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Part I: The People Of Sxste’ un
by Jim Cooperman

Published in 1989, Volume 2, Shuswap Chronicles
By the North Shuswap Historical Society

To understand the history of the Shuswap people, one has to imagine what the Shuswap
environment was like before the fur traders arrived. Imagine extensive stands of old
growth forests, lakes teeming with trout and salmon, hillsides filled with game a rich
world for a proud people with an ancient heritage to the land. The Adams Lake people
have lived near their lake peacefully for thousands of years. Their lives became
interwoven into the natural world as they developed an intricate culture based on
storytelling and the sharing of food and protection. The arrival of the traders, miners and
settlers has created an incredible impact upon both the Shuswap people and our

Very little is known about the early history of the native people of the Adams Lake
valley. Only a few archaeological sites have been identified along the lakeshore. English
trapper and prospector, Spencer Tuck described in his 1904 diary the site of an old Indian
encampment, “A few days ago I came across some strange old Indian paintings on a huge
rock bluff near here and spent some time in trying to read them. The paintings were all
the figures of men and horses fighting and were painted with some kind of red
substance….There is every indication of this having been a large Indian camp at some
time, as there are remains of old sweat houses and wigwams all around.” The red paint
Tuck refers to was a preparation of yellow ochre. There were three locations in Shuswap
country where ochre was obtained. One of the best known sites, named Skwo’kiow, is
situated on the east side of Adams Lake across from Squaam Bay. Near the beach is a
shallow cave that has been enlarged by digging for the decomposed pyrite that when
burnt produces a bright red colour.

Shuswap Elder, Bill Arnouse, recalls how the ochre was mixed with animal fat and
another mineral to produce the red paint that has survived for centuries on rocks exposed
to the weather. The paint was used for protection from rattlesnakes and as an important
trade commodity. Paintings were often made by young men during their vision quests,
when they traveled alone for months to increase their strength and endurance and to
discover their individual guardian spirit.

In 1977, a detailed inventory of the numerous archaeological sites along the lower Adams
River was conducted by the Province. Sixty-six sites including food storage pits,
campsites, housepits and rock paintings were identified. The few artifacts that were found
included projectile points (arrowheads), scrapers, sinkers and fragments of burned bone.
Artifacts recovered from a cache pit and housepit in an area on the east side of the Adams

River just below the gorge indicate habitation of the area going as far back as 4,000 years
before the present. The oldest site in the Shuswap region is a cave in Blind Bay that
contained material that was carbon-dated to 8,900 years before the present.
The only other information about the pre-contact (before the arrival of the white man)
Shuswap people available is contained in the reports and diaries of geologist-geographer-
explorer, George Mercer Dawson and ethnographers, James Teit and Frank Boas

These men interviewed elders in the late 1800’s to get details of the Shuswap language,
lifestyle, traditions and legends. One must realize that the elder’s description would have
been influenced greatly by the world he knew and grew up in. Teit’s 1905 report
describes in 180 pages all aspects of Shuswap life including, customs, clothing,
subsistence activities, manufactured goods (baskets, implements etc.), religion and
habitations. The report also contains 130 pages of tales and myths. From Teit we learn
the derivation of the word Shuswap, “The first whites who reached the country from the
south named the tribe ‘Shuswap, Shuswhap or Shouswhap.’ The last-named appellation
soon superseded all others. This term is a corruption of Suxwa’pmux or Sexwa’pmux, the
name they apply to themselves, and by which they are known to all the neighboring tribes
of the Interior Salish stock, to which they belong.” The exact meaning of Suxwa’pmux is
unclear, but it refers to the upper waters or the spillover of the water. Today, the word is
spelled Secwepemc and is the name for the Cultural Education Society established by the
Shuswap Nation.

Teit divided the Shuswap people into seven divisions, each containing from two to seven
bands. The Adams Lake band or “people of Sxste’lln” were part of the Shuswap Lake
division. Teit recorded that Sxste’lln “seems to be the name for Adams Lake or some
place at or near it”. He went on to describe how, “Most of this band formerly wintered at
the outlet and around the lower part of Adams Lake. Some of them passed part of the
year, and occasionally wintered, on Great and Little Shuswap Lakes. At the present day
most of them live at the foot of Little Shuswap Lake, about 35 miles east of Kamloops,
where they have reserves. They also have reserves on Adams Lake.” Two other bands
were closely related to the Sxste’lln; the South Thompson band or people of Hala’ut (“On
the north side of the South Thompson River, about 3 or 4 miles below the outlet of
Little Shuswap Lake”) and the Shuswap band or people of Sxotcame’lp (“place on
Salmon Arm where they have a village”), whose principal village was Kwa’ut at the head
of the Little Shuswap Lake.

Teit attributed distinctive qualities to the Shuswap Lake division, “They were the best
hunters, they traveled considerably and were good fisherman, canoe-men, and trappers,
but rather poor. They were mild, quiet, steady, rather serious, and hospitable.” Different
dialects were recognized amongst the Shuswap, “The Shuswap Lake division differs the
most, these people having a ‘heavy’, labored mode of utterance, and their speech sounds
jerky and guttural in comparison with that of other Shuswap.” Numerous wars and
raiding parties are described in the report, but Teit noted that the Shuswap Lake division

did not engage in wars, yet they were sometimes plundered by the Fraser and North
Thompson bands. Local legends tell of battles being fought near where the bridge is
today across the lower Adams River. Guards were apparently posted to warn the people if
there were prairie tribes coming to attack.

The Shuswap people traded extensively with other tribes. Articles from the coast reached
here via the Chilcotins and Lilloets. The Canon division were the greatest traders and
acted as middle men. The Shuswap Lake division received from the Okanagan roots,
horses, saddles, buffalo robes, bark thread and gave in exchange, dentalium-shells,
copper, marmot-skin robes and occasionally snowshoes. Teit noted, “In the early days the
Indians sold to the Hudson Bay Company large quantities of furs of all kinds, dressed
skins, moccasins, dried roots and berries, dried meat, fat, dried salmon, dogs and horses,
receiving in exchange principally woollen blankets, cloth, glass beads, steel traps,
flintlock muskets, powder, ball and shot, axes, tomahawks, steels and flints, knives,
tobacco, iron, copper kettles, brass finger-rings, bracelets, etc.” In 1827, the chief trader
for the Hudson Bay post in Kamloops, Archibald McDonald, made a formal report to the
Governor and council. In the report he indicated that by 1827 the peak of fur production
in the Shuswap district had passed and over- trapping had left the country almost

In later years, the Thompson post in Kamloops and the surrounding district gained
importance as a centre for horse and cattle ranching to supply the fur brigades and the
marten replaced the beaver as the most frequently trapped animal. The introduction of
guns led to the overkill of deer resulting in a shortage of buckskin and increased
dependence on the white man’s cloth. The traders became very dependent on salmon and
pressured the natives to trade much of their catch. By the 1840’s and 1850’s there were
occasions when some Indians were on the verge of starvation. The first Roman Catholic
missionary in the district, Father Demer, arrived in 1842 resulting in great excitement
amongst the native people. The first church was established by Father Pandosy in 1867.
Hundreds of natives travelled there to be baptised and receive Christian names. The
Kamloops Archives contain only six Hudson Bay journals from these early days.
Although essentially business records, these journals contain some references to the
Indians and chiefs of the Upper Lakes; the early English name for the Shuswap and
Adams lake. Here are some journal entries that refer to the Upper Lakes region:

Dec. 10, 1851 Returned from upper lake with 150 martens, 60 beaver, 7 bears, 5 otter, 3
wolves, and 20 mink but lam sorry to state that many of the Indians are sick.
Feb. 20, 1851 Very Indian arrived from the upper lake who reports that the
Indians of that quarter are still sick and that two of their number died a few days back.
Sept. 12, 1854, Arrived four Indians from the upper parts of the Salmon River. They
report that Neckilush and Adam had sent word to the different Indians, without the Tariff
was reduced that no furs to be traded at this establishment. This they tried last year and
failed - so will again this [year] as no reduction will be made - The prices are all ready

too low.
Dec. 1, 1854, got six horses brought to the fort tomorrow will have this with a small
assortment of goods to meet the Upper Lake Indians by appointment
Dec. 7, 1854, Returned from the Upper Lake where I found all the Indians of that quarter
and from I traded 28 large and 20 small beaver, 4 otters, 5 fishers, 17 minks, 435 prime
martens, 30 rats and 10 Ps Castoreum.
March 30, 1855, Arrived two Indians from the upper lakes who inform us that Adam and
followers have returned from the Mtns with a good hunt of furs May 17, 1855, Adam and
Gigou (Gregoire - written in later by Kamloops historian, Mary Ball) arrived from the
upper lake with 31 Marten and 1 bear
Feb. 2, 1860, Gregoires Son from the Upper Lake arrived, brought a few furs
Oct. 22, 1860, had a long talk with Gregoire and his band about their hunting and
afterwards gave them a dram each and also 10 charges Powder and ball and 6 inches
tobacco each as gratuity Feb. 18 1861, Skamilth (Niskonlith -M.B.) and Petit Louis came
and traded us two fine silver foxes, Skam reports the Indians of the Upper Lake are all
doing well in Marten hunting
May 4, 1861, Ant. Gregoire is reported to be in Oregon with his wife
June 21, 1861, Traded 23 martens, 1 md black bear and 2 large beavers from old
Gregoire and party, 20 of the martens I had to pay for in gold
March 28, 1862, Traded a few martens from Oosemont, Adam’s son
April 5, 1862, (Saturday), Old Adam and Party arrived with their furs but purpose (sic)
trading only on Monday
April 7, 1862, (Monday), traded with Adams party, 133 martens, 1 fisher, 1 wolverine, 1
silver fox, 1 lynx, 1 wolf $216.75 They were paid principally in stock, a very tolerable
day on the whole, if we were only fortunate enough in doing as much every day or every
other day
August 9, 1862, Grand Antoine is dead, buried at Little Forks, died there poor fellow,
attempting to reach this place,
Oct. 14, 1862, Supplied Jas Sabistan with a good assort of Property and sent him with
our Batteau and Madame Paul to the Upper Lakes for Salmon and if he manages as I
expect they must be very determined, indeed if does not load his Battou
Nov. 20, 1862, Martin contemplates fishing at the upper lakes - doing very little besides
seffing a little grog
Jan 22,, 1867, Some Indians arrived from Adams River with a few furs
April 27, 1867, Traded 100 martens from Adam’s Lake Indians

Although very brief, these journal notes give us some historical insight into the people of
Sxste’lln. Records indicate that Chief Sehowtken was given the name Adam, when he
was baptized by Father Nobli in 1849. The HBC journal entries show that he was a
powerful chief who supplied the company with many furs and was a hard bargainer who
demanded respect. By 1867, it appears from the journals, that Adam had died and that the
river and lake were named after him. Antoine Gregoire (by legend he was Adam’s oldest
son) was an equally powerful and respected chief, whose son Niskonlith gained extensive
reserve land on the South Thompson and alongside the lake named after him.

Reports of gold first appeared in 1855, when Chief Trader Donald McLean noted
receiving gold from the Indians. News leaked out slowly for it wasn’t until 1858 that
hordes of Americans swanned North from the depleted California gold fields. Shuswap
elder Bill Arnouse recalls how gold dust was used as a medicine by his people for curing
cancer. Bill’s grandmother Bridget told him how, “Gold dust was wrapped in dry deer fat
and placed over the affected part of the body. Every few days a black coating was rinsed
off. After about six applications, healing would be complete.”

The gold seekers brought diseases that eventually decimated large numbers of B .C.
Indians. The first case of smallpox was noted in Victoria in 1862. It spread like wildfire
throughout the province. Most whites were quickly vaccinated, but there were only token
efforts to vaccinate the Indians. The disease reached the Thompson Fort by that summer,
where Chief Trader Joseph McKay did his best to protect the few Indians that came to the

But the disease spread rapidly by Indians travelling from band to band. The North
Thompson bands were nearly all wiped out. The Adams Lake bands fared somewhat
better as their people were more aware of the danger as this journal entry from August
18, 1862 indicates, “Had a conversation with Skainilth (Niskonlith -ed.) about Bark,
he says the Indians are afraid to come down from Fear of infection from those here -
there were no less than 4 deaths took place yesterday.” Most whites viewed the
devastation rather callously. At the end of a October, 1862 Victoria Colonist article
describing the promise of North Thompson prospecting was this added inducement of
safety, “There is no Indians on the river, as they nearly all died of smallpox this year.”

Following the influx of gold-seekers, were retired HBC men and American cattlemen
anxious to settle large tracts of land to raise cattle. Conflicts soon developed between
these new settlers and the Indians who claimed huge land areas. Magistrate William Cox
was given the job of defining reserve lands, staking some lands in 1862. By 1865,
pressure from incoming settlers had increased prompting the government to send Walter
Moberly to visit the Chiefs and make an effort to reduce their claims. His report indicates
that he was only partly successful, “...I had various interviews with the Indians, the result
being that those settled at Little Shuswap and Adams Lakes shed me to lay off the
reserves in the manner I proposed, but the two Chiefs Nisquaimlith and Petite Louis, both
objected to have the lands they claim below the Little Shuswap Lake reduced in extent...”

In 1866, Chief Commissioner J.W. Trutch journeyed to Kamloops with surveyor Edgar
Dewdney and persuaded the Chiefs to accept drastic reductions in their land claims.
Dewdney later reported, “On arriving at Adams Lake, I found that the Indians had several
small patches of land cultivated along the shores of the lake, four of which they wished
reserved. I however gave them the piece of open bunch grass land situated on the
southeast end of the lake, about 1 1/4 miles square, that being the only feed they have for

their horses and cattle. This I surveyed. I also gave them 15 square chains on the West
side of the lake, about 12 miles from the outlet of Adams river.” The top reserve was
called Squaam, the Shuswap word for women’s breast which is the shape of Squuam
Bay. The large reserve on the east shore was called Hustalen meaning bottom of the lake
and it included a small corner on the west side at the mouth of the river called To-ops. A
1905 map shows two more Adams Lake reserves; Sahhaltkum on the north-west shore of
the South Thompson River beginning at the lake and Stequmwhulpa along the south-east
shore of the Little Shuswap Lake. Also, all three bands received reserve land in Tappen
and Salmon Arm.

The reserve system was the beginning of years of unfair treatment of the native people by
an English Colonial government committed to satisfying the needs of the new settlers.
When the Dominion Government took over responsibility of the Indians after
Confederation in 1871, there was hope for improvement. Newspapers back East reported
on the “high handed injustice” with which the B.C. government treated its Indians and
there were rumours of a potential Indian uprising in the interior. In 1876, a joint
commission was established to investigate Indian lands. Gilbert Sproat, the pivotal
member, was most sympathetic to the Indian cause. The commission met with Indians
across the Province to settle their claims. When they arrived in Kamloops in 1877,
leaders from the entire Shuswap tribe were at an Okanagan meeting to plan unified
tactics, except the Adams Lake band which stayed here to meet with the commission. A
settlement was reached and later the commission was able to work out agreements with
the other Shuswap bands. Despite the commendable work done by Sproat, the Provincial
government failed to approve any of the commission’s recommendation and so in 1880,
Sproat resigned. Within a few years, the population of white settlers grew larger than the
native population and these Indian land claims were never recognized.

By the 1870’s, the way of life had changed dramatically for the majority of the Shuswap
people. Now they raised large herds of stock and grain, and root crops were grown on
most reserves. When George Mercer Dawson was exploring the Shuswap and Adams
Lake country in 1877, he attempted to buy or borrow canoes from one old chief without
success because, “he could not make the owners part with them.” In his journal, Dawson
described his visit, “He appeared very anxious that I should walk round and see his
garden, a few patches of potatoes and vegetable, irregular and unfenced and especially
that I should see his ‘ians’ (onions). I supposed that he wanted me to buy some but went
with him, and found that it was his intention to make me a present he pulled up a handful
of his little onions and with a majestic wave of the arm presented them to me. I could not
do otherwise than accept and compliment him on the health and fertility of his garden and
in the afternoon took the opportunity of reciprocating by presenting him with some
tobacco These are the Indians who have lately come down from Adams Lake and want a
reserve here, in a better country for agriculture and stock. They appear to be living now
chiefly on a small species of whitefish (?) which they catch in abundance with hook and
line in the lake; together with a few potatoes from their gardens. Two or three canoes are
generally out fishing on the lake, now and then from one of them proceeds across the

water a scratch of their peculiar grunting out a song. There are a good many families
camped, being a little village. Some in tents, more or less decayed and all badly patched
(as is invariably the case), most under lean-too’s of poles and bark.”

Dawson returned again in 1888 and 1894. During the last visit, when he journeyed to the
foot of Adams Lake he was, “received with acclamation by a few old fashioned and
primitive Indians residing there. The old chief seems to be the genus loci, recognizing me
and talking in his own languages about my former trip on the lake...” So it appears from
Dawson’s notes that the majority of the people of Sxste’lln had settled on their reserve
across from Chase. Despite their poverty, they managed to retain some of their customs,
their pride and their dignity. Those that remained at Adams Lake possibly did so out of
reverence for their heritage lands or as Sproat suggested, their love for, “the ‘old places
of fun’ up in the mountains or some places of fishing...where, at certain seasons, they
assemble to fish, dig roots and race their horses.”

In 1881, the government established six Indian agencies across the Province, including
one in Kamloops. William Neild was the Kamloops Indian Agent in 1898 and portions of
his journal were found in the National Archives and are now on micro-film in the
Kamloops Indian Museum. Neild was very sympathetic to the Shuswap people and often
travelled to visit them on their reserves. His journal entries indicate a strong commitment
to improving agriculture by assisting the bands in applying for water licenses and
building irrigation systems. When the Indians were persecuted by the whites, he defended
them as this entry indicates, “Issued warrant for arrest of Sam Barnes for trespass and
annoying Indians....(Barnes convicted and sent to jail for six months waived trespass
case).” Neild retired in 1898 and subsequent agents were not as sympathetic. Journal
entries from 1913 describe rental of reserve lands for the Adams River Lumber company
and for hatcheries in Tappen and Scotch Creek. In October, the agent was in Vancouver
to negotiate the marketing of Indian produce and the displaying of a Shuswap Indian
exhibit. Despite the reserve system, which confined the Shuswap people to small rural
ghettos, there was a marked improvement in living standards in the early 1900’s as the
bands gained proficiency in agriculture. Yet, diseases still plagued the tribe as there were
many reports of deaths from consumption and the 1918 Spanish Influenza.

The early trappers, prospectors and settlers were quite dependent on the native people,
although many held deep prejudices towards them. Spencer Tuck offered these
complaints in his 1904 diary, “We have been troubled quite abit this last week by Indians,
they came around here 6 days ago, five families of them and they are an infernal
nuisance, they are everlastingly prowling round our camp and though they may not
actually steal we are afraid to go far away.” Tuck’s problem was solved a few weeks later
when an Indian came to visit named “my son William” who had been educated at the
Indian Industrial School in Kamloops. Tuck merely had to explain the problem to him
and they were never bothered again. In the 1905 diary, their dependence on the help of
the Indians was apparent, “....we had over two tons of stuff to move up. And what a time

we had to get it up, it was a most imposing corte’ge when we had 15 horses loaded with
all kinds of truck, 15 Indians leading the 15 horses some squaws to cook for the Indians
and a smattering of papooses to be kicked and sworn at all the time.”

When the settlers first arrived at Adams Lake in about 1906, there were four Indian
families living at Squaam Bay; the Sampolio’s, the Michel’s, the Goosta’s and the
Edwards’ and at Hustalen (now Indian Point) there were two families; the Arnouse’s and
the Jules’ and at To-ops lived the Antoine’s. These families quickly became integrated
into the settler’s society. The settlers purchased potatoes, apples and other produce from
the Indians until they were able to grow their own. Bill Arnouse’s grandfather Joe, a
descendent of Chief Adam, helped Charles Todd build his home and clear his land. Jack
Woolford has fond childhood memories of playing and fishing with his Indian neighbors.
The people of Sxste’lln and the Adams Lake settlers formed a tight knit community. Bill
Arnouse remembers how, “Everyone helped one another and shared the job of hauling
supplies from town.”

Many of the Indian men worked for the Adams River Lumber company Bill’s father,
Alec Arnouse was an assistant to Captain Laird on the Hellen and Larry Celeste worked
in the engine room. When most of the men left Squaam Bay to work in the lumber
camps, only the elders were left. This small group faced hardships when the salmon run
was destroyed and when logging operations interfered with hunting. Although they
persevered for a few years, often by cutting cordwood for the Hellen, they eventually had
to move down to the lower reserve near Chase. A few families remained at Hustalen, but
today both of these reserves have been leased out for summer homes and a sub-division.

Today, the people of Sxste’lln have largely adopted the western consumer culture, but
they have retained their distinct identity, their language, their myths and legends, and
some of their customs. Although the ancient Shuswap people never left monuments or
intricate carvings, nor had the wheel or made pottery, they were nonetheless intellectual
equals to the colonists. Their creative energies were directed more towards their oral
traditions and spiritual beliefs that were reflected in their intensely egalitarian society.
With the arrival of the white men, they quickly adopted the new language and skills and
later presented intelligent, persuasive arguments to government commissions. As we
approach a new century, we may feel superior in our world of luxuries, but we are
becoming increasingly aware of the damage we are doing to the same environment that
the Indian lived in harmony with for thousands of years.


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