How many times have you driven down Deerfoot Trail and just took it for granted that the name referred to the Bambi-like creatures that inhabit Alberta’s forests? Like so many of our main thoroughfares, we utter the name without thinking about how it came to be and, in the case of Deerfoot Trail, we miss out on a really great story simply because we weren’t very curious.
Does it surprise you to learn that Deerfoot Trail was named after a man named Scabby Dried Meat who was known for his ability to literally run circles around the world’s most famous long distance runners of the late 19th century?
The man behind the legend was an unassuming young Blackfoot named Api-Kai-ees (literally “Scabby Dried Meat”) who had gained a reputation for being swift on his feet, so swift, in fact, that he is said to have outrun horses on more than one occasion. Standing six feet tall and being described by a Calgary Herald reporter as “thin as a crane”, his reputation for speed was so well-known that it even landed him a coveted job: messenger. He would spend his days running between villages, delivering important messages to people in Alberta, Saskatchewan and even Montana.
At the time, foot races were all the rage in Canada and continental Europe and promoters were always looking for new stars to add to their roster. Back then, running was a betting game, much like horse racing is today, and promoters quickly realized that they had pure gold on their hands once they saw Api-kai-ees running effortlessly across the plains, messages in hand. He was re-branded “Deerfoot” and positioned against the top athletes in the world
In 1884, Api-Kai-ees began racing professionally and spectators were immediately blown away by his speed and endurance. In one race, against J.W. Stokes of Birmingham, England, a top-ranked foot-racer at the time, Api didn’t enter the race until Stokes was on his sixth lap but still managed to best the Englishman by completing the ten-mile race in 54.5 minutes. In another feat of athletic prowess, he ran 84 miles in 16 hours in a no-limits race, decisively beating the other competitors. News began spreading and the story of Deerfoot was printed as far away as New York.
Unfortunately, Api-Kai-ees career was cut short when he ran into trouble with the law after stealing a blanket from a settler. He never returned to sports but was memorialized in 1970 with the naming of Deerfoot Trail in Calgary and was inducted into the Indigenous Sports Hall of Fame in 1996.
So next time you’re driving on Deerfoot Trail, take a minute to think of Api-Kai-Eees/Scabby Dried Meat and the interesting life he led back when Deerfoot Trail was little more than a dusty path linking small villages.
Photograph by: Postmedia Archive, Swerve.
Ryan MacDonald, B.Sc. Real Estate Professional
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