Ric Hall: Commissioner’s Annual Reports – 1879 to 1880

Early NWMP illustration



Veteran Ric Hall has undertaken an effort to review the early North West Mounted Police Annual Reports to the Canadian government. In so doing, he has provided some of the notable details below for your reading pleasure.







Photograph of Commissioner James MacLeod – Commissioner of the North West Mounted Police.

Commissioner’s Report for 1879 submitted by Commissioner James F. MacLeod;

I ventured in my last report, to express a fear that the large herd of buffalo, after being driven south, with so many Indians behind them, would never return in anything like the number of former years. Unfortunately, such had been the case. Once during the summer a very large herd crossed the line east of Cypress Hills, and smaller bands have come into the country, in some instances making their way north to the South Saskatchewan. The main herd, hemmed in by nearly all the Indians of the North West and Montana, remained south of the Milk River about the “little Rockies” and the “Bear Paw,” extending, I believe, across the Missouri into the “Judith Basin.” During the spring and summer the condition of our Indians was deplorable in the extreme. Buffalo, their only source of supply, had moved south, and their horses were too weak to follow. The flour and beef supplied by the Government was sufficient, for a time, to ward off the impending famine, and to supply a large number with enough to take them to the Milk River country. The great bulk of the “Bloods” and one large band of the “Blackfeet,” together with some “North Piegans,” the Assiniboines and other Indians about the Cypress, pursued this course as soon as they were supplied with food to take them to where the buffalo were, The larger portion of the Blackfeet remained with “Crow Foot” at the “Blackfoot Crossing” until after the payments, and suffered the most dire distress from want of food throughout the summer. The Canadian Indians who crossed the line managed to secure a large supply of meat, but were, after a time, ordered off the United States authorities. They came flocking into Fort Walsh, and those who belonged to Treaty No. 7 made their way through to Fort MacLeod, where they remained until they were paid, at the end of September.

I have already reported the dreadful occurrence which took place near fort Walsh on the 17th of November last, viz;-the murder of Constable M. Grayburn. There is no doubt but the foul deed was perpetrated by two Indians, but we have not been able to fix the guilt upon the murderers. I feel sure that they will be discovered, as when they are across the line and think themselves safe, they will be certain to say something about it which will lead to their detection, and the other Indians will say something about it which will lead to their detection and other Indians will be certain to let us know. I am confident there was nothing in the act itself to lead to the belief that the Indians have changed in their feelings towards us, and that when the facts come out they will show that the atrocious crime was committed in revenge for some real or fancied injury done to the murderer or one of his family, not necessarily by a Policeman, but by some white man. All his comrades mourned the sad fate of poor young Grayburn deeply, as he was a great favorite amongst us all.”

Since my return to the North-West, in order to visit the different Posts, and carry out the duties I was instructed to perform, I have travelled in wagons and on horseback over two thousand three hundred miles. James F. MacLeod, Commissioner.”

Establishment – total strength of the Force, 362 officers and men, 334 horses and 55 colts.

Discipline – “The conduct of the men generally has been very good indeed, with the exception of a few men who are continually blotting sheets of the Defaulters’ Book, it has been exemplary.”


Photograph Superintendent William Jarvis – North West Mounted Police.

Superintendent Jarvis reported from Fort Saskatchewan;

Sir, I have the honor to report that during the last year the duties connected with this post have been carried on in as satisfactory manner as possible, considering the small number of men, and the wretched horses now in possession of the detachment. The conduct of the men has been exemplary, though they have been doing severe work.”

I cannot finish my report without bringing to your notice to the valuable assistance rendered to me by Inspector Gagnon during the whole time he has been under my command; and especially the ability shown by him in tracing up the guilt of the murderer and cannibal Ka-ki-si-kutchin, lately executed here.

Photograph of

Photograph of Inspector Severe Gagnon – North West Mounted Police.

Inspector Gagnon, with a small party, found the camp where the crime was committed, and brought home the mangled bones of nearly all the victims. Inspector Gagnon had several severe trips with dog trains during the last winter under trying circumstances, chiefly on civil business, all of which he performed with zeal and credit. I beg again to refer to the good conduct and cheerful manner of complying with orders of all the non-commissioned officers and constables of this detachment. There has been no crime, and I could not write too highly in their praise.

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Photograph of Superintendent William Winder – North West Mounted Police.

Superintendent Winder reports from Fort MacLeod;

Sir,-I have the honor to submit the following report for the year ending 1879. During the past year there has been great distress and suffering from hunger among the Indians of this District, owing to the scarcity of game, the buffalo having entirely disappeared from this section. I have experienced great difficulty with this matter, applications for relief being constantly made to me by the starving bands of Indians. Owing to the scarcity of flour and uncertainty of the arrival of further supplies, I was able to afford but comparatively small assistance to the many thousands of starving Indians.

Photograph of NWMP Superintendent James Morrow Walsh (Source of photo - Library Archives of Canada).

Photograph of NWMP Superintendent James Morrow Walsh (Source of photo – Library Archives of Canada).

Superintendent James Walsh reports from Wood Mountain;”July 5th – The Sioux camp assembled 20 miles west of this post, and on the 7th and 8th instant held their annual sun dance, when about fifty young men of the tribe gave themselves over to savage torture by lariating their flesh, hanging from poles by rents made in the skin of their breasts, etc., to appease the wrath of the Great Spirit and wash away the sins committed by the tribes since their last sun meeting.”

July 15 – About this date Lieutenant Tillson, U.S.A., – arrived at this [Milk River] (via Fort Walsh) bearing a despatch from General Miles, U.S.A.., requesting the arrest of certain Indians who were suspected of committing murder on the Yellowstone River in the month of March, and were now supposed to be i9n the Teton Sioux Camp. Tillson brou8ght with him a man named Strums, who was present when the murder was committed, and was wounded while making his escape, and who could identify the perpetrators. Strum informed me that the party consisted of five Indians, two Nez Perces, one the “White Eye” and the other “Johnson.” and three Sioux. The Sioux he could not give any description of, but thought he would know them if he saw them again. I immediately set to work to trace these men, and found that the “White Eye” had been killed nine days previous by Crow Indians near the Little Rockies; and that “Johnson” was in the Teton camp, situated about thirty miles west of this post.”

Walsh decided to take Strum to the camp himself, as he had no men available to escort Strum, to see if he could identify the Indians. Meanwhile General Miles had struck a hunting party and killed several Indians and was headed towards the Boundary Line. Walsh agreed to escort

Lt. Tillman to the Boundary after dealing with Strum and the Indians. Upon arrival at the Sioux camp Strum could not identify “Johnson.” There were over 2,000 Indians in the camp and Walsh allowed Strum to walk through them in an effort to identify the three unknown Sioux. Now that must have made Strum’s old sphincter a little tighter! He failed to identify the three Sioux. Walsh found the Indians to be in a fairly excited state as they were aware of General Miles skirmish and move north, “but altogether their conduct was very good.”

Walsh took with him six reliable young warrior and rode for six hours to the Boundary Line where he met Miles, who was setting up camp just south of the “Line.” Tillamn and Strum joined the camp. Walsh met with Miles at the Boundary Line that evening and the following morning at his camp. Walsh, “gave him all the information he required concerning the Tetons, assuring him that they were clamorous for peace and not give him battle.” The following day, Walsh again met with General Miles at his camp taking with him the “Black Wolf” (brother to the “Hump” – one of General Miles scouts), also “long Dog,” whom General Whistler, second in command to Miles requested to see. Mile and Whistler had a talk with these two and requested them to “advise their people to surrender themselves; informing them of the conditions on which they would be received, and the treatment they would meet with a the agencies.”

July 30th – “This day two Half-breeds arrived from Milk River, reporting that General Miles had made prisoners of about 300 families of Canadian Half-breeds, and that they had been sent as messengers to request me to intercede with General Miles for them. I at once left for General Miles camp, where I arrived the following day, and on interviewing him, he kindly released 130 families who requested to go north. On August 22nd instant, of those Half-breeds retained as prisoners by General Miles, about 60 families were sent to Judith Basin and 70 families to Turtle Mountain, (locations in the U.S.) both under escort of U.S. troops.”

Indians – “Within the last year very few buffalo have been in the section of the north of the line; consequently the Indians have camped the greater part of this time on the White Mud River.”

Considering the agitated state in which these people have been kept during the last year by Crows and other Indians stealing their horses and killing their men while following the chase, and General Miles’ expedition driving them from the hunting grounds of Milk River to the boundary line, their conduct has been extremely good; but this good conduct on the part of the great many is only reached by their fear of being sent back to the United States by the Canadian, in event of their committing any depredation north of the line. There are some very good people in this tribe, people whose constant cry is for peace and rest, and who will make any sacrifice to maintain it, yet, there are others who cannot be trusted.”

Note: A little background on General Nelson Miles as he is so inter-connected with the hunt for Sitting Bull and the Sioux who had crossed into Canada;

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Photograph of U.S. Lt, General Nelson Miles.

Lieutenant -General Nelson Miles is a holder of the Medal of Honour –  “In July 1866, Miles was appointed a colonel in the Regular Army. In March 1869 he became commander of the 5th U.S. Infantry Regiment. Miles played a leading role in nearly all of the Army’s campaigns against the American Indian tribes of the Great Plains. In 1874-1875, he was a field commander in the force that defeated the Kiowa, Comanche, and the Southern Cheyenne along the Red River. Between 1876 and 1877, he participated in the campaign that scoured the Northern Plains after Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer’s defeat at the Battle of Little Big Horn and forced the Lakota and their allies onto reservations. In the winter of 1877, he drove his troops on a forced march across Montana and intercepted the Nez Percé band led by Chief Joseph. For the rest of Miles’ career, he would quarrel with General Oliver O. Howard over credit for Joseph’s capture. While on the Yellowstone, he developed expertise with the heliograph for sending communications signals, establishing a 140-mile-long (230 km) line of heliographs connecting Fort Keogh and Fort Custer, Montana in 1878. In December 1880, he was promoted to brigadier general in the Regular Army. He was then assigned to command the Department of the Columbia (1881–85) and the Department of Missouri (1885–86).

In 1886, Miles replaced General George Crook as commander of forces fighting against Geronimo in the Department of Arizona. Crook had relied heavily on Apache scouts in his efforts to capture the Chiricahua leader. Instead, Miles relied on white troops, who eventually traveled 3,000 miles (4,800 km) without success as they tracked Geronimo through the tortuous Sierra Madre Mountains. Finally, First Lieutenant Charles B. Gatewood, who had studied Apache ways, succeeded in negotiating a surrender, under the terms of which Geronimo and his followers, agreed to spend two years in a Florida reservation. Geronimo agreed on these terms, being unaware of the real plot behind the negotiations (that there was no intent to let them go back in their native lands.) The exile included even the Chiricahuas who had worked for the army, in violation of Miles’ agreement with them. Miles denied Gatewood any credit for the negotiations and had him transferred to the Dakota Territory. During this campaign, Miles’s special signals unit used the heliograph extensively, proving its worth in the field. In 1888, Miles became the commander of the Military Division of the Pacific and the Department of California.

In April 1890, Miles was promoted to major general in the Regular Army and became the commander of the Military Division of the Missouri. That same year, the last major resistance of the Sioux on the Lakota reservations, known as the Ghost Dance, brought Miles back into the field. His efforts to subdue the Sioux led to Sitting Bull’s death and the massacre of about 300 Sioux. This included women and children at Wounded Knee on December 29, 1890. Miles was not directly involved at Wounded Knee and was critical of the commanding officer. Just two days after the event, Miles wrote to his wife, describing Wounded Knee as “The most abominable criminal military blunder and a horrible massacre of women and children.” After his retirement from the Army, he fought for compensation payments to the survivors of the massacre. Overall, he believed that the United States should have authority over the Indians, with the Lakota under military control.


Photograph of

Photograph of Commissioner Acheson Gosford Irvine – North West Mounted Police.

From Commissioner Irvine’s Annual Report date December 1880;

Class of Recruits desirable – “On the subject of recruits, I might here mention that I most earnestly trust that the greatest care be shown in future selection of men for service in the North-West Mounted Police. I consider that the best class of men to recruit from are farmers, or young men from rural districts, accustomed to perform hard manual labour, who understand the care and treatment of horses. Such men pick up on the knowledge required for prairie work much more readily and are more efficient than those recruited from towns and cities. Young Canadian farmers are, in my opinion, the material for the best soldiers in the world. They may be classed as “handy men,” excellent axemen; in fact, can turn their hands to anything. As a matter of course, a limited number of artisans and mechanics are required to fill the positions of carpenters, shoeing smiths, shoemakers, tailors, etc.

Headquarters to be Depot of Instruction – “I propose that for the future the headquarters of the force to be a depot of instruction, at which place all officers and men joining the force will be sent, were they will remain until thoroughly drilled and instructed in the various police duties. To carry out this plan successfully, it is indispensible that a competent staff of instructors be at my disposal. A portion of such staff I can obtain by selection from officers and non-commissioned officers now serving in the force. In addition to this, however, I recommend that the services of three perfectly qualified non-commissioned officers be obtained from an Imperial Cavalry Regiment. I am satisfied that the inducements we could hold out would be the means of obtaining the best class of non-commissioned officers to be had in England. I would not recommend that non-commissioned officers of more than five years service be applied for. Old men, who have already spent the best days of their life in the British service, would be quite unfit for the work that in this country they would be called upon to perform, nor would they be likely to show that energy and pride in their corps which is desirable that, by example, they should inculate into others. Instructors of the class I have described, in addition to the knowledge they would impart to others, would serve as models for recruits, as regard soldier like conduct and general bearing. The importance of the benefits the force would thus derive cannot, in my opinion, be overrated. The police force is principally composed of as fine a body of young men as could be found in any organization in the world. It is with this fact in view, that I make the above recommendation, in order that the good material at our command may be made the most of, properly developed, if I may use such an expression. Again, we have many non-commissioned officers, who though well informed as regard their own duties, have not the “nack” of imparting such knowledge to others. It does not necessarily follow that because a man is a good drill himself, that he is also a good instructor.

Superintendent Crozier reports from Fort Walsh; “I could not wish for a more willing, orderly and obedient body of men than those under my command. Although their life is such that they are completely deprived of the pleasures and amusements to which civilized beings are ordinarily accustomed, their conduct would be exemplary anywhere.”

Throughout many of the Annual Report the Commanding Officers of the Districts all seem to report that morale and conduct is good, I guess the number of deserters, mutinies and members sentenced to gaol and Hard Labour are not taken into consideration when factoring in the morale of the men! Or, could it be that being far and away from the Commissioner, they just had rose coloured glasses on when the submitted their reports. Unless caught, what the Commissioner did not know was good enough for them. Job security!

image of Ric Hall closing block for his Photo Corner webpage