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Tag: Frontier Recollections

Old fashioned log cabin with wooden bench in front – heading for Frontier Canadian Recollections

Documents shed new light on early Pincher Creek ranches

Many locals are keenly aware of the varied and rich agricultural heritage that has blessed the Pincher Creek area for nearly a century and a half. Yet our historical research here at Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village has uncovered old promotional materials from the late 1880s that shed some new light on the nature of some of the early family ranches.

Let’s have a look at a few of those early ranching operations.


Bottle of Huckleberry Tea Liqueur against purple background on an ad for Lost Things Distillery in Pincher Creek.


Excellent stock-raising area

The promotional literature made note of the excellent stock-raising attributes of the Pincher Creek area. Initial concerns that this district was too close to the mountains, thereby endangering ranching operations through a lack of open rangeland accompanied by heavy winter snowfalls, proved to be largely erroneous.

Early experiences established, with a few exceptions such as the harsh blizzards of 1886-87, that the local winters were not plagued with large snow accumulations. The large grazing areas indeed were a blessing for the early ranchers.

Promotional campaigns made note of the abundance of the local rivers and creeks, which provided adequate water for stock raising. The ranching potential along the South, Middle and North forks of the Oldman River, including those tributaries such as Todd and Ross creeks, was emphasized.

Pincher, Mill and Halifax creeks also were heralded as excellent year-round water sources for those looking for early endeavours raising cattle and horses. The southwest was a ranching paradise second to none.



Butte Ranch partnership

One of the earliest cattle operations established in the Pincher Creek vicinity was the Butte Ranch, originally connected with pioneer Frederick W. Godsal.

This ranching giant later went into partnership with a Mr. Allfrey (of whom we now know little; he seems to have disappeared into the pages of history) and Lionel Brooke, our area’s most infamous remittance man. Brooke later bought out most of the ranch from Allfrey and Godsal.

Situated adjacent to the South Fork, the ranch was enhanced by many improvements over the years. By February 1888, it was “well provided with good stables and sheds” as well as two fresh-water wells. Much of the ranch was fenced, and Brooke had built up the cattle herd to include 200 head of stock, bred by polled Angus bulls.

In spite of Brooke’s lack of hands-on ranching experience, the Butte Ranch did flourish during those early years.


Display of fall clothing at at Emerald & Ash Clothing in Crowsnest Pass.


South Fork Ranch envied by many

By the late 1880s, F.W. Godsal also was connected with his nearby South Fork Ranch. It was publicly touted as being “one of the best-improved in the country.”

Godsal, considered one of the premier ranchers attached to the southwestern corner of the Canadian Prairies, had painstakingly changed the system by which he had ranched. After a few years of practical experience, he had come to the conclusion that there was more financial profit in ranching with smaller numbers of cattle, well cared for, than having a large herd that had to be left to the uncertainties of the open range.

His cattle on the South Fork Ranch numbered an annual average of 400, which Godsal maintained provided easy access to those animals that were weak and needed veterinary attention. Feed, primarily alfalfa and timothy (which too were raised on the ranch) was readily available during the cold, snow-filled weeks of winter.

The ranch numbered over 5,000 acres in size, most of which was unfenced pastureland.


Chinese noodle dish and chopsticks on ad for Bright Pearl Restaurant in Pincher Creek


The modern South Fork Ranch buildings were the envy of many a non-local rancher. The well-constructed main ranch house utilized local logs, and was designed to withstand the massive weather fluctuations so common to the area. Inside, the structure consisted of a parlour, a kitchen, a pantry and two bedrooms.

Surrounding the house was a fenced yard, a portion of which was cultivated for a garden. Nearby was a second house, measuring 18 by 20 feet, which was for the ranch hands.

The outbuildings included a large barn, half of which was used for the horses and a harness room. The second half of this 30-by-40-foot log structure was for the calves.

An extensive system of corrals and sheds complemented the ranch operation. The arrangements well suited the ever-particular Godsal.


Solar panel on ad for Riteline Electric in Pincher Creek


Clear Water Ranche and French Flats

The Clear Water Ranche was located at French Flats, near the present village of Cowley, close to a mile and a half from the South Fork. French Flats derived its name early in our settlement history as a result of the large number of French Canadian and Métis families who settled there in order to take up ranching.

The Clear Water was operated under a partnership of Jones and Sharpe, two pioneers in their own right. The ranch was well known locally for its extensive cattle and horse breeding operations. The horse stock was being improved with two Clydesdale stallions named Atlas and Prince.

On the ranch, nearly 320 acres was fenced, most of which was utilized as pasture. Also grown was an annual allotment of 1,100 bushels of grain and smaller amounts of timothy.



The ranch buildings were extensive and well utilized. Featured was a log stable measuring 30 by 40 feet and complete with a loft. Farther down the yard were several outbuildings highlighted by a solid granary, a cow stable measuring 160 feet in length, and several sheds.

A solidly constructed 50-by-18-foot house, expanded during the summer of 1888, complemented the ranch buildings.

The Jones and Sharpe partnership worked well: the Clear Water Ranche was a flourishing success.

Each of these agricultural entities was well known for its cattle and horses.

Aerial view of the Cowley Lions Campground on the Castle River in southwestern Alberta



Local Stories Obituaries Story Idea?

Folklore shrouds early NWMP camps in mystery

Yet within this southwestern corner of the Canadian Prairies there were several more obscure outposts — in some cases little more than temporary camps — that the NWMP set up during the 1890s and early 1900s. The chronologies of many of these are shrouded within our local folklore and historical details are often sketchy at best. Here are some of their tales.

North Fork outpost

One such outpost was that of North Fork, which operated for a 16-year period following its 1888 establishment. This was during the height of the necessity of such remote operations of the Mounties, patrolling on horseback the vast, sparsely populated landscape of corporate and family ranches recently established.

Their job was to maintain the peace, ensuring that cattle rustling was kept to a minimum and working closely with the ranching community. It may have been a lonely task but the work and physical surroundings were interesting.

Historical and archeological studies have had a difficult time pinpointing the precise location of the North Fork outpost. It is understood that it stood somewhere in that vast open district along the North Fork of the Oldman River, with the rustic Porcupine Hills to the east and the Livingstone Range to the west.

A reference in 1894 indicates that it may have been situated at or near the Mead ranch along Todd Creek, situated nearly three miles west of the confluence of the North and Middle forks of the Oldman River. It notes that both the NWMP men and their horses were boarded and stabled at this location.

Beyond that, the outpost’s location was even less clear. The previous year (1893), men and horses may have been kept at the M.B. Heath ranch, and for the two-year period following 1894 a similar arrangement was made with H.G. Nash. For the final four years of its operation, an arrangement for boarding and stabling was made with E.G. Smith and Robert Henry Burn (1848-1919), both of whom ranched in the Gillingham district.

Yet in spite of research into the Mounties’ intriguing past, little further is known. It remains a mystery as to where any official lodgings or stables associated with the North Fork outpost may have been placed, nor is much known in regard to the manpower strength or old-time personalities associated with the outpost.

Kootenai Pass outpost

Similar historical scenarios are connected with other remote or temporary outposts. Many were located in truly remote locations, even by the pioneer standards to the day. Some may have been established on a short-term basis to handle temporary law-enforcement situations, and may have consisted of little more than a cluster of tents and corrals set up in a camp situation.

Patrols were completed on horseback, and the men, usually few in number, would attempt to report whenever possible to a nearby outpost or the horse ranch in Pincher Creek.

One such camp was the Kootenai Pass outpost, which operated during 1891. Its location was most likely at the South Kootenay Pass, situated in the Kootenay Forest Reserve, known as Waterton Lakes Dominion Park after 1911, rather than at the Middle or North Kootenay passes farther north.

Three men were stationed there to keep a careful eye on the traffic using the pass. The eye-catching route over the Continental Divide was close to the international boundary and was popular with early travellers coming through the mountainous terrain. Close to a decade later, the area just to the east saw renewed activity associated with the oil exploration boom of Oil City.

Even though this was just a camp, the Mounties maintained a presence there at least as late as October 1891, taking their chances with any harsh weather associated with the early arrival of winter.

Middle Fork and South Fork camps

Many miles to the northwest was the NWMP camp known as Middle Fork. In operation during 1888, this short-lived camp may have been located near what a decade later became the hamlet of Burmis, closely connected with the development of the Crowsnest branch of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Board and stabling were contracted out to W.J. Eddy, an important rancher from the area.

Here again the camp’s exact location is not known, but it may have served as a stopping-over point for members of the force between those NWMP points farther east, such as the North Fork outpost and the Pincher Creek horse ranch, and the Police Flats outpost, located just inside the Crowsnest Pass, a short distance to the west.

In operation for at least three years after 1895, the South Fork camp of the NWMP may have been situated upstream from the point where Mill Creek flows into the South Fork of the Oldman River. Here the force’s constables patrolled not only the Mountain Mill area — the first logging operation in the Pincher Creek area, dating back to 1879 — but many miles farther upstream into the rugged terrain drained by the river.

This location brought the Mounties into close proximity with the remote mountains to the west. Particular attention was paid to the safety of both travellers and cattle, and regular stops were made at local ranches. NWMP reports on local conditions were sent directly to Pincher Creek.

Although located in distant locations and generally temporary in nature, these often-forgotten camps served valuable functions for the North West Mounted Police, who patrolled the countryside and secured it for ranching operations and local settlers.

The force’s annual reports and centennial studies from 1973 and 1974 were some of the historical research sources used for this article.