top of page

Beef. It's What's for Dinner

Following the dispersal of the Metis following the 1885 resistance, life was made difficult for many Metis. A significant number fled from Canada to the United States to escape punishment by authorities seeking retribution. With the buffalo herds mostly decimated, the Metis sometimes had to resort to extreme means to feed themselves and their families.

An account by the Canadian Northwest Mounted Police during the 1890s speaks of a group of Metis who were living in the Sweet Grass Hills area of north-central Montana - along the Canadian border - who took it upon themselves to start harvesting cattle in-lieu of buffalo - leading to a comical "reign of terror".

According to the Mountie's account:

"We were the means of breaking up a nest of [Metis] rascals in the Sweet Grass Hills last April.

A colony of about forty Canadian half-breeds, popularly known as “Rebellion half-breeds,” had settled there, having sought the seclusion of the United States in 1885. Not having any means to speak of and being correspondingly disinclined to work they had become an ever increasing nuisance to their not very numerous neighbors until, emboldened by impunity, they had at length established something very like a reign of terror.

They openly boasted that they were in the habit of killing and that they intended to kill all the cattle they wanted for their use, and that they would burn out any one who should interfere with them or inform on them. Their leader went a step further and bragged that he would shoot anyone who should attempt to arrest him. I believe it is a fact that at one time a certain cattle ranch in Montana stationed a man in the hills to watch these half-breeds with a view of bringing any cattle killer to justice, and that he imbibed such a wholesome dread of the half-breed leader’s vengeance that he arranged to be out of the way when any slaughtering was intended. It is credibly said that the half-breed knocked at the range rider’s door one day, and inquired “Is so and so in? Tell him I am going to kill to-day.” The story further goes that “So and so” discreetly lay low for that day.

Be that as it may the settlers used to complain bitterly of the depredations of these rascals for which there seemed to be no remedy. It was intimated that the half-breeds were in the habit of occasionally crossing the international boundary in their nefarious pursuit and, as we had no means of watching their settlement in Montana, the settlers were requested if possible to give us notice of their coming on to Canadian soil. Pursuant to this arrangement, on the 21st April a settler in the hills sent word to Corporal Dickson at Writing on-Stone that a party of the half-breeds was on its way into Canada. The country at the foot of the hills is very much broken up into coulées and the messenger guided Corporal Dickson to the wrong place. So that, after being out watching all night with no result he went back to his detachment. Next day the settler, who had been following the half-breeds, rode to Writing-on-Stone himself and conducted Corporal Dickson and a constable to a place known as half-breed coulée. Hard by there was a pile of bones which has always been looked upon as correctly marking the boundary, and the half breed party was some distance to the north thereof. So that neither the American settler nor Corporal Dickson had any doubt as to the jurisdiction of the Canadian police. When day dawned Corporal Dickson first of all secured the half-breeds’ horses and hid them at a short distance. There were three half-breeds in the party and presently two of them started off to bring in their horses. Taking the precaution to arrest the man who was left in camp before he could reach his fire arm, Corporal Dickson then discharged the rifle and guns which he found in the camp, and the reports brought back the other two men, who were easily secured in detail. The slaughtered remains of a cow and calf were found in the camp, the cow’s hide bearing the circle brand of Conrad Brothers. The cow had been shot in the head, the rifle bullet being found embedded therein. The prisoners were brought here and duly committed for trial. A surveyor, who was sent out to determine the exact location of the international boundary, found that the half-breeds had been arrested at a spot about twenty-two chains on the American side thereof, and the prisoners were then held for extradition at the request of the the Attorney General of Helena. When brought before the extradition commissioner here the prisoners’ counsel argued that they were not fugitive criminals within the meaning of the Extradition Act, and the judge finally adopted that view and discharged them from custody.

Needless to say, they did not return to their old haunts. A little later a troop of United States cavalry visited the Sweet Grass Hills and the half-breed settlement there was broken up."


Source: 1895 Sessional Papers, Volume 28, Issue 9, By Canada. Parliament

204 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page