Wood Mountain Uplands, Part 2

The Wood Mountain Uplands, south of the village of Wood Mountain

Nestled in the heart of the Wood Mountain Uplands, amidst the hills and ravines, is the village of Wood Mountain. Not much is left of it but that’s not where the action is. For that, you have to drive 8 km south on Hwy 18 where you’ll find Wood Mountain Regional Park, Camp Woodboia (operated by the United Church of Canada), the Wood Mountain NWMP Post, the Rodeo and Ranch Museum, the only Lakota reserve in Saskatchewan and, last but not least, the Wood Mountain Stampede.

This complex of history and activities sits in a shallow “bowl” surrounded by hills, ravines and trees with a permanent, spring-fed creek trickling through the middle. The Metis wintered here. The Lakota took refuge here. The Boundary Commission had a depot and storehouse here which proved a life-saver for the starving North West Mounted Police on their westward march. And now we come here to rest, relax, rejuvenate and learn.

Wood Mountain Regional Park.
This is the perfect place to camp for a couple of days while you explore everything the area has to offer (even St. Victor Petroglyphs, last week’s post, is accessible from here). The campground offers some full-service and electric-only sites as well as many non-serviced sites. It can be full, especially at Stampede time. In addition to a picnic area and playground, it also manages the swimming pool, much improved and expanded since my day.

The Post, ca 1900 (Photo credit: Moose Jaw Public Library, Archives Dept.)

Wood Mountain Post Provincial Historic Site:
The Canadian Government formed the North West Mounted Police in 1873 after a group of drunken American wolfers massacred a band of Assiniboine camped outside Farwell’s post in the Cypress Hills. The first contingent of the Mounties marched west in 1874 and established a post here that year at the Boundary Commission’s depot.

The Wood Mountain post was never permanent. After one year of operation, it was closed when the NWMP built Fort Walsh in the Cypress Hills. It was reopened when the Lakota fled northward to the Wood Mountain area after the Battle of Greasy Grass in 1876. It was all but closed after 1881 by which time most of the Lakota had returned to the USA. It regained some importance during the Riel Rebellion of 1885 because the Canadian Government feared the numerous Metis living in the area might join Louis Riel and the Metis at Batoche. Afterwards, there were bootleggers to deal with. And rustlers. And the occasional other crime.

It was permanently closed in the early 20th century and the buildings torn down. It may have disappeared from view but not from the memory of the people who lived there (the location was always pointed out to us Woodboia campers on every hike). In the 1970s, Saskatchewan declared it a Provincial Historic Site. They marked the building locations, rebuilt one building which serves as an interpretive centre and conducted archaeological excavations. there.

Wood Mountain Stampede:
This is Canada’s oldest stampede, first held in 1890. It’s not your glitzy Calgary Stampede. No, this is a down-home kind of rodeo that is all about riding and roping and celebrating all things cowboy. There’s the arena, the stock pens, a grandstand (when I was a kid, the roof was covered with freshly cut willows and aspen branches) and the concession stand, all surrounded by horse trailers, RVs of various sorts, and lots of real live cowboys who are willing to talk with you, have their picture taken with you, maybe even let you sit on their horse. You’re close enough to the arena you can smell the manure and hear the cowboys grunt, the horses’ hooves strike the ground, and the “smack cer-runch!” as a cowboy hits the ground.

Heading back to camp (behind the trees) after Vesper service; swimming pool on the right

Camp Woodboia:
The United Church of Canada established Camp Woodboia in 1949 as both a religious and an outdoor experience. I learned to swim at there. Every summer from about 1956 to 1964, I flailed my way across the pool to earn another Red Cross pin marking my progress from Beginner to Junior to Intermediate (I left for university before I earned my Senior pin). We held Vesper services on Sitting Bull’s Hill, hiked over to visit Mrs. Elizabeth Ogle , a Lakota artist who always welcomed us as if we were her own grandchildren, and listened to Lakota elders tell stories of times gone by. We hiked through the bush, had cook-outs, washed in the creek, formed friendships and, yes, attended Bible study. But most of all, it was a place of wonder for all of us who came from the farmland to the north where trees grew only because they had been planted.

The Rodeo and Ranch Museum:
Don’t let the small size of the building fool you. It is filled chock-a-block with exhibits about ranching and rodeo and all the people — Metis, English, Lakota, Romanian, Serbian, American and others — who lived, worked and played here. It has a nice little book store, too. It’s well worth the visit.

Wood Mountain Lakota Reserve
Not all the Lakota returned to the USA in 1881. Several remained here, the foundation of Canada’s only Lakota reserve, and became an integral part of the Wood Mountain ranching and rodeo community. Even though they did not take treaty, the Government allotted them a reserve here in the Wood Mountain Uplands. However, during World War I, the same government took away a substantial amount of the land to give to European ranchers and returning soldiers. After a 10-year long court battle, the Lakota and the Canadian government have reached a tentative settlement whereby the Lakota will be able to purchase up to 5,700 acres of land to replace what was taken.

#SaskatchewanHistory #WoodMountainUplands #ChildhoodMemories #WoodMountainPost #WoodMountainStampede #RodeoRanchMuseum #CampWoodboia #Lakota #Highway18 #MargaretGHanna

The Wood Mountain Uplands (Part 1)

The Lakota called them mistiko waci. The first Europeans called them La Montagne de Bois or Woody Mountain. Today, this region is officially called the Wood Mountain Uplands. We just call it Wood Mountain.

This region of flat-topped hills, wooded ravines, springs and streams extends almost 100 miles along the Saskatchewan-Montana border, from Big Muddy in the east to the Cypress Hills in the west. It’s high, up to 1000 meters above sea level, high enough that it was not covered by ice during the last glaciation.

For untold generations, it was a wintering area for the Metis, Lakota, Plains Cree and Southern Nakota (Assiniboine) people. This was the region where Sitting Bull and his Lakota sought refuge after the Battle of Greasy Grass (otherwise known as the Battle of Little Bighorn). A well-worn “pitching trail”(camp-moving trail) ran from here to what is now known as Moose Jaw, and became the basis for the Pole Trail that the North West Mounted Police and homesteaders followed into the “south” country. Various notorious outlaws – Butch Cassidy and his Wild Bunch (including the Sundance Kid), Dutch Henry, and Sam Kelly – as well as lesser known rustlers, thieves and general ne’er-do-wells used it as a hide-out, evading the law. It is now primarily ranching country, and home to Canada’s only Lakota First Nation reserve.

In the heart of this region are two places of interest: St. Victor Petroglyphs (this week), and the Wood Mountain Regional Park complex (next week).

St. Victor Petroglyphs Provincial Historic Site
First, the sad news: It is now impossible to experience this place the way I did as a child. I will tell you why below.

These petroglyphs (rock carvings) are carved into a horizontal, loosely consolidated sandstone outcropping that lies a few miles south of, and overlooking, the tiny village of St. Victor. We are not sure how old they are – possibly 1000 to 1500 years old, – who carved them and why, although that hasn’t stopped people, especially archaeologists, from speculating.

Nevertheless, it is a place of great beauty, a place of contemplation and a place of wonder. And for us young kids, a place to scamper up the hillside (or, if we were brave, to climb straight up the rock face) ahead of our much slower parents. Once on top, we walked carefully across the outcropping, taking care not to step on any of the carvings, checking out our favourites, and then stood still to gaze northward across the descending slopes and cultivated fields to the horizon, 40 miles away, where the town of Assiniboia was barely visible in the haze. Montague Lake lay just to the northeast. We heard the wind rustle the leaves on the trees below. We heard birds singing. And we were always sad when our parents herded us back below to head back home.

The sandstone that made it easy for ancient Indigenous people to carve the petroglyphs is also its inherent weakness. Over the centuries, the freeze-thaw cycle created a myriad of cracks and fissures, some fairly deep. One day in the 1990s, one of those fissures gave way and a huge piece of the rock face, including many of the petroglyphs, calved off and fell into the valley below.

The Parks Department decided it was no longer safe to allow people to access the outcropping. They took down the stairs and the boardwalk they had built some years earlier to facilitate visiting, rerouted access and built a tall chain-link fence around the outcropping. Now you can only view at a distance, which is unfortunate because you can no longer feel that you are a part of the place, as I did when I was a child.

#Saskatchewan #StVictorPetroglyphs #WoodMountainUplands #SouthernSaskatchewan #SaskatchewanHistory #SaskatchewanArchaeology #IndigenousHeritage #MargaretGHanna #SaskatchewanHighway13