SPLINTLUM, PAUL, Lillooet labourer and convicted murderer; d. 12 Dec. 1913 in Kamloops, B.C.
Nothing is known of Paul Splintlum’s early years except that he was a member of the Lillooet nation and that he was known to ranchers around Clinton, B.C., as an agricultural labourer during haying season. That there is any record of this Lillooet is unusual; what makes him even more exceptional is the circumstances which led to it. Splintlum, along with his compatriot and friend Moses Paul, was convicted of the murder of provincial police constable Alexander Kindness in 1912. Kindness died while pursuing two Indians – the “wild boys” as the natives called them – who were already wanted for the murders near Clinton in 1911 of William Whyte, a miner, and Ah Wye, a woodcutter. Whyte, it was claimed, had been killed by Moses Paul. Taken into custody, he escaped and allegedly killed the crown’s only witness, the woodcutter. In both the escape and the murder he was apparently assisted by Splintlum. The two eluded capture for over a year.
Then, in May 1912, local rancher Charles Truarn spotted two Indians he took to be the “outlaws.” In the chase and gunfight that followed, Kindness was killed and another constable wounded. The two Indians, whoever they were, remained at large, “terrorizing” the district’s non-native population despite the redoubled efforts of the provincial police. Convinced that the fugitives could not have eluded them for so long without the assistance of their compatriots, the provincials, with the help of Indian Affairs inspector Thomas J. Cummiskey, appealed to the chiefs of the bands around Lillooet and Kamloops for aid. The request did not elicit an immediate response, but in mid December 1912 Lillooet chief Jimmy Retasket (Tyee Jimmy) informed the constable at Clinton that he knew the whereabouts of the outlaws and could, if given some leeway, secure their surrender. This leeway amounted to a guarantee of non-interference by the police and a promise that the province would reimburse the expenses of those involved in the capture. Though concerned about the implications of these conditions, the constable urged his supervisor and the government to agree, and they did. Effectively, then, Retasket, along with the Shuswap chiefs of the Kamloops, High Bar, Leon Creek, Pavilion, Canoe Creek, and Clinton reserves, had secured control over law enforcement.
Three days after Christmas, the chiefs summoned Cummiskey and Kamloops’s chief constable, Joseph Burr, to a meeting in the Ashcroft court-house. Comparing Cummiskey to Sir Matthew Baillie Begbie* and George Anthony Walkem*, judges who had found favour with British Columbia’s native peoples, the chiefs announced their intention to “do right” and turn over Paul and Splintlum. In reply, Burr reassured them that the outlaws would receive a fair trial, but said that, if found guilty, they would have “to pay the penalty with their own lives.” With the preliminaries over, the group proceeded to the nearby Bonaparte Reserve, where about 100 Indians had gathered. Cummiskey asked them to “kneel down and give the sign of redemption – the cross – which they did,” and, after delivering a speech about the Ten Commandments, he received the “weeping outlaws” into custody.
Tried twice for the murder of Kindness – in the first trial, in Vernon, the jury could not reach agreement – Splintlum was found guilty at the New Westminster assizes and sentenced to death. Both trials centred on questions of identity. Although all of the witnesses agreed that it was an Indian who had shot Kindness, only one, rancher James Dunbar Boyd, actually identified Splintlum as the shooter. There was some question about Boyd’s reliability, but clearly the jury believed him; there was also circumstantial evidence connecting Splintlum to the crime.
Just two weeks short of a year after his surrender, on 12 Dec. 1913 Splintlum stood on the gallows in the Kamloops jail-yard. As the sun rose, the drop fell, ending, to that point, the longest criminal case in the province’s history. Paul, who was sentenced to life as Splintlum’s accessory, would die at New Westminster penitentiary in 1917.
The simplistic and “thrilling” account in the Kamloops Inland Sentinel of Splintlum’s capture and hanging belies the contested nature of his trial and sentencing and the bad feeling they generated. The chiefs felt they had been betrayed by the provincial and federal governments: they had engineered the surrender of Paul and Splintlum, they insisted, on the understanding that neither of them would be hanged.
More broadly, the circumstances surrounding their capture indicate that native peoples were not simply the victims of an alien legal process which had contributed to their straightforward marginalization after the fur-trade period. Constable A. N. O’Daunt, who had assisted in the arrest of Paul and Splintlum, observed in his report that the police had “merely followed the practice of years dealing with native tribes and tried to get at them through the Chiefs.” In this the police followed the fur traders, who had routinely attempted to gain the cooperation of Indians in capturing wrongdoers. Even after confederation in 1871, and well into the 20th century, it was not unusual for the provincial police to employ Indians in tracking fugitives or to remind native groups of their duty to assist in the capture of criminals. Homicides were not the only cases in which Indians were called upon: their participation was crucial to the prosecution of those who sold them liquor and to the enforcement of the Indian Act. So important were Indians to law enforcement that O’Daunt viewed the practice as “the only reliable way of dealing with Indian wrongdoers in this country.”
In the case of the “wild boys,” the actions of Jimmy Retasket and the Shuswap chiefs suggest that native peoples could use the law strategically to further their own interests. The chiefs’ initial desire to have their involvement commemorated with medals may indicate that they hoped to gain status and power within their communities and vis-à-vis other native groups. Moreover, O’Daunt reported disagreements in the communities over who deserved recognition for capturing the “wild boys.” The Lillooet, he wrote, “are sore at having the credit of their deed taken from them.” The Shuswap, who were not directly involved in the capture (though it did occur in their territory), also claimed credit. Their claim was reinforced by the venue of the legal proceedings. Despite the Lillooet chiefs’ attempts to change it to Lillooet, near which Splintlum’s family and relatives lived, the “wild boys” first stood trial in Vernon and Splintlum was executed in Kamloops, both in Shuswap territory. In view of these events, native engagement with the law might be read as a use of state power to gain leverage in civil society, which is all the more intriguing because of the cross-cultural context in which it occurred.
BCARS, GR 419, vol.178, 1913, file 184. NA, RG 13, B1, 1463, file 494a. Inland Sentinel (Kamloops, B.C.), 12, 31 Dec. 1913. Robin Fisher, Contact and conflict: Indian-European relations in British Columbia, 1774–1890 (Vancouver, 1977). Tina Loo, Making law, order, and authority in British Columbia, 1821–1871 (Toronto, 1994). T. W. Paterson, Outlaws of western Canada (Langley, B.C., 1977). J. P. Reid, “Principles of vengeance: fur trappers, Indians, and retaliation for homicide in the transboundary North American west,” Western Hist. Quarterly (Logan, Utah), 24 (1993): 21–43.