Monday, December 27, 2010

Chief Nkwala and his extended family

The man who was to become Chief Nkwala was born at the head of Okanagan Lake, or in the area of Nicola Lake, about 1785, and died in 1859.
The fur traders called him Nicola, and to the fur traders in New Caledonia and Thompson's River district, he was the most powerful chief of his time.
But where did Chief Nkwala come from, and how did he get his power?
And who were the people who were in his family?

His father's name was Pelkamu'lox; Nkwala's mother was Pelkamu'lox's second wife, a Stuwi'x woman.
Nkwala's father was a noted Okanagan chief descended from the Spokan people, who lived in a fortified stone house at a place called Sali'lx, or "heaped up stone," at the junction of the Similkameen and Okanagan rivers.
About 1790, he moved north to the Nicola Lake area on the urging of his half-brother, Kwoli'la, a Secwepemc chief from the Thompson River district [Kamloops].
Palkamu'lox and Kwoli'la spent their summers on the open prairies around Nicola Lake, and made their winter home at Nkamapeleks at the north end of Lake Okanagan.
Pelkamu'lox was called "Grand Picotte" by the fur traders, and was considered their friend.
But at the Fountain on the Fraser River, Pelkamu'lox was killed by a Lil'wat (Lillooet) chief while on a trading expedition for the HBC.
This would have been in late Autumn, 1822, and if we say that Pelkamu'lox was about 20 years old when his son, Nkwala was born, he could have been about fifty-seven years old.
As the result of Pelkamu'lox's murder, the Okanagan and Secwepemc prepared for war, and Nkwala was recognized as the principal war leader.
Nkwala assembled 500 mounted warriors from all quarters, and conducted a successful retaliatory raid, killing or capturing hundreds of Lillooet people.

The Lillooet people did not come from the area near modern-day Lillooet, they came from Anderson and Seton Lakes west of the Fraser River, the Lillooet River and lakes, and Harrison Lake.
This country is rough and not horse friendly -- it is unlikely that the Okanagan and Secwepemc people rode their horses any further west than the 'Fountain' fishing village on the east bank of the Fraser River south of the mouth of Pavilion River.

Nkwala overshadowed all the other chiefs of his time in southern British Columbia, and despite his military actions toward the Lil'wat, was known for peacemaking and friendship with the fur traders.
As early as 1822, John McLeod wrote that "of all the Indians resorting to this place [he] has rendered the most aid to the whites and [is] undoubtedly the most manly and the most to dread if he turned against us."
Nkwala or one of his sons always acted as guide for the fur traders' brigades as they travelled through the Okanagan Valley toward Fort Okanogan (this tradition would be carried on by his descendents, as I have discovered).
And when Chief Trader Sam Black was murdered at the Thompson River post by a renegade Secwepemc youth, Nkwala encouraged the Secwepemc people to support company efforts to find and punish the murderer.
Nkwala's son was one of the party which eventually captured and shot the young man.

So far, almost all of this information has come from -- a project of the Royal British Columbia Museum.
This is a very good biography of Nkwala, and it lists many good sources which I will eventually follow up:
"The Golden Frontier: the recollections of Herman Francis Reinhard, 1851-1869," ed. D.B. Nunis, Jr. (Austin, Texas, 1962);
George Mercer Dawson, "Notes on the Shuswap People of British Columbia," Transactions of the Royal society of Canada, Section II, 1891, 3-44;
James Teit, "The Salishan Tribes of the Western Plateau," in Forty Fifth annual Report of the Bureau of american Ethnology, Ed., Frans Boas (Washington, 1930);
Kamloops Museum and Archives, John Tod and Donald Manson, "Thompson River Post Journal, 1841-43" (John Tod's post journals for 1841-3 are in B.C.Archives);
Paul Fraser, "Thompson River Journal, 1850-1852," and "Thompson River Journal, 1854-1855";
William Manson, "Kamloops Journal, 1859-60;"
Mary Balf, "A Very Great Chieftain," and "Notable Local Indians of the Early Days," vertical files, [Kamloops Museum and Archives];
John Tod, "History of New Caledonia and the Northwest Coast," BCArchives.
James McMillan and John McLeod, "Thompson's River Journal, 1822-23," B.97/a/1, HBCA;
Archibald McDonald, "Journal of Occurrences at Thompson's River, 1826-27," B.97/a/2, HBCA;
Letter, John Tod to Simpson, 1846, D.5/16, fo. 366-68, HBCA;
John Tod, "Narrative of a Chief Factor of the Hudson's Bay Comapny," 1878, Bancroft Collection, Bancroft Library, Berkley (this will also be in BCArchives).

Nkwala died about 1859 and was temporarily buried at Kamloops near the fort.
His body was removed and reburied at Nkama'peleks, at the north end of Okanagan Lake.

Now, to get onto Nkwala's geneaology....
Nkwala had fifteen or more wives taken from numerous tribes including the Okanagan, Sanpoil, Colville, Spokan, Secwepemc, Stuwi'x and Nlkak'pamux of Thompson's River.
He had 50 or more children whose descendents live in southern British Columbia or in Washington State.

I know only one of his sons, and that is Selixt-asposem, about whom I have already written.
Alexander Caulfield Anderson met Selixt-asposem in 1877, and as far as I know this is the only time they met.
But Anderson knew Selixt-asposem's cousin, Tsilaxitsa, much better.

Tsilaxitsa was the son of Nkwala's favorite sister.
I have a short biography of Tsilaxitsa, who I looked up when Anderson wrote in his 1877 Indian Reserve Commission journal that he had ridden many miles with Tsilaxitsa.
This short biography is a page of Notes on page 59 of the 42nd Report of the okanagan Historial Society Journal, 1978.
It reads:
"Silhitza (Chilliheetza, Chillihutza) was one of the most important Okanagan chiefs of this period.
"His father was an Okanagan from the Keremeos area.
"His mother was Chief Nicolas' (Nkwala) favourite sister and when she died giving birth to Silhitza, Chief Nicolas adopted the infant.
"On Nicolas' death in 1865, Silhitza became the nominal head of the Okanagan tribe, or at least of its northern branches.
"He played an active role in the political affairs of the 1860's and 1870's, especially in relation to the land question.
"He advocated peaceful methods in dealing with whites and laid stress on the hope that the Queen would deal justly with the Indians.
"He was the main Okanagan negotiator with Gilbert Sproat and the Indian Reserve Commission and in some interpretations is largely responsible for averting war in the late 1870's.
"After Sproat's re-establishment of Okanagan reserves, Silhitza moved to the new reserve at Douglas Lake.
He died in 1885 and was succeeded as chief of the Douglas Lake Band by his son, Johnny Chilliheetza."

Alexander Caulfield Anderson first met Tsilaxitsa in 1847, when he and Blackeye's son guided the fur traders up the newly opened Native road that led from the banks of the Fraser River near modern-day Boston Bar, over the hills to the Nicola Valley.
Blackeye and his son were Similkameen Natives who summered at Otter Lake, near modern day Tulameen, but who had their winter village in the Similkameen valley to the east.
It is probable that their winter village was somewhere around Keremeos -- but it could have been elsewhere.
But this makes me wonder -- what is Blackeye's relationship to Tsilaxitsa?
Are they related through Nkwala, who had a wife or wives in the Similkameen district?
Were Blackeye's son and Tsilaxitsa cousins -- were they half-brothers?
Or were they related through Nkwala's favourite sister who had a child by a Similkameen man from the Keremeos area?
Was Nkwala's sister married to Blackeye, or to one of Blackeye's relations?

And who was Blackeye's son-in-law, who Anderson had met in 1847 -- was this the same man who Anderson (and other fur traders) later called Blackeye's son?
Or was he another man, married to one of Blackeye's daughters?

We we still have the question -- who was Blackeye?
Assuming that Blackeye was the name the fur traders gave him, what was his Native name?
A Stlo:lo website says that he might be the man they knew as Yo:a'la -- is that a Similkameen or Okanagan Native name?

The importance, to Anderson, of the Natives who lived near Keremeos was shown when, in 1877, an early winter forced the members of the Indian Commission to abandon their work at Osoyoos, just east of the Similkameen Valley.
From Anderson's journal: "Owing to the advanced period of the year it has been found inadvisable to attempt the Similkameen country at present.
"It was judged prudent, however, that one of the Commissioners should visit the Indians and explain to the Chiefs our reasons for suspending our original intentions.
"Accordingly, Mr. Anderson, the Dominion Commissioner, diverged at Osooyoos [sic], and accompanied by the interpreter, Antoine, and travelling in light marching order, passed round by Keremeeoos [sic] and Ashnola (the latter place some forty miles up the Similkameen) reaching this place [Penticton], by a short cut over the mountains, on Monday afternoon, simultaneously with the rest of the party from Osooyoos by the direct road.
"Mr. Anderson did not see the chiefs, as they were absent on a hunting tour in the mountains, and were not expected back for a week.
"He therefore left a written memorandum with Mr. Price of Keremeeoos to communicate to the Chiefs on their return, explaining the object of his visit, viz. as being merely to shake hands and smoke a pipe with them, and to show them that, though through circumstances we were unable to fulfil our intention of visiting them officially this Autumn, we were not unmindful of them...."

This story continued the next day, when "A message came from the senior Chief of Similkameen.
"He desired to say that, one of his children having died in the mountains, he had come to the village to bury it, arriving there shortly after Mr. Anderson had left.
"That he had followed to Keremeeoos in the hope of overtaking him, and expressing great regret that, after Mr. Anderson had taken the trouble to come so far, he and his people should not have been at home to receive him."

Sproat's letter to the Provincial Secretary is revealing of several things...
On December 10, 1877, Sproat complained [nothing new there] that "Mr. Haynes at Osoyoos so much dislikes the prospects as regards Indian affairs across the line that he fears some trouble in the spring. [The American Natives were at war].
"He showed us a letter from Mr. Price at Keremeos urgently asking one of us to visit that place to calm the Indians, though the ground being covered with snow, no work could be done.
"The Provincial Commissioners [Sproat & McKinlay] having no authority to speak for the future declined to accede to this request, but Mr. Anderson went of his own accord rapidly to Keremeos, and overtook us on way to Penticton.
"He did not see Ashnola John, the acting chief, but saw Mr. Price and left a message that the Commissioners were turned back by the winter and he had visited Ashnola simply to shake hands.
"This will probably do good temporarily and commits the Province to nothing.."

Ashnola John was the acting chief at Ashnola, according to Sproat, but Anderson said he was the senior chief.
Ashnola is close to modern-day Keremeos, in the Similkameen valley.
As Anderson had taken his brigades through this valley many times during his years at Fort Colvile, it is possible that he knew Ashnola John from the past.
But I wonder -- could this man be Blackeye's son?
Could Ashnola have been Blackeye's winter village?

If anyone knows the answers to any of these impossible questions, please let me know.


  1. Hey Nancy. Brent Stratichuk in New Westminster here, with at least one possible answer to your many questions, specifically regarding Nkwala's many children. In researching my own recently-discovered genealogy on the side of my birth-mother (June Oelrich), I learned earlier today that her grandmother, Sarah Oelrich, was the daughter of one of Chief Nicola's daughters from the North Okanagan, named Marguerite Chilchotquin. My source comes from "Princeton: Our Valley" (R971.15 P936, pg. 502-504), in an entry written by Marion (Oelrich) Marsel, one of Sarah's daughters. If this source indeed proves to be reliable, I suppose Nkwala would be my Great Great Great Grandfather - and Palkamu'lox my Great Great Great Great Grandfather, while we're at it! Imagine that!

  2. Contact me directly; I can put you in touch with another descendent if you wish -- or at least a descendent of Tsilaxitsa, his nephew. Oh, and if you figure out who Blackeye is (who might be another cousin), please let me know.

  3. Hi Nancy. Brent again. You can reach me at Sorry, no ideas about Blackeye yet (the Nkwala connection being literally 2 days old itself), but obviously this whole revelation has given me entire new avenues to explore, so hopefully I'll have something for you eventually. Of course, this might all be unsubstantiated rumour anyway (i.e. "family legend has it..."), but I hope to know more after a return visit to the VPL later this week to obtain a copy of Sarah Lindley's Marriage certificate. I'm guessing if it shows "Marguerite Chilchotquin" (sp.?) as being her mother, then at least THAT part of the story would be correct. Then I'd just have to make the last connection between Marguerite & Nkwala to fully confirm everything. Any thoughts on how to accomplish THAT would of course be GREATLY appreciated.

    Thanks again,

  4. Thank you or your site. I may be related to Gilbert Malcolm Sproat and would like to know how much you know about him

  5. Where are you? Contact me directly; just know that right now I am extremely busy. I can give you some information but I want you to know that I loathed the man, having read much of his correspondence in BC Archives. He's fairly famous in British Columbia, and some academics actually like him. But he is the antagonist in my it or not.

  6. I was in error when I wrote that Nkwala avenged his father's death by attacking the Lil'wat people on the Lillooet River -- it appears he attacked them at their fishing place on the banks of the Fraser River, probably at the Fountain. The first biography was unclear on this; the second seems more accurate. My apologies.

  7. Jonny Tselaxitsa is my Great Great Grandfather.

    His Daughter Harriet Paul is my Great Grandma.

    Her Daughter Susan Harvey is my Grandma.

    Her Son Harold Harvey is my Dad

    And I'm Kimberly Harvey.

  8. Jonny Tselaxitsa is my Great Great Grandfather.

    His Daughter Harriet Paul is my Great Grandma.

    Her Daughter Susan Harvey is my Grandma.

    Her Son Harold Harvey is my Dad

    And I'm Kimberly Harvey.

  9. Does anyone know of Ashnola John's relation to N'kwala? or anything else about Ashnola John? He is depicted as a horse thief and coward, etc. in many settler stories, though Susan Allison depicts him favourably. Thanks.

  10. Does anyone know of Ashnola John's relation to N'kwala? or anything else about Ashnola John? He is depicted as a horse thief and coward, etc. in many settler stories, though Susan Allison depicts him favourably. Thanks.

    1. Hi, I haven't maintained this blog for quite a while, and messages no longer reach me (I think I changed my email address). I wondered if Ashnola John was Blackeye or his son, but I don't think so now

  11. My Great Granmother a couple times was Jenny Jameson, she was Ashnola Johns Sister, I am beginning to dig into the info that we have and will try and find some answers that might put a light on the subject or possible clarification one way or another on Ashnola John and Blackeye.

    1. Hello. Great grandchild of Jenny Jameson. Did you ever find out anything about Ashnola John's sisters? I have found an essay about a woman called Ghenac by the Syilx who I think may be Ashnola Mary. Was Ashnola Mary the sister of Ashnola John (aka Johnny Chuchuaskin).

  12. Ashnola Mary is another name for Ashnola Johns wife Mary Narcisse who lived to 116. Jenny Jameson was 1/2 siater to Ashnola John. Jenny and Ashnola Johns father indian ban genealogy chart name “Tommy Sixwilxqn” was the Hereditary Chief of the Similkameen nation before his son John became chief.... contact me if you want to chat.