Sunday, August 8, 2010


Thirty years after he rode through this country for the last time in the early 1840's, Alexander Caulfield Anderson returned to the north end of Lake Okanagan.
When he returned to area in 1877, he was the Dominion of Canada's representative on the Indian Reserve Commission.
At this time, the commission consisted of three members -- one representing the Dominion, one the Province of British Columbia, and one who represented both.
Retired fur trader Archibald McKinlay represented the Province, and Joint Commissioner Gilbert Malcolm Sproat represented both Province and Dominion.
According to Anderson's 97-page journal of the British Columbia Reserve Commission of 1878, the Commissioners left Victoria on Tuesday June 12, 1877.
They reached Kamloops on the 20th of the month, and pitched their camp on the Indian Reserve nearly opposite to but a little above the village of Kamloops.
From Anderson's journal: "All the principal Indians with most of their followers, are absent at a grand gathering at the Okanagan Lake."
The missionary Father Grandidier met the Commissioners to express his anxiety of the "condition of the Indian mind at present," and said that the "gathering, which comprises many of the natives resident both in British Columbia and others south of the Line may have a deeper signifance than is suffered to appear."
But even before they had left Victoria, the Commissioners had been made aware that "a confederation has ... been entered into by the heads of the several tribes the object of which is, apparently, to urge their land claims the more forcibly through union. Whatever the nature of this combination, however, there can be no question that the counsels of the envoys from the insurgent septs South of the Line, have served to intensify previously existing discontents."

The "insurgent septs South of the Line" were the American Indians, led by Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce people, who were fighting for ownership of their traditional lands.
It's a long story -- In 1875 the president of the United States opened the Wallowa Valley, long-time home of Nez Perce chief Joseph and his tribe, to settlement.
A year later some Indian-hating settlers accused a hunting party of Nez Perce of stealing their horses, and shot a young Nez Perce man named Wilhautyah (Wind Blowing) as he was trying to remove his meat from a tree.
That, at least, was one version of the story. A second version says that as the settlers discussed the stolen horses with the hunters, they got between the Indians and their guns which were resting against a tree.
Another version has one white settler wrestling with Wind Blowing, shooting him.
Whatever happened, the murderers rode away leaving a dead Nez Perce man behind.
Wind Blowing was well known to the settlers as a close friend of Chief Joseph, and they feared the Indians would avenge his death.
They barricaded themselves into their homes and waited for an attack which did not come. (The settler who had lost his horses found them grazing near his home.)
But Chief Joseph kept the Nez Perce calm.

At last the Nez Perce became impatient with white man's slow justice and ordered the settlers to meet with them in a council, bringing with them the men who had killed Wind Blowing.
The settlers refused to hand over the murderer, and the next day saw the Nez Perce armed, painted and stripped for war, riding on the hills.
In meeting after meeting the settlers refused to give up the murderers while the Nez Perce argued for justice.
At last Joseph said that if the settlers did not give up the murderer they would drive the settlers from their homes.
The calvarymen set up camp in the valley to keep the peace and to protect the Nez Perce, who they admired.
They set up an inquiry but the Indian witnesses were not given an opportunity to speak and the murderer was released.
In spite of the betrayal, peace settled over the valley even though the murderer returned home.

Joseph's Nez Perce tribe were non-treaty Indians; that is, their lands were not part of a reservation.
Joseph trusted the US government to respect their home, but was stunned when the US government commissioners asked him to give up the Wallowa and move to a reservation.
Joseph ignored the commissioners' many arguments and argued that his people were unwilling to give up their homes.
His eloquence nettled the commissioners and they were angered because they could not control him, but Joseph refused to give up his lands.
The commissioners wrote, "Indian Joseph...denied the jurisdiction of the United States over them...they were offered everything they wanted, if they would simply submit to the authroity and government of the United States agents."
But Joseph wanted to lived in the Wallowa valley unmolested, as he had always done, and the commissioners refused to listen to him.

After the meeting broke up, the commissioners decided to force Joseph and his Nez Perce to move to a reservation.
In January 1877, an agent instructed Joseph's people to move to the reservation "at once and in a peaceable manner."
In May they were again ordered to depart from the Wallowa valley, and Joseph declared, "You have no right to compare us, grown men, to children. Children do not think for themselves. Grown men do think for themselves. The government at Washington, cannot think for us."
The meeting ended, and soon after the military men discovered that members of many other tribes were riding into Joseph's camp to join the non-treaty Indians.
But none of the Natives wanted to go to war, and to the white men they appeared resigned to their fate and willing to go to their new reservation; they had thirty days to move.

The settlers were delighted when the Indians left the valley for their new reservation, but the Nez Perce lost many of their possessions when they were forced to cross a raging river in a time of high water.
In their camp they spoke of the hard times that had come on them, and their pride rose as they talked of the injustices the white men forced on them.
Drumming filled the air, and for days the younger men chanted and danced.
Three young men dressed in feathers and paint and shot and killed three men known to hate the Indians.
Joseph, still unaware of what had happened, received the message that "War has broke out! Three white men killed yesterday."
Other raiders killed more white settlers; the killings continued for two or more days and the white settlers abandoned their homes.
But the Nez Perce chiefs, including Joseph, remained in camp and worrried about what to do; they were opposed to war but their dreams of peace were fading rapidly.
Their camp was attacked by settlers; though no one was injured the incident turned the chiefs toward war.

The soldiers flooded into the territory and the leader, who could have prevented war by discovering what had actually happened, planned to attack the Indian camp at dawn but was discovered by a sentinel.
As they approached the camp, the soldiers were confronted by a Nez Perce man carrying a truce flag, while others sat on their horses to watch what would happen.
Another opportunity for peace was missed; the surprised captain raised his rifle and fired.
The Natives killed two soldiers and the fight was on -- in a few moments the swirling Nez Perce horsemen separated the unprepared soldiers into small groups, killing them or driving them away.
But after that fight, the whole territory south of the boundary line was involved in an Indian war, and Chief Joseph and his men fought in the front lines.

My information on Chief Joseph's war is heavily edited; if you want to read the whole story find the book: "The Nez Perce Indians and the Opening of the Northwest," by Alvin M. Josephy, Yale University Press, 1965.

This war could have crossed the line to the Okanagan people, close relatives of the American Indians involved, but it did not.
Both Tsilaxitsa and his cousin, Selixt-asposem, played a major role in preventing this war from crossing the line into the British Columbia interior.
Selixt-asposem was the son of the Okanagan chief Nicola, who had always worked with the Hudson's Bay men.
Before Nicola died, he told his son and his nephew, Tsilaxitsa, to follow the same friendly line of conduct with the whites as he had.
Anderson's journal notes that Selixt-asposem's other name was Five Hearts -- that might have been the translation for his Native name -- but that he was known amongst the settlers as Moise.

But when the commissioners reached Selixst-asposem's camp at the north end of Lake Okanagan in early September 1877, he was "absent; and there is a difficulty among the Indians as to who shall act in his absence."
Anderson wrote: "It is especially important, however, that at this point, the head quarters of the Okinagan tribes, a patient and satisfactory decision should be arrived at, as well to do justice to the local occupants, as to obviate the probability of similar delay elsewhere."
On September 8 Anderson wrote, "We have had several conferences with the Okinagans, and have ridden over their Reserve, which we find entirely too limited. Discord among the leading men has delayed a settlement, but we trust on Monday to have another meeting when more active progress will be made. Our action here requires great caution, as upon our successful treatment of the matter now before us, much of our after success will depend, and it is needless here to repeat the combination of causes through which the dissatisfaction of the Indians has arisen and recently been intensified."
The Natives in the interior were anxious for the Commissioners' visit and furious that it had not come earlier; their more recent anxiety was, of course, caused by the Native wars across the border, now two months old.
Ever since the commissioners arrived at Kamloops in July, Native couriers on horseback carried messages from chief to chief -- the Natives knew exactly what was going on, both with the commissioners' settlement of reserves in Kamloops area, and Chief Joseph's battles south of the border.
"However we may depreciate the unwanted delay, and fret under our tedious detention, we have no alternative but to deal patiently and discretely with the difficult problem before us," Anderson wrote.
On the Wed., 12th September, Anderson wrote: "Moise, the head chief, who arrived the night before, came the evening of Tuesday to pay his respects to us.
"He informs us that he had thought it prudent to leave home some time ago, and station himself outside the boundary-line among his relations there, his avowed object having been to check any disposition on the part of the Okinagans of British Columbia to join the insurgents on the Columbia River, in accordance with invitations which had been convertly sent by insurgent Chiefs."
Almost certainly Selixt-asposem had ridden south to join Chief Joseph's warriors, but no one said so.

It was a few days after that that Selixt-asposem and his cousin, Tsilaxitsa, sat down with the Commissioners to talk about Chief Nicola and show them the two medals (see posting re: Tsilaxitsa, earlier).
Tsilaxitsa told the Commissioners that: "While you white chiefs have your paper writing to speak from afar, we, too, have our writing, but it is the tongue that writes, and our intelligence travels fast...
"We will now tell you, Selixt-asposem and I, that it was well for peace that your coming among us was not deferred; for though our words with the young men have weight, they are words only, and however well directed, have not always power to restrain.
"..It was a question of peace or tumult," the chiefs said.

Remember that the Native chiefs' words are filtered through one or two interpreters (the Natives might have had their own interpreter, but the commissioners definitely had one), then written down later in the day by Anderson.
These are not the Natives' exact words, but Anderson's recollection of their words as he heard them from an interpreter.
Anderson was, in spite of his experience, a romantic -- he was drawn into the fur trade by the romantic stories of James Fennimore Cooper.

The result of the Commissioners' work at Selixt-asposem's village was peace, not tumult.
"We have settled satisfactily with the important tribe at the Head of the Lake, having assigned to them a very liberal tract adequate for all their requirements, and including a wide stretch of excellent pasture, for summer grazing, and also the share in pasture of an extensive tract lying between Long Lake and the large lake, where the snow does not lie in winter, and which is to be reserved for winter pasture only."
The removed a settler from his illegally occupied land; it should not have been sold to him as it was clearly a Native village.
Sproat proceeded down the east side of the lake, while Anderson and McKinlay set up camp at Point aux Pacquets, twelve miles down the west side of the lake.
"Selixt-asposem, the chief, accompanied us to our encampment and passed the night there, in the Interpreter's tent.
"On our way down, he invited the Provincial Commissioner and myself into his house at the River Isquasis, as he wished to speak with us privately.
"We acceeded to his request, of course, and through our Interpreter, Gregoire, he went on to speak of the general condition of affairs, both before and since our arrival and at the present time.
"He said that he wished to give us, thus privately, his assurance (already publicly given) that the minds of the people were now tranquil and satisfied.
"That there had existed a very bad feeling in the early part of the summer, which a mere trifle would have sufficed to bring to a climax.
"That the reports from the American side, and the messages they had received from their connexions there, had excited the young men very much.
"This feeling the expectation of the coming of the Commissioners had restrained; and that our patient and kindly treatment of their land claims since had removed whatever bad feeling had previously existed.
"That he and Tsilaxitsa had throughout done their best, and had now sent down messages in advance of us, to prepare the Indians near the line for our coming, and to explain their own satisfaction at our proceedings.
"He said that they had done this because, only two days ago, a messenger from the American side had come expressly with instigations to join them, from the Chiefs on the Columbia River (a branch of the Okinagans), who, on the recently assigned American Reserve, are still dissatisfied and meditate evil.
"He said that the messenger has been sent back at once with the reply that the Indians of this part would have nothing to do in the matter."

Anderson's 97-page journal is found under the name: Finished Journal as Indian Reserve Commissioner, 1877, Canada, Dept. of Indian Affairs, Black Series, RG10, Volume 3659, File 9500, Library and Archives Canada.

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