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The Years Prior to Settlement PDF Print E-mail

In 1960, The Glendale Women’s Institute wrote a book about the history of Bearspaw, Glendale and Westminster. ‘Taming of the Prairie Wool’ is a compilation of stories from  homesteaders, settlers and landowners who first settled this area. Here are excerpts from ‘Taming of the Prairie Wool’:

‘In the days before the arrival of the first explorer or settler, the wilderness land along the Bow River belonged to he Indians. Buffalo grazed on the lush prairie grass while wolves and coyotes skulked around the herds. Grizzly bears had their dens in the coulees, while antelope, elk and other animals wandered around in an endless search for food. 

At the time when the first fur traders came west, the land surrounding this district belonged to the Peigan Indians of the Blackfoot nation. A roving people, they wandered as far south as the Missouri River and north to Rocky Mountain House in their hunts. When going to war, they often crossed the mountains to raid the Kootenais, or went north after the Crees. The buffalo was the staff of life to them, providing meat for food, skins for clothing and bones for tools. To them, the buffalo was a holy animal, a gift from the Sun. 

During the early 1800’s, the Peigans began to drift southward into Montana, and the Stonies, who lived in the foothills and woodlands to the northwest, gradually moved to the edge of the plains. For the next few decades, this district was on the borderline between the two tribes. If the Peigans came north in search of buffalos, the Stonies stayed along the foothills; when the Peigans were away, the Stonies returned. Walking Buffalo, the noted Stony patriarch said, “The farthest the Stonies would go on the prairie was Cochrane in the east, even sometimes as far as Calgary.” . . . .’ 

‘Marking the passage of the Indians through the area are a few places where circles of grass-hidden stones indicate teepee camps. The stones were used to hold down the edges of the buffalo hide teepees. On the north bank of the Bow, the cliffs afforded a good view for lookouts watching for anyone approaching from the south, perhaps enemies, or maybe game if they were a hunting party. A few miles east of Cochrane in what is known as the Glenbow valley, on the first bench above the river, signs of an encampment of twelve teepees are visible near a natural spring. Another mile east high on the hill are about four or five rings of stone on a knoll – an excellent lookout and anyone approaching would be at a distinct disadvantage having to come uphill to it. Further east yet close by the river bank are more such rings. The Indians probably never lived here for long, just a day or two on a hunting expedition or when moving from one place to another.’ 

The Taming of the Prairie Wool explains that the first recorded person to visit this area was James Hector, of the Palliser expedition, in 1858. (typo in book says 1958) In 1872, Col. P. Robertson-Ross, Adjutant-General of the Militia of Canada was sent west by the Canadian Government ‘to study the possibility of providing military protection for trading posts and putting a stop to illicit whiskey trading.’ In 1874, the North-West Mounted Police marched west to build Fort Macleod. 

‘The history of this region changed rapidly in the early 1880’s. . . . l’ Ranchers, speculators and settlers moved west and gobbled up the land for ranching and homesteading. While the ranching industry was getting started ‘the Canadian Pacific Railway was being built across the prairies to link eastern Canada with the west.’ 

The book quotes many endearing stories from settler families and shows what life was like, here, under our very feet, one hundred years ago. Members of these families still live in the area and have watched Bearspaw grow and develop.

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