Sam Steele
Overview
 
Major General Sir Samuel Benfield Steele, CB
Order of the Bath
The Most Honourable Order of the Bath is a British order of chivalry founded by George I on 18 May 1725. The name derives from the elaborate mediæval ceremony for creating a knight, which involved bathing as one of its elements. The knights so created were known as Knights of the Bath...

, KCMG
Order of St Michael and St George
The Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George is an order of chivalry founded on 28 April 1818 by George, Prince Regent, later George IV of the United Kingdom, while he was acting as Prince Regent for his father, George III....

, MVO
Royal Victorian Order
The Royal Victorian Order is a dynastic order of knighthood and a house order of chivalry recognising distinguished personal service to the order's Sovereign, the reigning monarch of the Commonwealth realms, any members of her family, or any of her viceroys...

 (5 January 1849 – 30 January 1919) was a distinguished Canadian soldier and police official. He was an officer of the North-West Mounted Police, most famously as head of the Yukon detachment during the Klondike Gold Rush
Klondike Gold Rush
The Klondike Gold Rush, also called the Yukon Gold Rush, the Alaska Gold Rush and the Last Great Gold Rush, was an attempt by an estimated 100,000 people to travel to the Klondike region the Yukon in north-western Canada between 1897 and 1899 in the hope of successfully prospecting for gold...

, and commanding officer of Strathcona's Horse during the Boer War
Boer War
The Boer Wars were two wars fought between the British Empire and the two independent Boer republics, the Oranje Vrijstaat and the Republiek van Transvaal ....

.
Born in Purbrook, Canada West, he was the son of Royal Naval Captain Elmes Yelverton Steele
Elmes Yelverton Steele
Elmes Yelverton Steele was a naval officer, farmer and political figure in Canada West.He was born in Coleford, Gloucestershire, England in 1781, the son of an English doctor. He joined the Royal Navy as an officer cadet in 1798 and served during the Napoleonic Wars rising to the rank of Captain...

, a veteran of the Napoleonic Wars
Napoleonic Wars
The Napoleonic Wars were a series of wars declared against Napoleon's French Empire by opposing coalitions that ran from 1803 to 1815. As a continuation of the wars sparked by the French Revolution of 1789, they revolutionised European armies and played out on an unprecedented scale, mainly due to...

, and his second wife, Anne Macdonald, the youngest daughter of Neil Maclain MacDonald of Ardnamurchan, a native of Islay
Islay
-Prehistory:The earliest settlers on Islay were nomadic hunter-gatherers who arrived during the Mesolithic period after the retreat of the Pleistocene ice caps. In 1993 a flint arrowhead was found in a field near Bridgend dating from 10,800 BC, the earliest evidence of a human presence found so far...

, grandson of Captain Godfrey MacNeil of Barra
Barra
The island of Barra is a predominantly Gaelic-speaking island, and apart from the adjacent island of Vatersay, to which it is connected by a causeway, is the southernmost inhabited island of the Outer Hebrides in Scotland.-Geography:The 2001 census showed that the resident population was 1,078...

 and nephew of Colonel Donald MacNeil.
Encyclopedia
Major General Sir Samuel Benfield Steele, CB
Order of the Bath
The Most Honourable Order of the Bath is a British order of chivalry founded by George I on 18 May 1725. The name derives from the elaborate mediæval ceremony for creating a knight, which involved bathing as one of its elements. The knights so created were known as Knights of the Bath...

, KCMG
Order of St Michael and St George
The Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George is an order of chivalry founded on 28 April 1818 by George, Prince Regent, later George IV of the United Kingdom, while he was acting as Prince Regent for his father, George III....

, MVO
Royal Victorian Order
The Royal Victorian Order is a dynastic order of knighthood and a house order of chivalry recognising distinguished personal service to the order's Sovereign, the reigning monarch of the Commonwealth realms, any members of her family, or any of her viceroys...

 (5 January 1849 – 30 January 1919) was a distinguished Canadian soldier and police official. He was an officer of the North-West Mounted Police, most famously as head of the Yukon detachment during the Klondike Gold Rush
Klondike Gold Rush
The Klondike Gold Rush, also called the Yukon Gold Rush, the Alaska Gold Rush and the Last Great Gold Rush, was an attempt by an estimated 100,000 people to travel to the Klondike region the Yukon in north-western Canada between 1897 and 1899 in the hope of successfully prospecting for gold...

, and commanding officer of Strathcona's Horse during the Boer War
Boer War
The Boer Wars were two wars fought between the British Empire and the two independent Boer republics, the Oranje Vrijstaat and the Republiek van Transvaal ....

.

Early life

Born in Purbrook, Canada West, he was the son of Royal Naval Captain Elmes Yelverton Steele
Elmes Yelverton Steele
Elmes Yelverton Steele was a naval officer, farmer and political figure in Canada West.He was born in Coleford, Gloucestershire, England in 1781, the son of an English doctor. He joined the Royal Navy as an officer cadet in 1798 and served during the Napoleonic Wars rising to the rank of Captain...

, a veteran of the Napoleonic Wars
Napoleonic Wars
The Napoleonic Wars were a series of wars declared against Napoleon's French Empire by opposing coalitions that ran from 1803 to 1815. As a continuation of the wars sparked by the French Revolution of 1789, they revolutionised European armies and played out on an unprecedented scale, mainly due to...

, and his second wife, Anne Macdonald, the youngest daughter of Neil Maclain MacDonald of Ardnamurchan, a native of Islay
Islay
-Prehistory:The earliest settlers on Islay were nomadic hunter-gatherers who arrived during the Mesolithic period after the retreat of the Pleistocene ice caps. In 1993 a flint arrowhead was found in a field near Bridgend dating from 10,800 BC, the earliest evidence of a human presence found so far...

, grandson of Captain Godfrey MacNeil of Barra
Barra
The island of Barra is a predominantly Gaelic-speaking island, and apart from the adjacent island of Vatersay, to which it is connected by a causeway, is the southernmost inhabited island of the Outer Hebrides in Scotland.-Geography:The 2001 census showed that the resident population was 1,078...

 and nephew of Colonel Donald MacNeil. Sam Steele received his education at the family home, Purbrooke, and then at the Royal Military College of Canada
Royal Military College of Canada
The Royal Military College of Canada, RMC, or RMCC , is the military academy of the Canadian Forces, and is a degree-granting university. RMC was established in 1876. RMC is the only federal institution in Canada with degree granting powers...

. By the age of thirteen he was orphaned, and went to live with his elder half-brother, John Steele.

Early military career

Samuel Steele's family had a strong military tradition, and in 1866 he joined the military during the Fenian Raids
Fenian raids
Between 1866 and 1871, the Fenian raids of the Fenian Brotherhood who were based in the United States; on British army forts, customs posts and other targets in Canada, were fought to bring pressure on Britain to withdraw from Ireland. They divided many Catholic Irish-Canadians, many of whom were...

. Steele also participated in the Red River Expedition
Red River Expedition
Red River Expedition can refer to different historical events:* Wolseley Expedition, in Canada *Red River Expedition , by the United States to explore the American West*Red River Expedition, during the American Civil War...

 in 1870 to fight the Red River Rebellion
Red River Rebellion
The Red River Rebellion or Red River Resistance was the sequence of events related to the 1869 establishment of a provisional government by the Métis leader Louis Riel and his followers at the Red River Settlement, in what is now the Canadian province of Manitoba.The Rebellion was the first crisis...

 of Louis Riel
Louis Riel
Louis David Riel was a Canadian politician, a founder of the province of Manitoba, and a political and spiritual leader of the Métis people of the Canadian prairies. He led two resistance movements against the Canadian government and its first post-Confederation Prime Minister, Sir John A....

. Much to his disappointment, he arrived after the Métis
Métis people (Canada)
The Métis are one of the Aboriginal peoples in Canada who trace their descent to mixed First Nations parentage. The term was historically a catch-all describing the offspring of any such union, but within generations the culture syncretised into what is today a distinct aboriginal group, with...

 had surrendered. The following year he joined the Permanent Force artillery, Canada's first regular army unit. Steele had long been fascinated by the West, devouring the works of James Fenimore Cooper
James Fenimore Cooper
James Fenimore Cooper was a prolific and popular American writer of the early 19th century. He is best remembered as a novelist who wrote numerous sea-stories and the historical novels known as the Leatherstocking Tales, featuring frontiersman Natty Bumppo...

 in his youth. He was especially interested in the First Nations
First Nations
First Nations is a term that collectively refers to various Aboriginal peoples in Canada who are neither Inuit nor Métis. There are currently over 630 recognised First Nations governments or bands spread across Canada, roughly half of which are in the provinces of Ontario and British Columbia. The...

, and spent his time in the West learning from them and the Métis. However, he was assigned to Fort Henry
Fort Henry
Fort Henry is the name of:*Fort Henry , a 1646 fort near present-day Petersburg, Virginia*Fort Henry , a 1774 fort near present–day Wheeling, West Virginia...

 in Kingston, Ontario
Kingston, Ontario
Kingston, Ontario is a Canadian city located in Eastern Ontario where the St. Lawrence River flows out of Lake Ontario. Originally a First Nations settlement called "Katarowki," , growing European exploration in the 17th Century made it an important trading post...

, for the next few years, as an instructor at the Artillery School.

In 1874, Steele was initiated as a Freemason in the Lisgar Lodge No. 2, in Selkirk, Manitoba
Selkirk, Manitoba
Selkirk is a city in the western Canadian province of Manitoba, located about 22 km northeast of the provincial capital Winnipeg on the Red River, near . As of the 2006 census, Selkirk had a population of 9,515....

.

Life in the Mounties

In 1873, Steele was the third officer sworn in to the newly formed North-West Mounted Police (NWMP), entering as a staff constable. He was one of the officers to lead the new recruits of the NWMP on the 1874 March West, when he returned to Fort Garry, present-day Winnipeg
Winnipeg
Winnipeg is the capital and largest city of Manitoba, Canada, and is the primary municipality of the Winnipeg Capital Region, with more than half of Manitoba's population. It is located near the longitudinal centre of North America, at the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers .The name...

, Manitoba. To him fell the rank of staff sergeant major and the responsibility—as an accomplished horseman and man-at-arms—of drilling the new recruits. In 1878, Steele was given his own command at Fort Qu'Appelle, North-West Territories.

In 1877, he was assigned to meet with Sitting Bull
Sitting Bull
Sitting Bull Sitting Bull Sitting Bull (Lakota: Tȟatȟáŋka Íyotake (in Standard Lakota Orthography), also nicknamed Slon-he or "Slow"; (c. 1831 – December 15, 1890) was a Hunkpapa Lakota Sioux holy man who led his people as a tribal chief during years of resistance to United States government policies...

, who, having defeated General Custer at Little Bighorn
Battle of the Little Bighorn
The Battle of the Little Bighorn, also known as Custer's Last Stand and, by the Indians involved, as the Battle of the Greasy Grass, was an armed engagement between combined forces of Lakota, Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho people against the 7th Cavalry Regiment of the United States Army...

, had moved with his people into Canada to escape American vengeance. Steele along with U.S. Army General Alfred Howe Terry attempted unsuccessfully to persuade Sitting Bull to return to the United States. (Most of the Sioux did return a few years later.)

During the North-West Rebellion
North-West Rebellion
The North-West Rebellion of 1885 was a brief and unsuccessful uprising by the Métis people of the District of Saskatchewan under Louis Riel against the Dominion of Canada...

 Steele was dispatched with a small force. Missing the Battle of Batoche
Battle of Batoche
The Battle of Batoche was the decisive battle of the North-West Rebellion. Fought from 9 May to 12 May 1885 at the ad hoc Provisional Government of Saskatchewan capital of Batoche, the greater numbers and superior firepower of Middleton's force could not be successfully countered by the Métis ,...

 the Mounties were sent to move against the last rebel force led by Big Bear
Big Bear
Big Bear or Mistahi-maskwa was a Cree leader notable for his involvement in the North-West Rebellion and his subsequent imprisonment.-Early life and leadership:...

. He was present at the Battle of Frenchman's Butte
Battle of Frenchman's Butte
The Battle of Frenchman's Butte, fought on May 28, 1885, occurred when a force of Cree, dug in on a hillside near Frenchman's Butte, was unsuccessfully attacked by the Alberta Field Force.-Background:...

, where Big Bear's warriors defeated the Canadian forces under General Thomas Bland Strange
Thomas Bland Strange
Thomas Bland Strange , known as 'Gunner Jingo', was a British soldier noted for his service with the Canadian militia during the North-West Rebellion of 1885. Strange was a retired Major-General at the time of the rebellion, and was raising cavalry horses near modern Calgary, Alberta...

. Two weeks later, Steele and his two dozen Mounties defeated Big Bear's force at Loon Lake
Battle of Loon Lake
The Battle of Loon Lake concluded the North-West Rebellion on June 3, 1885 and was the last battle fought on Canadian soil. Led by Major Sam Steele, a force of North-West Mounted Police, Alberta Mounted Rifles and Steele's Scouts caught up with and dispersed a band of Plains Cree warriors and...

, District of Saskatchewan
District of Saskatchewan
The District of Saskatchewan was a regional administrative district of Canada's Northwest Territories. Much of the area was incorporated into the province of Saskatchewan. The western part became part of Alberta, and the eastern part is now part of Manitoba. Its capital was Prince Albert...

, in the last battle ever fought on Canadian territory. The contributions of the NWMP in putting down the rebellion went largely ignored and unrewarded, to Steele's great annoyance. By 1885, Steele held the rank of superintendent. He established a NWMP station in the town of Galbraiths Ferry, which was later named to Fort Steele in British Columbia after Steele solved a murder in the town. He then moved on to Fort Macleod, District of Alberta
District of Alberta
The District of Alberta was one of four districts of the Northwest Territories created in 1882. It was styled the Alberta Provisional District to distinguish it from the District of Keewatin which had a more autonomous relationship from the NWT administration...

, in 1888.

In 1889, at Fort Macleod, he met Marie-Elizabeth de Lotbiniere-Harwood (1859–1951), daughter of Robert William Harwood. They were married at Vaudreuil, Quebec
Quebec
Quebec or is a province in east-central Canada. It is the only Canadian province with a predominantly French-speaking population and the only one whose sole official language is French at the provincial level....

 in 1890. They had three children, including Harwood Steele, who would fictionalize episodes from his father's life in novels such as Spirit-of-Iron (1929).

The discovery of gold in the Klondike, Yukon
Klondike, Yukon
The Klondike is a region of the Yukon in northwest Canada, east of the Alaska border. It lies around the Klondike River, a small river that enters the Yukon from the east at Dawson....

, in the late 1890s presented Steele with a new challenge. Although he campaigned unsuccessfully for the position of assistant commissioner in 1892, in January 1898, he was sent to succeed Charles Constantine
Charles Constantine
Charles Constantine was a Canadian North-West Mounted Police officer and superintendent, from Bradford, Yorkshire....

 as commissioner and to establish customs posts at the head of the White
White Pass
White Pass is a mountain pass through the Boundary Ranges of the Coast Mountains on the border of the U.S. state of Alaska and the province of British Columbia, Canada...

 and Chilkoot Pass
Chilkoot Pass
Chilkoot Pass is a high mountain pass through the Boundary Ranges of the Coast Mountains in the U.S. state of Alaska and British Columbia, Canada. It is the highest point along the Chilkoot Trail that leads from Dyea, Alaska to Bennett Lake, British Columbia...

es, and at Lake Bennett. He was noted for his hard line with the hundreds of unruly and independent-minded prospectors, many of them American. To help control the situation, he established the rule that no one would be allowed to enter the Yukon without a ton of goods to support themselves, thus preventing the entry of desperate and potentially unruly speculators and adventurers.

Steele and his force made the Klondike Gold Rush
Klondike Gold Rush
The Klondike Gold Rush, also called the Yukon Gold Rush, the Alaska Gold Rush and the Last Great Gold Rush, was an attempt by an estimated 100,000 people to travel to the Klondike region the Yukon in north-western Canada between 1897 and 1899 in the hope of successfully prospecting for gold...

 one of the most orderly of its kind in history and made the NWMP famous around the world, which ensured its survival at a critical time when the force's dissolution was being debated in Parliament. By July 1898, Steele commanded all the NWMP in the Yukon area, and was a member of the territorial council. As the force reported directly to Ottawa, Steele had almost free rein to run things as he chose, always with an eye towards maintaining law, order and Canadian sovereignty. He moved to Dawson City in September 1898.

Boer War and second military career

Always a soldier, in 1900 Steele leapt at the offer of Canadian Pacific Railway tycoon Lord Strathcona to be the first commanding officer of Strathcona's privately-raised cavalry unit, Strathcona's Horse. This Canadian light cavalry
Light cavalry
Light cavalry refers to lightly armed and lightly armored troops mounted on horses, as opposed to heavy cavalry, where the riders are heavily armored...

 unit, in British Imperial service, was sent to South Africa
South Africa
The Republic of South Africa is a country in southern Africa. Located at the southern tip of Africa, it is divided into nine provinces, with of coastline on the Atlantic and Indian oceans...

 during the Second Boer War
Second Boer War
The Second Boer War was fought from 11 October 1899 until 31 May 1902 between the British Empire and the Afrikaans-speaking Dutch settlers of two independent Boer republics, the South African Republic and the Orange Free State...

, where Steele commanded them with distinction in the role of reconnaissance scouts. Steele, however, disliked greatly what he was ordered to do by the British, which included burning towns and moving the populace to concentration camps. After taking the unit back to Canada early in 1901, Steele returned to South Africa that same year to command 'B' Division of the South African Constabulary, a position he held until 1906. On his return to Canada in 1907, Steele assumed command of Military Division No. 13 in Alberta and the District of Mackenzie, and then in 1910 assumed command of Division No. 10 at Winnipeg, where he spent his time regrouping Lord Strathcona's Horse and in preparing his memoirs.

Steele requested active military duty upon the outbreak of the First World War. He was initially rejected for command on the grounds of age. However, a compromise was reached which allowed him to act as commander of the 2nd Canadian Division
2nd Canadian Division
The 2nd Canadian Division was an infantry formation that saw service in the First World War. A 2nd Canadian Infantry Division was raised for the Second World War.-History:...

 until the unit was sent to France, whereupon he would be replaced. After accompanying the division to England, Steele was offered an administrative post as commanding officer of the South-East District.

Matters were complicated, however, when Canadian Minister of Defence Samuel Hughes insisted that Steele also be made commander of all Canadian troops in Europe—a slight problem, as there were two brigadier-generals who each believed the Canadian command was theirs. The issue was not resolved until 1916, when the new Minister of Overseas Military Forces of Canada, Sir G. H. Perley, removed Steele from his Canadian command after Steele refused to return to Canada as a recruiter. He kept his British command until his retirement on 15 July 1918. While in Britain, Steele was knighted, on 1 January 1918, and was made a Companion of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath
Order of the Bath
The Most Honourable Order of the Bath is a British order of chivalry founded by George I on 18 May 1725. The name derives from the elaborate mediæval ceremony for creating a knight, which involved bathing as one of its elements. The knights so created were known as Knights of the Bath...

, Knight Commander of the Most Distinguished Order of St. Michael and St. George
Order of St Michael and St George
The Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George is an order of chivalry founded on 28 April 1818 by George, Prince Regent, later George IV of the United Kingdom, while he was acting as Prince Regent for his father, George III....

, and Member of the Royal Victorian Order
Royal Victorian Order
The Royal Victorian Order is a dynastic order of knighthood and a house order of chivalry recognising distinguished personal service to the order's Sovereign, the reigning monarch of the Commonwealth realms, any members of her family, or any of her viceroys...

. Steele died of influenza just after his 70th birthday and was later buried in Winnipeg.

Canada's fifth-tallest mountain, Mount Steele
Mount Steele
Mount Steele is the fifth highest mountain in Canada and the eleventh highest peak in North America. A lower southeast peak of Mt. Steele stands at 4,300m ....

, is named after him.

CFB Edmonton
CFB Edmonton
CFB Edmonton is a Canadian Forces base located in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. It is also known as Edmonton Garrison or "Steele Barracks".-History:...

, the home of Lord Strathcona's Horse (Royal Canadians)
Lord Strathcona's Horse (Royal Canadians)
Lord Strathcona's Horse is a regular armoured regiment of the Canadian Forces. Currently based in Edmonton, Alberta, the regiment is part of Land Force Western Area's 1 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group...

 is now called Steele Barracks after Major General Steele.

Personal papers

On 19 June 2008, Steele's wealth of personal papers and writings were repatriated to Canada in a ceremony in Trafalgar Square
Trafalgar Square
Trafalgar Square is a public space and tourist attraction in central London, England, United Kingdom. At its centre is Nelson's Column, which is guarded by four lion statues at its base. There are a number of statues and sculptures in the square, with one plinth displaying changing pieces of...

 in London, England, headed by the Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex
Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex
Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex KG GCVO is the third son and fourth child of Elizabeth II and The Duke of Edinburgh...

.

Steele's papers, believed by historians to contain a wealth of heretofore untold stories that would "re-write Canadian history" had been held by British descendants of Steele, and were returned to Canada via a C$1.8MM purchase by the University of Alberta
University of Alberta
The University of Alberta is a public research university located in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Founded in 1908 by Alexander Cameron Rutherford, the first premier of Alberta and Henry Marshall Tory, its first president, it is widely recognized as one of the best universities in Canada...

.

Fictional references

Hector Adair, a character in the novel Spirit-of-Iron (1923), written by Steele's son, Harwood Steele, is thought to have been modelled on the famous Mountie. The novel includes a foreword in which the author writes: "Hector Adair is intended to represent the ideal Mounted Police officer in particular and the British officer generally. He is not to be identified with any historical figure connected with the Force."

Players meet Sam Steele in the 1994 computer simulation game The Yukon Trail.

In James Michener's
James A. Michener
James Albert Michener was an American author of more than 40 titles, the majority of which were sweeping sagas, covering the lives of many generations in particular geographic locales and incorporating historical facts into the stories...

 Alaska
Alaska (novel)
Alaska is a historical novel by James A. Michener. Like other Michener titles, Alaska spans a considerable amount of time.-Plot introduction:...

, "Major Sam Steele" is the face of the NWMP. Michener acknowledges him as a historical figure in the notes at the start of the book, but the veracity of his claimed actions is unknown.

Steele is also portrayed, along with Jack London
Jack London
John Griffith "Jack" London was an American author, journalist, and social activist. He was a pioneer in the then-burgeoning world of commercial magazine fiction and was one of the first fiction writers to obtain worldwide celebrity and a large fortune from his fiction alone...

, in Don Rosa
Don Rosa
Keno Don Hugo Rosa, known simply as Don Rosa, is an American comic book writer and illustrator known for his stories about Scrooge McDuck, Donald Duck and other characters created by Carl Barks for Disney comics, such as The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck.-Early life:Don Rosa's grandfather,...

's Walt Disney
Walt Disney
Walter Elias "Walt" Disney was an American film producer, director, screenwriter, voice actor, animator, entrepreneur, entertainer, international icon, and philanthropist, well-known for his influence in the field of entertainment during the 20th century. Along with his brother Roy O...

 comic book Hearts of the Yukon, episode 8C from The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck
The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck
The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck is a comic book story by Don Rosa about Scrooge McDuck. Originally, the story had twelve chapters totalling 212 pages...

.

In an episode of Due South
Due South
Due South is a Canadian crime drama series with elements of comedy. The series was created by Paul Haggis, produced by Alliance Communications, and stars Paul Gross, David Marciano, and latterly Callum Keith Rennie...

("North"), Fraser references Sam Steele as having been very proud of never firing his weapon while patrolling the Northwest Territories.

In several of the short stories James B. Hendryx wrote about the Yukon Gold Rush, Sam Steele is in the background. Usually Steele is investigating a crime. ("Left Handed Justice", "Short Stories" January 1950 issue)

External links

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