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The March West
On July 8, 1874, the small force of NWMP moved out of Dufferin, Manitoba, and headed west toward the junction of the Bow and Belly Rivers over 800 miles away, in what is today southern Alberta. Their objective was to locate Fort Whoop-up, notorious stronghold of the whiskey traders, and destroy the whiskey trade. For two months the cavalcade of ox carts, wagons, cattle, field pieces and agricultural equipment crawled steadily westward.

At La Roche Perce, the contingent split. The greater part of "A" 6 Troop proceeded northwestward via Fort Ellice, to establish itself at the Hudson's Bay Company post, Fort Edmonton. The remainder of the force, ragged and weary, its horses starved and parched, toiled on in pitiable condition to the Sweet Grass Hills, near the International Boundary. There, the Commissioner and the Assistant Commissioner led a small party south to Fort Benton, Montana, to replenish exhausted stocks of food and purchase fresh horses.

On his return from Fort Benton, the Commissioner set out with two troops for Swan River, the newly appointed headquarters of the Force. Assistant Commissioner James F. Macleod, commanding "B", "C" and "F" Troops and the remainder of "A", continued westward to the foothills. Macleod, with the assistance of Métis scout Jerry Potts, located Fort Whoop-up, but the whiskey traders had fled. The column finally halted on the banks of the Old Man River, where in October 1874, they began building the first police outpost in the far west. It was named Fort Macleod.

In the months that followed, the whiskey trade was smashed and lawlessness sharply declined. By 1875, the police had erected additional posts at Fort Saskatchewan, Fort Calgary and Fort Walsh. Law and order was firmly established on Canada's western frontier.

The NWMP's main task between 1874-85 was to establish and maintain amicable relations with the native peoples of the Northwest Territories. One of the Canadian Government's main concerns during this period was to avoid the American experience of frontier wars. Fortunately, the Canadian situation was different from that below the border. Miners and settlers had still not arrived in the Canadian west in sufficient numbers to challenge the warlike tribes for their hunting lands.

By the time substantial settlement did get underway on the Canadian prairies, the Indians' way of life had already changed dramatically, with the rapid disappearance of the buffalo herds. In the Spring of 1876, hostilities between the American Sioux and the United States Army made Canadian authorities anxious to peacefully acquire title to most of the territory held by the Saskatchewan First Nations and the Blackfoot Confederacy. In the same year, Treaty No. 6 was concluded between the Canadian Government and the Cree and Assiniboine. The Crees and Assiniboine surrendered their title to 120,000 square miles of central Saskatchewan and Alberta by agreeing to this treaty. The presence of the NWMP in their scarlet tunics played an important calming role in the negotiations of Treaty No. 6.

In September 1877, at Blackfoot Crossing on the Bow River, tribes of the Blackfoot Confederacy met with the two Canadian commissioners appointed to treaty with them: the Honourable David Laird, Lieutenant Governor of the Northwest Territories; and Commissioner J.F. Macleod of the North-West Mounted Police. The bond of trust which had developed between Commissioner Macleod and the two most prominent Indian Chiefs, Crowfoot and Red Crow, was the key to the successful signing of Treaty No. 7. In accepting the "Blackfoot Treaty," Crowfoot said: "The advice given me and my people has proven to be very good. If the police had not come to this country, where would we all be now? Bad men and whiskey were killing us so fast that very few of us would have been left today. The Mounted Police have protected us as the feathers of the bird protect it from the frosts of winter."

On September 22, amid pomp and ceremony, the Chiefs of the Blackfoot Confederacy signed Treaty No. 7, surrendering their title to what is today Southern Alberta. At last, the way was clear for plains' settlement and the building of a transcontinental railway which Canadians hoped would bring a new and prosperous future to their young nation.

*This information is courtesy of the RCMP