The origins of ‘Whoop-up’ revealed in 1943 Star article

Amorette Allison

History Columnist

Sometimes I do a lot of research before writing a history column and sometimes, what I find in the old newspapers is so wonderful, I have very little to add to it.

Case in point, an article in the Sunday Star on Jan. 17, 1943 titled “Origin of ‘Whoop-up’ As Name for Trails and Creeks Discussed.”

For those of you not familiar with the trail, the brief background is that it was a trail leading from Fort Benton to a spot near modernday Lethbridge that became Fort Hamilton or, alternatively, Fort Whoop-Up.

Rather than quoting serious articles from various sources, I will make do with the wonderful article in that old newspaper. I don’t know who wrote it but I suspect Lou Grill, a colorful newspaperman who was editing the Star in 1943, and was a big fan of area history.

Do remember, this story was written 75 years ago, and some of the terminology is out-of-date and offensive today, but for the purposes of historical record, I have recorded it as it was published.

Here is the article:

The term or phrase given to trails and in one instance to a creek in the Black Hills, “as near as I can figure it out,” writes D. J. O’Malley, early day resident of this region, now of Eau Clare, Wis., “began in Canada in the early days of the fur trapper.”


Mr. O’Malley’s reasons for thinking so, he writes, arises out of the time when the old N—N ranch was running some cattle on Prairie Elk creek in the ‘80s “there were always some Indians from the Wolf Point Agency hanging around. Among them was an old French breed we used to call “Shumpaw.” (That’s as near as I can come to spelling of his name.) He and I had many talks on early days in the Alberta (Canada) country where he was born.

The French breed told Mr. O’Malley “some great stories” about the Indians and trappers when he was a boy.

“He told me that in the days of his grandfather there has been three trading posts established in that country to which traders would come about twice a year to dispose of their pelts and stock up for the coming season.

“One post about which he spoke particularly — and I think from a remark he once made, that at this post is where the word ‘Whoop-up’ was first uttered.”

Shumpaw said: “When the trapper men came in to this fort they got rid of their skins, etc., and bought grub and ammunition for the next hunting season. Then the trapper men lay off and whoop up for a couple of weeks, after which they went back to their trap lines.”

Mr. O’Malley, in his narrative, says that in 1900, he took a herd of horses belonging to Howes, Strevell and Miles of Miles City to the High River country in Alberta.

“On my way back, after I delivered the herd, which incidentally was the largest herd of range horses I know to have been trailed in the Northwest, a man named Eckford had bought out Howes, Stevell and Miles, the O — (O bar within the O), and the herd consisted of more than 1,000 head of mixed stock.”

On his return, Mr. O’Malley came by rail from High River, stopping for a day at Lethbridge, and two days at McLeod, as it was known then.

“While in McLeod, I met a former Powder River man named Billy Parks who had come into that country and went into the horse business on his own. While he and I were talking I made the remark ‘that the region must have been a great trapper country at one time, and he said, it had been, and added:


“This town is on the site of a well-known old trading post which was called Fort Whoop-up. Lethbridge is also the site of another fort which was known as Fort Stand-Off, and there is another post, but I don’t know just where it was located, but it was known as Camp Slide-Out.”

What Parks had told him, says Mr. O’Malley, he associated with what the old French breed had said previously.

“What I found out from the hotel man at McLeod leads me to believe that this is where the name ‘Whoop-up’ originated. How it came to be applied to the creek in the Black Hills I don’t know but you know how a word ‘will take hold’ at times and be used so often. For instance, the word ‘persistent.’ It was changed in some way by the cowboy, and a man who was determined to do anything wasn’t called as being ‘set’ or ‘fixed’ in his way; he just hung and rattled. Maybe some man who was familiar with the name ‘Whoop-up’ gave it as a name to the creek and it stuck.

His attention having been called to a Whoop-up trail in Montana, Mr. O’Malley says it could have been given and probably was made by Indians from the south who were making their yearly visits to their red neighbors, the Crees, Bloods, Piegans and Blackfeet in the north country and vice versa.

“There is a well-defined trail (or was in 1893 when I saw it last) all the way down Bitter creek which runs into Powder River at the old W. B. Jordan ranch, the Lazy SA. This trail was made by Indians from the Wounded Knee country and those from the Lame Deer Agency visiting back and forth. The trail ran clear across the Jordan pasture and I think the trail mentioned in the Star may have been made the same way and by the same mode of travel.”

“Now that is a rather lengthy description of a very little information, but I wanted to help ... you out.”

The story doesn’t exactly line up with what the official sites say about the Whoop-up Trail but it does give some information not found on the officials histories I checked.

Just another bit of information that is part of our unique and colorful history.

( Amorette Allison is a local history columnist.)