Most Americans have a fairly good understanding of the American Old West. However, few have that same understanding of the history of the West in Canada. J. Edward Chamberlin brings some clarity on the subject in The Banker and the Blackfoot: An Untold Story of Friendship, Trust, and Broken Promises in the Old West.
Chamberlin discusses the relationship between his grandfather Jack Cowdry and the Blackfoot Chief Crop Eared Wolf in the Canadian community of Fort Macleod (Alberta, Canada). Their strong relationship helped keep the peace between white people and various native tribes – even though the native tribes were betrayed by the Canadian government in various ways.
Even though there are similarities between the Old Wests of both Canada and the U.S., Chamberlin points out that many local government officials were responsible for a lasting peace between the white people and native tribes (American government officials generally not as friendly to the native tribes). He puts a great amount of credit to the Canadian Mounties and others (both white and native), including Cowdry, Chief Red Crow, and Eared Wolf.
One of the book’s biggest strengths is the intimate nature of the text. Chamberlin gets this intimacy from his family’s history – both stories and letters. Chamberlin traces the rise in fortunes of Cowdry and how that rise influenced Fort Macleod and friendships among the various communities.
Another strength is you get a real sense of the times (late 1800’s) as the outside world is rapidly changing and the effect of those changes on Fort Macleod–the changes include the decline of the bison and rise of cattle farming and how they influenced the relationship between white people and the native tribes.
The book chronicles a fascinating chapter of Canadian history.