Spintlum

HBC brigade trail, Garden of Eden

This is the Garden of Eden in summertime, photo provided by Kelly Pearce of Hope Mountain Centre, Hope, B.C. The Garden of Eden is on the Tulameen Plateau, where the Brigade Trail between Kamloops and Fort Hope ran.

With a lot of hard work and a little luck, my book, The HBC Brigades: Culture, Conflict, and the Perilous Journeys of the Fur Trade, will be published by Ronsdale Press in May, 2024. You may order or pre-order the book here:

Spintlum was an important First Nations chief from the place the HBC men called Thlikum-cheen, where the Thompson River flowed into the muddy Fraser. Today, the town of Lytton sits on the location of the old village now called Kumsheen: Kumsheen meaning either “Where the rivers cross,” or “The Great Fork.” Of course, as we all know, Lytton was destroyed by fire a few years ago, and nothing stands there today.

Still, it was there, at the junction of the Thompson River with the Fraser, that a Sto:lo chief named Pahallak met Alexander Caulfield Anderson [my great-grandfather], and guided him down the east bank of the Fraser River to Spuzzum, and eventually Fort Langley. The year was 1847. There were a number of important First Nations chiefs that played a part in this excursion, and the Upper Similkameen chief Blackeye’s son, and his cousin Tsilaxitsa [Chillihitzia], were among them. Now I wonder if Spintlum [Sexpinlhemx] was also there, and I think he probably was. 

Anyway, Anderson described the group of First Nations people he met at Thlikum-cheen as “a large concourse of Indians of every age and sex…” So women and children were also present on this expedition? Probably not, but it is possible. Anderson continued:

A general handshaking took place. Before our little arrangements were completed part of the day had elapsed and at the earnest entreaty of the Indians I consented to encamp here. They are on their good behaviour and show every external desire to conciliate, but they are a scampish looking set of vagabonds, nor does their ordinary conduct, I believe, at all belie their looks; and though there is little to be apprehended from them under present circumstances, we are, of course on our guard.

In fact, the First Nations on this section of the Fraser River were involved in constant small wars: almost familial wars, with one family from one tribe warring against another man and his family from another tribe, because of something someone in his family had done in the recent past. For example: in 1846, Anderson protected his First Nations guide from attack as they were passing though Marble Canyon on their way to the Fraser. On this occasion, Anderson wrote: “This morning…we arrived upon a camp of Indians; the inmates of which upon our approach rushed out tumultuously with their arms, yelling very vociferously. Judging, as it proved correctly, that their hostile demonstrations were not intentionally directed toward ourselves, I rode up and enquired their meaning. The tumult forthwith subsided; and the leader of the party, a one eyed blackguard who is known as the Batailleur [Battler], excused himself, saying that they had taken their arms under the impression that we were enemies. It appears that a murder has recently been committed upon one of the Batailleur’s relatives by an Indian of the Lakes [Stl’atl’imx], a close connection of N-poomsk, the Indian who accompanies our party…” On another occasion, in 1848, the incoming HBC Brigade was startled when “a war party of the Chutes Indians against those of the Anderson’s River passed the camp and created some little alarm.” As we know, the HBC men were vastly outnumbered by the First Nations people on this river, but in fact had little problem with them. Still, travelling through the First Nations’s territories, without invitation or warning of any sort, might feel as though the HBC men were seated on a powder keg. 

But back to Spintlum: Paul Fraser, Chief Trader in charge at the Kamloops post, occasionally mentioned Spintlum in his journals. These journals began in 1850, and continued until Paul Fraser’s death in summer 1855. On Monday February 12, 1855, Paul Fraser wrote in the Kamloops post journal: “Arrived Spintlum the Couteaux Chief who I sent for to Convey Mr. [Donald] Manson’s letter to [Fort] Langley. Commenced making our packs…” Two days later Fraser wrote: ” Finished with the Furs now in Store say 24 Packs, in which there are 3,000 Martins. Dispatched Laferté with Spintlum to [Fort] Langley to Convey hither some Articles required for the trade.” Spintlum must have worked for Paul Fraser before this first mention, and so it seems that he was trusted (at least by Paul Fraser) to carry letters and goods between Fort Langley and Kamloops. I do not find any more mentions of Spintlum working for the HBC, however: but of course, there are very few Kamloops journals, and it is in the Kamloops journals that he would be mentioned. 

Jason Allard had plenty to say of Spintlum. Jason was the son of Ovid[e] Allard, who was in charge of Fort Yale. This is what he had to say of his father at the founding of Fort Yale, which occurred in 1847, the year before he was born: 

It was in 1847 that my father was sent with eight other whites and a number of Indians to establish the fort at Yale. After rough buildings had been erected and a small area cleared and sown with timothy for pasture for the pack horses, most of the men left, refusing to stay in such a place among wild Indians of extremely doubtful reputation. Thus no stockade was built around the buildings, which had but one other white occupant besides my father. 

The trail to Yale started at Kamloops and ran in a westerly direction until it reached the Fraser 23 miles above Yale [in the hills behind modern-day Boston Bar]; thence the trail took to the hills [over Lake Mountain] to avoid the Fraser Canyon and descended to Chapman’s Bar [old Alexandra Bridge], then wound its way to the crossing at Spuzzum. From Spuzzum it was twelve miles along the trail [Douglas Portage] to Yale.

Now here comes Spintlum’s story, according to Jason Allard:

After the building of Fort Yale, the Indians became more troublesome. They did not make spectacular raids like the Blackfeet, but were even more annoying. Their demands for gifts were constant and impudent, and if the opportunity offered they did not hesitate to take what articles they desired by force. They hung around the Fort and were a continual nuisance. Chief Spintlum, of the Lytton tribe, described by historians as a rascally mischief-making tyee, was one of the worst of the lot. He arrived at Yale with a dozen picked warriors, and left an equal number in ambush on the outskirts of the Fort.

The visitors were invited to a grand potlatch, usually a matter of several day’s feasting. My father at this time wished to send a grindstone to the boat-builders at Spuzzum.

These would be the HBC men who were building boats at Simon’s House, under Samuel Robertson, a boat-builder from Fort Vancouver. They were constructing the boats that the outgoing HBC Brigades would use in summer, 1848, in coming down the river to Fort Langley.

It was the custom when anyone wanted an Indian for any purpose to shout for one, whereupon scores would rush up and clamour for the job. On this occasion, a son of the Yale Indians’ Chief was entrusted with the errand, and set off with one Indian companion. On the outskirts of the post, the Chief’s son was killed by Spintlum’s warriors left in ambush, and his companion ran back to the fort with the news.

The Indians assumed a most threatening attitude and made a concerted rush upon the store, blaming or seeking to blame my father for the young man’s death, though the youth had, as a matter of fact, pleaded with my father for the job, and my father quieted the Indians by the gifts of blankets and finally prevailed upon them to resume their feasting at the potlatch, all the more attractive because of the death of the Chief’s son, [as] the gifts would be correspondingly increased to other participants. But Chief Spintlum stayed around after the potlatch had ended, and with a band of followers at a favorable opportunity, when my father was sitting at a table writing, attacked him and took him prisoner. 

Some of the warriors were for despatching my father then and there, but finally he was left tied up while the Indians paid attention to the store. The news was conveyed to my mother by a friendly Kanaka [Hawaiian], engaged in hoeing potatoes. My mother was outside with her two children. She picked up the hoe the Kanaka had discarded, rushed to the store, and holding the uplifted hoe above Spintlum as he bent over some loot, so terrified the Chief by her threats and upbraiding that he cut my father’s bonds. “Kill us all,” she said, “and so bring about the destruction of all your tribe by my friends and the Company’s soldiers, but if you do not cut my husband’s bonds now, you will die first!”

Spintlum, after loosing my father, was bundled out of the store, which was promptly barred and prepared for a siege. Then from the barricaded store my father issued an ultimatum to the Indians of Spintlum’s band, that if they were not gone by the time the sun cast a shadow in the gulch, well-known and plainly visible, he would open fire on them. Reinforcements, he said, were on the way, and would take a terrible vengeance if he or his family were murdered. The Indians departed and serious trouble was averted.

Who was Allard’s amazing wife? His first wife was from Fort Hall, and she accompanied her husband to Fort Langley. But both wives were at Fort Langley: his second wife, Justine, was the mother of Jason, born in 1848. So it is likely that it was Justine Allard who chased Spintlum out of the fort, and she was pregnant with her third child, Jason, at the time she did it! 

In June, 1858, Chief Factor James Douglas met Spintlum at Fort Hope. Here is his journal entry: “Sunday 5th. Saw Spintlum, chief of the Forks. Made him a present and gave him a charge concerning the treatment of miners visiting his country. Reported to be a treacherous Indian, but it is prudent to pursue a conciliatory policy at present.”

My feeling is that at this time, Douglas told Spintlum that if the First Nations on the Fraser River went to war against the gold-miners, “the Queen” would not protect them. I have no proof that this was what Douglas advised, but I think it highly likely. It would after all, be the exact same message that Peter Skene Ogden gave to the Cayuse Indians after the massacre of the missionaries at the Waillatpu Mission, near Fort Nez Perces, in 1848. 

Whatever it is that Douglas told Spintlum, it caused the Chief to stand back and not fight the hundreds of American gold-miners who were invading his territory. It was a wise move: the First Nations could not win this war against the well-armed Indian-hating American men. If you want to see how it all happened, then read this blogpost: https://nancymargueriteanderson.com/the-fraser-canyon-war/

Copyright, Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2023. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

4 thoughts on “Spintlum

  1. Holly Bird

    Thanks for this — I’ve been able to find so little information on Spintlum and the history of Kumsheen/Lytton near the time of my 3rd great grandmother, Sinciliex’s birth in 1852. (Also known as Amy Raphael Earnshaw, wife of miner-then-rancher Byron Earnshaw. Byron operated the first ferry across the Fraser River at Lytton in 1863. )

    I don’t have any idea who Sinciliex’s parents were in Lytton, but the late Larry Taylor once wrote to tell me years ago he knew his great grandmother, Mary Qwayntko, wife of Jesus Garcia and daughter of Humsinna of Spuzzum was Sinciliex’s half-sister. (Qwayntko died when Larry was 11 years old.)

    Tough people and times, indeed.