|________________ CM . . .
. Volume VIII Number 3 . . . . October 5, 2001
Samuel Benfield Steele, North West Mounted Policeman extra-ordinaire was again back in Calgary. He was the epitome of a policeman, believing fanatically in 'image," and everything he did oozed it. The way he walked, sat on a horse, shot a gun, or even rested in a chair had the mark of a British military officer and the mould for a North West Mounted Policeman. Steele also possessed virtually every attribute one would expect of an officer of the law in Canada: dedication, honesty, a sense of fairness, pride, courage, and supreme confidence. Everyone he encountered -- white, Indian, or Metis -- found him to be a fair, genuinely respectable policeman.In 1885, the volunteer Alberta Field Force was mustered, under the command of General Thomas "Jingo" Strange. Their orders were to ride eastward and meet the main Canadian army which was marching from eastern Canada to do battle with the Metis and First Nation rebels who, during the North West Rebellion, controlled areas between Saskatoon and Prince Albert. General Strange knew that his force would not be safe unless he had an elite group of scouts to reconnoiter the dangerous territory ahead and on flanks of his slow moving contingent.
General Strange chose the North West Mounted Policeman Samuel Steele to head the scouts, and they soon became known as Steele's Scouts. In the course of the rebellion, the Scouts acquitted themselves admirably in the few skirmishes they fought against the rebels; however, they had no effect on the outcome of the conflict, and the men were discharged with little fanfare at the end of the rebellion.
The book is a straightforward narrative with little analytical gloss; some might consider it old fashioned and not particularly politically astute. However, Brown is to be commended for breathing new life into the story of these men. It focuses on the remarkable early career of Sam Steele before he rose to military prominence as the Commanding Officer of Edmonton's Lord Strathcona Horse Regiment in the Boer War and also as the Major General commanding the 2nd Canadian Division in the First World War and was knighted by the king in 1919.
The men who volunteered with Steele for service in the North West Rebellion had to be strong and resourceful. Brown provides his readers with an accurate portrayal of the ordinary soldier's life in the field. Through the many first-hand accounts written by Steele, the officers, and the men under his command, the arduous and dangerous conditions the men faced come to life. He continues his narrative of the Scouts into he twentieth century with a chapter that provides readers with glimpses into their lives after their moment of glory had faded into the obscurity of history.
A strong point of the book is Brown's inclusion of marvelous photographs gleaned from western Canadian archives, in particular, the great historical resource at Calgary's Glenbow Archives. An unexpected bonus is a small collection of pencil sketches done by a Captain Rutherford of the Alberta Field Force.
Canadian history teachers will be able to get good use from Steele's Scouts. It captures those few short months that ultimately marked the end of the old way of life in the Canadian West and were harbingers of the immigrant boom of the 1890s and the political and social direction Canada would take in the twentieth century.
Ian Stewart is a regular reviewer for CM and a reviewer of Canadian history for the book pages of the Winnipeg Free Press.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.