Monday, September 9, 2013

Jerry Potts

Grave markers of Jerry Potts and other NWMP members buried at Fort Macleod.

The son of a Blood Indian mother and a Scots father with three other wives, Jerry Potts, also called Bear Child, was born in 1840 at a Missouri River fort in Montana. After his father died, his mother, Crooked Back, returned to her tribe and left young Jerry to be raised at the fort by fur trader Alexander Harvey, who abandoned him at age 5.

Later, he was adopted by Andrew Dawson of the American Fur Company. He lived at Fort Benton, where he learned to read and write. Since he mixed freely with the inhabitants and visitors to the fort, Jerry was raised in a multi-cultural atmosphere and mixed freely with his mother's people as well as those at the fort.

A brave hunter, he was hired by the American fur company and a number of whiskey traders. On behalf of his employers, he was involved in various battles.

In 1874, when Commissioner George Arthur French led the first troop of North West Mounted Police through Fort Benton, he hired Jerry Potts as a guide, scout and interpreter.

As the new police force neared the location where they had been instructed to set up their first post and put a stop to the whiskey trade, they were in desperate need of the help of someone local. Potts proved an invaluable addition to the troop. Because he knew the geography of the area, he led most patrols, and later trained other scouts to do the same.

Also, since he understood the customs, values and concerns of the Blackfoot Indians, he was able to be an effective interpreter. According to the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, he was instrumental in maintaining peaceful relations between the Blackfoot and the Mounties, and also helped to secure Blackfoot neutrality during the Northwest Rebellion.

In 1874, Jerry Potts arranged the first meetings between NWMP Assistant Commissioner James Macleod and important Blackfoot leaders including Crowfoot and Red Crow. In 1877, he helped to complete the negotiations for Treaty 7 between the federal government and the Blackfoot.

Recognized as being instrumental in maintaining good relations between the NWMP and the local people, he remained in the employ of the police for 22 years, until his death in 1896. He was buried at Fort Macleod.

A school and soccer field in Calgary (formerly Fort Calgary) have been named after him, and the nearby city of Lethbridge has a Jerry Potts Boulevard.

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