What must have been one of the largest old burial places has been totally obliterated. At Dunvegan were buried not only the Indians who clustered about the post, but the infant half-Indian sons of the early trader, Daniel Harmon. Also buried here was the murdered trader, Guy Hughes of Fort St. John. The remains of the legendary Pouce Coupe or Poos-ka-pee are reputed to lie there.
There must be older burial sites from the Salisbury Flats near Peace River Town, as far north as Fort Chipewyan, which marks the northeast corner of the Peace River Country. No researches on these areas have come to hand.
Nearer Dawson Creek, the author found evidence of a burial ground on the crest of one of the hills of the Bear Mountain chain, which lies south of Dawson Creek and Pouce Coupe. The hill at the end of the heavily wooded range, in the late 1930’s had a grassy patch in which abundant wild strawberries grew in tall, rank grass – a sort of miniature prairie. While berry picking, the author came upon numerous long, low stone piles, placed at haphazard angles, and hidden by grass except when searched for. The growth of lichen on the stones and the accumulation of soil around them indicated that they had been there for some time. Before a closer examination and count could be made, the field was cleared and ploughed.
Another burial place was well known as “Indian Hill” to settlers who homesteaded about five miles west of Dawson Creek and south of the Alaska Highway, but it, too, is now obliterated.
There are many others, such as a large one north of Worsley but, unlike the sacred burial grounds along the Caribou trail and the Fraser Canyon, they have not been “kept up”. Our Indians have been nomadic, and greatly depleted in numbers by the flu and other epidemics and not able to maintain them. Enough remained to show that the eastern Peace Indians buried in the ground and covered the remains with heavy stones.
One such grave and the vandalized remains of another are near the Kleskun Hills’ picnic site. An old-timer, now deceased, told the author years ago that these two graves contained several warriors killed in the last great running battle which ended far North along the Sikanni River. The Beavers were said to have made a stand on these easily defended hills for a time, losing several of their braves. On last examination the stones from one grave were scattered, but if an excavation had been made, the hole was very shallow or had been filled up again. We were told that some oil-field workers were the “investigators”.
From Mr. Eric Logan, an old-timer in the Moberly Lake district, Mr. Lee Phillips brought back some stories that throw light on both the early history of the area, and, specifically, about burial practices.
The Saulteau had a large encampment on the Sukunka River prior to the flu epidemic of 1918. About 1920 they moved to Moberly Lake, when Harry Garbitt moved his store from Lone Prairie.
“You can still see the remains of the old log buildings of Chief Gwillim, and “Old John” the medicine man and Bill Desjarlais’ dad.
“There are many graves of these people on Martin Creek. There is a little hill . . . where the Kyah family and others have been buried . . . about forty graves.”
Although its location is pretty well lost, there’s also supposed to be a graveyard near Twidwell Bend where approximately two hundred Beavers were “buried”. In early times they were mostly hung from trees in dug-out baskets. All of their belongings were placed with them. This was during the years when the Indians trailed from McLeod’s Lake by a route which went past the west end of Moberly Lake. The Beaver Indians from Halfway also used this trail, and some came by Jackfish Lake to the Sukunka Valley. Many of them could have been of the Beaver tribe which Maurice Paquette told of disappearing while he was overseas during World War 1. When he returned the population of seven or eight hundred at the west end of Moberly lake had declined to a very few. “There were graves all over the country. The Indians would never talk about it.”
Further concerning the great burying ground at Twidwell Bend at the junction of Sukunka and Pine rivers.
“A Swede came to farm . . . not far from the graveyard. He was burning the grass of the meadowland and burned the Beaver graveyard. The Indians held a council which turned into a war dance, . . . I am told, at “Sundance Lakes.” They decided to kill the man for grave robbery. He heard about the meeting and skipped the country.”
Then the Beavers began burying underground in shallow graves, mostly not over a foot deep. Old Chief Gwillim is buried about six inches underground in a big graveyard on the west end of the reserve. There is another smaller one on a flat overlooking the Lake above Alexis Gauthier’s house, used as late as 1940. One can assume that these were non-baptized Indians. Mr. Phillips also reported that the Cree graves he had seen during his long years as a trader in many parts of the country were all underground and very shallow. Around them the Indians built little “picket” fences of sapling sticks about an inch in diameter, which they renewed at intervals for a long time.
The old burial ground at Hudson’s Hope was on top of the sandy ridge overlooking the present village, in 1957. Many graves, once neatly picketed, were in evidence, each with a little grave-house over the grave. They were of one type with a long, low gable roof. The oldest were clearly made of hand-hewn boards, later ones of rough-sawn lumber, and the newest ones similar to a “pup tent” of canvas. A curious thing about so many of them was the use of deep sky-blue paint. On some it was almost weathered off. One of the newest, a canvas one, had been decorated with blue stripes, neatly done. Why blue was chosen, we have not ascertained. It is not a natural pigment like the red, yellow, and black earths. Also, blue is not one of the colours attributed to the Beaver religious symbol. Similar grave houses are still in good repair at the Moberly Lake graveyard in St. Theresa’s Churchyard.
The author has been told that the grave houses were intended to protect the personal belongings of the deceased which were left on the grave to sustain his “shadow” on its journey to the next world. It was the gravest sin to steal such articles, for it deprived the deceased of their use for all eternity. Indians observed the taboo scrupulously, but white men transgressed.