History of Frenchman Butte

The very high hill north of the North Saskatchewan River, today known as Frenchman Butte, was a prominent landmark to the Indians long before the arrival of the white man.  What did they call it?  Certainly nothing about a Frenchman.  So how did the word "Frenchman" become attached to it?  Since there doesn't appear to be any official documentation we need to listen to "oral" history.  

The trouble with oral histroy is that it leads to speculation and variations in the telling.  Therefore we must look at the facts of the circumstances. 

We need to go back to fur trade days when the Hudson's Bay Company first brought white men to the west.  For many years these men went no further than the posts on the Bay.  They depended on the Indians bringing their furs to them.  By the mid1700's French traders and explorers sponsored by Montreal merchants had reached the western interior.  The Indians were easily persuaded to trade with them instead of making the long journey to the Bay. Thus the HBC was forced to set up inland posts.  Trading posts, large and small, leap frogged up the rivers ever further westward.  In this lawless land competition became vicious and violent.  At greatest risk were men, not connected with any company, going it alone in temporary shelters.  They were known as "free traders".  

Such a "free trader" was a certain Frenchman who arrived here in the early 1800's.  HIs choice for a post: a well known native gathering place near a very high hill, close to the main river highway.  He must have been there for a few years; his method of baling and binding his fur packs became known to at least one other trader further west.  When one of his packs was presented at that post it was recognized and aroused suspicion.  A visit to his cabin revealed two murdered bodies.  Since he was not connected to any company there was no investigation.  That leaves many unanswered questions.  

Who was this man?  Who was his companion?  Why were they killed?  Who was the killer?

Although the "very high butte" has become a federal historic site it is not because of the above incident.  Rather, it commemorates the spot where, some 70 years later, the second last skirmish of the Northwest Rebellion occurred.  Numerous rifle pits dug by warriors and hostages can be seen there.  

In 1928 the railway came to the little settlement between the hill and the river.  It seems only natural that the station was called Frenchman Butte.  Homesteaders during the early 1900's led the economy from fur to farming.  Eventually the area became part of the Rural Municipality of Frenchman Butte No. 501.

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