The capture and execution of the Tsimshian chief Scotseye.


From the first hand account recorded in the Journal of William Sturgis, a fur trader.
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May 5th, 1799

As soon as we had anchored we fired a gun to inform the natives of our arrival; and towards night or rather at night (for it was dark when they came alongside) two canoes came down the [Nass] river from Chebbaska: their first question was, whether we were "Boston Clue" (that is ship) or "King George Clue"; we readily answered to the latter, and (to cover our plan upon Scotseye) began to abuse Boston and Boston chiefs with great earnestness; but in this we were quickly outdone by a young man in the canoe (and in fact by all of them) who told us a more contemptible story of ourselves than we should have had the heart to have invented in a long while; the youth we soon found by his own information was Scotseye's only son, he told us that Scotseye and his brother were both at Chebbaskah and would come tomorrow to trade with us, we, however, pretended we were strangers on the Coast, and did not know any of the Chiefs of the Islands, not even by report, but we son recognized Scotseye himself in the Canoe who had come incognito for fear of its being a Boston vessel, his precaution was in vain, for by his son always telling him what we said and consulting him what to answer, and Captain Rowan's having once before seen him, we soon knew him to be the person we were so anxious to see. As soon as we have got all the skins the place affords, so that our voyage cannot be injured by it,we shall make a point of showing Scotseye and his brother some strong marks of our favor which will well inform them of the sense we have of their great attentions to our Countrymen.

May 6th, 1799

Numbers of canoes came alongside early in the morning, the greatest part of which were of Scoteye's tribe which is all up here. With them came Scotseye, his brother and son: the son we permitted to come on board; the others (to sharpen their inclination and to avoid suspicion) we refused to admit till we had done trading, telling them we were afraid to have too many on deck. This increased their earnestness to come on board, and they promised in we would admit them to make all their tribe trade and likewise all the Chebbaskah tribe whose chief they call Shakes. A smart trade ensued and by 10 O'clock we bought a hundred skins and upwards. We do not intend to seize them till tomorrow that we may have an opportunity of getting all the skins the place affords, as we shall be forced to quit the place (as soon as we have made them prisoners) on account of their tribe who, no doubt, will make every exertion by force of arms to release them. About 11 O'clock a large canoe of Cockatlanes entered the harbor, which made us fearful (with which all the tribe was acquainted) would be discovered to Scotseye; but the enmity of the tribe was so great against this villain, that though they well knew he stood upon the brink of destruction, and one word from these people could save him, yet they would not do it, but told us they would not mention it, and so far from it, they would assist us in deceiving them, which they did by declaring we were an English vessel. About 1o'clock when it was high tide all the canoes left us that they might get up to the village, promising to return again tomorrow. We, however, find that we have got all their skins, and if Scotseye =, therefore, should have the ill fortune from these Cockatlanes who we are and return tomorrow, we shall certainly put himand his brother to the inconvenience of a passage to Kaiganee, and make them a present to Cow who will not fail to reward them according to their merits.

In the afternoon we perceived one canoe after another coming round the point of the Northern side of the river, and even found they were going to shift their habitation to a low spot opposite the ship. By night their huts were all erected and there appeared to be about two hundred people at the place. This tribe of Cumshewaw speak the same language as the Kaiganese without any difference that could be perceived. The Chabbaskah people speak one that is only used by their own tribe and is not the least analogous to any other language on the Coast. It is so guttural that we did not make the least attempt to speak or learn it, and our poor pilot seemed often to be much distressed at being obliged to reduce his sounds so much into himself. This tribe is considerably large: we, however, did not see much more than half of them, owing to their being at war with one another, the occasion of which we could not learn the particulars of.

It, however, seems that there are two brothers, Shakes and another whose name I forget. On their father's death, however, they each determined to be chief and the tribe not being able to settle the dispute divided and attached themselves about equally to each party. At times they willbe friends but generally are at war, as was the case when we arrived, they were extremely inveterate. When Shake's canoe were alongside, the other brother's were obliged to keep off at a great distance till they left the ship and then would have been attacked, had we not threatened to fire upon the first that attempted to commit hostilities.

May 7th, 1779

Early in the morning we succeeded in our plan beyond our most sanguine expectations. At 7 O'clock only one canoe came alongside and in it was Scotseye,his brother and son. They all three came on board without the least suspicion and were instantly seized and made prisoners. The remainder of their people sprung from the ships side into their canoe and the tide running very rapidly were soon conveyed even out of hearing. They soon communicated the intelligence to the village which was put into the greatest commotion. Numbers of canoes pushed off, but were afraid to come within reach of our guns. At length one came alongside with a son of Shakes who, after some solicitation, came on board to see them, and if we had not killed them, he said he would treat for their ransom.

After having let him see the prisoners to be assured they were alive, we told him, that in an hour we should sail, that if in that time they would bring us the scalps of six white men we would set the son at liberty, the other two we should certainly carry to Kaiganee, and would accept of no ransom for their release, and further told him that we were a Boston vessel. This last peice [sic] of intelligence fully convinced him of what they were captured for, and he immediately sent off his canoe with the intelligence of what we told him and promised us that the scalps should be brought instantly to the Ship; they, however, he said might be some time before they could get them. , as Scotseye now had but three in his possession, the other being in hands of the Chebbaskah chief, but that he would stay till they came. Some time being past and his messengers not returning, he set off to hurry them, and we being anxious to take advantage of the tide got underway and dropped slowly down with it into the mouth of the harbor. Finding we were in earnest in our determination of carrying them to Kaiganee, the people on shore began to be alarmed, and Shakes, thinking we might take it into our heads to batter his village from the mouth of the harbor with our great guns if he did not exert himself to comply with out demands, now came off bringing with him the scalps that were in the possession of his tribe. As soon as the cane came within shot they began to make signs thatthey came to solicit peace, by blowing through a tube some fine Eagles down, in which were three scalps, two of a light yellow and one of black. On demanding the other three Shakes informed us that Scotseye's family were in possession of the other three, but that he would send his wife off with them as soon as he returned on shore. We told him we must carry them all to Kaiganee if the other three were not brought, and our reasons for taking Scotseye, which he acknowledged were just, but desired us not to hurt his son, but leave him at Skittikitts and not deliver him up to the Kaiganese who would certainly kill him; he then paddled ashore and we stood down the sound.

Scotseye's wife soon after come on board to see her husband, and went away promising to endeavor to get the other scalps which we are yet in hopes we shall get before we leave the Sound and on that act we do not release him here. 64 No doubt but what Cow would be extravagantly rejoiced if he could bet all three of them into his hands, as by that means he could effectual make the tribe so weak by depriving them of their chiefs as to be afterwards an easy conquest. But we shall be careful not to deliver this you man into his hands, having no proof of his being concerned in cutting off any vessel and, indeed, our pilot assures us that he is married to a relation of Skittikitts and resides the greatest part of the time with him at his village.

We shall, therefore, leave him there when we visit that place after leaving Kaiganee. We have lodged them all three in irons in the hold for we could show no favor to the son for fear he should attempt to release the other two who appear to be not in the least alarmed at what we may do to them., but eye us with silent contempt and look as if they were only sorry that they areat length caught, and shall not have it in their power to do any more mischief. The son, on the contrary is much affected and laments bitterly his misfortunes which will carry him far from his family, where perhaps he shall never return from, for not all our assurances can convince him that we will not deliver him up to the Kaiganeese. His name is Elswosh: he is a very likely fellow and does not appear to be any thing of the sullen cutthroat disposition of his father anduncle.

May 8th, By morning we had got so far what with the tide and wind that we were out of the narrow part of the sound into the bay I mentioned before, where we were able to make longer boards, but the tide coming against us we did not get agreat way ahead till it turned which was about 12 noon. About half after 12 a canoe came alongside in which was Cow's brother who had given us the information of Scotseye's being at Chebbaskah. When he came along side, the first question heasked was whether we had killed him. On answering in the negative, he asked us why: we told him we had him and his brother on board alive. He then begged to see, which we consented to.

He immediately began to intercede for the son Elswosh with great earnestness, and could not be persuaded but what we meant tokill him for some time. He, however, at last felt satisfied when we told him weintended to leave them at Kaiganee wand would carry Elswosh to Skittikitts whom we now found was his brother in law. Elswosh asked this man whether he could not do anything for his father or uncle, but did not ask as if he expected anything could be effected in reality, but more it appeared to me as a matter of form andbecause he thought he ought not to neglect appearances, for much affection could not be supposed to subsist in his breast towards a father who would not obtain his release by delivering up the other three scalps, though by retaining them he could not make them be of service to himself, but only leave them with his family as a trophy of those actions for committing which he lost his life. On asking the question, the other replied, "No: they had better give him a rope than his liberty. You know he has killed a great many white men and would kill many more if he was released. He is a bad man, and it is good that he should die." Though both the other two understood this (as they spoke the same language) yet so far from making any intercession, they scarcely deigned him a look in reply. Cow's brother then desired to see the scalps we had got from them. I asked him if he recollected whether those I show him were the same Scotseye had told him were chiefs; he said that one which was of a dark color and two of a yellowish color the same as we had shown him, Scotseye had told him were chiefs,the other three of which one was black he had told him were common men. He, however, said that Elswosh on being released he had no doubt would tell us whom the scalps belonged to if he knew the names. Another canoe now came alongside,and having bought eighteen skins of them they left us and paddled ashore. We continued beating to windward the rest of the day, and at dark were abreast of the outermost island called Tanacash by the Natives.

In the morning the wind came fair, we accordingly set steering sails and stood for Kaiganee. To the Eastward of Cape Murray we saw a rock just visible above water and it being at that time low tide, it must be three fourths of the time under water: what we saw of it was about twenty rods over. It was not down on Vancouver's chart. At 4 p.m. we were off Kaiganee, but no canoes appearing we bore away for the Cove and supposing the natives were all with some vessel there we fired a gun to inform them of arrival soon after which we saw a boat putting out of Taddiskey,, and on her coming along side fount it was Captain Breck's. He informed us that the Ship Ulysses lay in Taddiskey with him and had but just arrived; that she was in a very disagreeable situation and he did not know in what way we must act: "as yet," says he, "I have heard but one side of the story, but when you get in we will determine what is best to be done." At 7 p.m. we anchored in Taddiskey. We found that the Ulysses was in a state of mutiny: the officers and crew having seized Captain Lamb, but him in irons and confined him close prisoner in his state room. They allege against him a plausible story, but whether it is true, we cannot say till we have heard his account of the business. We, however, shall not leave this port till it is settled; and no doubt but what we shall soon discover if these people have been acting for private purposes.

May 10th, 1799

In the morning we sent Scotseye and his brother ashore. [Apparently Captain Rowan made arrangements with Cow (Keow) that Scotseye and his brother should be given over to the people of Kigarnee. It was also agreed that Scotseye and his brother should be executed on the 12th of May in the presence of the Americans. The events of the next two days might have caused Rowan to act slightly differently had he been able to foresee that Cow would also manage to get Elswhosh in his clutches also. Sturgis in his journal implies that Scotseye and his brother were in Keow's custody but in his lectures he says theyremained on the Eliza until they were executed.

[The events of the 11th (mostly pertain to the resolution of the mutiny and) are omitted]

The day of the Execution.

The 12th of May

...was the day fixed upon for the execution, and notice was given for the whole Kigarnee tribe to assemble. It proved to be a calm bright, Spring-like day. The clear, deep blue Northern sky in a high latitude was unobscured bythe slightest cloud or vapor, and it was altogether as lovely a morning as ever shone beneath the canopy of heaven.

Before mid-day nearly the whole tribe,some 1,800 to 2,000 souls, made their appearance in canoes off the point of entrance and gliding silently into the cove arranged themselves at the head of it in a semi-circle, the canoes, six or seven tiers deep, the women and childrenin the larger ones nearest the shore, the men, in those of smaller size, taking a place near the center. The scene was impressive and one that a painter would delight in. The ships, moored nearly in a line across the entrance, - an occupation suspended, and the men aloft upon the yards and rigging - more than 300 canoes filled with Indians in full dress, the faces of the men painted in war style, and all standing or sitting in their canoes as immovable and silent as the rocks and trees beyond them.

The water, unruffled by the slightest breeze, was smooth and transparent as the polished surface of a mirror, and reflected every object - ships, canoes, Indians, rocks, trees, and mountains, and the clear blue sky above, so perfectly that you could scarce distinguish the direct from the reflected images, but by the inversion of the latter - and at the first glance all appeared suspended in the midair.

It seemed as if the nature had spread a tranquil beauty over the whole scene in striking contract with the wild out-break of human passion that was to follow. At this moment, when the breathless stillness had become almost oppressive, - a large ware canoestruck out from the circle and slowly approached the center ship. Two young slaves, one at each end, moved and guided the canoe - about halfway from the stern to the center, and facing the prow, stood Keow, drawn up to his full height of more than six feet, his arms rolled in a rich fur robe and folded across his breast. At a like distance from the prow, and facing the stern, stood the two executioners, Quoltlong and Kilchart, the nephew and brother of Keow - Both were uncovered to the waist, and each firmly grasped his dagger. Quoltlong was a remarkable handsome Indian - his long black hair parted in frontand flowing over his back and shoulders.

...When the canoe reached the ship, the prisoners were brought upon deck and silently passed over side. I stood near them at the moment, Scotsi [Scotseye], the elder, was grave, but unmoved; while a prisoner on board the ship he had, attimes, appeared somewhat dejected. Not so with his brother.

He had, from the first, shown a bold, unflinching spirit, and often challenged us to try his fortitude by torture. He gloried in what he had done and declared that he only regretted his fate as it prevented him from more fully avenging the injuries inflicted upon his family and friends by the white men. As he passed over the side he threw a glance of scornful defiance upon those around him, and met Keow and the executioners with undaunted look.

The two chiefs, (Scotsi and his brother) were roped together by one arm each. They were seated in the canoe immediately in front of the executioners, and facing Keow, who glared at them with a look of suppressed fury, which was boldly returned by the younger captive. The canoe moved slowly from the ship some 50 yards to a point nearly central, and stopping, all remained a few moments in death-like silence, when Keow, turning his face, gave the fatal signal.

Both victims were struck at the same instant, and with such force that the blows were distinctly heard on board the ships. The daggers passed within the collar-bone on the right side of the neck,through the lungs into the heart. Scotsi merely quivered, and his head dropped;the other half rose under blow, which instantly repeated, and he to was motionless.

The executioners raised their daggers in the air - and the sun's rays glancing up on the bright handles - the crimson line distinctly marked, andthe fresh blood trickling from the points. No language of mine can describe the effect. Thus far a solemnity of manner had marked the proceedings, and a feeling of awe seemed to pervade every living thing. But the sight of blood instantly changed the whole scene.

Upon the deep silence of the moment broke forth a yell that sent a thrill of terror through the stoutest heart and might well appall the boldest spirit. The war hoop from a single voice is not soon forgotten, but when a thousand join to give it utterance, under the influence of the wildest passion, it can be compared with no earthly sound. It rolled upwards and reverberated from mountain to mountain until it seemed to fill all space.

Utter confusion followed. The canoes were driven violently to the center, and men, in the madness of the moment, leaped over and struggled with one another in their efforts to get near enough to strike their daggers into thebodies of the victims; and then shaking the bloody weapons aloft, shrieked the death yell, plunging their hands into the ghastly wounds and smeared their bodies and faces with gore, until they more resembled demons than human beings..."