Saturday, December 3, 2011

Blackeye the Similkameen

I have stumbled on some new information that might actually allow me to identify Blackeye, the Similkameen chief Anderson met on the north side of the Coquihalla mountain in 1846, near modern day Tulameen.
Even if this is not the answer to my question, "Who is Blackeye?" it is a wonderful story and I am going to share it with you.
Firstly I will quote the story as written in "Notes on the Shuswap People of British Columbia," by George Mercer Dawson, found online at, published in the Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada, Section II, 1891, pp. 3-44.

[p.24] "Mr. J. W. Mackay, from different sources, has put together the following notes bearing on the early history of the Indians now inhabiting the Similkameen country. In quoting these notes, which Mr. Mackay has kindly communicated to me, I retain his orthography of the native names:--

"A long time before the white man first came to the country, a company of warriors from the neighbourhood of the Chilcotin River made their appearance in the Bonaparte Valley, apparently with the object of attacking the Indians who were there and of making slaves of such as they could take alive. This happened during the salmon-fishing season.

"At that time it was customary for the Shuswaps who lived on the banks of the Thompson River between Kamloops and the mouth of the Bonaparte and in the Bonaparte Valley, to take their winter stock of salmon from the Fraser River at the western base of the Pavilion Mountain.

"The warriors above mentioned had evidently calculated that most of the Shuswaps would be absent from their winter quarters on the Bonaparte and Thompson valleys, and would be encamped on the Fraser River during the salmon season, and that therefore they might make an easy prey of the few Indians who might be remaining in these valleys. It happened that during the previous winter provisions had been more than ordinarily scarce, in consequence of which all the Shuswaps belonging to these localities had removed to their salmon fisheries on the Fraser.

"The strangers from Chilcotin were evidently ignorant of the geography of the country into which they had penetrated, and as they saw no Shuswaps where they expected to find them, they continued their advance southward down the Bonaparte and Thompson valleys till they reached a position opposite the mouth of the Nicola River. At this place they were discovered by some scouts belonging to the N-tla-ka-pe-mooh tribe, who immediately descended to Nicoamen and Ti-kam-cheen (Lytton), where most of the members of this tribe were assembled for the salmon fishery. They gave the alarming information that a hostile company was advancing down the Thompson.

"A strong force of the N-tla-ka-pe-mooh immediately set out to intercept the strangers, and having soon ascertained their position and probable strength, established themselves both in front and behind them. The intruders, after they discovered that they were thus menaced by a force stronger than their own, took advantage of the night to cross the Thompson and proceeded to ascend the Nicola Valley. The N-tla-ka-pe-mooh followed and harassed them, continuing to do so till the strangers were driven into the Similkameen valley, where they took a firm stand, and by their prowess, obliged their pursuers to desist from molesting them. The strangers were mostly young men, who had their wives with them, but only a few children, for in these primitive days the women accompanied their husbands to war and were valuable auxiliaries. The neighbouring N-tla-ka-pe-mooh and Salish of the Okanagan soon discovered that the stranger women were larger and better looking than their own, and treaties for peace and intermarriage were made. The language of the strangers fell gradually into disuse, and only a few words of it are now remembered by the oldest Indians of the Similkameen, the N-tla-ka-pe-mooh and Okanagan dialects being now used by these people indiscriminately. These strangers, who are said to have come from the Chilcotin country, are thus the earliest inhabitants of the Similkameen valley of whom any account has been obtained.

"The traditions and legends of the British Columbia Indians would make it appear that before the advent of the whites the different tribes of Indians were constantly at war and endeavouring to enslave the weaker bands. The more northern races were the most warlike and were continually dispossessing the less warlike southern tribes of their fisheries and hunting grounds. It thus appears possible that the intruders may really have been a Tinneh tribe which was driven south before the advance of the Tinneh now inhabiting the Chilcotin region."

A footnote on page 26 says: "[Finan] Macdonald is mentioned by Ross Cox as having been in the employment of the Northwest Company in charge of a post among the Flatheads in 1812, so that the events here narrated must have occurred about the beginning of the century.

If this incident occurred in, say, 1810 when Blackeye, the Similkameen, was a young warrior twenty years of age, he would have been only fifty-six years old in 1846 when Anderson met him.
Anderson did describe him as "old Blackeye," and so there is plenty of room for him to have been ten to twenty years older -- The story fits, and is possible.
And that's always nice to know.
Let us continue; there is more.

From: "Account of the Similkameen Indians of British Columbia," by. [Mrs.] S.S. Allison, from The Journal of the Anthropoligal Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, vol. 21 (1892), pp. 305-318 (available at

[305] "Of the origin of the former inhabitants of the Similkameen I know nothing, but of the tribe at present occupying the valley tradition relates that about 150 years ago a small bank of the warlike Chilcotins, accompanied by their wives and decked out in their war paint and feathers, crossed the Frazer River on the war path to avenge a wrong (the death of a chief) inflicted on them by the Shuswaps of the Bonaparte and Thompson.

"Penetrating too far into the interior the winter suddenly set in, they found their retreat cut off and themselves hemmed in by their enemies. They were, however, in a country abounding in game of all kinds, which, together with the long black lichens that descended from the pine trees, afforded them ample sustenance.

"Establishing themselves in the upper valley of the Similkameen they manfully faced the rigours of the winters, and bravely held their own against their foes. Making friends with the Spokans (who admired the fairness of their women) they inter-married with that tribe and increased in numbers for many years till, in common with all the neighbouring tribes, they were nearly obliterated by that dire scourge, small-pox. Whether this is due to the entire change that has taken place in their food and manner of life it is hard to say, but I know from personal experience that the Similkameen Indians of to-day are totally different both physically and mentally from what they were thirty or even twenty years ago. Though the women are of small stature (possibly from the custom of marrying them before they have attained their full growth) the men average five feet six in height; their frames are lithe and muscular, their movements quick and graceful..."

She continues to describe these people and many of their customs, and I believe that for the most part she is speaking of the Chilcotins, not those who lived thre later.
She has stories of some of the Similkameens hiking over the Coquihalla to Hope, bearing goods....if this happened before 1843 that would have encouraged James Murray Yale to tell Alexander Caulfield Anderson of the trail over the Coquihalla, that resulted in his 1846 exploration from Fort Langley to Kamloops, via the Coquihalla, Nicolum and Summalo Rivers.

In the latter part of the article I found this intriguing line: "Slaves taken in war were well treated, but always had one eye blemished to mark them..."
Is that where the name Blackeye came from -- our Similkameen chief was the leader of a group of Natives who "blacked" the eyes of their slaves?

The Chilcotin people are of Athapascan or Tinneh [Dinneh] stock, and there are many mentions of Athapascans being squeezed into the lower Nicola Valley and the Similkameen.
In fact, even Diamond Jenness, in "The Indians of Canada," first published in 1932, admits as much when he says, "At the end of the eighteenth century there was a small Athapascan-speaking tribe, wedged in among these five Salishan tribes, which occupied the valley of the Nicola river and part of the valley of the Similkemeen. Early in the nineteenth century the Thompson River Indians absorbed it so completely that only a few legends, and a small vocabulary of names, bear witness to its former existence."

In George Dawson's afore-mentioned "Notes on the Shuswap," I learned that Chief Nkwala's mother was "a Similkameen woman of the Tinneh type, which is clearly shown in the physiques of her descendants to the present day."
So Nkwala's father, Pelka'mulox, probably married one of the Chilcotin women who fought their way through the Nicola valley to the Similkameen.
Tsilaxitsa, who was Nkwala's cousin, would, through Nkwala's mother, be a close relative to Blackeye, if Blackeye was actually one of those same Chilcotin warriors.

However, the further you look into the story, the more confusing it becomes!
The story might not be true at all!
I have discovered they are Chilcotin/Similkameen peoples are called the Nicola Athapaskans or Stuwi'x, today.
They lived in the Nicola valley and around Tulameen, and the last members of the group who lived near Nicola Lake were assimilated into the Secwepemc people by the end of the nineteenth century.
Historian Mark S. Wade (who happens to be in my family tree but not an Anderson) wrote that they were the first known inhabitants of the Similkameen but were driven out by the group today living there. [This book is said to be a little inaccurate and, perhaps, rushed to publication.]
The Stuwi'x retreated to Douglas, Stump, and Nicola Lakes where they were sheltered by Chief Nkwala, their close relative.

The Canadian Enclopedia informs us that: "The Nicola-Similkameen were an enclave of Athapaskans living in the Nicola and Similkameen River valleys of south central BC, surrounded by Interior Salish.
"One theory about Nicola-Similkameen settlement in this area suggests they originated from a Chilcotin Athapascan war party that stayed and intermarried with the Thompson and Okanagan Interior Salish in the mid-1700's.
"Another suggests that the Nicola-Similkameen had a long history in this area, having moved from a more northerly Athapaskan homeland many hundreds of years ago, but archaeological data have not supported this theory."

I think this question needs a lot more work before I can satisfactorily identify Blackeye and his son.
It is time to give the question a rest!

You might wonder why the Tulameen area was called the Similkameen by the fur traders.
From "Glorious Tulameen," at www.tulameenbc/com/tcc/history.pdf I find that "in the early sixties [I am assuming this in 1960's], the Tulameen River was also known as the North Similkameen.
"The two branches come together at Princeton, which was at one time called The Forks.
"There is no agreement as to the meaning of the Indian word Similkameen, but its sister word Tulameen means red earth, and refers to deposits of ochre which are common in the area.
"This ochre was formerly highly prized by the native peoples who came long distances to trade for this paint. Allison subdivision in Princeton before the white man came was called Yak-Tulameen or the place where the red earth is sold. "It was the first market place in the valley, and red ochre was our first export."


  1. Hi there, Great stuff! I am from Princeton and may be a descendant of one of the original Similkameen peoples. My great, great, great grandmother was Nora Yakumtikum the first wife of John Fall Allison. Nora was born around 1847 in the Upper Similkameen. She had a pack train that took from the interior (some say from as far east as Grand Forks) to the coast.

    In listening to some of the things we were told growing up I am not convinced that the Similkameen people came from someplace as much as they were here by the time the Okanagan showed up. I know they spoke a different language from the Okanagan but from what I understand is that they were part of the Okanagan coalition at the same time. I don't remember the whole story but one of the elders was telling a story about a time when the Similkameen went to a Shuswap village and the people were terrified but then realized that it was not a war party because the people in the boat were not singing. Apparently when the Similkameen went into battle they sang, or so the story goes. There are a number of stories that include conflict between the Similkameen and the Shuswap people. These stories all come from before European settlement which would put the Similkameen before their collapse.
    Our family stories are that Nora's family father or grandfather one was a chief but he was not just a local chief but was a chief thoughout the valley and even into some of the territory on the US side (for some reason Tonasket keeps coming to mind) so if the Similkameen were people who came after the Okanagan I am not sure they could hold positions within another's territory like they did.

    The main reason for the Similkameen's collapse was disease. Before the Europeans actually came to the area disease (smallpox?) came through and the stories handed down is that the first wave of disease killed about 75% of the population. This decimated the people who were here. If you read Susan Allison's account in Pioneer Gentlewoman in British Columbia you can see that there was not much of a population left in the area. The area of the Similkameen was extremely rich in resources with the red ocre and apparently the eagle feathers from the valley were highly sought after as well. The Similkameen were feared and they held a territory that was in the middle of a number of other territories. Get back to my point apparently after European settlement began the second wave of disease came and with it another 75% of what was remaining of the population perished. Pretty much bringing the Similkameen people to the edge of extinction. After settlement and the local gold rushes the Similkameen and Okanagan intermarried. My family our line never married back into the native community but Nora's other children did and some of John Fall's children with Susan did.

    I believe that if the someone can place the prefix Yak to a language group it may hold the key to who the Similkameen are. Also the two names Similkameen and Tulameen are the only two names that I can find in the Okanagan that have "ameen" the closest thing is Sallumcheen but it is not the same. The only Yak I can is Yakima.

    Anyways I have taken up enough of your time with my late night ramblings. I look forward to reading more of your blog there is some great stuff here.

  2. Sorry, I just found this and you wrote it months ago! I have a bunch of other resources to follow up on but little time at the moment, but I sure want to solve this puzzle. Contact me directly at my email address if you wish; this is a priority puzzle for me. Nancy

  3. There is a glacier on Jack Mountain in Washington state named "Nohokomeen". It is a very impressive looking chunk of ice and looks like it could fall off the mountain at any minute. I have wondered what the name means since I first saw it 35 years ago.