In 1884, the Ktunaxa (Kootenay, Kootenai, Kutenai) Indians in British Columbia were to receive a reserve on the St. Mary’s River. However, as the area’s ranching potential became known, investors pre-empted meadows traditional used by the Indians. Tensions between the Indians and the new settlers increased in 1886 when two Indians—Kapula and his unnamed partner—were jailed on suspicion of killing two miners. Ktunaxa chief Isadore believed the men were innocent and forcibly released the men from jail and ordered the non-Indian authorities to leave the district and not to return.
In 1887, fearing violence from the Indians, the non-natives requested North-West Mounted Police protection. In response to the request, Superintendent Sam Steele built the barracks known as Fort Steele. After carefully investigating the matter, Superintendent Steele could find no evident on which to hold Kapula and his partner and dismissed the charges. Steele’s tact and fairness satisfied the Indians. Chief Isadore relinquished his claims to the area and returned to his reserve. Order had been imposed on the area, and a year after the police post had been established, it was abandoned as Steele did not feel that a continued NWMP presence was required. In his report on the departure from the Kootenay Post, Steele wrote:
“The chief addressed me on behalf of himself and his people, speaking in the highest terms of the manly and moral behaviour of the men of the division, and adding that when we came into the district that the Indians did not know us, and very naturally were in doubt, but all that had changed… and he hoped we would look back with kind feelings towards them.”
Today Fort Steele is a Heritage Village in which visitors can experience what life was like in the 1890s. The Heritage Village includes restored buildings, replica buildings, and buildings which are allowed to decay naturally. Shown below are photographs of the reconstructed Kootenay Post.
With regard to the construction of the post, Superintendent Steele reported:
“The buildings are constructed of logs of Yellow Pine, partly hewn, sheeted and floored with common lumber and roofed with shakes…About 1400 logs of various sizes, some as long as 30 feet and none under 20 feet, had to be cut, hauled and rolled up. The non-commissioned officers and constables worked well. The quarters they have constructed are, without exception, the best log houses I have seen for years.”
Sergeants Mess and Quarters
The barracks provided the sleeping, eating and recreational accommodation for the five corporals and 59 constables. According to the display:
“Reading, writing letters to home and reviewing the Constables’ Manual were some of the pastime activities of the men.”
Museums 101 is a series of photo tours of museum displays. More from the Fort Steele Heritage Village in British Columbia: