The Cypress Hills Massacre

The Cypress Hills Massacre

The Cypress Hills Massacre at a camp of the Nakoda First Nation, resulting in the massacre of Elders, warriors, women, and children happened on June 1, 1873, in Battle Creek, NWT (now in Saskatchewan). It involved American bison hunters, American wolfers, American and Canadian whiskey dealers, Métis freighters, and an Assiniboine camp. During the battle, 13 Assiniboine warriors and one wolfer killed. The Cypress Hills Massacre spurred the Canadian government to speed up the North-West Mounted Police's recruiting and deployment.  

What Happened?

On their way back from their winter hunt, a small group of Canadian and American wolfers commanded by Thomas W. Hardwick and John Evans campled on Teton River. Their horses vanished overnight while camping on the river. Assuming their horses had been kidnapped by "Indians," the men walked five miles to Fort Benton, Montana Territory, and pleaded for help retrieving them. But when the Fort Benton officials refused to help, Hardwick organized his own expedition to recover the stolen horses. Thirteen guys, including Americans and Canadians, were in the party.

The troop raced north from Fort Benton over the line to find the stolen horses. They made it to Abe Farwell's tiny trading station in the Cypress Hills. They saw George Hammond, an old acquaintance of Evans and Hardwick, who was selling whiskey nearby. Later, Hammond joined Hardwick's crew in looking for the horses.

The leader of a small Assiniboine clan camping near the trading station, Little Soldier, had no horses with him. A short search revealed that Little Soldier had not taken their horses, so Evans, Hammond, and the rest of the wolfers retreated for the night to Farwell's trading station, where they drank Farwell's whiskey with a party of newly arrived Métis freighters.

The next morning, Hammond reported that one of Little Soldier's men had stolen his horse again and set off towards Little Soldier's camp, requesting that the wolfers follow him. So did the wolfers and Métis.

(Please Note : There were no trustworthy witnesses to the skirmish, therefore historical versions disagree. According to the best data:)

Abe Farwell testified he restrained Hammond to prevent violence. Hammond inquired about the lost horse. Little soldier replied that his party had not kidnapped the horse but rather it was grazing nearby. Little Soldier's and Hammond's parties were both intoxicated, and discussions broke down. But when women and children fled the camp and Little Soldier's men started taking off their clothes in preparation for fight, the situation became heated.

The wolfers saw this as a sign to fight and formed a line fifty yards outside the Assiniboine camp. Abe Farwell appealed with the wolfers not to fire in a last desperate attempt to prevent bloodshed. Then Farwell saw Hammond discharge his weapon, ending their talks. The remainder of the wolfers shot volleys into the camp, shielded by the riverbank. A few Assiniboine returned fire, but were unable to engage because of the wolfers' protection.

The overall number of casualties recorded varies greatly. Hardwick lost one of his men, Ed Legrace, but the Assiniboine lost more. According to Donald Graham, who joined the wolfers at Fort Benton and accompanied them to the Cypress Hills, 13 of Little Soldier's men were killed in the firefight. The wolfers buried Legrace in a hut and set it on fire. Some say Legrace's wooden casket is still there.

The atrocity site was declared a National Historic Site in 1964. Fort Walsh National Historic Site has preserved artifacts from the Cypress Hills Massacre, as well as reproductions of Farwell and Solomon's trade stations. 

Maple Creek, Saskatchewan


The Cypress Hills Massacre was not well recognized in Canada until late August 1873. The Canadian government quickly moved to extradite the suspects from the US to face murder charges, generating a rift between the two countries. The matter was eventually taken up by the newly formed North-West Mounted Police (NWMP). The conflict between the Assiniboine warriors and Hardwick's wolf-hunting crew at Cypress Hills was one of the motivations for its creation.

Share Tweet Pin it
Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.