Tag Archives: Chief Spintlum

The Canyon War

August 19, 1858

Running hard, David didn’t have time to admire the natural beauty of the trees and the small creeks that lay before him. He viewed each one as an obstacle; something someone had passed before him. If he stopped, he could hear his stomach rumbling.

“Follow the trail,” Captain Snyder had said as he passed David a piece of paper, folded into quarters.

“You must get word to Chief Spintlum that we must meet and make peace.”

Snyder watched as David took the piece of paper and tucked it inside his coat. Then David turned and headed off jogging along the HBC Brigade Trail.

It was narrow and in parts, winding, obvious in same places and obscure and hidden in others. According to Snyder, it was forty miles from here to the “Forks” where the Thompson River merged with the Fraser River. That was the seat of Chief CexpentlEm.

David respected Captain Snyder even though he, like most of the miners who had volunteered to join the “Pike Guards” militia were just doing so in order to defend their mining claims.

There was a small creek to his right and David stopped to bend down and drink. The water was refreshingly cool and he splashed the water against his face and neck. He should have noticed the basket in the water but he didn’t. He didn’t see the smoked salmon flung against the rocks. He smelled something. A burnt smell that was seemingly at odds with the rest of the surroundings. Then he looked again and saw the charred remains of a cache of food. He groped around and picked up some smoked salmon, dusting it off with his fingers. It wasn’t tough like he thought it would be, it tasted good.

Someone had come along and destroyed this place. Underneath a pile of charred wood was some more smoked salmon and other food. What a waste! And to think of how hungry he had been. Who would have done such a thing?

He was from Minnesota originally and through a series of adventures, he had found himself in Washington State near Yakima when he first heard about gold being discovered in the Fraser Canyon.

He’d never been this far north before and he wasn’t sure he wanted to stay in this foreboding place.

When he had arrived in Yale a scant three weeks before he was thinking he ought to turn around. It was a lawless place where arguments turned ugly in an instant. The only thing more plentiful than gold was liquor and there was lots of it.

Going through the rapids in the Fraser Canyon

The narrow confines of the Fraser Canyon made the mining dangerous. There was only one way out and one way in. The rise and fall of the Fraser was unwelcome as it was unpredictable. Miners scrambled and fought over the exposed gravel bars while the rush of water smashed fully loaded canoes against the rocks.

Everyone like him had a story to tell of near misses and losses. You had to find a lot of gold to make it worthwhile to even afford food and supplies. Everyone was supposed to only buy supplies from the HBC but there wasn’t enough of anything to go around so merchants were coming up selling anything for whatever price they could get away with.

One night, things came to a head. Someone had come around and nearly killed Chief Kowpelst down by the river.

The Hudson Bay Company said that they were taking the side of the natives but it was clear they didn’t have the clout to do much. What could a handful of HBC clerks do against several thousand miners?

It was no wonder then that some of the chiefs started taking matters into their own hands. They started kicking the miners off their claims and blocking the canyon.

Several militia groups were formed to retaliate. As far as the miners were concerned, they were there to make money from finding gold. Besides, whose country did this area belong? One of the journalists from San Francisco, raised the point that the Hudson Bay Company had been given a decree to run its business here but that didn’t give it moral authority to create laws by which the miners had to abide.

Not everyone wanted to live in a lawless place like Yale; Snyder appealed for miners to join his milita, the Pike Guards and make peace. David was one of them.  There were other men like him too; they just wanted to make some money and bring it home, wherever that was.

David turned and ran, tripping over a tree root. Picking himself up, David found himself looking into the eyes of a young man, about the same age as himself.

“CexspentlEm” David said. “Captain Snyder wants to meet with him.”

The young man seemed somewhat perplexed, so David took out the white flag Captain Snyder had given him and offered it to the young man. He shook his head and took a step backward.

“CexspentlEm,” David repeated.

The young man disappeared into the bush and David looked around, seeing no one. If he’d known then that the Nlaka’pamux considered the white flag to be a sign of death, not truce, then he would have given up showing it.

As it was, he encountered a few other natives along the way and they all had the same wary reaction.

Richard Willoughby

Richard Willoughby and his militia had come over from Yakima through the Okanagan Canyon. There were over a hundred volunteers with Willoughby and if they didn’t come with their own breech loading rifle then they were loading and firing.

The natives with their HBC issued muskets didn’t stand a chance and Willoughby could hear the shots reverberate across the canyon. His group hardly suffered any casualties.

Willoughby decided that the group should travel up the Thompson River. There was some arguing about this but Willoughby was determined to stick to solid ground. At Okanagan Lake, there was plenty of food for the taking and Willoughby and his men took what they needed.

He knew that it was mostly fear that stuck them together. It was too risky for a couple of miners to go off on their own and start panning for gold.

He would gather them around and draw lines in the dirt.

“This here is the Nicola River, that’s the one we’re going to follow up to Fort Kamloops and then from there we’re going to travel west along the Thompson River.”

No one knew what lay before them but they didn’t need any reminders of what lay behind them. Nightmares, carnage.

Fort Kamloops came and went and then Willoughby and his crew were pushing east along the Thompson River, up the Bonaparte River for a while.

The gold wasn’t so plentiful and the men were eager to get to the Fraser Canyon.

“We want to go where the gold is!” they said.

Willoughby caved in. He wanted to get rich just as much as they did and frankly he was getting tired of their company anyway. He hadn’t come up north to run his own army. He wanted to find gold and lots of it.
David woke up at the first glimmer of light and started on foot again. His feet were sore in his shoes and one of the soles was becoming loose. He had eaten the rest of the smoked salmon the night before and this morning there was nothing but he was supposed to be close to Kamsheen, where the Thompson River met the Fraser.

It was early, probably before five in the morning when he ran past a group of sleeping miners. Guns were everywhere. Were these the ones Snyder had mentioned? Or were they a new group?

A twig snapped beneath his feet and someone stirred. David heard someone yell and he pulled out his white flag. Suddenly a shot was fired just missing his arm. The bullet blasted a hole through the cloth. He dropped it.

He ran faster now, crashing through the bush. He was off the trail now but he had to hide.
David held his breath even as his chest heaved. He knew the rifles, knew how far the bullets could travel.

He came to the edge of the bush and was about to keep going forward when he realized the earth had come to an end. Looking below he saw the winding ribbon of a river. There was no way down except to jump and he wasn’t prepared to do that.

Crawling along the edge, David scrambled forward as the the bushes tore at his clothes. He listened for more shots. There were none.

It was too early in the morning and he could imagine them sitting around eating some grub. It made him angry.

Where was the trail? It was too far west. He would have to somehow get back to it before they started.

Setting off again, David realized he would have to run up an embankment and around. It was a risky venture, of being exposed, but then there was nothing else to do. The earth was drier here he noticed and his footprints easily marked. He took off his shoes and dropped them into the bush.

There was a small trail that kept winding around and he followed it. At least it was going in the right direction.

He never heard anything until he had turned the corner and there sitting on a couple of flat rocks were three native men.

Two of them stood with legs apart and arms at their sides.

David swallowed hard and said, “CexpentlEm?”

The man sitting got up and looked at him inquisitively.

“Captain Snyder wants to meet CexpentlEm to make peace.” David said as he pulled out the piece of paper that the interpretor had given out.

The chief turned the paper over in his hands and read it. Then he folded the piece of paper and gave it back to David. “The soldiers, they were shooting at you?”


Chief Cunamista talked with the others and then turned to David. “Come with us. We will take you to meet him. First we will wait.”

He followed them into a small scrubby area and crouched down as they indicated. Through the leaves, David could see below, the militia men were marching.
(A few days later, Captain Snyder met with CexpentlEm and on August 21, 1858, they signed an understanding of peace and CexpentlEm sent sons of chiefs to accompany the militia as it went down the Fraser Canyon back to Yale, thus ending the Canyon War).

Gold Bar in the Fraser Canyon (Part 2)

(In part 1 of “Gold Bar in the Fraser Canyon” assistant gold commissioner McLennan realizes that Ned McGowan and his criminal gang have gained influence and control over gold commissioner Hicks based in Yale, British Columbia)

Steamboat Heading to Yale

The captain of S.S. Watertown was relieved to see the town of Yale, but not nearly as relieved as the passengers.  It had been a long and arduous trip up the Fraser River as the boat slowly made its way against the waters that were pushing their way in the opposite direction to the coast.

McLennan was relieved to finally catch sight of the steamboat and looked around for the James Douglas representative, the one whose job it was to oversee Hicks.  It was starting to drizzle, a Scotch mist, he would have called it.  Nobody on the wharf seemed to be paying attention to it; the rain never lasted in the interior up here, unlike the coast.

McLennan could have waited elsewhere but he was determined to speak to someone in higher authority about his horrible boss. He thought about what he would say and he went over and over in his mind exactly the points he would bring up and in what order.

After a time, the steamboat came to a rest and the passengers disembarked, some more quickly than others.

Where was he? McLennan’s hand went to his snuff box by habit, his fingers cold from anxious waiting, but this wasn’t the time to indulge himself.  For a brief moment he thought of his wife; the silver box had been a gift from her father.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw one of McGowan’s goons leaning against a hitching post.  McLennan looked back at the dispersed crowd and all the people walking on unsteady legs carrying their belongings, some in carts, others on their backs.

Representatives of the Colony always had an assistant with them to help carry their belongings. Looking around he didn’t see anyone that he recognized.  The goon was still there, if he was waiting for someone he didn’t let on.  Finally McLennan spotted James Douglas talking to the captain who was carrying Douglas’ baggage.  McLennan was so relieved he nearly cried.

Chief Spintlum and about six hundred of his best riders and warriors had made the trip from Lytton to Yale without any events along the way.  There were a few surprised looks from some of the miners they encountered, but most kept out of the way.  Spintlum organized a camp to be set up about fifteen minutes ride outside of Yale, far enough away that they didn’t have to listen to the gunshots.

Hicks woke up with a severe headache.  He’d drunk too much the night before and all he could hear was hoofbeats.  He put his hands to his head in the hopes the sound would stop but it didn’t.  His door was shaking.  Squinting his eyes, he thought he could see it moving from side to side.  With one hand he felt around on the floor for his glasses.  He couldn’t see a damn thing without them, but just moving his arm gave him a sharp pain in the head.

McLennan and Douglas were heading along the road in an open carriage when they heard the murmurs on the street that a group of natives was about to arrive.  McLennan heard their horses coming down the main street, several of them side by side with their riders standing straight and tall. What were they doing here? He wondered.

Douglas ordered the carriage driver to halt and by habit, McLennan tipped his hat at the riders in acknowledgement.  None of them recognized Douglas, but they stopped and one of them asked “where is Hicks?”

McLennan stalled for a moment as he looked to Douglas.  “I’m afraid I don’t know at this present moment, but allow me to introduce myself, Archie McLennan, assistant gold commissioner.”  McLennan offered his hand and the man looked at him for a moment then he proceeded to dismount slowly and carefully as if suffering from some injury.

“I am Cexpe’nthlam, head chief of the Nlaka’pamux.  I came here because my people have been falsely accused of a massacre.”

“Chief Spintlum?”

The chief nodded, evidently he had heard many pronunciations of his name.

James Douglas rose from the carriage and removed his hat, introducing himself.  It was precisely at that moment something happened which McLennan would never forget.

With one suspender holding up his pants and his shirt on backwards, Hicks came running out of the gold commissioner’s office with a pistol extended from a shaking hand in the direction of McLennan, “he stole my gold dust!” he screamed.

Before McLennan had a chance to open his jaw, a gunshot rang out and Hicks flopped forward in a pile of mud.  Nobody moved.  McLennan glanced around but he couldn’t see who had shot Hicks.  He saw people dipping into the recesses and shadows of the buildings. It was eerily quiet.

After a couple of minutes, Douglas put a handkerchief to his forehead and said to McLennan, “we have much to discuss, but first let us have some tea.”