Born the son of a great Blackfoot leader, Charcoal's world was bounded by the mountains, hills, and plains of southwestern Alberta. That was the homeland of his people, the Blood Indians, but Charcoal
Born the son of a great Blackfoot leader, Charcoal's world was bounded by the mountains, hills, and plains of southwestern Alberta. That was the homeland of his people, the Blood Indians, but Charcoal was not free to enjoy it as his ancestors had. For millennia, they had lived each day in the company of spirits, and even with the coming of the white man that much did not change.
Charcoal's killing of his wife's lover may be a crime by western and modern standards, but for the people of his time it was a way of "saving face," and upholding the laws that governed his people. Major Samuel Benfield Steele of the North West Mounted Police did not know about the Indian spirit world and would not have cared to learn. Steele saw him as a common murderer and vowed to chase him down.
The tale of Charcoal is well known among the Indians of southern Alberta. Their stories of his exploits agree in many ways with the official reports of the North West Mounted Police, but the two sources conflict in the reasons for the success of Charcoal and his eventual downfall. Hugh A. Dempsey has spent twenty-five years researching the material on Charcoal; he has studied the government records and spoken with the elders and historians of the Blood Reserve. The result is Charcoal's World, giving us the Indian side of this remarkable story of Indian-white confrontation.
Originally published in 1978, Charcoal's World draws upon oral histories and archival records to recapture the passion and despair of a man fighting for his beliefs. It is a book that will be remembered for its compassion and historical importance as well as its tragic story.
View Biographical note
Originally a journalist, Hugh Dempsey worked for the government and later as an archivist for the Glenbow Foundation. Dempsey later became Director of History and Associate Director of the Glenbow Museum. As editor of Alberta Historical Review and the author of such books as Red Crow: Warrior Chief and Charcoal's World: The True Story of a Canadian Indian's Last Stand, Dempsey has promoted a larger understanding of Aboriginal issues and history in Calgary and southern Alberta. He holds an honorary doctorate from the University of Calgary and in 1975 was presented with the Order of Canada.