Recently, I learned of an art auction that was said to include an 1868 picture with the title La Rivière Chilcotin (Orégon) and showing natives fishing for salmon.

I knew instantly, if it was as advertised, that this would be an extremely rare image. For The Great Darkening documentary, I have searched extensively for all available images of natives in colonial British Columbia. 1868 would be the earliest of anything Tsilhqot’in. It would not even be close. This seemed a possible great treasure.

I immediately purchased the picture. It turned out to be an engraving from the first volume of La Chasse Illustrée, a French hunting magazine. It appeared on Feb. 22, 1868 to illustrate an article that ran for several pages. It was titled, “An Excursion in Oregon.” It came with another picture, a deer hunting scene. I purchased that as well.

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Pages from “An Excursion in Oregon” by Henry Gaillard, La Chasse Illustrée, Feb. 1868.
Image courtesy of the Dragon Heart collection.

The article was written by Henry Gaillard. Gaillard was a French “big game” hunter. In the 1860s, he wrote three books about hunting excursions based on his experience living in San Francisco during the early 1850s. Gaillard seems to have begun visiting the Pacific as early as the 1830s, perhaps as a businessman pursuing interests in Mexico. He romanticizes outdoor life. Social considerations and accuracy of surrounding detail are not his strong points.

Our article’s only connection with those books is that Gaillard was accompanied by the same “mountain man,” a French Canadian guide.  Gaillard only ever refers to him as Andre. Andre appears to be a former employee of the Hudson’s Bay Company based at Fort Vancouver. And, from what seems his comparatively limited knowledge, he may have been north only a few times and always before the Oregon Treaty of 1846. This would explain why Gaillard refers to the Chilcotin River as located in Oregon. In the times best known to him and his guide, and perhaps still to his 1860’s French audience, this once had been part of the Oregon territory.

Since there seems no other biographical information about Gaillard or of his other trips to the Pacific Coast, one must sift the article for the basic facts surrounding these pictures. I will discuss the hunting image here and the fishermen in a subsequent article.

The hunting picture shows Gaillard and Andre shooting toward a deer and a native. The native appears almost as a shadow. This accurately depicts the way in which colonists held natives almost as ghosts in their own land. This native has called his presence to the hunters’ attention by shooting an arrow defensively into the tree between them.

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“Le terrain de chasse de l’Orégon” – La Chasse Illustrée, Feb. 1868.
Image courtesy of the Dragon Heart collection.

Gaillard says the day on which these events took place began on a frosty morning at a camp on a ridge. From the ridge, they could see a notable peak in the Coast Mountains 80 km to their right. Later, he adds “The stream that flows near us at the bottom of this hill is the Chilcotin, a tributary of the Fraser River. We are near their fork.” Later still he notes natives here as planning to sell fish in a “European establishment” about 30 km away.

From this information, the only possible conclusion can be that Gaillard’s day began at a camp on the ridge overlooking the Chilcotin River from the north in what is now the Junction Sheep Range Provincial Park. Williams Lake fits perfectly as a European establishment 30 km away. Gaillard says they can see Mt. Shasta. However, Mt. Shasta is in Northern California. It is not visible from any vantage point near the Fraser River, or the Columbia for that matter. His speculation about Mt. Shasta seems a reflection of his or Andre’s poor knowledge of the north.

As Gaillard describes it, the hunting part of the day began with him wounding a deer. To his surprise, after the deer disappeared from sight, Andre fired a second shot. This shot was answered by “a wild cry and the whistling of an arrow passing between my companion and myself.” Apparently, a native keeping their camp under surveillance had revealed himself at the first shot. Andre then fired in his direction. The native replied with an arrow.

Gaillard says Andre then explained that his intent was not to injure the native but to warn him, “Because one must never allow an Indian, enemy or friend, to believe that he was able to sneak up on you unawares.” In fact, his shot seems an act of intimidation. The native had been observing them unawares. He could have harmed them already had he so wished. The arrow carried its own message that he would not be intimidated.

Since the native seemed to have had them under surveillance for some time, Andre said he must have mistaken them for gold miners. In that case, Andre said, the native would have felt “entitled to treat us as an enemy.” Spoken like a true associate of the HBC, he said it was only the “vexations, injustices and perfidies of the gold miners along the Fraser and its tributaries” that had made natives hostile.

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LEFT: A warning arrow lands in a tree behind Henry and Andre. | RIGHT: The Tsilhqot’in reveals himself.

Since this was unlikely to be the end of it and since Gaillard had a general curiosity to meet natives, Andre said that they should correct any false impression with this native’s community. He stripped bark from a willow tree to make two cones as loudspeakers. With these instruments, “he drew powerful sounds like the roaring of a bull.”

Andre said, “Now let’s wait.” Gaillard asked, “What did you tell them?” Andre replied, “That we are two friends asking to visit their village. Now they are deliberating.”

While waiting, they tracked the wounded deer. It had gone down the hill toward the river. They found it near the river, finished it off and dressed it.

Then they heard “a distant noise from one of the valleys like a stray cow.” Andre said, “Listen! The Indians answer me.”  As they were about to cache the deer in a tree, “an Indian showed himself at the edge of the river at about fifty paces.”

This was the village headman. His name was Bob. Gaillard said that he and Andre already knew Bob as a Chinook native from Ft. Astoria on the Columbia. This seems highly unlikely, given the setting on the Chilcotin River. In fact, all natives seemed the same to Gaillard. It seems probable only that Bob could converse in Chinook.

Bob then engaged Andre “in a lively conversation.” He was furious. His fellow villager had reported being fired on twice. He had hurried to raise the alarm and alert the village about this hostile party near their village.

Bob explained that his community was especially cautious because he and his relations recently had killed a number of gold seekers who “unjustly provoked them.” This had been a party of 15 attacked somewhere near the ocean. Andre explained to Bob that this had nothing to do with them as they were not hunting for gold.

Much of Gaillard’s story so far seems thin, if it holds up at all. It seems very unlikely that any native living along the Chilcotin River ever concluded that two men who had come overland without picks, shovels or gold pans might be miners. A native observing them since they arrived in the area would be well aware of the things to which they paid attention. Miners would look down at rocks. Hunters would scour the surroundings looking for game.

It seems more plausible that these natives had suspected them of being poachers all along. Rev. Lundin Brown wrote that the Tsilhqot’in War Leader had killed a neighboring headman for fishing without permission, so the law of the land treated this as a serious issue.

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Approximate location of the events described in Henry Gaillard’s article from La Chasse Illustrée, Feb. 1868.

In any case, given the setting on the Chilcotin River, the number of settlers reported as attacked and the uniqueness of that event, this seems a reference to the Chilcotin War. However, apparently speculating from scant details conveyed through a limited language, Gaillard then says the party in question came on a ship called Gold-Hunter and landed at Trinity Bay.

The Gold-Hunter, a ship based in Puget Sound, would take lumber to Victoria or San Francisco and return with passengers or freight. Trinity Bay seems an archaic reference to a now unidentifiable port, perhaps at Whatcom in Washington Territory. It might be relevant in weighing Gaillard’s speculation that the F.P. Green, the ship that did deliver those killed in the Chilcotin War, also usually hauled lumber between Puget Sound, Victoria and San Francisco. In any case, natives living on the Chilcotin River before 1868 seem very unlikely to have been connected to any events taking place in Puget Sound. So Gaillard’s speculation seems obviously misdirected through his party’s general lack of knowledge about the north.

For that matter, searches of the Gold-Hunter’s voyages between 1857 and 1868 show only one that might fit the rest of the facts. Gaillard sensationalizes his speculation by reporting that this incident happened just the week before. Since their hunting day began with a morning frost, since there were salmon in the river and since a flock of geese lifted off from the water, any voyage before fall or after the onset of winter can be ruled out. The only voyage of the Gold-Hunter that fits such a narrow time frame was in August of 1858. That would be the earliest possible time of this incident. Gaillard also refers to an HBC contract that he thought would expire in 1869, supposedly two years after this trip. That makes the fall of 1867 as the latest possible, and most likely, time of the events described in this article.

Gaillard’s reference to past gold hunting activity along the Fraser River also fits a later time than 1858. So does a reference in the article to Canada. All in all, Bob’s report of a violent incident involving his family still best fits the Chilcotin War.

With respect to Bob’s identity, there are the following considerations. One of the Tsilhqot’in hanged in Oct. 1864 was Chief Telloot from Bute Inlet, site of the attack. From a Dec. 10, 1864, article in the North Pacific Times, Telloot’s son is known to have been in the Fraser River area during the fall of 1864. So this reference to Bob’s relations as having been directly involved is consistent with Bob having been Telloot’s relation. On the other hand, Chief Anaham’s son was named Bob. His relations also were involved in the Chilcotin War. This leader also could have been him. Gaillard implies that the community they visited had 80 to 100 villagers. That makes it just the right size to have been Chief Toosey’s community where nearby Tl’esqox would become a reserve 15 to 20 years later. Bob may have been Toosey’s predecessor.

Finally, Gaillard said, Bob offered him “a hand that I touched only with my fingertips, for it seems our new friend has a skin disorder.” This raises the prospect that Bob was left with disfigured skin as a survivor of the artificial smallpox epidemics of 1862.

Gaillard and Andre then went to the headman’s village. There, Bob greeted them formally with two elders. Gaillard soon noticed that one elder “had been lurking around him for some time.” Finally, she pointed to his rifle. Andre explained that she wished to reproach him for keeping his weapon loaded despite having held himself out as a friend. Gaillard immediately unloaded. “In return she gave me her satisfaction by a frightful grimace that I had to take for a smile.”

They gave the deer to Bob and the villagers. Bob then gave Gaillard his choice of the fish his men had caught. Appropriately reconciled, the villagers then invited Gaillard and Andre to share a community meal with them.

Only on the surface is this picture about deer hunting. Truly, it is about colonialism and the refusal of European guests to acknowledge indigenous sovereignty on the most basic level.  If Gaillard and Andre had shown the respect of visiting the caretaker village first, seeking consent and the Elders’ blessing, this dangerous incident could have been avoided.

Instead, with an arrogance that he may have been socialized into by the HBC, Andre had involved Gaillard in an action every bit as offensive as the actions of miners for assuming some right to benefit from another’s land without permission or paying. Such behavior was one of the issues that had contributed to the Chilcotin War.