Before the Fraser River gold rush, there were several Nlaka’pamux villages occupying the flat land along the Fraser Canyon. Trails led through the forests from winter village areas to food-gathering and hunting areas; every peak, every lake, every clearing was known to someone.
One of these villages was Tuckkwiowhum (Tuck-we-ohm) meaning ‘great berry picking place’. For thousands of years, people lived at the spot where Anderson River meets the Fraser River. People stopped here on their travels to and from Klickumcheen (Lytton).
The ancient village of Kopchitchin was directly across the Fraser River.
Fraser Canyon War
The summer of 1858 was a brutal one for First Nations who sought to protect their territories. The American army was engaged in a full out war against several First Nations from Fort Simcoe to Fort Okanagan.
Steamboats plowed the waters up to Yale, unloading hundreds of miners at a time. Natives blamed the boats for preventing the salmon from their migration. Foreign goldseekers set up camps on every bar that could be seen, crowding out Natives who were also panning for gold.
Then the freshet came and goldseekers were impatient to head further north into Nlaka’pamux territory.
The walls of the Fraser Canyon echoed with gunshot as goldseekers attempted to gain ground above Hell’s Gate. The Nlaka’pamux responded with poison-tipped arrows.
Hudson’s Bay Company in the middle
Without any legal authority, the Hudson’s Bay Company’s chief factor of Fort Yale was powerless to stop the carnage except to appeal for peace. What could a handful of HBC clerks do against several thousand miners?
Fort Yale Chief factor Ovid Allard wrote to James Douglas:
The Miners have abused the Indians in many instances particularly at what is called New York Bar by insulting their women after they had voluntarily given up their arms. I understand that the same thing has also occurred at “Quayome”. From what I can learn I have reason to believe that some 15 or 20 Indians have lost there lives and three or four whites.
At Yale, goldseekers armed with percussion revolvers and breech loading rifles formed into at least five American-style militia groups.
In August 1858, these militia forces completely burned the villages of Kopchitchin and Tuckkwiowhum.
In all, the militias burned five ‘rancheries’; three above the Big Cañon and two below. The militias destroyed all their provisions including salmon and dried berries.