Visionaries of the West – Mary Schaffer Warren

 

Mary Schäffer with horse, between 1907-1911, Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Mary Schäffer fonds (V527/ps-151), whyte.org.

Mary Schaffer Warren – Hunter of Peace
By Debbie MacRae

It was the spring of 1908, when a small party of six ascended a ridge of mountains at 8,750 feet, over what is now known as Mount Unwin, to view beautiful Maligne Lake in Jasper National Park, Alberta – the first white persons ever to have witnessed its allure.

Mary Schaffer, her female companion, Mollie Adams, a botanist, three guides, 22 horses, and a dog, were on a quest to locate the mythical lake spoken of by the Stoney Indian Band of Morley, most of whom had never seen it themselves.

Depicted in poetic post-card perfection, Lake Maligne now presents on the covers of travel magazines and brochures – luring tourists to shores once guarded sacredly only by the native hunter. Mary, with her drawings, her camera, and her colored slides, opened the world that lay “away from civilization… lost so far as the world was concerned, in a sea of mountains to the north.”

The paternal branches of her family tree traced back to 1682, as Quaker refugees who had fled from Britain to America, having suffered the persecution of their religious beliefs. British society rejected them and they journeyed with their children to pursue a new start along Pennsylvania’s Ridley Creek.

Each of Mary’s parents married “outsiders”, and their unconventionality and determination formed a foundation of strength for their girl-child, traits, which coupled with her curiosity and rebellious nature, would carry her through the many trials she would suffer in her lifetime.

From a privileged upper-middle-class Quaker family life, Mary received a strong formal education, with enriched extracurricular classes in flower painting, geology, minerology, archaeology, sciences, botany, and natural history. Consequently, she developed strong interest and respect for nature, the indigenous people of North America, and their culture.

After eaves-dropping on a particularly heart-wrenching story told by her “Cousin Jim” in the US army, Mary learned of the advancing tide of white settlement, and the carnage wrought by the removal of western native populations from their land. He spoke of a baby peeping out from under the body of its fallen mother and her horror was so profound, she cried out, and was discovered, and sent to her room. Her introspection led to a love of the native people and the friendship which would eventually lead her to explore the Rocky Mountains on horseback, year after year.

Mary’s first opportunity to explore the “wild west” came when she was 14-years-old. Her father, remembering his own first rail travel at the age of eight, endeavoured to provide his daughter the same experience – across the great plains. Eager to explore the wild and free lifestyle of the western frontier, and its intriguing indigenous populations, Mary was dismayed and saddened to witness instead, the condescension and mistreatment of her “friends.” Yet even at a very young age, she was able to convey a message of affection, compassion and understanding for a very misunderstood race of people.

In 1880, on a steamer trip she made to the Alaskan coast, she explored Native settlements at every opportunity, even against the counsel of her chaperone. Her courage and acceptance led to a lifelong intrigue and fascination with the indigenous lifestyle and she embraced the people with an open heart and mind.

Mary Schaffer’s buckskin shirt, donated to the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies.

As a young adult, she expanded her travel after the 1885 completion of the Canadian Pacific Railroad. She would be accompanied by a chaperone, Dr. Charles Schaffer, who would later become her husband, despite being 23 years her senior. As a physician, and an avid scientist, her husband was devoted to the natural sciences, and in 1889, Mary agreed to accompany her new husband to a scientific gathering in Toronto. On her arrival, she was enthralled by a series of images of Lake Louise, which captivated her imagination. She had to travel there, and only a few short months later she would once again accompany her husband on her first visit to Canada’s wild west.

On that trip she witnessed vestiges of Colonel Wolseley’s boats, abandoned after the 1869 Riel Rebellion. She met Sitting Bull’s brother and his wife, and sought permission to take his picture. She was rebuffed by his request for money, and turned away – regretting her missed opportunity later.

Her first glimpse of the mountains would be from the tiny railway station at Gleichen, Alberta at 4:00 a.m. and that first impression would be indelibly carved in her mind for the rest of her life.

Mary would spend the next several years until her husband’s death, assisting him with his scientific research; studying plants, identifying, pressing, drying, painting, and photographing rare and beautiful botanical specimens. She became known as the “painter of slides,” and was eventually granted a life membership in the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences, despite threats of strong opposition due to her gender. At one point, she travelled with Dr. Schaffer on the top of a boxcar, forty miles, to camp outdoors on the shores of Lake Louise!

In 1903, Mary met Sir James Hector, surgeon to the famous Palliser Expedition. Sadly, he would return immediately to his home in New Zealand, after the death of his son to appendicitis. Within a few short months, she too, would lose her mother, her husband, and her father. Mary’s life would plunge into despair; Philadelphia society would shun her; her family would take advantage of her. She would learn the “bitter lesson, to count the pennies, to lean on no one, and make the best of crumbling fortunes.”

But the brief encounter with Sir Hector stimulated Mary to seek solace in the mountains, their majesty and their mystery. She resolved to compose and illustrate the Guide to the Flora of the Canadian Rockies that she and her husband had dreamt about but never started. And so she returned to Lake Louise, entrusted to the care of a young Boer war veteran and guide, by the name of Billy Warren. Under his guidance, she developed the outdoor skills required to complete her mission, and in so doing, became the first non-aboriginal woman to explore the areas encompassed by Banff, Yoho, and Jasper National parks.

A picture of Mary Schaffer-Warren is in her book entitled A Hunter of Peace. The picture  was taken by her friend Mollie Adams in 1907.  It says Moore family fonds (V439/PS-2) WMCR – which references the second edition of A Hunter of Peace with illustrations from photographs by the author and by Mary W. Adams and others – as referenced in the book available at the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies (WMCR).

In 1911, the Canadian government approached Mary to survey Maligne Lake, a task previously assigned only to men. Her accomplishment as an artist, photographer and writer stood her in good stead. Her survey resulted in the inclusion of Maligne Lake within the confines of Jasper National Park.

Despite being 20 years his senior, Mary would eventually marry her guide and mentor, Billy Warren, to whom she always referred as “Chief,” out of respect for his skills as an outdoorsman. He would build her a home in Banff, which stands to this day as a symbol of the respect she garnered as an accomplished “Mountain Woman,” the name given her by the Stoney people.

In an excerpt of a letter to Raymond Zillmer of Milwaukee from Mary [Schaffer] Warren, on April 12, 1928, she wrote:

“No one may know I went among those hills with a broken heart and only on the high places could I learn that I and mine were very close together. We dare not tell those beautiful thoughts, they like to say ‘explorer’ of me, no, only a hunter of peace. I found it.”

 

Hudson’s Bay Point Blanket: A Brief History

Source, Pinterest.

By JENN WEBSTER

Recently I had the opportunity to bring my mother a gift. I was really struggling with the perfect offering but when I came across a Hudson’s Bay Point Blanket, I knew my search had ended. Was there anything more Canadian? Growing up, I was always familiar with the multi-stripe pattern of this iconic blanket. One of my most treasured possessions now is a baby picture of my husband crawling around on one. However, I came to realize that after giving the newly acquired gift to my mother, I didn’t understand much of the blanket’s history.

It was time to look further into the iconic status of the Hudson’s Bay Point Blanket. First commissioned by Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) in 1800, the multi-stripe design lives on as a testament to our shared Canadian heritage. Throughout the 18th century, wool blankets were among the most popular trade items in the Canadian fur trade, accounting for more than 60% of all goods exchanged by 1700. Although blankets had been a trade good offered for some time, it was not until 1779 that the Hudson’s Bay Point Blanket came to life.

French fur-trader Germain Maugenest is thought to have advised the HBC to introduce point blankets. As part of his service of employment to HBC, he offered several suggestions for improving the growing inland trade from Fort Albany along the west coast of James Bay. One of his suggestions was that the company should regularly stock and trade “pointed” blankets.

Points were identified by the indigo lines woven into the side of each blanket. A full point measured 4–5.5 inches (10–14 centimetres); a half point measured half that length. The standard measurements for a pair of 1-point blankets was: 2 feet, 8 inches (81 centimetres) wide by 8 feet (2.4 metres) in length; with a weight of 3 pounds, 1 ounce (1.4 kilograms) each. Points ranged from 1 to 6, increasing by halves depending upon the size and weight of the blanket.

They allowed a blanket’s size to be easily determined even when folded – (Oh, how I wish all blankets and sheets came marked like this! Lord knows a system such as that found on Point Blankets would serve my current linen closet well…!) The point system was invented by French weavers in the mid-1700s since then, as now, blankets were shrunk as part of the manufacturing process. The word point derives from the French empointer, meaning “to make threaded stitches on cloth.”

The number of points on a blanket represents the overall finished size of the blanket – not its value in terms of beaver pelts, as is often thought.

 Although some sources suggest there is some meaning to the stripe colours or order, the truth is that nothing intentional was meant by the design. The four traditional colours of green, red, yellow, and indigo were simply colours that were popular and easily produced using good colourfast dyes at the time (around 1800). They are sometimes referred to as Queen Anne’s colours, since they first became popular during her reign (1702–1714).

 

The 1974 Calgary Stamped Royalty. Happy Barlow, Karin Kraft, Sis Thacker.

Interestingly enough, HBC did not roll out its first commercially available Point Blanket coat until 1922, although fur traders, voyageurs and Indigenous peoples had already been making them into coats for almost 200 years by then. These too, come with a long, interesting history.

The Coyote Fur throw by Caroline Furs.

What I love most about the HBC Point Blankets are their rich history and the fact that back in the early days of fur trading, they were well suited for cold Canadian winters. I had a Grandfather who tried to make an early living out of the trapping of beaver pelts. I can almost picture him traveling by dogsled with his young wife (my Grandmother) draped in a Point Blanket, deep into the wilderness of Canada.

Today, the blankets still hold their iconic status and warmth and as such, are used in a multitude of ways for home decor or fashion.

As seen in Vogue Australia. Source: Pinterest.

With their pops of color, these blankets make Canadiana statements wherever you look. From couch throws, to mugs, to the patterns on towels at a cottage retreat – the HBC Point Blanket pattern has inspired many a home. The pattern has also made appearances on special edition Canadian Olympic blankets, snowboards, Barbies, and milestone anniversary Canadian gifts.

Photo Credit: Ryan Rowell of Rowell Photo

Often duplicated, all genuine HBC Point Blankets come with authenticity labels. This has been done since 1890, as point blankets of similar quality were being sold by HBC competitors. In April 2017 HBC updated the label, rotating it from portrait to landscape, making it is easy to have English and French on either side of the crest. It was also enhanced with red on the flag. To celebrate Canada’s 150th Anniversary in 2017, HBC added an additional label which was a picture of voyageurs in a canoe, with CANADA on the top, to the blanket.

With such an elaborate history dating back to the early days of fur traders and settlers in Canada, I believe we’ll start to see more of the HBC Point Blanket influence in western lifestyle culture too, as our younger generations begin to understand its importance to our early beginnings. To me, it’s a symbol of early pioneering. A good that was crafted into a need and helped forge early Canada. It goes hand in hand with a wood-burning stove and a love of the past. What’s more western than that?

True Love (& Grit)

I'm dedicating this Valentine's Day post to the trick riders and rodeo girls of the late 1800's and early 1900's. For these women displayed incredible grit and love for their horses, and the early rodeo lifestyle, and their determination and courage has always been an inspiration to me.

Gals like Bea, pictured above, circa 1925, performing a crouch stand from her gorgeous white mount's withers.

Bea (Kirnan) was one of many cowgirls who performed in bronc riding at Madison Square Gardens Rodeo in the early 1900's, and in fact won it in 1929.

The entire era of this type of rodeo, really more of a Wild West Show crossed with a rodeo, was short-lived – a glamourous era between 1885 and 1941. In fact, 1941 was the final year the Madison Square Garden Rodeo featured cowgirl bronc riding. The World War, in a large sense, brought such entertainment to an end, and when it resurfaced, years later, it could never seem to recapture it's former glory.

The world had irrevocably altered.

This is champion relay-racer Joella Irwin. I love the expression on her horse's face. She was the daughter of C.B. Irwin, who was one of the founders of Cheyenne Frontier Days in Wyoming. Relay races were a highlight of early rodeos, when the grounds often had racetracks. Each cowgirl had three racehorses, and would circle the track once on each, switching then to the next horse. Eventually one cowgirl raised the the bar and invented the “flying change” which meant she would jump from one horse to the other without touching the ground, adding excitement and huge crowd appeal to the sport.

This is one of my all-time favorite cowgirl vintage photos, for the pure joy and love of life laid bare on the expression of Eloise Fox Hastings, one of the few women bulldoggers of the day. She is shown in this photograph at the Pendleton Round-Up in Oregon in 1924.

I love this passage in Teresa Jordan's excellent book, Cowgirls – Women of the American West.

“These rodeo women were stars, celebrities, their names were well known nation-wide. They were wined and dined in every city, and the top magazines and papers gave them lengthy coverage. These little wisps of women who could tame the wildest bronc or hang upside down over the hooves of a galloping steed, but who still dressed in silks and satins and loved to preen for men, charmed an America long in love with the Wild West.”

What a life!

What women!

You can find the Sweethearts of the Rodeo notecard series I've used to illustrate this post online at the True West magazine store.

Happy Valentine's Day!