The Murderer

Location of HBC Fort Alexandria

The fort that Anderson arrived at in winter 1842 was on the left bank of the Fraser River; a few years later he moved Fort Alexandria onto the point of land that sticks out into the river.

In the memoirs of James Robert Anderson, son of Alexander Caulfield Anderson, there are the beginnings of many little stories, which I am sometimes able to develop into larger ones. The particular story took place at Fort Alexandria, on the Fraser River, and occurred when James was about five years old. It is, perhaps, a story about cannibalism.

A curious custom amongst the Carrier [Dakelh] Indians was that of calling out the word Naltoosh, if any article fell to the ground, the article becoming the property of the person first making the exclamation. Once, whilst munching a bun, a rare treat in those days, it fell to the ground and a young savage immediately called Naltoosh and made a grab for the bun but I was too quick for him, securing my bun and retreating into the house. Another curious custom was the forbidding of mentioning the name of a deceased person in the presence of a relative. Now an evil looking Indian who went by the cheerful designation of “The Murderer,” why I do not know, had lost a daughter who had been christened Katrine by the Jesuit Priest, Pere Nobili, and my mother had a native servant girl by the same name. It so happened once when “The Murderer” and some of his tribe were squatting in the outer hall waiting for an audience, I called for Katrine and immediately remembering my mistake I began to retreat when “The Murderer” got up and motioned me to come to him; Lord, how terrified I was and lost no time in retreating to the protection of my Mother’s room…. [Notes and Comments on Early Days and Events in British Columbia, Washington and Oregon, by James Robert Anderson, p. 56 of my personal copy.]

This story would have died there, if I had not discovered more about the Native man James called “The Murderer.” James’ father spoke of him quite often in his journals, and sometimes in his writing. “The Murderer” might have an interesting backstory which would account for his name.

Upon the superior character of the interior tribes I have already remarked, and need not expatiate. Yet even to these, in common with the others, the most groundless charges have been applied — even that of cannibalism. The revolting charge may be unhesitatingly contradicted, the “brave and blood-thirsty cannibal,” the bug-bear held out to “unfortunate stray settlers,” does not exist here. The only instance that might in any way countenance the shameful accusation that I ever knew, took place, or was reported to have taken place, many years ago at Fort George. in the remote interior,where an Indian was said to have had recourse to the horrible expedient, to save life while starving in the mountains. The Indian thus accused, however, was regarded as a kind of pariah by the rest; and by the voyageurs, with a pious horror, was designated the Mangeur de monde, and scrupulously shunned…. [“Guide to British Columbia,” by A.C. Anderson, also in “Dominion of the West,” by A.C. Anderson.]

This, I presumed, was the man they called “The Murderer,” but I might be wrong. In his “Dominion of the West,” Anderson noted that he had forgotten the Native man’s name. I think this is a clear indication that he knew him.

In the Fort Alexandria post journals of April 1846, I have found this mention that seems to confirm that “The Murderer” was the man mentioned above, that Anderson knew:

Thurs. 9th [April] A number of Atnahs arrived. One of these, known by us as “The Murderer,” was rather saucy during my absence. Upon my return I sent for him, and gave him a reprimand, and he excused himself, under the plea that he had no intention of offending. This unfortunate wretch, who is a little dreaded & detested by the natives, has invariable conducted himself well towards us, and truly, as an outcast in some measure from his tribe, is to a certain extent an object of compassion, notwithstanding the blood-thirsty character he bears. But seeing that he is an object of dread to his companions, I deemed it proper on all accounts to check any manifestation of insolence towards us; and I think the measure will have a favorable effect. Traded some furs from the Atnahs. [B.5/a/7, fo.13, HBCA]

In March 1847, many of Anderson’s long term employees went out to Canada in the York Factory Express, and he depended on Native labour, which was unreliable at times. Apparently “The Murderer” was one of the men who he occasionally employed, or at least used — or perhaps “The Murderer” volunteered his duties. In October, Anderson reported that three horses had been lost by Marineau [Louis Desasten dit Marineau/Martineau] on his way out to Kamloops, and had fallen into the hands of Natives. The story is told in the Fort Alexandria Journals, 1845-48, B.5/a/7, fo. 38, HBCA.

Two of these [horses] I recovered at the other end of the lake — the third (which had since its loss been stabbed by an Indian) yesterday at the Rapids. It appears that the three horses were lost at the Rocher by Marineau, who commissioned an Indian to look for them (the same who brought me the two above mentioned — William’s brother). He found them, while under his care an Indian of the Barge, Toolh-paesk, by name, stole one; and made off with it on the road towards Kamloops. Meanwhile Missoolah (alia, “the Murderer”) who had accompanied Marineau as far as Lac a la Hache, where the Indians were assembled in numbers, met the thief on his return. He demanded the horse, but the demand was ignored, and as the thief was supported (as it was said) by a numerous party, Missoolah had much difficulty and by his own account ran considerable risk in obtaining it. During the turmoil the thief drew his knife and stabbed the horse, with the view of disappointing his intention of restoring it to us. However, the wound, the knife having taken a slanting direction turns out not dangerous; and Missoolah succeeded in his object. He has accompanied me hither, and as will appear by the blotter, I have thought it well to make him some recompense, as well for the present display of his good will as for his general display in our favour, evinced on diverse occasions of a similar motive. I gave him an Indian Capot as a present, in token of our appreciation, and 10 loads ammunition & 1 foot tobacco, for his care of the horse.

It was not that Anderson did not consider Missoolah a scoundrel, because he did. But he was useful on many occasions, and Anderson wanted to keep Missoolah, an Atnah, “who are always prone to be troublesome,” as a friend in their camp if needed. To the fur traders, the Atnah are the Secwepemc.

So, here is Missoolah, “The Murderer,” and his story. While I cannot be certain Missoolah is the Mangeur de Monde of the first story, I think he probably is. so this is a lot of information about one anonymous Native man who hung around Fort Alexandria in the 1840’s. Presumably he lived in La Barge, the large Native village some 40 miles south of Fort Alexandria, and west of today’s Williams Lake. But like all Natives of this time, he wandered a good distance, and may well have been the man who survived on another man’s flesh near Fort George [Prince George].

I have been interested in the stories of how the Canadiens were repulsed by “The Murderer,” and asked a few of the French Catholic men I happen to know here if their religion spoke strongly against cannibalism. I know of four cannibalism stories in the time period I study, and in every instance the Canadiens were repulsed by the cannibalism, though the Scottish gentlemen were less affected. I wonder why? There seems to be nothing in the Catholic religion that particularly forbids cannibalism, any more than in the Protestant religion. Is the better education of the Scottish gentlemen enabling them to tolerate and understand this better? Were the Canadiens just more superstitious than the Scots? I don’t know. If anyone has an answer to this, I would like to hear it.

Copyright, Nancy Marguerite Anderson, 2015. All rights reserved.