and James Walker, the resident manager.

There were other large operations formed as a result of the generous terms on twenty-one-year crown leases and the added concession of freedom from customs duties on American cattle being imported into Canada for stocking the Crown leases. The Cochrane ranch received its first cattle in 1881. The North West Cattle Company, located on the Highwood River and owned by the Allens of the Allen Steamship Company, started in 1882. The Oxley Ranch on Willow Creek, backed by Alexander Stavely Hill, an English Member of Parliament, and the Earl of Lathom, began in 1883, along with the big Walrond Ranch on the slopes of the Porcupine Hills, owned by an English company and supported financially by Sir John Walrond.

Walker was installed in the manager's office at the Cochrane ranch in time to supervise the construction of the stables, a bunkhouse for the workers, and the manager's residence, all of log construction. Perhaps the manager's residence, in which Mrs. Walker would preside, received some extra building care. Walker hoped that the new house and the easy driving distance to Fort Calgary would leave Euphemia feeling more comfortable with her surroundings and the country.

For James Walker, there were troubled times ahead, but during the early months on the ranch, he was very happy. He had a chestnut horse for his exclusive use, and much riding was necessary if he was to become even moderately familiar with his range. He knew he had to put the police-type riding saddle behind him and become accustomed to the stock saddle, the only saddle that enjoyed complete respectability in cowboy society.

Senator Cochrane gave him wide freedom in matters of management and purchasing. Walker knew he was expected to buy big herds of breeding cattle in Montana and arrange for their delivery. As the resident ranch manager, he anticipated no on-the-ranch problems he could not solve but those associated with Dr. Duncan McEachran, the managing director in the East, who had a reputation for being dictatorial and difficult; dual management could be confusing at best and demoralizing at worst.

Early in the summer, Walker was in the state of Montana buying between six and seven thousand cattle, predominantly cows whose long horns betrayed their recent association with Texas and Mexico. The price was sixteen dollars per head. In addition, the sum of $2.75 per head had to be paid to the I. G. Baker Company for driving the cattle from the border to the Cochrane range a few miles from Fort Calgary. There, Howell Harris, the I. G. Baker foreman, well known on the Canadian side, officially turned the herd over to Walker and his men.


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