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Bloody Falls of the Coppermine: Madness, Murder, and the Collision of Cultures in the Arctic, 1913 Hardcover – January 4, 2005

4.6 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Demonstratinig a skilled storyteller's gift for crafting a gripping tale, Jenkins (White Death) further enhances his reputation as a popular historian with this latest effort. An obscure Arctic tragedy—the brutal killing of two Catholic priests by two Eskimos—gives Jenkins an opportunity to "explor[e] a moment in history in which two remarkably different cultures violently intersected." The clergymen began a mission to a remote group of Eskimos in 1911, but poor planning and an almost criminal underestimation of the challenges involved doomed the effort from the start. Jenkins has mastered the art of conveying his themes with telling and memorable details—for example, since the Eskimos had no concept of God, the beginning of the Lord's Prayer was translated as " 'Our boat owner, who is in heaven.'" Tensions arising from the struggle to survive the brutal environment led to the killings. Eventually, the murderers were captured by the Mounties in a remarkably efficient search of the vast wilderness. The trial, with the defendants' questionable ability to truly understand what is transpiring, affords the author further opportunities to illuminate a culture clash with resonances beyond its particular time and place, and should gain him a wide audience. 8 pages of b&w photos, maps, not seen by PW.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School–Fans of true crime or survival adventure will find much to enjoy in this compelling book. In 1913, two young priests set out for the Canadian Arctic, hoping to convert a newly discovered tribe of Eskimos. They were not trained in how to live in the barren, frigid wilderness and had almost no knowledge of the native language. After being shepherded north by Canadian explorers, they arrived at the camp, exhausted and ill. Trying to explain religious doctrines with hand signs was as frustrating to the priests as their ineptitude in hunting was to their puzzled hosts. An altercation over a rifle resulted in the priests being ordered to leave. They disappeared. Slowly, rumors began to filter south. The priests had been killed. Four Canadian Mounties set off on a 3000-mile search to discover the truth. Their amazing adventures captured the attention of the whole country, as did the trial when two Eskimos were brought to Edmonton. Jenkins used diaries, journals, official reports, and transcripts to re-create the extraordinary trial of the "stone age hunters" by a 20th-century court. The clash of cultures left the tribes fragmented, disoriented, and ravaged by disease. This story carries a sobering message about the cost of the invasion of modern society into remote areas. Seventeen pages of black-and-white photographs of the central characters and a map are included.–Kathy Tewell, Fairfax County Public Library, VA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1St Edition edition (January 4, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375507213
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375507212
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,780,220 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By L. Campbell on January 15, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I thouroughly enjoyed this book. Jenkins does a great job piecing together the story from letters, court records & scattered oral history. The first half of the book is a lot of adventure & was hard to put down. The second part included a lot of lawyer-speak in court, but it wasn't overdone. This is a great example of manifest destiny at work. After reading the epilogue of "Bloody Falls...", I've come to the conclusion that neither the Catholics nor the Eskimos won! ps. All of Jenkins' books are great!
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Format: Hardcover
This fascinating piece of history and investigative journalism explores the ramifications brought about by the deaths of two priests in far northern Canada in 1913, at the hands of Eskimos in what could be considered a catastrophic case of cultural misunderstanding. McKay Jenkins offers an interesting look at the cultures of both the Eskimos and the first Whites who tried to enter the frozen north permanently, as well as showing some insight into each culture's worldview and proclivities toward misunderstanding the other. Jenkins then describes the impressive efforts of the Mounted Police in tracking down the two perpetrators and hauling them back to the white man's city for what may have been history's strangest trials - in which the media, judge, and lawyers behaved with a bizarre mix of cultural condescension, morbid fascination, and political correctness. Jenkins justifiably uses this sad but entertaining story as an example of the problems of colonialism, illustrating the difficulties faced by long-established cultures when they try to adapt to other environments or customs. Here we see that the Eskimos were indeed nomads but were far from uncivilized, as they had built a strong knowledge of their demanding environment over centuries, while the incoming Whites may have appeared to be civilized but were themselves cultural nomads who were nearly helpless in a forbidding landscape. The result, as seen in this book's story, was tragedy, but also a quite interesting cultural lesson about cooperation and humility. [~doomsdayer520~]
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Format: Paperback
Culture clash! Two Catholic priests, Fathers Rouviere and LeRoux were on a mission to convert heathen Eskimo (Inuit) in the far north of Canada in the years just before World War I. There was something of a contest between Catholic and Anglican church missionaries as to who would be first and most successful in bringing Eskimo people into Christian faith. What makes this so remarkable is that even into the second decade of the twentieth century, the majority of Eskimos that Fathers Rouviere and LeRoux would encounter had never met a white man. The term Stone-Age Men is used throughout the book is not far off the mark. Fear among the Eskimo people was the number one factor in these initial encounters.

Without giving too much away, the two Catholic priests are brutally murdered in what is a shockingly cold-blooded encounter. In relating the details, author and scholar Mckay Jenkins has done his homework. Court transcripts, church records, records of the RCMP are all used to buttress and explain what led up to the adverse encounter and in the details that follow, including the heroic and masterful effort to find and apprehend the suspects, along with the court cases. The narrative is nicely paced.

In the last chapter, epilogue and remaining narrative, Jenkins describes how quickly interaction between the Eskimo peoples and white society would change. In just a few short years, the bow-and-arrow gave way to the rifle and shotgun. Traditional clothing would give way to western garb. The slaughter of the caribou would end one of the the great caribou migrations. Western diseases would run rampant through Eskimo villages and dramatically reduce numbers.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
There are so many fascinating and wonderful details to this story of two priests who head into the Arctic to convert the native population and Mckay Jenkins captures all of them with such ease and often humor (such as a religion that begins in a garden is hard to describe to people who live on ice). Denny LaNauze, the officer sent to find those who killed the priests is a marvelous character, surviving the rigors of Arctic life for two years to capture the suspects (who freely admit they killed the priests). The trial itself is fantastic: the accused sitting in court with their feet in ice, and falling asleep--but I won't give away the verdict. For anyone interested in Northern landscapes and early travel through these rugged lands, this is great reading. But really, it's one of those stories that at every turn or detail made me shake my head or laugh or just wonder at human nature and folly.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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.
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