In the winter of 1913, high in the Canadian Arctic, two Catholic priests set out on a dangerous mission to do what no white men had ever attempted: reach a group of utterly isolated Eskimos and convert them. Farther and farther north the priests trudged, through a frigid and bleak country known as the Barren Lands, until they reached the place where the Coppermine River dumps into the Arctic Ocean.
Their fate, and the fate of the people they hoped to teach about God, was about to take a tragic turn. Three days after reaching their destination, the two priests were murdered, their livers removed and eaten. Suddenly, after having survived some ten thousand years with virtually no contact with people outside their remote and forbidding land, the last hunter-gatherers in North America were about to feel the full force of Western justice.
As events unfolded, one of the Arctic’s most tragic stories became one of North America’s strangest and most memorable police investigations and trials. Given the extreme remoteness of the murder site, it took nearly two years for word of the crime to reach civilization. When it did, a remarkable Canadian Mountie named Denny LaNauze led a trio of constables from the Royal Northwest Mounted Police on a three-thousand-mile journey in search of the bodies and the murderers. Simply surviving so long in the Arctic would have given the team a place in history; when they returned to Edmonton with two Eskimos named Sinnisiak and Uluksuk, their work became the stuff of legend.
Newspapers trumpeted the arrival of the Eskimos, touting them as two relics of the Stone Age. During the astonishing trial that followed, the Eskimos were acquitted, despite the seating of an all-white jury. So outraged was the judge that he demanded both a retrial and a change of venue, with himself again presiding. The second time around, predictably, the Eskimos were convicted.
A near perfect parable of late colonialism, as well as a rich exploration of the differences between European Christianity and Eskimo mysticism, Jenkins’s Bloody Falls of the Coppermine possesses the intensity of true crime and the romance of wilderness adventure. Here is a clear-eyed look at what happens when two utterly alien cultures come into violent conflict. ... Read more
Customer Reviews (7)
I've read this book, but long before I researched the murders and subsequent events because I was re-issuing George Douglas's Lands Forlorn. Douglas met one of the priests Father Rouvier and spent a lot of time with him during one winter and spring.Highly recommended book and if you'd like to read another classic, try Lands Forlorn, and you'll be able to place the priests' murders in much better context.
More interesting as end of book approaches.
The beginning of this book is a bit difficult to follow and somewhat slow to start.You have all of these French priests, some other trappers and travelers, all going from and going to different places.It's difficult to follow when things happened, who was there, etc, as well, but the book does get more interesting as it goes on, and whatever opinions you may have about how things transpired and who was right/wrong will surely change as you read about the trial of these Eskimos.To someone relatively well-educated about the Arctic, the book is another one that proves white people really wrecked the Inuit, their culture and their management of their lives.It is also interesting that mere minutes of misunderstanding and someone's poor choice (however insignificant it may seem) resulted in so much time and money in the future.Throughout the book, the author gives interesting insights (ie, how seemingly uneducated it was on the part of the Catholic church to try to convert people in such a remote and different environment) without really injecting too much opinion and ruining the events of the novel.
All in all, good book about a little-known event.The author probably should have put part of the epilogue into the prologue to present his thoughts before the book began; that may have made it a bit more interesting for me.I would've also liked to see a full map of NWT/Nunavut in the front instead of a zoomed-in map, just to show how remote this area is to readers who are unfamiliar with the geography.
"a crucible in which to ponder the history of the North American frontier."
Warning!If you do not know how this story turns out and you get this book in Hard Cover, the inside flap of the dust jacket summarizes the whole story including the outcome.At least let it be somewhat open-ended.I was so disappointed, I actually put off reading this book. Dumb!This book turned out to be one of the best and exciting books I've read in a long time.The story and the writing definitely made up for knowing how it ends.
McKay Jenkins does an excellent job researching and writing this tale of murder, investigation, and trial involving a collision of cultures between the Inuit people in the Arctic and the western world of missionaries, law enforcement, and jury system.Priest Jean-Baptiste Rouviere, who was later joined by the often ill-tempered priest Guillaume LeRoux, set out to the far reaches of the north with no hunting, carpentry, or navigational skills, no experience in the extreme northern climate, and no knowledge of the native language.They were aided, for a time, by the legendary, albeit mostly unreliable, frontiersman Jack Hornby.
Inexplicably, in October 1913, the two priests began their trek north following a group of natives (including Sinnisiak who was known for a near violent altercation with Hornby) at the onset of winter while in poor physical condition.It proved a fatal decision.They met their end at Bloody Falls where the Coppermine River empties into Coronation Gulf.Stories began to circulate throughout the Northwest Territories that the priests were killed by two Eskimos--Sinnisiak and Uluksuk.
Inspector Charles Dearing and Corporal Wyndham Bruce led investigations into the priests' disappearance, finding many of their articles in the possession of natives.Once they found the two suspects and received confessions, they took them to Canada for trial.But did the natives, in fact, act in self defense against the two men of God?A jury of white men--hardly a jury of their peers--would decide.
The book proved very exciting and entertaining.I looked forward to picking up the story where I left off each evening and was actually bummed when it ended.I definitely recommend Bloody Falls of the Coppermine.Five stars all the way!
Wow!What an interesting tale of murder and justice in the Arctic Circle at the turn of the last century.I had no idea how much I would enjoy this book when I picked it up.It has a lot to say about colonialism and the concept of justice.
chill down your spine
"Now one of virtue's main gifts is a contempt for death, which is the means of furnishing our life with easy tranquillity, of giving us a pure and friendly taste for it; without it every other pleasure is snuffed out." Michel de Montaigne-1572 from Essay To Philosphize Is to Learn How to Die.
You feel a great sense of outrange, sorrow, shame, and pity after reading this book.Mr Jenkins' vivid description of the unbelievable tale of tragic Artic Circle ,tale of strang murder trail in 1913.You cannot help but feel outranged how the Eskimos were unjustly treated; you cannot help but feel sorrow how the Eskimos would be unprepared for the "white man" after thousand years of isolation; you cannot help but feel shame for the all-white jury and how they behaved during the trail; you cannot help but feel pity for the courage Eskimos displayed and injustice they faced.This book is about crime and punishment at Artic Circle, a clash of Western civilization and native culture, a man's courage and will to survive in a hostile envinoment (ie the Western developed world), a very clear example of how not to impose one's views and culture customs on another people.The book also contained many eye-opening black and white photography of the highest historical and cultural importance.I thank the author Mr. Jenkins for giving me the opportunity to learn about this bone-chilling and interesting history.
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