What follows is an account, kept in the journal of the fur trading fort at Port Simpson, of the events of the war between the Tsimshian and the Haida of May 1835. Compare this with this oral history of the same ware as told by an old Haida Man (who fought there as a young man).
The most impressive of all the harbor scenes must have been the annual departure of the canoes for the oolichan fishery on the Nass. They assembled during February and early March. Then one day the seagulls would give the signal and the canoes would sweep across the bay and out of sight beyond Birnie Island. More than seven hundred canoes took part in this flitting which might occupy two or three days.
March 8, 1835 - "About 100 canoes started for Nass this morning tho' it was raining heavily".
"In May and June the canoes rallied again at Fort Simpson, this time loaded with dried oolicahns, grease and house boards.
May 19, 1837 - "A great number of Tsimsheans arrived from Nass, they were arriving from daylight in the morning till night, a continued stream of canoes crossing the harbor all day."
"The returning Tsimshian were joined in McLoughlin's Harbour by people of other tribes who came to purchase oolichan grease with canoe loads of furs, potatoes and other barter. The waterfront seethed with arrivals and canoe crews, including women and children, camped uneasily about the fort, for many dialects of may languages were spoken and many feuds smoldered. We have the story of one that turned the port into a battleground. It was chronicled in detail because the for, contrary to Hudson's Bay policy, became involved.
"By May 22nd of 1839, seven hundred and seventy-six canoes loaded with Tsimshean had returned from the Nass, and by May 25th a major Skidigate-Tsimshean row was in progress. It began as a trading quarrel and, in no time at all flashed into warfare with shooting and causalities. "Mr. Kennedy exposed himself greatly to stop the firing and afterwards even went to the Tsimshean camp and brought a prisoner they had taken."
Like so many cease-fires, this one did not last through the night and once again the fort officers had to effect a peace so they could hustle the band of Skidegates into their canoes. Before all were embarked, Tsimsheans opened fire on them and for once the haughty Haidas panicked. Forty men, women and children who were still on the beach, fled to the fort while out in the bay, Skidigates were shooting and being shot, jumping out of canoes and being hauled into others. The most aggressive men and women abandoned their weak comrades and commandeered craft with strong crews. Fourteen such canoes paddled to safety. Indian civilization still hinged on survival of the fittest, in its simplest form.
The Tsimsheans swooped down on the helpless canoes that were left and there were bloodshed and death in the harbor. Some of the survivors were brought to the fort by friendly Tsimsheans and some were ransomed by relatives already there. The fort was finally giving sanctuary to sixty-eight Skidigates. It was May 29th before another embarkation was attempted:
"At one o'clock in the morning, the tide answering and it being calm, We sent
off the Skidigate Indians. We furnished them with Ammunition to defend
themselves and gave them one of our canoes as the two they got back from the
Tsimsheans would not hold them all. They seemed to be very little obligated to
us for all this attention and care we have taken of them since they have been
here and took the whole as a matter of course and were begging for many things
more than they got. But this is their way, and nothing else is to be expected
of them. [There are no words for thank you in the Coast Languages.] Everyone
among them seems to be for himself.