Tuesday, 4 September 2007

"Slumach's Tomahawk" in doubt

Gerry Armstrong, great-grandson of Dr. Richard Irving Bentley, kindly reported that “Slumach’s tomahawk” is still in his possession. He remembers the smoking pleasures it gave him and his siblings as kids, and told about its recent failure (in the hands of a burglar) to break a lock in his house. Smoking? Yes, this a pipe tomahawk.

It is said that this tomahawk had been taken from Slumach’s possessions after his death by Dr. Bentley and, as Gerry Armstrong was told, that Dr. Bentley was the physician who pronounced Slumach dead. But the official records don’t show Dr. Bentley’s presence at Slumach’s hanging, at least not in an official capacity. It was a Dr. Isaac M. McLean who certified Slumach’s death.

The picture of the tomahawk shown here appears in most of the Slumach stories of Antonson et al and most recently also in The Province of 2 September 2007. The corresponding text suggests that it was “of the type traded by the Hudson’s Bay Company in the 1880s.”

I doubt that the HBC ever called their axes tomahawks and I can't imagine (please prove me wrong) that pipe-tomahawks were sold over the counter at Fort Langley at any time. “Pipe-hawks,” ceremonial tomahawks, presentation tomahawks and fighting tomahawks have their place in the cultures of the US Northern Plains and the countries “back east,” but seem so foreign to our Native traditional culture.

It seems so improbable that one would have been in Slumach’s hands and in his days hiding from arrest he would have carried a true axe, if he even carried one at all. Dr. Bentley’s tomahawk may therefore have an entirely different tale to tell than what was told in the family.

An axe turns up twice in the Slumach story, but it was not Slumach’s axe. Charlie Seymour, the sole witness of the murder committed by Slumach, saw an axe at Slumach’s camp that he recognized as the victim's, Louis Bee. The second mention of an axe is by Amanda Charnley who remembered having been told that Bee went after Slumach with an axe--that Slumach acted in self defence, but that is not what happened.

Illustration from Slumach's Gold, In Search of a Legend by Rick Antonson et al, 1972

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