N’kwala – Head Chief of the Okanagans

Chief Nicola

Head Chief of the Okanagans?

On the cover of the book, “Images from the Likeness House” is an unidentified picture of a chief from the interior of British Columbia. This picture is said to have been taken in 1897 which is after the death of Chief N’kwala, but it sure matches the description of him.

An American gold miner named Herman Francis Reinhart was among 300 miners who had been involved in the Okanagan Massacre in the summer of 1858. The miners arrived at Kamloops Lake in late August with two Natives they had captured. N’kwala, the head chief of the Okanagans confronted the group.

Here is Herman Reinhart’s description of Chief N’kwala which seems to match the above picture of the unidentified chief.

“Old Nicholas [sic] the head chief of the Indians around that country, came to see us about the two prisoners we had brought back from Lake Okanagan. He was an old man about 65 or 70 years old, wore a stove pipe hat and citizen’s clothes, and had a lot of medals of good character and official vouchers of good conduct for many years.

He was quite angry and said he was surprised to see 300 men take two Indian prisoners and bring them back two or three hundred miles because we thought they were spies, and it was mighty little in us and did not show great bravery. And about the Okanagan Lake massacre, that it was brutal, and he could not think much of the Bostons, or Americans, that would do the like.

He blamed us for butchering the Okanagan Indians in cold blood and the Okanagan Indians had sent some messengers to him to help avenge the death of his people, but he said he had better teaching from good men and priests, and good advice from Captain McLean head of the Hudson’s Bay Company [Chief Factor of Fort Thompson], and they advised him and his people to overlook the great crime but he had great trouble to quiet and calm down his young warriors, of which, with the Lake Okanagan tribe, he could have raised from 1800 to 2000 warriors, and could have surprised our command and cut them off to a man, utterly annihilating the whole of us, and taking all our animals and all our plunder. But he could not have told how it would have gone after, for he would have lost all control of his people, and the war chiefs would have usurped his power and carried on a general war against the whites, American and English. Being the massacre had taken place in British Columbia, it would be the duty of the English Queen Victoria to see justice done to her subjects, and he was right, no doubt.

Some of our boys were awful ashamed and some angry to hear an old man tell them so many truths, and some were mad enough to kill him for his boldness in his expressions to us all. But it was a fact none could deny, and Major Robertson let the two prisoners go. I think some of the men gave them some clothing and provisions, with some money to satisfy them for their loss of time and trouble.

Here is some more information about Chief N’kwala (Nicola) from the Dictionary of Canadian Biography:

“Nicola was descended from a long line of Okanagan head chiefs and, according to legend, was born at the fortified encampment established by his father, Pelkamū’lôx (which means “rolls over the earth”), near the junction of the Similkameen and Okanagan rivers (Washington). When Nicola was still a young boy PElkamū’lôx took his people north to Fish Lake (B.C.), where he settled near the band of his brother Kwoli’la at Chapperon Lake.

During the early fur trade era in New Caledonia (B.C.), Nicola’s influence was much appreciated by the traders of the NWC and the Hudson’s Bay Company, and his generous welcome was largely responsible for the happy relationship between them and the Interior Salish people. In the late 1830s Chief Factor Samuel Black, in charge at Thompson’s River Post, lent him a plough so that he could grow potatoes and other vegetables at his summer camp on Nicola Lake; this first local effort at cultivation was soon imitated by other bands. Following the murder of Black by a young Shuswap warrior in 1841, Nicola calmed the HBC men, who feared a widespread uprising, by delivering a moving eulogy, reported by Archibald McKinlay, which called for the capture of the killer.”

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