TOUCHIE, Rodger Don

Author Tags: First Nations, Photography, Publishing

Rodger Touchie put together one of the earliest titles published by Jim Douglas entitled Vancouver Island: Portrait of a Past (J.J. Douglas, 1974) and has also released an often-republished title for Diana Douglas, Jim Douglas' daughter, entitled Preparing a Successful Business Plan (Self-Counsel).

Having spent several decades in the publishing industry, he acquired ownership of Heritage House in 1995, a company that was pioneered by Art Downs, and soon elevated the press into the mainstream of B.C. publishing with the vital partnership of his wife, Pat Touchie. Along the way, he has served as president of the Association of Book Publishers of British Columbia. In 2008, his Heritage Group received the Jim Douglas Publisher of the Year Award from the ABPBC [See below].

Touchie says he was first attracted to writing when his MBA thesis was published
in three parts by Canadian Business magazine. He has since written Bear Child: The Life and Times of Jerry Potts (Heritage 2005). Abandoned by the third white father he had known, Potts was first called Ky-yo-kosi or 'Bear Child' by his Blood tribe mother Namo-pisi or 'Crooked Back'. He became renowned as a half-breed marksman and scout, sometimes working for the Northwest Mounted Police from 1874 onwards, and was also widely known among the Blackfoot Confederation as a peerless hunter and warrior. Previously profiled in a 1984 biography by Bernard D. Fardy entitled Jerry Potts, Palidin of the Plains, the plainspoken buckskin ambassador between opposing cultures was used as the central character in Guy Vanderhaeghe's successful novel entitled The Last Crossing. Touchie's biography provides some new information about the half-Scottish guide and interpreter who was born (circa 1840) at Fort McKenzie (north Montana) and died in 1896 at Fort McLeod in the Northwest Territories. He was buried with full military honours.

With more than 150 photographs, Rodger Touchie's Edward S. Curtis Above the Medicine Line (Heritage 2010) sheds new light on the mystique of the pioneer photographer Curtis while concentrating on images he took in Western Canada. [See article below.]

Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
Edward S. Curtis, Above the Medicine Line: Portraits of Aboriginal Life in the Canadian West


Vancouver Island: Portrait of a Past (J.J. Douglas, 1974)

The Life and Times of Jerry Potts (Heritage 2005)

Edward S. Curtis Above the Medicine Line (Heritage 2010)
978-1-926613-77-2 $24.95 / pb 978-1-894974-86-8, $19.95

[BCBW 2010]

Bear Child: The Life and Times of Jerry (Heritage House $19.95)

An unparalleled tracker, scout and intrepreter, Jerry Potts participated in the crucial events of his turbulent times and he embodied the two cultures whose conflict marked them. Respected by chiefs of the Blackfoot Confederacy, Potts led the Mounties to the notorious “whisky fort”, Fort Whoop-Up, and was later buried with full military honours. Rodger Touchie begins his biography Bear Child: The Life and Times of Jerry (Heritage House $19.95) with Pott’s father, Andrew Potts, a disaffected medical student, who left Edinburgh for Pennsylvania, then proceeded to the western territories of the American Fur Company.

At Fort McKenzie, in what is now northern Montana, he took a “country wife,” Namo-Pisi, or “Crooked Back,” from the Blackfoot tribe, and she gave birth to Jeremiah Potts during the small-pox epidemic of 1837-1838. Andrew Potts was shot to death two years later. Jeremiah Potts was raised by two very different step-fathers; Alexander Harvey, a reputedly villainous man with a deep hatred of native people, and Andrew Dawson, a gentle, well-educated Scot.

From Dawson, Jerry Potts absorbed knowledge of the fur trade and learned English, though one source reported that “his English was weird.” In his travels with Dawson he also learned three Blackfoot dialects as well as Cree, Crow, Assiniboine and Sioux. By his late teens Potts, alone again, sought out his mother’s people and immersed himself in their way of life. He was quickly accepted, given the name “Bear Child” and respected for his skills. In spite of his unimposing stature—Potts was stooped and bowlegged, his growth stunted by periods of starvation and malnutrition—he was a fierce fighter who never let any abuse go unavenged. He was also a capable interpreter and a good marksman. His weakness was a fondness for whiskey. Potts had four wives during his lifetime. The first was a Crow woman who bore him a son, but who grew homesick for her own people. He allowed her to return with their son to the Crow lodges, and took two sisters for his new wives—Panther Woman and Spotted Killer, daughters of a South Piegan chief. When asked about the merits of having two wives, Potts is reported to have answered “One wife fights her husband, but two fight each other.” Like many another person who combines two cultures, Potts never completely belonged to one or the other. He never fully accepted the Blackfoot way of life, refusing to join raids for horses and other booty, decided to return to the White world during his thirties. In doing so, he abandoned his Bear Child persona and indirectly contributed to the decline of his mother’s people.

In the aftermath of the Civil War, unscrupulous settlers, whiskey peddlers and traders flooded into the West. Potts adapted to the situation by becoming a horse-trader, a hunting guide, an interpreter and a scout. When the North-West Mounted Police force was formed in 1873, he signed on with the Canadians and became an indispensable ally of Colonel James Macleod. He proved so valuable as an advisor, a gatherer of information and as a go-between in Macleod’s meetings with local chiefs that any lapses into irresponsibility caused by inebriation were quickly forgiven. “When whiskey smugglers were arrested,” Touchie notes, “Jerry had a great affinity for the evidence.” Potts’ son and both of his wives died in the late 1880s, so he married the daughter of a Blood chief and returned with her to live among his mother’s people on the Blood Reserve. There he became a father for the last time and broadened his spiritual life to include Catholicism along with his other beliefs. Potts died at the age of 56, possibly of cancer or tuberculosis. When he was transferred to the hospital at Fort Macleod, many of his Aboriginal and Mountie friends converged on the hospital for a final visit. After his funeral, six Mounties carried him from the Catholic church at Fort Macleod to their own graveyard on the banks of the Oldman River. There his stone bears the following inscription: Spl/ Const. Intpr-Guide Jerry Potts 13th July 1896. An obituary in the Macleod Gazette read: For years he stood between the police on one side, and his natural friends, the Indians, on the other, and his influence has always made for peace. Had he been other than he was… it is not too much to say that the history of the North West would have been vastly different to what it is….

Rodger Touchie concludes his account by commenting on the regrettable circumstance that someone who chose Canada as his homeland and served it so well should remain largely unrecognized. His only public memorials to date are an informally christened mountain along the Great Divide, and a Calgary school named in his honour. Rodger Touchie, who owns Heritage House press with his wife Pat, became interested in Potts as the subject for a biography from reading accounts of the western frontier in which Potts' name repeatedly recurred among those of better-known figures such as Crowfoot, Red Crow and Sitting Bull, as well as Mounties such as Macleod, Sam Steele and James Walsh. The use of a lesser-known character as a prism to view a historical period has been popular since 1978 when Barbara W. Tuchmann published A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century. 1-894384-63-6

--by Joan Givner

[BCBW 2005]

Press Release (2008)

from Association of Book Publishers of BC
Vancouver, March 17, 2008 – The ABPBC is pleased to recognize The Heritage Group with the 2008 Jim Douglas Publisher of the Year Award for bringing together a group of companies to create a unique enterprise that publishes regionally strong, wonderfully eclectic titles; maximizes their niche market potential with a strong distribution system and an acute eye for the details of business; and a strong commitment to the community of publishers in BC and Canada.

Rodger and Pat Touchie were not unknown to the publishing industry when they purchased Heritage House Publishing from Art Downs in 1995. Rodger was a published author and Pat was Vice-President of Sales and Marketing at Self-Counsel Press and an equity partner in their US division. What the industry didn’t realize then was that this dynamic couple would not simply build on the character and success of Heritage House Publishing to create a viable regional publishing enterprise, but that this enterprise would evolve by 2002 into a group of affiliated companies each with its own editorial niche enhanced by a creative joint marketing and distribution program. The Heritage Group now consists of Heritage House Publishing with Rodger at its helm; Touchwood Editions, (formerly known as Horsdal & Schubart) and its new subsidiary Brindle & Glass led by Pat Touchie and Associate Publisher, Ruth Linka while Rocky Mountain Books, located in Surrey and Calgary has Don Gorman as its publisher.

While the Jim Douglas Publisher of the Year Award goes to The Heritage Group, it is important to recognize the company’s beginnings with Art Downs who, a writer himself, was utterly committed to providing local authors with an opportunity to tell BC stories. He was gruff and outspoken, shy and unpretentious but contributed enormously to our understanding of our province. Rodger Touchie remembers the negotiations that led to their taking over ownership of the company: “Fittingly for an old Cariboo writer there was some dickerin’ and horse trading,” he says. “Art could put a burr under your saddle but he wanted to hand the reins to someone he trusted and we established a mutual respect pretty darn quick. Like Gray Campbell and Jim Douglas he was one of our industry elders and I think he would be very proud of this award.”

The Touchies’ keen eye for niche markets have created lists of award-winning new titles, re-releases of BC classics, fresh views on Canadian figures, art books and a mysteries series. With more emphasis on book design and contemporary subjects along with the old, the Touchies have revived a moribund company, and in fact, have made it a thriving business enterprise. Along the way they have also made a huge commitment to the publishing community. Rodger was president of the ABPBC as we negotiated the crucially important Book Publishers Tax Credit and currently is Vice President of the Association of Canadian Publishers. In recent years Pat has sat on the ABPBC board and Professional Writing Advisory Council at the University of Victoria. Their enthusiasm and plain good sense have contributed significantly to the success of these organizations.

For all of these reasons, the ABPBC is pleased to present The Heritage Group with an award that acknowledges an active book publishing company that has, in recent times, earned the respect and applause of the community of publishers for a specific publishing project, an extraordinary contribution to the BC publishing community, and/or its extended commitment to excellence in publishing.

The Jim Douglas Award was established in the name of the founder, in 1970, of J.J. Douglas, which later became Douglas & McIntyre, now the largest English-language publishing company outside Ontario. As a publisher, Jim Douglas’ company represented editorial excellence, marketing savvy, and confidence that regionally developed titles had a place in the international market. With a philosophy to publish for backlist, he developed a strong regional, national, and international list that included many important First Nations titles, guidebooks and histories and which later also included educational titles. The combination of business acumen and passion for the making and selling of books has inspired many publishers who followed him. Jim Douglas will present The Heritage Group with their award at a dinner in their honour March 20th, 2008. The Gray Campbell Award for Distinguished Service will be presented to Dr. Rowland Lorimer of SFU’s Canadian Centre for Studies in Publishing at the same event.

Edward S. Curtis Above the Medicine Line
Article (2010)

With the gargantuan goal of recording on film and documenting with text all possible information on Aboriginals west of the Mississippi, pioneer photographer Edward Sherrif Curtis produced 20 volumes of text and original photography in The North American Indian, Being a Series of Volumes Picturing and Describing the Indians of the United States and Alaska (1907-1930). Volumes 9 (Salishan), 10 (Kwakiutl) and 11 (Haida and Nootka) are directly related to British Columbia and the largest of the 20 volumes was devoted to the Kwakiutl. Curtis also wrote an Indian opera and two bestsellers, Indian Days of Long Ago (1914) and Land of the Head Hunters (1915).

When the first two volumes of his photos were published in 1907, the New York Herald hailed the work of Curtis as “the most gigantic undertaking in the making of books since the King James edition of the Bible.” But later critics such as Ralph Maud have concluded, “One cannot help but think that his archival camera was somehow supposed to exonerate the genocide.” Both viewpoints are valid. Believing Aboriginals of western North America were doomed to vanish provided Curtis with his mandate to generate a massive archive of images that were frequently staged for effect. Métis playwright Marie Clements has published her play, The Edward Curtis Project: A Modern Picture Story (2010), staged coincidental with the Olympics in the spring of 2010, to criticize Curtis and his hubris, whereas Rodger Touchie has simultaneously published a non-fiction appreciation Curtis’ photos above the 49th parallel, Edward S. Curtis Above the Medicine Line (2010) to mostly celebrate the remarkable breadth and dramatic impact of Curtis who visited 80 tribes and took more than 40,000 photographs.

Born in Wisconsin in 1868, Edward Curtis first arrived in the pioneer villages of Puget Sound at age 19. One of his first subjects was ‘Princess Angeline,’ the daughter of Chief Seattle, in 1895. Four years later Curtis was a photographer for some of the world’s leading scientists on a two-month scientific voyage from Seattle to the Bering Sea. His journey up and down the B.C. and Alaska coastline was the catalyst for his 30-year obsession with portraying the Aboriginal spirit and ostensibly eradicating false notions of Aboriginal life. Curtis contributed to Scribner’s magazine and his early exhibitions at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria earned him the support of Theodore Roosevelt and the patronage of J. Pierpoint Morgan. Despite these connections, Curtis’ Seattle studio was chronically short of money as he struggled to complete his journeys to all tribes west of the Mississippi from New Mexico to Alaska.

For 20 years Curtis was greatly assisted by the mostly unheralded W.E. Meyers, a former reporter for the Seattle Star newspaper, who took notes by shorthand and assembled the narratives of ethnographic materials that supported and greatly enhanced the value of the images. Curtis’ work in B.C. was greatly assisted by the interpreter George Hunt, son of a Tsimshian woman and a Hudson’s Bay Company employee, who lived for 60 years among the Kwakiutl and also greatly contributed to the anthropological work of Franz Boas.

During three seasons with the Kwakiutl, with the crucial assistance of Hunt, Curtis made one of the first made-in-B.C. feature films, In the Land of the Head Hunters, presented for the first time in 1914. Filmed mostly on or near Deer Island, it premiered on December 7, 1914 at the Moore Theatre in Seattle and was shown in Seattle and New York during the next two years. The 35 mm prints disappeared until a copy was recovered by George Quimby, curator of anthropology at Chicago’s Field Museum, in 1947. Quimby and Bill Holm of Seattle succeeded in transferring the footage to 16 mm stock about twenty years later. Interviewed at age 90 in 1988, Margaret Frank was known as Princess Ommagalees when she had a starring role in that Curtis’ movie at age 17. Born into the Kwawkgewith First Nation and raised near present-day Port Hardy, Margaret Frank, granddaughter of George Hunt, played the role of a princess named Naida in Curtis’ rendition of a story recorded by a man she knew as “the Professor,” Franz Boas. In the movie Naida is pursued by a shaman and a chief’s son named Motana. They fight and the chief’s son kills the shaman. When Motana and Naida marry, the shaman’s brother raids Motana’s village and abducts Naida. She is happily reunited with Motana at the end of the story. Margaret Frank recalled how her uncle stood in a war canoe, hidden behind a huge wooden thunderbird mask, flapping his arms up and down inside man-made wings, as if he was attempting to fly. Curtis stood in hip-waders at the tideline, cranking his camera on a tripod. “My mother stood up in the stern and began to dance and sing,” she said. “Then, suddenly, the canoe hit a rock and my mother toppled over onto several others, and everyone burst out laughing. Except Mr. Curtis. He scowled and took the film out of his camera and threw it away in disgust. ‘This is a serious film,’ he said. He didn’t want his Indians to laugh.” This film footage has been restored. The revised and expanded version was shown in various North American locations initially in 2008.

In 1919, Curtis’ wife finalized divorce proceedings and received his studio and all of his negatives as part of the settlement. In 1920 he moved from Seattle to Los Angeles with his daughter Beth, assisting Cecil B. Demille in the making of The Ten Commandments. Curtis died of a heart attack in 1952 in Los Angeles at age 84. An original edition of The North American Indian sells for more than $80,000. Various reprinted editions have appeared. There are many books and at least one movie about the life and work of Curtis, The Shadow-Catcher, by T.C. McLuhan.

-- Alan Twigg