Interesting characters…

“Kootenai” Brown, Canada’s earliest conservationist…

kootnai brownJohn George Brown (10 October 1839 – 18 July 1916), better known as “Kootenai” Brown, was an Irish-born Canadian polymath, soldier, trader and conservation advocate.

Born in Ennistymon, Ireland, and educated at Eton and Oxford, Brown was commissioned as a British Army officer in 1857 “without purchase” (a reference to the practice then common of wealthy Britons purchasing officers’ commissions), joining the 8th Regiment as an ensign.

After serving in India in 1858 and 1859, in 1862 he sold his commission and joined the flood of prospectors joining the Cariboo Gold Rush (British Columbia). He proved unsuccessful as a prospector, turning to trapping and then briefly policing, serving as constable in Wild Horse Creek, BC (now gone).

In 1865, he moved on, to Waterton Lakes , being wounded by a Blackfoot Indian on his way to Fort Garry (now Winnipeg), where he settled and became a whiskey trader.

Subsequent to that, he worked briefly for a company delivering mail to the United States Army until 1874, during which time he was captured and nearly killed by Sitting Bull in 1869.

“Sitting Bull ordered us to get off our horses and when we did he had us stripped as naked as the day we were born. They took everything, dispatches, mail, guns, horses, clothes … Some of the young bucks began yelling ‘Kash-ga, Kash-ga,’ meaning kill them. Sitting Bull raised his hand and shouted ‘Don’t be in a hurry, we’ll make a fire and have some fun with them.’ We understood every word they said, of course, and we knew that Sitting Bull meant some playful mode of torture.”

When a dispute arose over some horses, Brown and his friend Joe rolled into a coulee and sprinted for a nearby lake. “We were standing in water up to our necks with Indians running up and down the shore firing at random into the weeds … It was blowing a regular hurricane and pouring down torrents of rain and this is probably what saved us. Finally, half dead with cold, we stole quietly out in the pitch darkness and scrambling up the banks took to our heels.”

He then went on to serve as a constable in the gold rush town of Wild Horse Creek. In the summer of 1865 while travelling with four companions, he passed though the Waterton Lakes area and wrote, “This is what I have seen in my dreams, this is the country for me.” He would return twelve years later to play a pivotal role in the development and history of this area which so impressed him.

Those twelve years would see Koonenai wounded in the back by a Blackfoot arrow (it is said that he pulled the arrow out himself and treated the wound with turpentine), spend time as a Pony Express rider, endure capture by Sitting Bull and a band of Sioux, and then subsequently escape. By 1877, with the buffalo rapidly disappearing he turned to hunting wolves. Brown was then accused of murder in Fort Benton, Montana and after his acquittal crossed the border with his family to settle in his chosen area.

Although he worked as a trapper and a guide, Brown also worked tirelessly for the establishment of a park at Waterton (now Waterton Lakes National Park). He was appointed Fishery Officer and Forest Ranger in 1895, and became the first Superintendent in 1911. At the age of 74 he was still making his rounds on snowshoes, travelling 20 miles in -36C (-32F) weather. He is buried in the park on the west side of Knight Lake.

Waterton park

My list of of interesting books about Canada (to date). You can add your favourites, too. Just send me a note with your choice, title and author, to


If you would like to learn more about any of my books, or to order copies, click on the specific cover below. Two Irish Lads and Nor All Thy Tears are available in both Kindle and Nook formats. Publisher’s price, $4.95.




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