Home    Recent Issues    Comments    Advertising   Library Index

Captain John[i]

The adventures of this famous Indian chief, who, with his brother, met with so tragical a fate within the walls of the city prison on Monday last, would fill a book.  At the time of his death, “John” was aged about 45 years, and was a very athletic, fine-looking man.  He was supposed to have Russian blood in his veins, and was particularly proud of his glossy black moustache and whiskers, so much so that he has been known to offer fifty cents to his white friends for every grey hair that could be detected among them.  He was born in the Russian Possessions, but at an early age took up his home among the Hydahs, and eventually married a Hydah woman.  “John” spoke very good English, a knowledge of which he acquired while on board a “Boston” trading ship, about twenty-one years ago.  This ship was commanded by a Captain Lucas, who had visited “John’s” home, (on the main land above Queen Charlotte’s Island,) on an expedition to exchange Yankee notions for furs, etc.

Capt. Lucas took a strong fancy to “John,” who was then living in all the primitive simplicity of his people, and was quite a young and handsome man.  “John” was anxious to see the world, and the American captain, being short handed, shipped the young Indian as cabin boy.  On board this ship he received the name of “Capt. John,” and was a great favorite.  The ship touched all along the coast, and stopped some time at San Francisco, which “John” used to describe as “no account,” owing to its being so small a town.  He also visited Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, San Diego, and varius ports on the Mexican coast.  San Diego, he used to say, was a hyas klosh (very good) city – for at that time (he said) it was much larger than San Francisco.

While at San Francisco, wandering about among the sand-hills, “John” had a difficulty with a Mexican who kept a small store there, about a hat which the latter wished to sell him.  Words led to blows, and the end of it was that “John” resorted to cold steel, and conquered his antagonist by giving him a stab in the thigh.  The Spanish population were very indignant at this outrage, as they called it; but “John,” protected by his shipmates, got safe aboard his vessel, and remained concealed until she was ready to leave.  Captain Lucas knew that if “John” was not returned safely to his people, the days of his trading among the Hydah Indians were at an end; so he took particular care of his aboriginal sailor boy. 

After an absence from his home of a year-and-a-half, “John” returned, and recommenced his savage mode of life.  The Hydahs were then, as now, the Ishmaelites of the northwest coast, and universally dreaded by all the other tribes.  Numerous were the fights in which the sailor-Indian “took a hand,” and many a scar was found upon his body after death, which he had received in mortal fray with dusky antagonists.

About twelve years ago, the measles broke out among the Oregon Indians, and after almost exterminating some of the tribes in that territory, (particularly those living on the Columbia River,) it spread up the coast, and finally reached the Hydah lodges.  A slight knowledge of the tratment of the disease, which “John” had acquired during his sailing with Capt. Lucas, proved of great use to him now; and he not only cured those of his own family, but such others of his tribe as sought assistance.  The cunning fellow, however, knew how to charge a good price for his services, and, like many white physicians, always exacted a good round fee.  By this means he acquired (for an Indian) great wealth, and eventually became chief of the Hydahs.

“John” continued in the enjoyment of his wealth and influence until the Fraser River gold fever broke out in 1858.  Lured by the reports of the great riches which the natives of this vicinity were acquiring thro’ trading with the white immigrants, he came to Victoria, in company with the celebrated blind chief of the same tribe, “Paul Jones,” and, with the exception of one short visit to his native land, had remained here ever since, but has been gradually losing the power and influence he once possessed over his people.

During his stay here, “John” was noted for his urbanity and politeness to the whites, who from time to time visited him at his lodge – although he has been engaged in several slight scrimmages with the “King George’s” and “Bostons” during the past six months.  About four months ago, a white man on Johnson street, offended him, and “John” drew a knife and attempted to stab him with it.  For this he received a severe beating with a club, which he never had an opportunity of resenting, although he is said to have watched for the man for several days, bent on revenge.

The offence which led to “John’s” arrest and his subsequent death, was the shooting of a Tongass chief, some six weeks ago.  “John” had a large brindled dog, and as the Tongass was passing the former’s house, the animal barked and snapped at him.  The Tongass drew a knife and cut the animal slightly in the head, and proceeded on his way.  “John” heard of it, and arming one of his slaves, (a Cowichan,) told him to shoot down the Tongass on sight.  The slave obeyed the order, and the wounder of the dog bit the dust before dark on the same day.  A fight ensued, which was kept up at intervals for some days.  The Stickeens espoused the cause of the Tongass tribe, and several were killed on both sides.  “John” kept close in his house during the fighting, and prepared for a seige by throwing up earth works, building barricades, etc.  Armed sentries guarded his lodge night and day, and the old fox never showed his nose on the outside of his fortification, until about two weeks since, when he was summoned to have a “talk” with Governor Douglas about the difficulties between the various tribes.  He was then told that he must not shoot or cut any more of his enemies; but that if he had a grievance, he must complain to the police magistrate.  The Tongass braves were also told the same thing; and profiting by the advice, on Monday they procured a warrant against “John” and his brother for being concerned in the murder of their chief.

The subsequent arrest of this great chief, his resistance on an attempt being made to search him, and his death, are too well known to be repeated here.  We visited the jail on Monday night, and saw the bodies of the slain warriors, as they lay in the prison yard.  “Captain John” looked very natural, and his countenance possessed much the same expression it had worn during life.  His cap, around which he wore a band of gilt lace, covered his face; his blue pilot-cloth overcoat, which was also ornamented with gilt lace, was thrown over his body, and

“He looked like a warrior taking his rest,
With his martial cloak around him.”

The appearance of the brother was horrible.  He had been wounded in the face, and thick clots of blood almost completely concealed his features.  He was much younger than “John,” and had evidently acted under his order throughout the whole affair.

By the death of their chief, it is thought by some that the Hydahs will become more manageable, and less disposed to give us the same trouble as heretofore.  Others think that this is but the “beginning of the end,” and that we are on the eve of difficulties with the Hydahs, which will only end in the almost entire extermination of the tribe.

[i] Reprinted from the British Colonist, July 5, 1860.