North West Mounted Police

Fort Livingstone was more commonly referred to as the "Swan River Barracks".

Fort Pelly/Swan River Barracks

 Colonel French was appalled when he arrived at the Swan River Barracks near Fort Pelly in late October. The government had decided that headquarters should be established at Swan River instead of Fort Ellice and the change in plans meant that construction did not start until September. When the force arrived, the buildings were only partially finished. The Commissioner left a small detachment under Inspector Carvell, and pushed onward with the rest of the men.

Not only were the buildings inadequate, the detachment was situated on a wind-swept hill covered in huge boulders. Some of the men were assigned to breaking the rocks and clearing a space for buidings and parade ground while others were sent off to find and cut hay for the horses and oxen. The men spent a cold winter with snow blowing into the buildings through large cracks between the green logs. Most of the horses and oxen died from their efforts of the previous summer and the poor winter feed. When spring returned, the men found that their post had been established on a hibernaculum - snakes, awoken from their winter hibernation, were everywhere!

The men had arrived at the new barracks with their uniforms in tatters and dressed in whatever clothing they could purchase along the way. Fred Bagley summed up the new uniform: "The uniform of Trumpeter Fred A. Bagley, of the North West Mounted Police Force consists, at the present time, of rough red shirt, moleskin trousers (barndoor), brogan shoes, and long stockings, topped off by a disreputable helmet, all miles too big for him. Ichabod. The glory has departed."

The glory had departed even further by the following summer when Commissioner French returned to inspect the men. "July 7, 1875 - General parade of "E" Troop for inspection by Colonel French. The Troop, for this important parade, donned their best 'Undress' which consisted largely of deerskin jackets and trousers, all profusely fringed; large fox fur caps with the tails hanging down the backs of the men wearing them, with here and there throught the ranks a remnant of scarlet showing.

"Colonel French rides to the parade ground, and accosts one who appears to be the chief bandit, and indicating the 'E" Troop ragamuffins, enquires: 'What is this, Captain Carvell?', and is answered with: 'My troop, Sir, paraded for inspection by you as per orders.' One fierce look, and a hasty 'Good God' from the Colonel, and then turning about and spurring his thoroughbred mare he is off like a shot." Swan Barracks remained headquarters until 1876. In spite of being on the proposed railway and telegraph route, the post was too distant from the rest of the posts and the core of the action.

© Rick Kurtz 2011