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BILL MINER REVISITED 30 YEARS LATER

in Cariboo/Kamloops by
The Arrest of the Outlaws

Our fascination for colourful characters in our past is topped by the adventures of Bill Miner; Train Robber and Philanthropist. This text is from the 1937 anthology of the R.C.M.P., “The Scarlet and the Gold.”

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Had Courtesy For Victims

Thirty years ago, on May 14, 1906, Bill Miner, notorious train robber, was captured in the wilds of the interior of British Columbia, thereby adding to the laurels previously won by the Royal North West Mounted Police. This is the story of the capture of a modern Robin Hood – a man reputed to have
stolen more than $500,000 in his life time and who gave liberally to the poor.

Bill Miner was widely known early in the century, as a daring robber and enjoyed a distinction rivaling that of the legendary Robin Hood. He robbed the rich and gave money to the poor. To the recipient of his gifts, Miner was a kindhearted friend who went away prospecting at certain intervals and came back to spread happiness, leaving the laughter of happy children in his wake.
The late Staff Sergeant J.J. Wilson, of Calgary, led the detachment of seven Mounted Police from Calgary into the wilds, in pursuit of the bandits, headed by Miner, who held up a C.P.R. Train at Ducks (Pritchard), near Kamloops, B.C., on May 8, 1906. Prior to that, Miner was responsible for a holdup at Mission Junction, B.C., on September 2, 1904, and got a haul of $45,000 in bonds.

The neighbourhood had been terrorized.

Robbers bristling with guns; cool and calculating in their operations, had uncoupled the mail car from the rest of the train and left the passengers stalled in their cars on the main line, while the front section was run down the grade a few miles for the purpose of dynamiting the safe. But it was a faulty judgement on Miner’s part. He slipped up on information that the train carried $160,000 destined for the needy residents of San Francisco, following the earthquake. That train had passed a few hours before, and this daring coup turned out a hopeless failure.

A few days after the robbery instructions were received at Calgary R.N.W.M.P. Headquarters to send a detachment to join in the search for Miner and his two companions, Shorty Dunn and Louis Colquhoun. The party left Calgary; headed by Staff Sergeant Wilson, on May 10, 1906. Two days later the police party rode in the direction of Grande Prairie (Westwold); about 100 miles south of Kamloops, where they understood Miner and his men had been seen recently. Miner had worked on a ranch in this district and it was believed he would head for the vicinity after the job at Ducks.

The party was nearing Douglas Lake, about 85 miles south of Kamloops, when Constable Fernie of the B.C. Police was encountered. He said he had seen three men answering the description of the fugitives crossing a road not far down the trail.

The police found the men and surrounded them. Among them was Bill Miner. He was told that he and his men answered the description of the bandits responsible for the train holdup at Ducks. When told that they would be taken in for investigation, Shorty Dunn opened fire on Sergeant Wilson. The bullet just grazed his left side. Then all the policemen pulled their guns. Sergeant Wilson covered Miner, and one of the other policemen covered Colquhoun. Dunn fired again and bolted into the bush. Here he plunged into a ditch and sank waist-deep in the mud. He was stuck and gave up. He had been wounded in the leg.

The Arrest of the Outlaws
The Arrest of the Outlaws

Miner and Colquhoun were bound with rope around their waists and marched away. Dunn was carried. They were convicted and sentenced by Judge Hunter at Kamloops.
A year later, Miner and his companions escaped from New Westminster prison. He went to the United States and pulled another holdup which netted him enough to go on an extended tour of Europe.

Upon his return he engaged in a few more railway robberies in the United States. Then he encountered a widow with a large family. She was penniless and about to lose her home. Bill Miner cleared the mortgage with all the money he had left, telling her a story about having been an old friend of her late husband. Miner, in his earlier days, preyed upon stage coaches conveying gold to Denver, Colorado. He always apologized to the passengers for the inconvenience to which they were put.

One of the mounted squad responsible for the capture of the notorious outlaw was Sergeant P.G. Thomas of the R.N.W.M.P. For many years, Sergeant Thomas, now Magistrate P.G. Thomas; has been acting in a judicial capacity in the town of High River, Alberta. Corporal C.R. Peters, who also aided in the capture, is now an Inspector with the R.C.M.P., stationed at Ottawa.

Three other “Mounties” responsible for bringing Bill Miner to justice, at least temporarily, are now dead. Staff Sergeant J.J. Wilson, of Calgary, was killed in an automobile accident east of High River on March 13, 1933. Superintendent T.M. Shoebotham, a corporal at the time of the capture of Miner, died in Dawson City on January 27, 1927 while still with the force. He was stationed at Calgary and in Regina. Constable S. Steward died many years ago.

“There’s one thing. I never killed a man in my life,” Miner is reported to have said before he died. Shorty Dunn and Louis Colquhoun died many years ago.

© 2012 by Brian Wilson

WALKING THE WIRE

in Cariboo/Old Cariboo Trail by

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Suspension Bridges over the Fraser River

An Essay by Brian Wilson

I have always been fascinated by the methods gold-seekers to the Cariboo crossed the mighty Fraser River. This river is not a creek to ford; it’s a killer of a river that only the most foolish of men would try to cross without caution. The Royal Engineers under Governor Douglas were the enablers of crossings of the river to the goldfields. There were no fewer than three bridges built over the torrent between 1863 an 1868. Two still exist today.

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Churn Creek Bridge

Part of the Port Douglas road to Lilloett became the Gang Ranch. The suspension bridge at Churn Creek (Dog Creek), built in 1863, is still used by the ranch today. The Alexandra bridge near Spuzzum is a heritage site next to the new Highway 1 bridge.

With the discovery of the Murchie collection of glass negatives came a chronicle of the building of another suspension bridge over the Fraser that few remember. It is the Chimney Creek Bridge near William’s Lake that became Highway 20 to Bella Coola. It was built by a pioneer of modern bridge building, Sam Smith. Not a lot is known of Sam Smith’s background. As he was a BC native and had a home in New Westminster at the turn of

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Archibald Murchie at Princeton 1905

the century, it is assumed that he had worked on several other bridges, including the unusual cantilever bridge in the Fraser Canyon, the Cisco CPR railway bridge at Keefers.

This assumption is because Mr. Smith worked for Waddell and Hendrick, famed North American bridge builders and structural Engineers. As a matter of fact, Sam worked for the most famous of all suspension bridge designers, James A. L. Waddell of Kansas City (even in modern times Mr. Waddell is thought of as the Father of the Wonders of Engineering) and Waddell designed the Cisco bridge.

By 1901 the contract was set for Chimney Creek and the call for workers to build the 325 foot suspension bridge went out. It was to be a unique span with a lower counterweight to provide rigidity and overcome movement and ‘windlift’ common to suspension bridges. It was indeed, a handsome structure between graceful towers, an 80 foot Howe Truss on the east side and a 225 foot trestle approach to the west. Smith brought over 60 skilled workers in from across the country, including those who could feed and house them in the little village set up at the site.

waddellNow let’s put this project into perspective. The Provincial Government of the day led by Premier Edward Prior; was petitioned to build this bridge by a voting population of 40 white males, the total eligible voters of the Chilcotin. They insisted the bridge would bring prosperity to the entire heartland of the Province, and enable the production of cattle and sheep to feed the world.
The Premier was in fact, in the business of engineering and had a successful mining supply firm. With this background, how could he refuse them their bridge?

The site chosen was tenmiles down river from Chimney Creek, called “Sheep Creek” by the local ranchers. This was a good location for the bridge but extremely remote for the shipment of materials. Most of the supplies had to be unloaded at the Ashcroft railhead and hauled by wagon or sleigh many miles up the Cariboo Trail, then on through uncharted cattle tracts to the Fraser River. A young ranch hand named Henry Durrell, with more education than usual, took on the task of keeping the workers on

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Engineers Sam Smith and Henry Durrell

the site. Some who made the trek in, turned tail and left after seeing the difficult terrain at the crossing. Durrell made sure there was ample liquor and good food to reward the hard labour of those who remained.

Durrell acted as foreman to make continuous flow. He arranged drovers from as far away as Kamloops to join what looked like a convoy of 20 mule-team pack trains to haul the granite pier stones, weighing up to 450 pounds each, and the numbered prefabricated timbers to the site. It sometimes took two weeks to get to the bridge site and it was Henry that made sure they were placed without delay. But the story gets more interesting when the call goes out to supply the 700 foot, 2 ¾ inch suspension cables.

The good Premier Prior was also acting as the Minister of Lands and Works when the call to supply these cables went out to tender. When the bids came in, the Premier noticed that his Manager, of Prior & Co., had not bid. Perceiving a conflict-of-interest the Manager, in all honesty, could not bid; but the Premier did. As he had viewed the other bids, his bid was the lowest and his Company got the contract.

PRIORThe Legislature was livid and called for his head, but Premier Prior wouldn’t resign. Prior’s gentry was his downfall as he stated he was privileged as a Militia Colonel
and previous Lieutenant Governor of the Province. He could do no wrong. Out of the turmoil stepped Lieutenant Governor, Sir Henry Joly de Lotbiniere and fired Premier Prior. The Government of the Province fell.

The bridge opened in 1904, but as time went on, the Bridge became a pariah for the locals. It squeaked and squawked and swayed; it spooked man and beast that used it. As automobiles became popular, no one was fool enough to drive onto it when anything else was on it. But it remained a valued part of the route to Bella Coola until it was replaced by a new bridge and blown to bits in 1962.

Sources:
The Road Runs West, Diana French 1994 – Harbour
BC Biographical 1914
Bridge Engineering, Waddell 1923
Murchie Collection of Photographs

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