Bloody Falls massacre

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The Massacre at Bloody Falls was an incident that took place during Samuel Hearne's exploration of the Coppermine River on the 17 July 1771. Chipewyan and "Copper Indian"[1] Dene men led by Hearne's guide and companion Matonabbee attacked a group of Copper Inuit[2] camped by rapids approximately 15 km (9.3 mi) upstream from the mouth of the Coppermine River. Just after midnight on 17 July, the Dene set upon the Inuit camp and killed approximately 20 men, women, and children. Hearne was traumatized by the massacre, saying "...and I am confident that my features must have feelingly expressed how sincerely I was affected at the barbarous scene I then witnessed; even at this hour I cannot reflect on the transactions of that horrid day without shedding tears."[3] He named the waterfall Bloody Falls.[4]

The site of the massacre, which was the traditional home of the Kogluktogmiut, is now located in Kugluk/Bloody Falls Territorial Park near Kugluktuk, Nunavut. It was designated a National Historic Site in 1978.

In 1996, Dene and Inuit representatives participated in a healing ceremony to reconcile the centuries-old grievance.[5]

The incident is referred to in the John Newlove poem Samuel Hearne in Wintertime.

Genesis of the massacre[edit]

Towards the end of May 1771, Samuel Hearne began to notice that the Chipewyan Indians accompanying him on his expedition had motives other than his planned survey of the Coppermine River.[6]

On the party's arrival at Peshew Lake, Matonabbee and a number of the men accompanying Hearne began to make arrangements for their wives and children to be left behind. Later on, when the party arrived at Clowey, each of the Chipewyan men crafted shields from thin boards, 60 cm (2 ft) wide and 90 cm (3 ft) long.

Hearne noted that his party was joined by a number of Indians who were solely interested in propagating a war against the Inuit.[6]

In the travel narrative describing his journey, he claimed that as the group advanced north into Inuit territories, it became evident that his companions were gradually plotting an act of "savage", "shocking", and "brutish" violence.[7]

Hearne began to remonstrate with the Indians, but failed in his attempt. In his account of the events that transpired, he states that "I endeavored as much as possible to persuade them from putting their inhuman design into execution; but so far were my intreaties from having the wished-for effect, that it was concluded that I was actuated by cowardice."[6]

On 1 June 1771, the few remaining women and children, as well as the dogs and the heavy luggage, were left behind by the party and a group of about 60 men advanced north, heading towards the Coppermine River.[6]

Four weeks later, on 2 July 1771, the party came across a group of Copper Indians, who on learning the purpose of the exploration party's journey, supplied the party with canoes and other necessities. However, 17 men abandoned the exploration party in the coming days, claiming that the difficulty of the trek outweighed the pleasure that was to be derived from killing the Inuit.[6]

The remaining members of the exploration party arrived at the Coppermine River on 14 July 1771. Immediately on arrival, as Hearne commenced his survey, three scouts were sent to locate any Inuit who may have been camping near the river. The scouts returned on 16 July 1771, and reported that five Inuit tents had been found on the west side of the river. This news brought the survey work to a complete halt, and the men began to prepare for war.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hearne, Samuel. (1745-1792) A Journey to the Northern Ocean: The Adventures of Samuel Hearne. Surrey, BC:TouchWood Editions.
  2. ^ Condon, R.G. (1987). Inuit youth : growth and change in the Canadian Arctic. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. p. 25. ISBN 0-8135-1212-3. 
  3. ^ From: Samuel Hearne, A Journey from Prince of Wales's Fort in Hudson's Bay to the Northern Ocean, 1769, 1770, 1771, 1772 (London, Eng: Strahan and Cadell, 1795) at the University of Western Ontario
  4. ^ Samuel Hearne's Overland Expedition 1770-72 at the National Maritime Museum
  5. ^ "CBC's David McLauchlin dies at 56". CBC News. May 26, 2003. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f Brand, Michael J. (July 1992). "Samuel Hearne and the massacre at Bloody Falls". Polar Record. 28 (166): 229–232. doi:10.1017/s0032247400020696. 
  7. ^ Clifford, Jim. "True Stories: Materializing History at Bloody Falls". Retrieved 4 April 2013. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 67°44′39.20″N 115°22′00.09″W / 67.7442222°N 115.3666917°W / 67.7442222; -115.3666917 (Bloody Falls Massacre)