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James Morrow Walsh

Photograph: James Morrow Walsh


James Morrow Walsh.

(May 22, 1840 - July 25, 1905)

James Morrow Walsh was appointed commissioner of the Yukon District in 1897. He also served as the primary negotiator between Sitting Bull and the United States Army in the 1870s, during Sitting Bull's exile in Canada.

James Morrow Walsh was born in Prescott, Upper Canada, the son of Lewis Walsh and Margaret Morrow. Little is known of his early life. After an indifferent performance at school, he tried his hand at such employments as machinist, railway man, store clerk, exchange broker, and hotel manager. Eventually he was drawn to the militia, serving during the Fenian raids. Although offered a coveted commission as part of the Red River expedition, he declined at the last minute, possibly because of his marriage to Mary Mowat on April 19, 1870.

Through connections within the federal Conservative party, Walsh was offered a commission in the newly formed North West Mounted Police (NWMP) in May of 1873. After assisting with the recruitment of other officers, Walsh accompanied them to Winnipeg. He impressed his superiors enough to be appointed acting adjutant and riding master, and then promoted to inspector in 1874.

Regarded as a capable leader, Walsh was sent to establish a post at Cypress Hills in 1875. The subsequently named Fort Walsh became the most important of the NWMP bases over the next several years, largely due to Sioux chief Sitting Bull fleeing to the area in 1876 after the battle at Little Big Horn. Responsibility fell to Walsh to handle the situation. He sympathized with Sitting Bull's case, and enjoyed his role as mediator. However, when he failed to quickly persuade the Sioux to depart, Walsh was transferred to Fort Qu'Appelle in 1880. He was later forced to go to Brockville on leave and not permitted to return until 1881, by which time Sitting Bull had left the country. He resigned over the matter two years later, in 1883.

Walsh then moved to Winnipeg and set up a coal business, leaving this venture to become manager of the Dominion Coal, Coke, and Transportation Company. He also developed a close friendship with Clifford Sifton, who became minister of the interior in the Laurier government. As a result of this relationship, Walsh was made the first commissioner of the Yukon District in 1897, and reinstated as a superintendent in the NWMP. He was given command of the Yukon NWMP that October, reporting directly to Sifton at Ottawa. Walsh's position, and his degree of control over the area's forces, caused resentment among the other officers. He resigned in 1898, before matters came to a head, citing political and administrative difficulties. He returned to Brockville, where he died at age 65.


Holmgren, Eric J. -- "Walsh, James Morrow". -- The Canadian encyclopedia : year 2000 edition. -- Ed. James H. Marsh. -- 3rd print ed. -- Toronto : McClelland & Stewart, 1999. -- P. 2473.

Macleod, Roderick C. -- "Walsh, James Morrow". -- Dictionary of Canadian biography. --  Ed. Ramsay Cook. -- Toronto : University of Toronto Press, 1994. -- Vol. 13, p. 1071-1072.

"Walsh, James Morrow". -- Macmillan dictionary of Canadian biography. -- Ed. W. Stewart Wallace. -- 4th ed. -- Toronto : Macmillan of Canada, 1978. -- P. 871.