On March 12, 1862, two smallpox carriers, each suffering only a mild case consistent with having acquired the disease deliberately through inoculation, arrived at Victoria on the half-empty Brother Jonathan from San Francisco. One went to New Westminster the next morning to begin the epidemic in each of the major newly urbanizing centers in the young colonies…at the same time and in the same way.
In the course of many Idle No More discussions there are references to broken and dishonored treaties. In British Columbia, however, there are few treaties. How, then, did the indigenous Peoples here lose their sovereign power?
Smallpox did not arrive at Port Douglas on the south end of the Douglas road at Harrison Lake until January. Then two merchants travelling down the Cariboo Wagon Road brought the disease to Lillooet. Tradition has it that the disease arrived in blankets that had been infected with smallpox and then repackaged as new for trade. As in other documented cases, such as that of John McLain who admitted taking smallpox-infected blankets to Tatla, those traders were also disease carriers.
Since no Colonial official had even contacted any Tsilhqot’in official before July 20, 1864, let alone begun treaty negotiations, it is impossible for any Colonial law to have become extended before then to Tsilhqot’in territory. What, then, led British Columbia to martyr these Tsilhqot’in officials before a crowd estimated at 250 in one of the largest and most dramatic mass hangings in Canadian history?
On Aug. 18, 1862, taking advantage of the Cowichan having fled “in the wildest state of alarm” as smallpox swept through the fertile land coveted by settlers, Governor James Douglas invaded Cowichan territory with gunboats, men at arms, surveyors and 100 settlers. Douglas had been trying since 1852 to subjugate the Cowichan so that he could give their land to speculators who would, in turn, flip it to settlers wishing to farm