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patches on their old hunting-grounds.

Their old motives of race-pride were gone. Their


faces and forms had taken on a cast of subjection and
servility. They were a dark fringe on the ranks of

Father Lacombe could see the Indian of the mor-
row disregarded, uncared-for, unwelcome, thrust
back further and further from his old territory.
His heart brooded over it all, and he felt himself
called to give the remainder of his life to their pro-
tection as he had once given his years to their evan-

He continued his journey south. Marvellous!
. . . If the new Edmonton had impressed him
with the advent of a new regime, he was still more
astounded by what he saw as his buckboard and bron-
chos carried him down the trail past the Red Deer
River through the borderland of the Cree and
Blackfoot territories into the Bow River country.

It was little more than twenty years since he had
first come here with Alexis to nurse the Blackfeet
through the epidemic : then the Crees and traders had
warned him not to go among the murderous Black-
feet. Even ten years ago he had traced his Tableau
Catechisme on bark in the Blackfoot camp by the
Bow and taught his childlike naked warrior friends
from it.

Now there were white men's horses grazing on the
rolling prairies and long bridle-trails led to the shacks
of young English and Canadian ranchers.. In the
beautiful valley where the Bow and Elbow meet he
looked down to the slim palisades of Fort Calgary.


Here too he met a single red-coated horseman.

The erstwhile missionary-Crusader who had ranged
the plains armed only with his crucifix and Red
Cross flag, could appreciate the grandeur of the fig-
ure of this solitary Rider of the Plains.

Two great agencies met there near Calgary in
the trim young horseman and the aging priest whose
bronchos jogged as peacefully down the Trail as if
they were the traditional fat ponies of the clergyman
of civilized lands and their driver were as common-

He drove in between the straggling shacks and
tents already spreading across the prairie in antici-
patory welcome of the approaching railway. Here
in addition to the mission of his confreres were the
white barracks of the Mounted Police and trading-
posts of the Company and I. G. Baker. Numerous
prospectors and fortune seekers had drifted in to
make a new home: the village radiated bright pros-

But there were sad associations about Calgary for
the returned missionary . . . memories of his
"fameux Alexis," who achieved the distinction of
erecting the first building here. He left Edmonton
in 1872, after Father Lacombe's departure for the
east and built a house on the Elbow 25 miles from
the junction of the Bow and Elbow.

Since he could not accompany the master he loved
with such doglike fidelity he found some consolation
in settling here among the Blackfeet. He was re-


alizing as best he could the mission so long planned
by Father Lacombe. His new home was at one of
the shifting centres of population on the plains, a
rendezvous for the Bloods occasionally visited by
American whiskey-traders.

The following year Alexis gave over his house to
Fathers Scollen and Fourmond who came to estab-
lish a permanent mission, for the southern tribes.
In 1874 a larger house was built here and another
at Fort Macleod, where the new soldier-police were

In 1875 Alexis, under the priests' direction built
another house of logs at the junction of the Bow and
Elbow, with a roof of spruce bark and door of buf-
falo hide. It was here the Mounted Police received
hospitality on their first arrival in Calgary.

In the autumn a larger house was built by Alexis
on the plateau across the river. That winter the
buffalo roamed over the neighbouring plains in in-
calculable numbers. Whenever the cupboard looked
lean Alexis strapped on his snowshoes, set off with
sleigh and rifle and came back with delicious fresh

But in the spring the longing for his old master
grew too strong for him to rest contented there. He
heard that Father Lacombe was in Winnipeg and
would not return west. One day he told Father
Doucet he must go and join him.

Instead, poor Alexis went wandering over the
prairie from camp to camp. His mind, previously


somewhat unbalanced, became unhinged in a form of
religious mania with a belief in a divine mission for
himself. He declined to live in the Palace at St.
Albert. ... At last word came one day to
Father Lacombe in Winnipeg that his Alexis had
been found dead on the trail near the far-away mis-
sion of Cold Lake.

Two years later with the disappearance of the buf-
falo, famine stalked over the plains: and in 1882
Father Lacombe found that while most friendly re-
lations had been established between the priests and
Indians there had been little progress made in evan-
gelizing them. His brethren had scarcely acquired
fluent command of Blackfoot before the wretched
Indians were painfully absorbed in a prolonged
search for food.

From Fort Macleod, where he was warmly wel-
comed by the Mounted Police officers he pushed on
to the Blood Reserve. Here even the nonchalant
Piegans and Bloods unbent to enthusiastic expres-
sions of delight, when they learned that the Man-of-
the-Good-Heart was going to give the rest of his
days to them. His reception was like the return of
some great medicine-man to his tribe.

Other Blackrobes might be their friends and they
could respect and love them, but this fearless, high-
spirited, tender old man was their own; and they
loved him greatly. The Journal of Macleod mis-
sion, which record his re-entry to what was now the
Territory of Alberta, note that it was easy to recog-


nize the ardours and enthusiasm of the former shep-
herd of the plains. A ten-years' sojourn in another
milieu had not altered him.

The mission-house, fifteen feet square only, now
served as "a reception-hall for the Indians who
flocked from all quarters to see their former mission-
ary and talk with him of the good old times. The
air was continually saturated with tobacco-smoke,
and the calumet made the rounds continually/'

Father Lacombe pitched his tent. The resident
missionary slept on hay on the earthen floor inside
and cooked their meals in a clay fireplace.

At Fort Macleod, where he located the headquar-
ters of the Mission, Father Lacombe found only a
bleak Police-post whose constabulary found their
spice in life lay in exciting chases of whiskey-smug-
glers and cattle-rustlers.

The old forts of the whiskey-traders at Whoop-
Up, Stand-Off, Slide-Out and Whiskey-Fort had
ceased their more flagrant operations in 1874, when
the Indians brought them word that red-coated
Britishers were riding over the prairies to chase them.
Yet some daring frontiersmen lingered to trade a
little bad whiskey for buffalo-robes while these lasted
and later to satisfy the desire of the very thirsty
whites coming out to the plains.

The efforts of Father Lacombe and his fellow-
workers were at first directed mainly toward the pro-
tection of the Indians. Whenever and however they
could they got whiskey to drink. Even poverty did


not secure them against the firewater, which they
loved so fatally and which was rapidly completing
the downfall begun by their loss of independence.

There were always ways of obtaining liquor with
or without money for men and women. In fact, the
one great reproach repeatedly made by Chief Crow-
foot against the whites was that liquor was contin-
ually used by them in the demoralization of the In-
dian woman.

Following speedily upon the arrival of Father La-
combe in 1882 a definite change came over the Black-
foot mission-field. The Indians seemed to enter upon
a new phase of existence in which they undoubtedly
owed much to the firm direction of their Arsous-kitsi-
rarpi and his lieutenant, Father Legal.

In the latter, a new recruit to the western field,
Father Lacombe found a personality as strong as his
own. This meeting with Father Legal indeed was
an event in his life as his meeting with Bishop Tache
thirty years before had been. It marked the begin-
ning of a friendship that was to endure for his life-
time and in many ways contribute to his comfort in
his latter days.

The strong administrative powers of the young
Breton afforded the necessary complement to Father
Lacombe's unusual ability for planning new move-
ments and securing the co-operation of everyone
needful. As a result each enterprise they undertook
was markedly successful.

The two spent the winter together in the little log-


house on the Blood Reserve. When they had dug
their potatoes in September they set about chinking
the house with mud and laying a floor in it. This
done they began work upon a Blackfoot dictionary,
employing William Munroe Piskan as interpre-

In the afternoon Father Lacombe taught a class
of fifteen children and a group of adults each even-
ing. The mornings were devoted to the dictionary,
which they completed before spring. During the win-
ter they went to Macleod and there superintended the
construction of a small mission-house. Whilst there
the two priests occupied a log-house lent them by
Col. Macleod, but which they also had to chink with
moss and mud to keep out the elements.

The coal areas in the vicinity of the Belly River
were now about to be developed by an English com-
pany in which Sir Alexander Gait was interested.
The latter visited the west about this time, and as
the Journal of the Blood Mission notes, Sir Alexan-
der agreed to saw for his friend Father Lacombe
10,000 feet of lumber from logs hauled to the Com-
pany's mill.

Father Lacombe could now enter upon a campaign
of construction. He began with a building at Black-
foot Crossing, but while here his summer plans were
broken into by a virulent epidemic of erysipelas among
the Blackfeet. He and his colleagues spent most of
the summer tending to the sick Indians. His plans
had so far progressed by September, however, that


visiting his Bishop then he could declare himself well
satisfied with the year's work.

He received about this time a letter from his mother
which is the only one of hers remaining among his
correspondence. The venerable woman was spending
her last days in cheerful serenity, and although close
on to eighty was still knitting socks for her son.

L'AssoMPTioN, Nov. 4.

"My VERY DEAR ALBERT i I received your pleasant let-
ter on October 20th, and it was very welcome. You may
imagine the great joy I felt in receiving it; for, votta, you
are again back among your poor Indians. I am glad of
this for your sake, because you have wished for so long to
return to them.

"I often journey in spirit to your poor cabin; although
age creeps on me I hope to see you once more: but if this
may not occur here below there Above I know that we shall
meet again.

"... Do not be afraid to let me know of your work
and cares. I am glad to be able to share your sorrows with
you as well as your pleasures.

"I can no longer see at all with that eye, but I am hoping
that the right one will remain to me, for I can see as clearly
with it as with the two. I read, sew and knit as before I
should like to send you a little bundle of socks. . . ."


THE three great civilising forces of Western Can-
ada the strongest factors in its development from
the days of Verandrye up to 1880 were the Hud-
son's Bay Company; the scores of French Oblates
who had devoted their lives to civilising the Indians,
and the Northwest Mounted Police.

They were men of heroic stripe, all three types of
trader, priest and constable: each deserving of the
Homeric epic that should some day enshrine their
deeds in a living monument.

With the first large wave of immigration the Com-
pany practically ceased to be a potent factor in
western life. But promptly on the eclipse of the
Big Company there emerged another power, which
was also to exert a notable influence in the consolida-
tion of the Dominion.

This was the Canadian Pacific Railway, which
separated the prairies forever from the hazy period of
travoix and canoes. Already the steel head of the
road was advancing on Calgary, justifying the faith
of the men who had built it.

The opulent latent spirit of the young Northwest
was like the legendary Princess sleeping: this road
the daring Prince that broke through every obstacle
of rock and chasm on the rugged North Shore then



flung itself into the prairies lying in virgin enchant-
ment. It wakened the Spirit of the land and the
transformation that followed forms the first chapter
in the history of the New West.

To Father Lacombe's impressionable mind the
Canadian Pacific looming on the Calgary horizon
made an unforgettable picture. Years later he
lapsed into reminiscence in forceful French:

"Hah! I would look long in silence at that road
coming on like a band of wild geese in the sky
cutting its way through the prairies; opening up the
great country we thought would be ours for years.
Like a vision I could see it driving my poor Indians
before it, and spreading out behind it the farms, the
towns and cities you see to-day.

"No one who has not lived in the west since the
Old-Times can realize what is due to that road that
C. P. R. It was Magic like the mirage on the
prairies, changing the face of the whole country.

"We know of course it was not built without the
hope of some day bringing in much money to its
builders and directors that is the way of mankind.
But I say to you of the men I met those first days of
the road there was more than money-making in their

"There was courage; yes, and daring. . . .
Hah! that did make us all admire; and there was a
great faith and pride in this country. They believed
it held great possibilities, those men who fought so
hard to carry that plan through, and they had the


prescience that is the gift only of the great men of
every age.

"Then the men who controlled it when it was built
the order, the discipline they demanded from their
employes. . . . Smith, George Stephen, Van
Home and Angus, hah! . . .

"How we admired that man Van Home! He was
a Napoleon in the planning of his work, in his con-
trol of it and in the attachment of the men who
worked for him. . . . 'Politeness is business,'
that was his maxim. He gave that road from end to
end of the continent one spirit like the old Company
used to have from London to Oregon."

Weathered frontiersmen grumbled that the railway
would destroy all the freedom of the good old days:
the red man looked on with awe and suspicion. One
day Father Lacombe was called from Calgary to
quiet the Blackfoot nation. These Indians were in-
dignant that grading was being done upon their Re-
serve without their permission. They threatened
they would not submit to this invasion of what little
land remained to them.

Father Lacombe hurried there, and requested the
railway-men to cease operations until he could settle
with the Indians. With the confidence of ignorance
they pooh-poohed his warning, and continued work.

Meanwhile Father Lacombe hastened to the chief's
camp with 200 pounds of tea and as much of sugar,
flour and tobacco. Through his friend Crowfoot he
called a council of warriors. He first "opened his


mouth" with the gifts; then urged them to permit
the grading on their land. He promised them Gov-
ernor Dewdney would come and arrange all with

The Head-Chief insisted his braves should heed
the words of a friend who had never lied to them,
and after many rumbling threats the council ended

The construction-gangs proceeded peacefully with
the grading, incredulous of any danger; unaware that
but for Father Lacombe's intervention the construc-
tion of the first Canadian transcontinental would have
been attended with deliberate bloodshed.

The Governor came to the reserve before long ac-
companied by Col. Macleod. They formally ceded
to the Blackfeet another portion of land in compen-
sation for what had been taken by the road.

. . * .

Father Lacombe had returned west with the ex-
pectation of spending his days on the plains with the
Indians. A year later he found himself pastor at
Calgary labouring with whites as at St. Mary's in

His disillusionment was complete when in August
a newspaper was set up with western enterprise in
a tent, and in the same month the first train reached
Calgary. The arrival of this last was heralded by
a telegram to Father Lacombe from George Stephen
(later Lord Mountstephen) the president of the
Canadian Pacific, saying:


"Come to lunch with me to-morrow in my car at

Father Lacombe had known Mr. Stephen since
1881 and at Rat Portage once advised him to build
the road through the Pine River Pass. He traced the
route he recommended upon a map hanging in Ste-
phen's car, but while the directors present conceded
his advice was good other counsels prevailed.

Now in Calgary the president triumphantly re-
minded Father Lacombe of his prophecy that the
Company could not find a favourable pass over the
mountains at the Bow. He rejoiced, too, that while
his own car was within sight of the Rockies construc-
tion-gangs were successfully pushing their way
through the Kicking-Horse Pass. 1

At the luncheon the busy Cure of St. Mary's found
himself in a rare company: a "pleiade d'hommes" he
calls them in appreciation of their individual bril-
liance. In this group of men who were binding Can-
ada together with rails of steel were President
Stephen, Donald Smith, William Van Home, R. B.
Angus and Count Hermann von Hohenlohe, after
whose estates in Germany the nearby station of Glei-
chen had recently been named.

The repast was a pleasant one for many reasons.
The directors were delighted with the progress made
in construction. The missionary was charmed to en-
joy again the company of men of such parts.

i This Pass received its name from an accident occurring there to
Dr. Hector of Palliser's party, and who was Father Lacombe's guest
at Ste. Anne in 1858.


This first train to Calgary marked an occasion,
and was celebrated with toasts and merry speeches.
The cream of the day came at last : Mr. Stephen re-
signed as president of the Canadian Pacific and upon
motion of Mr. Angus Father Lacombe whose serv-
ices, as chaplain and again on the Blackfoot Reserve,
were gratefully recalled was then unanimously
voted to fill the position. For one hour the pictur-
esque missionary of the plains was by courtesy and
vote of the executive the President of Canada's
greatest corporation.

Father Lacombe has always rejoiced in a graceful
tour d 'esprit. He promptly accepted the honour and
the President's chair and once there he mischiev-
ously nominated Mr. Stephen to the rectorship of St.
Mary's. The election was proceeded with amid
laughter and applause, and the ex-President accepted
his new dignity with a glance over the village and the
simple speech:

"Poor souls of Calgary, I pity you!"

A pleasant echo of this luncheon-party is had in
a photograph and note which Father Lacombe re-
ceived soon after from Cardinal von Hohenlohe :

"SCHIIXINGFUERST, October 18, 1883.
"Very Reverend Father:

"My cousin Hermann tells me that you desire my photo-
graph. I hasten to send it to you, recommending myself to
your prayers. I have the honour to be,

"Your very devoted servant,



The luncheon that day in August was a cheery so-
cial affair, but the day did not pass without its serious
moments of discussion. In these was mention of a
plan to bring out other French settlers to the west.
The one primary need of these solitudes and of the
traversing railway was inhabitants. Mr. Stephen de-
sired Father Lacombe's co-operation in the work.

The plan there agreed upon is outlined in a letter
written by Stephen from Montreal on January 25,
1884, to Father Lacombe at Ottawa:

"Now, as to my proposed French colony, I do not know
that it is necessary for me to say anything more than that I
will be ready to expend the sum of $500 on the homestead of
each of the 50 families it is proposed to settle, taking a lien
on the homestead for the repayment of the money at such
times and such interest. . . ."

as agreed upon. He suggested that houses be built
for the settlers after Father Lacombe had arranged
with the Interior Department for the reception of the

Here we have in 1884, between George Stephen
and Father Lacombe, the idea of the ready-made
farm which attained successful realization in the Bow
valley in 1909.

Several letters of this period from half-breeds indi-
cate that one of Father Lacombe's new duties was
unofficial arbitrator in horse-thefts.

This crime was the chief plague of western life.
The Crees sent protests to Father Lacombe that his


people in the south were stealing their horses, and
the Blackfeet went either to the Mounted Police or to
their old missionary. In the supine days on which
these Indian warriors had fallen a brave might no
longer seek revenge on the war-path.

After a theft concerning which Father Lacombe
made diligent enquiries through a trusty Metis he
finally sent the man to the Crees of Red Deer Cross-
ing. The Metis reported :

"They know nothing of the horses stolen from your people,
the Blackfeet!"

In a second letter he assures the priest in his almost
untranslatable patois that :

"Since the Spring the Crees here have stopped this business
of horse-stealing that they used to carry on with the Black-
feet; but among themselves they continue to steal. There
was one of them caught. They sent him to Winnipeg to
prison for five years. The Government is very hard on
business of that sort it is reported at the Red Deer
Crossing that twenty-five Piegans are in prison for stealing
horsejs. . . ."

indicating that the Police not only maintained the
law, but spread a very wholesome fear of punishment
through the Reserves.

On one occasion a Cree who lived north of the Red
Deer lost his entire band of horses. He promptly had
recourse to Father Lacombe, and the almost illegible
scrawl written for him is very quaint.


"Rev. Pere Lacombe:

"I am very angry because some young Blackfoot men came
to steal my horses when I was camped quietly here among my
friends. They say, these men, that they came at night in-
tending to steal back the horses lifted by the Crees from them
at the Cypress Mountains. But they were lying for nothing,
says Gabriel Leveille who came in yesterday from the Hunt;
and he passed by the Cypress Mountains.

"You who are down at the Old Man's River, I pray you to
take some trouble to find and return my horses to me."

All of these communications are significant of the
new spirit abroad on the plains, where was now a
definite form of government by the whites, with the
details still sketchy.

At Calgary, where the town-site was still unsur-
veyed, men hurried to secure locations with an idea
of making fortunes out of town-lots. The air was
full of rumours about the location of the town ; no one
knew definitely, but each man squatted on the spot
he considered likely to be chosen.

In the closing months of 1883 Father Lacombe and
Father Doucet as priests in charge of the mission
claimed not only squatter's rights for the mission-
buildings, but as male citizens of the Dominion they
felt themselves each entitled to a homestead. Father
Lacombe accordingly selected two quarter-sections
about the old and new missions on either bank of the

A few of the newcomers who were building where


they chose set up shacks upon his homestead, refusing
to admit his right to hold it over them. Father La-
combe warned them to move off; they persisted.

"You priests, do you want all the country? I warn
you, you can't have this bit," said one to him with
probably the idea that the priest's frock prevented
him from locating a homestead as every other man on
the ground hoped to do.

With resistance growing Father Lacombe felt he
must secure his holding, and as the claim could not
be registered outside of Ottawa he decided to go there.
There was no time to wait for permission from his

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Online LibraryKatherine HughesFather Lacombe : the black-robe voyageur → online text (page 16 of 28)