J.G. MacGregor comments that “it [the war trail] had been just that for hundreds or even thousands of years before the arrival of the white man. Starting at Peace River Crossing, it wound through the bush to Grouard and thence around the lake.”
In their folk takes, told to Dr. Goddard, the Beavers around Dunvegan spoke of Beaver Indians around Lesser Slave Lake that had been killed off, long before.
The Sikanni-Beaver war trail ran from Peace River Crossing, past Hines Creek, Fort St. John and Hudson’s Hope. It is worth noting that this was an easy trail, for when the railroad was projected west from Peace River, it followed this course as far as Hines Creek, where political considerations caused it to stop, while another branch went to Grande Prairie. A highway now follows the old route.
The “War” aspects of the trail were in evidence until 1914-15. Mrs. Elizabeth Beattie was in the country at Hudson’s Hope when the last party of Sikanni from the McLeod Lake area came down the Parsnip to raid the Beavers. On that occasion, the Sikanni were out to capture or barter for girls as wives. For some reason, the Sikanni seemed to have fewer women than men, whereas the Beavers were not so situated. True to their history, the Beavers spurned the Sikanni, for whom they had a long-standing hatred. The Sikanni were chased back to the Parsnip, but before leaving the country, they sought vengeance by setting many fires, which swept for miles across the Peace. The writer can remember that a heavy pall of smoke drifted over the prairies as far south as Swift Current, Saskatchewan, so thick as to make the sun look like a dark red disc at mid-day. Two sunspots were clearly visible to the naked eye. The newspapers featured stories, asserting that the smoke came from “The Peace River Country”. Fortunately the fires did not come south to the Beattie holdings along the Peace River at Gold Bar.
There was another trail through the Pine Pass, but little actual raiding is recorded along that route. Old Timers in the Chetwynd area speak of raids from the South by Indians whom they described as fierce and uncivilized, and whom they called “Siwashes.”
The name “Siwash” as in “Siwash” rock is associated with the West Coast Indians. Alexander Mackenzie found the coast Indians to be hostile; in fact his men feared them. However, there is no reason to believe that Coast Indians ever penetrated this country.
On the other hand, another branch of the Athapaskan-speakers, the Carriers, lived in the Rocky Mountain Trench, but were accustomed to trade with the Coast Indians for products from the sea. The Carriers have commonly been described as being more warlike than the Beavers. Somehow the name “Siwash” may have rubbed off on them. In any case, old-timers warn one that still the most insulting name one can call a local Indian is “Siwash.”
This bit of lore made no impression on this writer until a curious fact was brought out by an inquiry addressed to the Canadian Permanent Committee on Geographical Names. There are three hills about twenty-five miles south of East Pine and not far to the east of the lush Lone Prairie area. The hills are called “Nini” (4,098 ft.), “Nunki” (4,100 ft.) and “Noetai” (4,100 ft.). All names were submitted by BC Land Surveyor, J. F. Templeton and were approved on January 16, 1950. Perhaps significantly, these are Carrier Indian words for “joy”, “dowry” and “dance,” respectively. Usually such names are those used by local Indians. Whether these names indicate a Carrier settlement in that area, and reflect some joyful marriage occasion, we do not know yet. If it is so, it is quite reasonable to believe that they could raid the local Beavers on occasion by following the course of the River to its confluence with the Pine, in which case they could have been the legendary – and hated – “Siwashes.”
The old Edson Trail seems to have followed another ancient war trail over the Kleskun Hills a few miles east of Grande Prairie. A very old-timer showed this writer two boulder-covered Indian graves on the north side of the present provincial park ground. One was said to contain three skeletons, the other either three or five. He said that tradition had it that some fifty or sixty years ago the last Indian fight took place there, in which several Beavers were killed. There was a running fight across country to the neighborhood of the present-day Sikanni Chief River crossing of the Alaska Highway. A reference to a decisive battle there occurs in a travel guide as follows:
“Near Sikanni Mountain overlooking the river bridge occurred the last of the Beaver Massacres against the Sikanni Indians. The Beavers visited the tribe and offered to discharge their ‘detonating bows’ for the benefit of the Sikanni children. Everyone watched carefully as the Beavers primed their weapons and suddenly fired into the midst of men, women and children. Dozens of unfortunate Sikanni were slaughtered by this treacherous act.”
No source of this story was credited nor was any date suggested. It may have been coincidental that the “last fights” of the Beavers occurred at these two known spots.
There seems to have been no more love lost between the Beaver and the Sikanni, than between Beaver and Cree. To this day, each of these groups expresses disdain for the other.
The Chipewyans bullied the Dogribs and the Yellow-knives; the Crees bullied the Chipewyans; and they all felt it was safe to attack the timid Hares and the Slaves in spite of their reputation as medicine men. These people, the Slaves, made some use of wooden shields and armor of willow twigs lashed together, but armor does not seem to have been used by the other tribes.
Of course if we look further afield, the French and the British have been at war with each other more often than not; the French and the Germans are not best of friends; nobody likes the Russians very much. What about the Balkans for that matter ….?