Court Documents

Why does this document exist?

There is nothing like murder to create a paper trail and an historical record. When a serious crime was committed, a whole state record-keeping apparatus went into action (and this is true today, as well).

In the 19th century the record-keeping was not nearly as complete as in the 20th, but still, statements by the accused and the witnesses were usually taken down, records were kept at each stage of the process, and the outcomes recorded. In the cases described here, there was testimony taken of the prominent witnesses and the accused and then presented to a grand jury, who decided that there was enough evidence to hold the case over for a full trial.

Why would we use this source?

The court documents not only give us the best picture of the chronology of the judicial process, they very often give us the best access to the thinking of those charged with a crime. Often the testimony of the accused is written down verbatim or close to it. In the case of Aboriginal People there was a linguistic problem. All their testimony was given in their own language. The interpreter in these documents was Maurice Moss, the special constable. How good were his Tsilhqot’in language skills? Did he have a potential bias in recording the answers of the accused?

We also get, in this case, the clearest record of the witnesses’ statements because there is no trial transcript. Each witness will have his or her own bias and point of view and these all have to be taken into account when we weigh the reliability of their testimony. Again, with aboriginal witnesses there is a translation issue.

How do we find and use this source?

Often the testimony taken at grand jury trials is preserved in the records of the Attorney General’s Department, but record-keeping was looser in the 19th century than now. Henry P.P. Crease was the Attorney General, but he was also given a temporary appointment as a judge to try Ahan and Lutas. As the chief law officer for the Crown he was hardly an impartial judge.

The court documents reproduced here appear not in the government records but in Crease’s own private legal papers. The Crease family kept extensive records, and Henry P.P. Crease’ s legal papers have been donated by the family to the B.C. Archives and are kept as MS-0054. The finding aid is available from the BC Archives. To leave this site and go to the BC Archives, click on