Bute Island Massacre or tsilhqot'in War: 
Why Does it Make a Difference and Why Is it Important?

Read the following background information, details about the event and commentaries. Think about all that you have studied and learned so far.


Between 1846 and 1879 there were at least 19 wars (or series of wars) between First Nations groups and European/North American groups that were big enough to make it into mainstream (Wikipedia) history timelines.  First Nations populations in North America have been reduced by over 60% since European contact due to disease and warfare.  By the mid 1850s, First Nations peoples had already seen their own populations decline drastically due to all of these factors. The Tsilhqot'in War took place in April of 1864.

Brief Background of the Event:

“In the summer of 1864, Tsilhqot'in members killed 14 construction workers employed by colonial official Alfred Waddington to build a road from Bute Inlet to provide faster access to the gold fields of the Cariboo region.”

“Five chiefs were imprisoned, tried and executed in October 1864 after accepting an invitation to discuss terms of peace to end the Chilcotin War. A sixth chief was hanged the following year.” Province of BC

A Newspaper Commentary

Newspaper Commentary: Massacre            Daily British Colonist, 12 May 1864 (republished on the Canadian Mysteries site).

The intelligence received yesterday morning, the particulars of which we publish in to-day’s issue, of the massacre by Indians of fourteen men, who were working on the Bute Inlet route, is the most startling thing of the kind that has yet taken place in either colony. There is something almost fiendish in the manner in which this treacherous massacre was perpetrated. Sixteen able-bodied Indians, who had been accustomed to pack for the workmen, accompanied by a number of youths, steal upon twelve of the sleeping white men, and with gun, and knife, and axe, fire and cut and hack at their surprised and helpless victims…The cause of this Indian outbreak was, so far as at present can be ascertained, entirely one of plunder. The men who have returned say that the Indians have been hitherto treated in the kindest manner, and that there was not the slightest indication of ill feeling amongst them prior to this murderous attack. “

How the Event Has Been Portrayed in Books



A First-Hand Account from one of the men who was found guilty and hanged.

“We meant war, not murder.” Klatsassin’s words to Lundin Brown before he was hanged.

A Court Ruling that Mentions the War from 1993

“In the Chilcotin, the other matter was the controversial, so-called Chilcotin War,” Justice Sarich wrote in his report. “In every village, the people maintained that the chiefs who were hanged at Quesnel Mouth in 1864 as murderers were, in fact, leaders of a war party defending their land and people.” (Globe and Mail 1993 article)


An Apology from Premier Christy Clark, British Colombia

"I stand here today in this legislature, 150 years later, to say that the province of British Columbia is profoundly sorry for the wrongful arrest, trial and hanging of the six chiefs, and for the many wrongs inflicted by past governments." Christy Clark.

Chief Joe Alphonse, while accepting the apology from Premier Clark and the province

"Those warriors are the main reason that we were able as a nation to fight for 20, 25 years, which eventually became the June 26 (2014) aboriginal title win — the first of its kind in B.C., in Canada, in North America, in the world." Chief Joe Alphonse. CBC

The Activity for students

  1. Make a list of reasons the Chilcotin would have seen the event as a war defending their territory.  Make sure that you include evidence from your notes or from the lessons so far.

  2. Write a short paragraph about why you think the war was used as evidence in the successful title trial. How could a war be evidence for title?


  1. Explain a connection between the study of history and the Frontier myth. You can do this through art, poetry, essay, blog post, etc.