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Thompson River Indians

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An important tribe of British Columbia of Salishan linguistic stock, also known as Knife Indians, occupying the country about the junction of Thompson and Fraser Rivers, Yale district, from about Yale up nearly to Lillooet on the Fraser, and as far as Ashcroft on the Thompson. They surrounded the cognate Lillooet, and Shuswap on the north; the Sechelt, Squamish, Cowichan, and Songish on the west and south-west; and the Okanagan on the south-east. They are now gathered upon a number of small reservations under jurisdiction of the Kamloops-Okanagan agency, of which the principal are Lytton (470), Lower Nicola (355), Cooks Ferry (183), Boothroyd (158), Spuzzum (157), Coldwater (107). Their original population may have been near to 4000 souls, but is now reduced (1910) by smallpox and other causes, consequent upon the advent of the whites, to 1782. The proper name of the tribe is Ntlakyapamuk or Nhlakapmuh, and they recognize five subtribes among themselves. In their primitive condition they subsisted chiefly by hunting and fishing, together with the gathering of wild roots and berries. In arts, organization, religious belief and ceremonial, and general custom they resembled in all essentials their neighbouring kindred, particularly the Lillooet, Shuswap, Sechelt, and Squamish, with whose history also their own is closely interwoven. In 1808 Simon Fraser in descending the river which bears his name passed through their territory, and shortly afterward the Hudson's Bay Company established posts throughout the region. In 1845 the Jesuit missionary Father John Nobili visited the Thompson River, Okanagan, Shuswap, and other tribes of the Fraser River country, preaching and baptizing in temporary chapels built by the Indians.

About 1860 the noted missionary Oblate father (afterwards bishop), Paul Durieu, spent a short time with the tribe. In 1861 Rev. John B. Good, acting for the Episcopalians, established a regular mission work among them, continuing for nearly twenty years with the result that most of the tribe are now of that denomination. In 1862 in common with the other Fraser river tribes, they were terribly wasted by smallpox. In 1880 the distinguished Oblate missionary and philologist Father John M.R. Le Jeune, best known for his invention of a Salishan system of shorthand, began work among the Thompson River Indians extended after some years to the Okanagan and Shuswap. The entire tribe is now Christian, about 1500 being Episcopalian, the rest Catholic, including all of the Coldwater band. Valuable ethnologic studies of the Thompson River tribe have been made by Teit and Hill-Tout. Important linguistic contributions are a grammatic sketch and vocabulary and several religious publications by Rev. Mr. Good of the Episcopalian (Anglican) mission, and a number of prayer, hymn, catechism, and primer compilations by Father Le Jeune, all in the Salishan shorthand characters of his own invention. The official report for the Coldwater band (Catholic) will answer for all: "They have a good class of buildings and are steadily improving them. They are industrious, steady and extremely law-abiding. They have made good progress in farming. They class among our most temperate and moral Indians."


TEIT, Thompson Indians of B.C. in Memoir Am. Mus. Nat. Hist. (New York, 1900); IDEM, Traditions of the Thompson River Indians in Memoir Am. Folklore Soc. (Boston, 1898); HILL-TOUT, Thompson River Indians in Rept. Ethnol. Survey Canada, Brit. Assoc. Adv. Science (London, 1889); Annual Rept. Dept. Ind. Affairs (Ottawa); BANCROFT, Hist. Brit. Columbia (San Francisco, 1887); MORICE, Catholic Church in Western Canada, (2 vols., Toronto, 1910); PILLING, Bibliography Salishan Languages , (Bureau Am. Ethnology, Washington, 1893).

About this page

APA citation. Mooney, J. (1912). Thompson River Indians. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Mooney, James. "Thompson River Indians." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Calvin H. Marousch. Dedicated to Noel W. Bragg.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. July 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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