NORBERT WELSH April 15 1933


NORBERT WELSH April 15 1933




Mary Weekes


THE HALF-BREEDS spoke through the door and asked me the amount of supplies I had on hand. I told them it was none of their business. They told me that I would have to hand things out when White Cap came along. I said that White Cap was my best friend and to bring him along.

White Cap had some of his band with him. but most of the crowd were half-breeds. I told him I would give no supplies to the half-breeds, and if they wanted to fight I was ready. White Cap replied that I had always had a strong heart, then he told the crowd to go home and come again in the morning and treat me in a decent way - ask for things, not demand them. This they did.

Now, I was aware that the rebellion was in progress, so the night before, fearing that my stores would be seized, I got my brother-in-law, Frank Boyer, who was working for me but knew nothing of Kiel’s movements, to help me hide my ammunition, flour and other supplies.

Next morning the same crowd came back, and White Cap asked if I was going to give them my goods. I asked him if he had an order from anyone to get supplies. Verniette and Carrière said that Gabriel Dumont and Maxime Lepine had given them very definite orders to seize my stores and in addition to that they were to take me prisoner.

“Ho-ho, Vermette! You haven’t got me yet,” I laughed.

They had to have food for the troops, they said. Well, they seized everything I had—foodstuffs, cattle and horses. I asked Vermette who would pay me for this stuff. He said they had been told to tell me that if the half-breeds won they would pay, if they lost the Government would pay. I couldn’t do anything. I was only one man against a crowd. I could easily have shot a dozen or so of these men before they had time to move, but what was the use?

Vermette and Garriere decided, after sending the others on with my stuff, to take me prisoner. They wanted me to hitch up and go right away with them. I told them I would not go until the next morning. These men were a little afraid of me. I could have shot them both, but I didn’t.

They were under Dumont’s orders. I thought I would go with them; see what was going on.

We started next morning and overtook the brigade about a mile south of Saskatoon. Soon a rider came gallop-

ing up. I íe wanted to know where Welsh was. I íe rapped at my tent door, and told me that Mayor Trounce of Saskatoon, wanted me right away. He carried a letter from the mayor. I told him I was a prisoner, but would speak to the two headmen of this brigade, Trottier and White Cap.

I showed Trottier the letter, and he said that we would have to see White Cap. White Cap said he would agree to let me go if Trottier would. Trottier said I could go on one condition, that I let two of his men go with me to hear what Trounce had to say.

Saving Saskatoon

WE MOUNTED our horses and galloped to the town hall in Saskatoon. My guards were invited to sit in the second row of seats from the platform. Trounce drew me aside to talk. I told my gua-ds that I would be right back. Trounce asked me if I knew how the rebellion was going. I told him I had not heard any details.

He said a policeman had been shot dead at Duck Lake, that Captain Moo.e of Prince Albert had got two legs broken, that two Indians had been shot dead, and that Gabriel Dumont’s brother and cousin had been shot dead. I told him they must be having a rebellion in earnest. He replied that things looked bad, that he had sent for me to talk things over.

He asked me to step into another room with him. My guards did not follow. I íe showed me stacks of repeating rifles and a great supply of ammunition, then told me that he had strict, orders from the Government not to let White Cap’s brigade go through because some of White Cap's Indians had complained that they were being forced into the rebellion by the half-breeds.

Now, there were two bosses to this brigade. White Cap was boss of the Indians and Trottier of the half-breeds. Trounce asked me how 1«; could find out whether the Sioux were being forced into the rebellion, and if I could help him without getting myself into further trouble. 1 said.

“Mr. Trounce, if you will go with me. we will sxm find out. But not tonight. We all want a good sleep. We will see about it in the morning. You understand, there are two brigades. White Cap’s and 'Frottier’s. They will have to go right through the town of Saskatoon. You will take one side of the road. I will take the other. When they enter the town we will call a halt, then ask each man if he is being forced into the rebellion. ”

“You are a great man. I knew you would be able to advise and help; that is why I sent for you.” Trounce said

I asked Trounce which side of the road he would take. He answered that he spoke no Sioux and only a little French. I told him he could lx a half-breed next day and I would be a Sioux. I asked him if anybody in town could speak Sioux, and said if there was he should be secured to interpret my conversation with White Cap.

Trounce answered ;

"No. But I have faith in what you say. Welsh."

That decided the thing. We returned to the hall. I called to my guards and we returned to camp.

Trottier and White Cap were waiting for me. I told them what Trounce had said that orders had come from the Government to stop White Cap and his brigade, who claimed that the half-breeds were forcing them to join Riel.

White Cap declared that the rumor was not true and he and his band would go through, that nobody would stop him. Then I said ;

“Whitt Cap, I will walk with you fellows to the town. You will be on my side of the road. If you give each man of your brigade permission to go through of his own free will, I will let him go through. It will be the same Continued on page 36

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with Trottier’s brigade. Trounce will question them.”

I asked Trottier which side of the road he would take. He said the right. I told him I would take the left.

Morning came. It was time to start. The flag was hoisted. That was a sign to go. Trottier started and then White Cap followed. I had put into my rig, which was the last one to go, some provisions to use on the trail. I had a bulldog revolver in my belt.

We got to Saskatoon. Everything went off as we had arranged. Trounce and Trottier took one side of the road. White Cap and I the other. Each man was challenged as he went through and asked if he was going to join Riel of his own will. When the last rig went through, I jumped into my rig, wheeled my horse around, and said:

"I’m the only man that’s forced to go through, and I won't go through. Good-by,” I called to the warriors. They were surprised. but went on. That is how Trounce and 1 saved Saskatoon.

1 stayed with a man by the name of Wright, a farmer. Trottier and White Cap camped two miles beyond Saskatoon. They were on their way to Clark’s Crossing. At the end of that day my brother-in-law. Frank Boyer, who had gone with them, came after me. He said that Trottier wanted very much to see me. 1 told him to return and tell Trottier that I would have nothing to do with him; if he had anything to say, he could come to me.

I stayed with Wright five days. He was very kind and did not want to take pay for my board, but I gave him a sack of flour worth $10. Flour was very scarce then.

A man by the name of Smudge, of Saskatoon, heard that I was going to Le Bret. He came to me and said. "Will you take me with you?” I thought I would be five days on the road without company, so decided to take the poor devil. We started, and reached Le Bret on the afternoon of the fifth day.

Arrested as a Rebel

MY WIFE and children were surprised and glad to see me. News liad come through that I had been shot. Next morning

I went to Billy Sutherland’s store. He was a member of the Legislature. He asked me if I had reported to the military authorities. There was a big camp of soldiers stationed at the Fort, with Captain O’Brien in charge. When I told Sutherland I had not reported, he said that he would go with me. We went over to the camp.

When I told Captain O’Brien that all my supplies and stock had been seized by Riel, he asked what I was going to do. I told him I would get along some way. Sutherland said:

“No fear, Welsh will get along.”

We went back to Sutherland’s store. He asked me if I was in need of supplies, and if so to take what I wanted. I told him I had enough for the present, and that I intended going to Troy next morning to get fifty bushels of seed oats.

We went out of the store. We saw a flag flying at half-mast from the Fort. We enquired about it, and found out that Captain French had been shot at Batoche. Foor fellow, he had put his head out of the house to give a command and had been shot through the mouth. Sutherland asked me if I would bring two cases from Troy Station for him. He did not tell me what was in them. 1 agreed.

Next morning I started for Troy. I went right across country from Le Bret. This way was shorter, and I wanted to make the trip in one day. When I got to the station at Troy, Jones, a big fellow with a pot belly—I knew him very well --came and examined my load. I thought to myself, “You are a busybody,” but I said nothing. I fastened my load well, lashed it tight.

Then I drove to the stables, put my horses up to fet'd and got my dinner. I hadn’t much time to lose, so I hurried and got on my way again. When I reached the Halfway House, on the Hudson’s Bay trail from Troy to Fort Qu’Appelle, I looked at the sun. It was near six o’clock. I thought I had better stop here for supper and feed my horses.

1 went in and asked Mrs. Carl if she could get me some supper in a hurry. She said I could have it right away. I ate my supper, paid for it. ancï went out to hook up my horses. 1 saw six mounted policemen coming

at a gallop. I thought they must be after somebody. I finished hitching my horses, and put the reins on the tongue of the wagon.

The sergeant, a busy little fellow, rode up and asked whose outfit this was. I told him that it belonged to me, Norbert Welsh. He asked me what I had on board. I told him that he could see that I had oats, flour and a side of bacon. He asked me what I had in the two cases at the bottom of my wragon. I told him I didn’t know, that they belonged to Sutherland. I said :

“You are camped right in front of his store. You must know him.”

At that, he ordered me to take off the boxes and open them. I told him if he wanted to see what was in the boxes, he could open them himself, that I would not touch property that did not belong to me. He said:

“You’re quick with words, but you’ll change your tune w'hen you get to Captain O’Brien’s camp.”

I told him :

“I will change my tune for no man.”

He jumped off his horse, ordered his man to dismount and overhaul the load. They took the two cases off, got an axe from Bill Carl and opened them. There were fourteen repeating rifles in one case, and the other case was full of cartridges. I said :

“I must be a great warrior to have all that ammunition. ”

"We’ve got one of Riel’s men!” they cried.

I told them I was ready to hook my horses on to the rig. The sergeant ordered me to get on my load. He said the men would attach the traces and hand me the reins. I lien he placed two mounted men ahead, two behind and one on each side of me. and gave the signal to go.

* Hurrah for Welsh,” I called, “you are doing me as much honor as if I were the Governor.”

Again the sergeant told me I would not be so independent when I got to the police camp. More than ever would I be proud ot my name and extremely independent, I told him. As I said lie fore, this sergeant was just a puppet of a man—no discernment. I let him go on. I wanted to bring him to humiliation. We travelled on.

Sham Battle With the Indians

AFTER A WHILE this little policeman / \ ordered me to trot my team. I told him that the team was mine and that I would travel as I pleased. When we got to the top of the long hill that led to the Fort, I jumped off my rig to lock the wagon wheel to keep from running down the hill. My captor ordered me to get back on the team. His men, he said, would lock the wheels. I laughed and said :

“More honor for Welsh.”

It was dark now. As we travelled through the village of Fort Qu’Appelle, I heard on every side cries of, “One of Riel’s men is captured.” We went right up to the door of O’Brien’s tent. I jumped off my rig. Sutherland came running in with a lantern in his hand and cried :

“Oh, Welsh, I got you into trouble. I forgot to tell you what was in those cases.” I told him there would be no trouble. These policemen, you understand, were not the regular force; they were volunteers. The regular Royal North West Mounted Policemen all knew and trusted me. More than that, they knew that if I had wanted to start a rebellion, all I had to do was to sound my whistle and Starblanket and all the other Indians would come to my assistance and follow me anywhere. I went to O’Brien. I told him:

"I am trusted and respected by all the men of the Northwest—the Governor, Hudson’s Bay officials, the Indians. I reported here yesterday. It is too bad that a man in your position should have ordered my arrest. You should have a better memory. Now, I want you to give me a pass. I won’t have Tom. Dick and Harry”—I pointed to the men who had brought me in—“stopping me on the trail.”

He gave it.

Next morning a policeman came galloping to my tent with a letter from O’Brien. I got the letter read. O’Brien asked me to be at his camp at ten o’clock. I said to my wife:

“It would have been better if I had got into the rebellion and shot a few dozen of these beggars, if they are going to follow me around like this.”

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I was not in a very pleasant mood. I ordered my man to throw a saddle on my fastest horse. I galloped to the Fort, to O’Brien’s tent. He was busy and asked me to come back in ten minute. I did.

He said there was a report that Starblanket and his band were getting ready to start a rebellion, and that he was going to stage a sham battle between Starbianket’s Indians and his troops, just to scare the Indians, I warned him to watch out what he was about. Then he told me that he wanted me to make the arrangements and be there to take charge of the Indians because he knew I could control them.

The thing was arranged. The police and Starbianket’s troops drew up and faced each other, 100 yards apart. I told Starblanket that when the signal to advance was given to rush his men up against the police but not to let his men shoot; that if any of his Indians showed fight, to bang them on the head with the butt of his gun. Starblanket was a great leader. I knew he could control his Indians.

The order was given. The Indians made a wild rush. The policemenas I have said before, they were greenhorns bolted. They were terrified at the sight of the advancing Indians.

O’Brien couldn’t say anything. He treated the Indians well; gave them tea, flour, sugar and tobacco. This sham battle took place on the flats, where the Pioneer store now stands.

Trading Again

AFTER THAT there was no further / \ trouble. I advised Starblanket to keep ids Indians at home and quiet. He did so. His men listened to him. Some of the band were restless. They were not satisfied with the way things were going on the Reserve. But Starblanket managed them. He was a great leader. I noticed that O’Brien didn’t offer to put on any more exhibitions of war. He liad had enough. Pretty soon Riel was captured, and the rebellion was over. At the end Gabriel Dumont didn’t think he was so .smart. He had to leave the country. He got into the American country, where he was safe.

After the rebellion, I stayed at Le Bret for a while until things quieted down. Nobody knew yet what the Indians would do. They were still pretty nervous. But I will say this for them: They had fine chiefs, sensible and reasonable men. It is a pity that some of the civilized men of that time hadn't as much sense as the savage Indian chiefs. Well, anyway, I decided to stay quiet for a while. I used all my influence with the bands to keep them quiet. Gradually the thing died out and there was no more talk of war.

Now I got ready and moved north, to what is now Jasmine, and took up a cattle ranch. I had lost everything in the rebellion, remember, and had to start at the beginning again. 1 started with a few head of cattle and gradually increased my stock. I got a little money ahead, then I began to get ambitious. I began bringing in pure-bred stock from Winnipeg and England. My

stock.....and it was fine stock—increased. I

made money.

After a while I began to think about the trading again. That was my business. 1 had a line boodle of money by this time, so 1 decided to buy a ranch near the File Hills Indian Agency and start a store. There was no store between the Agency and the Hudson’s Bay Post at Fort Qu’Appelle. All the business of the Indians was going to the Fort. They had plenty of furs; small furs, of course, but fine ones. I could not stand seeing all this business escape me. Well, I decided to waste no more time on this ranch.

I hitched up and drove to the File Hills and had a good look around ; sized the things up, you might say. Oh, my! ray Indians were pleased to see me. Well, I bought a ranch—it was fine ranching country around the Reserve—near the Indian Agency that I could move my pure-blood stock to. There was plenty of free grazing land all around.

My stock would have a fine grazing range — thousands of miles of unoccupied land, you might say.

Well, I got moved. The first thing I did was to put up a store, quite a good-sized store. I fixed everything up first-class. Now, I stocked up with all kinds of goods. My shelves were filled with everything that would please the Indians. I had flour, tea, sugar, tobacco, all kinds of dried fruits, groceries, prints, calicoes, beads—fine beads that came from England and Germany— lots of vermilion, tobacco, shot, powder— everything that the Hudson’s Bay Company sold. You see, I had made up my mind to get all my Indian trade back. I did. My, but my Indians were happy!

Now I began to trade. Although there were no more buffalo, there were all kinds of small furs. Starblanket and his band, and the half-breeds from all over, brought me the very finest of skins, all tanned to perfection. Starblanket and his people were my best customers. They brought muskrat,

wolf, lynx, bear, marten, weasel, badger, skunk, and prairie-dog skins. These prairiedog furs were very special. They were very much like skunk.

One day I took in $500 in furs alone— in trade, remember. I made a profit on my goods and another profit on furs. I doubled my money on each transaction. On another day, my wife—I had gone to the Fort—took in 700 fine muskrat skins. These skins were well stretched. Some of them measured about eight inches across. She paid 2 cents apiece for them in trade. My wife chose ten of the largest of these skins that were an odd grey shade, and sent them to her mother in Winnipeg. My mother-in-law took them to the Hudson’s Bay Post at Fort Garry. The chief factor—Donald A. Smith, later Lord Strathcona, who was the last factor—thought them so unusual that he kept them on display at the Fort for a long time. Finally he bought them from my mother-in-law and had them made into a set of furs for his datighter. It was thought

that these furs were a cross between a muskrat and some other animal. They were a great curiosity.

In addition to buying 700 muskrat skins that day, my wife took in also twelve badger skins at 50 cents apiece, live mink skins at 75 cents each, and twenty-four weasel skins at 10 cents apiece.

I sold all my furs to Archibald MacDonald, chief factor at Fort Qu’Appelle. For the muskrat skins I got 6 cents apiece, for the badger $2.50 apiece, for the mink $5 apiece, and for the weasel skins 25 cents each.

I bought all kinds of moccasins from the Indians. They were handsome moccasins, embroidered in all colors, and trimmed with weasel fur—ermine. They brought them to me in big packs of twenty-four or forty-eight pairs lashed together with shagganappi. They were of different styles. Some were made with tops, others were slippers. I paid from 50 cents up for them, according to the quality. For those that I paid 50 cents I sold for from $1.25 to $1.50, depending on the style and amount of decoration. The Hudson’s Bay Company bought all my moccasins. Most of them were shipped to England.

Reviewing the Past

/VT FIRST I had freighters haul all my / \ goods from Winnipeg, then I had my goods shipped by rail to Troy—the railroad was now at Troy—and hauled them from there. This was a long distance to haul goods. MacDonald paid me a good price for my furs. He had the very best of goods, so I made up my mind to do all my business with him. MacDonald and I came to an agreement about the price of goods, and after that I bought all my supplies from, or through, him at the Fort Qu’Appelle trading post. I will say there were no finer men in the country than the Hudson’s Bay factors. The Hudson’s Bay was noted in this country, first, for the quality of its men, and, second, for the quality of its goods.

Now, I kept on ranching just the same. I kept improving my stock. I had a garden, too, and raised stock feed. I did no wheat raising. It was new ground and rich, but there were lots of stones. My vegetables did well. One year I raised a turnip that was too big to go into a milk pail. It weighed thirtytwo pounds.

I made a lot of money from stock alone. I sold and traded both thoroughbred horses and cattle. I had one fine bay stallion. His name was Derwent Water. After a few years I sold him for $900. I sold another team for $500. That was the way things went. I made money on every side. Little did I think in those days that I would become old and blind and would have to accept an old-age Government pension. If we only knew enough to save our money! My stock was fat and of good breed. Buyers came from Winnipeg for my cattle. I shipped steers and heifers by the carload.

I stayed at the File Hills until 1904. By this time settlers had crowded around and taken up all the land. My cattle range became restricted. Furs were becoming scarce, too. I sold out. I had 150 acres which I sold for $25 an acre.

Now, I came back here to Le Bret. The old free life of the plains was over. I put up a shop. It was a store and butcher shop combined. I had kept six teams of my best driving horses. I began running a livery between Le Bret and Troy. We kept boarders, too. We did a fine business. Money was coming from all over. Then the railroad came to Fort Qu’Appelle and our business was, you might say, ended. I lost my eyesight in 1916. If I had my eyesight I could still make money. Instead, I am obliged to sit here and review in my mind the passing of the old West.

I like best to remember the exciting buffalo hunts. I think, too, of the long caravans of Red River carts that started out yearly from Fort Garry to cross the plains to the forks of the Saskatchewan River. How our voices carried over the quiet plains as we sang the old songs of the trail! I can remember every one of them.

The End