Fort Victoria Murderers 2
I ended the first section of this blogpost with the information that when Governor George Simpson arrived in the anchorage at Fort Stikine, he experienced a bad feeling. Both the Russian and HBC flags were at half mast, and John McLoughlin Jr. did not greet him at the gate of the post. If you want to see the first of this series of blogposts, you should go here: https://nancymargueriteanderson.com/fort-victoria-murderers/
Fort Stikine was a northern post to which many men were sent when no one wanted them at their post: the worst of the worst ended up here! There were also eleven Kanakas, or Hawaiians, at Fort Stikine, none of whom were implicated in any part of the murder.
Of the Canadiens and half-breeds, there were Benoni Fleury, Francois Pressé, Charles Belanger, Simon Aneuharazie, William Lasserte, Louis Leclaire, George Heron, Oliver Martineau, and Urbain Heroux. Phillip Smith was also here, and he is a Scotsman. The Iroquois were also represented here, with two of their numbers among the crew. They were Antoine Kawanassé and Pierre Kannaguassé.
So, what were these men like?
Well, Antoine Kawanassé was the least thug-like of the men, having suffered brain damage from a high fever he was too mentally challenged to be truly troublesome. William Glen Rae, the first gentleman in charge of the fort, had considered Charles Belanger and Simon Aneuharazie harmless, and William Lasserte and Louis Leclaire struck Rae as being good men. Oliver Martineau was a half-idiot who claimed he had fired twice at John McLoughlin Jr., and who might have killed him…
I am getting ahead of myself, am I not? Well, it is time for me to tell you what happened at Fort Stikine. On April 21, 1842, the man in charge at the post, John McLoughlin Jr., was shot and killed by his own men. For the purposes of this blogpost, the reason does not matter, but if you want to learn more about this story, then read Debra Komar’s book, The Bastard of Fort Stikine: the Hudson’s Bay Company and the Murder of John McLoughlin Jr. [Goose Lane Editions, 2015].
On April 23, some of McLoughlin’s men buried their master outside the post. Then, two days later, on the evening of April 25, Governor George Simpson arrived at Fort Stikine in the Cowlitz, and found the flags half lowered and McLoughlin dead. As he said, “I was more shocked than words can describe to learn that Mr. McLoughlin was no more, having fallen on the night of the 20/21 Instant in a drunken fray, by the hand of one of his own men.”
The alleged killer was Urbain Heroux, described as being addicted to alcohol and a convicted criminal who had been prosecuted in Canada for burglary and robbery. Those charges had been dropped so that he could join the HBC and leave Quebec. In 1837 he was at Fort Vancouver; in 1840 he was part of the crew that built Fort Taku. He ended up at Fort Stikine that same year, where William Glen Rae, who was then in charge, thought he was a good man — that is, until he was discovered stealing liquor from the fort store. While John McLoughlin Jr. was in charge, Heroux’s drinking and violent streaks worsened, until he, and three other men, shot and killed McLoughlin. It is believed that Heroux’s shot was the one that actually caused McLoughlin’s death.
On hearing this story, Governor Simpson had Heroux shackled, and he was put aboard the Cowlitz and transferred to Sitka for punishment. For the HBC, the problem was that the murder happened at a post that was in Russian territory, and one that was actually leased from the Russians, and the Canadian government would not have jurisdiction here. Once he reached Sitka Heroux was thrown in their jail, and there he actually attempted to kill some of his Russian jailers.
The Kanakas [Hawaiians] reported that Pierre Kannaguassé was as guilty of the crime as Heroux. Kannaguassé had been accused of robbery and murder before he came to Fort Vancouver in 1839, and was universally described as a blackguard. At Fort Stikine he was regularly flogged by John McLoughlin Jr., which naturally would not endear McLoughlin to Kannaguassé. But in the end, it was Kannaguassé’s deposition that revealed that this was a conspiracy entered into by Thomas McPherson and others.
Thomas McPherson drew up the contract that had John McLoughlin Jr. killed. He was born in Rupert’s Land and employed at Fort Stikine by 1841. Under John McLoughlin Jr., he was as close to anyone to being considered a second-in-command. According to Bruce Watson in his Lives Lived West of the Divide, McPherson resented McLoughlin’s attempt “to prevent stealing, drunkenness, and disorder,” and also that McLoughlin had flogged him when he discovered that McPherson had stolen a blanket from the store. McPherson did not pull the trigger of his gun and so did not play a role in the murder, but he was certainly a conspirator.
The other guilty party, according to Simpson, was Francois Pressé, who had once been dismissed from Moose Factory, James Bay, for shooting at a man. Both Pressé and Kannaquassé were sent up to Sitka sometime after Heroux was, so they spent some time in the Russian jail. The Russians refused to deal with them and returned them to the HBC, presumably to be sent down to Fort Vancouver.
There were two more men involved in this crime, and they were George Heron, described as a blackguard “who does not know his prayers,” and Phillip Smith, who Rae had considered the most criminal man among his men. George Heron is described by Bruce McIntyre Watson, in his Lives Lived West of the Divide, as the nephew of Francis Heron of Fort Colvile. In Fort Stikine’s post journals he did his job, with no indication of getting into trouble. He was implicated in the murder of John McLoughlin Jr., however, and gave a deposition. He is listed as one of the guilty men who was sent off to York Factory in the outgoing Express of 1844.
Chief Factor John McLoughlin said that Phillip Smith was an ill-natured, bad-tempered man, a scoundrel who was always getting into difficulties with the other men. However, Governor Simpson thought Smith was a soft, timid, but able man. He was Scottish, and worked first at Fort Taku before being sent on to Fort Stikine. He watched as Urbain Heroux loaded his gun but did nothing to warn John McLoughlin Jr. He also knew about the contract the men had signed, and said nothing. Because of those two things, he was indirectly involved in McLoughlin’s murder. He was one of the men who was sent off to York Factory in 1844, and so remained in the area after young McLoughlin’s death.
And then there is Benoni [Benone] Fleury, an unrepentant drunkard who hid himself under the bed when McLoughlin was murdered. He had assisted in the building of Forts Simpson and Taku, and was moved on to Fort Stikine in 1840, where he was flogged by McLoughlin for stealing liquor from the post supply. Because of the beatings he received, and because the shots that killed McLoughlin came from his house, Fleury was considered a suspect in the murder, as well as a material witness. He, like the others, was kept in confinement in various posts in the region until they all could be sent to York Factory in the outgoing Express of 1844.
So those are the Fort Stikine men who were blamed for John McLoughlin’s death. Just before he left Fort Stikine, Governor Simpson wrote two letters to Chief Factor McLoughlin, the first informing him of his son’s death and blaming him for his own death. The second letter was a private note that was either lost or destroyed, but it apparently pressed McLoughlin to demand an inquiry. McLoughlin did not receive these two letters until early June, when the Cowlitz returned to Fort Vancouver. We all know the stories of the anger and suffering he went through after he received the news of his son’s death. It destroyed him, and destroyed his career.
There is another story attached to these two stories: a continuation of the first story. As early as 1837, Captain William McNeill had explored the southern coast of Vancouver’s Island and found three good harbours: Victoria, Esquimalt, and Sooke. In 1842, James Douglas investigated Victoria’s harbour and decided to build the new fort there. It had a rocky shelf on which Douglas thought the ships could be unloaded from their sides, and behind the harbour lay miles and miles of open country, with wild clover growing knee deep and native grasses shoulder high. He called it a ‘perfect Eden.’
On March 1, 1843, Douglas left Fort Vancouver for Fort Nisqually and the new fort, “Fort Albert,” (on Camosun Harbour), with a crew of fifteen men. He offered the local Songhees men 2 1/2-point blankets for every forty cedar pickets they cut, and made the decision to build a large post. It was to be 300 feet long and 330 feet wide, large enough to accommodate eight buildings sixty feet long. The work continued while Douglas travelled north in the Beaver, and he returned with three officers from Fort McLoughlin and Fort Taku, as well as Roderick Finlayson from Fort Simpson. By October, 1843, with the help of fifty men from the dismantled northern posts and others sent from Fort Vancouver, the palisade with an octagon bastion was completed. Spanish cattle and work horses were transported from Fort Nisqually, and five acres of land were seeded with wheat.
Fine. But what happened to the men who had conspired to kill John McLoughlin Jr. at Fort Stikine? They were spread throughout the territory at various posts. They weren’t, however, spread that widely. Pierre Kannaguassé was held first at Fort Nisqually, and then sent north to Fort Simpson. Francois Pressé was apparently not one of the men at Fort Victoria (he may have worked on the Beaver). But in January 1844, while Fort Victoria was still under construction, Chief Trader Charles Ross, who was the man in charge, wrote to Donald Ross of Norway House, to say
the murderers remain still in limbo. We for our share have got five of them here, under watch and ward, which adds not a little to our other embarrassments.
It appears that the men at Fort Victoria were Urbain Heroux, Thomas McPherson, George Heron, Phillip Smith, and Benoni Fleury. In February 1844, the guilty men were sent on to Fort Vancouver, where they were held until they could be shipped out in the outgoing York Factory Express. (I don’t have that journal, unfortunately). The Express would have left Fort Vancouver shortly after March 20. When it reached Norway House, the prisoners were released by Governor George Simpson, and they disappeared into the wilderness.
Copyright, Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2021. All rights reserved.
- Fort Victoria Murderers
- Publication of “The York Factory Express”
Thanks for the blogs on the history of this area. According to family oral history my Native American 2nd great grandmother (born about 1848) came from the Fort Simpson area and ended up among the Skagit Tribe in the Puget Sound. I assume that this probably happened when she was a child. I don’t know why or how this happened. I had other ancestors at Fort Langley, Fort Nisqually, Fort Vancouver.
She may have been taken as a slave? Is that possible?
Could be, as the family has no idea of her parentage except she came from the Fort Simpson area.