1813: A Nez Perce thief, by the Pacific Fur Company

Add comment June 1st, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1813, Anglo-American fur trader John Clarke had an indigenous Nez Perce summarily hanged for stealing a goblet … dangerously poisoning relations between the respective communities in the Pacific Northwest.

We lay our day’s scene in the Oregon Territory, far frontier of then-only-prospective American continental expansion, beyond even the fathomless reaches of the Louisiana Purchase. The Stars and Stripes had penetrated there courtesy of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, but British, Spanish, and Russian expeditions had planted their own flags too, to say nothing of the claims of its native inhabitants.

And all these claimants had one common desire: the pelts of the beavers swarming that verdant sector.

The New York businessman John Jacob Astor bought a stake in the fur trade in the form of the Pacific Fur Company, and set down the outpost of Astoria, Oregon. (Astor was destined to become one of the republic’s early homegrown plutocrats, a fact which is merely incidental for our purposes. It was the fur business that propelled him to wealth.)

One agent of the P.F.C. was a singularly undiplomatic trader aged about 31 summers, John Clarke. Calling on a mixed Nez Perce-Palouse village to trade his canoes for horses to make an overland journey, Clarke was irritated to find that prices weren’t to his liking and the locals enjoyed pilfering his baubles.

American scribbler Washington Irving recorded the ensuing events:

[Clarke] was a tall, good-looking man, and somewhat given to pomp and circumstance, which made him an object of note in the eyes of the wondering savages. He was stately, too, in his appointments, and had a silver goblet or drinking cup, out of which he would drink with a magnificent air, and then lock it up in a large gardevin, which accompanied him in his travels, and stood in his tent. This goblet had originally been sent as a present from Mr. Astor to Mr. M’Kay, the partner who had unfortunately been blown up in the Tonquin. As it reached Astoria after the departure of that gentleman, it had remained in the possession of Mr. Clarke.

A silver goblet was too glittering a prize not to catch the eye of a Pierced-nose. It was like the shining tin case of John Reed. Such a wonder had never been seen in the land before. The Indians talked about it to one another. They marked the care with which it was deposited in the gardevin, like a relic in its shrine, and concluded that it must be a “great medicine.” That night Mr. Clarke neglected to lock up his treasure; in the morning the sacred casket was open—the precious relic gone!

Clarke was now outrageous. All the past vexations that he had suffered from this pilfering community rose to mind, and he threatened that, unless the goblet was promptly returned, he would hang the thief should he eventually discover him. The day [May 31st, 1813] gassed away, however, without the restoration of the cup. At night sentinels were secretly posted about the camp. With all their vigilance a Pierced-nose contrived to get into the camp unperceived, and to load himself with booty; it was only on his retreat that he was discovered and taken. At daybreak the culprit was brought to trial, and promptly convicted. He stood responsible for all the spoliations of the camp, the precious goblet among the number, and Mr. Clarke passed sentence of death upon him.

A gibbet was accordingly constructed of oars; the chief of the village and his people were assembled and the culprit was produced, with his legs and arms pinioned. Clarke then made a harangue. He reminded the tribe of the benefits he had bestowed upon them during his former visits, and the many thefts an other misdeeds which he had overlooked. The prisoner especially had always been peculiarly well treated by the white men, but had repeatedly been guilty of pilfering. He was to be punished for his own misdeeds, and as a warning to is tribe.

The Indians now gathered round Mr. Clarke and interceded for the culprit, They were willing he should be punished severely, but implored that his life might be spared. The companions, too, of Mr. Clarke, considered the sentence too severe, and advised him to mitigate it; but he was inexorable. He was not naturally a stern or cruel man; but from his boyhood he had lived in the Indian country among lndian traders, and held the life of a savage extremely cheap. He was, moreover, a firm believer in the doctrine of intimidation.

Farnham, a clerk, a tall “Green Mountain boy” from Vermont, who had been robbed of a pistol, acted as executioner. The signal was given, and the poor Pierced-nose, resisting, struggling, and screaming, in the most frightful manner, was launched into eternity. The Indians stood round gazing in silence and mute awe, but made no attempt to oppose the execution, nor testified any emotion when it was over. They locked up their feelings within their bosoms until an opportunity should arrive to gratify them with — a bloody act of vengeance.

Having made his grand gesture, Clarke quickly realized that he had enacted it while his small party was alone in an Indian village where they were at the mercy of their far more numerous hosts. Fearing a backlash, the white traders accordingly hightailed it back to Astoria, and then evacuated Astoria itself.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Occupation and Colonialism,Oregon,Public Executions,Summary Executions,USA,Wrongful Executions

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1503: Anacaona and the caciques of Xaragua

4 comments September 29th, 2009 Headsman

Sometime around this date in 1503, the Spanish destroyed the independent territory of Xaragua on Hispaniola in a bloodbath of native caciques — capped with the ignominious public hanging of the Taino queen Anacaona.

The widow of the chief Caonabo (Spanish link), who had been captured and shipped to Spain by Christopher Columbus himself, Anacaona inherited leadership of one of the principle Taino realms of Hispaniola, present-day Haiti and Dominican Republic.

Spain had the werewithal to be extremely crappy to the Hispaniola “Indians”, but it would take a few years to have sufficient presence to conquer them all.

By 1503, after a decade’s slaughter and disease had decimated the native populace, villainous Spanish Governor Nicolas de Ovando was ready to dominate the whole island.

Calling a meeting with the Xaragua caciques, Ovando’s troops enjoyed the Taino hospitality. Bartolome de las Casas describes the festivities:

Xaraqua is the Fourth Kingdom, and as it were the Centre and Middle of the whole Island, and is not to be equalled for fluency of Speech and politeness of Idiom or Dialect by any Inhabitants of the other Kingdoms, and in Policy and Morality transcends them all. Herein the Lords and Peers abounded, and the very Populace excelled in in stature and habit of Body: Their King was Behechio by name and who had a Sister called Anacaona, and both the Brother as well as Sister had loaded the Spaniards with Benefits (pdf) and singular acts of Civility, and by delivering them from the evident and apparent danger of Death, did signal services to the Castilian Kings. Behechio dying the supreme power of the Kingdom fell to Anacaona: But it happened one day, that the Governour of an Island, attended by 60 Horse, and 30 Foot (now the Cavalry was sufficiently able to unpeople not only the Isle, but also the whole Continent) he summoned about 300 … noblemen to appear before him, and commanded the most powerful of them, being first crouded into a Thatcht Barn or Hovel, to be exposed to the fury of the merciless Fire, and the rest to be pierced with Lances, and run through with the point of the Sword, by a multitude of Men: And Anacaona herself who (as we said before) sway’d the Imperial Scepter, to her greater honor was hanged on a Gibbet. And if it fell out that any person instigated by Compassion or Covetousness, did entertain any Indian Boys and mount them on Horses, to prevent their Murder, another was appointed to follow them, who ran them through the back or in the hinder parts, and if they chanced to escape Death, and fall to the ground, they immediately cut off his Legs; and when any of those Indians, that survived these Barbarous Massacres, betook themselves to an Isle eight miles distant, to escape their Butcheries, they were then committed to servitude during Life.

Horror followed horror. Washington Irving‘s History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus:

Contemporary writers … have concurred in representing Anacaona, as remarkable for her native propriety and dignity. She was adored by her subjects, so as to hold a kind of dominion over them, even during the lifetime of her brother; she is said to have been skilled in composing the areytos or legendary ballads of her nation, and may have conduced much towards producing that superior degree or refinement remarked among her people … After the massacre ot Xaragua, the destruction of its inhabitants still continued. The favourite nephew of Anacaona, the cacique Guaora who had fled to the mountains, was hunted like a wild beast, until he was taken, and likewise hanged. For six months the Spaniards continued ravaging the country with horse and foot, under the pretext of quelling insurrections; for, wherever the affrighted natives took refuge in their despair, herding in dismal caverns and the fastnesses of the mountains, they were represented as assembling in arms to make a head of rebellion. Having at length hunted them out of their retreats, destroyed many, and reduced the survivors to the most deplorable misery and abject submission, the whole of that part of the island was considered as restored to good order; and in commemoration of this great triumph, Ovando founded a town near to the lake, which he called Santa Maria de la verdadera Paz. (St. Mary of the true Peace.)

Such is the tragical story of the delightful region of Xaragua, and of its amiable and hospitable people. A place which the Europeans, by their own account, found a perfect paradise, but which, by their vile passions, they filled with horror and desolation.

The martyred artist-queen continues to inspire art of her own.

(More — in Spanish — about this Cheo Feliciano song.)

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Artists,Arts and Literature,Borderline "Executions",Burned,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Dominican Republic,Execution,Haiti,Hanged,Heads of State,History,Known But To God,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Royalty,Spain,Summary Executions,Torture,Women

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