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Social Science Native American Studies

Charcoal's World

The True Story of a Canadian Indian's Last Stand

by (author) Hugh Dempsey

Fifth House Books
Initial publish date
Nov 1979
Native American Studies, Historical
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Nov 1979
    List Price

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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.

About the author

Hugh Dempsey is an author, historian, and researcher. He is the former associate director of the Glenbow Museum in Calgary, and is currently its chief curator emeritus. He is also the editor of the quarterly Alberta History. Dempsey was made an honorary chief of the Kainai Blackfoot in 1967 and in 1975 was invested as a member of the Order of Canada. He is the author of more than twenty books, including The Great Blackfoot Treaties, Maskepetoon, Firewater, and Crowfoot.

Hugh Dempsey's profile page

Other titles by Hugh Dempsey