In 1884 two teenage boys watched as another teenage boy—a Native named Louie Sam—was hanged by a group of men who rode on horseback into Canada from the US to seek their own style of justice for the murder of one of their countrymen. It has since been proven that Louie Sam was not a murderer, and in The Lynching of Louie Sam, a novel for young adults by Elizabeth Stewart (Annick), we see how a few wrong assumptions, some questionable evidence and mob mentality can turn a group of family men into executioners.
The narrator of the story is fifteen-year-old George Gillies, one of the teens who witnessed the execution; and since George’s family is friendly with their Native neighbours, his naive acceptance of Louie Sam’s guilt and then his gradual awakening to the possibility that the adults around him were wrong, show us how easy it can be to persuade people to follow their leaders on the wrong path.
The story lags somewhat when George assumes a more grownup voice and fills us in on historical background that may or may not be necessary for our understanding of the story, but the rest of the writing is lively and interesting. The idea for this book came from “Stories of a Lynching” by Stephen Osborne, published in Geist 60.