Native kills a settler...

With apologies to the First Nations People for the use of the word “Native” but that is how history records the events. Generally the native population in our area were peaceful. They fished all the way up the Fraser River on the mainland. Quite a feat when you consider they only used dugout canoes. Next time you ride a BC Ferry imagine being out there in a 12 foot canoe.

But, there were battles between themselves. Different tribes up and down the West Coast often raided other tribes, usually for slaves and brides. Capturing a bride from another tribe prevented inbreeding, but it did not promote peace all the time. And usually one raid prompted another raid.

Mt. Tzuhalem, on the north side of Cowichan Bay is named after a rather infamous native. There are many different spellings of that name too. Tzuhalem was banished to the mountain with instructions to never come down. He was said to have been driven mad when he saw is mother killed in one of the raids. All his tribe feared him, so he was told if he ever came down he would be killed. He did come down, and was killed. History relates that they performed a “post mortem” on him and discovered his heart was the size of a salmon's. As well, Mt. Tzuhalem contributed to the naming of Cowichan Bay. The word Cowichan translates to the phrase Warm Land. There is a rock on the side of the mountain that native legend says resembles a frog basking in the sun.

However, back to the story... The arrival of settlers was generally accepted by the native population. They actually sold land rights to the settlers, the cost was usually one or two Hudson's Bay blankets. But there were a number incidents between them. The governor of the time, James Douglas, made it very clear that these incidents would not go unpunished.

The biggest incident to get the eye of Douglas was the killing of a settler by one of the natives. He commandeered the HMS Trincomalee one of the largest warships in Victoria at the time. Under command of Captain Houstoun, it was towed to Cowichan Bay with the Governor on board. Over 400 men were on board. In order to announce its presence a couple of cannon rounds were shot into Mt. Tzuhalem. Douglas and his party went ashore and confronted the tribe, requesting the killer to be presented. One of the natives actually tried to fire a shot at Douglas. The gun mis-fired. Eventually he was presented. A trial was held and the fellow, named Tath-La-Sut was hung. The oak tree that was used stood well into our time at the St. Peter's Church grounds in Duncan. It however fell to the ravages of time and was eventually taken down. But all the locals referred to it as the Hanging Tree. Both cannon balls were eventually found. One was found when they built a road. The other was used to break up the stones for the Stone Church (Butter Church). Where they now are is unknown.

Thomas Wagner is a writer, photographer and historian living in Cowichan Bay. For more information on Cowichan Bay