Mission: To use the “Chilcotin War” of 1864 as an entry point into exploring a particular question or theme associated with the history of British Columbia on the eve of Confederation.
Purpose: To engage you as an active historian and thus to introduce you to the excitement and challenges associated with attempting to discern both truth and meaning from the study of the past.
Introduction: On April 29, 1864, fourteen British Columbians who were helping to build a road from the coast through to the Cariboo Gold Fields were killed by members of the Tsilhqot’in Nation. Within a month, the death total had reached nineteen. The colonial government responded by sending an armed force of more than one hundred men into the Interior for six weeks in search of Klatsassin, a Tsilhqot’in chief and the reputed ringleader of the uprising. Ultimately, six natives would be executed.

This assignment asks you to use the Chilcotin War as a focus for learning about nineteenth-century British Columbia. The designers of the Klatsassin web-site have brought together primary documents for you. These include contemporary newspaper accounts, colonial correspondence, trial records, anthropological accounts and oral history. Background context is also provided to help situate you for research.
Procedure: The amount of material on the web-site may seem overwhelming. The expectation, however, is not that you read all the sources provided but that you substantially dip into the on-line archive.

There are six main sections to the web-site: “Home,” “Context,” “Murder Or War?,” “Aftermath,” “Archives,” and “Timeline.” The “Home” section provides an overview of the web-site. “Context” helps to situate the events of 1864 within a broader framework by providing information about Tsilhqot’in culture, the fur trade, B.C. road-building, the Cariboo Gold Rush and smallpox. “Murder Or War?” provides documents that might lead to alternate interpretations of the meaning of the Chilcotin War. “Aftermath” examines the trial of the aboriginals charged with the killings and highlights Tsilhqot’in accounts of the conflict. It also includes a useful list of characters associated with the Chilcotin War. The “Archive” indexes all the primary documents, texts and images available on the web-site, though access to these materials is also available in a more organized form in the other pages on the site. The “Timeline” provides some key dates.

A good starting point for understanding the layout of the web-site can be found on the How To Use This Site page.

I would recommend the following strategy for completing this assignment:

1) Do some preliminary browsing in the KLATSASSIN AND THE CHILCOTIN WAR web-site. Familiarize yourself with the site and attempt to identify what most interests you.

2) Pick a topic.

3) Research your topic before the class workshop. Print off relevant material; highlight significant passages; and take some notes, jotting down both facts and your own thoughts as you proceed.

4) Write up your mini-essay in the week-plus after the class workshop. You should demonstrate that you have read extensively in the archive. Your paper should include interesting quotations drawn from the source material, and should use historical detail to enrich your own analysis and interpretation.

Some Possible Topics: Listed below are some possible topics for your mini-essay. Pick one of the suggested topics or choose one of your own design. Then use the “Klatsassin And The Chilcotin War” web-site as your basic resource for writing a short paper on your topic. It is fine to write a general mini-essay that analyzes your readings and research overall rather than settling upon one major theme.


Murder, Justifiable Homicide Or War?: Assessing The Actions Of The Tsilhqot’in

The Chilcotin War As Represented In Contemporary Newspapers

Representations Of The Tsilhqot’in In The Colonial B.C. Press

The Trials Of The Tsilhqot’in

The Criminal Justice System In Colonial British Columbia And The Chilcotin War

The Chilcotin War Today: The Tsilhqot’in Nation’s Historical Memory Of The Events Of 1864

Meditating Upon History And How It Gets Written: The Chilcotin War As A Case Study
Some Extra Resources


Tom Swanky, “The Dishonor Of The Crown And Old Fort Chilcotin” (October 19, 2016).

“Alfred Waddington,” BC Booklook (January 28, 2016).

Peter Green, “Review Of Ann Nicholson’s ‘The Chilcotin War: A Colonial Legacy At The Alternator,'” Okanagan Art Review (October 15, 2015).

Arno Kopecky, “Title Fight,” Walrus (July/August 2015).

Mychaylo Prystupa, “First Nations ‘Pulling A Chilcotin’ In Resource Development Battles Across Canada,” National Observer (June 20, 2015).

Sean Carleton, “‘We Meant War Not Murder’: A Punk Rock History Of Klatsassin And The Tsilhqot’in War Of 1864,” ActiveHistory.ca (October 23, 2014).

Tom Swanky, “Puntzi Lake And The Martyrdom Of ‘The Chilcotin Chiefs,'” Dissident Voice (November 23, 2013).

Tom Swanky, “Understanding Lhats’as?in Memorial Day” (October 23, 2012).

Richard Gilbert, “British Columbia Mine Dispute Linked To Guerrilla War In 1864,” Journal of Commerce, November 30, 2011.

Shawn Swanky, “Lhatsassin Memorial Day, 2010” (October 24, 2010).

John Lutz, “Moment,” Beaver, 84 (October/ November 2004): 8.

Edward Sleigh Hewlett, “The Chilcotin War Of 1864,” BC Studies, 19 (Autumn 1973).

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