Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor

MACLEOD, JAMES (1836-1894)

Col. James Farquharson Macleod, the second commissioner of the North-West Mounted Police (NWMP), worked tirelessly to establish harmonious relations with the Indian nations of the Canadian Prairie West, only to see his efforts frustrated by a federal Indian policy based on coercion, control, and parsimony.

Born on the Isle of Skye in Scotland on September 25, 1836, Macleod was nine years old when his family moved to a farm north of Toronto in present-day southern Ontario. Although Macleod earned degrees in classics and philosophy and then law, he preferred life in the militia–a passion that was reinforced in 1870, when he was sent west as a member of the Wolseley Expedition to quell the Métis resistance at Red River.

Thanks to his political connections, Macleod secured a commission as superintendent with the fledgling nwmp in May 1873. The following July he was one of 300 Mounties on the so-called Great March from Dufferin, Manitoba, west along the international boundary to southern Alberta. The police had been sent into the western interior to suppress the American whiskey trade on Canadian soil but barely survived the trek across the open, unfamiliar prairie; fortunately, neither the whiskey traders nor the Indians offered any resistance.

Macleod, in command of the force in the absence of the commissioner, lost little time in establishing a police presence in the region; he built posts on the Oldman River (Fort Macleod) in 1874 and in the Cypress Hills (Fort Walsh) and on the Bow River (Fort Calgary) the following summer. He also initiated important contacts with the leading Indians of the area, in particular Chiefs Crowfoot (Blackfoot) and Red Crow (Blood), and secured their support in ending the debilitating whiskey trade. Macleod's attempt to extradite several Americans implicated in the 1873 Cypress Hills massacre, however, ended in failure.

Macleod was appointed NWMP commissioner in July 1876. He was a popular choice because of his Canadian background, and his tenure at the helm of the force was largely preoccupied with First Nations issues. He participated in the signing of the last two major treaties in western Canada: Treaty Six with the Plains Cree at Fort Carlton in August 1876 and Treaty Seven with the Blackfoot Confederacy at Blackfoot Crossing in September 1877. Both Crowfoot and Red Crow attributed their willingness to enter into treaties with the queen's representatives to their friendship with Macleod. The new commissioner also met with Sitting Bull at Fort Walsh in September 1877; he assured the refugee Lakota leader that his people would find sanctuary there but that there would be no government assistance. Finally, as a member of the appointed Northwest Territories council, Macleod sponsored legislation to conserve the dwindling bison herds in order to head off Indian starvation. But the measure came too late, and his visits to Indian agencies throughout the region in 1879–he traveled over 2,000 miles on horseback– confirmed his worst fears.

By 1880 Macleod had become disillusioned with the failure of the Canadian government to honor its treaty obligations. Ottawa, in turn, began to ask questions about his poor management of police funds. Macleod consequently resigned as commissioner that September and devoted his energies to his other major role as stipendiary magistrate. His earlier legal training served him well, for he was appointed to the first territorial supreme court in 1887. But his arduous days on the trail had taken a toll on his health, and Judge Macleod died in Calgary on September 5, 1894.

See also NATIVE AMERICANS: Crowfoot / WAR: Red River Resistance.

Bill Waiser University of Saskatchewan

Baker, William, ed. The Mounted Police and Prairie Society. Regina: Canadian Plains Research Center, 1998.

Beahen, William, and Stan Horrall. Redcoats on the Prairies. Regina: Centax Books, 1998.

Col. J. F. Macleod Papers, Glenbow Archives, Calgary.

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