A METIS HERITAGE:
CHARLIE AND MARIE ROSE SMITH
By Mary Helene Parfitt (Smith)
Updated by great-grandson Robert Allen Byrne
and Farley Wuth, Curator, Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village
In the early 1800s a young boy of twelve left his native land of Norway to roam and seek his fortune across the sea. His varied travels brought him as a young man to the great Canadian west, where he quickly adapted his skills to become a shrewd fur trader. He soon amassed wealth in furs, carts, oxen and horses. He followed the lusty way of the fur trader, skirmishing with the First Nations and picking up many a scar in these encounters.
Meeting a Metis caravan on the prairies, Charlie Smith soon found that a dark and slender girl caught his fancy, and pursuing her, won himself a wife. She was Marie Rose Delorme, daughter of Urbain Delorme and Marie Desmarais. Born on October 18th, 1861 on the White Horse Plains near Winnipeg, she was baptized in the little church of St. Francais Xavier. She received several years of schooling with the Grey Nuns at St. Boniface before returning to travel with her Mother and step-father Cuthbert Gervais. Her parents were now carrying freight for the Hudson’s Bay Company from the White Horse Plains to trading posts in the Northwest Territories. In a marriage arranged by Charlie Smith and her parents, Marie Rose became a bride at the age of sixteen to a man who was twenty years older than she. They were married by the Reverend Jean-Marie Lestang at St. Albert on the 26th day of March, 1877.
With a small but growing family, Charlie Smith wanted a permanent home for his wife and children. Gathering cattle herds in Frenchtown, Montana, they drove them slowly towards the Rocky Mountains until they reached a homestead on the grassy slopes of a small creek, near what would be the little town of Pincher Creek. This homestead became known as the “Jughandle” from the way the skin at the animal’s neck was slit so that in healing there was left a hold, thus the name “Jughandle”. The cattle and horse herd numbered in the hundreds. The property, which consisted of two quarters, was the North half of S3 T6 R1 W5, straddled the Pincher Creek itself. It was within three miles northeast of Beauvais Lake, near the present juncture of Tony and Christie Mine Roads.
The land had been occupied by Charlie Smith and his family since 1885, but the application for homesteading was filed on May 22nd, 1901, being approved some sixteen months later on August 19th, 1902. Part of the delay in the homestead process was that Smith had settled on the property prior to it being officially surveyed and a debate over whether or not certain portions of the homestead should have stock-watering access. The later issue was ruled on in favour of Smith by both veteran Dominion Surveyor William Pearce and Clifford Sifton who served as the Minister of the Interior. A 14 by 18 log house was built by Smith on the property. Seven acres were ploughed and seeded during the 1885 and 1886 seasons.
Portions of the Jughandle Ranch were on other homestead quarters. Charlie Smith obtain patent for part of South Half of S2 T6 R1 W5 as of October 30th, 1888.
Additional lands were held by the Smith Family. Son Joseph Smith was awarded Metis Script for the NW Quarter of S22 R5 T29 W4, situated in the Robert Kerr District southeast of Pincher Creek. Smith’s patent was awarded on February 3rd, 1905.
Script also was awarded to daughter Mary Louise for the west half of the N.E. quarter of S6 T5 R28 W4 which was located in the Halifax School District east of town. Her brother John Robert received Metis Script for the east half of the same quarter. His patent was awarded on August 15th, 1905.
The ranch was a happy place, one where no stranger was ever turned away without a good meal, as Charlie’s hospitality was well known. Marie Rose arrived at the ranch with two children, Joseph who was born at Chicken Prairie, Northwest Territories on July 12th, 1878, and Charles born on January 3rd, 1880 at Frenchtown, Montana. The rest of the seventeen children were born in Pincher Creek, all without the benefit of a doctor!
The children were:
Joseph July 12th, 1878 June 16th, 1914
Charles January 3rd, 1880 November 8th, 1907
Jonas November 3rd, 1881 August 15th, 1917
Mary Louise September 3rd, 1883 August 3rd, 1884
John Robert April 30th, 1885 June 30th, 1986
W. George January 25th, 1887 1970
Mary Anne January 27th, 1889 November 19th, 1897
Michel Archangel July 8th, 1890 February 19th, 1909
Mary Helene May 3rd, 1892 April 29th, 1997
J. Theodore January 21st, 1894 August 15th, 1917
Frances September 18th, 1895 July 8th, 1977
Richard February 17th, 1897 July 1952
Fred Albert March 26th, 1898 May 8th, 1899
Eva June 25th, 1899 February 14th, 1994
Catherine July 4th, 1901 July 30th, 1902
Arthur Alfie March 4th, 1903 April 16th, 1903
Marie Rose Alvina March 15th, 1904 March 28th, 1904
Of these seventeen children, the four still living in the 1970s resided in a number of points: Mary Helene Parfitt in Lethbridge, Frances Burke in Calgary, Eva Forsland in Edmonton, and John Robert in Sandpoint, Idaho.
Marie Rose raised her children, attended church faithfully as she was a staunch Roman Catholic, gave her services as a midwife, and spent countless hours making buckskin articles, some beaded and some not. She made gauntlets, gloves, vests, shirts and moccasins, and people came from the surrounding towns and ranches to buy her goods. The Hudson’s Bay Company gave her many orders to fill. The Canadian Pacific Railway also contracted Marie Rose to sew camp tents used during the 1897-98 construction of its Crowsnest Line. She sold and traded her goods for supplies to fill her larder for the growing family and thus earned the name of “Buckskin Mary”. All the training learned at her mother’s knee now came into use in the rough pioneer life on the ranch. Beading, cooking with native roots and herbs, tanning skins, making soup, drying meat as well as being able to read and write English, French and Cree were important in the life of her growing family.
The ranch was a favourite stopping place for many a traveler, one of these being Father Lacombe, whom the First Nations people called “man of good heart”. In later years both Marie Rose and her daughter Mary Helene travelled on his lifetime pass with the Canadian Pacific Railway, taking a child to the hospital he founded near Midnapore, Alberta.
Another frequent visitor was Kootenai Brown and his Ni-ti-mous (sweetheart, wife). He and his wife would visit the ranch, playing cards, and the Smiths in turn would go up to the Browns’ cabin at Waterton Lakes.
Roundup time usually was the big event of the year on a ranch. It would start in May and riders and outfits form all over the ranges would gather together waiting for the day. They chose a captain, loaded carts with grub, hired a cook and a boy to help him, and then the fun began. Usually six or seven outfits travelled together, forming a small circle at night. The work was rough and many a cowboy bit the dust on a chilly morning when he tried to ride a recently-broke horse. In the mornings the herders brought the horses in and caught their needs for the day’s ride. Soon thousands upon thousands of head of cattle were gathered together and the riders, weaving in among them, tried to spot their brands. They cut out their stock, running the animal with its calf into a catch pen. It was a sight to see the rider and horse working as one in this difficult task. Soon the smell of burning hair and flesh mingled with the dust of the prairies. Calves were branded and turned loose to find their bawling mothers. The round up continued, from the south country, toward the mountains along the South Fork, and northward into the Porcupine Hills.
In later years Charlie went out of the cattle business and into horses, having some good racehorses. Two of these were Flying Fox and Wolf. In the big snowstorm of 1903, when drifts were house high, range horses and their riders were afflicted with snow blindness and many animals fell over precipices. Both of these good racehorses were lost during that storm.
Sorrow was not new in the life of Marie Rose, for after losing her husband Charlie on February 9th, 1914, she also lost two sons in the First World War. Both Jonas and Theodore were killed the same day in action in France. That day was August 15th, 1917.
In later years Marie Rose moved from the ranch and ran a boarding house in town, with the help of her girls. This was in a rambling, two-storey structure located on the south hill near St. Michael’s Church. Marie Rose also took a homestead on Carpenter Creek. Realizing that she had experienced an important part of Prairie Canadian pioneer history, she penned a ten part serialized autobiography and local history entitled “Eighty Years on the Plains” which appeared in the ranching magazine the Canadian Cattlemen during 1948 and 1949. More than a generation later, a biography of Marie Rose Smith, entitled The Fifty Dollar Bride, was written by her granddaughter Jock Carpenter.
Marie Rose Smith lived to be 98 years of age, passing away on Monday, April 4th, 1960 in Lethbridge where she had resided for the previous four years. Her funeral was held from Pincher Creek’s St. Michael’s Church. As of 1960, there were 17 grandchildren and 41 great-grandchildren.