25-Jun-2002 -- For many years we'd thought about touring the Big Muddy Badlands but just never got around to it. Thanks to the confluence project and a visit to N49° W105° we were able to tour a part of this spectacular area. The Big Muddy Badlands were formed about 14,000 years ago when the Wisconsin Glacier began retreating northward. Meltwater from the glacier eroded this region leaving "badlands". This area is ideal for geological and paleontological study. There is evidence of human occupation as early as 2,000 to 3,000 years ago. During the 1700s the Snakes, Shoshone and Atsina Indian Tribes lived in the region but by the 1800s the Cree and Assiniboines dominated the area. In 1876 Chief Sitting Bull took up residence in the Big Muddy after defeating General George Custer and the Seventh Cavalry at The Battle of The Little Big Horn in southern Montana. The resident tribes were Plains people who held the bison central to their material and spiritual well being. Bison provided food, shelter, tools and clothing. Bison effigies (effigies are geometric patterns laid out with stones on the land), along with turtle effigies, medicine circles, ceremonial circles and teepee rings can be seen on tours of the region.
In the 1880's outlaw trouble came to the Big Muddy. Gangs of outlaws in the United States rustled cattle, stole horses, robbed trains and terrorized ranchers. When it got too hot (legally) in the United States the outlaws crossed the border into Canada to take refuge from American authorities. Butch Cassidy, one gang leader, laid out an escape route from Mexico to Canada. Way stations every 24 km provided the gangs with supplies and fresh horses. Station Number One was the Big Muddy. The Sundance Kid, Butch Cassidy's sidekick, was a frequent visitor when American authorities were hot on his heels. Sam Kelly, Dutch Henry and other notorious outlaws with colourful names like Bloody Knife and Pigeon Toe Kid would hide out, often in caves, in the Big Muddy with as many as 200 stolen horses. Lawlessness in the area was finally brought under control in 1902 when the North West Mounted Police, later to become the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, established a post in the Big Muddy.
Here is a poem from Big Muddy Badlands, a book published by the "Big Muddy Center and Museum" Committee in Big Beaver.
Outlaw Trail by Trudy Vipond
From south Cludad Juarez
Up to North station number one
Past Wyoming's Hole in the Wall
The web of escape was spun
The length of an entire country
An escape route without fail
To Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
It became the Outlaw Trail.
At station number one
They were safe from the law
The Devil's Playground they called it
Where they practiced their draw
They lived in caves that hid them
Time after time
While they planned another holdup
Below the forty-nine
Yes from Mexico to Canada
Lawmen searched to no avail
While many a law breaker
Escaped by the Outlaw Trail
First to Alma, then to Robber's Roost
Past Brown's Park they'd crawl
And disappear like shadows
Into the Hole in the Wall.
In 1915 the shady era of Rum Running began in the Big Muddy when prohibition was declared in Saskatchewan. Canadian Moonshine, Home Brew or Houch became a popular commodity, not only for Canadians, but for thirsty Americans as well. Rum Runners devised devious systems to smuggle this homemade whiskey across the border. Some was hidden in loads of hay, straw, or coal, some in railcars marked "house-hold furniture". Since hijackings were common, a large Packard or Buick might be packed with booze to be led by a scout and followed by a heavily armed vehicle as they headed toward the border.
This is the infamous area where we were about to hunt for N49° W105°. We headed for the border, 158 km straight south of Regina then 30 km west. Here we took a turn south on a gravel road which ended at a ranch with a padlocked gate blocking the trail. A sign on the gate stated: "GILES RANCH Trespassers will be given a fair trial then hung! For Guided Tours Phone 267-2150" Oh, Oh! What to do? The confluence was one kilometer or so on the other side of that gate! We checked the ranch house - no one lives there any more. We tried to phone the number on the sign but there was no cell phone reception. We'd come this far so decided to take fate, and our necks, into our own hands and go for it. We left our van parked near the gate with the confluence letter on the windshield. The three of us crawled under the barbed wire fence and set off along the trail.
The first points of interest were the caves with a sign, "SAM KELLY CAVES - HOUSE CAVES & HORSE CAVES", situated about 340 meters from the confluence. The smallest cave was the hideout of outlaw, Sam Kelly while the larger cave, a little further along, was a hideout for up to 200 stolen horses. Although we did not enter the caves, we later read that tour visitors are allowed to explore inside. We would definitely advise people to make arrangements for a guided tour. A tour can last all day and cover up to 150 km, much of this on private land where most of the effigies, ceremonial circles and other ancient artifacts are situated. Private tours, cavalcade tours or bus tours can be arranged. We do hope that this promotion for guided tours will sway the judge towards leniency and spare us the noose at our trespassing trial.
After passing the caves we looked for the narrowest crossing of Paisley Brook Creek as the confluence was on the other side. We found a spot where we were all able to leap across without getting our feet too wet. A horse path led along the creek and up the embankment towards the confluence. The spot was already marked naturally with one rock. Alan added a couple of other rocks to further mark the confluence.
After taking the photos we walked south to find the actual border located about 70 meters from the confluence. Just north of the border is Peaked Butte with a Canadian flag flying proudly on top. The flag is actually south of the 49th parallel. In September 1873 The North American Boundary Commission camped in tents along Paisley Brook Creek near Peaked Butte. These British and American engineers, astronomers and scouts surveyed and marked the 49th parallel between Lake of the Woods in Ontario and the summit of the Rocky Mountains in British Columbia. They were the first to map the area. The Commission used the stars as their guide and measured their progress west with chronometers.
From the confluence we headed back across the mosquito infested creek, then along the trail and under the barbed wire to our van.
Before driving off we took a mosquito bite count. Max - 0, Carolyn - 0, Alan - 88!!
In the town of Big Beaver we visited the general store comprised of three buildings joined together. Aust's Store has a motto, "If we don't have it, you don't need it." They did indeed have a full inventory of everything from nuts and bolts to bread and butter, as well as a coffee shop and the Post Office. We purchased the informative Big Muddy Badlands book and a couple of postcards. A guestbook in the store was signed by visitors from across Canada, from California, Texas, and Wales. The store proprietor told us how to get to Castle Butte, 12 km north of Big Beaver. The Butte, used by Indian tribes, outlaws, and settlers as a landmark, is quite impressive. We got out to have a look and take photos.
Mosquito bite count: Max - 0, Carolyn - 1, Alan - another 20!!
The drive on the back roads through the Big Muddy Valley provided wonderful views and vistas that must have stretched for 45 or more kilometers to the horizon. The pastures and crops looked fresh and green after recent rainfalls. There were large herds of cattle grazing. Hawks soared overhead. Swallows flitted about and Red Winged Blackbirds sat on posts noisily protecting their territory. Gophers were scurrying furiously back and forth across the roads. Wild roses and many other wild flowers were in full bloom. Our total trip lasted 9½ hours and covered 474 km.
We have enjoyed being part of the Confluence Project. This exciting visit is our 29th, but possibly our last. We expect our trespassing trial will be held soon and even though it will be "fair", by this time next week we could be "hung"! Stay tuned.......
For Big Muddy/Outlaw Cave Tours call 306-267-2150 or 306-267-3312.
To read more about The Big Muddy:
Virtual Saskatchewan - The Big Muddy Badlands
Virtual Saskatchewan - Outlaw Rule
Travelterrific - a tour of Saskatchewan's Big Muddy Badlands