it was a title of great respect.
Physically, nobody could help noticing him. He was a huge man in a tribe generally described as small of stature. Over six feet tall described by one writer as “a splendidly built Indian with the carriage of a Roman emperor and the high-boned features of a Sioux”. No wonder he was singled out by name for taking part in a revenge-fracas one night about 1898 near Fort St. John.
The Fort St John band spent their winters trapping far to the north around Fort Nelson. In summer, after bringing their furs out in spring, many hung around the Fort for the summer, grazing their horses on the lush prairie. In the fall they spent their time hunting moose and the almost extinct bison, and trapping bears whose meat and fat was prized for winter food. Bear traps consisted of deep pits roofed with the lightest possible poles thinly covered with soil and baited with spoiling meat. The bears broke the roof and fell into the pit.
So did the horses belonging to a new breed of men, struggling overland towards the gold fields to the North and even up the Peace. Many of these goldseekers were Americans, used to thinking of Indians as a nuisance – like gophers or others vermin to be killed off.
In the domains of the Canadian fur-traders the Indians were valued as fur-gatherers and providers of meat, clothing and guide services – absolutely necessary for white survival. White men and red had associated for more than a hundred years with only a couple of serious encounters. Now the invaders began to abuse the proud Beavers, raiding the bear pits, or breaking them down ahead of the line of march to protect their horses. They also grazed their animals on the Beaver’s traditional pastures, and carelessly set fires, scaring off the game, already becoming scarce.
Any other tribe might have dealt with these invaders in the traditional way – bullets or tomahawks. The Athapaskans (Beavers and Sikanni) were reluctant to take life, preferring to “make a coup” or perpetrate a clever trick that would humiliate the enemy. Wolf and a Sikanni chief from the area north of Fort St. John dreamed up such a prank.
The approaching goldseekers were using Red River carts to carry mining equipment and supplies. Slow and awkward as they were on the level, they were man-killers to hold back on steep downhills and worse to push on the up-side. There was the vast, deep valley of the Peace to cross – which they did, “parking” their vehicles at the edge of a cutbank – and then sinking into exhausted sleep. When the chorus of snores told the silent-footed watchers that all were off-guard, Wolf or Bellyfull gave the signal with a wild and terrifying chorus of shrieks. The braves pushed carts and supplies to the brink and over, to scatter like garbage on the river-flat below. It was as neat a bit of strategy as the fire-coup which defeated a Cree army before the Peace of Unchaga over a hundred years before, typically Beaver.
About fourteen years later a new fur-trade post manager came into Old Fort St. John to run the Revillon Freres post, in competition with the long-time Hudson’s Bay Factor Frank Beaton. Beaton had married a Beaver woman, thereby becoming an adopted blood relative of the extensively intermarried Beavers. Besides Beaton was “like a father” for he had seen his people through good times, and near famine and deadly disease and had won the natives’ respect for fair dealing and benevolence.
The new man not only openly favored the Crees, hereditary foes of the Beavers, but he tried to obtain the hunters’ furs before they could get them to the Hudson’s Bay. The Beaver Indians at that time were scrupulously honest – many of them owed the Bay money because Beaton “staked” them when the catch had been small or the luck bad. In the Indians’ eyes their summer furs belonged to Beaton already, before they got to the Fort. The newcomers’ portrait shows a haughty faced man with a sneering expression. One could blame the photographer, except that the man’s supercilious writings confirm the unpleasant impression. Besides he tried to “put on the dog” by his style of clothing and by being driven around in a carriole lined with red velvet Once a year, after bringing in their furs, the Indians from earliest times had a powwow near the fort. It was the time when the bucks showed off, and the girls paraded their skills, for it was the ancient mate-choosing time. It was a trade-fair and gambling casino and drama festival and family reunion. It was a religious festival and medicine show and newscast and drinking party. It was a sports day and summer vacation and prizefight and dance and a feast, a court, and a political meeting and a fashion show — all rolled into one. An ordinary party was a “moochigan”. After 1900 this was “Treaty Day”. It lasted sometimes for weeks, before the Day and after.
No wonder some of the braves got carried away! According to the novelist-trader, Wolf went a trifle too far; or else he just blundered into Nosekye’s tent where Mrs. Nosekye was sleeping. The novelist went about as far as any pulp-magazine of that day could go in suggesting Wolf’s motives. The truth was that the writer got himself into a panic of fear that the whole white population was about to be massacred. Beaton, who had been through all this a dozen times since the first Treaty day, took it all very calmly. The novelist ascribed Beaton’s Scots restraint to cowardice.
The irrepressible Wolf abducted Ah-clu-key’s daughter. He and Noseky continued to strut about and make angry noises but even the novelist with all his “loaded” descriptions of the terrible Beavers had to admit that nothing happened.
At the time of the above incident Wolf figured in a report by another novelist visitor, Hulbert Footner. The Indians were in their Halfway trapping country, but on the eve of their departure they had mislaid something — a small boy, four years old! That they hadn’t come back for him sounds most unfeeling except that Wolf had four wives and thirty-five children and it wasn’t uncommon for small boys to roam at will. More to the point, in Beaver society there was no “nuclear family”. The “extended family” concept ruled that a child belonged to the whole family group. His uncles, aunts and grandparents had responsibility for his welfare and education. Generally a father’s brother trained and disciplined him, not the father. Also if a man died leaving a widow, his brother must make her his wife, and adopt her children as his own. A man must marry his deceased wife’s sister if she had no protector, at least until another alliance was formed. If a child were missing it would be presumed that he was in another relative’s tipi.
Wolf’s little lad was abandoned but not willfully so. The boy was able to scrounge for himself and in the spring he was found among the stray dog packs, alive and well, although almost naked. Some surveyors adopted him and took him to a convent school where he was Christened “St. John Peace” – or so the story goes.
Wolf moved into the South Peace at some time, for Frank Beaton’s journal notes a visit to the post “from the Southside”.
He settled up Tate Creek, north east of Swan Lake, where until a short time ago, he came periodically to trade and visit. Mrs. Wilma Harms of present day Pouce Coupe met him often, for he came every year to bring their winter moccasins. One time her father said jokingly – “Your moccasins wear out too fast.” The old man shook his head; “Moccasins are good, but white man walk too much, all the time walk, walk. Indian rides a horse.”
Mr. Peter Campbell of Beaverlodge remembered meeting Wolf one time, when Peter was a boy. He also remembers well a story that was told about the big Indian in his buckskin jacket and moccasins, with his hair in two braids hanging over his shoulders.
In the early days Catholic priests used to come on foot from Grande Prairie to minister to Indians and whites alike. Wolf was one of their chief concerns because he refused to accept the Christian religion. To the good father Wolf was a hopelessly lost soul because he had then no fewer than six or seven wives at a time.
When Wolf was being evangelized, it was impressed on him that the Church allowed only one wife. To the Indian this was heresy. A man’s standing among his fellows was measured by his hunting prowess – his game always being divided equally among his band, with the choice bits going first to the widows and people no longer able to look after themselves. A good hunter needed as many wives as were required to handle the meat, make dry meat, and tan the hides of the game he brought down and also to skin and stretch the animals he trapped. Wolf’s numerous family proclaimed him a mighty hunter and good provider – a “headman”.
Finally Wolf said to the priest, “All right. I choose this wife. I give the rest to you.”
“Oh no! No”, exclaimed the priest. “I cannot have a wife.”
“Then,” said Wolf. “What do I do? Turn them out to die like dogs?” Wolf never became a Christian.
One more story remains to show the character of the man.
One day in Swan Lake Wolf borrowed five dollars from Mr. Peter La Forge, saying, “In (so many) moons I will pay you back.”
“You’ll never see that five bucks again” remarked a by-stander.
Precisely at the end of the agreed months, Wolf turned up with the money.
The La Forge’s ordered their annual lot of moccasins, which arrived as arranged. Wolf refused the pay for them.
“No”, he said. “I used your money for a long time. You pay me for moccasins after the same time.”
No, Wolf never became a white man. He was too honest.