Monday, December 24, 2012

Scorched Earth: Kitchener's Boer War Counterinsurgency

A large group of horsemen of the Imperial
Yeomanry galloping over a plain. © IWM (Q 72318)
The old myth of the Boer War as one of the last gentlemanly wars, tied to romantic visions of honourable combatant knights, has long been revised and retired.  The conflict had no lack of ferocity and destruction, and the line between combatants and non-combatants was very much blurred.  The guerilla tactics of Boer commandos from 1900 posed a serious difficulty to the British Army. Attempts to curb the mobility of small groups of mounted riflemen included the use of blockhouses and barbed wire, with mobile columns attempting to press the Boers towards these defences. Ian Beckett notes in Modern Insurgencies and Counterinsurgencies (2001) that a more controversial method was the establishment of “concentration camps”, the destruction of houses and crops and the removal of livestock.

After the fall of Bloemfontein in the spring of 1900, Field Marshal Lord Roberts had ordered the protection of Boer property and allowed Boers considered loyal to return to their homes. After guerrillas began to emerge in the summer, however, Roberts ordered the destruction of houses close to vulnerable communications infrastructure. Other efforts to detract from guerrilla attacks were collective fines and the compulsion of Boer civilians to ride on trains.
Roberts policies may be deemed moderate. He rescinded less discriminate policies, and ordered the destruction of only those houses which were proven to be used by Boer fighters. From December of 1900, however, Roberts' successor Lord Kitchener extended the internment system to include both military prisoners and civilian refugees. Kitchener attempted to remove the entire Boer population from the veld. As he wrote in March 1901, "The refugee camps for women and surrendered boers [sic] are I am sure doing good work[;] it enables a man to surrender and not lose his stock and movable property . .. The women left in farms give complete intelligence to the boers of all our movements and feed the commandos in their neighbourhood". (Krebs, History Workshop, No. 33, p. 41)  
Kitchener’s internment policy was aimed at women as well, who were thought to be key figures in motivating the Boers. Women were originally rounded up to prevent them from spying for the Boers.  Yet as Paula Krebs suggests, this motivation was kept quiet, as it would admit that the women were incarcerated due to their military activities.  (Krebs, p.42)  Liberals and Irish M.P.s had been arguing that those in the camps were prisoners of war, not refugees.  In March of 1901, an exchange in the House of Commons evoked the gendered nature of imperialism.  Irish M.P. John Dillon asked, "What civilised government ever deported women? Had it come to this, that this Empire was afraid of women."  (Krebs, p.42)
"Garden of Remembrance, Aliwal North" 
Concentration Camp Memorial
License Creative Commons
AttributionNoncommercial Some rights reserved by G Bayliss
Beckett suggests that some women were held hostage to provoke Boer surrenders. Many women and children were condemned to a nomadic existence when their homes were razed.  Inside the camps, Boer children were subject to colonial indoctrination.  Research by Paul Zietsman notes that education provided in concentration camps attempted to Anglicize Boer children, which shows parallels with colonial aboriginal policies of assimilation behind residential schools. These policies invoked further political controversy back in Britain, especially when poor management of the camps led to the deaths of nearly one quarter of the 116,000 civilians detained.  When camp tents began to be populated by women and children, Britain, and especially British women, were alerted to a potential cause. 
After the uproar regarding the camps, Kitchener still claimed that their functional value outweighed the dissent.  In 1901, Kitchener claimed, "I wish I could get rid of these camps but it is the only way to settle the country and enable the men to leave their commandos and come in to their families without being caught and tried for desertion." (Krebs, p.43)
Typical group of Boer farmers at "Compensation" claims tent after war.Rodolphe Lemieux / Library and Archives Canada 1902-1903.
The success of these efforts is still debated among military historians.  It would not be the last time that the tactics of counterinsurgency led to political turmoil domestically.  Curiously, the tactic of burning farms was not as controversial as the camps themselves.  By May of 1902, somewhere in the range of 30,000 homes had been razed along with many acres of crops.  Larry Addington noted that Kitchener's tactics were very "un-Victorian", and observes the "systematic sweeps through Boer country foreshadowed American 'Search and Destroy' tactics during the Vietnam War nearly seventy years later." (Addington, Patterns of War since the Eighteenth Century, p.124).  Death rates are a matter of some debate, but figures of 25,000 Boer deaths, along with 12,000 black Africans.  The conflicts' brutal policy against non-combatants and domestic outrage at the harder facets of suppresion, resonate with students of twentieth-century counterinsurgency.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Review - James Wood's "Militia Myths"

James Wood.  Militia Myths: Ideas of the Canadian Citizen Soldier,
1896-1921.  Vancouver  University of British Columbia Press, 2011. 
368 pp.  $35.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-7748-1766-0.

Reviewed by William Pratt (University of Calgary)
Published on H-War (December, 2012)
Commissioned by Margaret Sankey

The patrimony of the Canadian militia myth is conventionally traced back to the first Anglican bishop of Toronto, John Strachan (1778-1867), who attributed British success in the War of 1812 to the stalwart Loyalist militia. The notion that citizen soldiers were the best way to defend the country has resonated in the country ever since. Indeed, Jack Granatstein's survey _Canada's Army: Waging War and Keeping the Peace_ opens with the statement that, "the central myth in the history of Canadian arms is, and always has been, that the colonists and citizens provide their own defence."[1] In the twentieth century, the old story of a Canadian Expeditionary Force composed of sturdy woodsmen, farmer's sons, and other pastoral citizenry that answered the call of Britain in 1914  has long been refuted by Canadian military historians. A recent work in the Studies in Canadian Military History series, co-published by the University of British Columbia Press and Canadian War Museum, proves, however, that Canada's militia myth has a much longer intellectual genealogy, and was by no means a static concept. As its author writes, "Although Canadians retained their confidence in citizen soldiers throughout the first decade of the twentieth century, the range of justifications they expressed in defence of that faith points not to a single all-encompassing militia myth but, rather, to a collection of competing and even contrary ideas by which they ordered their understanding of war" (p. 143).

James Wood's _Militia Myths: Ideas of the Canadian Citizen Soldier, 1896-1921_ examines the ideal of the trained militiaman in military rhetoric of the day, and the eventual replacement of this icon after the First World War by the archetype of the untrained civilian. The idea of the citizen soldier is defined by Wood as "a belief in the conviction that good citizens should provide for their own defence" (p. 10). Wood focuses largely on the literary and cultural elements of Canadian military journals, especially rhetoric found in the _Canadian Military Gazette, _which is systematically analyzed here for the first time_. _The work stems from the author's dissertation at Wilfrid Laurier University supervised by Roger Sarty, which is indicated by exhaustive citation and academic prose.

In search of the lineage of the militia myth, Wood delves much further than the War of 1812 into the traditions bestowed to the North American colonies in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. After the English Civil War and the Glorious Revolution of 1688, regular soldiers were regarded with a "mix of contempt and fear" (p .5). Oliver Cromwell's New Model Army connected standing armies to tyranny in the minds of many, and such ideas, when transplanted to North American soil, encouraged praise for the British North American militia in the War of 1812, and later the Dominion of Canada's nascent military exploits in the late nineteenth century. After noting these British antecedents, however, Wood writes that "In its Canadian context, the militia myth refers to a dangerously faulty memory of the War of 1812 and the ill-founded confidence of Canadians in the abilities of amateur citizen soldiers" (p. 11).
“Militia Training on the King’s Birthday,” by C.W. Jefferys, from The Picture Gallery of Canadian History, Vol 2. Toronto : Ryerson Press, 1945, p. 116.

In the Dominion this myth did not go unchallenged. The small instructional cadre of the Permanent Force and representatives of the British Army (especially the British General Officer Commanding the Canadian Militia) fought against the notion that partially trained citizen soldiers were enough for the purposes of Canadian defense. To these groups, Wood adds "an identifiable group of professionally minded militia officers whose efforts Canadian historians have mostly overlooked," who did not call for a professional standing army, yet railed against public apathy towards defense (p. 6).

Before the Boer War, the Canadian militia ideal was rooted in the home defense tradition, and strongly connected to marksmanship. Public apathy was shaken with the Venezuela Crisis of 1895-96 and the outbreak of the Spanish-American War in 1898. A revival of military interest emerged in the early years of the Laurier government. This enthusiasm was largely expressed in the proliferation of rifle shooting, both in paramilitary rifle clubs, and as formal training endeavors. Military reform was stifled by an aversion to standing armies until general officer commanding, Major General Sir Edward Thomas Henry Hutton, skillfully used the rhetoric of a "national army" to promote change. Hutton is shown to leverage a national appeal for the militia, working hard to popularize it in Quebec. He urged Canadians to take up universal military training on the Swiss model and encouraged marksmanship. Wood argues that while Hutton was successful in invigorating militarism in Canada, he was influenced by ideas that were already rooted in the debates of colonial militiamen. 

Despite this awakening, before the Boer War, the Canadian militia was, "more deeply involved in its social role than its military function" (p. 29).

The Boer War itself fostered notions that an armed citizenry could best regular soldiers, yet raised the problem of deploying a home defense militia overseas. Instead of the notion in the historical literature which suggests that militia officers believed in an untrained citizen soldier, the debate after the Boer War was instead focused on what degree of training was required (p. 94). The Dominion Militia Act of 1904 enshrined ideas that the colonial troops had performed well in the Boer War, and promoted the idea of a citizen army.

Wood argues that despite the contentions of historian C. P. Stacey, the period before 1909-10 was characterized by a conception of home defense against an American invasion. With the outbreak of the Great War, the focus shifted from a home defense force to an expeditionary force, and the eclipse of the active militia in popular esteem by the Canadian Expeditionary Force. In the years before the war, rhetoric increasingly dwelt on the responsibilities of citizenship when promoting military participation. As Wood notes, "Conditioned before the war to accept military service as a duty of citizenship in time of war, when the war in Europe turned into a national crusade and the CEF became a symbol of the nation-in-arms, this pre-war understanding of a citizen's duty became one of the foundations of conscription in 1917" (p. 212). Up to 1917, Canada's "home defence orientation" was associated with the "citizen soldier ideal" (p. 1). After conscription, the long-serving prewar militiaman was overshadowed by the notion of the innately talented civilian going straight from civvy-street to the battlefield with a modicum of training.While a host of newspapers and journals are listed in the bibliography, the main source of analysis is the _Canadian Military Gazette. _This was the only military journal to continue publication for the period studied. The journal was self-proclaimedly nonpartisan and reprinted articles on military themes from across the country. As with any discursive study of a print source, ascertaining the extent to which views expressed in the journal were read and accepted by Canadians is problematic. Wood notes that hundreds of men may have read a single copy in the mess, but it may be equally true that copies moldered without ever being read. That the journal was quoted by newspapers across the country is a good indicator that its columns carried some weight, as are frequent references in the _Canadian Annual Review of Public Affairs _(pp. 14-16).

In addressing the historiography of the ideas surrounding the Canadian militia, Wood grapples with both historical heavyweights and a new breed of contenders. Carl Berger's classic work on imperialist thought in Canada, _A Sense of Power _(1971), posited that Canadian nationalism was heavily influenced by, and compatible with, imperial ties to Britain. Wood challenges these imperial connections when applied to the militia, suggesting that, "the indigenous citizen soldier traditions of the country" were highly influential in forming imperial notions in Canada (p. 55). Militia criticisms of the Permanent Force often hinged on the British character of the regulars, blaming them for bending to the whims of patronage (pp. 58-64). Wood notes that while military reformers couched their criticisms in rhetoric which emphasized duty to the British Empire, the specific reforms they promoted advocated home defense (p. 143). Wood is especially set against the utility of gender studies in examining the militia. For example, he considers the approach of Mark Moss's _Manliness and Militarism: Educating young Boys in Ontario for War _(2001) to be ahistorical. While Moss argues that the cadet movement was an exercise in socialization and control, fostering militarism and patriotism, Wood contends that the long-term military aims were never overshadowed by progressive social prescriptions (p.163).

The extent to which the ideas in the _Canadian Military Gazette _and those expressed in the speeches of the Canadian Defence League or various general officers commanding were shared by the general public is, of course, questionable. Wood convincingly suggests that while at the beginning of the Laurier era, the general public was little interested in military affairs, by the time of the Dreadnought crisis in 1909-10, Canadians had awakened to military demands. The degree of sophistication of the civilian public's thoughts are challenged, however; Wood notes that "many Canadians simply enjoyed a good parade and felt, almost instinctively, that maintaining a national army was simply something that 'grown up' nations did" (p. 3).

Wood's work expands our knowledge of the Canadian militia beyond the elite imperialists and general officers commanding. By a close study of the _Canadian Military Gazette _and the speeches of militia officers and advocates, he shows the complex varieties of thought regarding the role of the citizen soldier in Canadian defense. By doing so he muddies the waters of the traditional historiography surrounding imperialism and the militia in Canada. More a history of military thought than a discursive study of popular conceptions, the work will appeal to academic military historians, while leaving gendered analysis and discourse and identity studies to the social historians.


[1]. Jack L. Granatstein, _Canada's Army: Waging War and Keeping the
Peace _(Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004), 3_._

Citation: William Pratt. Review of Wood, James, _Militia Myths: Ideas of the Canadian Citizen Soldier, 1896-1921_. H-War, H-Net Reviews.
December, 2012.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons
Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Chief Crowfoot's Military Youth

Title: Earliest known
 illustration of Crowfoot.
Date: 1875
Nevitt, Richard Barrington 
Glenbow Image No: NA-51-1
Chief Crowfoot of the Blackfoot, is generally not known as a generalissimo.  After his abstention from the 1885 North-west Rebellion, he rose to notoriety as an emblem of loyalty, or in the parlance of the late nineteenth-century, a "good Indian."  Yet like any resident of the West in the nineteenth-century, Crowfoot did not live a life devoid of violence.  Hugh Dempsey's biography, Crowfoot: Chief of the Blackfoot (1972, 1982) recorded the problems discerning the details of the future chief's youth as an occasional warrior.  Dempsey wrote in the early 1970s, "Blackfoot tales of war often were embellished with supernatural acts, while the date and place were not considered worthy of recall. For this reason, the telling of [Crowfoot's] first and subsequent war exploits can only attempt to follow a logical path through the maze of fact and legend." (Dempsey, p. 13)

Crowfoot's youth shows numerous examples of his skill at warfare.  In several raids on enemy camps during the 1840s, he was shot by the enemy.  In one instance, Crowfoot daringly ran into an enemy camp and touched a lodge of the enemy Crow tribe.  Subject to Crow gunfire, a ball hit Crowfoot in the arm, but passed through without shattering any bone.  In another raid on the Shoshoni tribe, Crowfoot was more seriously injured by gun fire, necessitating help to return to his own camp.  The lead ball had lodged in Crowfoot's back, and as it was never removed, caused him problems in later life.

Title: Combat between Blackfoot, Assiniboine and Cree people, Fort McKenzie, Montana.
Date: August 28, 1833
Photographer/Illustrator: Bodmer, KarlGlenbow Archives Image No: NA-2347-1

Crowfoot was by all accounts a brave warrior, and several episodes narrated by Dempsey enforce the claim.  On one occasion, Crowfoot was out with a party which hoped to steal horses from the Crees, but encountered an enemy band wandering the windswept prairie on their own horse-stealing foray. As Dempsey wrote,
Crowfoot was among the first to rush into the fight, where he singled out a Cree warrior who was running toward the trees.  To travel more quickly, Crowfoot hurled aside his rifle as he ran after his enemy.  The Cree reached the dense bushes, but Crowfoot followed him.  Risking ambush, he plunged along the trail until he came close enough to grab the Cree by the hair.  Wrenching him backward, Crowfoot plunged the knife into his chest and killed him on the spot.  He then hacked the scalp from the Cree's head and returned to his comrades, who had also been victorious.  (Dempsey, p.18)
Glenbow Image No: NA-1241-10
Title: Chief Crowfoot, Blackfoot.
Date: 1885
Gully, F., Calgary, Alberta
Another violent encounter with the Crees later developed into a shooting match between rifle pits. When stalemate seemed to threaten, Crowfoot left his defences and crawled forward towards the enemy.  Dempsey writes that "[a]rrows and balls whistled past him, but he kept moving forward until he found a shallow depression midway between the two lines.  Then reaching into his firebag, he withdrew his pipe and turned to his comrades, shouting, 'Oki, come and smoke with me!" (Dempsey, p. 18)  Crowfoot's calm in the face of danger inspired his followers to start crawling forward towards his position, and when the Cree saw this movement, they assumed the worst, turned and fled.  Leading by example had won the day.

A bloody confrontation in 1873, shows that revenge could be the causus bellus of First Nations warfare.  Crowfoot's eldest son had left the camp at Three Hills and headed to war.  The son was Crowfoot's only healthy son.  One son suffered from developmental issues and the other had poor vision.  The eldest would never return to his father's camp, having been shot by the Cree north of the Red Deer River.

As Crowfoot mourned, his anger grew.  Dempsey notes, that Crowfoot's one true flaw was his fiery temper, and in this case his wrath was directed towards the Cree tribe. (p. 67)  As Dempsey wrote, "Revenge did not have to be upon the actual killer of Crowfoot's son; it was knowledge enough that the Crees were responsible.  The blood of a Cree, any Cree, would avenge the loss."  (p. 71)  After searching the prairies, a small group of Cree were discovered.  One man was killed, his body "scalped and mutilated, satisfied Crowfoot's desire for revenge."  (p. 71)  Later on, when a peace treaty was in effect between the two tribes, Crowfoot adopted the future Cree chief, Poundmaker, as his son.  Given the previous revenge killing of a Cree man, the choice of Poundmaker as a "replacement" for his eldest son is particularly ironic.

Title: "Crowfoot", Chief of the
 Blackfeet Indians. 
Credit: O.B. Buell/Library
 and Archives Canada/C-001871
Date 1886
Crowfoot's power in the 1870s and beyond were not due to his military prowess.  When chiefs such as Big Swan and Old Sun rode out against their enemies, Crowfoot remained in his lodge.  This being said, Crowfoot's reputation of bravery in his earlier years could not have hurt him in later life.  The 1870s were the last gasp of Crowfoot's power amongst his tribe.  During this period he had a large herd of around 400 horses, and still enjoyed the esteem of his people.  Even at the signing of Treaty No. 7, however, Crowfoot was not considered the greater leader of the Blackfoot confederacy.  Both Red Crow and Rainy Chief of the Bloods had larger followers, and Red Crow was closer to what one might call the leader of the combined Blackfoot, Blood and Piegan tribes. By 1881, whisky had crushed the organization of Crowfoot's people.  Dempsey notes that it was only "with the old order changing [that] he emerged as Crowfoot the peacemaker."  (p. 81)

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Jean L'Heureux: Itinerant Imposter Priest

Some claim that Canadian history is boring.  While it may lack grandiose figures like Abraham Lincoln, or, (thankfully), megalomaniacs like  Adolph Hitler, it does have some colourful characters whose biographies offer material for edutainment.  One such figure in the early history of the Canadian West is Jean L'Heureux.  Rejected by fur-traders and the clergy alike for both pretending to be a priest and practising homosexuality, L'Heureux enters mainstream Canadian history as a treaty interpreter.  His personal life and beliefs largely remain a mystery, but what is known suggest a man on the distant fringes of society, who felt most comfortable with the First Nations of the foothills and plains.

Title:     John Le Heureux, Red Crow, Sgt. Percy,
Crowfoot, Eagle Tail, and Three Bulls.
Provincial Archives of Alberta Number:     A16120
L'Heureux's early life is a mystery.  Sources claiming he was born in L'Acadie, Trois-Rivieres, near Saint-Hyacinthe, at Longueuil, or even in France.  Hugh Dempsey's entry for the Dictionary of Canadian Biography simply states that he was born around 1837 in Lower Canada. He was well educated, having trained for the priesthood as a young man but was kicked out by the Oblates.  Sources vary as to the reason for his displacement, but homosexuality or theft have both been suggested by historians.

L'Heureux arises in the history of the Canadian West in 1861, when he was staying at the St. Albert mission (near Fort Edmonton).  From the priests' perspective, L'Heureux's term in the region was inglorious.  After being discovered engaged in sodomy, he was quickly sent south.   The priests arranged for him to head to Montana with a band of Blackfoot.  Not one to follow others' plans, L'Heureux was quickly donning a cloak of authority.  By wearing a cassock, he told the Blackfoot that he was working for the Oblates, and managed to trick the Jesuits in Montana into believing he was a secular priest.

As Hugh Dempsey describes, L'Heureux found the Blackfoot more understanding that the Euro-Canadians:
Over the next several years L’Heureux lived with the Blackfoot, often wearing a cassock and performing baptisms and marriages. He was despised and vilified by the clergy and fur traders both for being homosexual and for pretending to be a priest. He was also mistrusted because of his complete devotion to the Indians who, he had discovered, did not condemn homosexuality. He took the Blackfoot name of Nio’kskatapi, or Three Persons, after the Holy Trinity. (CDBO)

Title: Group of Blackfoot Confederacy natives.
Remarks: L-R: One Spot [pipe bearer of Crowfoot],
 Blood; Red Crow, Blood; Jean L'Heureux, interpreter;
 North Axe, Peigan; Date: [ca. middle 1880s] 
GlenbowFile number: NA-2968-4
It was perhaps this acceptance by the Blackfoot that made L'Heureux such an advocate for the First Nations of the region. Throughout the 1860s to 1883 he routinely lobbied for help against epidemics, starvation, and the American army.  In 1877, at the Treaty No. 7 signing,  L'Heureux refused to translate for Lieutenant Governor David Laird as he would be interpreting for Crowfoot and other Blackfoot chiefs.  Frank Oliver, noted that L'Heureux, "stood unswervingly with the Indians as an Indian."  (Dempsey, CDBO)

L'Heureux worked for the Department of Indian Affairs during the 1880s, but was dismissed in 1891 for favouring the Roman Catholics.  His autumn years were spent in Father Lacombe's hermitage at Pincher Creek, and later he moved further into the foothills where he lived in seclusion.  In 1912, he was accepted into the Lacombe Home in Midnapore, "still wearing his cassock and clerical collar." (Dempsey, CDBO)  In 1919 he passed away and was recorded by the church as a "lay missionary."

Elsewhere Dempsey summarizes L'Heureux's mixed reputation among the principle groups in the early Canadian West.  The comments may serve as unfortunate epitaph for a wild and mysterious character who was an outsider to all cultures of the frontier.  "Throughout his life he was a controversial figure, despised and distrusted by many fur traders, an asset and embarrassment to the Oblates, and received by the Blackfeet with the mixed emotions they had for crazy people."  (Dempsey, Crowfoot: Chief of the Blackfeet, 1988, p. 83)

L'Heureux on far right.  Title: Blackfoot on visit to Ottawa, Ontario.Date: 1886
Photographer/Illustrator: Woodruff, John, Department of the Interior
Remarks: L-R back row: Father Lacombe, Jean L'Heureux (interpreter). L-R middle row: Three Bulls (Blackfoot), Crowfoot (Blackfoot), Red Crow (Blood). L-R front row: North Axe (North Peigan), One Spot (Blood).Image No: NA-13-2

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Buffalo Roundup: Montana Bison for Elk Island and Banff National Parks

Image No: PA-702-33
Title: Eleanor Luxton.
Date: 1928
The story of bison in Banff NationalPark is an interesting tale of the display of wilderness for both conservation and profitable tourism Like many aspects of Banff’s history, the story can be linked to the Luxton family. Eleanor Luxton’s work Banff Canada’s First National Park: A History and a Memory of Rocky Mountains Park (Banff: Summerthought, 1974, 2008) is a curious history of the town by an amateur historian and long-term resident.  It features a chronicle of Banff events, and reminiscences regarding the personalities and stories of the region. As an appendix to the work, a piece written by her father, Norman Luxton, “The Pablo Buffalo Herd”, tells the tale of the roundup of a large herd of bison from Montana destined for Banff and Elk Island parks.

The origins of the herd, can be linked to a 1873 hunting trip of  Walking Coyote, of the Pend d’Oreilles (or Kalispel) tribe. Coyote had killed a number of bison, and four calves followed him after the slaughter of their mothers. These beasts were kept as “pets” by the family and by 1884 had bred among themselves, expanding to a small herd of thirteen. (Luxton, p. 145) Ten of these animals were purchased by Michel Pablo, and C.A. Allard, and these were supplemented by the purchase of twenty-six other bison along with eighteen cattalos.  Luxton learned of the possible sale of the herd through a letter from Alex Ayotte, a Winnipeg Free Press writer, and immigration agent at Missoula. After some discussion with the minister of the interior, it was decided to purchase the herd.

Eleanor Luxton notes the idea was to purchase the bison for shipment to Canadian parks for, “conservation, tourist attraction and a possible source of food for the Indians.” An agreement was made to ship them north to Elk Island Park, and in 1907 Banff Park's superintendent Howard Douglas joined Norman Luxton and Ayotte on the trip. In a characteristic nod to the "real ol' West", Luxton recalled during the railway trip, “getting off at the stations to examine the bullet holes in the platform, put there by cowboys making tenderfeet dance.” (Luxton, p. 146)
Glenbow File number: NA-3581-10
Title: Buffalo cows and calves during Pablo-Allard round-up, Montana.
Date: [ca. 1906-1908]
Upon arriving at the Buffalo Camp, near Missoula, the men met up with a rough and ready crew of around thirty-five “mixed-blood” [presumably m├ętis] cowboys. Eager to test the Canadians' mettle, one of the men asked Luxton to pick out a horse. A rangy grey was saddled for him, and he managed to stick to the bronc show that ensued. As Luxton recalled, “that lucky ride did me more good in the estimation of those cowboys than if I had presented them with a keg of liquor.” (p. 146)  Presumably, very few of the cowboys were teetotallers.

GMA File number: NA-3581-1
Title: Messieurs Ayotte, 
Allard and Douglas after
Buffalo round-up Ravalli,
Date: 1908
Staying at the mission at the Flathead reservation, an incident occurred which casts light on Luxton’s opinion of Ayotte, his rough sense of humour, and his techniques of “conservation”. Luxton had decided to sleep in a tent outside the mission, but Ayotte opted to inspect the mission house for a bed. Luxton was none too generous in his description of the man noting that, “he weighed 275 pounds, every ounce a tissue of selfishness added to an over-bearing manner.” It seems that Luxton knew that Ayotte would quickly discover that the beds in the mission were also inhabited by bed-bugs, and prepared to repel the man from his tent when the bites began to register. As Luxton records the event,
When I saw Ayotte leave for the house I hiked for the tent. I always carried a small twenty-bore shotgun on my trips to collect natural history specimens. Taking two shells I cut them in half leaving only the thin cardboard wad holding the powder. […]Ayotte [came] from the direction of the house, talking and swearing in French. […] Ayotte all but tore the tent-flap off, we saw his face splashed with dead bed-bugs, and I pulled one trigger. I fired the second shot as Ayotte was scrambling to his feet and running as he probably hadn’t done for some years. […] Alex slept in the stable from then on. Our night’s show amused the cowboys and raised us in their estimation. (Luxton, p. 146)
Glenbow Museum Image No: NA-3581-5 Title: Cowboys circling during Pablo-Allard buffalo round-up, Montana. Date: [ca. 1906-1908] Photographer/Illustrator: Luxton, Banff, Alberta
As might be expected, rounding up a herd of bison is no easy task. The group formed a horseshoe of around forty cowboys, and slowly tried to drive them off their homelands. As Luxton wrote,
Just about the time we thought we would really get them off their regular ground, suddenly, the whole herd would halt as if by command. They would turn around and face the way we had come, stand, not an animal moving in perhaps the hundred we had been following. All the cowboy’s horses stood – no sound. Then from a jump start the buffalo would charge right into the horse-show of riders, never swerving, as if possessed with the devil riding them. Never once was this charge broken, nothing stopped them, not even the river. (Luxton, p. 147)
GMA File number: NA-3581-11
Title: Buffalo being loaded at
 Ravalli, Montana.
Date: [ca. 1906-1908]
The plan was to load the animals into boxcars at Ravalli station. Again, with the beasts weighing up to two tons, this was not quite the same as herding sheep. The cars themselves were custom-built with plenty of reinforcement. As Luxton put it, “the joke was to get the buffalo into the car, for that matter it was a joke to get a buffalo to any wanted place.” A system of ropes was designed to pull the animals into place, but the best laid plans do not always survive first contact with bison! “One bull went straight through the car, he just took the side out as if it had not been there. Another bull broke his legs – well, the Indians had a feast out of that.” (Luxton, p. 148) Eventually driving around twenty-five head at a time, a total of 200 bison were loaded and bound for Canada.

Up to 1912, Eleanor Luxton notes that Elk Island Park received 708 buffalo from Montana. In 1911, the Banff bison paddock received seventy-seven of the beasts. Techniques changed, but the task of rounding them up was never easy. Eventually a system of loading individual bison onto wagons to transport them to the Ravalli station. The results were not always successful.
 ...he strung these wagons together, the crates open at each end except the last one. Four cowboys were on top of each crate to let down a gate effect as soon as a buffalo was in that crate. Sure the buffalo went in – even to the end of the train. Then things happened no one could describe. Talk about cyclone pictures of a town blown to pieces. In minutes not a wagon was on four wheels, kindling wood and cowboys scrambling for ponies were all that one could see.
Glenbow Image No: NA-1241-806
Title: Norman Luxton at Banff Indian Days, Banff, Alberta.
Date: 1942Photographer/Illustrator: Gully, F., Calgary, Alberta
Remarks: At Stoney tipi village, Cascade Park, Banff.
Luxton would long foster a sense that the last vestiges of the old West could be found in Banff.  By promoting Banff Indian days, and keeping the bison paddock stocked with quintessentially Western game, the Wild West was safely on display. He insured that an experience of the romantic West familiar to readers of Fenimore Cooper and admirers of the art of Charlie Russell was obtainable by all who came to the park.  Few visitors who noted the bison grazing from the train would know the hard toil involved in procuring the herd!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Burning Passion: Venereal Disease in No. 6 Group RCAF

Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. 1985-35-8
Venereal disease was a serious problem for Second World War armed forces, which could just as soon render personnel ineffective as other sickness or calamity on the battlefield. When the Americans were sent to Britain, high incidences of gonorrhea and syphilis occurred.  The problem was particularly troublesome for the command staff of No. 6 “Canadian” Group during their aircrew's long stay in England.

No. 6 Group War Diary Sketch.
William Carter in Anglo-Canadian Wartime Relations, 1939-1945: RAF Bomber Command and No. 6 [Canadian] Group (Garland: 1991), noted that there were operational consequences to affections of English women. As Carter suggests, such liaison could have a “dark side to it.” (Carter, p. 96)  One unforeseen effect of the Canadian bases being established in Yorkshire was the rising prices charged by prostitutes.  Carter notes that the amount of time spent with each customer was decreased, presumably due to increased demand, and that the cleanliness of brothels declined.  Royal Canadian Air Force medical staff determined, however, as had medical officers in the First World War, that the predominate form of contraction was not from working girls, but from one-night-stands or "casual pick-ups". (H MacDougall, "Sexually transmitted diseases in Canada, 1800-1992." Genitourin Med. 1994 February; 70(1): 60. 
The Canadians seem to have been particularly effected by venereal disease from such encounters. In 1942 and 1943, the rate of the Canadian group was six to seven times higher than bomber groups generally. Bomber Command as a whole had a high rate of VD, and in August 1943, No. 6 Group doubled the average rates.The Canadian's aircrew rates were generally four times higher than ground crew, suggesting either that a culture of promiscuity had arisen among aircrew, or that the stresses of flying bombers at night over hostile territory lead to lusty forms of escapism.
Perspectives varied on the best way to combat VD. In December 1942, the British government passed Defence Regulation 33B which required those named by two sexual contacts to undergo examination and treatment. Apparently the Canadians pushed to have women examined if only one airman identified her, but they had to acquiesce to the British regulations. Problems getting enough identification on women who were often only passing relations soon arose.

Air Marshal Harris’ “characteristically ruthless” response in January 1943 was to treat all VD cases as malingerers, removing any flights recorded on their tour. (Carter, p. 97) Carter is sympathetic to Harris’ response, noting that “some personnel undoubtedly deliberately contracted VD in order to escape from operations temporarily.” (p. 97)
The RAF’s Director-General of Medical Services did not agree with Harris’ treatment. He argued in January 1943 that VD was caused by boredom and “removal of home influences, leading to drink and its consequences.” (Cited in Carter, p.98) Others were concerned that airmen would conceal their disease and further its transmission.
Explanations for the higher rate of VD within Canadians were also varied. Some noted that it was natural considering the higher rate of the disease in Canada. Higher wages also allowed Canadians to purchase hard liquor, some accusing them of spiking the English women’s drinks. Others chalked it up to the foreign charm, or exoticism of the colonials.
Aircrew of No. 433 (Porcupine) Squadron, RCAF [graphic material] : en route to their Handley Page Halifax B.III aircraft before taking off to raid Hagen, Germany. 
Credit: Canada. Department of National Defence collection / Library and Archives Canada / e005176198
In October 1943, Air Vice-Marshal Clifford “Black Mike” McEwen apparently took a progressive attitude to the disease. As a Canadian base commander, he instituted a prevention programme, emphasizing education and the provision of more acceptable recreation options such as films, sports, and libraries. He wanted compulsory parades for all those leaving their station where men would be expected to carry condoms and and ointment (Carter, p. 101-102)
Unfortunately, No. 6 Groups rates never really lowered. In 1945, the RCAF’s VD rate reached its highest yearly incidence level yet at 7.6% of all personnel.  This being said, the sexually transmitted disease rate of Canadian servicemen in general had decreased from 2.2% in the Great War to only 92 per thousand in the Second. (H. MacDougall, "Sexually transmitted diseases in Canada, 1800-1992." Genitourin Med. 1994 February; 70(1): 60.) No. 6 Group clearly did little to bring the average down!

Friday, October 19, 2012

War is a Drag: Female Impersonators in the First World War

The phenomenon of the Great War drag show is somewhat perplexing.  Some argue that soldiers were not just laughing at the gender-bending performances but were actually aroused by the shows.  A broad array of explanations are offered for the cross-dressing phenomenon, ranging from desires for the portrayal of normalized femininity, to sublimation of homosexuality.
'The Dumbells' Concert Party. Formed from
 3rd Canadian Division in France.  'Marjorie'
(R.D. Hamilton), and 'Marie' (A.G. Murray),
the two girls of the Dumbells show,
 with the manager, Captain M.W. Plunkett,
 Credit: Canada. Dept. of National
Defence/Library and Archives Canada/
JG Fuller's Troop Morale (Oxford, 1990), notes the importance of music shows to the soldiers when they were at rest, and among these theatrical revues, drag shows were fairly common.  Analyzing a broad range of soldiers' journals, Fuller writes that , "curiously these female impersonators seem to have generated considerable sexual excitement.  He quotes one of the men in the ranks as claiming, "judging from the way [the men] sat and goggled at the drag on stage it was obvious that they were indulging in delightful fantasies that brought to them substantial memories of the girls they had left behind them in London, Manchester, Glasgow, wherever." (As cited in Fuller, p.105)
Apparently, many impersonators did not make a caricature of their roles, but played their parts with candour.  Fuller notes that many journals accounted for the realism of the concert party "girls".  One soldier wrote that, "it all seems to show that English beauty is essentially masculine."  Fuller is more critical of the illusion: "judging from the photographs, it shows the intensity of the desire to believe." (p. 106)

Big Beauty Chorus, Marie and the Boys.  Dumbells troupe.  Library and Archives Canada.  PA-005741
Fuller wonders why this desire to believe in the gender-bending charade was so strong with the relative ease of access to women in the rear areas.  It is true that after the spring of 1917, troops may have gone for weeks without seeing a woman in the farms, hospitals, shops and estaminets. Yet, Fuller suggests that the appeal of the entertainers was likely, "their emphasis put on glamour [not] the sheer fewness of females."  He notes that "peasant girls, working hard at practical tasks with their menfolk away, were often the reverse of 'feminine' in the restricted sense of the age."  A quote from an Australian journal lamented, "Women of shattered Picardy, Why are your boots so flat and vast?"

Of this desire for fancy femininity, Fuller writes
The trappings of elegance and luxury were the negation of war and squalor and, as such, a potent fetish of peace.  The female impersonators therefore took care over the fripperies, having lingerie sent out, or going on special leave to London or Paris to select the items themselves.  On stage they sang the sentimental songs which represented the greatest frippery of all, asserting the idealized stereotype of soft and vulnerable romantic femininity. (Fuller, p.106)

Historian David A Boxwell, in his article "The Follies of War: Cross-Dressing and Popular Theatre on the British Front Lines, 1914-1918" Modernism/Modernity 9.1 (2002) 1-20, disagrees with the thesis that drag performance was strictly a desire for  idealized heterosexual relations.  He identifies two forms of female impersonation which had already developed on British stages by 1914.  He notes that, "Mimicry was most visibly embodied in the pantomime "dame" tradition, a comedic effort to render the female form in its most hypercarnivalized manner: the grotesque, oversized, and voracious body of the raddled, "ugly" woman presented on stage out of a misogynistic animus" (Boxwell, p. 13).   The other form of impersonation was mimesis, which historians have traced back to the 1860s.  Mimesis represented "idealized femininity as closely as possible (Boxwell, p. 14).

'The Dumbells' Concert Party. 
 'Marie' (A.G. Murray)PA-005743
Boxwell argues, "the complex dynamics of men objectifying other men as women does not occur completely within a heterosexual matrix." (Boxwell, p. 16)  Boxwell's argument is formed in analysis of the HC Owen quote that, "it all seems to show that English beauty is essentially masculine."
[Owen] may well have intended to define female beauty in masculine terms, to suggest that British women were at their most beautiful when they most looked like men. The slippage that inheres in the statement effectively eradicates women's existence: male beauty not only exists, but cannot be conceived of in anything other than "masculine" terms. Thus there was an ineradicable trace of homoeroticism at the heart of drag during the Great War.[...] A man watching another man in drag must, at some level, self-reassuringly avow that the "woman" has a penis. But this act of speculation threatens to put the male spectator beyond the boundaries of the heterosexual matrix. (Boxwell, p. 16)
For Boxwell, enjoying a drag show was a cathartic way of releasing homosexual anxieties in a homophobic society.  As may be expected, other historians disagree.

Laurel Halladay, in "A Lovely War: Male to Female Cross-Dressing and Canadian Military Entertainment in World War II Journal of Homosexuality Volume 46, Issue 3-4, 2004 traces drag performances in the Canadian military, and identified in the Great War period, an attempt to reconstruct a heterosexual community.  (Hallady, p.  21)   For Hallady, drag performance was either comedic or dramatic, either mocking perceived female foibles or respecting femininity.  On the issue of sexualization, Halladay writes that, "Perhaps contrary to more modern expectations, drag performers were not the least bit threatening to the taken-for-granted heterosexual practices of their comrades and both contributed to and
enjoyed the homosociability of the battlefield." (Halladay, p.23)  For Halladay, it was only when women were recruited into the Canadian military in the Second World War, that female impersonation was broadly considered deviant.

The debate over the meanings of female impersonators in the First World War is by no means over.  How could it be when analyzing the subjective reception of gendered performances by a broad variety of men?  The work yet to be written on the complex nuances of drag performance is bound to be exciting historical work, addressing the overlap between social, sexual, and gender history.
From John to Jack, Susannah to Susie, Punch (1916).

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Che the Failed Guerrilla

"Che" by Flick User JFabra. License
AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike Some rights reserved by JFabra
Che Guevara has become the ultimate symbol of counter-culture resistence and revolution. Ian Beckett in Modern Insurgencies and Counterinsurgencies, (2001), however, has little praise for the actual success of Che as revolutionary.  Beckett's critique is founded on the failure of Che to spread global revolution.  Others have expressed ethical reservations about Che's pop-hero status.  Writing for Slate magazine in 2004 upon the release of the acclaimed biographical film "The Motorcycle Diaries", Paul Berman moves beyond effectiveness in his critique of "The Cult of Che", calling his fame, "an episode in the moral callousness of our time."  To Berman, "Che was a totalitarian.  He achieved nothing but disaster."  Berman suggests that Che was central to the "hardline pro-Soviet faction" in the Cuban revolution, and was neither tolerant nor discriminant when it came to violence.
Che presided over the Cuban Revolution's first firing squads.  He founded Cuba's 'labor camp' system - the system that was eventually employed to incarcerate gays, dissidents, and AIDS victims.  To get himself killed, and to get a lot of other people killed, was central to Che's imagination.
Ernesto Guevara did not have a particularly revolutionary youth, beginning training in 1947 as a medical doctor at the age of nineteen, and spending summers working as a male nurse on merchant ships. Oddly, in 1950, he failed in an attempt to market an insecticide.  In his youth he travelled across South and Central America and observed the poverty there first hand.  Such experiences hardened his belief in Marxist revolution.
The 1954 American involvement in the overthrow of the Guzman government in Guatemala was a formative experience for Guevara. It was then that he received his nickname “Che”, which was Spanish for “buddy”, due to his frequent use of the term in his speech. In 1955, Che joined Castro in his revolutionary efforts, and led a guerrilla column into the Havana. With Castro's success over Batista in 1959, Che would become president of the National Bank of Cuba and minister of industry, working for the Castro government for a number of years.

One of Beckett’s main arguments is that insurgency is a product of its time and place, and theory developed to counter insurgents is also a product of its historical setting. He sees Guevara’s revolutionary theory, heavily influenced by the French Marxist philosopher Debray, as failing to note that corruption, inefficiency, military ineffectiveness, and unpopularity were the real causes in the end of the Batista regime  (p. 171) Beckett cites a number of attempts at rebellion in the 1960s which failed to replicate the Cuban revolution in countries such as: Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Paraguay, Peru, and Venezuela.  Che would leave Cuba in 1965, due to friction there with certain leaders.  He hoped to foment global revolution, but attempts at training guerrilla forces in the Congo failed.

Beckett reserves the title of “the greatest failure of all” for that of Guevara’s attempts in Bolivia. (p. 173) In 1966 Guevara arrived there in hopes to organize resistance, but the 1950s had seen land reform and nationalization of the mining industry which denied Guevara the necessary bedrock of discontent. That Bolivia president Rene Barrientos, was of peasant origin did not help Che’s cause. Even the Bolivia communist party leaders objected to Che’s insistence on military control of the revolution, and abstained from support. Difficulties in the rugged terrain resulted in problems of manoeuvre, and as Beckett puts it, Guevara's force, "spent much of its time lost in the jungle.” (p. 174)
Guevara’s ultimate demise was a product of this lack of support, and the operations of a American Special Forces Mobile Training Team, under Major Robert “Pappy Shelton”. The Green Berets trained a ranger battalion for the Bolivian army which was deployed in fall of 1967. By 8 October 1967, Che’s remaining eighteen guerillas were surrounded at La Higuera. The wounded Che was captured and executed, and his body exhibited in Vallegrande.  Declassified American documents relate the final hours of his life.  A Lieutenant Perez was given the order to kill Guevara, but apparently did not have the heart to do so.   Perez asked Guevera what his last wishes were.
Guevara replied that he only wished to 'die with a full stomach'.  Perez then asked him if he was a 'materialist', by having requested only food.  Guevara returned to his previous tranquil manner and answered only 'perhaps'.  Perez then called him a 'poor shit' and left the room.  By this time, Sgt Terran had fortified his courage with several beers and returned to the room where Guevara was being held prisoner. [...]  'Willy', the prisoner taken with Guevara, was being held in a small house a few meters away.  While Terran was waiting outside to get his nerve back, Sgt Huacka entered and shot 'Willy'.  'Willy' was a Cuban and according to the sources had been an instigator of the riots among the miners in Bolivia.  Guevara heard the burst of fire in his room and for the first time appeared to be frightened.  Sgt Terran returned to the room where Guevara was being held.  When he entered, Guevera stood and faced him.  Sgt Terran told Guevara to be seated but he refused to sit down and stated, 'I will remain standing for this.'  The Sgt began to get angry and told  [...] him.  'Know this now, you are killing a man.'  Terran then fired a burst from his M2 Carbine, knocking Guevara back into the wall of the small house.  "Debriefing of Officers of Company B, 2nd Ranger Battalion"(

The order to kill Guevara was made by General Ovando, the Chief of the Bolivian Armed Forces.  Walt Rostow wrote President Johnson of the execution, "I regard this as stupid, but it is understandable from a Bolivian standpoint.On the 13th of October, Rostow wired the president that Che was confirmed as dead.  It was long thought the body was discarded into the jungles via helicopter, but in 1997 Guevara’s remains were found under an airstrip in Vallegrande and re-interned in Cuba.
Date     Photo taken on 5 March 1960;
Source     Museo Che Guevara, Havana Cuba
Author     Alberto Korda Copyright

Che's beret-clad and bearded head has been said to be the most repoduced image in the world.  It seems that given his success as revolutionary, that Che as symbol, the Che of the rock t-shirts, and flags adorning teenage bedrooms across the world, is a fairly unlikely figure.  Indeed, one might say that he has inspired many more revolutionaries merely through the religious passion that his idol has evoked, more than any actual savvy regarding guerilla war.  In speaking of the Che's portrayal in "The Motorcycle Diaries", Berman notes "the entire movie, in its concept and tone, exudes a Chistological cult of martyrdom, a cult of adoration for the spiritually superior person who is veering toward death - precisely the kind of adoration that Latin America's Catholic Church promoted for several centuries, with miserable consequences."  The romantic ideal of Che as martyred revolutionary will probably never be excommunicated from the public mind.
"Che Guevara Monument and Mausoleum_Cuba 224" By James Emery.  License
Attribution Some rights reserved by hoyasmeg