LE JOUR DE L' AN - MY MOTHER'S DEATH - A MELANCHOLY SEASON - THE LONG SOUTH TRAIL - OLD WOOD MOUNTAIN - THE YOUNG MAN OF THE TRAIN - A WINTER IN MONTREAL - A VERY PERSONAL MEETING - THE YOUNG EDITOR - THE HAMILTON FAMILY - MOUNTED POLICE HOSPITALITY - DISTINGUISHED PERSONNEL - PATRIOTIC POETS - MEN WHO COULD SHOOT AND RIDE - LAWRENCE HERCHMER OF THE NORTH WEST MOUNTED POLICE.
The winter of 1896-97 was a severe one. During Christmas week blizzards blew every day; the cold was intense, the trails impassable and the valley shrouded in snow.
My mother had been ailing all winter. She seemed introspective and thoughtful, perhaps "fey," as the Scottish folk call it. She spoke much of other days in Quebec and was longing for the scenes of her youth. She and father had planned to take a long-promised trip to the East during the ensuing summer.
As is the custom among French-Canadians, le Jour de l'An was the chief festival celebrated. Accordingly, on January 1st, there was a family gathering at the Ranch. Mother seemed to have regained much of her usual good spirits and we had a happy day. That evening when the family departed, I bundled up and went with them to Pascal's place, leaving father and mother alone at home.
We were not up very early next morning and I was helping my sister-in-law with breakfast when I looked out of the window and saw father close at hand stumbling through the snowdrifts. There was something so desolate about his appearance that I felt a foreboding of evil. He was a strong, robust man and his every action was usually vigorous; but now he came with head and shoulders bowed, stumbling and bewildered like an old man. Pascal went out and they met at the gate. Watching from the window I saw them clasp hands. Then they came in, my brother's arm about his shoulders.
My heart stood still and I cried: "Oh! what is wrong? Mother!"
He raised haggard eyes in a white and drawn face and said lifelessly: "Your mother is dead."
My whole world crumbled. It was the first time my life had been touched by tragedy. My mother had meant everything to me and that she was no more, that I would never hear again the familiar voice, the sound of which was still vibrating in my ears, or be able to take my young troubles to her, was beyond comprehension. Then I thought of her lying quiet and still, alone in the house and I wanted to go where she was.
Pascal got out a team and drove a grief-stricken company to our Ranch. I felt that day I could have died gladly.
My sister-in-law's father, Dr Belhumeur, was passing the winter at his son's house some miles away and Pascal went for him. The snow was deep and crusted, the horses plunged to their girths and he was long in returning. My sister who, with her husband and young family, lived across the Valley, came to the house with the three children whom she could not leave. Father was completely prostrated, and my sister and I kept melancholy vigil. I do not know what we expected, but somehow we waited for the doctor's verdict before we would admit that she was indeed gone from us.
The gloom of a wintry night had fallen before we heard the bells of the returning team and Pascal drove up his weary horses in a cloud of frosty steam.
Poor Dr Belhumeur! He was then old and frail and the long cold drive must have been a real hardship. He came in muffled to the eyes and trembling with cold, but he only paused long enough to divest himself of his outer wraps and then came upstairs. To his practised observation the conclusion was plain, and he told us she had been dead many hours.
I shall never forget that night. After the old Doctor had been warmed and a little rested, Pascal drove away with him to his own house and my sister and I was left to our sad vigil. The moon came up with a wide ring around it and the wind increased with the night. It drove the snow in swirling gusts against the house and whined at the door and window. Since then, I have never been able to hear the melancholy soughing of the prairie winds about a place at night without shuddering.
After the Doctor left, my sister became hysterical, she had risen from a sickbed and before the morning was so ill that I was afraid she too would die. I got her to bed and stilled the fretful wailing of the children.
The morning came in with tempest, and it appeared to me as if we were shut in by a seething snowy sea. Yet the news had reached Willow Bunch, and during the day friends, who had learned of our bereavement, kept arriving to offer help and consolation. But they were only men; the few women of the district could not face the elements.
That was a melancholy season. Father seemed stunned with grief and sought relief in strenuous labour, but he was silent and abstracted. My sister lay long dangerously ill and her recovery was tedious.
Early in the summer father who, with all his abstraction, had not been unobservant, sent my sister and me to Regina. The change of scene helped us and we began once more to take an interest in outside things.
That was the year of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, and I remember the celebration in Regina. There was a gathering on the Market Square where the City Hall now stands. I had heard there were to be speeches and I went expecting to hear Mr Davin. But he was not there. He had accepted an invitation from the British Association of Boston to be the guest of honour at a banquet to commemorate the occasion, and to respond to the toast of "The Empire and the Colonies".
The oration of the day in Regina was delivered by Dr D. J. Goggin, then Superintendent of Education for the North-West Territories and in after years well known in Toronto where he officiated .as Secretary of the Canadian Club. On that occasion, he made a fine patriotic speech. Kipling's "English Flag" had recently been published. Dr Goggin took it for his theme and declaimed several verses with considerable elocution.
In the fall my brother Pascal drove to Regina to take me home. Pascal liked to do things at high speed and as he had a fine team thought, if we got an early start, we could cover the entire distance in one day, and there would be no need of bothering with a camping outfit. A drive of more than a hundred miles in one day may seem incredible to those unfamiliar with the extraordinary endurance of western broncos, but at that period those journeys were made, and the horses seemed little the worse.
On that occasion Pascal's idea of an early start was to "pull out" the night before. Accordingly, we commenced our journey at nine in the evening and made about thirty miles that night. Sometime during the hours of darkness, it commenced to rain and we drove under a bridge on the Moose Jaw Creek for shelter. My brother hobbled the horses and turned them out to feed on the prairie, while we sat in the buggy until daylight.
In the morning the rain was coming down steadily and, worse still, the horses had broken their hobbles, and we could see them a long way off on the level prairie. Pascal went for them, and after a protracted chase succeeded in catching them. They were pretty wild, and although partly broken to drive, had never been ridden; so he had to lead them back. Meanwhile, I sat in the buggy under the dripping bridge.
There was a lonely sheep ranch a few miles off the trail to which, on resuming our journey, we drove and were hospitably received. The rain settled to a steady downpour. The sheepherders, who never saw a human being besides themselves for months at a time, begged us to remain until the weather cleared. But there was no delaying Pascal when he started to go somewhere. He declared the rain was nothing to worry about, and we would make Willow Bunch that night.
So off we drove again, the horses' feet squelching in the puddles. The going was heavy and, sometime after dark, it was apparent that the horses could go no farther. They had to be hobbled and turned out to feed on the prairie. This time my brother made very sure the hobbles were on to stay. We passed the second night sitting in the buggy, and it was one of the longest in my experience.
After midnight the rain stopped, and it became quite cold. When daylight arrived, I looked at my brother and saw that his moustache was white with hoar frost. We drove into Willow Bunch before the people were up, and I never enjoyed warmth and food more.
The next winter was a fairly pleasant one on the Ranch. Father had engaged a married couple and the woman was a great help in lightening my household duties. I also had a girl of my age, a friend from Moose Jaw, as a guest.
Father took the two of us on a round of visits. We went first to our friends the Hammers at Elm Springs; and the Thompsons, who lived nearby, gave a dance for us. From there we drove to Wood Mountain, and hospitable Mrs Stewart, the wife of the Sergeant Major in charge of the N.W.M.P. Post, and Mrs Watson, the wife of the Doctor of the Post, treated us to a round of festivities. The young Mounties seemed glad to extend all the civilities in their power to the only two white girls they had seen for months, and I would be very ungrateful if I did not record that we had a most enjoyable time.
I always liked Wood Mountain with its associations of other clays. At the time of which I speak, the Mounted Police Buildings were of considerable extent; but today not a vestige of them remains. We were there one summer day recently. The same hills, ravines, meadows and streams lay before us; but that was nearly all. One or two Metis cabins still survived, but where the Police Post had stood, only the dugout cellars, not yet grass-grown, gaped openly. Like so much of the old West, the Wood Mountain of my young days are only a memory.
In the fall of 1898, we made up a family party and went to the Province of Quebec for the winter. Father, Pascal, my brother Treffie's wife and young family and I were of the company. Winter came early and we suffered some hardship during the long drive to Regina across the snow-covered prairie.
It was a cold and wintry evening in November when we took the train at Regina and I had a feeling of relief that we were leaving the snow and frost of the West behind for that season at least.
There was quite a bustle getting the children settled, and afterwards I went with Pascal to the dining car. In one of the coaches through which we passed, there were three Frenchmen whom my brother knew. We paused and chatted with them. As we left to continue our progress to the diner, I noticed a young man looking at me very intently from a seat on the opposite side of the coach. There was something so personal in his regard that I felt embarrassed and, while we were at dinner, I wondered whether my hat was on straight, or what it was that made him give me such particular scrutiny. When we returned from the diner, noting he was no longer in his place, I concluded he must have left the train.
It was my first visit to the East since childhood and there was much of interest and novelty. Montreal was rather daunting, but I soon became accustomed to urban surroundings and could find my way about with little difficulty. Shortly after our arrival in Montreal, Pascal took me to Quebec City.
I enjoyed my visit to the ancient Capital. The people were friendly, and although most of my life had been spent amid different scenes, I felt this was my native land and these "mine own people".
I passed a pleasant winter making the acquaintance of several relatives, hitherto known only by name, and acquiring a host of new friends. I made several excursions to portions of rural Quebec and came to like the snug little villages standing back from the river with their white stone houses, always dominated by the spire of the parish church, where Monsieur de Cure was "prophet, priest and king" of his people. Before spring came, however, the East was stifling me, and I was longing for the clear, keen air and the wide sweep of the prairie.
In February, Father married again and took his wife back to the Ranch and in April we returned to the West. All except myself went directly to Willow Bunch, while I waited in Regina the coming of better weather before taking the long south trail. I spent the time visiting friends. Among them was Mrs Kate Simpson Hayes, the Librarian of the Territorial Assembly, who afterwards became well known as a western writer. She and her daughter, "Bonnie", a lively, good-looking girl of about fourteen, lived close to the old Government Buildings on Dewdney Avenue.
One Sunday afternoon, the weather had dried up following continuous rains, I decided to go out somewhere and see life. Accordingly, I picked my way along the muddy sidewalks and went to visit Mrs Hayes.
It was a bright day and for the first time that inclement spring, the sun had a comforting warmth, although roadways were still churned-up masses of mud, some of which had been dragged across the wooden sidewalks at the crossings by the wheels of vehicles. One of my rubbers persisted in coming off in the mud and when I reached the cottage of Mrs Hayes, I was carrying it in my hand. I was right at the door before I realized that the tree-shaded platform was occupied. Mrs Hayes' daughter and a young man were sitting close together, seemingly engaged in a gay and intimate conversation. As soon as she saw me she jumped up to greet me and then proceeded to present her companion. With a feeling of consciousness for which I could assign no reason, I recognized the young man who had given me such intent scrutiny on the train. This was my introduction to Zachary Macaulay Hamilton, who at a not very distant date was to become my husband.
He wore tweeds and knickerbockers and a flat Scottish cap and was different from any type with which I had been familiar. I thought at first he was a green Englishman; but I was soon to learn he was neither English nor green, that he could ride a horse and throw a lariat nearly as well as Joe himself, and was anything but a "tenderfoot". He was a native of Scotland, although he spoke with a different inflexion from that which I had previously associated with the natives of that portion of Britain. He was at that time engaged in editing The West, a newspaper owned by Nicholas Flood Davin, and despite his manifest youth, was inclined to be rather dictatorial.
We had a merry supper that night and, when it came time to go home, the young man of the train escorted me down the sidewalk. He told me that after he had seen me depart for the dining car he ingratiated himself with the Frenchmen with whom Pascal and I had been chatting, and learned we were on the way East. He declared he had serious thoughts of continuing to Montreal or, wherever we were going.
As we walked along the sidewalk my rubbers again developed an exasperating habit of coming off in the mud. He persuaded me to take them off and I was aghast when, regardless of the dirt that coated them, he thrust them into the pocket of his perfectly good overcoat. I had heard something of the reserve and reticence of the Scottish folk, but this lad had none of those traditional characteristics.
Early in the summer, Father came to Regina and took me back to the Ranch. Pascal's wife had not come West that year. There was to be an exposition at Paris the following summer, and my brother proposed that I accompany him to Montreal in the fall and pass the winter there; then the three of us would go to France. It was a pleasant enough prospect, but somehow I was not keen about another winter in Montreal. However, I went as far as Regina with him.
The very first person I met was the young Editor, and he succeeded in persuading me that Eastern Canada was not the place for me at that particular time. I told my brother I wished to remain in Regina for the winter, and he went away by himself after sundry remarks about my not knowing my own mind.
My sister and her husband had come to Regina and set up house, and I made their place my headquarters, although I was often staying with Mrs Hayes or other friends. I made the acquaintance of young Mr Hamilton's people and passed some time visiting in their pleasant home.
Mr. and Mrs Hamilton had come from the Old Country with their young family about ten years previously. They had a large combination ranch and farm in the Valley of the Qu'Appelle, but they also maintained a house in Regina in which the family lived during the winter. They were natives of the Shetland Islands, where their people had been "lairds" from time out of mind.
Mrs. Hamilton was a woman of remarkable personality, strong and positive, and with, I think, the widest sympathy and the most understanding heart of any person I have ever known. Mr Hamilton was quiet and dignified and, until I got to know him well, I stood rather in awe of him; but once inside his reserve I found he was kind and considerate.
Regina was gay that winter. There were dances and other entertainments for the soldiers, who were preparing to leave for the South African War. All these social affairs seemed to centre around the Mounted Police Barracks. Indeed, without the Police, I am afraid Regina would have been a pretty dull place. Monthly dances were held during the winter, attended by the youth and beauty of the Prairie Capital. The members of the Force, officers and men alike vied with each other in making things pleasant for their guests. Police "rigs" called for the guests and when the dance was over, conveyed them back to their homes.
Commissioner Herchmer had the reputation of being rather a stern disciplinarian, but on these occasions, he was the courteous and kindly host. The relations between officers and men were pleasant to witness. Discipline was then relaxed and the formality of rank for the time forgotten. The Commissioner, brilliant in his mess jacket, might have been seen surrendering his partner at the end of the dance to her mother, or, chaperon while the latest recruit was performing the same courtesy for her sister, and the group would mingle for a moment in informal conversation.
These concessions to the rank and file were never presumed upon. The officers were friendly but dignified, the men respectful and self-possessed. In very few military or quasi-military organizations could such relations have been possible, but the personnel of the North-West Mounted Police was selected with such care that it was almost impossible for any objectionable element to find a place. Many of the men were Britishers of good family and education. Eton, Rugby, Merchiston and George Watson's were represented there, as were Oxford and St. Andrews and Trinity College, Dublin. Several men who had held commissions in British cavalry regiments and had found life on a prairie farm harsh and distasteful were glad to turn to the smart and ordered wholesomeness of the Mounted Police.
The music for these dances was furnished by a band under the leadership of Sergeant "Harry" Walker, a really fine musician, and a composer of ability. Possibly the dances of that time might seem strange to modern votaries of fox-trot or tango, but they had a good deal more variety and were executed with greater precision. The dignified measure of the Quadrille, the jolly romp of the Lancers and the revolving movements of the Circassian Circle were joined in by young and old alike. The Waltz, Polka, Military and Highland Schottische, Jersey, Bon-Ton and many others were danced by the young people. The Two-step was much featured because it was a favourite with the Commissioner.
He would charge about the room with the zest of a boy with a pretty girl as his partner.
Every dance programme at the Barracks contained at least one Red River jig, beloved of the Metis folk. As likely as not there would be only one or two couples present familiar with the steps and they usually gave an exhibition performance, while other guests formed a circle about them and watched their agility; for considerable agility was required to interpret the dance correctly.
Peter Hourie, a fine old veteran of the mixed blood, delighted to take part. He was a burly giant, well on in his sixties, dressed de rigour except for his beaded moccasins. He moved with the soundless co-ordination of a cat and could give points to many a younger dancer.
Sergeant "Harry" Walker adapted many airs then popular to dance measure, and on looking back it seems to me that the strains of his orchestra were as compelling as the music of Hamelin's "Pied Piper"; you just could not keep your feet still. The "Blue Danube" "Gates of the West", "Sweet Dreamland Faces" and other airs of long ago were favourites for the waltz. The ever-popular "Coming Through the Rye" furnished the time for schottische or jersey; and tunes like "Massa's Gone Ha Ha", provided inspiration for the square dances. When the band struck up "Do You Ken John Peel" or the "Washington Post", it was the signal for a two-step, and surely it never was danced with greater enjoyment.
How vividly those happy days come back across the years. The bright, low-cut dresses of the ladies; the handsome mess uniforms of the officers; the red tunics of the men; the dress coats and white shirt fronts of the civilian guests and the military decorations combined to make a gay and animated scene that will always remain in my memory.
During the last decade of the nineteenth century much of the life of Regina revolved about the Barracks of the North-West Mounted Police, and from there Commissioner Lawrence Herchmer, he of the out-thrust auburn beard and dominant personality, ruled every detachment with a hand of tempered steel.
Many of the officers were graduates of Kingston Royal Military College and several of them won distinction and promotion to high military rank for fine service and gallantry in the South African and the First Great War, Two of them, Sir Archibald MacDonnell and Sir "Sam" Steele received the honour of Knighthood; certain of them rose to the rank of generals of divisions and there was a regular coterie of brigadiers and colonels.
Sir Archibald who, when I first remember him, was in charge at Wood Mountain, was long in command of Depot Division at Regina. Although a native of Canada he was a true son of "Clan Ranald", and was still as Jacobite as if he had followed Prince Charlie. He was steeped in Highland lore and tradition. The members of his Clan were supposed to keep alive the old feeling against the Clan Campbell on account of the Massacre of Glencoe. However, he married a charming lady of the name of Campbell and, when he was Knighted, he announced the honour to her in a wire which read: "I have succeeded in making a Lady of a Campbell."
Nor were the honours confined to the commissioned rank. Many of the non-commissioned officers and men gained promotion when they journeyed Overseas to fight the battles of Empire. When a number of them returned to their duties in the Force after the South African War, they surrendered commissions obtained from the British Military authorities for gallantry on the field and other services. Similar honours were obtained during the First Great War. A high ranking officer recently retired, twice gave up commissioned rank in the Force with pension and other privileges to fight Britain's battles abroad, and twice re-enlisted in the Mounted Police, and each time rose from the ranks to his former rank.
to London to take part in the great Imperial pageant, and attracted much attention by their soldierly bearing and superb horsemanship.
On "Jubilee Day" the members of the Sergeant's Mess at the Regina Barracks decided to celebrate the occasion by an oyster supper. A collection of forty dollars was taken up, four dollars of which was expended on oysters, while the balance went for more stimulating refreshment. Many toasts were drunk to the Queen, and then someone suggested that a patriotic cable should be sent wishing her, as they put it, "Many happy returns of the day". The banquet money had been exhausted, so more was subscribed to pay the cable tolls, and two sergeants, who were supposed to have some literary ability, were instructed to prepare the message. After considerable mental wrestling they produced the following gem:
"Queen Victoria, Windsor Castle, England.
Though far away on distant plains,
Our loyalty and love remains,
Upon this great and glorious day,
We all unite to praise and pray."
This noble verse was hailed with acclamation by the company, but some difficulty arose about the signature. At last, it was decided that the words "North-West Mounted Police" should be added to the message. It was then dispatched, and loyal celebrations continued far into the night.
But Queen Victoria did not seem to be in a responsive mood, and some time passed without acknowledgement. Then it was announced that an answer had been received and the sergeants were summoned to full Mess to hear it. When all were seated, the Mess President produced an alleged cable which he gravely read to the company. It was addressed personally to the two poets and read as follows:
"Her Majesty receives with glee
The efforts of your poetry.
She thinks, of all o'er whom she rules,
You are the two most blasted fools".
But despite this local by-play Queen Victoria, or those representing her, had received the poetic message and were somewhat bewildered what to do about it. But the signature "North-West Mounted Police" could not be entirely ignored, and discreet enquiries were made through the Secretary of State at Ottawa, and eventually reached Commissioner Herchmer at Regina, who soon discovered the gifted authors. They were brought before him and each fined a month's pay and confined to Barracks for the same period. The Commissioner then informed Ottawa that the incident had been caused by the excessive loyalty of two of his sergeants. He had punished them himself and thought the matter might well rest there.
During the winter of 1899-1900 when the Canadian Mounted Rifles were being mobilized for active service in South Africa, we sometimes went to the Barracks to watch the activities of the soldiers. Foot drill was practised in the Square; bunches of horses from the western ranges were arriving and being roped and ridden, while recruits who did not come up to the exacting requirements were rigorously weeded out. There was no lack of applications for enlistment. Preference was given men whose occupations as cowboys, hunters trappers or ranchers had provided them with an experience that would prove valuable on the South African veldt. Most of the commissioned officers and non - coms came from the Mounted Police. The call had gone out:
"To the younger nations for the men who could shoot and ride."
Colonel Herchmer must have had a difficult time. His wife was stricken with mortal illness and died. He and his son and son-in-law turned away from her grave to go to the War, the Colonel to lead his men while the two others went as simple troopers.
At that time in western Canada the name of Lawrence Herchmer was almost synonymous with that of the North-West Mounted Police, and so far as I know, no proper estimate of the services rendered by him has ever been given in any western chronicle.
There are unfortunately many instances in Canada where men whose patriotic achievements entitled them to the gratitude of their countrymen have been so bedevilled by politics that their services have been forgotten or ignored, and they sacrificed to the high gods of the political machine. And thus it was with Lawrence Herchmer.
Following the North-West Rebellion of 1885, there was some evidence of laxity in the discipline of the Force. Colonel Irvine, then Commissioner, was a conscientious officer but perhaps a little lacking in the firmness necessary to control an organization like the Mounted Police, that included in its ranks many men of bold and independent spirit. During the Rebellion, the almost contemptuous treatment accorded the Force by General Middleton had bitterly offended the rank and file. There was discontent which, on one or two occasions, resulted in unseemly demonstrations.
Sir John Macdonald had always taken great pride in the Force, regarding it as his special creation. He was much exercised over the situation. Someone of sterner mould than the kindly Irvine was needed. Influenced by Fred White who had been his private secretary and later Comptroller of the Force, his choice fell upon Lawrence Herchmer, who had made a name for himself as an Indian Administrator in western Canada.
Herchmer was then Indian Agent at Birtle, in Manitoba. When a young man he had served as an ensign in a British infantry regiment. He had also been Commissariat Officer for General Cameron when the latter was in charge of the International Boundary Survey. He was in the prime of life, a fine, upstanding, soldierly figure of a man. Sir John personally instructed him that discipline must be enforced and he would be given practically a free hand. It was under these conditions that, in 1886, Herchmer came to the command of the North-West Mounted Police.
Under his administration the Force earned a remarkable reputation for discipline and efficiency. He injected his own high, indomitable spirit into every rank until he produced a body of men whose performances, in the course of duty, bordered the miraculous. No detail was too microscopic for his personal attention. For years, every horse acquired for the use of the Force was purchased under his own eye with the assistance of Inspector Burnett, the Chief Veterinary Officer. Ottawa was bombarded for needed equipment until dilatory officialdom was forced to yield to his importunity. His men were drilled and re-drilled in their duties, and law and order was maintained with a strong hand in all the wide North West.
At first discipline was rigorously enforced; but after a time, his men learned that if he was severe, he was just; and as his precept and example brought good results, the rigour of his administration showed some relaxation. He fought for everything that would better the condition of the men and suffered no outsider to cast the least aspersion upon them. If they misbehaved, that was a family affair and he attended to it himself.
It was inevitable that the 'stern inflexibility of his regime should cause resentment in certain quarters. Some of the malcontents endeavoured to bring political influence to bear, but Sir John stood firmly behind his appointee. Members of the Force who thought they had suffered injustice, and others, with political and personal ends to serve, enlisted the support of Nicholas Flood Davin, the Member of the House of Commons for Western Assiniboia. That gentleman assailed Commissioner Herchmer and all his works in the columns of his paper, The Regina Leader, and from his place in Parliament until at last a Royal Commission was appointed to investigate the administration of the Force. The evidence adduced was convincing proof of the splendid work being done under Herchmer's regime.
After the completion of the Report of the Commission, the Ottawa Government gave Herchmer authority to deal as he saw fit with those within the Force who had been responsible for some of the trouble. It was characteristic that he called them together instead of dismissing them and asked their co-operation; and got it, too. In later years Mr Davin himself came to appreciate Herchmer's qualities and the two men were long on friendly terms.
Canada has been justly proud of its red-coated "Riders of the Plains". Under Lawrence Herchmer's direction, they upheld the equal law of the British over a tremendous region. Alone and unafraid, individual red-coats entered the camps of hostile and formidable Indian tribes and took the men who had offended against the laws of the Queen from the midst of armed and excited throngs. If menaced they pointed to the scarlet they wore as the symbol of their authority, and lawless people went elsewhere to conduct their criminal operations.
When gold was discovered in the Yukon and a heterogeneous population poured into the country, the first arrivals found red-coated ministers of the trail on the summit of the Chilkoot Pass, by the banks of the Yukon River, on the shores of Teslin Lake and in still more remote places. The predatory camp followers of the gold rush soon learned there was no scope for their activities under the vigilant scrutiny of the Mounted Police. When Skagway on the American side was infested with robbers and desperadoes, life and property in the Yukon Territory was as safe as in Toronto, Winnipeg or Regina.
It is asserted that during the period the Mounted Police was under Herchmer's control, there was not one major crime committed in all the North West in which those responsible were not brought to justice.
Commissioner Herchmer had been appointed by the Government of Sir John A. Macdonald and was, therefore, supposed to have Conservative affiliations. It was a time of intensive politics in Canada. A great political party was strongly entrenched in power, and there is little doubt that certain of the leaders were intolerant of a man who stubbornly refused to be influenced by political considerations.
Colonel Herchmer sailed for South Africa in command of the Second Canadian Mounted Rifles. The labour of mobilization, much of which had fallen upon him, was very heavy, and he had suffered a severe domestic bereavement. It was small wonder, therefore, that when he reached South Africa he was taken with illness and ordered into hospital for a period of recuperation. His men proceeded "upcountry" without him. He recovered rapidly and tried for a clean bill of health. The medical officer to whom he applied recommended a longer period of rest, but without waiting for discharge he proceeded to the Front.
The Officer to whom he reported was a British General who at one time had held a high military position in Canada. It is stated that he reprimanded Colonel Herchmer for presenting himself for active service without the necessary medical credentials. It is easy to understand the astonishment and indignation of the Mounted Police Commissioner at this reception accustomed as he was to command and inclined to be independent. There is little doubt that high words passed between the two officers. At any rate, Colonel Herchmer was deprived of his command on the ground of insubordination. There was nothing for him to do but return to Canada and when he arrived he was informed that having been retired by the British authorities, his usefulness as Commissioner of the North-West Mounted Police was at an end.
Presently the officers and men who had gone to South Africa with him began to return, and most of them were in a high state of indignation at the treatment which Colonel Herchmer had received. The Western Press took the matter up, as did some Eastern journals, and those responsible for his retirement began to realize they had stirred up a hornet's nest. Sir Wilfred Laurier himself is said to have looked into the matter and some tardy justice was done, although full amends were never made.
It is pleasant to be able to add that the land he had bought near Calgary for his little ranch increased considerably in value during the "Boom" period and he realized a comfortable competence from its sale.