The year was 1914. At that time both Finlay Forks and Hudson’s Hope were much larger than Fort St. John. “The Hope” was a busy place. There was a seasonal Hudson’s Bay trading post and another post opened by Jim Cornwall and later sold to Revillon Freres. Steamships were plying the river and surveying parties, mining explorations, and travelers of all sorts were constantly passing east or west. Twelve-Foot Davis had long before opened a transportation route linking “The Peace River Block” with Quesnel and the Coast.
There were Indians both north and south of Hudson’s Hope who had never signed Treaty No. 8, although Fort St. John Indians had done so when a treaty party came in a year after the first signatures in 1899 further east. In Peace River Chronicles and other accounts, there are passing references to attempts to reach the western bands, on at least two occasions, without success. Capt. Galloway met one of these parties at Fort St. John in August of 1912, when the Indians were away to their summer meat-hunting areas. On that occasion the agent had been away up to the Hay River area, and was going “over to the Pine River country”. Whether he met any of those Indians and did a bit of persuading towards taking treaty, we do not know. The reasons were simple; it was necessary to time the “party” after the Indians came in from their spring beaver catch, and before they left for the flats of the Upper Halfway and other rivers where they made dry-meat for winter. Some of the Indians around Moberly Lake may have been fugitives from their Northwest Rebellion activities. If so, a government agent was the last man they wanted to see. Finally Commissioner Laird arranged to be at the far-west outpost at an appropriate time. For some reason it seems impossible to obtain his report of the occasion.
When Mrs. Beattie arrived early in May, 1914, Hudson’s Hope was still buzzing with the story of the troubles of one Mr. Drew, who had until recently been the trader at the Hudson’s Bay Post. Either he did not know Hudson’s Bay policy or he chose to ignore it. He saw the amount of traffic through the bottleneck of the old Portage Road, and decided that a hotel should be good business. It is alleged that he purchased all of the necessities through The Bay – beds, bedding, furniture, utensils, etc. While waiting for the furnishings, he had logs cut for the building to be erected on Hudson’s Bay property, without consulting his superiors. In due time a great deal of freight arrived and so did the company inspector. Mr. Drew’s departure was expedited. The logs and furnishings were sold to Learnough and Lesage, who set up the Diamond P Trading Post in a huge, and nicely proportioned building, the remains of which, with trees growing up through the eaves, were bulldozed down when the Dam demanded a townsite. The sheets, pillowcases, chenille bedspreads and other hotel furnishings were put on the shelves of the Bay store. The new post manager may have had an inkling that the Indians were to get Treaty money, for he had also laid in tremendous quantities of “baby ribbon” and other bright things dear to the hearts of Indians. As well, some fashionable shoes and clothing were brought in for the ladies who were coming in with their men folk to the growing settlement.
In, 1914, word had got round to the Indians that the Commission was coming. Mrs. Beattie remembers that for three weeks before the event, the flats around the post were crowded with teepees, as the bands moved in from all directions.
“All day and all night, the drums and the chanting were going for the gambling,” Mrs. Beattie remembers. “The bucks were practicing their best horses, racing up and down through the settlement. No, I wasn’t scared”, she said. “Some were, but I wasn’t. They were all good Indians then.”
Came the Treaty Party, and enrolment and payout began. As the Indians had been entitled to Treaty money since 1899, they had a considerable sum in “back pay” coming. This amounted to $5.00 per person per year for fifteen years, $10.00 per year for headmen and $25.00 per year for the chief.
Many of them had never seen money before, since they bartered for trade, or used marked sticks having the value of “one beaver.
“They didn’t know what to do with it,” said Mrs. Beattie. “You’d see the young fellows riding around with bills sticking out of their pockets, and losing it all over the place.”
The new traders soon enlightened them. Chenille bedspreads became saddle blankets, and when those were gone, Mr. Drew’s sheets and pillowcases and towels from the Bay shelves found themselves flapping from horses’ backs. The baby ribbons and laces were sewn on like fringes to fly wildly in the breeze as the horse races gathered momentum, and continued during the half-darkness of the short summer night. The drums and chanting gathered new impetus and “a good time was had by all”.
The women, too, had their day – the bright cloth and fancy shoes dwindled on the shelves. Some bought the thick, ugly, felt shoes, intended for winter. Others teetered around in the high-heeled shoes of the day, sizes too small.
“By the next day”, said Mrs. Beattie, “I don’t suppose one of them had a dollar left. What wasn’t lost and picked up by the white folks, was all in the Bay or the other post, or in the pockets of the priest who accompanied the Commission party. The next day he walked over to Moberly Lake to get any that was taken home over there. “A dollar a head to save their souls”, is the report inPeacemakers of the North Peace.
While it lasted, it must have been a colorful, exciting “sports day”. These Indians had good mounts, and were expert riders. Long before that they had asked Twelve Foot Davis to bring in good stallions to breed up the scrub ponies that were all they could get from the Bay. He had complied, and, according to the tales of Charlie Yahey, had imported Appaloosas and other good stock. Likely the white settlers garnered some dollars in the frontier version of the “Sports of Kings”.
That night there was a notable “moochigan” or dance, at which the native ladies found the new high-heeled shoes less than comfortable. It would be a “dry” occasion, however, because a policeman accompanied the treaty parties, not only to protect the cash payroll, but to apprehend any purveyors of home-brew, which was strictly taboo for Indians, particularly Treaty Indians.
When the money was gone, so were the Indians, no poorer than before, since their economy at that time was not dollar-based. In the following years they could not celebrate quite so joyously on a mere $5.00 payment.
Reserves were not staked out that year, but one hundred and sixteen newly registered Indians were shown in the next annual report.
Surveyors came in during the next season and laid out as reserves the areas the Indians had chosen — Beavers and Crees at the east end of Moberly Lake and Saulteau at the west end.