Captain of the Roundup
|Roundup cowboys near High River, Alta., ca. 1901. Walter Watt (front row, fifth from left on white horse)
was appointed the captain of the Mosquito Creek wagon on the general roundup in southern Alberta. By
1902, Watt was Captain of the general roundup.
Fifteen months after the Last Spike connected Canada; Walter Langmuir Watt boarded a train in Ontario and headed to Calgary.
A strapping young man, Watt already had years of hard work under his belt; he had started working out for neighbouring farmers at 14 and by 21 he knew he could make his own way in the world.
Watt was born on a farm in Bruce County Ontario in 1866. When he reached Calgary (pop. 1,275) in 1887, he spent the first year working for his brother, Jack. “By 1889 he was working for the Hull Brothers on the Old Government Farm, butchering beef to feed the Indians, as the buffalo were all gone.” 1 He worked here for some three years and was called “Omukama Neena” meaning “Big Chief” after an incident that earned him respect among the First Nations.
Watt was known to be light on his feet and a step dancer. He could also kick higher than his head. (A feat he could still do when he was in his 60s.) First Nations families would come to the Farm and watch the slaughter as they waited for their beef. According to historical accounts, one bold young Native man would always come into the slaughter house and get in the way. One cold day Watt was jigging about to warm up his feet and he playfully kicked up past the astonished young man’s face. Unfortunately Watt has his spurs on and, when his foot came down, the spur caught the young man’s lower lip.
The enraged young man charged and Watt won the short-lived fight. To his surprise, the First Nations audience cheered the humbling of the camp bully, and one elderly woman personally thanked Watt for doing so.
In 1892 Watt was hired on as foreman of the “25” Ranch by William Roper Hull, a position he held for eight years. During this time he proved himself a natural leader and was appointed captain of the Mosquito Creek Wagon on the massive annual general roundup. Watt was well-known for being both a crack shot with his .44 Smith & Wesson as well as being ‘an artist’ with a branding iron, taking particular care in using the exact heat and pressure. He was known to “never botch a brand, or burn an animal. The irons had to be just the right heat; not too hot or too cool, and the pressure used and the length of time the iron was applied was very important for a good brand that could be read years later.” 2
In 1900 Watt changed irons and went to the Oxley Ranch as foreman of both the ranch and the Oxley wagon on the general roundup. He also met Louisa Anne Siebert, who was there helping the women cook. During his stay on the Oxley, Watt was also elected Captain of the General Roundup, which took in the humungous territory that included from Calgary south to the U.S. border, west into the Porcupine Hills and east to Medicine Hat.
Never a man to have just one iron in the fire, Watt also dabbled in the venture of horse trading; taking a herd of Fares and Lane Bar U horses north to the area between Olds and Wetaskiwin, and sold them to settlers.
|Cowboys on the general roundup in southern Alberta, June 8, 1901. L-R back row: Howell Harris; Lou
Murray; Joseph H. (7U) Brown. L-R front row: Walter Watt, foreman of the Oxley Ranch and captain of
their roundup wagon; Jim Fuller; George Ross, sitting on ground; Jack Glendenning; Charlie McKinnon.
Photos courtesy of Pat Melvin
Beginning with 1,500 cattle, in 1901 Watt and three partners formed the V Bar E Cattle Co., west of Nanton. In 1902 he set up a butcher shop and a successful implement business in Nanton. He also married Louisa and settled in Nanton. He took an active role in building the town, all while maintaining his other interests.
By 1905 he sold his butcher shop.
In the fall of 1906, Watt and his V Bar E partners trailed 600 steers and spayed heifers north to the Crawling Valley near Dorothy. Although they had 300 tons of hay, the disastrous blizzards of ’06 / ’07 were too much. By 1910 both their holdings at Dorothy and Nanton were sold.
Watt always maintained his homestead west of High River and in 1910 he and Louisa moved there permanently, steadily increasing the land base. Long an admirer of good horses, Watt had a fellow bring a cutting and rope horse named Mac from Chicago, as the best cutting horses in those days were trained in the Chicago stockyards, where all the work was done on horseback.
A well-respected rancher and cowboy, Watt and Louisa successfully raised cattle until his death in 1942. Walter Watt is buried in Nanton.
1 Mosquito Creek Roundup, pg. 48, W. L. Watt
2 Mosquito Creek Roundup, page 49, W. L. Watt
Terri Mason is the editor of Canadian Cowboy Country magazine. Pat Melvin of Nanton, Alta., is the granddaughter of Walter Langmuir Watt.