Summary: When a local man is murdered and a Native named Louie Sam is suspected of the crime, the charged atmosphere of 1884 demands justice. Unhappy when the Canadian law enforcement seeks a trial for Louie Sam, a lynch mob calling themselves the Nooksack Vigilance Committee crosses the Canadian/United States border and strings him up to hang from a tree. George Gillies and his friend Pete Harkness are observers of the act, and afterwards George finds himself questioning the ‘facts’ of the case. As he pieces what really happened to Mr. Bell together, his challenge is trying to convince others to care about the miscarriage of so-called justice that has taken place.
Number of Pages: 283
Age Range: 13-14
Review: Set against the historical backdrop of Canada’s only lynching, George Gillies is a fifteen year-old learning to ask questions and think for himself. In 1884, living in a society of settlers whose wounds are still fresh from the American Civil War as well as many skirmishes with the Natives, this is not an easy task. In his eagerness to prove his manhood, George follows a riled up lynching mob as they kidnap a Native boy named Louie Sam and hang him for the murder of Mr. Bell without evidence or a trial.
Except as soon as George sees Louie Sam, he knows the ‘facts’ he has heard from others can’t be right. Louie Sam is practically a child, and George can’t imagine him being as vicious as he has been described. But even with his doubts, the mob-mentality controls the situation, and George and his father have little opportunity to stop Louie Sam’s hanging.
When it’s all over through, George is changed. Determined to find out the truth of who actually committed Mr. Bell’s murder, once George starts asking questions he can’t stop, and the answers often aren’t pretty.
Through The Lynching of Louie Sam, author Elizabeth Stewart thoughtfully explores one young man’s coming of age after realising the adults he used to trust have personal and sinister motivations. She weaves together historical fact with George’s personal journey of awareness, and the effect is a story is gripping and informative.
George himself is a character with admirable traits in a complicated situation. His struggle between wanting to get the truth out in the open and the resistance to acknowledge what actually happened he meets with all those in positions of power is frustrating and demoralizing. There is never true justice for Louie Sam as Stewart tells us, but through the act of writing about how others were affected by Louie Sam’s lynching, she lets her reader be unforgettably affected too.
But my favourite part was Stewart’s preface where she lays everything out honestly by saying her book is George’s story, and the personal story of Louie Sam remains untold.
“When we reach The Crossing, Mr. Moultray speaks to us. His face is somber and weighted down, like he doesn’t feel in a celebrating mood any more than I do. Or maybe he’s just tired. I know I am. Mr. Moultray tells the men that they did what needed to be done, and that they should be proud. But the next thing he says is that none of us should ever talk about what happened – not to our families, not to the sheriff, not to anyone. The Nooksack Vigilance Committee is henceforth a secret brotherhood. How can you have it both ways? If we’re supposed to be so proud of what we did to Louie Sam, then why are we keeping secrets about it?” – George from The Lynching of Louie Sam by Elizabeth Stewart, pages 86-87
“I’ve done it again – opened my mouth when I shouldn’t have. Still, I’m sick and tired of people telling me to keep quiet.” – George from The Lynching of Louie Sam by Elizabeth Stewart, page 153
“‘There’s no need to worry your mam about this business,’ says Father. ‘Let’s keep it between us men.’
‘Yes, sir,’ I tell him, proud that he includes me as a man. But now I feel the weight of being a man, too.” – Conversation between George’s father and George from The Lynching of Louie Sam by Elizabeth Stewart, page 227
“I walk back along the creek the way I came, thinking about my talk with Joe. There’s a lot that’s mysterious about the Indian way of thinking, and Joe is a particular curiosity. Sometimes he talks like a white man, and other times like an Indian. He’ll always look like an Indian, though, except for his blue eyes, so I guess that decides the question as far as white folks are concerned. But it seems that everybody on this earth – whites and natives alike – suffers in one way or another. And, in one way or another, all of us are praying for that suffering to be eased.” – George from The Lynching of Louie Sam by Elizabeth Stewart, page 253
“‘You were there that night, George,’ he tells me. ‘It was your idea to follow them. You were part of it. Don’t make like you wasn’t’
I stare at him wishing with all my might that I could find some reason why he’s wrong, why he had more to do with the lynching than I did, why he’s guilty of taking a boy’s life and I’m innocent. But he speaks the truth. I’ve got blood on my hands, same as him. The only difference between us is that I’m sorry for what happened. What use is that to Louie Sam?” – George pondering Pete pointing out his guilt in the lynching from The Lynching of Louie Sam by Elizabeth Stewart, page 270
The Lynching of Louie Sam by Elizabeth Stewart is published by Annick Press, (2012).