FRENCHY AND NELLIE RIVIERE
Updated by Nieves Brister
Henri Arnous de la Riviere, better known as Frenchy, was born on January 9th, 1867 in Normandy, France, a direct descendant of both French aristocracy and American ancestry. He was educated in a Swiss monastery, but ran away from there at an early age and went to sea. He also ran away from the Navy after being severely punished for some unruly behavior.
After some years and many adventures, Frenchy settled with his parents in the southern United States. He travelled from San Francisco, California to Montana and came to Alberta in 1883. He worked on many ranches in southern Alberta and was at one time Captain of the round-up on the Bow River range.
Frenchy took the long trail to Canada’s Northwest during the Klondike gold rush. He worked as a guide on the overland trail from Edmonton on through to the north. Accompanied on one of these trips by his wife, the former Nellie Gladstone, his first two children Emilie and Henry and his brother-in-law Billy Gladstone, he encountered many hardships. Emilie died on one of these trips at the age of three years. Frenchy and Nellie were married circa 1894. Nellie came from a Metis background and often wore beaded traditional moccasins and tobacco pouches.
Frenchy settled on the headwaters of the Pincher Creek and became a big game hunter and mountaineer. In partnership with John Herron, he raised Clydesdale horses.
For many years he raised husky dogs – some of which were crossed with wolves. A powerfully built man, six foot four in height and broad in the shoulders, he and his dog teams had few equals on the trail. A picturesque figure in a buckskin shirt, sash and moccasins, he was hired by a Hollywood studio to take part in a northern picture (White Fang being one of them) with his dog teams. Two of the starring dogs were Strongheart and Lady Silver. He was for some time employed in Los Angeles as a technical director where his knowledge of dogs and wildlife was invaluable. Riviere also competed in dog derbies with local pioneer Jack Morden. Folklore indicates that one of the two won a sledding race on Pincher Creek’s Main Street on January 14th, 1920.
Frenchy broke many horses. Some of these were for Dan and Lauchie Bell to be sold to the NWMP as remounts. He worked them over day after day, leading them around the corral, petting and talking to them. He then put a few horses in the barn and got them so he could climb on them bareback and ride them to water. The last thing he did was put a saddle on them, still talking gently, no spurs, no chaps, and only a pair of moccasins on his feet. The horses didn’t buck with him, but many a young Mountie discovered later that they could buck. With any other rider but Frenchy they put up quite a fight.
The call of adventure took Frenchy north again to make a study of the First Nations. He was the Alberta Game Guardian for a seventeen year period from 1911 to 1928. As a trapper some of his much used outdoor equipment were a muskrat pelt stretcher and a pair of wooden and leather snowshoes. These are exhibited at the Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village.
He ranched on his Victoria Peak Ranch on the Pincher Creek where he and Nellie raised ten children. In order of age these were:
1). Henry who never married, passed away at Wells, B.C., in the Caribou Country on Sunday, October 16th, 1938 at the age of 39. He was born on September 4th, 1899 and had kept in close correspondence with his parents while working in the mining industry in B.C. Previously, in 1917 he had served with the R.N.W.M.P. at Macleod. As a teenager residing on the family’s ranch he hunted a great deal with remittance man Lionel Brooke.
2). George first married to Maggie Clarke and later to Ann Clarke. George lived in Wasa, B.C.
3). Mary (Barbara) became Mrs. K. Shriver of Honolulu, Hawaii.
4). Nellie, known as Babe, became Mrs. Cliff Murphy. They lived in Field and Kimberley, B.C.
5). Robert of Pincher Creek, married Mary Burns.
6). John, also known as Charlie, of Pincher Creek married Margaret Hoschka.
7). James of Pincher Creek married Gay De Meester.
8). Alice became Mrs. Alphie Primeau of the Beauvais Lake District.
9). Inez became Mrs. Orin Rea of Creston, B.C.
10). Frances was first married to Melvin Cox and later to Bill McWhirter of Marysville, B.C.
Emilie, also known as Mimi, died in the north at the age of three years.
Frenchy was also a popular figure around Waterton Lakes National Park, guiding and entertaining tourists at the Prince of Wales Hotel and at Red Rock Canyon.
Nellie Riviere passed away on Wednesday, August 14th, 1940 at the age of 64 years. Her services were held from St. Michael’s Church the following Saturday. Following his wife’s death and with his large family scattered, Frenchy returned to live alone in his “cabins in the pines” on Pincher Creek where he pursued his hobbies of reading and the study of wildlife. He wrote numerous wildlife stories for magazines, one of which was “The Cattlemen”.
His death in St. Vincent’s Hospital on Saturday, June 30th, 1956 broke a significant link with the early and colourful history of southern Alberta and the Pincher Creek District. His service was held from St. Michael’s Church the following Monday morning.
He is buried on his ranch in the mountains with these words inscribed on his headstone: “The trails that knew him shall know him no more.”