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Whoop-up Country

Whoop-up Country: The Canadian-American West, 1865-1885

Paul F. Sharp
Copyright Date: 1955
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 380
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  • Book Info
    Whoop-up Country
    Book Description:

    In the frontier days before the railroads penetrated the western plains, the Whoop-Up Trail was a high road of adventure and commerce. It led Indians, traders, and cattlemen into a great interior market stretching northward from the Missouri River in Montana to the Bow River valley in the Canadian province of Alberta. From Fort Benton on the Great Muddy to Fort Macleod on the Oldman, the trail with the rowdy name wrote its history in whisky, guns, furs, and pioneer enterprise. But, as the Whoop-Up Trail faded away with the passing of the western frontier, people forgot about its existence and its part in the building of the West. Historians have largely overlooked this colorful chapter in the story of westward migration. Now Paul Sharp tells about the Whoop-Up country in vivid detail. By first describing the region geographically, he demonstrates an important point -- that there was no natural boundary in this area between Canada and the United States. He then relates the economic, social, and political events that ultimately divided the territory between the two nations in fact as well as in name. The volume contains an excellent account of the beginnings of the Northwest Mounted Police. It provides a fresh viewpoint on the Indian problem by considering it impartially and as a whole, without the restricting and artificial limitations of national boundaries. Told by a perceptive and forceful writer, this is the story of the creation of two societies -- Canadian and American -- formed under similar circumstances yet developing very different political and cultural identities.

    eISBN: 978-1-4529-3687-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-x)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. xi-2)
  3. 1 Trail to the North
    (pp. 3-9)

    TODAY’S tourists traveling northward on U.S. Highway 91 from Great Falls, Montana, to visit the Calgary Stampede or Banff and Lake Louise speed through a vast plain of wheat and grass. Though little remains to remind them of its past, they are passing through a region that pioneers called the Whoop-Up country and their modern hard-surfaced highway parallels the Whoop-Up Trail, a colorful and useful avenue of commerce and a high road of adventure in the years before the railways crossed the western plains.

    Despite its rowdy name, this half-forgotten highway once brought trade and culture into a great interior...

  4. 2 The Timeless Land
    (pp. 10-32)

    THIS was a land of grass, grass that rolled away like a carpet as far as the eye could see and stretched out to the limits of the imagination. The Whoop-Up country lay at the northern extremity of the Great Plains, one of earth’s most extensive grassland regions.

    This northern Great Plains region comprises an area of 300,000 square miles, of which roughly one half lies in Canada. With its base resting on the Pine Ridge escarpment near the Nebraska–South Dakota boundary and its apex reaching the forested Park Belt of mid-Alberta and Saskatchewan, the region includes most of...

  5. 3 Invasion of the Free Traders
    (pp. 33-54)

    WITH gin, gimcracks, and gunpowder the empire builders civilized aboriginals on all the world’s frontiers. The northern Great Plains were no exception to this formula of expansion so successfully applied throughout the Americas, Africa, Asia, and Australia. In common with all frontiers of European settlement since the sixteenth century, traders on this last frontier exchanged liquor for whatever of value the aboriginals possessed, whether land, gold, animals, or furs. By the time the white men carried their culture to the Indians of the Whoop-Up country, however, traders lubricated their exchange with cheap whisky or watered rum rather than gin.


  6. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  7. 4 Massacre at Cypress Hills
    (pp. 55-77)

    FREQUENT massacres darkly stain the pages of western history. But few of them challenge the historian as much as the skirmish between whites and Indians in the low-lying Cypress Hills of southern Saskatchewan. Here, in May 1873, a fight between a party of hunters and traders from Fort Benton and a band of North Assiniboins touched off an international incident. It heightened the tension already existing between Britain and the United States and fanned the smoldering embers of national spirit into flame on both sides of the international boundary in North America.

    In such an atmosphere, national bias quickly distorted...

  8. 5 Law in Scarlet Tunics
    (pp. 78-106)

    IN 1869 the ancient and honorable Hudson’s Bay Company transferred to the government of Canada its title to the vast preserve granted in its charter of 1670 and known as Rupert’s Land. This real estate transaction of nearly 2,300,000 square miles, exceeding in size and rivaling in importance the more famous Louisiana Purchase, deeply stirred Canadians with its promise of greatness for their homeland. An Imperial proclamation transformed the infant Dominion from a struggling state with only a tenuous foothold in the heartland to a continental power whose empire was soon to reach the Pacific.

    But alarming reports poured into...

  9. 6 Law in Chouteau County
    (pp. 107-132)

    LAWLESSNESS, gun play, and mob violence are favorite western themes. With smoking six-shooters or knotted hemp, frontiersmen lived and died at the dictates of “Judge Colt” or “Judge Lynch.”

    These are exaggerated views. They caricature western society and distort the realities of crime and punishment along the frontier. Tall tales of garrulous old-timers and lively imaginations of colorful writers nourished the myth to formidable proportions. The “Wild West” exists chiefly in the paper pulps, on the silver screen, in Frontier Days celebrations, and in regional chauvinism.

    No society could have survived under the conditions pictured in the legends. Social disintegration...

  10. 7 One People, Divided
    (pp. 133-156)

    THE INDIANS north and south of the International boundary are one people, severed politically by an invisible line.”¹ This observation by Police Commissioner Gilbert M. Sproat in 1878 stated simply the dilemma of the Blackfoot people. North American political development divided them, destroying a regional pattern of living confirmed by generations of experience. And it complicated local problems by making them international.

    Blackfeet on both sides of the boundary suffered much the same fate. Smallpox, tuberculosis, measles, trachoma, syphilis, and other diseases from the white man’s world took a heavy toll. Whisky, firearms, and the destruction of native resources undermined...

  11. 8 Chicago of the Plains
    (pp. 157-182)

    WHILE a great Civil War raged far to the east, Fort Benton emerged a hustling commercial center, abandoning forever its modest role as a fur trading post. Few towns have played so important a part in the growth of a region, for through Benton flowed the commerce of a great inland empire. From Wyoming deep into British North America, the plains country paid tribute to the little inland port.

    Gold unleashed the forces which transformed Benton. The Montana village was the end of a long trip up the Big Muddy; from Benton the gold-seekers rode or walked. Virginia City, Bannack,...

  12. 9 Life on the Trail
    (pp. 183-206)

    TRANSPORTATION was the key to western empire and the foundation of Fort Benton’s prosperity. But no obliging rivers coursed the Whoop-Up country to provide those natural arteries of commerce so familiar in the forest regions of North America. Consequently the region between the Missouri River and the North Saskatchewan was a land of carts, wagons, buckboards, prairie schooners, and stagecoaches. In the Whoop-Up country, the wheel ruled supreme.

    On a dozen trails reaching out of Fort Benton, wagon trains carried the commerce of the plains. Toiling men drove oxen and mules to northern destinations carrying the commerce that linked the...

  13. 10 Merchant Princes of the Plains
    (pp. 207-228)

    BUSINESS enterprise in the Gilded Age is a frequent theme of historical writing. So widespread is this interest and so thorough its influence that the words “Robber Baron” and “Great Tycoon” are the common property of our everyday language, and the careers in accumulation of Vanderbilt, Carnegie, Rockefeller, Fisk, and Drew are part of our folklore.

    Unfortunately this preoccupation with the achievements of the Lords of Creation leaves untouched the activities of scores of other businessmen who lived by the same principles and in the same hope. This is particularly true of business enterprise along the edge of settlement during...

  14. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  15. 11 Graziers and Grangers
    (pp. 229-246)

    AGRICULTURAL activity in the Whoop-Up country began surprisingly early. Some years before cattlemen or grangers occupied the grasslands stretching westward from the Red River valley, farmers were harvesting crops along the Dearborn, Sun, Teton, and Missouri rivers at the foot of the Rockies.

    Gold was again the reason. The rush of miners into Montana created a heavy demand for farm products of all kinds. High prices at the gold fields led many ex-farmers to see that a more certain profit lay in farming than in mining.

    Led by William Sparks, Robert Vaughn, and R. S. Ford, farmers occupied the narrow,...

  16. 12 Sitting Bull and the Queen
    (pp. 247-267)

    JUNE 25, 1876, was a bleak day in American military history. Citizens of the republic read with dismay accounts of the tragedy on the Little Big Horn where the powerful Sioux and their allies joined forces to upset the American government’s carefully planned campaign “to whip them into submission.”

    From that day to this, historians have lavished undue attention upon “Custer’s Massacre.” With almost pathological interest they have pursued the phantoms of alleged white survivors, often forgetting that hundreds of Indian survivors remained to create a series of incidents more significant than a military engagement, and more fraught with danger...

  17. 13 Border Line Diplomacy
    (pp. 268-291)

    OFFICIALS in Washington fulfilled their promises to Ottawa promptly, but with little enthusiasm. Two days after the conversations with David Mills, the Hayes cabinet approved the project, but only after lengthy debate and with grave misgivings. And three days later, cabinet members still argued over procedures to adopt and disagreed over the personnel to carry out the mission.

    Numerous problems immediately appeared. Neither the War Department nor the Interior Department wanted the responsibility of sponsoring the mission. Both protested a lack of funds for such an enterprise, and both denied any obligation for the “peace commission,” arguing it should properly...

  18. 14 Manifest Destiny Looks North
    (pp. 292-312)

    WESTWARD expansion is a basic and persistent theme in North American history. The Canadian and American people looked to the West for their national fulfillment and both claimed a landed heritage before they were nations possessing a sense of unity.

    In the republic the fusion of the national spirit and westward expansion expressed itself in that sense of inevitability labeled “manifest destiny.” In Canada the achievement of political unity in 1867 and a growing sense of nationhood prompted a similar conviction of western destiny that looked to the annexation of the Hudson’s Bay Company territories.

    Spread-eagle oratory emphasized the manifest...

  19. 15 The Parting of the Ways
    (pp. 313-316)

    WHEN the Canadian Pacific Railway reached Medicine Hat in 1883, the close ties between the American and Canadian areas were broken. Montreal’s system of communications prevailed north of the forty-ninth parallel, while Chicago, St. Paul, and Fort Benton were virtually eliminated from the Canadian trade. Winnipeg emerged as the new sub-metropolis, the focus of western expansion north of the boundary.

    The regional divorce was as nearly complete as modern nationalism can devise and the surveyor’s line across the plains took on the reality of an international boundary. Identification with the larger national communities was achieved as much through the routine...

    (pp. 319-336)
  21. INDEX
    (pp. 337-347)