Nicholas Sheran (1841-1882) packed a lot of living into his
41 years. Born in New York City, he apprenticed as a printer,
then spent several years on Arctic whalers. He served in Company
C of the 99th Regiment, New York National Guard, as a second
lieutenant and saw service during the Civil War. During his time
in the Army, Sheran met a soldier named Joseph Healy and, after
hostilities ceased, he accompanied him back to Montana. There he
became involved with John Jerome Healy, Joseph's older brother,
and even in 1866 somewhat of a legend on the Montana frontier.
Sheran became an Indian fighter, prospector and trader.
About June 1874 he came to Fort Whoop-Up, an American
whiskey-trading post established in 1869 by Alfred Baker
Hamilton and Johnny Healy. Sheran likely was familiar with the
place and may have visited the post on occasion. He drew on the
boating skills acquired as a boy on Arctic whalers and
established a ferry service, consisting of two flat-bottomed
rowboats, across the Belly River about 750 m northwest of the
fort. He grubbed coal from a 45-cm seam in his spare time,
selling the surplus to the Whoop-Up traders.
The North-West Mounted Police established the first Fort
Macleod on an island in the Old Man's River on 13 October 1874.
Sheran saw a larger market for his coal and moved downriver to
The Coal Banks when a 1.5 m thick seam was exposed. By December
NWMP work parties were hauling coal from Sheran's mine.
Sometime in 1877 Marcella Sheran (1844-1896) left New York
and travelled to Fort Benton, then on to the Belly River country
in the North-West Territories. [It has been impossible to
document any of this as her name simply does not appear in
obvious sources such as the Fort Benton Record or the Macleod
Gazette.] After her arrival, she proved to be a valued partner
to her brother as she had a sharp business sense and some
book-keeping ability. She married Joseph McFarland of Fort
Macleod on 4 July 2020 and went to live on his Pioneer Ranch.
In spite of vociferous opposition from his sister after 1878
Nicholas Sheran lived common-law with a Peigan Indian woman
called Mary Brown. Two children were born of the union: Charles,
in February 1880; and William, in November 1882; Sheran never
saw the second boy as he [Sheran] had drowned at Kipp's Crossing
of the Old Man's River the previous May.
Marcella Sheran McFarland managed her brother's estate with
considerable skill until her death from pneumonia in October
For additional information on Nicholas Sheran and his sister,
Marcella, see Johnston (1983).
This article is extracted
from Alex Johnston, Keith G. Gladwyn and L. Gregory Ellis.
Lethbridge: Its Coal Industry (Lethbridge, Lethbridge: City of
Lethbridge, 1989), Occasional Paper No. 20, The Lethbridge
Historical Society. The Heritage Community Foundation
and the Year of the Coal Miner Consortium (of which the City of
Lethbridge is the lead partner) would like to thank the authors
for permission to reprint this material.