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December 05 , 2008

The Law and the Lawless

Frontier Justice on the Canadian Prairies, 1873-1895


They looked impressive in their red tunics, but the members of the fledgling North West Mounted Police had little experience as they departed from Fort Garry in 1874 on a mission to bring order to the lawless territories west of the Red River. There they found a vast and rugged land ruled by whiskey traders, outlaws, and First Nations determined to defend their way of life from encroaching settlers. From remote barracks in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, the new recruits quickly rose to the job of dispatching justice to criminals such as the Plains Cree trapper Swift Runner, hanged for murder and cannibalism, and the notorious Regina crime duo of Gaddy and Raclette. They put their lives on the line and sometimes paid the ultimate price for it, as revealed in the story of Constable Graburn, shot in the back at Cypress Hills by an unknown killer, and of Manitoba’s beloved first police chief, Richard Power, who drowned while pursuing the fugitive Mike Carroll. In other stories, the frontier town of Calgary is the site of the first hanging of a white man in western Canada, while further east, a quick-witted Métis from St. Boniface earns the title of Manitoba’s first indigenous outlaw. These are amazing stories indeed of a formative time in Canada’s history and the steadfast constabulary who helped bring order to a lawless land.

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