OK folks, for today’s history lesson with Andy.
Early on a January morning in 1891, Slumach’s life ended at the gallows. The Katzie Indian
had killed a man called Louie Bee. Bee and the sole witness, Seymour, were sitting in a
canoe when Slumach shot Bee from the shore of the Alouette River. The victim, “a welldeveloped
man of about 25 or 30 years of age,” according to the physician who did the
post-mortem, was described in court as quarrelsome, always harassing Slumach, with
threats of violence that made the old man fear for his life. Did the elderly Slumach feel
threatened by the man approaching the shore—did he act to protect himself?
Whether he killed in self-defence or not, at the time under Canadian law the penalty for
murder was death by hanging. This was a pretty straightforward case for the Crown, and
after deliberating for all of one quarter of an hour, the jury returned with the verdict that
Slumach was guilty of murder. Today, considering the absence of any indication of
premeditation in testimonies heard, and the known threats and provocations by Bee, a court
might come up with a verdict of “voluntarily manslaughter.” Taking into account Slumach’s
advanced age and that this was a first offence, punishment would probably be a few years
in prison. But in 1891 under Canadian law the Crown claimed Slumach’s life.
Under normal circumstances old Slumach and his tragic ending would have been long
forgotten. Both victim and culprit were without social status in the white community, and
the crime had no exceptionally daring or gruesome elements that could give it a place in
local memory. What assured Slumach’s name a permanent spot in local lore was his
supposed connection to the legendary gold of Pitt Lake.
The legend of Pitt Lake gold, or Slumach’s gold as it became known, has its roots in the
years of the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush, when maps were printed in California for the comfort
of gold hunters heading north to the Fraser. These maps showed words like “Gold” and
“Indian Diggings” in the country above Pitt Lake. Stories about an “Indian” finding gold in
the Pitt Lake area kept circulating. In a 1915 interview Wilbur Armstrong, a Washington
prospector preparing for his tenth and last search for Pitt Lake gold, identified the Indian
who first discovered the gold as “Slumagh…hanged in the jail yard at New Westminster in
1891.” Some prospectors at that time made money guiding gold hunting parties into the
rugged Pitt Lake country, and a good story was needed to attract and convince investors
and customers. Armstrong and his colleagues honed the old stories to perfection, creating
the basis for all later tales.
In the 1940s Slumach was given a new life. Pulp writers and journalists made Slumach into
a much younger man, the centre attraction of New Westminster, where he supposedly
frequented the bars, paying with raw gold. He received the flattering attention of dance-hall
girls, and he took some of them with him into the wilderness—none returned. The press
hanged Slumach again, this time for the murder of one of the girls, and had him taking the
secret of the location of the mine with him, placing a curse on anyone trying to find it.
If indeed anyone had walked around town with as much gold as the stories want us to
believe Slumach did, there would have been a riot in New Westminster. It would be a
miracle if Slumach had survived the torture of the mob trying to beat the secret of the
location of the gold out of him, and there would have been a stampede to the Pitt Lake
area. In those gold-crazed late 1800s the newspapers would have been full of stories about
Slumach and Pitt Lake gold—but there is nothing about that in the local press of that time.
Nevertheless Slumach’s name has remained linked to the legendary Pitt Lake gold to the
present day, and there are many who still believe in the legend of his finding of an
Eldorado, out there in the wilderness of Pitt Lake.
We know very little about the real Slumach. The 1898 fire in New Westminster destroyed
the records of the Indian Agent, and an important source of Katzie history went up in
flames. In the surviving documents Slumach’s name only appears in an 1879 census
showing him, “Slum.ook,” as one of seven adult Katzie staying at the Pitt River village at
the south end of Pitt Lake. Slumach’s brother Smum-qua (Tsa mem.kwahm) was the head
of that settlement.
From the court records we know that Slumach had a daughter called Annie, who was
present at the trial, and a 1926 newspaper article mentions Slumach’s widow. What else we
know is all related to the crime. For their stories most journalists and writers relied heavily
on the often flawed reports in New Westminster’s Columbian of 1890 and 1891. Some
writers have excused themselves from studying the legal records by claiming that they were