|This was taken out of the notice, sent to the Higgins
family back in England by the British Columbia Colonial Government.
|A Much closer route to the Gold than up from New Westminster.
|The following story is a First Nation's view of our last big Indian War. It does not necessarily reflect BcGhostTowns views...
We do however want the First Nations views of the Tsilhqot'in War...
148 Years since, "it is surely Time"
|The Tsilhqot'in War, 1864
By Russell Samuel Myers Ross, from Yunesit'in and Xeni.
From its initial conception in 1849, the colony of British Columbia was gearing itself towards establishing a base to expand and acquire the riches for the Empire. Competitive settler entrepreneurs from Victoria and New Westminster drew plans to capitalize on the steadily growing gold rush in 1858 where hordes of Americans migrated north to loot the riverbanks and mountains. Miners, in the tens of thousands, were found scurrying along the Fraser River and the plague of disease lingered with them.
As an ambitious political opportunist, Alfred Waddington rallied politicians and businessmen to invest in building a toll road to the interior Quesnel gold fields. He sought to monopolize the rights, and then sold the idea of building a more direct route, in competition with the longer Caribou Road that follows the Fraser River. With the road in place, he would develop his own colony at Bute Inlet. However, Waddington's seemingly simple plan proved to be more challenging than anticipated. First, the geographic location of canyons and dense forest made it impractical. Second, the road would cut straight through land that was held by the Tsilhqot'in, "people of the river".
Settler relationships with the Tsilhqot'in were tenuous, unpredictable and often dysfunctional. For instance, since the year of 1836 the Hudson Bay Company struggled to stay on good terms with the Tsilhqot'in at Fort Chilcotin; the fur trade was not altogether welcome or necessary, as the Tsilhqot'in had already established a way of life and trade amongst other Nenqayni nations. The failure of trade relations, which included Donald McLean's short tenure as an HBC employee at the fort amounting to brash "club law" hostility and eventual abandonment, remained emblematic of Tsilhqot'in independence and resistance to settler's expectations of conducting business.
Waddington, having set in motion a series of partnerships and expeditions to solidify his assumed holdings, would be systematically confronted with the problem of the Tsilhqot'in, who were unwilling to voluntarily give up their land. In one incident, settlers named William Manning and Alex McDonald began to plot a midpoint lodge at Bendziny (Puntzi Lake) for Waddington's proposed road; they built a fence that would prevent Tsilhqot'in from using a spring that was once open for the benefit of many. The Tsilhqot'in leaders protested. Manning feared for his life and made threats and plans to inflict a greater terror using small pox.
In the spring of 1862, Francis Poole travels with 40 men to Fort Alexandria, leaving men inflicted with small pox in Bella Coola and Nagwuntl'un (Anahim Lake). The disease decimates Nagwutl'un. Jim Taylor and Angus McLeod, fur traders from Bella Coola, gather the blankets wrapped around the dead at Nagwuntl'un and seek to resell them to another Tsilhqot'in village, causing about 200 deaths. The plague extends to Bendziny, a village where only two young girls survive, and to communities around Tatla and Sutless (Nimpo Lake area). The Tsilhqot'in loses roughly 70-85% of the population. The loss of so many families destroys and alters the former ways of organizing; the devastation causes stress and grief.
In 1863, 91 road builders began constructing the road and bridges up the Homalthco River. The Tsilhqot'in, who almost never camp at Bute Inlet, arrive. The Tsilhqot'in, Euclataws, Homalthco and Klayoosh camp together and offer their labour to Waddington's crew: Tsilhqot'in leader Alexis is among them. The base camp is set near the canyon. Cusshen, a young Tsilhqot'in, is hired to guard the flour cache during the winter; 25 sacks of flour are taken while Cusshen is absent.
In March 1864, the road builders return to the base camp to find the flour missing. Outraged, foreman William Brewster sought the names of those who stole the supply, declaring a threat to the effect of: All Tsilhqot'in are going to die. We shall send sickness into the country and kill you all.
In mid-April, 14 Tsilhqot'in are hired as packers and set up camp near the road builders; they are disappointed that food is not shared as is Tsilhqot'in custom. Biyil accompanies the Tsilhqot'in road builders and then returns with his father, Lhastassine, who is traveling to the Homalthco to get his 11 year old daughter back from the Euclataws. Lhastassine also questions Tilagued, who is accompanying artist Fredrik Whymper, concerning Waddington's plans.
Some time later, a few young Tsilhqot'in girls came to the camp of the road builders to ask for food; instead of offering food, they were given the option to starve or become prostitutes; Brewster, Clark and Nieuman take advantage and rape the girls, including Lhastassine's daughter. Hearing of the rape and threat of disease, the small group of Tsilhqot'in begins orchestrating a plan to wipe out all colonial invaders from the territory.
In late-April, Lhatsassine, Biyil, Chayses, Yahoosla, and possibly Cusshen arrive at the ferry and shoot Tim Smith, throwing his body into the river; then they loot and destroy the ferry.
The next night, Lhatsassine's party finds Tsilhqot'in recruits; they paint themselves, sing and dance to give them strength for battle the following morning. When the sun rises, Lhastassine, Biyil, Tilagued, Cusshen, Chayses, Chaudeqi, Yahoosla, "Scarface", Si'tax and possibly Hachis, Lowwa, Yaltenly and Katelh enter the base camp, five miles upstream from the ferry. Charles Butler, the cook, is shot while tending the fire. The others lay in the six tents; the guy-ropes are cut so the tents fall and the Tsilhqot'in shoot, stab and chop at every sign of struggle. Joseph Fielding, James Campbell, John Hoffman, Robert Pollock, John Nieuman, James Oppenshaw, Alexander Milan and George Smith perish, some of their bodies thrown down river. Edwin Mosley, Peter Peterson and Philip Buckley escape down the river.
Lhastassine's party takes some provisions and continue upstream to engage William Brewster, John Clark, James Gaudet and Baptiste Demarais who began trail blazing early at a camp two miles north. Demarais tries to escape by diving into the river and is swept away; the other three are shot. Brewster's genitals are mutilated, mouth is slit, and heart is hollowed as a sign of his offences.
May 12, the news reaches Victoria eight days after the conflict: "Dreadful Massacre! Murder of 14 of the Bute Inlet Road Party by Indians: Miraculous Escape of 3 of the Men.” Media and public opinion rallies vengeance as its course of action. The colonial government mobilizes with the intention of finding the war party and pacifying "indians". The colony's new Governor, Frederick Seymour, takes advice from former Governor James Douglas; he suggests: (1) obtain information of the attack, (2) send a small heavily armed militia to track down the party and (3) extend rewards for hunting down the party. With this information, Seymour decides to personally take care of the situation. Seymour orders Charles Brew, Chief of Police, to recruit special constables, investigate Bute Inlet, and meet him in Bella Coola. In June, Seymour would leave Victoria to Bella Coola with 38 volunteer constables, 19 horses, and later persuade around 30 Nuxalk Nenqayni ('Nenqayni' meaning 'people of the earth') at Bella Coola to accompany him.
Meanwhile, the Tsilhqot'in search for William Manning and kill him at his Bendziny homestead. Soon afterwards, Alex McDonald and five other men, accompanied with miners and road builders embark to Tatlayeqox from Bella Coola to rendezvous with Manning and Brewster, are warned about the war party by three others: McDougall, Klymtedza and Tom. They all take refuge, first by fortifying in a defensive position for a couple days, then by turning their pack train of mules back to Bella Coola. They make it a few miles before being found by the Tsilhqot'in war party. The ambush volleys shots from the sides, kills Higgins, Klymtedza, McDougall, and MacDonald kills Chacatinea before meeting the same fate. The other settlers hastily retreat and return to Bella Coola.
In June, W.G. Cox, the Gold Commissioner for the Caribou, receives instructions to form a small militia to find the Tsilhqot'in war party and force surrender. Taking advice from Seymour, Cox asks Donald McLean to be second in command and to round up men; McLean recruits 24, including his son Duncan, and carry 100 guns to meet Cox at Fort Alexandria. Cox recruits mostly miners. Once Cox and McLean's group combine, the number totals 65 men and 37 horses. Cox's party marches to Bendziny.
The Tsilhqot'in learns of Cox's militia and his men's words of extermination. In response, Alexis chooses to move his camp into the mountains. Other Tsilhqot'in move into hiding, fearing the militia's plan to kill everyone: men, women and children.
Cox's party arrives at Bendziny to find Manning's homestead destroyed, and his body left in a stream. His men are weak and tired from the march. Cox finds Tsilhqot'in in the area, sending six men to visit, but they were fired upon and driven back in a volleying skirmish: one of Cox's men is shot in the leg.
The next day, Cox sends McLean to seek out Alexis with the intention of utilizing the leader as a guide to hunt down the Tsilhqot'in war party. Cox orders men to burn a Tsilhqot'in village. This idea ends when five Tsilhqot'in stand on a hill firing their muskets and wait for Cox to enter a trap they have set. Instead, Cox chooses to construct a small fort and leaves a white flag of truce above it.
McLean returns three days later; he failed to find Alexis. However, McLean meets other Tsilhqot'in who informs him that Alexis is hunting and that he may come to the camp in a few days time.
Cox is frustrated that diplomacy has been hampered because of the rumor that they were in the country to kill all Tsilhqot'in; he realizes the Tsilhqot'in have complete geographic advantage in their own country, and so his strategy relies on waiting for a "good Indian" to guide him: either Alexis or Anahim.
In early July, Governor Seymour and Brew's party reach Nagwuntl'un under difficult conditions. They encounter the place where McDonald was ambushed. For days, the party searches with limited results. Brew lets one of Anahim's men lead the group astray through a swamp of mud until he admits he does not know the trail, and forces them to return to camp. The next day, while out scouting, the same man takes a horse and is chased through the woods; Brew's men find the horse, but the Tsilhqot'in is gone.
Days later, the two groups, Cox and Seymour, meet at Bendziny. Cox's party prepares to travel towards Tatla Lake, where Lhastassine is rumored to be, and then move towards Eagle Lake enroute to Bute Inlet. Seymour's party remains at the fort on the hill where they wait for Alexis. He notes that the men looked demoralized. At the fort, Tsilhqot'in scouts are watching them, leaving fresh tracks each morning surrounding the fort. Even as Cox turns south towards Bute Inlet, Tsilhqot'in scouts follow their every move, always beyond rifle range, but always in their presence.
While camped at Eagle Lake, the men of Cox's party, mainly miners, are tired and demoralized of the impossible chase and want to return to Bendziny. While the group starts to head back the next morning, one man forgets something at camp and returns to find a group of Tsilhqot'in around the camp fire. Once alerted, Cox's men hunt down the evading Tsilhqot'in. They chase down three. One camouflages himself in the lake's water by breathing through a reed, while the other two swim across the lake: one leaves a fur to be shot at and the other dives deep down to escape the flying bullets.
Knowing the Tsilhqot'in were near, Donald McLean, known to Tsilhqot'in as Samandlin, defies Cox and searches to hunt the Tsilhqot'in war party with a Secwepmec (Shushwap) scout. Samandlin wears a metal chest protector. He is eventually lured into a trap; he begins to follow a trail where the trees are cut. He advances into the woods where he meets two shots: one hits his chest, above the metal plate. The death of Samandlin is the pivotal turning point in the war. Cox loses his main guide and morale amongst the group; he continues his retreat to Bendziny. In Governor Seymour's words to London:
"The return of the Northern Volunteers after the death of McLean would spread the notion throughout the Indians of the whole Colony that we had been beaten, and in point of fact, this was not far from being the case. Mr. Cox and his surviving Officers looked upon the case as hopeless until Winter. Mr. Brew concurred, and I found myself after reaching the heart of the Chilicoten country advised to direct the two band of volunteers who had cost so much money and created such interest in the Colony simply to return home leaving matters worse than we found them I already saw in our retreat the insurrection spread from the sea to the Rocky Mountains. A further effort must be made, so I at once gave orders for the New Westminster Volunteers to take up the work abandoned by Mr. Cox's party... there was no use in my shutting my eyes to the fact that this was a war merciless on their part in which we were engaged with the greater part of the Chilcoten nation…"
As a result of Samandlin's death, peaceful discussions are sought by the Tsilhqot'in. Alexis and a group of 20 Tsilhqot'in on horseback come to the fort with the muskets over their head to show a sign of peace. With interpreters, Seymour and Alexis begin to talk. Seymour is adamant that he is not at war with the Tsilhqot'in but rather he seeks to kill or catch those involved at the Bute Inlet massacre. Alexis says Lhastassine and Tilagued renounced connection with him, their war was not his and he prefers to remain neutral. He then describes that there is a loss of authority both amongst the Tsilhqot'in and with settlers who claim the land as theirs for the taking. Although the diplomatic efforts almost erupt, as communication proves difficult and the accusation that claims one Tsilhqo'in as one of the murderers, Alexis agrees that he will take an active role in bringing the war party into a negotiation.
Seymour develops a strategy: Cox's party of 60 is to approach Tilagued's position at the headwaters of Memeia; Alexis's party of 20 will accompany Cox's party; Brew is to search Eagle Lake before moving south; and Alexis sends word for safe passage for Seymour as he returns to Fort Alexandria.
In August, Brew's party searches to find Anahim. He stretches his search from Tatla, to Eagle Lake and then to Tatlayeqox. He finds traces of Tsilhqot'in but never encounters anyone. His long search leaves him low on food, some of his team abandons the quest, and his team of 9 is reduced to killing a horse for food before heading to Bendziny. Brew finally meets with Anahim at Bendziny while awaiting provisions. Anahim returns supplies looted from the pack train and promises to send the other guilty members to trial once he finds them. Brew chooses not to incriminate Anahim; Anahim holds to his word and sends Ut'lass and Ahan to Bella Coola in the winter with the hope that their trapped furs would be sufficient for an apology and pardon.
In the meantime, Taqed brings a message, from Lhastassine and Tilagued, to Cox. He states that they will come to the fort to negotiate. Seven days later, Taqed returns to tell Cox that Lhastassine is assembling the men and they will meet in four days. He leaves money in the exchange, while Cox sends tobacco with Taqed as an offer of peace and friendship.
Lhastassine and six others arrive at Cox's camp unarmed and accompanied by Alexis and his people. The two parties smoke the tobacco that was offered. The Tsilhqot'in also bring a modest amount of gifts and the return of items taken from McDonald's pack train. Cox promises he will not harm them, claiming that he had no power to kill them and that he would hand them over to the "big chief": Governor Seymour. The groups camp together, but Cox tells Alexis that he cannot sleep there; Alexis, perceiving dishonesty and deceit, says Cox must possess two tongues. While asleep, the Tsilhqot'in leaders are shackled and awaken imprisoned. Seymour sends Cox a commission to try to execute the Tsilhqot'in on the spot if found guilty, but instead Cox asks for 30 men to take the prisoners to Alexandria. Once in Alexandria, they are sent to Quesnel by steamboat, and there the prisoners are chained to the walls of a small jail.
In late September, Judge Matthew Begbie, the colony's Chief Judge, arrives in Quesnel to begin the trial. He conducts the trial and finds five guilty. Begbie arranges to send Chaudeqi to New West Minster for trial due to lack of evidence, though he would later escape to Yohetta. In Begbie's decision, he concludes: "Klatsassine [Lhastassine] is the finest savage I have met with yet, I think. But I believe also he has fired more shots than any of them. It seems horrible to hang 5 men at once" especially under the circumstances of the capitulation. Yet the blood of 21 whites calls for retribution. And these fellows are cruel murdering pirates"
In the days to come, a priest named Lundin Brown comes to vindicate the "savages" with Christianity while maintaining the necessity of retribution: "Terror must be struck into all the Indian Tribes." However, Lhastassine maintains he would not have killed if settlers had not killed his people first by sending small pox into the communities to destroy them.
In late October, Lhastassine, Biyil, Tilagued, Taqed and Chayses are hung. Ahan would be hung a year later in New West Minster.
* * *
Over the years, the Tsilhqot'in War opened wounds and its legacy continues to haunt people. What is significant about the war is that the major authorities of the colony considered the pacification of "Indians" as a top priority for fear that all Nenqayni nations may wage war against the invasion of their land. The highest political authorities were at hand to resolve the issue: Governor Frederick Seymour, Judge Matthew Begbie, Mining Commissioner W.G. Cox and Chief of Police Charles Brew.
Seymour would acknowledge the cost of war with the Tsilhqot'in put the colony $80 000 into debt. British Columbia asks the United Kingdom to pay half the costs but the Empire claims the cost must fall upon the colony. The debt would eventually force the colony into confederation with Canada in 1871; however, British Columbia elites were reluctant. Their reluctance stemmed from their hesitation to deal with Nenqayni nations, fearing the Canadian precedence of Treaties, and the cost of engaging or unifying the laws that would hinder their unilateral authority over the territories.
Seymour wanted the legacy of the Tsilhqot'in War put to rest, probably recognizing the injustices it manufactured. He later pardons the convicted Tsilhqot'in Ut'lass as unnecessary bloodshed in a war that has cost too many lives and bad relations. Begbie would carry the regret of injustice to his death, never comfortable that the Tsilhqot'in "had been induced to surrender" through deceit. Waddington would never be compensated for the loss and would later die to smallpox.
The Williams Lake and Quesnel communities would fear retribution from the Tsilhqot'in in the following years, responding by bolstering the amount of constables, and the latter creating a small army and patrol. This insecurity in the colonies, that Nenqayni nations may defend their territory, inflicted the terror of racism through social control. This colonial hatred remains intact in the rural communities today in varying degrees.
Although the Tsilhqot'in defended their territory with some success, as the road was stopped and settlers did not advance in a rapid invasion, the Tsilhqot'in nevertheless go into silence and would base this event as one reason not to trust "white" people.
* * *
What remains of history and this particular event is the opportunities that opened and closed, and how the opportunities of yesterday have yet to be resolved today. The chance to apply understanding, morality and good judgment failed. History is still alive, and those failures insist on being resolved appropriately and justly. The first failure was the inability to construct a treaty with the Tsilhqot'in to guide the relations of how the land and laws would be shared; that is, settlers failed to ask for consent or permission from the Tsilhqot'in before invading the territory. Second, the opportunity for peaceful negotiation was betrayed; the colony was fearful and more bent on social control and retribution than developing an understanding with the Tsilhqot'in in settling the dispute. Third, the trial treating Tsilhqot'in as criminals misunderstood the conflict altogether. Here, the Tsilhqot'in words "we meant war, not murder" was a truthful expression of defense against those equipped to spread disease. The colony chose to see itself as innocent, therefore omitting the rape, constant invasion and spread of disease as a significant part of the context. War has different ways of returning to peace; people who go to war carry the burden and responsibility of bringing peace and resolution afterwards. As it stands, these failures and misunderstandings reveal how the story can help render the wrongs that haunt people today. The story can hopefully bring clarity and truthful understanding towards a peaceful coexistence.
Birchwater, Sage. Chiwid. Vancouver: Transmontanus/New Star Books, 1995.
Glavin, Terry and the People of Nemiah, Nemiah, The Unconquered Country. Vancouver: New Star, 1992.
Rothenburger, Mel. The Chilcotin War. Vancouver: Mitchell Press, 1973.
Williams, Judith. High Slack: Waddington's Gold Road and the Bute Inlet Massacre of 1864. Vancouver: Transmontanus/New Star Books, 1996.
Canadian Mysteries Website:
* Including Oral History from Tsilhqot'in
|The native population out numbered the Colonial settlers and miners by over 30 to one. In the back of settler's minds was, what if ?
In 1864 "what if" really happened!
THE CHILCOTIN WAR.
Alfred Waddington had a dream of railroads for and to, British Columbia but that would be out of question at this early date. The Colony was only six years old and so a toll wagon road would fit the bill.
Anyone looking at a map of the colony could see the shortest way to the Gold Fields of Williams Creek was straight across from Bute Inlet!
Waddington is not just a name of British Columbia's tallest mountain. No Alfred Waddington was an entrepreneur and a man with vision. Victoria was jealous of the goodly amount of goods, trade and activity heading to the Cariboo Diggings through New Westminster. You just had to look at a map and see the shortest root to the Gold fields was straight in from the coast.
Alfred told, Victoria’s movers and shakers how they could capture the bulk of the Gold Rush trade.
They would use a toll road, this new road would start at a new town he had already named "New Aberdeen". The road would go up the Homathko River Valley and up onto the Chilcotin Plato. It all looked so very good on paper that Alfred had no trouble getting the land and other concessions from the Government. He was presented with a charter and the wrights to charge a toll, and he and his company would be able to do this for years.
In the summer of 1863 the road crew, supplies and foreman, were landed up the Bentinck arm, past the old first Nations Village and settlement of Bella Coolla. The road was beset with difficulties right off the bat. The river Valley was swampy at it's mouth and required log corduroying that is logs cut and laid sideways. Very labor intensive and pricey.
Then when they finally got out of that they hit perpendicular cliffs, that required drill holes and blasting powder. The cost and estimates were now through the roof. But the profits to investors would be great.
Alfred Waddington went back to Victoria to hit the Government up for more money but this was to no avail. So more stocks were issued and more investors came on board, but with better terms then the original Investors. Not only the money in the first summer ran out but shipping delays and tough going labor unrest. The native packers were wanting more, and to top it off the Coastal Natives did not get along with the Inland Chilcotin's.
The next summer, supplies and construction moved much faster.
Up the newly completed section came the packs with the food, tools and everything needed to proceed. The Chilcotin packers not being able
to feed their families by hunting and fishing took to stealing food from the road crew stores. When a Foreman caught them, his slip of the tongue sealed his fate, and that of his road crew.
The Foreman told this sub Chief, "you remember two years ago how the Natives suffered with the Pox? Well you steal and I will put the pox back on you".
This the naive foreman thought would fix the theft's. But back at the Village Klatassine talked up his people to war. They would fix it so the pox would never return to them.
It was still dark when the camp cook was up at the fire preparing breakfast for the road crew still stirring in their tents. Suddenly a sharp retort came from the trees and the cook fell dead. The Chilcotin war had started. The party came on and cutting the tent ropes with the effect of locking the men inside. Death came to all but one.
The war party advanced up the road to get and kill the advance road party. Even the ferry man at the river crossing was killed. Before word could get out about the Native war, Settlers and supply horse, pack trains were also hit. Clifford Alfred Higgins a young man working his passage to the Cariboo Diggings with a pack train was not aware of the war. He was shot and killed.
Two Survivors from the main road camp attacked brought out word of the massacre. They had survived only because they were thought dead at first. These two men not aware of each other, had made it to the river, one of them being wounded by a musket ball, to the wrist.
Governor Frederik Seymour worried that it may be a major up rising or at least may start a wholesale uprising. It was imperative to put this war down.
The call went out for volunteers. That was answered from Williams Creek, and Lower BC and Victoria. Some left on a war ship up to the Bentinck Arm others overland from the Cariboo. Hoping to catch the warring Natives in-between. But it was not to be.
Two leaders of the rough and tumble Cariboo's volunteers were Charles Brew and Donald McLean. Brew was head of the BC Constabulary, and McLean a former Factor for the HBC at Fort Kamloops.
McLean was thought of as invincible over twice being shot in the chest, only to come out without a scratch.
It was discovered after that poor McLean was shot in the back the reason for his infamous quite simply was a piece of sheet metal he wore under his jacket. The death of this fiery little Scotsman would live on in his son's and cause grief to another generation, but that’s a whole other story. Read "The wild McLean's"
The uprising ended after some more ambushes and near misses.
In the end the Natives came to the Brew camp to negotiate and surrender, but the Policeman put them under arrest. To him it was a clear case of murder but to the Natives it was war.
The trial was for three of the four the Colony had determined as the ring leaders. In the end after a trial under Mathew Begbie, a guilty verdict was handed down.
Three of the four were hung and the 4th was sentenced to life, but escaped on the way down from Quesnel Mouth (Quesnel) and was never seen again.
The war/uprising/Murder, had cost the cash strapped Colony much. They could ill afford it. The Governor invited the Chief's of the Inland
Tribes to come down to New Westminster. A large feast ensued and medals were given out for their loyalty to the Crown.
This is just a thumbnail of the story in a great book "THE CHILCOTIN WAR" by Mel Rotenberger (Great Grandson of Donald Mclean)
|1993 Judge Anthony Sarich, wrote a report commissioned by the government of British Columbia, for an inquiry into the relationship between the Aboriginal community in BC and the justice system. The resulting recommendations in the report, was the Attorney General apologized for the hanging of the Tsilhqot'in Chiefs.
The British Columbia Government provided funding for the archaeological excavation of their graves to ensure a proper First Nations Burial.
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