Supt. James Morrow Walsh – O.7

Photograph of James Walsh - NWMP



One of the many colourful and notable members of the early North West Mounted Police (NWMP) was that of James Morrow Walsh.  American newspapers would later describe him as “Sitting Bull’s Boss.”






James Morrow Walsh was born on April 22, 1841 at Prescott Ontario.  He was the oldest of nine children born to Lewis and Margaret (Morrow) Walsh.  Lewis Walsh was a ship’s carpenter.

After completing public school, James drifted between jobs:

– tried his hand at becoming a machinist;

– railway worker;

– dry-good store employee and

– hotel manager.

He eventually settled on joining the Canadian Militia – Prescott Ontario’s Troop of Cavalry and received an officer’s commission as a Lieutenant.  A year later, he was promoted to Captain.

In 1872, he was gazetted as a Brevet-Major and served during the Fenian raids of 1866 and 1870.

1882 - Photograph of James Morrow Walsh.

1882 – Photograph of James Morrow Walsh.


With the creation of the NWMP in 1873, all the officer positions were political appointments approved by Prime Minister Sir John A. MacDonald.  With James Walsh being an active Militia officer and having strong political connections within the federal Conservative Party in Ottawa, James was the appointed the 7th NWMP commissioned officer (Reg.# O.7) and was  sworn in on September 23, 1873 with the rank of Sub-Inspector.  His nephew, (Reg.#o50 Original Series) William P. Walsh also joined soon after on October 2, 1973.

After being sworn in, James Walsh assisted with the recruiting of men into the ranks of this new police force.  

On October 2, 1873, Sub-Inspector WALSH led the first contingent of 1 N.C.O. and 32 Privates west from Ottawa.  They traveled by train to Collingwood where they had a two day delay awaiting the steamer “Chicora” then sailed to Arthur’s Landing (present day Thunder Bay, Ontario). The group then took the Dawson Route with teams and wagons to Shabandwin. From there, they traveled in small boats to Rainy Lake.  At the Lake of the Woods, they were met by a steamer in a blizzard. The remainder of the trek to Fort Garry, Manitoba was on foot, with their baggage hauled in ox carts.

Photograph of NWMP Commissioner George French.

Photograph of NWMP Commissioner George French.

The Canadian government selected British Lt. Colonel George French as the first NWMP Commissioner.  He soon realized that the original 150 members would be insufficient to the task ahead of them.  He petitioned the Canadian government to increased the Force strength from 150 to 300. This request was approved by the government.

At Fort Dufferin, the new members of the NWMP received training and preparation for the forthcoming March West.  It was at Fort Dufferin that Commissioner French became significantly impressed with James Walsh’s abilities.  As such, James Walsh was appointed as the acting adjutant, riding-master and acting veterinary surgeon. As the adjutant, he issued General Orders on January 5, 1874 which included the daily schedule:

Reveille – 6:30 AM

Stables – 7 to 8 AM

Breakfast – 8:15 AM

Office – 10:00 AM

Parade 10:30 AM

Stables – 11:30 AM to 12:30 PM

Dinner – 1:00 PM

Guard Mounting – 1:45 PM

Parade – 2:00 PM

Tea – 4:30 PM

Stables – 4:45 PM to 5:30 PM

Retreat – 4:45 PM

Picquet-Mounting – 5:30 PM

Night Guard – 5:30 PM

First Post – 9:30 PM

Last Post – 10:00 PM

Lights Out – 10:15 PM

These daily Force routines would continue for the next 100 years.

On June 1, 1874, James was promoted to the rank of Superintendent.

On July 8, 1874, the NWMP members formed up at Fort Dufferin for their final inspection.  Shortly thereafter, the column of NWMP members commenced the famous March West of 1874.

Illustration of the NWMP March West in 1874,

Illustration of the NWMP March West in 1874,

For the March West, James Walsh commanded “D” Troop (The Staff Troop) and was supported by Sub-Inspectors James Walker and John French (brother of the Commissioner).  During the strenuous March West, Walsh had been given the kind of assignments that make it clear he was regarded as the most reliable of the six troop leaders.

Photograph of the NWMP Fort Walsh (Source of the photo - RCMP Historical Collections Unit - "Depot" Division).

Photograph of the NWMP Fort Walsh (Source of the photo – RCMP Historical Collections Unit – “Depot” Division).

He then served at Fort MacLeod until May 1875 when he was ordered to take 30 men of “B” Division and build a fort in the Cypress Hills which would bear his name – Fort Walsh.   The fort was built in a picturesque valley by Battle Creek and was finished in July.

His nephew, o50 Sub Constable WALSH, died at the fort from Mountain (typhoid) Fever on September 1, 1879 and was buried there.

1878 Fort Walsh - Photograph of NWMP lancers (Source of photo - RCMP Historical Collections Unit - "Depot" Division).

1878 Fort Walsh – Photograph of NWMP lancers (Source of photo – RCMP Historical Collections Unit – “Depot” Division).

From Fort Walsh, James Walsh’s area of responsibility stretched 150 miles (240 kilometers) east to the Wood Mountain area and this was where “Sitting Bull” crossed into Canada with 5,000 Sioux following the battle of the “Little Big Horn” – the annihilation of General George Custer and 268 men of the 7th U.S. Cavalry by the American Lakota Sioux, Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho.

Photograph of Sitting Bull.

Photograph of Sitting Bull.

Once Chief Sitting Bull had established his camp in Canada, James Walsh, with two interpreters and six Constables, rode into the Sioux camp to setup a tent next to Sitting Bull’s lodge while 1,000 warriors looked on.

As James Walsh was introduced to Sitting Bull, he extended his hand.  Sitting Bull was curious and shook this white man’s hand.  Through an interpreter, Sitting Bull listened attentively to James Walsh who welcomed the Sioux to stay in Canada provided they obeyed the lands of the Canada. “People who break laws in this land, whether they be whites, blacks or browns, will not escape punishment,” Walsh said.

Apparently, Sitting Bull paused and then laughed at the ridiculous situation: “A man with six followers telling a powerful chief with a thousand braves what he must do?” Yet, according to Sitting Bull biographer Grant MacEwan, the chief agreed with Walsh’s request to meet with the Sioux council for a full briefing on Canadian laws.

Although his headquarters were at Fort Walsh, most of James Walsh’s  time was now spent at Wood Mountain and, through his continuing dealings with Sitting Bull, he became well known for his firmness and fairness in dealing with the Indians.

Walsh developed a strong friendship with the Sitting Bull and successfully kept peace in the region and prevented Sioux raiding parties into the United States. 

According to Retired Constable George Guernsey (Reg.#460),

Major James Morrow Walsh, as I remember him, was a man about five feet nine inches, well built, with dark hair, moustache and imperial.  He affected rather a bizarre style of uniform, a straight peaked cap like an infantry officer’s of that period, but with a heavy gold band, or else a wide-brimmed light fawn soberer, a cavalry patrol jacket, Bedford cord breeches and U.S. Cavalry boots with the fronts reaching above the knee.  

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).

There is an old adage which says ‘Like master, like man,’ and nearly all his non-coms and as many of the men who could realise one, worse imperials – so much so that if you saw a man with one he was at once set down as belonging to “B” Troop.

A man of undoubted pluck, he loved to advertise, and nothing pleased him more than to be alluded to in the American newspapers as ‘Sitting Bull’s Boss.’

During the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway he was in his glory, driving from camp to camp in an ambulance (nicknamed ‘The Black Maria’).  He would hold court sitting in the door-way of the ambulance with his long boots dangling over the side, while Sergeant Bill Piery and his ‘crushers’ would be up the malefactors before him.  Sergeant Piercy would read out the charges and no more evidence was required.  A rapid-fire list of sentences would follow – ‘Take them away, Sergeant,’ and the Black Maria would move on, pulled by a four-horse team, to the next camp. One day at Fort Qu’Appelle, a half-bread named Welsh ran foul of the Major, who happened to be in a bad temper, and the amount of profanity directed at the unfortunate breed was amazing; in fact, Jack Henderson (who aft wards attained fame by easing Riel from this wicked world), who was close by delivering freight to the Q.M. Store, ejected a stream of tobacco-juice and listened open-mounted, then remarked: Thought I was pretty good at cussin’, Major but you have me skinned a mile.

And we’ll lit it go at that.

Guernsey further stated –

All the Soiux Chiefs had a great respect for Major Walsh, his official Sioux name being ‘Wokasa Hoska,’ meaning long Spear – familiarly he was known as ‘Oza Cheka,’ which meant ‘Little Rump.’

On November 17, 1880, NWMP Commissioner Archeson Irvine submitted a report to the NWMP Comptroller in Ottawa describing Superintendent Walsh as having

a certain amount of natural ability, ‘sharpness’ would perhaps be a better word.  Might have made a very fair officer had he been kept at Headquarters under strict supervision before being sent to an independent command.  is prone to act on his own authority in a manner that cannot be considered subordinate, with a view of making his own name conspicuous.  I do not have consider him particularly straightforward.  i have little confidence in him.  He shunned the uniform and usually wore a fringed buckskin jacket and wide brimmed ‘stetson’ style hate, as well as sporting a beard.  Many of his men copied the beard to the extend that his Division was known simply by appearance.”

The Canadian government decided that Walsh’s friendship with Sitting Bull was an obstacle to the Sioux’s return to the United States, and in 1880 he was transferred to Fort Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan.  Soon after, he took health leave and returned to Ontario. He reluctantly resigned from the Force on September 1, 1883.

1878 Fort Walsh - Photograph of NWMP senior NCOs (Source of photo - RCMP Historical Collections Unit - "Depot" Division).

1878 Fort Walsh – Photograph of NWMP senior NCOs (Source of photo – RCMP Historical Collections Unit – “Depot” Division).

With his final transfer pending and retirement looming on the horizon, Superintendent Walsh was presented with some mementos by the members of “B” Division Fort Qu’Appelle. The following was addressed to him dated May 31st, 1883:

“Major J.M. Walsh, Superintendent, “B” Division, NWMP
Sir: We the undersigned Non-Commissioned Officers of your Division having heard with regret of your intention to visit Canada, with the probability of not returning to us again as our Commanding Officer, take this opportunity of tendering you an address accompanied with a substantial testimonial to show our appreciation of yourself as an able and impartial Officer.

There are present in the troop but two men who were with you on that memorable and terrible march to the Rocky Mountains in ’74, and there are only six men left who passed through the exciting and trying times with Sitting bull at Wood Mountain under your command:-
In a few months, or a year at most all that was original of “B” Troop men will be scattered to the four points of the compass in this Great Lone Land of the North-West.
“B” Troop has always been the pioneer Division in establishing and building Posts: it has been the first one in every new place, and performed more hard work and seen more active service than any other two Divisions in the Force. On account of the brevity of the notice of your departure we were unable to procure the presentation gift which we deem suitable for your use but on your return from Canada, we will have the articles ready, and at your service, and our hearty wish is that you may live many years to occupy a seat in the saddle which will accompany this outfit.

To Mrs. Walsh and family you will convey the heartfelt regards of “B” Division, for their health and future welfare, and in saying God-speed and good-bye to you we are not bidding you a long farewell, and trust you may return in the course of a few weeks in company with your good lady and family to settle permanently in the North West is the unanimous feeling of every man of your Command.
Signed on behalf of men of “B” Division. Ernest Bradley, S.M.”  (taken from the October 1939 RCMP Quarterly).

Photograph of NWMP Sergeant Fred Bagley (Source of photo - RCMP Historical Collections Unit - "Depot" Division).

Photograph of NWMP Sergeant Fred Bagley (Source of photo – RCMP Historical Collections Unit – “Depot” Division).

It is interesting when reading the written address of Sergeant Major Bradley, that Canada is referred to as a far off place and I guess it was to those living in the North West Territories prior to becoming provinces and joining confederation.

According to the “The North-West Mounted Police” by John Peter Turner (Page 25 – Volume 2) –

On September 1, Supt. James Morrow Walsh retired.

Of all the officers in the Mounted Police none had given better service to Canada in the great western transition than had Major Walsh.  In fact, between 1875 and 1883, no man wearing the red tunic had been called upon to exercise a greater degree of courage, tolerance and tact.  From the erection of Fort Walsh in the Cypress Hills in the spring of 1875, up to the departure of Sitting Bull and his Sioux following in 1881, and the subsequent establishment and administration onrush from the East, the active years of the commandant of “B” Troop had in themselves rounded out a distinct and meritorious chapter of the Mounted Police history.


Upon retiring from the Force, James Walsh became the manager of the  Dominion Coal, Coke and Transportation Company in Winnipeg Manitoba.

In retirement, James Walsh became close friends with Clifford Sifton – a rising star in the federal Liberal party.  When the Liberals came to power in 1896, James wrote to Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier outlining why the NWMP should be reduced in size.

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

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

With the Klondike gold frenzy in the Yukon, the Liberal government appointed James Walsh as the Administrator (Governor) of the Yukon and re-appointed him as a Superintendent in the NWMP on August 26, 1897.  In so doing, he was given sole command of the NWMP in the Yukon and appointed supervisor of Customs and Mail services.

James Walsh only remained in the Yukon for one year.  Apparently, his departure was attributed to his political and administrative difficulties as: mining regulations were a tangled mess, and he showed no aptitude for sorting things out.  Walsh’s retirement may have been in part due to ill health.

James Walsh returned to Brockville Ontario and remained there for the rest of his life.  He died of a stroke on July 25th, 1905 and was buried in the Brockville Cemetery.


Photograph of the grave marker for NWMP Superintendent James Walsh (Source of photo – RCMP Gravesite database).


In recognition of his service and contribution, governments and communities have name geographical references in his name (extracted from “Honoured In Places: Remembered Mounties Across Canada” by William J. Hulgaard and John W. White):

Walsh Drive – Lethbridge Alberta;

Fort Walsh Creek, Saskatchewan – flowing southwest into the Battle Creek, was named in 1918 by the Department of the Interior’s Reclamation Services;

Fort Walsh Historical Park in Saskatchewan includes the Battle Creek Valley and Farwell’s Trading Post;

Walsh Glacier, Yukon – St. Elias Range (Lat: 60·53·00N Long: 140·37·00W)

Mount Walsh (14,780ft / 4,505m), Yukon – in South St. Elias Mountains, North central Kluane National Park (Lat: 61·00·00N Long: 140·01·00W). In July, 1900, J. J. McArthur of the International Boundary Commission, named this mountain.

Wash Street Maple Creek, Saskatchewan;

Walsh Trail Battleford subdivision Swift Current Saskatchewan.

image of Ric Hall closing block for his Photo Corner webpage