The Chilcotin War

N. de BERTRAND LUGRIN February 1 1935


The Chilcotin War

N. de BERTRAND LUGRIN February 1 1935



The Chilcotin War


THE BRITISH COLUMBIA Provincial Police is the oldest territorial constabulary in Canada. It had its official beginning in 1858, but existed in embryo many years before that, when the first colony of the province was in its infancy.

Its career, so far as dangerous undertaking and actual accomplishment go, has been as adventurous and dramatic as that of the R. N. W. M. P., which body was formed in 1873. Largely because the former was not a uniformed force until less than ten years ago, it has not held the romantic place accorded the Scarlet Coats in the picture of the development of the Canadian Northwest. In fact, to a large part of the public it has been an unknown quantity. Yet the B. C. Police, since its inception, has been identified with the opening up of new territories and the upholding of law and order in identically the same manner as its more picturesque comrades. It has worked quietly and unostentatiously but no less effectively, until today it holds the most important place of any constabularyin this province.

It has jurisdiction over the whole of British Columbia’s 372,630 square miles of territory with a population of 600,000, and is the medium by which the Provincial Government polices the unorganized portions of this West. Considering the immense area it covers, the force is a small one. There are a commissioner, assistant commissioner, five

inspectors, one paymaster, and 251 N.C.O.’s and men. The present commissioner, Lieut.Colonel J. IL McMullin, has been connected with the force since 1901.

Stetson hat, khaki tunic, Sam Browne belt, handcuff pouch, revolver holster, khaki Bedford cord breeches and Strathcona boots make up the rather dashing uniform. The shoulder tabs are sage green, and the breeches have a sage-green stripe'. The Northern dress includes fur cap, buffalo coat, German socks and moccasins. The personnel is made up of a fine lot of stalwarts, and most of them are backed by varied and world-wide experience.

Other provinces in Canada are policed by a provincial constabulary, notably Ontario, where there is a fine body of men under Com. Major-General V. A. S. Williams.

The dramatic episodes which mark the life history of the B. C. Police would (ill several volumes, for included among them are the quelling of Indian uprisings, and prolonged manhunts which featured the early story of the West.

It is seventy-six years since Chartres Brew, the founder of the constabulary, arrived in Canada. Prior to his coming the struggling colony did without a uniformed force of any sort, except a handful of voltigeurs and now and then the assistance of the marines from any British naval vessels which happened to be in Esquimalt Harbor. Old letters in the archives show that Governor Sir James Douglas kept importuning Downing Street to remedy conditions for fifteen years before any action was taken. Reading of those old days, one wonders that the infant colony at Fort Victoria lived through all the besetting dangers.

For instance, when gold was discovered in the Queen Charlotte Islands, the British were threatened by the warlike Haidahs and the American prospectors alike, though the two parties were just as bitterly opposed to each other. The Haidahs wanted the gold for themselves, and the Americans, inflated with success in winning Oregon from us, wished to colonize the Northern islands and monopolize whatever mineral wealth there might be. More than one vessel was lost in that search for gold. Prospectors were threatened by the natives; and many of them were injured and robbed of all they possessed .

Then up at Fort Rupert, on the northern end of Vancouver Island, the Indians armed themselves and went on the warpath, massacring and robbing. Later still, a fleet of canoes manned by 2,000 savages made a descent on Fort Victoria itself, though, after a demonstration of the big guns, nothing of any consequence happened. That is, until one day, only a few miles from the settlement, one of the Hudson’s Bay shepherds was found murdered, and a long manhunt started with marines and voltigeurs, Douglas at the head.

But still Downing Street took no notice of the governor's entreaties for adequate police protection.

Then gold was discovered in the Cariboo, and matters reached a climax. There began the maddest trek known in America, more frenzied than the rush to California in ’49.

Arrival of Chartres Brew

FROM ALL quarters of the globe but chiefly from California and Puget Sound, they came. Old hulks which had been condemned and left to rot were patched and painted, loaded to capacity and sailed toward British Columbia. All manufacturing was at a standstill. Even the soldiers deserted the United States forts. When there was no passenger space on the ships, treacherous iittle skiffs, even rowboats, took their quotas, stalked by death—which more often than anyone will ever know, won out.

In their tens of thousands they came to Fort Victoria to outfit, going thence to the Fraser River. Some of the parties travelled overland, and history tells of their sufferings from

perilous trails and hostile natives. Nothing could stop them; not even the sight of scalped bodies floating down the gold river and flung up on the

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Policing B. C.

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sandbars. Nor had some of them any respect for British law. Openly they defied it; secretly they planned to overthrow it.

In 1858 Douglas reported there were 10,000 persons engaged in mining, most of them between Murderer’s Bar and Fort Yale, and nearly all of them from the United States. The following year the notorious Ned McGowan started making trouble, and again Douglas sent an appeal to the Secretary of State.

At last the Home Government decided on action and commissioned Chartres Brew to build up a police force.

From Ireland he came—a dashing, handsome fellow, a member of the famous constabulary there who had won honors in the Crimea.

He sailed on the ill-fated S. S. Austria from Hamburg, one of 425 passengers, mostly emigrants. There was a crew of 103 officers and men. It was a big ship as ships went in those days, and everything promised well until they were in mid-Atlantic.

Then one day, the steerage being disinfected with tar, a barrel of the stuff spilled and became ignited. The flames spread with frightful rapidity and soon involved the whole vessel. Before the lifeboats could be launched, most of them caught fire. One of the first to fall a victim was the captain himself. A fellow passenger wrote of Brew’s cool-headedness; of his gallantry in trying to save passengers; of his assisting a swooning officer at the wheel and trying to turn the ship, which was running head to wind.

But eventually he, too, found himself in the sea, clutching at any sort of débris. He managed to drag himself aboard a partly burned lifeboat, and with a few others paddied away from the burning ship with bits of Jath they had picked up. Out of all the passengers and crew of the Austria, only sixty-seven lived to tell the tale. Brew and the others in the boat with him were rescued by a passing vessel and taken to Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Penniless and without clothes except those he wore, he reported his case and asked for help that he might reach Fort Victoria in time to keep his appointment. He had no other credentials than his own word, but he managed to borrow a hundred pounds and started off at once, down to Panama and thence up the Coast, arriving in Victoria only one week behind schedule.

Soon afterward he was made first inspector of police in British Columbia.

He arrived in the nick of time to do his part in putting down a rebellion headed by the famous Ned McGowan and known as the “McGowan War.”

The McGowan Insurrection

MCGOWAN was an American, an associate of the roughs and thugs of San Francisco. Accused of murder down there, he managed to escape the Vigilance Committee, though he was fired upon as he was boarding the boat for Victoria and supposedly shot. But the bullet only went through his clothing and he reached the Fraser, hoping to make a fortune digging gold. For a short time he attended to his own business, but he was never happy when out of the limelight.

His opportunity came. An American, one Farrell, committed an assault on a negro at Yale, and the magistrate there, Whannel, issued a warrant for his arrest. Farrell fled to Hill’s Bar, and Perrier, who was magistrate at this American headquarters, refused to recognize the warrant but issued another for the arrest of the negro. He sent his constable, Henry Hickson, to Yale to carry it out; and Whannel, enraged by the insolent bearing of Hickson, had him imprisoned for contempt of court.

This was the match to the train of powder long ready at Hill’s Bar. Perrier called on McGowan, who went to Yale at the head of a posse of twenty men, entered the court-

room while court was in session, and read a warrant for the arrest of Whannel himself. The astonished magistrate was then seized and, while some of the posse bundled him out of court and into a waiting canoe, others released Hickson. Whannel was arraigned before Perrier for contempt and fined fifty dollars.

Ned McGowan was in his element. More supporters rallied round him and Perrier, and serious trouble threatened.

Reports reached the authorities at Fort Langley that there was a conspiracy at Hill's Bar to overthrow British authority. Chartres Brew, with Colonel Moody and twenty-five of the Royal Engineers under Captain Grant, set out at once for the scene of action. The uprising was promptly quelled without a gun being fired. Fines were administered, and not long afterward the troublesome McGowan left the country.

The Chilcotin War

TN 1862 the Bute Inlet massacre and

Chilcotin War terrorized the inhabitants of all the country adjoining the gold fields.

It began with a decision to build a road into the Cariboo by way of Bute Inlet. Alfred Waddington’s engineers and workmen had completed a pack trail up the valley of the Homathco for forty miles or so before the trouble began. There were sixteen white men in two parties of twelve and four, working four miles apart; and another white man, Timothy Smith, was in charge of the ferry where the trail crossed the river. Sixteen Indians were employed as packers.

There are slightly conflicting accounts as to the origin of the uprising. It is said that it was the interference with their squaws by the white men that angered the Indians. Other authorities state that while the road builders were well supplied with food, the Indian packers were nearly starved. Again it was said that the whites robbed the Indian graves, and that the terrible scourge of smallpox that ravished the tribes was started by the sale to the natives of blankets taken from the bodies of the dead.

The first man to fall a victim was Timothy Smith. Three Indians came to the ferry, where a considerable quantity of supplies were stored in charge of the ferryman. They demanded food and, their request being refused, shot Smith.

The three murdering Indians proceeded to join the packers at the main camp, which they reached before daybreak. The white men did not suspect anything unusual was afoot, although the Indians had donned war paint and danced and sang nearly all night, their squaws sitting around in a circle watching them.

The white men slept three in a tent, and they were awakened shortly before daybreak by the collapse of the canvas about them. Shots were fired, and then knives were thrust through the folds of the tent, killing j all but three of them. One of the survivors j —Peterson, a Dane, who slept outside, wrapped only in his blankets—was struck at by an Indian with an axe, but it missed him. ¡ He made for the river, but not before a j bullet pierced his arm. Plunging in, he was j carried, bruised and bleeding, down the j current, over rocks and snags, and, reaching i the bank, was joined by Morley, who had 1 miraculously escaped unhurt. Later they j met Buckley, an Irishman who had been ¡ stabbed repeatedly by the natives and then left for dead, but had managed to crawl away.

These three arrived at the rope ferry, to find the scow had been cut adrift. Too weak j to swim, they crossed by way of a “travelling loop” which Buckley, who had been a ! sailor, set up for them.

I^ater, Mr. Brewster, and three men who were blazing the trail were attacked and three of them killed. The fourth, a halfbreed, tried to reach the river, but was shot and his body floated down stream. ¡

I Curiously enough, indiscriminate plunder was not. indulged in by the Indians. They i did not touch any money they found, but took only tools.

Their force augmented now, the natives crossed the Cascades and came to the house of a white settler at Puntze Lake, killed him and moved on to meet a pack train of eight drivers approaching from Bentinck Arm. These horsemen were in charge of Alexander McDonald. Ilis squaw had heard of the Bute Inlet murders and warned the travellers, but they did not heed her.

Passing through a bit of timber, they were suddenly surrounded by shouting, shooting natives, half a hundred of them. Three of the white men fell, riddled by bullets: the rest managed to escape, though some of them were badly wounded. Among the killed was McDonald, who was last seen firing from behind a tree at one of the chiefs, his squaw lying dead beside him.

Now the whole of the Chilcotin tribe joined the murdering company from the summits of the Cascades to the benches of the Fraser. Settlers were panic-stricken. They fled to the coast. Word swept the country that the Indians were on the warpath for the extermination of the whites.

News of the massacre reached the capital on May 14,1864. Governor Seymour, within a month of his arrival, found a general Indian uprising threatening.

A Fair Trial

' TMMEDIATE and energetic steps were

taken. On Sunday, May 15, a party of twenty-eight volunteers under Chartres Brew left the capital on H. M. S. Forward for the scene of action. Another party of fifty was organized in the Cariboo under William Cox. The Brew party was to make its w:ay into the Chilcotin territory by the Bute Inlet route and effect a junction with the Cox party near Puntze Lake, where Cox established himself in a log fort on the summit of a hill, keeping a white flag flying.

It was July before the two companies met, and in the meantime scouting parties had been sent out from the lake, but without any result. The Indians, hidden by the trees, fired upon them, injured some of them and killed Donald Melgan, a brave fellow who was invaluable as an interpreter. No natives I at all were sighted by Brew on his way to I join Cox. They had been warned and kept well out of sight.

i Brew gave orders for Cox to remain in camp, and pushed on toward the coast, i where he had heard the Indians were in 1 hiding.

At Puntze Lake, the natives who had kept : aloof gradually became accustomed to the presence of the white men and presently sent their squaws to trade. The women came back pleased with their bargains and carryI ing word that Cox wanted to see the chief.

The Chilcotins then dispatched one of their slaves to ascertain the terms of surren! der. Cox gave him presents, and sent a message that he desired to make friends with them and would like them all to come to the fort.

Promptly about noon of the same day, Tellot, a w’ell-known chief, with his subchiefs, their wives and families, arrived, a small army of them, all in good spirits and expecting lenient treatment. To their amazement, they were at once surrounded by armed men, who told them they were prisoners and ordered them to lay down their guns. All w’ith the exception of Tellot did so. He grasped his musket by the muzzle and smashed it against a tree, folded his arms and, drawing himself to his full height, bade them shoot him, saying scornfully, “All King George men big liars.”

Brew, however, adopted no such deceptive strategy to secure his prisoners. He marched to Bella Coola, where he met Anaheim, another of the Chilcotin chiefs.

I He talked with him reasonably and kindly, and persuaded him that his wisest plan would be to secure the other offenders by spring and bring them to justice. They would have a fair trial, exactly as white men were tried, and only those guilty should be punished.

Anaheim did as requested. The prisoners were brought to Quesnel Mouth, where the trial took place; countless natives being present and listening quietly to proceedings. Anaheim was pardoned, as were two others who turned Crown witnesses. The rest were hanged or imprisoned for life.

The result of this fair treatment of the guilty parties had a far-reaching effect upon the native tribes. They began to appreciate British justice in the carrying out of the law, and they had a high regard for Brew and his

officers in their work from this time onward.

But the Bute Inlet Road was never finished.

The assistance of the Provincial Police and the British Columbia Archives in helping to gather material for these articles is gratefully acknowledged.—The Author.

Editor's Note:—This is the first of a series of articles by Mrs. Shaw on the B. C. provincial police force. T he second will follow in an early issue.