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Key Number: HS 22656
Site Name: Fort Whoop Up (Fort Hamilton #2)
Other Names:
Site Type: 0417 - Mercantile/Commercial: Fur Trading Post
1311 - Governmental: Police Station or Post
1910 - Archaeological Site


ATS Legal Description:
Twp Rge Mer
8 22 4

Near Town: Lethbridge


Type Number Date View


Plan Shape:
Superstructure Cover:
Roof Structure:
Roof Cover:
Exterior Codes:
Exterior: N/A
Interior: Interior enclosed by large heavy doors and the storeroom, stables and living rooms of all the quarters were connected.
Alterations: N/A


Construction: Construction Date:
Usage: Usage Date:
Whisky trading post / Fur Trade Post
Owner: Owner Date:
Mr. Alfred A. Hubbard
Architect: N/A
Builder: William S. Gladstone.
Craftsman: N/A
History: Period occupied: Winter quarters from August 1882 to 1898.
Originally centre of trading activities in southern Alberta. Became known as Fort Whoop Up. Deserted in 1874 with exception of one trader, Dave Akers. A local cairn marks the site.
Prime function of Fort: suppression of illicit whiskey trading and supervision of trails to and from the Blood Indian Reserve.
* * *
After the original fort was destroyed by fire this new, larger fort was built. This much larger post was completed in 1870 until the arrival of the N.W.M.P. in 1874. After '74 the fort was used from time to time by N.W.M.P. patrols. Gerald L. Berry reports that the major portion of this second post was also destroyed by fire in 1888.

Fort Whoop Up and Stand Off were major centre for 'American Whiskey Traders' in Southern Alberta. They were a target for the first arrivals among the Mounted Police and they harboured some of the first Caucasians who ventured to stay in Blackfoot territory.
* * *
Site Description:
The archaeological remains of Fort Whoop-up occupy a portion of the river valley plain near the confluence of the Belly and St. Mary Rivers. Fort Whoop-up was a whisky trading post operated by American free traders between 1870 and 1874 when it was closed down on the arrival of the North West Mounted Police in the North-West Territories.

Historical Significance:
This fort was one of a number of whisky posts established by American free traders in Southern Alberta during the late 1860s and early 1870s. The movement of American free traders into this region developed after the American government began to enforce laws that prohibited trading liquor with the Indians. The activities of the Americans in Southern Alberta was unhindered until the appearance of an effective police force, in the form of the North West Mounted.
The original Fort to occupy the site was called Fort Hamilton after its builder, Alfred Hamilton. It was burned down by the Blackfoot shortly after its construction in 1867 and replaced by a more substantial structure which was called Fort Whoop-up. The activities of the whisky traders, the Indians who traded with them and the police who drove them out have left a record of their material culture in the soil of the site. The era was a crucial period in Western Canadian history and the clash of three cultures - American, Native, and Eastern Canadian - left its mark on the province.

Architectural Significance:
Fort Whoop-Up was constructed in 1871 for Alfred Hamilton and his partner John Healy by John Gladstone, a former Hudson's Bay Company ship's carpenter. He had a large crew assisting him with its construction and the building cost $25,000. There were three methods of log construction employed at the Fort. The two bastions were dovetailed and square timbered. The palisade was of 'poteaux en terre' construction, a method that was used throughout North America. This method involved the placement of logs vertically side by side in a trench. Not only was it simple to build palisades employing this method, but the walls were strong and kept the inhabitants safe from attack. The interior buildings used the 'piece sur piece' method of construction which was often employed by the Hudson's Bay Company.

This method was often used when only short logs were available. The logs were placed horizontally on each other and supported by vertical logs, chinked to hold the horizontal logs in place.

Fort Whoop-up was an expensive fort. The workmanship of the fort was superior as were the materials used in its construction. The great care exercised building the fort illustrate the interest certain Americans had in firmly ensconcing the whisky traders in southern Alberta.

* * *
Fort Whoop-Up came to symbolize the decade of lawlessness that characterized what is now southern Alberta from the mid-1860s to the mid 1870s. In its own right, it was the most notorious of about 26 whiskey trading posts that sprang up in southern Alberta during the period 1869-74. The presence of these posts in British Canada forced the government of the day to organize and dispatch westward the para-military body known as the North West Mounted Police. Thus, law and order preceded settlement on the Canadian Plains and we were spared the usual tragedies of the frontier. This is the real significance of Fort Whoop-Up and the reason why it deserved recognition as an Historic Resource. Also, like it or not, it represented the beginnings of commerce in southern Alberta and through Nicholas Sheran, was closely connected with the opening of the first commercial coal mine in Alberta.
* * *
In 1869 a party of Montana adventurers unloaded a bull train a few miles south of here at the confluence of the Oldman and St. Mary Rivers and built Fort Whoop-Up. They were burned out in '70 but built a bigger and better fort the same year to trade blankets, guns and whiskey to the Blackfoot for buffalo robes 'n such. They lit out for the border in '74 when the Mounties came to the West.
78 words December, 1958 Location: On Highway 3, west of Lethbridge
(Sign removed in 1961)
* * *
Draft Press Release Edmonton, Alberta

The Honourable Dennis L. Anderson, Minister of Culture, announced today that the Fort Whoop-Up Archaeological Site has been designated a Provincial Historic Resource.

Fort Whoop-Up was a whiskey trading post constructed in 1870 near the confluence of the Belley and St. Mary Rivers in southern Alberta. The excesses resulting from the American whiskey trade resulting in the determination to bring Alberta under the full control of the Canadian Government and hastened the formation of the North West Mounted Police. Fort Whoop-Up, the largest of the whiskey trading posts, was closed-down by the N.W.M.P. only four years later, in 1874.

Fort Whoop-Up was the most important of the whiskey posts constructed in southern Alberta. The Fort was built form over 6,000 hewn and squared cottonwood logs, for a cost of over $10,000. The walls, built of timbers set upright within a trench, were flanked by bastions on the northeast and southwest corners. These projected beyond the wall, and allowed flanking fire in the event of an attack. Loopholes for rifle fire, a small bronze cannon, and a six-pounder howitzer provided the traders with a measure of security. Within the walls various buildings, including dwellings, blacksmith shops, store rooms, a stable and a trading room.

Fort Whoop-Up was the center for the whiskey trade. In return for a vile concoction of substances which bore no relationship to real whiskey, the Indians were induced to trade vast quantities of buffalo robes and hides. While the trade enriched a number of traders, it contributed greatly to violence among the Indians. Strong moral outrage at the practice, and concern over American penetration of southern Alberta, lead the march westward of the N.W.M.P. The police arrived at Fort Whoop-Up in 1874, to find the gates open and the traders long fled. Within a year, southern Alberta had become a more decent place for Indian and white alike.

Fort Whoop-Up was used for a number of years as a N.W.M.P. outpost.
Ultimately, the buildings disappeared leaving only archaeological remains. These buried materials are especially important since few historic records are available for this important era of southern Alberta history.
* * *


Fort Whoop-Up was located three miles southwest of the modern city of Lethbridge, at the confluence of the St. Mary and the Oldman Rivers.
The Fort was built at the end of the notorious 'Whoop-up Trail' which ran from Fort Benton, Missouri north for 210 miles into the North West Territories. The trail developed in the 1860s after the American government began to enforce laws that prohibited trading liquor with the Indians. The halting of the liquor trade across the border forced the Americans to make forays into the unpoliced North West Territories to continue their lucrative trade.
At the same time the increasing presence of settlers in the American West forced both the native and the buffalo north and to maintain trade links with the natives, the American traders found it useful to have centres of operation in the Territories.

During this period the whisky traders established a number of forts in what is now southern Alberta. Apart from Fort Whoop-up these included Forts Kipp, Standoff, Slide Out and Robber's Roost. Fort Whoop-up was the largest of these Forts.

Actually, the original Fort to occupy the site was called Fort Hamilton, after its builder, the American whisky trader, Alfred Hamilton. The fort was burnt down by the Blackfoot shortly after its construction in 1869 so Hamilton and his partner built the larger more elaborate fort known as Fort Whoop-up.

The stories explaining the origin of the fort's name are legion.
Perhaps the most credible is the one about the whisky trader, who, when asked how business was, replied that he was busy buying liquor and 'whooping it up across the border'.

After the first fort burnt down, Healy and Hamilton hired William Gladestone, a former boat builder with the Hudson's bay Company, to construct a new fort. His building skills were much in demand throughout southern Alberta in the 1870s and he is thought to have built some of the other whisky trading posts. Thirty men worked with Gladestone on the $25,000 project.

The outer palisade was constructed of squared cottonwood logs, at least twelve feet in length placed side by side in a protective rampart. There were large bastions at two of the corners which held small cannon. The gates were large and heavily barricaded. Adjacent to the gates were three wickets, through which the Indians traded.

Inside the heavily barricaded gates, the buildings ran parallel to the stockades on three sides. All windows on the interior buildings faced inwards, for further protection. Also, all chimneys were covered with iron bars to prevent attackers entering the structures if they broached the walls. The interior buildings were well protected with two cannon, reputed to be the first in the North west Territories.

They were also well stocked so that the traders (sometimes as many as 38) could remain inside for a number days if the native population went on a spree after a trading session.

In order to finance the fort's construction, Healy and Hamilton received considerable support from the Fort, Benton, Montana, merchants whose livelihood depended on large numbers of buffalo skins coming into their town from the territories every year. Sir Cecil Denny recalls seeing 20,000 buffalo skins piled high on wagons heading to Fort Benton in the fall of 1876. Buffalo skins were in demand in the late 1860s and early 1870s not only for coats and clothing but also because, when tanned, they produced a very strong leather that was used as belting in the industrial machinery of the factories of the East. Of course buffalo were not the only tradeable commodity since ponies and coyote skins could also fetch a fair trade in blankets and weapons.

There were two major Benton firms involved in the whisky trade, that of I.G. Baker and T.C. Power. The trade links with I.G. Baker and Company were particularly strong because Alfred Hamilton was Baker's nephew. Thus, when $25,000 for the construction of Fort Whoop-up was needed, it was not difficult for Hamilton to obtain the cash, particularly for such a lucrative enterprise. Financing the whisky traders did not require a great deal of capital, as liquor was cheap and easily obtainable. Thus, both Powers and Baker had large numbers of traders working for them.

After the arrival of the North West Mounted Police and the eradication of the whisky traders, both T.C. Power and I.G. Baker continued to carry on legitimate trade in southern Alberta. In fact, I.G. Baker supplied the North West Mounted Police with their first winter's food supply. So great was the business between the North West Mounted Police and the Benton merchants, that it has been estimated that over half the 1875 North West Mounted Police expenditures were paid to them.

Prices varied for buffalo skins from three to five dollars for a split buffalo robe and from five to ten dollars for a whole one. This was, of course, paid in kind, usually by the cupful of whisky. The whisky was a particularly vile liquid, watered down and cut with ginger, tobacco juice, and peppers and various other substances. Despite its weakness it seriously affected the Indians and led to terrible alcoholism among them.
The whiskey was dispensed to the Indians through wickets cut in the strong main gates of the fort. Col. Sam Steele described the operation in his reminiscences:

The trader stood at the wicket, a tubful of whisky beside him
and when an Indian pushed in a buffalo robe to him through
the hole in the wall he handed out a tin cupful of the
poisonous decoction. A quart of the stuff bought a fine
pony. When spring came, wagonloads of the proceeds of the
traffic were escorted to Fort Benton, Montana, some 200 odd
miles south of the border line.

The Canadian government centred much attention on the whisky trade and its adverse influence on the Indians. In 1872, prompted by complaints from the Hudson's Bay Company, they sent Colonel P. Robertson - Ross, commanding officer of the Canadian Militia, to investigate the conditions in the West and report back to them. His report told of extensive lawlessness amongst the Indians, presumably induced by widespread drunkeness. He suggested the formation of a force to patrol the West. Other reports of a similar nature came from an appointees of Lieutenant-Governor of Manitoba, W.F. Butler, from Sir Sandford Fleming, the Reverends McDougall and Father Lacombe. Their reports engendered genuine concern on the part of the Dominion government for the plight of the Blackfeet, Piegans and other Plains Indians. They depicted them as an unfortunate people who were victims not only of the whisky trade but also of small pox, savage attacks by white traders and the impending extinction of the buffalo. The Hudson's Bay Company also lodged complaints because they found the whisky trade a serious impediment to their commercial enterprises.

They found it impossible to break into the large geographic area south of the Red Deer River because the Americans had control of the region.
This control was exercised not only because the Americans offered the Indians whisky, which was much in demand but also because of the periodic acts of violence by which the Americans frightened the Indians into submission.

The Hudson's Bay Company's failure to gain a foothold on the southern part of the province meant that profits from the hunting of buffalo on Dominion soil did not stay in Canada. The sense of economic inequality that this sparked, coupled with a genuine concern for the 'natives', prompted the formation of the North West Mounted Police.

The Act establishing the North West Mounted Police was passed in May 1873. The force arrived in the North West Territories in the fall of 1874 after their historic four month trek across the uninhabitated prairies. One of their first tasks upon their arrival in what is now southern Alberta was to be the closure of the notorious Fort Whoop-up, centre of the whisky trade. They expected to have a major confrontation at the fort and Colonel Macleod and his men headed out prepared for a fight. They were accompanied by Jerry Potts, the force's guide and interpreter. However, the traders had evidently been tipped off of the imminent arrival of the force and fled south of the border. Macleod and his men were greeted genially by Dave Akers, who managed the fort for the Benton merchants. They were invited to stay for dinner, did so, and thus ended the colourful history of Fort Whoop-up.

* * *
Fort Remains Uncovered

By Brent Harker Of The Herald

A provincial government archaeologist has discovered portions of the perimeter walls of the original Fort Whoop-Up.
'All of the wooden remains are rotten but still discernible,' Michael Forsman, who studies historic sites for Alberta Culture, said Monday.
The remains are buried under 10 to 20 centimetres of silt from flooding on the riverbottom.

Forsman and two assistants, Alice Cervo and Denny Chorney, have just completed an exploratory dig on the site. They've backfilled their trenches to return the land to its natural state.

Two whisky-trading forts were built at the site about six kilometers south of Lethbridge by John J. Healy and Alfred B. Hamilton. The first, in 1869, was small and rudely constructed, according to a history published about a month ago by local writer Georgia Fooks. It burned to the ground within a year, and the second was built in 1870.

The second fort, much larger and better built, is the familiar Fort Whoop-Up.
Forsman also discovered something that should have been obvious to relic collectors who have pock-marked the area with illegimitimate digs. A North West Mounted Police map of the fort area in 1874 is inaccurate.

'The map-maker didn't know the difference between north and west,' Forsman said.
What is shown as north on the map is actually west. Some pot hunters have burrowed into the ground on a spot they thought was in the fort but is actually outside its walls.

While searching for remains of the walls, Forsman said, he turned up ceramic wares, bison bones, square nails and bottles of Hostetter's Bitters and Perry Davis Vegetable Pain Killer. Both medicines, high in alcoholic content, were used to give more wallop to Whoop-Up Walloop, which was mixed at the fort.
Forsman said he began the dig assuming the map was correct and found no evidence of walls where there should have been walls. But when he turned the map 90 degrees everything fit.

The only feature of the fort which is intact is the well. Using the well as a reference point, Forsman found logs for the palisade wall to the north.
The incorrect map means assumptions that the first fort was southeast of Fort Whoop-Up are wrong. It was actually northeast and is now smack in the middle of where the Oldman River runs now.

Forsman said the purpose of the exploratory dig was to determine the accurate location of the sites of both forts, with their exact dimensions, and assess possible danger to the sites from river erosion.

Chorney and Cervo set up a survey line Monday which will be used to measure how quickly the river eats its way toward the remaining fort.
Forsman said there's been a great deal of river erosion recently. The last major flood, which washed silt over the whole area, was in 1948.
He said he doesn't think the site is a designated historical resource, but it might become one.

'This is the first major interest Alberta Culture has shown in the site' and the first professional dig, he said.
'It could lead to a major dig, particularly if riverbank erosion continues at its present rate.'
Healy and Hamilton used the fort to make their fortunes trading whisky for buffalo robes until 1874 when the NWMP arrived. The force found it occupied by Dave Akers when they arrived. Fooks' history says Akers wanted $25,000 for it, but the police offered $10,000. No deal was made and they moved on to build Fort Macleod.

Fooks says much of the fort was destroyed by a fire started by sparks from a fireplace in 1888. Forsman said a layer of ash and coal fragments just above the wooden remains verifies that much of the fort was burned.

It's reported that Akers lived in the main building, which escaped the fire, until 1894, and various settlers occupied it well into the 1900s until it decayed.
* * *
Plaque status: Plaqued in 1970.
Whisky post, led to formation of North West Mounted Police.


Status: Status Date:

Designation Status: Designation Date:
Federally Designated
Provincial Historic Resource
Record Information: Record Information Date:
K. Williams 1989/07/21


Alberta Register of Historic Places: 4665-0219
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