We do not know his name: Klatsassin and the Chilcotin War

The Latest Massacre

Daily British Colonist, June 27, 1864

The accounts received on Saturday, and given in full in another part of to-day’s Colonist, of the murder of McDonald and a portion of his party, however horrible, have not come upon the inhabitants of Victoria by surprise. A report had been previously published in the Victoria press, giving a description of this catastrophe, and although by the actual date of the murder it is now evident that that report was incorrect, yet it had, with a kind of premonition, if not prevision, prepared the minds of the inhabitants for the melancholy disaster. It is sad to think that however helpless we were to save Manning and his party, this last massacre might at least have been prevented by immediate action on the party of the authorities, when we received the first intelligence of the Bute outrage. That intelligence reached here on the morning of the 11th of May, just eleven days after the atrocities had been perpetrated; but no force was sent up by way of the coast until Wednesday, the 15th of June, exactly five weeks after the news had been received. Whatever obstacles might have been in the way of organising an adequate expedition for the capture of the murderers, there was certainly nothing to prevent intimation being immediately forwarded to the white population of Bella Coola. McDonald’s party did not start till the 20th, and we knew of the massacre of Brewster’s men on the 11th, affording ample time to have saved the former travellers.

Our own Government no doubt were to blame in keeping the intelligence two days from Governor Seymour, and we have no desire to shelter them in the matter; but when the news did at length reach New Westminster on the evening of the 13th of May, there was still a week left to take steps to save those who were living at Bella Coola, or who might have just left that place for the interior. It is nothing to the purpose to say that it was unknown at what precise date McDonald’s party were to start. Common sense as well as common humanity would have dictated the necessity, under any circumstances, of immediately apprising the white setters at Bentinck Arm of their danger. There was no probability of their receiving any information of the Bute massacre by other means, and it was natural to suppose that the Chilcoatens would continue their bloody work. It is, in fact, the greatest wonder that there was a single living white man at the arm when the Sutlej arrived.

It would be unjust with, at the best, but imperfect information before us to charge any particular party with the serious responsibility of the murder of McDonald and his companions; but we have no hesitation whatever in asserting that, through some personal feeling or misunderstanding, there was a want of co-operation between the Government of British Columbia and the naval authorities at a time when every minute was precious – when the lives of a number of our fellow citizens were hanging on the promptitude of Executive action. It is one of our national characteristics to be slow, methodic, and tied down to routine, and the Government of the neighboring colony was probably laboring under this unwieldy mode of action when it could not make the first motion without the aid of Her Majesty’s ships; but we hope we shall not again have to chronicle the massacre of a number of our fellow-creatures, because the authorities could not agree as to the precise method of making a “demonstration.”

There were more evils in this unfortunate delay than the loss of Macdonald and his men. Time was allowed the Chilcoatens to make alliances with other tribes, and thus precipitate probably a regular Indian war. The effects of a speedy retribution, which is the only means of terrorising savages, were lost — a prestige was given to the Chilcoatens by their easy and successive victories over the whites; and an example of unrestrained savagery was set to the other tribes, which was bound, as we have previously shown, to affect them with the same disregard of the white man's law, and the same contempt for the white man’s life. The blunder has now been made, and our only hope lies in the prudence as well as energy of the volunteers. That the Governor himself, with a praiseworthy earnestness and determination, has accompanied the party, gives us the assurance, at all events, that justice shall be done strictly and in an unimpassioned manner; and that nothing tending to inflame the minds of innocent Indians or friendly tribes will be perpetrated.

There is, however, grave matter for anxiety in this expedition. Forty men is but a small force to penetrate an enemy’s country – an enemy full of wiles and treachery, and a country in which every hundred yards affords facilities for ambush. The forty Bella Coola Indians who have been taken as auxiliaries, however serviceable they are expected to prove, may require ultimately as much watching as the murderers themselves, and as a climax to the dangers the foe may be much larger, on account of the junction with other tribes, than the volunteers possibly conceive.

Our main hope, however, lies in the probability of the Indians taking to their entrenched or roughly fortified position, alluded to by our special correspondent, in which case they are pretty certain to be captured. The Admiral’s reserve of fifty or sixty marines, with the junction of Cox’s party from Alexandria, will make a force altogether, including the forty Bella Coolas, of about one hundred and eighty men. If the Chilcoatens and their companions number no more than forty, we may indulge in the satisfaction that every rascal who escapes the bullet will dangle from the pine. At all events, we hope that the difficulties of the route will be overcome, that promptitude and vigor will take the place of the past inaction, and that an example will be made of these red-skin assassins, that will crush effectually in the bud what would, by maudlin treatment, spring up in a little time into a wholesale Indian war.

Source: "The Latest Massacre," Daily British Colonist, June 27, 1864.

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Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History