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Cruise and Griffiths (authors of several previous books, including The Money Rustlers, not reviewed) researched diaries, memoirs, newspaper accounts, and other period materials to recover the story of the motley collection of 150 men who made this forbidding 900-mile trek to frontier forts and trading posts in the unsettled Northwest Territory. They had been recruited with the promise of a good horse, extra rations, and an extraordinary opportunity for adventure. The rations, it turned out, were sporadic, and the horses only incompletely broken in, but they did get the adventure, in abundance. It was, Cruise and Griffiths remind us, from such ill-trained bands of adventurers that the renowned Royal Canadian Mounted Police evolved. The force, commanded by the inept British colonel George French, quickly found itself pushed to the limits of endurance by its leader's iron will, harsh discipline, and poor judgment. The men were plunged into a little-known and unforgiving land, peopled by militant tribes at constant warfare with one another. The recruits, during their long journey, endured intense heat, summer droughts, smallpox, grasshopper plagues, flying ants, vast prairie fires, and a subzero winter. The unforseen hardships resulted in desertions and mutinous incidents. After French bungled the mission, Major James MacLeod took command. A superb policeman and diplomat, he brokered the Blackfoot Treaty of 1877, which brought peace to the frontier, and wiped out the destructive whiskey trade, thus making possible both the growth of the territory and the emergence of the Canadian Pacific Railway.
A well-told tale deftly combining adventure, outsize characters, and lively scenes of a wild land in the process of being explored and settled.