A Fistful of Amazing Aboriginal Characters
Thousands of years before cowboys, chuck wagons, North West Mounted Police, settlers, and fur traders travelled the rustic Cowboy Trail, Aboriginal peoples from numerous First Nations traversed the same land. East of the majestic Rocky Mountains in present day Alberta, they hunted, camped, and made war with their archenemies. This article features six fascinating First Nations characters from the past 150 years, who lived close to the Cowboy Trail. They include 3 great chiefs, 2 of whom signed an historic treaty with the Dominion of Canada; a world champion bronc rider; a brave war hero; and the first Aboriginal person appointed to the Senate in Ottawa.
Chief Red Crow (Mekaisto) – Blackfoot Nation
Chief Red Crow was born into a family of chiefs in 1830 and was named after an honoured warrior from his tribe who was killed in battle. He was a fierce and brave warrior who participated in over 33 raids and stole 400 horses. He later became a highly respected chief of the Blood (Kainai) First Nation. On September 22, 1877, he signed Treaty 7 along with other Blackfoot leaders including Chief Crowfoot from the Siksika First Nation, and Chief Sitting on an Eagle Tail from the Piikani First Nation, which is located half way between the towns of Fort Macleod and Pincher Creek in southern Alberta. During the Riel Rebellion of 1885, Chief Red Crow refused to let his people fight in the conflict.
Chief Bull Head (Chula) – Tsuu T’ina Nation
Chief Bull Head got his name from his brother Bull Head who was killed in a fight which took place close to where the Elbow and Bow Rivers meet. A powerful, strong, and tall man, Chief Bull Head could get the attention of anyone with his loud, booming voice. He signed Treaty 7 on behalf of his tribe in 1877, and what made the signing unique is that his tribe actually belonged to the Blackfoot Confederacy in the 1800s, even though the Tsuu T’ina Nation is an offshoot of the Beaver Tribe of northern Alberta and speak their own unique Athapascan language.
The Dominion of Canada wanted to give the Tsuu T’ina Nation land near Blackfoot Crossing, an hour’s drive east of Calgary. But after years of complaining by Chief Bull Head, a new treaty was finally made between his nation and the government, which saw the Tsuu T’ina Nation settle on their current land, a stone’s throw from the city of Calgary.
Chief Maskepetoon (Broken Arm) – Cree Nation
Chief Maskepetoon was born in 1807 and was the chief of a small Plains Cree band. During his life, he spent time with US President Andrew Jackson, whom he met in Washington in 1831; the Swiss Prince Maximilian of Wied-Neufield; and John Palliser, the great explorer, after whom the Fairmont Palliser Hotel in Calgary is named. Due to the influence of Wesleyan Methodist missionaries, Chief Maskepetoon went from fierce warrior to strong proponent of peace. Whenever the opportunity presented itself, he made peace
Corporal Mike Mountain Horse – WWI Hero
Corporal Mike Mountain Horse was born in 1888. His younger brother, Albert – Alberta’s first Aboriginal recruit – enlisted in the “Fighting 10th” Battalion and died during German gas attacks. To avenge his death, his two older brothers, Mike and Joe, enlisted in the Calgary-based “Fighting 50th” Battalion. Mike recorded 12 of his war honours in the custom of his tribe, by painting them on a cowhide. Among his wartime escapades are these two: While on patrol on August 9, 1917, Corporal Mountain Horse fought hand-tohand with three of the enemy, killing two of them with his war knife. On August 8, 1918, at the battle of Amiens, a huge enemy shell wiped out all the soldiers in Corporal Mountain Horse’s section, but the corporal miraculously survived without a scratch.
Tom Three Persons – World Champion Cowboy
Tom Three Persons was the only Canadian to win a world title at the first Calgary Stampede. The coveted Saddle Bronc title included the $1,000 cash prize, trophy saddle, and gold and silver belt buckle. The tall aboriginal man with eye-catching red chaps had to ride the legendary wild horse Cyclone who had bucked off 129 consecutive cowboys before Tom. Remarkably, unlike today’s cowboys who have to stay in the saddle for a mere eight seconds, back then cowboys had to hang on until the horse came to a complete standstill! The Calgary Herald front page headline said it best the next day when it proclaimed, “All Hail Tom Three Persons!!”
James Gladstone – Canada’s First Aboriginal Senator
Senator James Gladstone, born May 21, 1887, was also known as “Many Guns,” a member of the Blood (Kainai) First Nation. Mr. Gladstone devoted much of his life to improving the lives of Canadian Aboriginal people and was the president of the Indian Association of Alberta and a three-time delegate to Ottawa to discuss proposed improvements to the Indian Act.
Mr. Gladstone was appointed to the Senate of Canada by Prime Minister John Diefenbaker on January 31, 1958. His first speech was in both English and his native Blackfoot tongue, because he wanted “to place in the official debates a few words in the language of my people, the Blackfoot Indians, as recognition of the first Canadians.” Senator Gladstone spent all of his years in the Senate passionately speaking on issues affecting Aboriginal people and looking after First Nations’ best interests.
Senator Gladstone was related to the three brave Mountain Horse brothers who went off to war. All these years later, the memory and the deeds of these and other amazing Aboriginal people live on as a credit to their First Nations – and to the entire nation of Canada.
By Rob Lennard