(Continued from The Adventures of Kootenai Brown (6/7)- Fort Benton)
The Adventures of Kofotenai Brown (7/7)- Waterton Lakes
As soon as he was released from prison in November, 1877, Brown reunited with his wife and daughters and headed northwest, never to return. He was determined to settle at that beautiful junction of mountains and prairies known as Kootenay Lakes (now known as Waterton Lakes), which he had first seen nearly ten years prior after emerging from the eastern end of the South Kootenai Pass. With Olivia and his children, Brown travelled up the wagon-rutted route of the Whoop-Up Trail, the well-travelled leg of the Old Macleod Trail that connected Fort Benton, Montana, with Fort Whoop-Up (in what his now present-day Lethbridge, Alberta). Shortly after crossing the 49th parallel into Canada, the frontiersman and his family left the trail and travelled west to their destination.
Upon reaching the edge of the Rocky Mountains, Brown built a log cabin right in between the upper and lower Kootenai Lakes. There, he settled down with Olivia and his daughters. For both sustenance and pleasure, he hunted the game that abounded in the region and tried his hand at fishing- a task at which he quickly became proficient. While Brown was on his hunting and fishing trips, Olivia cooked, sewed, prepared hides and looked after their daughters.
On occasion, Brown visited Fort Macleod to the northeast in order to sell fish that he had caught in the Kootenai Lakes and purchase flour, sugar, tea and other such goods. There, he met his future business partner, Fred Kanouse. Kanouse was a trader and rancher who also lived in the Kootenai Lakes area, having built a cabin on the eastern shore of the Upper Kootenai Lake at the mouth of the South Kootenai Pass. Eventually, the two men went into business together. According to Brown:
“I remember starting a store at Waterton Lakes on what afterwards became my first homestead… In the store I had a partner, Fred Kanouse, a well-known character around Macleod and Pincher Creek. Fred and I had a stock valued at $4,000 and our customers were Indians, mostly Kootenais, Nez Perces, and Flatheads from the Flat-head Reservation in Montana. Customs regulations didn’t bother them; we didn’t know where the International line was in those days any more than the buffalo did. The Kootenai Indians were friendly with the Blackfeet, but beyond good-humoured joking when they chanced to meet in our stores there was not much intermingling. If one got a chance to steal the others horses there was no hesitation on the part of either Kootenais or Blackfeet. No other tribe of Indians that I know of really liked the Blackfeet.
Well, we started this store in a little log shack on the Lower Waterton
Lake and our supplies were all hauled from Fort Macleod by I.G. Baker bull team… The Kootenais would bring furs out of the mountains and we would trade them dry goods and “wet goods” and provisions. We didn’t sell much whiskey to the Indians although a good deal of it was consumed on the premises. To sell to the Indians was too risky a proposition though it yielded much profit. Our customers were all Indians and to let them get all the whiskey they wanted would mean a carousal in which they might burn up or carry away our stock…
Indians are naturally great gamblers and are very anxious to take part in all games of chance. Someone taught the Flatheads and Kootenais to play poker and this became their great pastime when they visited the store. It took a card shark to beat them. Kanouse was an expert poker-player so he attended to that part of the business. I was a footracer and a good shot and in competitions on the track and with the rifle I could always beat them. We had two good horses and in horse-racing we also got the best of them. In fact, we beat them at every turn…
When the Indians began trading on their side of the line, business went bad with us and I sold my share out to Kanouse for $250. He continued in business a year after I left, when he moved to Macleod and took his stock with him. When I sold my interest in the business I built a log cabin in what was known, when a survey was made, as Section 31, Township 1, Range 29, West of the Fourth Meridian.”
By the time Brown ended his business relationship with Kanouse in the early 1880’s, the area that would become southwestern Alberta was rapidly changing. The war parties of Blackfoot Indians that once roamed the prairies- one of which had terrorized Brown and his companions near present-day Medicine Hat several decades prior- were no more. Small herds of cattle belonging to the area’s first ranchers replaced the massive herds of buffalo that had once covered the plains. Fort Macleod’s red-coated North West Mounted Police replaced Fort Whoop-Up’s buckskinned whiskey traders. And the Canadian Pacific Railway was rapidly advancing west. Brown strove to carve out a place for himself in this new era by marketing himself as a tour guide for ranching investors, wealthy sportsmen and railway surveyors.
In the following years, Brown spent his time guiding, hunting and fishing throughout the Kootenai Lakes area. In time, he became widely known throughout the region. The people of Fort Macleod– who knew middle-aged frontiersman for his backcountry prowess, the succulent trout, whitefish and pike that he sold on his infrequent visits to the community, and his love for the Kootenai Lakes- gave him the nickname that history would remember him by: Kootenai Brown.
Sometime in 1883, Olivia, Brown’s beautiful Metis wife, gave birth to Leo, their first and only son. As Brown and his family lived far from the nearest doctor, Olivia was forced to deliver the baby on her own, with the assistance of a Stony midwife. Olivia fell ill as a result of the crude birthing and never fully recovered. Brown- who, out of necessity, spent much of his time hunting and fishing in the mountains and lakes- didn’t realize the extent of his wife’s illness until it was too late. Brown’s long absences from the home, and Olivia’s subsequent loneliness, only exacerbated her condition. According to Mary Rose Smith, a Metis writer from Pincher Creek, Alberta, who would meet Brown in the mid 1880’s:
“Brown didn’t realize how sick his wife was, even when she tried to tell him. So between sickness and loneliness, with only Indians for company, she kept getting worse and worse and the care of the three children was too much for her.”
Sometime between the autumn of 1883 and the spring of 1885, when Brown was away from the home, Olivia died. Upon returning home, Brown- heartbroken and plagued with self-loathing- buried her on the western shore of Lower Kootenai Lake, across from Chief Mountain.
Unable to care for his three children on his own, Brown traveled to Fort Macleod, sought out Father Albert Lacombe- the famous Catholic missionary loved by Indians and white men alike- and entreated his advice. Lacombe advised Brown to enroll his son Leo in the mission school at St. Albert, Alberta, and, using his considerable influence, helped Brown to do so once he consented. The missionary likely made appropriate arrangements for Brown’s daughters as well, although there are no records to verify this.
The Rocky Mountain Rangers
In the spring of 1885, Brown went on a long hunting trip in the mountains. In the midst of his trip, the Metis revolutionary Louis Riel returned to the Canadian Red River Valley from his exile in the United States and started a prairie war that would become known as the Northwest Rebellion. When Brown was returning from his trip, he met William F. Cochrane, a local rancher, at the ford of the Waterton River and learned of the uprising. Immediately, he rode on to the barracks at Fort Macleod and offered his services to the militia cavalry being raised by John Stewart- a rancher and former Militia Cavalry Captain- called the Rocky Mountain Rangers. Due to his considerable frontier experience and his knowledge of several Indian languages, he secured the position of Chief Scout in troop Number 1.
The 114-man Rocky Mountain Rangers- which was divided into three troops of roughly 40 men- drilled at Fort Macleod for two weeks. On April 29, 1885, troops 1 and 2 rode out southeast from Macleod, sent off by a large and enthusiastic crowd of locals (troop number 3 remained in the Fort Macleod- Pincher Creek area in order to defend against the local Blackfoot in the event that chiefs Red Crow and Crowfoot allied with Riel). They were charged with patrolling the half-built Galt Railway Line that stretched between Dunmore (a settlement just east of Medicine Hat) and Coal Banks (present-day Lethbridge, Alberta), keeping Metis soldiers from taking refuge in the Cypress Hills, and preventing American Indians sympathetic towards Riel’s cause from crossing the border into Canada. Brown, along with Scouts Aaron Vice and John M. “Rattlesnake Jack” Robson, led the troops on the initial march east past Coal Banks (where troop 2 went north to patrol the area west of High River), down the Galt Railway to Medicine Hat.
Upon reaching Medicine Hat, the Rangers established a headquarters on the South
Saskatchewan River. After recruiting more men from Medicine Hat and the Cypress Hills, the Rangers set out on their scheduled patrols. On one such patrol along the Galt Railway Line, on the banks of Seven Person’s Creek just southwest of Medicine Hat, Brown came to the site of his skirmish with the Blackfoot in which he received an arrow to the back twenty years prior. Brown, with the help of some Rangers, discovered a number of grisly relics of the skirmish: five slugs embedded in cottonwoods on the creek bank, and two sun-bleached Indian skulls. On another fateful patrol, Brown met a Cree woman named Isabella (her Cree name was Chepaykwakasoon, or The Blue Flash of Lightning) who would one day become his wife.
The Northwest Rebellion effectually ended after the Battle of Loon Lake and the subsequent surrender of Cree war chief Wandering Spirit on June 3, 1885. After three months of uneventful patrolling, on July 8, the Rocky Mountain Rangers returned to Fort Macleod.
After being paid for his service with the Rocky Mountain Rangers, Brown returned to his home in the Kootenay Lakes, where he resumed his occupation of hunting and fishing. About a year later, in the early spring of 1886, he fell seriously ill. His friend William F. Cochrane, while searching for stray cattle, decided to check in on Brown and found him close to death. After looking after the frontiersman as best he could, Cochrane rode to Fort Macleod and informed Dr. Kennedy, a North West Mounted Police physician, of Brown’s condition. On Kennedy’s advice, Cochrane returned to the Kootenay Lakes and brought Brown into town.
Brown recovered from his illness in Fort Macleod’s NWMP hospital. After his brush with death- a stark reminder of the dangers of living alone- the middle-aged frontiersman knew that he needed a companion. Accordingly, he rode out east and promptly married the Cree Isabella, whom he had met during his service with the Rocky Mountain Rangers. In the years to come, he would refer his stolid, hardy wife as Nichemoos, the Cree equivalent of “dear”.
In June 1888, Brown was hired as a packer by the NWMP and given the opportunity to revisit Wild Horse Creek, where he had once prospected and briefly worked as a Constable for the Colony of British Columbia’s Civil Service many years prior. A year earlier, in 1887, three Canadian officials- the NWMP Commissioner, the Superintendent of Indian Affairs in British Columbia, and the Gold Commissioner of the Kootenay District- travelled to Galbraith’s Ferry, a town situated on the confluence of Wild Horse Creek and the Kootenay River, to investigate reports of the disgruntled state of the local Kootenay Indians. The government men determined that the situation was grave enough to warrant NWMP intervention. Accordingly, 77 of Fort Macleod’s Mounties, under the command of Superintendent Sam Steele, were dispatched to the area and quickly re-established law and order. The townspeople were so grateful to the Mounties for keeping the peace that they renamed their town Fort Steele. In June 1886, when their presence was no longer required, Steele’s Mounties were ordered to return to Fort Macleod. Brown- who joined the Mounties at Fort Steele in early June- was hired to assist with their return by riding with the pack train from Fort Steele, through the Crowsnest Pass, to Kootenay (Waterton) Lakes and cache day’s supplies of oats and biscuits at appropriate intervals along the route. As a packer, Brown was also tasked with taking care of the pack horses and packing and unpacking equipment. Coincidentally, one of the three government men who had authorized the Mounty intervention at Wild Horse Creek, the Gold Commissioner of the Kootenay District, was none other than Arthur Vowell, Brown’s old friend and partner who had travelled with him from Ireland to the Americas in 1862.
Three years later, in 1889, Brown discovered oil in the Kootenay Lakes area and became the first petroleum pioneer in a soon-to-be province that would one day become internationally renowned for its subterranean riches. Brown used the crude he produced as a lubricant for his wagons. Shortly after the discovery, the Kootenay Lakes area became the site of a short lived oil boom.
Brown spent the rest of his days in the Kootenay Lakes area with his Cree wife Isabella.
In 1897, when the Crowsnest Line was being built through the Crowsnest Pass, Brown freighted goods and equipment for the CPR. In later years, he was instrumental in turning the Kootenay Lakes area into the Kootenay Forest Reserve, in which he worked as a fishery officer. Later still, due largely to Brown’s efforts, the area was converted into the famous Waterton Lakes National Park, in which he worked as a park ranger for the rest of his days. On July 18, 1916, Brown passed away in his sleep. Today, the beautiful Waterton Lakes National Park survives as the legacy of the great Canadian frontiersman.
- Kootenai Brown: The Unknown Frontiersman, 1996, William Rodney