We do not know his name: Klatsassin and the Chilcotin War

Klatsassin [Lhats’as?in, Klatsassan]

“Klatsassin is the finest savage I have met with,” wrote Judge Begbie after the trial where the judge convicted and sentenced him to death. The missionary R.C. Lundin Brown, who ministered to Klatsassin between the trial and the execution said “there was no mistaking him….His strong frame, piercing dark blue eyes, aquiline nose, and very powerful under-jaw, proclaimed the man of intelligence, ambition, strong force of will. On the other hand, the very dark complexion; the face, narrow at the forehead, wide at the centre; and the high cheekbones, indicated the characteristics of the North American savage.” We have only one image of him which comes from Brown’s book, but its authenticity is not certain.

Klatsassin was respected for his abilities and listened to, so in the flexible structure of the Tsilhqot’in, was a leader or “chief” by the force of his personality. He was associated with an extended family group, headed by Telloot [Tellot, Tilagued], that in 1861 at least, and perhaps for a very long time, had a settlement on the Homathco River near where the road crew located their ferry. They also had a fishing site at the canyon. Klatsassin, it seems, had his own fishing site on another stream to the southwest that flowed into Bute Inlet.

At the time of these events he must have been in his late thirties or early forties. One of the records suggests he had two wives, one of whom, Toowaewoot, 20 years his junior, was the captured daughter of a Carrier chief. He had a son Biyil [Pierre] who was 15 at the time of the events and also a younger son. He had two daughters, one of whom had been captured some time prior by the Lekwiltok [Euclataw], a group of the Kwakwaka’wakw, and whom he ransomed back a week before the attack on the road crew for a canoe, six blankets and two muskets. He had, according to Lundin Brown, another child still in a cradle.

Klatsassin worked as a packer for the road crew for the first time in 1864, according to one of the survivors, Buckley, as did his son Pierre. All the testimony suggests that he led the attack on the road crew and on the Macdonald pack train.

Klatsassin certainly died with his son Pierre on the scaffold at Quesnellemouth [Quesnel, B.C.] on October 26, 1864. But who was he, where did he come from, and how did he manage to lead the largest resistance to colonialism in British Columbia history? In the Tsilhqot’in language, Klatsassin means “We do not know his name”.

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Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History