The Alberta hamlet of Dead Man’s Flats will keep its unusual name, despite a request from a resident to change it to something more pleasant.

Councillors with the Municipal District of Bighorn voted unanimously last week to keep the name, which was adopted for the hamlet in 1985.

Reeve Dene Cooper, who co-wrote an award winning book on the history of the area, said changing the name would be a complicated process.

“I think we have to be very careful that we don’t become revisionists. The fact is the history of that particular flat, early in its days, was well described by a murder… I think we have to honour the fact that it’s been called Dead Man’s Flats for a very long time by an awful lot of people.”

Two legends about name 

There are two theories about how the area became known as Dead Man’s Flats.

Cooper suspects the name stems from a gruesome incident in 1904, when François Marrett murdered his brother Jean. Jean was a respected dairy farmer, while his brother was a former French Foreign Legion soldier who heard voices.

“The boys lived together in a cabin on what is now Dead Man’s Flats,” said Cooper. “On May 11, 1904, François rose from his bed at 5:30 in the morning and retrieved an axe he had borrowed earlier, entered the cabin and bludgeoned his brother to death while he slept in his bed.”

Found guilty in Calgary by reason of insanity, François Marrett spent the rest of his days in an insane asylum.

The second theory involves two or three First Nations people who were trapping a beaver in the area, which was then part of the national park.

“The trappers spied the park warden approaching them, and knew there was no time to escape,” according to an Alberta government website. “They quickly smeared themselves with beaver blood and played dead.  When the warden ran for help, they arose and took their beaver pelts home.  This story is suspect because no evidence is found in reports of the park wardens, nor does the name appear in a study of Nakoda (Stoney) names in the area.”

Pigeon Mountain rejected by council

The name for the hamlet was chosen in 1985 to encourage tourism, Cooper said. Pigeon Mountain was the second historical name councillors could have chosen, but the story is just as “devastating,” he said.

“The pigeons went extinct with the same type of brutality that was expressed by François Marrett,” he said. “They shot them, trapped them, poisoned them, dynamited them. The most populous bird in North America was extinct shortly after the 1900s.”