1863: “Inciting Indians to revolt” in Victoria

“Half-breeds” took a lot of blame for social frictions between Natives and Settlers…

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A much later Nisqually Jack (image credit: Legacy Washington)

Here we see in early Victoria, BC, a Nisqually (Washington Territory) Métis, said to have claimed he was the son of Sir George Simpson, and accused of using the Métis language Chinook Jargon to stir up Native people against Settler domination.

The people of mixed Native and European heritage in the Pacific Northwest were often viewed in contradictory ways. They were “more like us”, and often understood and got along especially well with “us”, whether “we” were Indigenous or White. But they were also “more like them”, and so were viewed with some suspicion.

From the evidence produced in today’s news article, I’m not really sure the accusers were understanding everything the gentleman had been saying to the Songish Salish people. The quoted Chinuk Wawa phrases about ‘not knowing Victoria — all of Victoria’ sound like an expression of the defendant’s own newness to the place.

Let’s bear in mind that the words here are summaries by a “courts beat” reporter, telling us the essence of participants’ answers to a judge’s questioning. The journalist could easily have missed or left out important parts of what were being said.

About the folks quoted here:

  • Is this John Gale/Nisqually Jack the same man noted in the Muck Station journals of 1858-1859? That fella was known to travel, having been at “the mines” of the Fraser River gold rush. Sir George Simpson is known to have had several illegitimate children, including a John (surnamed McKenzie).
  • The “Wm. Seelie” who testified was likely the W.S. Seeley who was present in Victoria in 1858, active in church life, involved with the first hospital, and “afterwards of the Australian House” at the north end of the James Bay bridge.
  • I haven’t found much about a William Belton, but there’s a Belton Street in historic downtown Victoria that I can imagine being named for him.

Let’s see how you interpret what we’re told:

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INCITING INDIANS TO REVOLT.

A half-breed, known as “Nisqually Jack,” was arrested by Sergeant Blake on Tuesday, upon a charge of visiting the Songish Indian village and inciting the Indians to rise and destroy the whole population of Victoria, by representing that Victoria belonged to the native tribes. Yesterday the case was called in the Police Court, and the following evidence elicited:

Wm. Seelie, sworn — I saw the prisoner in Bolton’s ship yard on Friday or Saturday last; he was talking in Chinook to about a dozen Indians, who were sitting on logs, and seemed to pay great attention to what he said; prisoner said that he was the son of Sir George Simpson; that he was a tyhee [chief]; that all the land in Victoria belonged to Indians; that King George [which also means ‘British people’] was hyas closch (very good); that Sir George Simpson was a good man; he halo cumtux Victoria — konaway Victoria [doesn’t know Victoria — all of Victoria] which I took to mean that Queen Victoria was no good; I asked him what he was talking to the Indians about, and he replied, “You go on, it’s none of your business; by G-d and by J—- C—-t, I’m bound to see that the Indians have their rights;” I supposed he was speaking of the Queen; that he did not recognize her as Queen; I told him he had better mind what he was saying to the Indians, or otherwise he would be locked up; he said that all the land in Victoria belonged to the Indians, and that he would see that they had their rights if they harkened to him; he told me that if I informed on him that he would “spot” me, and I went and informed Mr. Bolton; the accused also said to the Indians that the goal [gaol, ‘jail’] and Government buildings belonged to them.

The Court — What is your name?

Prisoner — John Gale. I have no questions to ask the witness; I don’t know that I ever saw him before in my life.

Witness — I don’t think he was so drunk that he did not know what he was about. 

William Belton, sworn — I heard the prisoner tell the Indians on one evening last week that he was Sir John Simpson, and that he wanted them to set fire to the town of Victoria and murder every white man that they came across; he told them that he had been in goal [gaol] and wanted to have revenge; prisoner talked with the Indians for an hour and a half; the conversation took place on the Indian Reserve; Seelie was there at the same time as myself; the prisoner was not so drunk that he didn’t know what he was doing; he could walk steady.

The Prisoner — It appears that you are deaf. How is it that this gentleman (Mr. Seelie) didn’t hear all you have sworn to? How is it that I talked for an hour and a half and you only heard that?

Witness — I only heard what you said in a loud tone.

Prisoner — Was Seelie present, and could he have heard what was said?

Witness — You drove Seelie away from the Indians, and he was not present when I heard what I have stated.

Prisoner — How is it that I don’t recognize you? How is it that I walked perfectly straight, and yet don’t remember what took place? [The prisoner was checked [stopped] by the court].

Prisoner — Do you think I was drunk? If I wasn’t I should have recollected it. Was there many Indians about?

Witness — About twenty or thirty.

Prisoner — What language did I speak — English or Chinook?

Witness — English and Chinook, both.

The prisoner said that he had no recollection of having used such language — all seemed very strange to him, and he wanted time in which to prepare for his defence.

The case was remanded for three days.

— from the Victoria (BC) Daily Chronicle of May 28, 1863, page 3, column 2

Well, qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?