Current Temperature


April 20, 2024 April 20, 2024

Healy’s western tales told by Coaldale author

Posted on October 7, 2014 by Sunny South News

Southern Alberta’s very own Wyatt Earp and Buffalo Bill was John J. Healy – a trader and early day entrepreneur — according to a southern Alberta historian and author. “As far as southern Alberta is concerned, Healy is a very important figure in its history because he is the person that built the first permanent structure anywhere west of Winnipeg or south of Edmonton — and that is Fort Whoop-Up,” said Coaldale author and historian, re-enactor and raconteur Gordon E. Tolton.

Tolton’s latest historical masterpiece, “Healy’s West: The Life and Times of John J. Healy” has been a labour of love for the Lethbridge County resident on and off for the past 15 years. “Healy initiates trade amongst the Blood and Blackfoot on their own territory. Previous to the establishment of Fort Whoop-Up, the Blackfoot had gone either north to trade with the Hudson’s Bay in Fort Edmonton or the American Fur Company to the south at Fort Benton, MT.,” recalled Tolton, in regards to the trials and tribulations of one of southern Alberta’s unsung heroes.

“Healy comes from a little place called Sun River, MT. — not far from Great Falls, where he has been trading with the Blackfoot. He initiates contact amongst the Blackfoot and begins the processes of asking their permissions to trade on their own home territory, which very few people had ever done and never on a permanent basis before. Essentially, it’s an endeavour and adventure of great daring. He is somewhat the impresario of several other traders that are called ‘whiskey traders’ throughout southern Alberta,” added Tolton.

According to Tolton, he has been a volunteer and associated with the Fort Whoop-Up Historical Society and site for 23 years. “I wanted to be a fake mountie. I wanted to be a re-enactor for North West Mounted Policemen. I was very caught up in their history. The history of the police had always treated Healy as one of the villains — the Whoop-Up villains,” said Tolton, adding as he started to read more on Healy, he found the man was more complicated and he had a much more well-rounded career than just a troublesome whiskey trader, as some believed.

“When you take a look at his entire career, as a whole, we end up with our own little Wyatt Earp or Buffalo Bill, here on Canadian territory. He’s also a sheriff in Choteau County, which in those days encompassed the entire border region of northern Montana with what we call southern Alberta today. He later on goes into the Klondike and builds a merchant empire on the Yukon River, on both the Alaskan and Yukon sides. He’s kind of an international free trader. He also trades at a village called Dyea, amongst the Tlingit natives on the Alaskan coast and spends 10 years with them and almost replicates his successes and failures of Fort Whoop-Up, learning from his failures and becoming a very successful trader amongst them,” he recalled.

What Tolton finds most surprising is Healy was treated by history as a villain — who encroached and sold noxious substances but in fact Healy was a co-operator amongst the Blood and was invited to come in.

“They may have even given him the location where to set up. They came to trade with him for several years and then the same thing happened in Alaska. He traded among them and as such, he was adopted by both the Blood tribe, here in southern Alberta and by the Tlingit in Alaska. He’s a much more well-rounded character than history gives him credit for. He’s very much a business capitalist and he wants to be one of the big shots. In his old age, he gets an idea that he is going to link the railroads of North America with the Trans-Siberian Railroad and he’s going to dig a tunnel under the Bering Strait, 44 miles, and he’s going to create the world’s first inter-continental railroad,” said Tolton.

Tolton added the process of writing his latest opus was over a decade in the making, including research and quits and starts due to family and career obligations. “But I’ve been very, very hard at it with the last two years on completing it and getting it into the volume that you see today,” he noted.

Tolton’s book is now available to purchase through most online book sources including Amazon, Chapters/Indigo and is also available locally at Fort Whoop-Up, the Galt Museum and at Lethbridge Chapters. An e-Book is available online through Kobo and iTunes.

Tolton has written over six books with two in print including, “Prairie Warships” and “Cowboy Calvary.”

Leave a Reply

Get More Sunny South News
Log In To Comment Latest Paper Subscribe