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

Seymour to Newcastle, No. 7

20 May 1864

Your Grace will probably ere this reaches you have received intelligence of the massacre of 14 out of a party of 17 Europeans by the Indians at Bute Inlet in this Colony. The time of the departure of the last mail packet from Victoria to San Francisco did not allow of letters from New Westminster being transmitted by her. I now take the earliest opportunity open to me to state such of the circumstances attending the event as I am acquainted with, and report the steps I have taken to prevent further loss of life, and to bring the murderers to justice.

2. It has been a favorite scheme with some capitalists in Vancouver's Island to open a road from the head of Bute Inlet to the gold mines of Cariboo. The project has not met with much support in this colony, inasmuch as the road, if successful, would divert much traffic from New Westminster, and cause a falling off of the tolls on the great rival routes, the "Yale Lytton" and the "Douglas Lillooet," on which both sums of money have been expended. Latterly the Bute Inlet road has created but little interest even in Victoria and the undertaking has fallen entirely into the hands of a private speculator, Mr. Alfred Waddington.

3. He has sent several expeditions to the Inlet, and made himself well acquainted with the country the road would have to traverse and also, as he imagined, with the Indians, by whom it is occupied. The relations between the natives and the white men seemed satisfactory. The gangs of road makers who annually resumed the work with each returning Spring, became more and more confident of a friendly welcome. In 1863 the white men bartered their arms for furs with the Indians, and this year Mr. Brewster and the party under his command came over quite unprotected. Among 17 men there was but one gun.

4. On the evening of the 29th of April all the road makers went to their blankets in perfect security. Even the precaution ordinary in the bush of having one to keep watch was dispensed with. At the ferry over the Homathco, 30 miles from the head of Bute Inlet, a retired Sapper was left in charge. Nine miles further up, twelve men slept on the road; and two miles again beyond them, Mr. Brewster and the remaining three workmen. As it was only from the party of twelve that anyone escaped, it is only in relation to them that my knowledge of the mode of massacre is complete.

5. The Indians made their attack on this party of tired labourers, totally unprepared for defence, before day break, on the 30th of April. The time was well chosen. Not a white man was up, and those who were suddenly awakened by the sound of the musket shots and war-whoops found that the first volley poured in at the tent door had killed most of their companions. To make sure of all, the Indians pulled down the tent upon those whom the first shots had spared and struck at them with their knives through the canvas.

6. There is but little doubt that Mr. Waddington's party would have been exterminated but for the fortunate accident that one of the tents had been pitched within "two steps" of the precipitous bank of the river Homathco, which there rushes by with minimum velocity. Moseley, after seeing the man who slept on either side of him killed, threw himself over the bank and was carried down by the stream unharmed. Peterson, with his left arm shattered by shot, followed his example and was likewise carried to a place of safety. Buckley stabbed in each side, knocked over the head with the butt end of a musket, staggered fainting into the bush and was left for dead. Late in the afternoon he revived and managed by the following morning to reach the ferry over the Homathco. Here he found Moseley and Peterson, but the ferry-man's house was empty. Blood was splashed about inside and on the road, across which some heavy body had been dragged to the riverside. The Scow had been cut adrift, the smaller boat hacked almost to pieces. It seemed as if the massacre had been in contemplation for some time and every means adopted for preventing the return of any one who might by accident escape from the night attack. Some friendly Indians here joined the three men and told them how the ferryman, Smith, had been killed, by the Chilicoaten Indians on the evening preceeding the general massacre. They had witnessed also the total destruction of the small party who had slept beside Mr. Brewster, the foreman of the gang, a little in advance of the main party.

7. The three white men were paddled down the Homathco to the "town site" on Bute Inlet. From thence they were conveyed to Nanaimo on Vancouver's Island in a canoe and arrived in Victoria on the 11th of May.

8. I have before me the depositions taken by the Police Magistrate in that town. They shew no cause for the deadly hatred of the Chilicoaten Indians. The witnesses declare that there was no provocation given, no tampering with their women or abuse of the men. The incentive to the slaughter remains unknown, and the deponents fall back in their conjectures, on cupidity. But this seems an insufficient motive. The property of small value, the rough clothes, and poor provisions of the road makers would offer but a small temptation to the commission of so terrible an outrage. Some people say that Mr. Waddington's party may have given offence by carrying the road into the territory of the Chilicoaten Indians without asking permission. But this again breaks down, inasmuch as the perpetrators of the massacre are, it is believed, the very Chilicoaten Indians who assisted them in their labours. Others throw out the conjecture that the proceedings previous to Sir James Douglas's departure, have induced the Indians to believe that the white men are left without a head. Possibly so. We know that the more civilized tribes on the Fraser have been allowed to believe that they are now without a protector or a friend.

9. The most plausible supposition was made to me verbally by Moseley. There may have been, he thinks, a quarrel between Smith, the ferryman, and some Indians. Smith was a man of violent character and irregular habits. The quarrel may have led to blows. The blows to death. A dread of punishment may have arisen. Hence probably the throwing of the body into the river and the cutting adrift of the Scow. To conceal the one murder, the general massacre may have been undertaken. This last hypothesis would assume a greater fear of the power of the white men than I can venture to suppose exists in the breast of the Indians. All remains mere guess work respecting the motives which caused this melancholy incident.

10. The town site at Bute Inlet, and the country through which the road runs for the first thirty miles, is in the joint occupation of the Cayoosh and Ludataw Indians both, we trust, friendly to the English. The next tribe met with in advancing is a small one; an offshoot of the Chilicoaten Indians. Pellot is their Chief, and he was seen taking an active part in the destruction of the white men. Behind the Cascade Mountains, among which this small tribe live, are the great body of the Chilicoatens occupying a fine open Country extending Northward, probably 150 miles, by 120 East and West. A deadly feud existed until recently between them and the Coast Indians--Cayoosh & Ludataw--but two years ago Mr. Waddington succeeded in making peace between the tribes, who have since remained on tolerable terms though still suspicious of each other.

11. From all the evidence before me it appears clear that the offshoot members of the Chilicoaten tribe under Pellott were alone concerned in the massacre. There were no strangers seen by the survivors. The work of slaughter was performed by the sixteen men who had for some weeks performed the drudgery of the Camp. The spot where the white men perished is situated in a desolate and rugged country. The only tolerable access to it is by Mr. Waddington's road and that is not available to the assassins who would be exposed to the summary vengeance of the Coast Indians. They cannot remain where they are. There is nothing there to support life. They must therefore have pushed on over the mountains and torrents towards the open country inhabited by the parent tribe. The fishing season is attracting thousands of Indians to the lakes in the Chilicoaten Country, and we can tell, with an approach to precision, where the murderers are now to be found.

12. The steps taken by me in this conjuncture are the following. I have despatched Mr. Brew, the Police Magistrate of New Westminster, with a party of 28 Special Constables in the gunboat "Forward" to Bute Inlet. These men are volunteers unused to bush life, and armed with rifles and revolvers. Mr. Brew will collect all the information and assistance he can from the Coast Indians and advance with his party as far as the place where the massacre took place, thirty nine miles from the Inlet. He will first see if there are any survivors from Mr. Waddington's party. There, on the present terminus of our road, the Scene of our mishap, Mr. Brew will consider what is next to be done, and principally whether it is possible to push on through the singularly difficult country before him into the open land beyond. He will send an express to me and ask for reinforcements, should the expedition be carried further. There are fortunately four months provisions at the head of Bute Inlet, but I do not at present see that the men could have any sufficient base of operations and supply should they traverse the mountains and appear on the plains, tired, certainly, after a three weeks struggle over an impracticable country, and their numbers perhaps thinned by sickness. A forced retreat over the mountains again, would probably entail an amount of disaster which I could scarcely allow myself to contemplate. I am of opinion therefore that Mr. Brew's party will not advance beyond the spot where their communications are secure.

13. My main reliance for the capture of the murderers and the vindication of the law is in a mounted expedition which I have ordered to be despatched from Alexandria on the upper Fraser. The prairies extend almost up to the river, food can be transported for the men, grass is found for the horses. Mr. William Cox, one of the Gold Commissioners of Cariboo will command a force of about 50 men, sworn constables also--for we wish to proceed legally--but a formidable body, safe in the plains against all Indian attack. I have been obliged to leave very much to Mr. Cox's discretion, but it is believed he will at once proceed to the head quarters of Alexis, the great Chief of the Chilicoaten tribe, shew his warrant and explain that the Queen's law must have its course. He will support his application for redress by shewing my proclamation offering a reward of 5O for the apprehension of each of the murderers, and I allow myself to hope that his mission will not be unsuccessful. I see no other means of dealing with the matter. When your Grace is informed that the wages of Mr. Cox's party must be those prevailing in the Gold Mines of Cariboo, and that all the supplies will have to be purchased at the exorbitant rates there prevailing, you will see that I am making an immense sacrifice of the finances of the Colony for the maintenance of its honor and the support of the law.

14. I wish to impress upon your Grace that this is, as yet, no war. I have rejected all offers of assistance beyond the Colony from men bent on vengeance. I aim at securing justice only. We have therefore in the field but Magistrates and Constables. Extraneous assistance may ultimately be required. At present Alexis will see in Mr. Cox's band many familiar faces, which he will recognize as those of friendly but determined men.

15. Much time has unfortunately been lost in taking proper steps to assert our authority. But not by me. I beg distinctly however to be understood as not making a complaint against anyone in the Statement I submit.

  • The news of the ferryman's murder reached Victoria on the 5th April.
  • The authentic intelligence of the Bute Massacre, was brought by the survivors, on the early morning of Wednesday the 11th. Yet no information was despatched to me until mid-day on Friday the 13th. There was a frigate and two gunboats in Esquimalt harbour but the letter was sent to me by the regular Mail Steamer which had about 150 tons of freight on board. The news reached me at half past ten at night. Within half an hour I had applied to the Senior Naval Officer on the Station for assistance, and by three in the morning my application left New Westminster, the intervening hours of the night having been taken up in discharging, at the expense of the Government with all the strength that could be procured, the heavy cargo of the Mail Steamer. On that same morning the instructions to Mr. Cox for the organization of his party were despatched, and Mr. Brew and his men were in readiness to await a reply from Lord Gilford the Senior Naval Officer.
  • On Sunday at 10.30 the gun boat "Forward" with Lord Gilford on board arrived. She was despatched at 6 p.m. with Mr. Brew and his force.

16. The distances to be traversed by Mr. Cox and his party are very great, and I fear I shall not be able to report any satisfactory results to your Grace under three months. I sincerely hope I may be able to do so at the expiration of that time. But there is a painful incident in this case, which I have as yet omitted to mention. Six of Mr. Waddington's road party were sent by way of Bentinck Arm to commence operations on the other side of the Cascade Range. Their course will almost inevitably have brought them in contact with the murderers of their fellow labourers. This was known in Victoria. Why were two days lost in communicating with me?

17. I shall address your Grace in another despatch of this day's date respecting the defenceless condition of this Colony. Situated as we now are, an Indian insurrection might become a war for existence, carried on any how by the settlers & diggers against an overwhelming native population.

I have etc.

Sir F. Rogers

ABd 22 July

Mr. Fortescue

What is to done, & what is to be said. The first question was on a despatch which I sent on rather hurriedly yesterday. I assume that soldiers will not be sent out--but that the Admiralty may be written to stating that while Mr. C. fully recognizes the propriety of instructing Admiral Denman not to detach officers & men for expeditions into the interior, he hopes that instructions will be given calculated to secure that the two gunboats which were sent out for the special protection of B. Columbia, shall so direct their movements as to be most available for that purpose, in case of an emergency--either by the conveyance of persons or messages, or by demonstrations on the Coast, upon the supposition (which does not at present appear probable) that such demonstrations are required.

Next as to what is to be said I would write to Mr. Seymour expressing regret--approving the the promptitude & vigour with which he has acted, sending him a copy of the C.O. letter to the Admiralty & expressing a hope that nothing will occur to interfere with a cordial cooperation between himself & the Admiral on the station--embodying the hint that he must not speak about "despatching" HM's Ships, quoting with approval the passages marked expressing satisfaction that he is fully alive to the consequences which an "Indian" War would entail upon the Colony: & trusting that he will be especially careful not to take any measures, which may convert an isolated outrage perpetrated by a band of murderers into a Tribal War.

Add that Mr. Cardwell is sensible of the expense which is thrown upon the Colony by these operations but observe that they are undertaken exclusively in the interest of the Colony, & that the expense is in a great measure due to the high rate of profits which the Colonists are realizing and therefore can hardly be viewed as any matter of complaint.

Write to Governor Kennedy stating that Mr. Cardwell has received from British Columbia accounts of this lamentable massacre, and that it appears by these accounts that the first news of the first murder (that of the ferryman Smith) reached Victoria on the 5 April, that authentic news of the General Massacre was received early on the 11th, and that no steps were taken by the Government to send on intelligence of so great importance to the Government of the Colony concerned, till the departure of the Mail Steamer at its usual time at Midday on Friday the 13th. Observe also that it is added that at the period when this delay took place it was known in Victoria that a road party was then travelling on a course which if they were not recalled would probably bring them into contact with the Indians who were authors of the massacre & may in fact have done so, and request explanation.

I do not see how this appeal to Governor Kennedy can be avoided though I am afraid it is not likely to cause a pleasant feeling, or improve an unpleasant one between him & Mr. Seymour.

[FR] 28 July 1864

Mr. Cardwell

Write to Admiralty, and to Governor Seymour as proposed? But I doubt the necessity of calling upon Governor Kennedy for an explanation of his not having sent the news of the massacre by one of the Gunboats to Governor Seymour.

CF 27

To Governor Seymour as above. To Admiralty saying that no interference is intended with the authority of the Naval officers: & trusting that such orders will from time to time be given to their Officers as will ensure efficient protection to life & property.

To Governor Kennedy, inquiring whether any measures were taken for the safety of the road party? drawing the Despatch so as to avoid, so far as possible, the objection suggested by Sir FR.

EC 29

Source: Great Britain Public Record Office, Colonial Office Records, CO 60/18, p. 273, 6959, Frederick Seymour, Letter to Newcastle, No. 7, sent May 20, 1864, received July 22, 1864.

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Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History