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The Life and Death of Missionary Bishop Seghers

Copied and annotated by Murray Lundberg

San Francisco Chronicle

July 19, 1887

    The steamer Dora brought news yesterday of the murder of Archbishop Seghers by Frank Fuller at a point on the Yukon river, Alaska, thirty miles from the trading post of Nulato. The lamentable event took place on November 28, 1886, and upon receipt of the news the entire Catholic clergy were planted in grief at the loss of one of the Church's most honored ecclesiastics. The Archbishop had a number of friends in this city who honored and respected him not only in his religious capacity, but also for his uniform kindness and general characteristics.


    The following narrative of the lamented Archbishop's journey to the Yukon region and the incidents connected with his cruel murder, were given to a CHRONICLE reporter by Rev. Father Paschal Tosi, who arrived in this city yesterday on the Dora from Saint Michaels. In company with Archbishop Seghers, Fathers Tosi and Robaut, both members of the Society of Jesus, and an American named Frank Fuller, who agreed to act as guide and workman, left Victoria on July 12, 1886, for Alaska on the steamer Ancon. They arrived safely at Chilkat.

    The purpose of the journey was to establish missions for evangelizing the Indians. On June 19th they traveled over the divide in a northwest direction as far as Stewart's river. There the party remained with the Alaska Commercial Company's traders, Mayo and Harper, until September 7th. The Archbishop left the two fathers at the Stewart's river station to establish a mission for the Stickeen Indians. He decided to go as far as Muklakayet, a village near the mouth of the Tannanah river. Leaving Stewart's river on September 8th in company with Frank Fuller, several Indians were met with who accompanied them as guides. Muklakayet was reached on October 24th and the party were lodged it the trading post, receiving a hearty welcome from the whites and Indians, to whom the Archbishop was well known. Part of this journey was made in a boat and partly by sled and dog teams. After a few weeks' work among the natives the Archbishop decided to push on to Nulato, 200 miles lower down the Yukon river.


    From this point until the commission of the murder the information was furnished to Father Tosily, a half-breed boy who speaks English and is perfectly trustworthy.

    After several days journey with the sleds, the party arrived at a deserted village thirty miles from Nulato. The Archbishop desired to push onward to a more suitable place for a mission, and consulted with his Indian guides upon the subject. This action did not suit Fuller, who told the Archbishop that "he ought to ask his advice, and not that of the Indians." He replied that the Indians were to be depended upon and had experience as guides, and that he wished to go on. This resolution caused Fuller to grumble, and he began to endeavor to make the natives discontented with the Archbishop. They told the Archbishop of Fuller's conduct, but he paid no attention to their complaints and decided to carry out his plan of going onward in the morning. After supper the party arranged their bedding for the night, the Archbishop sleeping between Fuller and the half-breed guide. Early next morning - Sunday, November 28th - about the break of day, which would probably be between 6 and 7 o'clock, the boy states that he saw Fuller get up from the place where he was sleeping and sit by the embers of the fire in the center of the hut. He was seated, looking at the sleeping Archbishop, and had a rifle under his cloak. Suddenly he arose and called to his victim to get up. Raising his head, the sight of a rifle-barrel met the Archbishop's gaze. Folding his hands in an attitude of resignation, and without uttering a word, the unfortunate Archbishop received the contents of the weapon. The bullet entered the left eye, penetrating the brain and passing out at the back of the neck.

    The Indians rushed on Fuller and seized the rifle. They then proceeded to Nulato station, reporting the occurrence to Trader Frederikson, who sent a sled to bring the remains of the murdered prelate to his house. Fuller walked to Nulato and gave himself up to Frederikson, who forwarded the body and the murderer to St. Michael's, the Alaska Commercial Company's head station. The Archbishop's body was there encased in a wood and zinc coffin, and, through the kindness of Captain Healy of the United States revenue steamer Bear, the remains will be taken to Victoria for interment.

    Fuller and the witnesses will be conveyed on the Bear to Ounalaska, where a preliminary inquiry will be held before United States Commissioner Johnson. His trial will take place at Sitka.


    The Most Reverend Charles James Seghers was born in Ghent, Belgium, on December 26, 1839. He was educated at the University of Louvain, and ordained priest in June, 1863, at Mechlin. After a long service in Idaho, Montana and Northern Oregon he was stationed at Victoria, Vancouver island, being consecrated as Bishop of Vancouver island on June 20, 1873. He was translated as coadjutor to the Archbishop of Oregon City by Papal brief 10, 1878, and upon the retirement of Most Reverend F. N. Blanchet, December 12, 1880 he succeeded that prelate as the head of the diocese. Archbishop Seghers, however, desired to renew his work among the natives of Northwest America and Alaska, and at his earnest supplication he was transferred in 1884 to Victoria. His labor of love and zeal for his religion and his genial manners endeared him to all with whom he came in contact, irrespective of creed or race. Before the Plenary Council that assembled in Baltimore in November, 1884, Archbishop Beghers pleaded the cause of Alaska in eloquent terms. He pictured in forcible language the needs of the people for religious instruction, and asked for the help and sympathy of his brethen in the faith. Throughout Oregon, Idaho, the Northern Territories and British Columbia the devout prelate went from village to village and house to house, asking help from the members of his church.

    His first visit to Northwest Alaska was made about 1878, and although necessarily brief, his kindly behavior and genial attributes kept his memory alive in the minds of the traders - Russians and creoles - on the Yukon river, and scarcely a year passed without inquiries being made by the natives as to the date of his return. His untimely death will be sincerely mourned by a vast circle of friends, especially in British Columbia and our Northern Territories.

Fuller's career as known to Father Tosi is as follows: He was working in Portland, Or., from 1879 to 1881 as a watchmaker. In 1882 Father Tosi met him at Coeur d'Alene mission, where he was given employment on the farm and did general chores. During 1883 and 1884 Fuller was at Spokane Falls, working at his trade, and in 1885 he went to Colville on a farm. In March, 1886, he returned to Spokane Falls, and learning that Archbishop Seghers intended to travel on the Yukon, he applied to go with him as laborer and guide. He obtained the situation, leaving Victoria with the party. So long as fathers Robaut and Tosi were with the Archbishop Fuller behaved himself and worked well.

    "I was 500 miles away from the scene of the murder," said Father Posi, "and only learned of it on my arrival at Nulato this summer, on my way to Saint Michael's. Frederikson, the trader, told me. The traders and miners wished to lynch Fuller, but their better judgement prevailed and he will be brought to justice. He came to St. Michael's with the body on a sled, and coolly walked up to Henry Neumann, the agent of the post, telling him he had shot Archbishop Seghers.

    The utmost indignation prevailed among the white residents on the Yukon and at St. Michael's over the murder. And upon arrival of the steamers the feeling was intensified. The priest of the Russo-Greek Church had the body placed in his old church, and there it will lie till the steamer Bear takes it to Victoria for burial. Fuller confessed his crime and is now penitent: but what impelled him to shoot our good father I cannot conceive. Fuller is not in anyway crazy or foolish, as he told the Indians he did not wish to kill the, he wanted to shoot the Archbishop. Upon the arrival of the steamer Dora at St. Michael's I took passage to Ounalaska, and there I obtained a warrant for Fuller's arrest. Captain Healy will serve the warrant and take Fuller to Ounalaska to be examined by the Commissioner, who will send him for trial to Sitka, with the witnesses.

    A solemn high mass of requiem will be celebrated for the repose of the soul of the late Archbishop at St. Ignatius Church during the present week.

    The CHRONICLE is indebted to Father Tosi of St. Ignatius College for the picture of the murdered prelate.

    This article is copied in its entirety. The newspaper title and article heading are from the copy of the original newspaper at Newspapers.com.

    Although this article calls him Charles James Seghers, it was actually Charles John Seghers, born Charles-Jean Seghers. The Dictionary of Canadian Biography provides more information about his life and death.

    The Vancouver World published a lengthy article about Seghers on November 17, 1888, upon his funeral. That article can be read here.

    A news dispatch dated December 28, 1887, reported the conclusion of Fuller's trial and his sentencing. The defence had been insanity; and he was convicted of manslaughter, and sentenced to pay a fine of $1,000 and to spend 10 years in the prison at McNeil Island, Washington Territory.

Arctic & Northern Biographies