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

The Last Indian Atrocity

Daily British Colonist, 12 May 1864

The intelligence received yesterday morning, the particulars of which we publish in to-day’s issue, of the massacre by Indians of fourteen men, who were working on the Bute Inlet route, is the most startling thing of the kind that has yet taken place in either colony. There is something almost fiendish in the manner in which this treacherous massacre was perpetrated. Sixteen able-bodied Indians, who had been accustomed to pack for the workmen, accompanied by a number of youths, steal upon twelve of the sleeping white men, and with gun, and knife, and axe, fire and cut and hack at their surprised and helpless victims. Three of the men escaped with their lives, though not entirely unscathed, two having been severely wounded. The other portion of the wagon-road party, four in number, were making preparations to commence the day’s work, when they were ruthlessly shot down and savagely mutilated.

The cause of this Indian outbreak was, so far as at present can be ascertained, entirely one of plunder. The men who have returned say that the Indians have been hitherto treated in the kindest manner, and that there was not the slightest indication of ill feeling amongst them prior to this murderous attack. The labors of the party on the trail had just brought the line of travel into the Chilcoaten territory, and this may have had some slight effect in making the Chilcoaten Indians less scrupulous toward the white men. That there may, however, have been some previous grievance, which is not at present considered or recollected is just possible. There have been rumors – but they are only rumors – that the Indians had on a former occasion some quarrel with the foremean of the party, Mr. Brewster. Whether this be true or not we have no means of deciding; but it would not, under any circumstance, palliate in the slightest degree the treacherous atrocity of these savages.

However much we regret the occurrence of this horrible slaughter of unoffending men, we are by no means amazed at the growing insecurity of the white man’s life amongst the northern savages. What between the reckless indifference to Indian life, amounting to inhumanity, of one portion of our population, and the maudlin sympathy, amounting to the encouragement of crime, of another, the Indian is actually forced into disregarding the law. When we add to these mischievous extremes, the notorious bad faith of our own Government with the Indian tribes, the great wonder is that a general warfare with the savages has not broken out long ago. In many instances it has been due to the influence of the Roman Catholic Priests, who seem to work in the cause of civilization in this part of the world with a zeal unstimulated by English bounty, that war, or at least, serious difficulties have actually been avoided. We all know how the Government has dealt with the Cowichan Indians, and how its bad faith, in that instance, has only been equalled by its indisposition to punish Indian criminals in others. It requires, therefore, but little acumen to perceive that such a shiftless sort of policy has inspired the natives with suspicion of our integrity and contempt for our power.

The number of instances of Indian murdering and marauding which have recently occurred, and which have been allowed to go unpunished, are as dangerous to the safety of our isolated whites as they are disgraceful to a civilized Government. It is time that this worse than temporising should cease. A murder has now been perpetrated, and fourteen of our citizens have been cruelly robbed of life. It may be, that while we are yet writing, another bloody sacrifice is being offered up to Indian avarice in the persons of the six men who have started inland from Bentinck Arm. No time should therefore be lost to endeavoring to bring the guilty parties to justice. It is easy enough to get a sufficient number of Volunteers in Victoria to risk the undertaking; and the difficulty of tracking up the murderers will be by no means insuperable. Numbers of them can be identified, and as their fishing season has now arrived, they will probably be found along the borders of some of the lakes which stretch towards Alexandria. A party of men advancing by way of Bute Inlet, and another by Bentinck Arm, would be almost certain to overhaul the ruffians in a week or two at the outside from the time of leaving the seaboard. We cannot, of course, say what Governor Seymour may do in this matter; but it is understood that upwards of a hundred and fifty men will be organized in Victoria at once ready to act under the proper authorities.

It is evident that an example – a terrible example – must be set to our Indian tribes. That they are sometimes forced into shedding the blood of the white man, through the white man’s own injustice, we do not deny; but there is also the more deplorable fact staring us in the face, that covetousness or fancied slights are quite sufficient to impel the native to deeds of murder. Fear is the only power that can keep such savages in entire subjection. Let them feel, as they will if our governments act with vigour, that every uncalled-for attack upon the white man will be punished promptly and severely, and we shall hear of but few Indian assassinations. Let justice follow inevitably on the footsteps of Indian crime – justice uninfluenced on the one hand by a morbid sentimentality, and on the other by a reckless and brutal indifference to savage life, and we shall not likely have again to recount so heartrending a story as we present this day to our readers.

Source: "The Last Indian Atrocity," Daily British Colonist, May 12, 1864.

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Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History