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

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The Story of the Bute Inlet Expedition, and the Massacre by the Chilcoaten Indians

In 1862 the enterprising scheme of constructing a comparatively short and easy route to the Cariboo Gold Mines of British Columbia, in lieu of the one laid out by the Government by way of the Fraser River was projected by the late Mr. Alfred Waddington, a wealthy and energetic pioneer, a man of stubborn perseverance in every undertaking, and ever ready to give his experience freely toward the interests of opening up the country; it was he who endevoured through many difficulties and great hardships, to benefit the mining population by exploring through that part of the formidable barrier, the Cascade range of mountains, to clear the path for a highway to the mines on this route, lessening land travel by nearly two hundred miles.

Bute Inlet is an extensive arm of the sea, and penetrates the continent for nearly forty miles in a course to the northward; at the head of the inlet are two extensive valleys, one bending to the north-west, and the other to the south-east, from which flow streams, one to the westward, called by the natives “Homatcho,” and is navigable for a long distance by boats and steamers of light draught. The Homatcho River is a stream winding to the north-west through the valley, which is very fertile, though heavily timbered; the current in the summer time runs about five knots out of the river, and from its source was discovered this easy, short route to the gold mining regions in the far north of British Columbia. (Vide Report of Capt. Richards, R.N.)

The putting through of this road individually was a heavy undertaking, the existing Government at the time receiving it only as in opposition to the immense outlay on the wagon road by the Fraser, then in construction by the aid of the sappers and miners under Col. Moody; but the plausibility of the scheme, together with the easy means of transit to the mines after the Cascades was once passed, and the vast scenic plateaus and rolling country to traverse, stretching as far as Fort Alexandria, and with the facilities afforded by the Gulf of Georgia to reach a safe terminal point, induced many of the merchants and others of Victoria to take a share in the project of building the road. A company was ultimately formed, and Mr. Waddington managed the selection of some ready hands to accompany him in the work, and during its progress we will follow that party through, to the scene of its terrible termination.

It was early in the month of April, 1863, we started from the H. B. Co.’s wharf in the steamer “Enterprise,” commanded by the late Capt. Mouatt, for Bute Inlet. The expedition consisted of ninty-one of the working party, including two commissioners, French voyageurs in charge of the large canoe, [three words illegible] and a Stekin chief, nineteen mules, one grey bell mare and two packers, provisions and working material; Mr. Waddington being accompanied by a Mr. Stelly, a tourist, Lieut. Leech of Sappers, and Mr. Fred. Whimper, artist, and also two men, Clarke and an Italian (name unknown) intending to settle at or near where the townsite of Waddington might be located.

Towards evening, called in at Nanaimo, and at the break of the following day, steamed slowly up the Inlet, a fog prevailing at the time; when we were brought up suddenly by running straight into a grassy bank at the mouth of the Homatcho, and the old steamer was hard and fast where she remained a day or two, having strained herself considerably. The Indians expecting the arrival of the whites sometime in the spring, Mr. Waddington having explored this section of the country two years previously, with a Captain Price, and informed the Homatchos of his intentions; they quickly appeared to us and manned every canoe available to help us, and our situation gained considerable employment for them, by transporting all the material and men to the landing. The sight of these natives to a stranger on that morning, was somewhat an interesting one, as paint was not wanting on either of their faces, but the most striking color was the profusion of vermillion on the one side of the face contrasting abominably with the black on the other side; but we noticed this method of adornment was only particularly used by a few, who were visitors only to this locality; some of these Indians also aped civilization a little, by donning, what seemed to be, second-hand soldiers’ uniform of no nationality in particular, with all its regalia, and some even were apparelled in black cloth suits of the shabby genteel description, while those not inclined to the mode of civilized dress, still wrapt their stately forms within the folds of either a red, white, blue or green blanket.

The Homatchos with their chief (Nunimimum), were the first to greet our coming. This tribe of Indians is not large, but are a free-hearted people, and particularly friendly to the whites. Along with them were some of the Clayhoose tribe, who have inter-married with the Homatchos, and very friendly to the white people also, as our story to the end will prove. They have a fair degree of intelligence, and are willing workers; these tribes are all Roman Catholics and appear to be faithful to their Creed. Last, but not least, were some of the Euclataw tribe from Cape Mudge, against whom we were much cautioned, being evidently looked upon by their neighbors with a degree of suspicion, as they are said to be responsible for the murder of the crew of the trading schooner “Thorndyke,” a few years back, somewhere in the vicinity of their habitation. The landing of everything accomplished in a short while; Tents soon dotted the ground chosen for the first camp, and the day had been well occupied when “nightfall came.” Many could be seen lingering about the smouldering camp fire, discussing the events of the past day. During the present month of April, and part of May, the men were divided into sectional camps at about equal distances; the choppers and bridgers pioneering the course laid out by the surveyor through the valley, in close proximity to the river for about fifteen miles. The lines of the townsite were defined, and a wharf with store-house erected in that calm and beautiful sheet of water named Waddington Harbor. A few log houses were put up—two by the settlers accompanying us, who, afterwards were employed to work with the roadmen, and one large enough for the commissariat supplies, as head-quarters, superintended by a Mr. Brewster.

Camp 2 was named the “Slough of Despond,” five miles from the mouth of the river, a remarkable cognomen for the place, of course, to those unacquainted with its origin, but a few words will explain: By some mishaps in canoeing at this point, as also, from whatever cause, dysentery was strangely prevalent, we attributed this to the snow water, but a mining expert with the party accounted for it by the quantity of copper apparently so abundant in the vicinity. This camp was the Station until about June, from which stores were forwarded as the road progressed. The log-house for their reception stood on a moderately high bank, projecting out a little, forming a bend in the river; its position commanding a full view of its downward course, and the scenery from this point is much to be admired. The bold and rugged outlines of the ever snow-capped mountains reaching from five to eight thousand feet high, with peaks of almost, what we would call, pleasant irregularity, and seeming so near to view by the bright, pure atmosphere, contrasting magnificently with the dark green hue of the forest foliage of the valley, where the immense fir, pine, and even cottonwood abound, with a towering growth.

It was from this station where all the supplies of the several camps ahead were sent, and it was here, of course, many Indians gathered, not only to trade furs, but to obtain work, and fortunate enough, as the mule train was amply employed in getting through the heavy material as well as bringing up provisions, so the engagement of them was necessitated to pack. The first acquaintance with the Chilcoaten Indians was made here; there were only a few, as the main tribe rarely come so near the coast; their homes being far in the interior, but the chief of this portion of the tribe accompanied these few, and was very eager to give his services whenever required, producing at the same time what appeared to be his credentials as to character and so forth. From what one could discern, there appeared a very marked difference in these Indians, to those previously [met] with; their clothing was decidedly scant; their features were haggard, describing almost a hungry look. Some wore rings in their noses, and their faces frightfully bedaubed with paint; the youngest men tying up their hair in a brush-like fashion at the side of the head, adding more to their peculiar appearance. They are of the medium height, and speak much in the same twang as the Chinese. They seemed very anxious to trade for muskets and ammunition; bows and arrows being mostly used by them, however. After conversing with this Chilcoaten chief “Tellot,” and presenting him with the usual cultus potlatch of tobacco, it was his earnest desire to produce the paper confirming his importance and drawing from his breast a small package wrapped in many pieces of flannel, to the astonishment of all, it contained a piece of Illustrated London News, dated 1847, with the picture of the ships “Erebus” and “Terror” starting from Gravesend, England, with Sir John Franklin’s party for the Arctic regions. His character was written on its margin thus: “Tellot, Chilcoaten chief, a good guide—faithful and trustworthy, etc., signed Captain Price.” Mr. Waddington’s instructions were to employ these Indians, as they would prove useful when entering upon the defines of their country, but instructions, also, were very explicit with regard to the treatment of all Indians, and, the man who dared to interfere with either of them or their respective families, so as to cause any dissension between them and the whites, was immediately expelled and returned to Victoria by first opportunity; one case, only, happening spoke well for the good behaviour of the men.

But to say the most of all Indians unaccustomed to the usages of the white people, they are very troublesome, and require no small degree of scheming tact in the management of them, as for a small instance.

The road was being speedily pushed ahead; it was as far as a place named Boulder Creek, some ten miles distance, bridged, and corduroyed, and as completed, so the camp moved along; it was necessary to employ four of the Chilcoaten Indians, to pack provisions, to start in the morning, with the calculation of each taking his 75 lbs; they breakfasted first, of course, before starting, and the eating of that breakfast took so long, and the quantity they ate was so much, that the colored cook got quite angry and refused more, and they were so gorged with the beans, the bacon, the dried apple, the rice, the bread, the sugar and the molasses, washed down with numerous cups of both tea and coffee, when they all squatted down by the fire to smoke the slate pipe of kinickanic and tobacco, and then dared even to laugh at the idea of doing anything that day; this condition of things, though, did not work again, and suggested an amendment, consequently there was no more such breakfasting with them until such time as a day’s work was done.

By the middle of June the road was completed satisfactorily up to the place where the crossing of the river came, a distance of about fifteen miles from the townsite, and Mr. Waddington and men crossed over in dugouts and canoes, the river was not high, but it was imperative to get all the stores we could over, as the warm weather had set in, and a freshet was imminent from the immense quantities of snow above; the real hard work was at hand; we were at the feet of the huge mountains, and almost within the hearing of the torrent of water squeezing through the big canyon.

The Chilcoaten Indians had left us to resume fishing at their homes, somewhere in the vicinity of Tatla and Benshee Lakes, but a few of the Homatchos and Clayhoose remained. The pack animals brought up the bulk of the stores to the crossing of the river, “The Ferry,” where a substantial log house was built, as this place was to be at all times a station; a scow was in course of construction, as also a skiff, and a large rope ready for stretching across, the scow was to be run over by travelling blocks, in bringing her quarter up to the current, but before all this work was completed, the heat of the weather increased, and in a night a freshet came, the river rose to such a height, and bounded away so swiftly, as to imperil our communication. At the Ferry headquarters were encamped, Frank Cote, senior canoeman, two Portugese, De Souza and Louie, Henry MacNeill, son of the late Capt. MacNeill, H. B. Co., and Spillet the cook, with two Homatcho Indians. After waiting some days it became imperative to get more provisions across, as there were eighty men working about a mile or so beyond the river, and the fierce current was still unabated, but a liberal offer induced the Homatchoes to attempt the crossing with their canoes, and lightly laden, shoved off from the shore, about a mile above; they glided down as fast as wind, and brought up suddenly on a hidden snag,—capsized, away went the canoe, and only by dint of hard swimming, reached an eddy, and clinging to the bank, were saved. Men from the upper camps came down with Mr. Waddington, and appearing on the opposite bank, saw the dilemma; they shot over a message attached to an arrow, intimating that provisions were getting short, and an endeavour be made to make the riffle anyhow; a consultation was held, and we decided the attempt with the skiff, and she was accordingly loaded up, and with Frank Cote at the helm, and the balance of us pulling, started about a mile above, to reach the given point, watched eagerly by the crowd on the opposite shore; the seething current bore us down—swiftly down—Cote missing his steerage somehow when in mid-stream and we were broadside on; away we sped, the Portugese straining every nerve; there was a snag ahead; we almost seemed doomed—but no! an oar only strikes it, and shattered, flies upward; we could only faintly hear the shouts of the watchers, being hidden from view; the impression was we were lost, but a friendly eddy was ahead, and by hard pulling managed to swing the skiff, with its freight somewhat wet, into calmer water, two miles away. Some days afterwards the freshet abated sufficiently to allow the stretching of the rope across the river, and after some minor difficulties, the ferry was established by the swinging of the scow into position, thus enabling stores, etc., to be removed to the other side, where a substantial log house was built, and the place named Canyon Camp; this was the last station of supply during that season; the mule train continued to convey all necessaries up to the Ferry from the townsite, and Indians and white men severally employed to pack over the mountain where the road crosses, called “Waddington Mountain,” to the camps beyond. A great deal of exploring had yet to be done in this most difficult part of the country, to insure the safest and best possible route, and at first sight of the difficulties to be overcome, one would rather be inclined to turn away from the idea of its possibility—the immense walls of rock and terrible yawning gulches, and the huge round bluffs encountered—but the line once defined by our indomitable chief, who was ever scrambling and climbing, and even crawling, for different sights, and peeping over awful precipices, the [illegible] work of blasting commenced in real earnest, when every faithful shot gave confidence in removing the gigantic mass.

One morning early, it was Sunday, a few of us started to ascend a high mountain to gain a general view of the country and with the idea also of peering into the depths of the big canyon, three of the working party who were leaving the road work, accompanied us, on part of the trail, to take the way through to Cariboo. We bade them farewell and good luck, Mr. Waddington impressing upon them to follow the northwest branch of the river. After several hours hard travelling, we rested for the view, and the sight was worthy of the trip. Looking far into the distance coastwise, could be traced the deep, dark array of magnificent forest growth, fringing the bank of the winding river down the valley, hemmed in by innumerable peaks of many heights, and when turning towards the interior, was to be seen distinctly, through a wide gap in the mountainous range, a gradual depression of the mountains, terminating into wide stretches of apparently verdant prairie land, presenting a scene of some relief as it were to the rugged, broken and entangled mass of the surrounding country. Eager for a glimpse of the big canyon on the return, we descended in its direction, and the grandeur of the sight can hardly be forgotten by those who saw the deep, dark, stupendous walls of rock, from whence came the echo of that solemn noise of the impetuous torrent below, never ceasing in its vibration; or hushed into repose, till passed the gateways of the enormous chasm. Our curiosity was much satisfied with these peeps of Nature’s works and being pretty well scratched all over, and disgracefully ragged, we arrived in camp at nightfall, hungry and weary.

It was now the month of August, and the Chilcoaten Indians were expected about this time, as it is their usual custom to catch salmon on a creek near by Canyon Camp, called Salmon Creek. But perhaps it would be as well to inform the reader some fair details respecting them. The Clayhoose and Euclataw Indians claim just rights on the valley of the Homatcho up to the head of the valley on a place called Salmon ranch. The next tribe, a very small one, claim from thence to about a mile beyond the great canyon. They are a branch of the Chilcoaten. The Chilcoaten tribe proper extends from the above point (northward) probably 150 miles by 120 from east to west. Most of them have horses. They have three main fishing grounds [where] they congregate in the spring, viz., Chi-se-cut lake, Chilcoaten river, Alexis lake on the trail to Alexandria and the northern end of Tatla lake. These three points form a triangle about 25 miles apart. The Indians assemble to the number of 200 or 300 at each of these places during the fishing months—May, June and July.

A deadly feud existed between the lower Indians and the Chilcoatens, who massacred nineteen in the month of June some years ago, at a spot about a mile above the Ferry, but peace was established between them, though still suspicious of each other. These Chilcoaten Indians, to say the most of them, are a dirty, thriftless lot, and many have to follow the chase with bow and arrow. About the middle of the month they made their appearance in camp, having returned, with a few additional followers and Chief Tellot with them; they had about twenty coyotte looking dogs packing various iktas for their families. I was alone in camp at the time they came, and they certainly took advantage of the opportunity; for while in conversation with Tellot, I could not be blind to the amount of theft being barefacedly perpetrated, not only from through the chinks of log store house, but from the underneath mens’ tents; the other white men having gone over the mountains with packs for the camp beyond, meantime, my policy was not to let on, as one against 7 or 8 of these savages I reckoned too much odd, although the revolver might level a few if pushed to extremes, but I acted on the old adage, “discretion is better than valor,” and resolved to hold on till such time as McNeil and the others should at even, I’ll be better able then to sort out these rascals. So things went on perfectly well for the time, with plenty of laughing on their side, of course, I was in duty bound to keep up the laugh for awhile appearing perfectly unconscious of the sundry encroachments upon the rights of man, and squatting around the camp fire these fellows took up as a position in the most satisfactory manner, having obtained sundry knives and forks, tobacco, and other trifling articles of small value, while in the quivers on their backs could be seen plainly the tip ends of the knives. Towards evening an hour or two before sunset, the packers returned, but not surprised at the company assembled as the Indians were seen on the mountains in file wending their way towards camp, and it was soon discovered that things were missing, pointed directly at the new arrivals; we consulted Tellot, and through his agency all was to be returned. Harry McNeill, a tall and wiry fellow, rolled one over (the savage with the big scar on the face who figured well in the massacre) rolled him over from the fire, and out came two knives and some tobacco with some arrows, from his quiver and finding himself detected, at once pointed to the rest who had joined him in obtaining the spoil. They were all at once enjoined to move off to a very respectable distance so as to prevent any further recurrence of their kleptomaniac principles. The same evening an Indian came hurriedly into camp and reported three white men about two miles distant in a starving condition, and when brought in proved to be those who had started for Cariboo, having lost their way. They were in a pitiful state; their hunger was hard to appease with safety, as the only food they had had for some days consisted of a wood rat caught by stratagem, and an old leather purse, which they cooked. One of the men was so weak when found he could only with difficulty stand erect, and if it had not been for the timely assistance of an Indian hunter, who at intervals packed the weakest on his back, they must all have succumbed to the fate of starvation, but they soon afterwards rallied with proper care and nourishment and often afterwards amused the camp with experiences of three lost travellers.

One of the three lost men started for Cariboo again, on a future occasion, got there, and worked in the mines a few years, and ultimately became independent.

About the end of August the services of the Chief “Tellot” were required by Mr. Waddington, to act as guide to Fort Alexandria, the remuneration to be, one musket, powder and shot, and one pair three feet blankets and provide his wife and three children with food during his absence—said contract being fulfilled, and also traded with him, a plug of tobacco for a wolf dog pup as a curiosity, this bargain also was satisfactory. The convalescent traveller accompanied the party consisting of five, including McNeill, but who soon returned slightly indisposed, we heard of the party reaching Alexandria in about five days, after passing through mostly bunch grass and rolling prairies where the pea vine was very abundant to the very edges of the lakes “Tatla” and “Benshee” where there is an open country for stock raising, having no equal.

So when the heavy work of blasting out the galleries, from the massive bluffs of the Cascades, the labor of completing a good road would become comparatively light.

It was sometime in October orders were received to retrace our steps to the townsite, the snow was creeping slowly down the mountains, some leaves had fallen with their autumnial hue, and in the night could be distinctly heard that mournful howl of the wolf in his descent. A party of seventeen men told off for the winter work in charge of Brewster, as foreman for the blasting of the long gallery of the 3rd bluffs beyond the canon, and Jim Smith, formerly a sapper, was left in charge of the stores and ferry.

The big canoe was at the landing awaiting our arrival, with Cote in charge, and sixteen of us bade farewell to our Homatcho friends, at this same time their expressing hopes of our return in the following spring, others of the party had left at various times, when opportunity availed, the passage to Victoria occupied about five days after a trip of seven months travelling through some of the roughest as well as some of the most picturesque scenery of British Columbia....

One of the party.

NOTE.— Having lost some memoranda of the Bute Inlet massacre in my travels through California; Mr. D. W. Higgins of the Colonist kindly placed his files before me for reference.

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Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History