I’ve been meaning to ask about the British/Canadian policies toward American Indians (d.b.a First Nations). Did the Canadians do better than the Americans? Or does that need a new thread.
I’m aware of Hollywood and other media’s influence on perceptions of the American West that’s why I asked about the mythology as well as the history. It is an interesting concept though that the American West was more rough because of the trauma of war.
Re: the US civil War: did veterans keep their guns? I would imagine that would make for a very WILD west! Actually, the WEST was pretty lawless for only about 20 years-from 1865- to about 1885. The fact that a lot of the West was composed of territories 9not states0 meant that the only law was from federal marshalls-and they were stretched thin. canada was spared that-they had lawmen in the Yukon, at the height of the gold rush. So not much gunplay
Not really better. Different, though. The initial push west in Canada was made by fur traders, and the first relations with most of Canada’s existing inhabitants were relatively peaceful. The Hudson Bay Company had no interest in doing anything harmful to the people who were bringing them all those beaver pelts, after all. For a while this led to stable and friendly relations between newcomers and long-time residents. With the westward push of settlement that changed, however.
As land was opened up for homesteading, government surveyors came through with little regard for existing Indian and Metis settlements - which gave rise to the aforementioned Riel Rebellion of 1885, as well as the earlier Red River Rebellion of 1870. The collapse of the buffalo herds gave the government sufficient economic leverage to negotiate favourable treaties, which it then promptly failed to live up to. Then you get the attempted forced assimilation by way of the residential schools with all their attendant horrors, corrupt Indian agents, etc.
The only really significant difference in treatment is that there was very little violence involved in Canada’s screwing over of its native inhabitants compared to how the US screwed over theirs, but even in the US there were large areas where things followed the same pattern as Canada - initially peaceful trade leading to modified economic activity of natives leading to them being in an unsustainable position when actual settlers arrived, lopsided treaties and subsequent mistreatment, all with little or no violence.
To be fair there was a significant amount of lawlessness on the American (US) frontier from the beginning. In Kentucky and Ohio and Western Pennsylvania it took some time for under funded state governments and a deliberately undersized federal government to assert control of what amounted to an ethnic cleansing of the local tribes and private seizure of tribal lands. In Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain wrote about feuding and lynching on the Middle Mississippi. In staid Iowa there was a regular plague of horse thieves and counterfeiters that was dealt with by vigilante bands. The troubles in the Midwest (Jessie James, et al) were not so much the consequence of the Civil War as the absence of civil and military control in the wake of the war. In the far west the population simply got ahead of government as in Gold Rush California and silver mining Arizona --in Tombstone, Twain said that there was a dead man for breakfast every morning . Because of the safety valve nature of the frontier there was a tendency for the lawless to go west , e.g., Billy the Kid, a New York City kid transported to Indiana and then to the Pecos River Valley and the Great Lincoln County War.
Canada, on the other hand doesn’t seem to have suffered from the frontier lawlessness that bedeviled the United States. Some of that was the result of accidental mercantile activity by the Hudson’s Bay Co. and the Montreal fur trading establishment that kept people not dependent on the commercial houses out of the western territories and some was the ability of the colonial government to keep the para-military mounted police on or just ahead of the frontier line. The only real folk migration in Canada was the Great Yukon Gold Rush of the late 1890s and early 1900s. That was fairly late in the game and the Mounties were there to maintain order, safeguard claims and suppress outlawry. The Mounties even had a check point at the head of the pass out of Skagway to make sure that no one went into the interior without a year’s worth of supplies.
It seems to me that it is fair to think that the difference between the US experience and the Canadian experience was the difference between an every-man-for-himself-and-the-devil-take-the-hindmost approach in the US and a deliberately or accidentally structured westward expansion in Canada. The Yukon seems to be Canada’s only equivalent to a lawless western expansion in the US that went from the Appalachians to the Pacific.
I had the impression that the Confederate soldiers frequently took their own guns when they went to war in the first place. Many of the forces were comprised of volunteer militia and individuals who supplied themselves. I could be wrong though. In any case, maintaining control over materials would not be a high priority for a defeated army.
In any case, the dates for the Wild West are usually given as from 1865 to 1885, as ralph124c said, and the wildness has been overstated through the years.
Even if the Canadians hadn’t been as fair-handed with the natives as they were, they didn’t have to contend with as agressive, millitant societies as the Sioux or Commanches on their plains. Canada was only on the upper margin of the bison’s migration pattern, so the US had the bulk of the bison-hunters to deal with. Would the Canadians have done better?
Which makes me curious: did the Canadians go hog-wild slaughtering bison up there, too?
Well, the territories had established county government, and had enected sheriffs that enforced the law, as well. Some towns also had police forces, as well, although not many.
But, as has been said, frontier lawlessness is overstated. The only places where there was a high level of crime were those towns and communities that grew too quickly, due to things like a gold rush or a cattle trail, or some other external event. There was then often a period of lawlessness while the existing community and governmental structures struggled to adapt to the new pressures.
There was a similar collapse of bison herds in Canada, due to overhunting, as there was in the US. In fact, it was the decline of the bison herd that led the Cree to join the Riel Rebellion.
Except that in Canada the overhunting was done by the Metis, by and large, rather than white folk. They’d hunt bison to make pemmican to trade to the Indians, which freed the Indians to devote themselves to trapping instead of hunting so they’d have more pelts to trade for Hudson Bay goods.
And of course since no one told the bison about the border, herds would move back and forth without checking in at Customs, so the American overhunting would impact Canadian herds and vice versa.
They had cowboys. I’ve heard reference to Calgary and cowboys before. A google search gave me this event that started in the 1880’s.
Canada had much of what we equate as the Old West. It just has it’s own specifics.
So has the Canadian film industry produced any westerns?
To trade to the Indians and the Hudson Bay company. In fact, there was a conflict between the Hudson Bay Company and the North West Company, a rival trading company, called the Pemmican War, over the Metis trade in pemmican. (The governor of the Red River colony had banned the sale of pemmican. The Metis ignored the ban and sold to the North West Company anyway. This turned into a shooting war)
Now that I’d never heard (the shooting war over pemmican, not that the HBC and NWC didn’t play well together). Guess I’m gonna have to do some research.
IF it helps, the big skirmish in the pemmican war is called either “The Battle of Seven Oaks”, “The Seven Oaks Massacre”, or “The Victory of Frog Plain”. Robert Semple, the governor of the Red River Colony, was killed, along with 21 other colonists, and one Metis. Fort Douglas and Fort Gilbraltar (both in what’s now Winnipeg) were also destroyed.
Several of John Ford’s great protagonists were such displaced veterans. He only made one explicitly Civil War film, but many of his characters were men with a past in the Civil War.
Correct me if I’m wrong because I am not a historian but several books I’ve read have suggested that there really was no Canada or US as far as the “old west” goes. Borders were freely crossed with little realization that this was one territory and that was another. Whiskey was traded freely and of course the natives had did not respect any boundaries or borders.
This only differences that I can come up with is that the Canadian west was colder and that the basis of economy was more fur trading using water travel particularly in the northern regions.
Chief Joseph and 800 members of the Nez Perce tribe made a desperate run for the Canadian border to get away from 2000 pursuing US troops in 1877. Cite. They didn’t make it, but they clearly thought that crossing the border was a meaningful thing, and would have afforded them some protection.
How would they have known where the border was? I suppose they would have had to reach a town that was clearly inside the border.
You’re forgetting the Fraser River Gold Rush of 1858, which swelled my little home town of Victoria (then a Crown Colony) practically overnight (in fact, in just over 30 days!) from 500 to nearly 30,000: this influx of ‘baccy-chawin’ rootin-tootin’ ex-49ers alarmed Governor James Douglas (who was born to a Scottish father and a Creole woman, incidentally) so much that he feared forcible annexation.
We were a wild and wooly place back then, with our own hanging judge (who actually was something of a pioneer of minority rights, being particularly harsh on US miners who thought they could abuse Black ex-slaves here on British soil).