What Tsilhqot’in patriarch Henry Solomon wanted most during the past year or so he spent in care at Williams Lake Seniors Village, was to come home to his beloved Snowy Mountain Country of Nemiah Valley.
Last fall he finally got his wish when his body was laid to rest in Xeni Gwet’in, beneath the shadow of sacred Tsylos Mountain.
Henry was small in stature but big where it counts, in his heart.
Born at Toosey in 1929, Henry was 19 years old when he ran into Danny William along the Chilcotin River at Stone Village, and Danny told him there was someone he ought to meet in Nemiah Valley.
So Danny and Henry rode out to Nemiah on saddle horse and found Danny’s sister Mabel fishing for k okanee on the shores of Xeni Biny (Konni Lake). It must have been love at first sight. They were married on July 17, 1949, and went to Quesnel Billy Barker Days for their honeymoon.
Mabel was a single mom with three kids, Wilfred William, Patrick Haller and Donald Haller, but Henry quickly added to this total. He and Mabel had nine children, Margaret (who passed away as a child), Ivan, Ronnie, Emma (Pierce), Dinah (Lulua), Gilbert, Maryann, Bernie and Lenny.
Henry made his living in the tradition of the country, raising a few head of cattle, trapping, hunting, fishing, and guiding hunters and fishermen from the various lodges.
His guiding clients often invited Henry to visit them in the United States, and one fall in the 1960s he took them up on it.
Ronnie tells this story.
“Dad met Bernie Brooks at Tsuniah Lodge when he was up there fishing, and Bernie invited him to come down to California.
Dad didn’t have much money and had to hitchhike all the way. He even had to ask for food on his way down.
“When he got to the American border he crossed on foot. When the customs officer asked him where he was going, Dad said California. He just waved him through. ‘I don’t want to take too much of your time, you got a long way to go,’ he told him.
“Dad spent some time logging in the redwoods. By the time he got home in March, our brother Bernie was born. When he was told the baby’s name, Dad was pleased. ‘I was going to call him Bernie,’” he said.
Dinah recalls that Henry also went to Kentucky on that trip where he worked with horses.
“Dad loved horses. He always entered the Mountain Race at the Williams Lake Stampede, and he used to ride over the mountains to Lillooet and enter the mountain race there as well. He used to take Ivan to Lillooet with him.”
She says Henry’s favourite time of the year was the fall when he guided hunters.
“He loved the mountains and enjoyed taking hunters out for sheep and goats.”
Dinah recalls one time Henry took the whole family to Bella Coola one summer.
“We took the wagon and horses to Anahim Lake for the Anahim Lake Stampede, then caught a ride with somebody to Bella Coola. We spent the summer there with Billy Andy.”
See GUIDE, page B6
Dinah says Henry was one of the victims of Indian residential school. But his career there was short and infamous.
“He kept running away. He got severely beaten with straps but he kept running away anyway. He was only there until Grade 3.”
Despite only being in school for a few years, Henry learned wisdom. Gilbert says his dad taught him to honour other people.
“When I came to him really angry, he said that person is the same as you. He put me in that other person’s shoes. I became ashamed of myself and released my anger right away.”
Gilbert recalls a story of Henry trapping across Chilko Lake with Mabel’s dad, Sambulyan.
“They had to cross the lake in the wintertime, sail right across in a dugout canoe. They had to deal with big waves and sailed right over to Franklin Arm.”
But when they got there, none of the animals were coming into their traps.
“My dad had some bad karma and Sambulyan made him swim in Chilko Lake. Dad didn’t want to, he said his feet were getting kind of stuck. But the animals were avoiding their traps because of his bad karma. So Dad dunked himself in the lake. Otherwise they would have starved and died.”
Henry was raised at Toosey by his grandmother Galin. When you went into Henry’s house in Nemiah Valley there was huge poster of Galin on the living room wall. It was an impressive photo of an old woman standing with a stick.
As legend tells it, Galin and her sister were the two sole survivors of the smallpox epidemic that killed everyone else in the village at Puntzi Lake. They were just small children living in a pit house. Eventually they were brought to Toosey near Riske Creek and raised there.
“So Dad said he learned lots of stuff from his grandmother,” Gilbert says.
One thing that impressed Gilbert about his dad was how Henry treated American draft dodger Frank Dannenbaum who came to Nemiah Valley in 1971, aspiring to live a natural life in the wilderness. Henry gave him the name “Chendi” which means “jackpine” in the Xeni Gwet’in dialect.
“He started respecting Chendi the way he lived,” Gilbert recalls. “He asked my dad how to make a snare to catch a coyote or a rabbit and he showed that to Chendi.”
When the police and immigration officers arrived in Nemiah and arrested Chendi for being in Canada illegally, Gilbert says his parents were very sad about it.
“He was just making a living on the land and not bothering anybody. When Chendi came back he and my parents were hugging each other. Us kids we looked at that and it made us see things different, through his eyes. My dad was different than most people I see.”
Chendi describes Henry as the kindest man he ever met.
“Without Henry suggesting I go down and camp at Bisk’yhenu on Chilko Lake, I don’t know where I’d be.”
He recalls one story he heard of Henry roping a moose one time in a hay corral then throwing it down and slitting its throat.
Dinah says Henry was famous for his story telling.
“He picked up a lot of stories from Sambulyan and passed it on to the next generation. He would always recognize the people who gave him the stories.”
Henry had an indomitable spirit. I was in Nemiah Valley one time attending the funeral of Lilly Lulua who had died much too early in life. The house where the women were preparing food and everyone was visiting was quite solemn and sad.
Then Henry came in.
Suddenly he whooped, like he was chasing cattle or scaring up wild horses, and instantly the dark cloud of despondency dissipated. Henry’s lighthearted interjection rearranged the mood that day, shifting the emphasis to celebrating life.
And that’s how one of the largest memorial gatherings in recent memory in Nemiah Valley remembered Henry Solomon on October 10, 2006, when they brought him home to rest for the last time.