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Old Macleod Trail is historic route

Before the Iron Horse thundered across the prairie people in this part of the world depended on bull trains to move their goods. From 1870-’85 bull trains of about 130 oxen pulling 30 wagons carrying tons of goods from Fort Macleod to Calgary every summer made their way along the Macleod Trail.
Stage coaches also followed the Macleod Trail, carrying passengers and the mail, pulling up at five strategically located stopping houses along the way.
In its heyday the Macleod Trail was a lifeline for people depending on goods and mail that had made its way along the Missouri River to Fort Benton, Mont. Those glory days ended for the Old Macleod Trail with the coming of the railway.
“The thing that many people rejoiced in, which was the railway, was the thing that put the Macleod Trail out of business,” historian Bill Dunn said.
The arrival of settlers and the North West Mounted Police in what was then the North West Territories fuelled the growing need for supplies. It was more economical to ship from Eastern Canada supplies for what is now southern Alberta on the Missouri River to Fort Benton, Mont., the furthest point steamboats hauling 200 to 400 tons of goods could travel on the Missouri River. The I.G. Baker Co. in Fort Benton would assemble bull trains to move the goods north to Fort Whoop Up and then west to Fort Macleod.
Although called “bull” teams, the wagons were pulled by oxen which were powerful, co-operative and could live off the land. The bull teams ran only in summer when grass was plentiful for the oxen to eat.
Wagons were hitched three in a row with 10 to 18 oxen in front. The three wagons could carry nine tons of freight. A line of teams that could involve 30 wagons and 130 oxen.
Bull whackers as they were known guided the oxen 10 to 12 miles a day, making slow but steady progress across the prairie. Stage coaches also followed the Macleod Trail but were able to run all year. In 1884 a passenger paid $15 for a ticket for the trip to Fort Macleod from Calgary.
The trip to Calgary from Fort Macleod took two days, with the stage coach pulling into the five stopping houses where they would find a fresh team of horses waiting.

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