Strangers in our land - Straying into Blackfoot Territory.

Massacre Butte, some four kilometres North of Cowley, in Southern Alberta, Canada.

Medicine Calf of the Kainai

Historical background.

Massacre Butte on the Crownest highway overlooks the confluence of the Oldman and the Crowsnest Rivers.

The Butte is the site of one of the few recorded confrontations between white settlers and tribes of the Blackfoot Confederacy in Canada. There are many versions of the story.

In 1867 a wagon train of Dutch settlers was bound for The Oregon Country left Minnesota under the guidance of a Captain J.A. Fiske. On reaching Fort Benton, on the Missouri River in what is now Montana, news of a gold-strike on the North Saskatchewan River near Fort Edmonton, prompted some of the families led by John Hoise, to leave the main wagon train and sneak north through Kainai - Blood (Blackfoot) territory in a bid to join the gold rush. They got as far as the Butte from which they could see for miles, and accessed water just before nightfall. There are several versions of what happened next:

The first version that I heard is that there were about four to six wagons, men women and children.

Having lit evening fires they were easily spotted by a patrol of Kainai - Bloods who quickly killed all but one red-headed young girl whom the Blood war chief Medicine Calf carried off back to camp. He spared her life and brought her up as a replacement for the daughter he had recently lost.

This part of the story has passed into legend, with old-timers tell tales of scouts seeing a white girl wearing buckskins.

Two other versions of the tale have become quite popular.

Both involve the wagon train being discovered by a patrol led by the fearsome Kainai - Blood war chief, Medicine Calf.

One version has the classical 'circle the wagons' routine, white's guns a blazing, running out of ammunition, with the surviving you girl being faught over, then scalped. Oldtimers will tell you that the scalp was at Fort Mcleod for years, then traded away on Lethbridge.

The last popular version is that the Chief and his party snook up on the wagon train after dark and literally murdered the settlers in their beds by cutting their throats.

Artist's personal notes. In the early 1980's our family lived on a homestead just north of Massacre Butte, it was the only hill in view, just above the Oldman River which curved before heading East. The land unfolded south right down to Chief Mountain, it was an awe-inspiring-view to wake up to every morning.

Every day we had to drive around the base of the Butte heading north to cross the Oldman River to our home. The farmer that owned the Butte, used to cut the hay only up to the base of the Butte, leaving the Massacre Site untouched in reverence for the site.

Reno Welch a rancher friend that lived at the northerly base of the Butte told our kids one day "That as the sun goes down behind the Livingston Range, you can hear the settlers screaming". Our kids were terrified. Along the banks of the Oldman River there are still remains of old encampments, and all over the banks are ruts from old wagons on their way North.
References: An old article written by local historian Mrs Lynch-Staunton of Maycroft was very popular some twenty years ago.

There have been many other accounts by locals and a very good website about the Cowley area, and the Blackfoot Nation is:

There is also a family movie entitled 'Across the Great Divide' made in 1977, which gives an interesting account of settlers making their way to the Oregon Country.

It is one of a series that portrays the adventures of wilderness families in the settler era.