I’m reading a book called Crazy Horse: A Lakota Life by Kingsley M. Bray right now.

In both Canada and the United States, the disappearance of the buffalo was the biggest humanitarian and environmental catastrophe that you’ve never heard of. Scientists are only beginning to recognize now that cattle also introduced diseases into wild herds that weakened them.

The American government wanted the bison gone — it had two transcontinental railroads to build and dealing with freedom fighters like Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull was impossible as long as they had access to the food and shelter supplied by those big herds.

Here in Canada, the situation was slightly different. The government knew the bison would be gone eventually but their priority was not to be financially responsible for the First Nations people in western Canada. They thought they had time, and if you had ever seen one of those massive herds you would have understood why they believed that.

Let’s say you and I are standing on a rise in the prairie. We say to each other, “Do you hear that?” But that isn’t exactly what we mean. What we mean is do you FEEL that … the sound is coming out of the ground up through our feet. An hour later … look to the north as far as you can, look to the south as far as you can. That herd is a mile wide, and it passes us by for an hour. You would never, ever forget a sight like that.

Only two years after Treaty 7 was signed in 1877 (the agreement the Crown signed with the indigenous people and settlers in my area) the bison were gone from southern Alberta and the people here were starving. We talk about the bison on the tour of Chestermere that’s happening tonight — did we have bison herds in this area? Come to find out how glacier rocks and a natural prairie spring offer us some clues.

21 great books

  1. High Rider by Bill Gallagher
  2. Frontier Farewell by Garrett Wilson
  3. We Are Coming Home by Gerald Conaty
  4. Clearing the Plains by James William Daschuk
  5. The Pemmican Eaters by Marilyn Dumont
  6. A Terrible Glory by James Donovan
  7. Ranching Women by Rachel Herbert
  8. Crowfoot: Chief of the Blackfoot by Hugh Dempsey
  9. Firewater by Hugh Dempsey
  10. Grant MacEwan’s Journals (edited by Max Foran )
  11. The Red Man’s Bones: George Catlin, Artist and Showman by Benita Eisler
  12. The Children’s Blizzard by David Laskin
  13. The Banker and the Blackfoot: A Memoir of My Grandfather in Chinook Country by J. Edward Chamberlin
  14. Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice
  15. Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese
  16. Quietus: Last Flight Accident Proneness in WWII by Anne Gafiuk
  17. Buffalo for the Broken Heart by Dan O`Brien
  18. The North-West Mounted Police: 1873-1885 by Jack F. Dunn
  19. The Great Blackfoot Treaties by Hugh Dempsey
  20. A Voice of Her Own (Legacies Shared) by Thelma Poirier
  21. Metis Pioneers by Doris Jeanne McKinnon

recommended read: high rider

High Rider

by Bill Gallagher

Many of the stories about the discovery and settlement of our province – and the proud civilizations that existed here long before we did – are so rich that they need no embellishment. And indeed, the most incredible stories are often the ones that are true to the life. But with all of the historic events that our home has witnessed through the centuries, it has always rather surprised me that we don’t have more historical fiction set in southern Alberta, with our local creative voices imagining and filling in the tantalizing gaps in the things that we “know”. Writer Bill Gallagher has done just that and created a narrative around one of our most beloved historical figures.

As the end of the nineteenth century neared, southern Alberta and its fledgling communities were attracting immigrants from all over the world. What we often forget is just how close to home some of those immigrants were, with many coming over the border from the United States. For example, veterans of the civil war, with both sides of that bloody and deadly conflict represented, are buried in Calgary’s Union Cemetery.

John Ware’s life had been formed and shaped by the events that had racked the country of his birth, but of course he had fought for neither side. He was born a slave on a plantation in southern Carolina, and it is here that Bill Gallagher introduces him to us. Gallagher makes you feel as though you are beside John Ware as he walks the one thousand miles from southern Carolina to Texas, and as though you are witnessing heartwarming moments as he befriends good people and wins their respect and admiration. The humiliating events of prejudice and the wistful longing for love and family that seem destined to remain unfulfilled make you feel as though you are standing next to someone you want to encourage and speak out for – and how nice it is to root for a good guy, and to realize that this story happened in places that are familiar to you, too.

Let’s suppose that I am offering a giveaway on this blog and if you win, you get to meet John Ware at the coffee shop of your choosing for one hour and ask him any questions you want. What would you want to know? What parts of his story are the most fascinating to you? Would you want him to myth bust – was he ever really a miner? Do you want to get to know him as a person – what was his favourite breakfast? Or his favourite way to spend a Sunday afternoon? Or, do you want his tips and tricks for calving, or gentling a horse that’s got the best of you at the moment? Read High Rider and then tweet at me (@shelly_mcelroy) with your #QuestionsForJohnWare!!