Kootenay Brown

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John George Brown (10 October 1839 – 18 July 1916), better known as "Kootenai" Brown, was an Irish-born Canadian polymath, soldier, trader and conservation advocate.

Born and eductated in Ennistymon, Ireland[1] Brown was commissioned as a British Army officer in 1857 "without purchase"[2] (a reference to the practise then common of wealthy Britons purchasing officers' commissions), joining the 8th Regiment as an ensign[2]

After serving in India in 1858 and 1859, in 1862 he sold his commission and joined the flood of prospectors joining the Cariboo Gold Rush. He proved unsuccessful as a prospector, turning to trapping and then briefly policing, serving as constable in Wild Horse Creek, BC[2] (now gone).

In 1865, he moved on, to Waterton Lakes , being wounded by a Blackfoot Indian on his way to Fort Garry (now Winnipeg), where he settled and became a whisky trader.[2]

Subsequent to that, he worked briefly for a company delivering mail to the United States Army until 1874, during which time he was captured and nearly killed by Sitting Bull in 1869.[2]

The same year, Brown married a local Metis woman and ultimately made a living bison hunting and wolfing.[2]

After a quarrel (and obligatory gunfight) at Fort Benton, Montana, with "celebrated hunter" Louis Ell, in which Ell was killed, and subsequent trial and acquittal by a territorial jury,[2] Brown returned to his beloved Kootenay, where he settled, building a reputation as a guide and packer.

In the North West Rebellion, he acted as chief scout to the Rocky Mountain Rangers.

Always arguing vigorously for the region's preservation, after the Kootenay Forest Reserve (a Canadian version of a national forest) was established in 1895,Brown became a fishery officer and in 1910, a forest ranger.[2]

He lived to see the reserve expanded into Waterton Lakes National Park, which became contiguous with Glacier National Park in Montana, in 1914.

He died at Waterton Lakes, Alberta and is buried here, along with his two wives.

The 1991 movie "Showdown at Williams Creek" starring Tom Burlinson, Raymond Burr and Donnelly Rhodes provides a loose portrayal of his life.

The Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village in Pincher Creek Alberta is named after Kootenai Brown for his contribution to the history of the surrounding area. Kootenai Brown's cabin is also located on site.



  1. ^ Rodney, William (1996). Kootenai Brown Canada's Unknown Frontiersman. British Columbia: Heritage House Co. p. 33. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Rodney, William. "Brown, John George, 'Kootenai'", in The Canadian Encyclopedia (Edmonton: Hurtig Publishing, 1988), Volume 1, p.289.


  • Marsh, James H. (1988). Brown, John George, 'Kootenai'. The Canadian Encyclopedia, Volume 1 (Edmonton: Hurtig Publishing). pp. p. 289. ISBN 0-88830-326-2.