Bill Miner, Determined Train Robber in Canada
The Gentleman Bandit, Bill Miner held up stagecoaches and trains with varying success. Spending most of his life in prison, escape was always possible, even in Canada.
Banks, stagecoaches and trains, these were ripe for robbery pickings when it came to Bill Miner and his accomplices. The trains were particularly attractive, often carrying large sums of gold and cash for banks, payrolls and governments, the railways were sitting targets. When Miner escaped capture in the United States, he fled north to Canada to practice his newest vocation: train robber.
Lifelong Bandit Bill Miner
A thief since he was a young adult, William – Bill – Miner had his share of successes and failures. Born approximately in 1846 near Lansing, Michigan, Miner’s father died when his son was about 10 years old. His mother moved the family to California and the young man fell into hard living. Stealing horses was the first step, then he moved up to robbing stagecoach drivers and their passengers. But Bill Miner had problems. He wasn’t very good at robbery. Caught over and over again in the United States, he spent well over three decades of his life in prisons, at times released early for good behaviour, serving full sentences, and occasionally escaping the fences of the prisons, said John Mackie of the Toronto Sun in June, 2006.
Canadian Train Robbery in 1904
Released from prison in 1901, two years later Miner and his gang attempted to rob a train at Portland, Oregon. The job went horribly wrong. Some of the pack were wounded, others captured, but not Miner. He fled north to Canada. A year later, when Miner should have been planning his retirement and settling down, he instead found new accomplices and planned another train robbery.
This time, the plan to take down a CPR train near Mission, British Columbia came together. On September 10, 1904, noted the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Miner and his partners in crime Shorty Dunn and Louis Colquhoun got away with $7,000 in gold and cash, and a revolver that belonged to a train passenger Their deed made history as one of the first train robberies in Canada.
In 1906, The Miner Gang Robbed CPR Again
On the lam back in the United States, the emboldened bandits robbed another train near Seattle, Washington in 1905, with a rumoured booty of $35,000. No doubt riding high on success, Miner and his gang crossed back into Canada for another grab at the Canadian Pacific Railway loot. On May 8, 1906 close to midnight, Miner and his gang took control of the CPR Transcontinental train near Kamloops, BC. “They unhooked the engine and first car from the back of the train and set to work rifling through the registered mail, where they hoped to find cash and bonds,” according to John Mackie.
North-West Mounted Police Got Their Man
Luck was not with Miner this time. The mail car seemed to have little of value, though they missed several valuable packets of cash. Releasing the wrong car, they left behind what could have been one of their biggest hauls. Miner’s gang escaped with a pittance – $15 and a bottle of liver pills. The NWMP (North-West Mounted Police) posse took up the chase, catching up to the trio on May 11th while they were casually having lunch. A gun battle blazed with Miner’s accomplice Dunn shooting at the posse; Dunn was wounded in the leg and all three were taken into custody.
Escape Under the Prison Fence
There were two trials for the crimes of the train robbers, the first three-day trial ending in a hung
jury since, according to John Mackie’s article, “the foreman wouldn’t convict Miner and his friends.” The second trial was short, only one day, and the men were found guilty. Miner received a 25-year sentence in the New Westminster Penitentiary. The sentence didn’t scare the older bandit. He escaped in August 1907 by digging a hole under the fence and again returned to the United States. Committing another train robbery in 1911, Miner was captured and sent to the Georgia State Prison, where he proceeded to escape and be recaptured twice. He died in prison in 1912 aged in his mid-sixties.
While William Miner led the life of a genuine outlaw of the Wild West, he was nicknamed the “gentleman bandit” for never resorting to violence and for his charming demeanour when apprehended. Miner made his indelible mark in history as one of the very few who robbed the Canadian railways.
This article first appeared on Suite101.com in June 2009. (c) Susanna McLeod