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(A True Story)

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This is a story about strength, courage,
redemption and endurance.


In 1899, a band of Chilkat Indians murdered a newlywed couple near Skagway, Alaska. Newspapers, coast to coast, latched onto this sensational story and embellished it with wild assumptions, unnecessary exaggerations and errors galore.

In an effort to write a more accurate account of this tragedy and its aftermath,
I researched the Federal Prosecuting Attorney's case files, the Defense Attorney's case files, the McNeil Island Prison archives and the U.S. Attorney General's Annual Reports from 1900-1905. Here is what I found:


Bertram "Bert" Horton (age 27) and Florence "Flora" Oliver (age 18) were married in Eugene, Oregon on 2/27/1899. He was a butcher by trade and she was a devout member of the Episcopal Church. The young couple opted for a "working honeymoon" in Alaska and arrived in Skagway on 3/7/1899.

The Horton's quickly
found jobs in a small eatery near the summit of the White Pass Trail between Skagway and Lake Bennett, and worked there all summer. In October, they decided to do some  leisurely camping on Lynn Canal before heading back to Oregon. I can only assume they had no idea how dangerous it might be to camp in Chilkat territory, because one week later, they were both dead.

Bert and Florence (Oliver) Horton


Jim Hanson, was a 25 year old, Sitka born, Tlingit Indian. The records say his Indian name was "Qualth" and at the age of 16 he single-handedly paddled his canoe 170 miles, from Sitka to Klukwan to join his Kaagwaantaan relatives. The Kaagwaantaan's were part of the Chilkat Clan and were fiercely territorial when it came to guarding their trade routes into the interior of Alaska and Canada during the late 1800's.

Qualth was a fearless hunter nicknamed "the bear killer", a name he earned for killing bears with nothing but his knife. Court records confirmed his formidable reputation, listing him as "one of the most reckless, dangerous and fearless Indians in southeast Alaska in 1899".


In October of 1899 the Indians on Chilkat Inlet, were preparing for a potlatch and sent Qualth's brother, wife and son out (by canoe) to tell the surrounding Indian camps about the upcoming festivities. When the young family didn't return within a few days, a search party of 12 gathered to find them; it included Qualth and his wife Martha "Quiee", Jim and Johnny Kitchtoo (father and son), Mark and Dave Klanat (the sons of Chilkat Chief Donowak), Juch Klane, Jim Williams, James Quaniish, Paddy Unahootch, George "Goos" White and Day Kanateen.

On the first day out, the group searched along the shores of Chilkoot Inlet but found nothing. On the second day, they set up a base camp on Sullivan Island and fanned out to look for signs of the missing family. The plan was to fire 2 signal shots into the air (if they found anything suspicious) then immediately return to camp to discuss their next move.

Kitchtoo and James Quaniish chose to search along the shore of the mainland on foot. After walking for about 2 hours, they found some canoe wreckage about 150 yards from the campsite of the newlyweds, Bert and Flora Horton. The Indians asked the young couple if they had seen the missing Indian family and Bert told them about a man, woman and child (in a canoe) that had been in the area a few days earlier, but he had no idea where they went. The two Indians were suspicious, but left the newlyweds camp without confronting them.

Kitchtoo and Quaniish backtracked and gathered some canoe wreckage and took it back to base camp where they explained that it was found near the campsite of "two very nervous white people". Paddy Unahootch said that he recognized the pieces as part of a canoe that he recently painted for the missing family. That is all Qualth needed to hear; he was convinced that the white couple had killed his brothers family and therefore they must die.

In the Chilkat culture, reprisal killings were not only justified, but they were a tradition. A "death for a death" running tally was taken very literally. For example: the search party believed that the Horton's had killed three Indians, therefor the Indians
had the right/responsibility to kill three white people, no questions asked.

The next morning, the Indians paddled back across the channel towards the Horton's camp. Once on shore,
Qualth's wife Quiee, Paddy Unahootch and "Goos" White stayed with the canoe while the other 9 men walked towards the newly weds. As they approached,
Bert Horton came out of his tent and tried to wave them away with his rifle, but they ignored his warning and kept coming. Without hesitation, Qualth took aim and shot Bert Horton in the head, killing him instantly. Mrs. Horton started screaming for her husband and Jim Kitchtoo shot her twice, once in the face and once through the upper chest. As she lay dying and begging for her life, the Indians circled around her and 17 year old Jim Williams reached down and slit her throat, nearly decapitating her. The savage killings were over in seconds.

The Indians went through the newlyweds possessions and took a Winchester rifle, a double barrel shotgun, a watch, some money and Mrs. Horton's jewelry. Next, they dismantled the couples tent, wrapped the dead bodies with it, and buried them in a deep hole behind some boulders near the high water mark on the beach and covered the grave with rocks and tree branches.

The Indians made a pact with each other. If anyone in the group confessed to killing the Horton's, the rest of the group would band together and tell the authorities that the confessor was the lone killer.

Back in Skagway, friends of the newlyweds were beginning to worry because the Horton's had not returned from their camping trip. Hypothetical scenarios were tossed back and forth daily: maybe they didn't come back because they had flagged down a passing steamer or maybe they decided to go north in search of gold or maybe they wrecked their boat and were on foot or maybe they were killed by the Chilkats. Eventually, a search party was sent out to the Sullivan Island area, but no signs of the young couple were found.


Five months after the murders, Qualth was back in Skagway and struggling with feelings of guilt, something he had never experienced before. He would later testify in court that he often heard the dead woman's screams while he was out hunting, or while he was on the water, or while he was on the trail and even in his dreams. Eighteen year old Florence Horton's violent death had changed the fearless Chilkat hunter.

Later that spring, in an effort to find peace, Qualth attended a Salvation Army Church service in a small village near Skagway. The sermon, given by an Indian missionary, affected him so strongly that he confessed to the entire congregation: "My soul has been blasted and blackened with murder because I killed two white people and I want everyone to pray for me
so I can be a Christian and get forgiveness".

A few weeks later, Qualth noticed two ministers that were conducting daily street sermons in front of a saloon in Skagway. The rousing sermons of Adjutant Thomas James McGill and Reverend John Paulsell caught his attention and he found himself returning daily to listen to them. When Qualth confessed the murders to the ministers, they convinced him to tell his story to the U.S. Marshal.

Qualth confessed to Marshal Josias Tanner and even gave him the names of his 11 accomplices; within a week, the authorities had arrested all of them and brought them back to the Skagway Jail from their respective villages.

News of the arrests spread quickly and the threat of violence grew between those that wanted to lynch the accused and those that wanted to rescue the accused. To calm the growing confrontation, Marshal Tanner employed the Buffalo Soldiers from Company L 24th Infantry (stationed in Skagway) to guard the prison until the trial was over.

Company L of the 24th Infantry  "Buffalo Soldiers"  at Dyea

With the situation temporarily under control, Marshal Tanner chartered a small steamer called the Alert and took
Qualth and a posse of soldiers back to the scene of the crime where they dug up the Horton's bodies and brought
them back to Skagway.

A large funeral for the Horton's was held at the YMCA; it was sponsored by 3 organizations: The Knights of Pythias, the Woodmen of the World and the Odd Fellows. The newly weds were laid to rest in separate caskets engraved with the Latin phrase, Dum Tacet Clamat which means "though silent, he speaks". The caskets were buried in a single grave at the Gold Rush Cemetery in Skagway.


Each of the 12 Indians, involvled in the killing, were charged with (2 counts) of 1st degree murder. Eleven of them pled not guilty and collectively swore that Qualth was the lone killer. However the prosecutor knew, from Qualth's confession, that he had 5 "hands on" accomplices in the murders.

In order to convict them, the prosecutor needed the accused to testify against each other. So, he offered to drop the murder charges against 6 of the least culpable, in exchange for their truthful testimony in court. Those that accepted the offer were: Qualth's wife, Martha "Quiee" Hanson, Johnny Kitchtoo age 14, Dave Klanat, James Quaniish, Paddy Unahootch and George "Goos" White.

Five of the men charged with murder were represented, in court, by Colonel Frederick Duncan Kelsey, a prominent lawyer from Juneau. His $2,000 legal fee was paid for with furs, Chilkat blankets, baskets, masks and drums that were donated by Indians all along the coast from Skagway to Juneau. Qualth was the only Indian who did not ask for a lawyer, instead, he was represented in court by (ex-lawyer, turned minister) Rev. John Paulsell.


Qualth was the first one to go on trial. He looked strong and dignified as he entered the packed courtroom in a bright
blue Salvation Army uniform with a large metal badge pinned to his chest that read, "A Soldier in the Army of Jesus Christ". He calmly confessed the details of the crime. On 5/28/1900 the grand jury quickly found him guilty of 1st degree murder.

Seventeen year old Jim Williams was the 2nd to go on trial. His trial took 4 days because his lawyer tried valiantly
to convince the jury that Mrs. Horton was already dead when his client cut her throat. However, his efforts were in vain because the Indians in the original search party, including Qualth, testified that Mrs. Horton was very much alive and screaming when Williams slit her throat. The jury did not agree on a verdict of 1st degree murder (11 votes yes, 1 vote no), but they did agree to a guilty verdict for 2nd degree murder.

After the easy convictions of Qualth and Williams, the remaining four men: Jim Kitchtoo, Mark Klanat, Juch Klane and Day Kanteen pled guilty to 2nd degree murder rather than risk a 1st degree murder conviction at trial.


On 6/27/1900, the day of sentencing, the courtroom was packed with the prisoners families. Judge Melville C. Brown asked Qualth, "Have you any reason to offer why this sentence, for 1st degree murder, which the law prescribes, should not be pronounced against you?" The Indian took a deep, resigned,  breath and said, "Brother, you must do your duty. I want to die for my crime that my people may live, that they may see what religion can do, even for one so wicked as me. Let them see how a Christian can die and maybe they will take warning and not drink so much, but will become soldiers in God's Army as
I have. I am ready to die. You can take my body and do as you like with it, but my soul belongs to God and you can't hurt that."

The courtroom was totally silent as Judge Brown sentenced Qualth to death, by hanging, within 30 days. The once potent Wolf Clan warrior gently nodded his head and smiled, as if to say thank you.

After the trial, the federal prosecutor told a reporter: "At the end of Qualth's speech...murderer and desperado as I knew him to have been...I felt admiration for him. His physical courage had often been put to the test and had never failed or been questioned, but his moral courage in that courtroom, was sublime. I have never seen anything approaching it."

One by one, the rest of the Indians were sentenced: Jim Williams was sentenced to 50 years, Jim Kitchtoo to 50 years, Day Kanteen to 30 years, Mark Klanat to 20 years and Juch Klane to 22 years.


Qualth remained in Alaska waiting to be hung, while the other 5 prisoners were sent to McNeil Island Federal Penitentiary in Washington. The morning of their departure, dozens of relatives were on the Skagway Wharf watching in total silence as the prisoners were loaded onto the steamer. As the ship pulled away, the prisoners began a loud rhythmic death chant and in response, their previously stoic wives and children collapsed on the wharf, in audible grief.


Judge Melvin Brown was never comfortable with the death sentence that Qualth received in his courtroom. He felt that the Indian should have received some degree of leniency for voluntarily confessing to the murders and naming his accomplices, so he asked Governor John Green Brady to postpone Qualth's hanging until he and the Attorney General could write a letter to the President, asking for the death sentence to be commuted to life in prison, and Governor Brady agreed.

In a petition addressed to the President of the United States, Attorney General Herbert Griggs wrote: "The circumstances of this case are most extraordinary and deserve a special chapter in the annals of remarkable cases. It is a case in which the prisoner conceived and executed a brutal and savage murder on peaceable people. Then, without the probability of detection, or accusation of wrong doing, and months after the murders had gone undetected, the prisoner voluntarily, by his own confession and admission of facts, submitted himself to the judge of a court. The prisoner, who is an Alaskan Indian, is now under sentence of death for the crime of murder and application is being made to have his sentence commuted to imprisonment for life."

Attached to Mr. Griggs petition, was a letter written by the judge who sentenced Qualth to death, it read: "His entire conduct, during the trials, convinced me of the honesty of his confession and the purity of his motives that induced it.
That he was moved and controlled by a high religious fervor, there can be no doubt. In the last act of this drama, when I reluctantly passed the sentence of death upon him, in answer to the usual question, why sentence should not now be pronounced upon him, he said: 'My brother, I have done my duty, now you do yours'. Such rare fortitude I have never before witnessed. Jim "Qualth" Hanson's confession and his complete cooperation with the courts, were responsible for bringing punishment to additional perpetrators of this brutal crime. In all human probability it would never have been revealed or known, but for him. There was never a moment that he entertained the slightest hope for immunity. Without any sort of question, Qualth, at the time he gave his confession, had no hope or expectation other than that he would be executed for his crime. Therefore, in addition to being influenced by the disinterested conduct of Qualth, I am moved from a sense of public policy to recommend the interposition of executive clemency and that his sentence be commuted from death to imprisonment for life."

The petition for a commuted sentence, was signed by Attorney General Herbert Griggs, Judge Melville C. Brown, U.S. Marshal Josias M. Tanner, District Attorney Robert A. Friedrich and a long list of Skagway clergy, physicians, lawyers and merchants. On 11/14/1900, President William McKinley commuted Qualth's sentence from death by hanging, to life in prison.



six Chilkat Indians were sent to McNeil Island Federal Penitentiary to serve their sentences. Qualth continued his zealous religious mission by ministering to fellow inmates and counseling the terminally ill. He was credited by prison officials, with converting hundreds of prisoners to the Christian faith.


At the turn of the century, Alaska Native prisoners were arriving at McNeil Island Prison in perfect health, but contracted tuberculosis within a very short time. Ninety percent of the prisoners that developed tuberculosis died within 5 years or less.

Some authorities thought the illness was due to prison overcrowding and lobbied for a new federal prison to be built in Alaska. Other authorities thought that the Natives already had a dormant case of tuberculosis when they left Alaska and the climate change in Washington some how activated the disease. Prison Warden Halligan wrote, "To sentence an Alaska Native to serve time on McNeil Island, means that he has received a death sentence, no matter what his crime was".

By 1905, 4½ years after arriving at McNeil Island, Qualth was in the final stages of tuberculosis. Unknown to him, 250 people from Alaska and the McNeil Island prison system, had signed a petition asking President Theodore Roosevelt to pardon Qualth so that he could return to Alaska to die. Unfortunately, on 8/13/1905, one day after the request was sent, Jim "Qualth" Hanson lost his battle with tuberculosis. He was buried on the prison farm.

Later that fall, tuberculosis was so rampant among the Alaska Native prisoners, that they quarantined them to a small, unsanitary brick building behind the prison. It had NO medical staff and was basically just a crowded holding cell.

A Washington reporter visited this makeshift "tuberculosis ward" and reported the following conditions:
"The sight is pitiful to the extreme. In a room (large enough to house 5), sit 14 Indians waiting to die. Once robust and healthy, they now sit hollow-chested, coughing, sunken eyed and hopeless. They are outcasts among outcasts. In spite of their sentences for murder, rape and manslaughter, the Indians are model prisoners."

JIM "QUALTH" HANSON (age abt. 25)  Born in Sitka, Alaska


Arrested 3/13/1900 in Skagway, Alaska

Convicted of 1st Degree Murder 5/28/1900
Sentenced to hang 6/27/1900
Sentence commuted to life in prison by President McKinley 11/14/1900

Arrived at McNeil Island Prison 2/5/1901

Died 8/13/1905 of tuberculosis

JIM KITCHTOO (age abt. 45)  Born in Klukwan, Alaska


Arrested 3/14/1900 at Pyramid Harbor, Alaska
Convicted of 2nd degree murder 5/28/1900
Sentenced to 50 years in prison 6/27/1900

Arrived at McNeil Island Prison 7/6/1900

Died (11/19/1905) OF tuberculosis

Survived by wife and children at Klukwan, Alaska
JIM WILLIAMS  (age abt. 17)  Born: Chilkat Inlet, Alaska


Arrested 3/14/1900 at Haines Mission, Alaska
Convicted of 2nd degree murder  5/28/1900
Sentenced to 50 years in prison 6/27/1900

Arrived at McNeil Island Prison 7/6/1900

Died (5/8/1902) of tuberculosis

DAY  KANTEEN   age 25  Born in Klukwan, Alaska

Arrested in April of 1900 at Haines Mission, Alaska
Convicted of 2nd degree murder 5/28/1900
Sentenced to 30 years in prison 6/27/1900

Arrived at McNeil Island Prison 7/6/1900
Transferred to San Quentin Prison 10/19/1900 due to crowding

Died 11/11/1903 of tuberculosis

Survived by wife at Klukwan, Alaska

MARK  KLANAT  age 36  Born: Chilkat Inlet, Alaska

Arrested 3/14/1900 at Chilkat Inlet, Alaska

Convicted of 2nd degree murder  5/28/1900
Sentenced to 20 years in prison 6/27/1900

Arrived at McNeil Island Prison 7/6/1900

Died (3/3/1904) of tuberculosis

Belonged to Sitka Tribe and was the son of
Chilkat Chief (Donowak 1815-1904)

Survived by wife and 4 children at Chilkat, Alaska

Children: Charlie, John, David and Louisa Klanat
JUCK   KLANE   age 25  Born in Juneau, Alaska
Arrested 3/14/1900 at Haines Mission, Alaska

Convicted of 2nd degree murder  5/28/1900

Sentenced to 22 years at McNeil Island Prison

Arrived at McNeil Island Prison 7/6/1900

Juck Klane was the last one (of the original 6 convicted)
to still be alive in 1910, although he had contracted
tuberculosis several years earlier. Officials credit his
"longevity" to the fact that he had an outdoor job (piloting
the prison boat to and from McNeil Island)

He was in the final stages of tuberculosis when his
sentence was commuted to "time served" by President Taft on
6/14/1910. He was given a ticket back to Alaska on
the SS Dolphin 6/17/1910.

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