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Indigenous Immigrants and Refugees in the North American Borderlands by Brenden W. Rensink, Texas A&M Press, 2018

Chapter 2, Note 25 (pages 43 and 231)

A policy of tracking, numbering, and deporting “foreign Indians” quickly emerged (p. 43)

…for sources on the evolving prejudice and US military reactions to Cree activities in Montana (p. 231)

The late-1870s and early 1880s marked a shift in US military policy towards Crees, making Montana much less welcoming. Hence, while remaining traders at Fort Belknap rejoiced in the “prospect of a large and profitable trade” in the winter of 1879-80, Army officials condemned the “unauthorized and illegal trading with Indians” in the region.[1] “Cannot something be done to prevent these [British Indian] incursions?” questioned one Montana officer.[2] The Army had never delighted in the transnational Cree presence, but the declining sway of fur trading interests finally allowed military concerns over border security and order to trump waning economic interests. In short order, transnational Crees went from welcomed economic actors to suspicious border-crossers to military threats who needed to be expelled from the territory. A policy of tracking, numbering, and deporting so-defined “foreign Indians” quickly emerged.

Increasingly, the the concerns of the US Army aligned with ranchers and homesteaders, as the fur trade influence vanished. Despite concerted efforts in the summer of 1881 to establish border security, autumn brought continued uncertainty as previously deported bands of Crees hovered just north of the boundary.[3] Montanans’ fears of their proximity were validated when Crees crossed south again in late September and mid-October. First, word made its way to Fort Benton that Crees were driving off cattle and horses on the Price & Co. ranch on the Marias.[4] In a matter of weeks, one hundred lodges of Crees were reported in the big bed of the Milk River, but were said to being doing no damage. A detachment of 300 troops from Ft. Assiniboine set out in October to drive a camp of Canadian “half breeds” on the Milk River north of the line.[5] It may have been this group that later, a detachment stumbled upon two-hundred lodges of Crees camped on Woody Island Creek, north of the Milk River and just a few miles south of the border. Possibly consisting of the familial bands anticipated earlier in August, no resistance was offered, and the Crees left the next day towards the line.[6] For Cree bands, movement within the strip of land between the South Saskatchewan and Milk Rivers, divided laterally by the border, was undertaken regularly and with little regard for the international line. The environs between the two waters provided a natural corridor for their hunting and foraging and the bisection of this naturally-bounded geography was entirely arbitrary in their perspective. Their appearance south of and apparent dispassionate return north of the line speaks to the regularity and unfettered, almost nonchalant, nature of their border traverses.

[1] “Indian Movements,” Benton Record, January 9, 1880; and G. S. Turner to Col. Black, June 3, 1881, Fort Assiniboine Telegrams Received, 1881, Collection 2457, (Ft. Assiniboine Telegrams), Montana State University Archives (MSU), Bozeman, MT.

[2] W. L. Lincoln to Thomas Ruger, September 23, 1879, Fort Assiniboine Records (Assiniboine Records), MC 46, Box 1, Folder 2. See also W. L. Lincoln to Major Morris, September 7, 1881 and Thomas Ruger to Fort Assiniboine, September 14, 1881, Assiniboine Records, MC 46, Box 1, Folder 3; and Cpt. Kline (Fort morris) to Lt. Bates, May 4, 1883, Assiniboine Records, MC 46, Box 1, Folder 5. From the Canadian side, there was apparent awareness that U.S. Army officials were attempted to defend the border and prevent southern incursions, but as most of the Buffalo were south of the line along the Milk River, many crossed the line regardless. See RG 10, Black Series, Volume 3740, Files 28748-1 and 28748-2, Reel c-10130, National Archives of Canada (NAC).

[3] G.S. Turner to Fort Assinboine, September 10, 1881, Ft. Assiniboine Telegrams, MSU.

[4] “Indians on the Marias,” Daily Independent, September 30, 1881.

[5] “A Little Indian News,” Benton Weekly Record, October 13, 1881; and C. E. Denny to Fort Walsh, October 12, 1881, RG 10, Black Series, Volume 3770, File 33,725, Reel c-10135, NAC.

[6] Gustavus Doane to Mary Hunter Doane, October 22, 1881, Doane Letters, MSHS. Other sources report that the camp may have been as large as 1,600 lodges, or 8,000 individuals. See Winners of the West, 8:10 (September 30, 1931).