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The Bastard of Fort Stikine: The Hudson's…

The Bastard of Fort Stikine: The Hudson's Bay Company and the Murder of… (2015)

by Debra Komar

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John McLoughlin, Jr., is the titular bastard, and his murder gives us a window into one of the most lawless of the trading posts run by the Hudson's Bay Company in the 1800s. This particular trading post was near the site of modern-day Wrangell, Alaska, and at the time of the incident the land was being leased from Russia, so you can imagine the tangled jurisdictions for investigating John McLoughlin Jr's death. In the end the governor of the HBC, the "museum-quality bastard" Sir George Simpson, conducted a perfunctory investigation, leading McLoughlin's father to wage a war of letters in an attempt to reopen the inquiry. Debra Komer's book goes over the facts of the case, provides a history of the HBC as relevant to the situation, and uses modern crime-solving techniques to attempt to figure out what actually happened.

By necessity, there's a lot more about the HBC in here than there is about the murder: crime scene records were not what they are now, and given the cursory nature of the investigation, there was no motivation to be especially diligent in keeping records. Not much to work with when reconstructing the crime, but one can certainly try reconciling the eyewitness testimony and comparing it with what we know about anatomy, ballistics and the layout of the fort. This was the most interesting part of the book and also the briefest. However, I did find the diagram of the fort slightly confusing; each of the four bastions (one at each corner) were labelled with compass directions -- NE, NW, SE, SW -- but there seemed to be something wrong with the labels because I couldn't reconcile the labelled bastions with normal compass directions. East was on the west, or south was on the north. Fortunately, the location of other rooms or areas in the fort were more relevant to the incident, so I could just disregard the directions (knowing that there was a bastion at each corner was sufficient).

Other than the potential labelling issue, this was a very good look at a lesser-known item in the history of the HBC. ( )
2 vote rabbitprincess | Jul 21, 2015 |
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