Photo Credit: This illustration depicts the 1864 attack on Ahousaht villages by Royal Navy gunboats. Nine villages were bombed with multiple deaths | Ha-Shilth-Sa

What Really Happened to Maggie Sutlej?

Ahousaht knowledge-keeper sheds light on events from the 1860s

This story doesn’t end up where you think it will

There’s an old saying that history is written by the victors, or some such. But what if it weren’t?

History is a matter of perspective. We all know a lot of people have been left out of history, whoever the author. Women, working people, minorities, everyday folks, Indigenous people. The list goes on.

Today, Indigenous people are reclaiming and retelling their histories for those who will listen. And some of us are trying to be better listeners of Indigenous stories.

Enter the story of Maggie Sutlej — a story of revenge, abduction, and a mysterious ending.

Ha-Shilth-Sa recently published an interview with an Ahousaht knowledge keeper and his perspective on what really happened to this rather famous little girl.

And boy, did Dave Jacobson, otherwise known as Quamiina, ever have a story to tell.

Maggie Sutlej was all over the headlines back in the 1860s. Her story resurfaced in 2018.

But as Quamiina says, the Ahousaht Nation has a whole lot to say about the version being circulated.

That version made Maggie Sutlej out to be a child who was saved and spoiled by merciful white traders after they’d carried out “justice” — that is, destroying her Ahousaht village.

During the numerous attacks they carried out in Ahousaht, a little girl was found on the beach. She was shielded from the gunfire under her deceased mother’s body.

This was the child who would later be renamed “Maggie Sutlej” — after the boat she was carried away on.

By not killing Maggie, and instead “adopting” her, her captors painted the massacre as Christian mercy.

This “justice” took place after an Ahousaht chief and his warriors had killed the men aboard a trade ship, the KingFisher.

What they never mentioned, was that by killing those aboard the Kingfisher, the Ahousaht had been delivering a justice of their own.

The men on the KingFisher had lured children, including the chief’s own daughter, onto their boat, and raped them.

“[The Chief] got his warriors and they went to punish them – they had to let them know there are consequences for what they done,” said Quamiina of the attack on the KingFisher’s crew.

The colonial version of Maggie’s story claims that she died, aboard the Sutlej, off the coast of South America, less than two years after her abduction/adoption. Ahousaht historians believe she escaped the boat in Washington State.

That’s just part of this fascinating story. What do Ahousaht historians believe Maggie went on to do with her life? You can read the entire story at the Ha-Shilth-Sa website.