Sunday, April 13, 2014

Cattle Drives in Western Canada, Part 1

Many movies and perhaps a hundred times as many novels have been made about the cattle that were moved from Texas to Kansas and Montana. It doesn’t take a great deal of contemplation to understand that the fifteen years of these cattle drives resulted in dramatic changes for all segments of society from the Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi. Some may not realize that these drives had an effect on all inhabited areas of North America, perhaps not at the time but a very short time afterward. Therefore the number of movies and novels and those still thinking and talking about it a hundred and thirty years after the fact is understandable.

There have been other historical and important movements of livestock that have been almost forgotten. Some of these took place in small numbers before the intrusion of European settlers, most notably by those of the Iroquois or Seminole Confederations and for other peoples who’s DNA has been absorbed by other peoples and, as a nation, no longer exist. It would take a very big book to document all of the livestock management from turkeys through to today so for this posting I’ll just go back to the mid 1800s.

Besides, the late 19th century is where most of my stories take place so that’s where most of my research has been centred.

Most agree that the first wagon train of immigrants heading to the west coast of what is now the United States did so in 1836. They where headed in the general direction of Fort Astoria which was started by what had been a group of “free trappers” operating in competition to the Hudson’s Bay Company and the North West Trading Company and eventually formed the American Fur Company. The Lewis and Clark expedition commissioned by Thomas Jefferson made the trip in 1804 several decades after the first trapper.

No, the first wagon trains did not go to California because in 1836 it was still part of Mexico. It would not become part of the United States until 1848 and the end of the Mexican-American War.

The immigrants to Oregon took with them Shorthorn Cattle and milk cows. By the start of the US Civil War these cattle, along with the Mexican and Spanish cattle in California (not to be confused with the wild Texas cattle descendant from the same stock) had grown into large herds that the owners couldn’t sell.

A great many things happened between 1836 and the Civil War but for the purposes of this article it all began in 1858. That year some Indian trappers brought, along with their winter’s catch of fur, a leather pouch of gold into the Hudson’ Bay trading post at Fort Hope.

The rush was on.

In the summer of 1859 the half dozen white trappers in what is now British Columbia where joined, much to their disgust by an estimated 8000 white gold hunters. The gold proved to be very fine and hard to gather. During those first years there were few pack trains operating, wagons where almost useless past Fort Hope and many tons of supplies where carried on some man’s back ... well several men actually. Thus supplies where very expensive and the gold to pay for them was not in great supply. Most of the miners left that fall but the following year more than 10,000 showed up.

It doesn’t take very many lead-footed, clumsy, loud talking, inconsiderate miners to chase the wildlife out of the country. If a miner hasn’t traded his rifle for a gold pan he might be able to hunt for venison but he also might be gone for a week. If he is gone for a week he won’t be collecting any gold and someone might try to jump his claim.

As a side note, not many miners where willing to give up their weapons for any reason particularly during those early years. Despite the advent of Gold Commissioners and Colonial Police appointed by Governor Douglas there were still instances of claim jumping and other thefts. In addition the Indian wars; in 1858 there was the Fraser Canyon War (aka the Thompson River Indian War) and in 1863 the Chilcotin War.  

Miners, if they have gold, will buy beef. Ten thousand miners will buy a great deal of beef. After several weeks eating dandelion greens, bannock and spruce tea they’ll buy thin, stringy beef.

The first small herds of cattle where driven down the Columbia River by land and boat or raft to head of Puget Sound. From there they where loaded on boats and shipped to Fort Victoria and the Lower Fraser. However, that was expensive and a new, cheaper route that could handle greater volume was required.

Several routs where tried and most of them required a drive from the source, the Willamette Valley or California’s Sacramento Valley perhaps, east on the Columbia to The Dalles and then north across the border. There where a half dozen trails each with detours demanded by weather, grass or water conditions but in general most cattle went through the Okanogan Valley to Fort Kamloops. From here the head drover (or buckaroo as they were called in BC) would decide what gold field they would go to, what butcher / packer / meat retailer would buy them or where they would be pastured until the price was better.

From 1858 until 1868 about 22,000 head of cattle crossed the border at the Osoyoos Lake customs station.

            Next time I’ll post a note about the start of the cattle and horse business on the east side of the Rocky Mountains in what was then called the North West Territories.

The primary source for information in this article is the work of Ken Mather. For reading that is both informative and entertaining along with some vitiage pictures check out his “Buckaroos and Mud Pups,” “Bronc Busters and Hay Sloops” or “Frontier Cowboys and the Great Divide.” There are another dozen sources that I have read over the years, all of them informative and most still in my collection. But I have found Mather’s work to be well supported by the others and the only ones I have referred too during this writing.
By the way, if you're interested in cowboys and cattle drives you'll probably be interested in western music and cowboy poetry. Check out Tom Cole and Brian Salmond at

Sunday, April 6, 2014

An Excerpt from “Jake’s Justice”

Here is a few pages from a novel I wrote last year and which I’m hoping to see published in 2014. I have three edited but this is the one I would like to do first. The story opens in the spring as Jake comes out of the mountains to sell his furs to the Hudson’ Bay Company. Except for four trips out to sell furs and buy supplies Jake has been hiding in those mountains, mostly from himself, for three years. He expects this trip out to be no more than two weeks long but his plans and his life are about to be changed once again.

 In the west of the 1890s Jake’s wife is raped and murdered, an image from which he attempts to escape and hide. When two thugs attempt to take what little else he has he realizes he must face the past and solve the crime to truly escape the image. To find the killer he will find more surprises.
        The first part of the trip went as Jake had planned; and since it was his fourth trip down to Ft. St. John this was not a particular surprise. It had been a short, mild winter and he was late enough in the season that he saw very little ice, except for a few small pieces melting away from their perches on driftwood where they had been forced by the earlier heavy run off. The water was still high enough that he could avoid portaging, but low enough that he managed to keep the canoe upright with his cargo inside the craft.
       Some stretches of river did create heart pounding moments. Jake was not one to admit it, even to himself, but adrenaline flowed and he worked hard to avoid rocks and whirlpools. Chester, in his assigned space at the front of the canoe, put his chin on the ribbing and his paws over his nose.
      There was just enough light for Jake to shoot the last rapids on the Finlay, and enough dark that he could steer wide around the settlement of Finlay Forks without attracting attention. Everyone stopped at the landing. After a winter in the bush most men wanted company and conversation. Jake wanted neither. He also didn’t want to put up with fur traders trying to deal him out of his pelts for less than top price.
       Two men did see him from the dock as he turned into the Peace River. One was known as Sam Twice. He had been born into the Beaver Nation but was accepted at no lodge, including that of his own family. The other was Martin Prentice, a man who definitely was wanted. He was wanted by the law in both the State of New York and the Province of Ontario. The town police in Winnipeg and Calgary would have also liked to talk to him, but they were not aware he was the one who had committed the crimes.
      In the twilight Sam Twice made a flicking motion with one finger toward the silhouette out on the water. “Him maybe got fur,” he said.
      “I expect he does,” Martin agreed. He took a swig from the jug he held and passed it to Sam. “Perhaps he also has a small poke of gold he’s panned out of streams.”
      “Why him not come in?” Sam asked. He flicked a finger toward the large cabin that served as store, saloon, and hotel as long as one wasn’t too particular about prices, liquor quality, or sleeping on the floor. He took a swig from the jug which the two had purchased at the store. Sam didn’t care about the quality of the refreshment since he had never had anything better.
      “I expect he wants more than half price for his pelts,” Martin replied. “He’ll take them down to Ft. St. John where he’ll get as much as he can get in this country.”
      “Don’ like that man boss that Fort John place,” Sam said. “He marry Beaver girl. She nice girl, one time.”
      Martin looked at Sam a moment. He knew there was much about Sam’s past that he didn’t know, but he didn’t really care. Sam was useful from time to time, and that was all the mattered. “I heard his wife was Cree, but what do I know? I’ve never even seen the woman.”
      Sam grunted, giving Martin no idea what he meant.
      Martin waved toward the silhouette of man and canoe fading into the gathering darkness. “Now, that pilgrim will undoubtedly stop for the night. Tomorrow he’ll go on to Portage Mountain. If we were to float down the river right now we could be at Portage to meet him.”
      “I like maybe stay here an’ drink,” Sam objected. He wasn’t one to hasten toward any effort that wasn’t absolutely necessary.
      “How would you like to have a nice canoe?” Martin asked.
      Sam looked at Martin with hard, cold eyes. “I get canoe an’ you get fur?”
      “No, no,” Martin objected. “We split the furs and you get the canoe. After all, I already have a canoe.”
      Sam nodded several times, then placed the cork in the jug and hit it with the heel of his hand. “We go.”


Peace River, Portage Mountain, British Columbia, 1898
      There was no question about pulling out of the water upriver from Portage Mountain. Even in late August, when the water flow may have dropped several feet, no one in their right mind would try to shoot the Peace Canyon.
      It was mid afternoon of their second day of travel when Jake pulled in to the river bank. Chester jumped out onto dry ground and ran to the nearest aspen where he lifted his leg.
      Pulling the canoe up so the current couldn’t take it, Jake said, “Mighty fine idea, Chester. You’re a smart dog.”
      Jake unloaded his canoe and dragged the craft up onto dry ground. Chester sat on his haunches, looked at the bales of furs and supplies, swung his gaze up the trail, and then looked back at the cargo.
      “We ain’t in a hurry, Chester. We’ll spend the night here. Go see if yuh can find a rabbit.”
      Chester headed off into the bush and Jake collected firewood.
      At the start and end of any portage there are well-used camp areas; and if the trail to more water is long enough, more stopping places along the way. The Portage Mountain trail - a long walk without carrying a pack - was no exception. There were several sites that had been used on the upriver end. Jake chose one of the spots as far back as possible from the trail end and riverbank and started his fire. If there were other travellers, he wanted to avoid company if possible. He didn’t mind carrying a little water.
      While the fire burned down to coals he moved his freight and canoe up to the camp site. Gathering firewood, he noticed a small aspen sapling and cut it with his knife. Back at the fire he skewered a piece of moose meat with the green stick and drove the butt end of the stick into the ground so the meat was suspended over the coals.
      As the meat was heating up to a sizzle he mixed up some bannock batter, wound it around another piece of green stick and propped that over the fire.
      Chester sauntered into camp and dropped to the ground at the edge of firelight.
      “You’re getting lazy, old man,” Jake said. “First smell o’ cookin’ meat an’ you come back.”
      He turned his gaze to the hound and saw the relaxed, satisfied look and the long tongue licking lips.
      “I apologise, old man. I don’t know what you mighta found t’ eat on this pile o’ rocks, but you’ve found somethin’.”
      When he finished eating and washing up, Jake threw a couple of sticks on the fire and propped the canoe up so it would collect and hold the heat for his bed. He propped himself up against a dry log, loaded his pipe and leaned back puffing contentedly.
       "Nothin’ wrong with this, Ches. Nice warm night.”
        Surprised at his master’s good mood, Chester grunted.
        During breakfast the next morning Jake decided to continue taking it easy. Even though the two bundles of furs were not very large he would pack them around the mountain one at a time. The four fresh plews had not been properly treated, but they were dry so he decided to tie them on to one of the bundles. He pulled a bag full of string and sinew from his possibles pack and wrapped the hides in places, cutting the ends of sinew off and putting them back in the bag.
       He was already on the trail when he realized he hadn’t put his knife back in the sheath. He hesitated, decided he would pick it up on the next trip, and started off again.
       He had only taken a few steps when he heard Chester off the trail to his right. There was the beginning of a bark followed by a howl that was abruptly cut off. Jake swung the pack of furs from his shoulders, dropped it to the trail, and stepped into the brush.
      There was blinding pain from the back of his skull. He saw a light as bright as the sun. Then he fell into blackness.


Sunday, March 30, 2014

Concussions are not a great deal of fun!

A month ago now I fell off a fuel storage tank and landed on my head. It was not one of my more favourable experiences. It could have been worse; for some reason my hard hat stayed on my head thereby avoiding a broken scull. As it is I’ve been a month attempting to give a “bleed” time to heal up. In addition I’ve had continual days of headaches. They have reduced now in intensity and are no longer filling every hour of every day.
I had intended to spend my time writing a short story which I would then post here but I have been unable to concentrate long enough to write such. Yes, I have begun one, but I have only managed to get started.
And will, at some point in the future complete it and offer it for your entertainment. Yes, as with most of my story efforts it will include some history and could be concidered "historical fiction" or a "western."
Speaking of entertainment I offer a link to some very excellent of such for your enjoyment. I discovered during this recuperation an excellent musician and a very funny entertainer. His name is Mike Rayburn and some clips of his work can be seen at
A goodly part of one of his corporate presentations can also be viewed at

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Partners in music acknowledging a leader

Over the years I’ve done a variety of things as it says on the bio on the back of my novels. That’s one of the requirements when one is interested in artistic endeavours such as writing novels and playing music. Doing all those things has built some marvellous memories brought back with great strength when musician, Ray Gathercole posted these pictures. I don’t have pictures of this event and Ray has graciously allowed me to post them here.

The event in question took place April 16, 1970 in the (old and long gone) Charlie Lake Community Hall. A fellow musician (one of those with a well paying steady job) had just taken a better position with a petrochemical company in Grande Prairie, Alberta and was leaving our area. The local musicians, (spear-headed by Gerry Chilli I believe who is pictured) rented the hall and spent an afternoon acknowledging and honouring Butch Peterson, an exceptionally fine guitar player.

Bob Slavik-steel, Ray Gethercole-guitar, Dave McGowan-rhythm&vocal, Gerry Chilli-drums

Lawson Clark-bass, (can't remember a name, Russ?), Buddy Clark-accordion, Lyle Lippert-guitar
A year before this event, during August and into September of 1969 some of those pictured toured from Dawson Creek, BC to Dawson City, YT where we played for “Discovery Days”. We played in almost every small community along the Alaska Highway except for the capitol of the Yukon, Whitehorse.
Those who made the trip:
Gerry Chilli, drums.
Buddy (James) Clark, accordion and bass
Shirley Clark, chief cook and door
Lawson Clark, bass
Chuck Gullion, pedal steel guitar
Dave McGowan, rhythm guitar, vocals.
Bob Slavik, lead guitar.
The steel Bob Slavik, is playing here, a Rogers, he bought from Chuck who replaced it with a ShoBud.
The guitar I'm playing is a Gibson Humingbird which was a great unit I wish I still had although it was not as good as the Gibson J-45 it replaced.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Observations on those who think they are "Leaders".

My brother in law from down below ... no, he isn’t an Aussi from down under or that other place that came to mind, he’s from below the 49th parallel, and a really great guy ... sent me these quotes the other day and I thought it was an excellent collection.

The thing is, you see, I pay taxes for roads, schools, medical treatment and all these things are not being funded. Yes, there are many other things of course, but I believe these items are where it should start and if there is any money left over at the bottom of the list then those who work for us and keep the records (the same ones who call themselves our “leaders”. I don’t mind that either if it makes them feels good while they are doing their job.) can go ahead and pay themselves. And, of course, they do not get a better pension than those of us who actually contribute to the growth of our country.

Of course, the same could be said for those “down below.”

Oh, and while you are here on the net, take a look at

And buy a book. If you’ve already read one, drop by and leave a review.

By the way, we’re working on a new video for “Homesteader”. Hope it’ll be ready soon.

Apolitical Aphorisms
The problem with political jokes is they get elected.
~Henry Cate, VII~
We hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office
If we got one-tenth of what was promised to us in these State of the Union speeches, there wouldn't be any inducement to go to heaven.
~Will Rogers~
Politicians are the same all over. They promise to build a bridge even where there is no river.
~Nikita Khrushchev~
When I was a boy I was told that anybody could become President; I'm beginning to believe it.
~Clarence Darrow~
Why pay money to have your family tree traced; go into politics and your opponents will do it for you.
~Author unknown~
Politicians are people who, when they see light at the end of the tunnel, go out and buy some more tunnel.
~John Quinton~
Politics is the gentle art of getting votes from the poor and campaign funds from the rich, by promising to protect each from the other.
~Oscar Ameringer~
I offer my opponents a bargain: if they will stop telling lies about us, I will stop telling the truth about them.
~Adlai Steve nson, campaign speech, 1952~
A politician is a fellow who will lay down your life for his country.
~ Tex Guinan~
I have come to the conclusion that politics is too serious a matter to be left to the politicians.
~Charles de Gaulle~
Instead of giving a politician the keys to the city, it might be better to change the locks.
~Doug Larson~
There ought to be one day -- just one -- when there is open season on Congressmen
~Will Rogers~


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Here is another one of the short stories from my "The Yearlings" collection. I hope to have this collection published and available sometime in 2014. It includes stories from Ontario (where this one takes place) to British Columbia and a time frame from the late 1800s to the 1980s. Some of them are based on something that actually happened ... with some slight extrapolation.
Other stories are more in the line of major extrapolation; that is to say they may have been part of a bad dream.
Another selection from the collection, the title story, was posted here several months ago.

That's a lot of water!

                                                                By D.M. McGowan

            They lived south of town, about twenty miles. You leave town and go down through Nottawa, take the fork to the left, and go on through Creemore. After you cross the valley that Creemore sits in, you start back up-hill, and pretty soon you come to Lavington.
            Well, they don't live anywhere near there! You plumb missed it!
            You turn around; go back down the hill and through Creemore. Just after you leave that roaring metropolis - be sure to pay attention, because if you don't see the sign you won't know you've been through it - take the first road to the left and follow it west. Actually, you only go west for a wee ways, and then you start to angle south.
            You take a look around while you're going down that road. That's some of the roughest, standing-on-end country you're likely to pass through. You won't be able to tell how up and down some of it is, without leaving' the road, because the maples, birch, and what-not are growing thick as a jungle.
            You'd best take my word for that part. Don't be leaving the road to look! That's what they call the Devil's Glen. A stranger gets off the road in there, and it's only the devil can find him!
            Anyway, you follow that road on up the valley until it narrows down to a dirt track. A half a mile after you've left the gravel you'll see the Clayton place off the road to your right. It's hard to tell with all the trees and rocks in your way, but you're only about two miles across the valley from Lavington where you were lost an hour ago.
            As you turn up the lane, there's a little cedar-roofed house on your right that hasn't seen paint in fifty years. Fifty yards farther there's a big barn on your left that's in far better shape than the house, but with just as much paint on it.
            You know, I don't think you could paint those old pine boards. You could put a gallon on every square foot and it would make about as much impression as throwing a gallon of water in the Pretty River.
            When you get there, you stop by the house and have a look around. You'll figure that the only thing that land can produce is rocks and pretty, but you'd be surprised. The soil in between the rocks and the trees is mighty good land.
            The Clayton boys grow potatoes, corn, wheat, the occasional cow, and a few pigs. They eat a little of all of it, but their main source of income is the potatoes and corn. Not spuds and kernels, but the product of their manufacturing enterprise. They have what you might call a value-added business. The Clayton boys make some of the finest drinking spirits in the land.
            When you find yourself standing by the house looking at the view, just keep doing it! If you start wandering around the place looking for the Clayton boys, someone will take a shot at you, and you'll find yourself leaking all over the driveway! You just stand there and call out. Someone will come out and find you. They probably knew you were coming when you left Creemore.
            Calling them the Clayton boys is somewhat misleading for a stranger. Actually it's Jacob Clayton, and his two sons, Mark and Matthew. Mark would be about 25 now and Matthew about 28. If you've read any of the Bible it's not hard to figure out which one is the oldest, but it doesn't matter - there alike as two peas in a pod.
            Both the sons have been to school long enough to learn how to read and write, though it's hard to know if they still can. Jacob demanded they quit school after they had finished Grade 8 down in Creemore.
             "Ain't no money in that readin' and 'rithmatic stuff!" Jacob proclaimed. "You boys’ll stay home here an' learn the pride of makin' an honest livin'! Ain't none of them fools down t' town can teach yuh nothin' 'bout makin' good whiskey! 'Sides, if you go on you'll have to go to Collingwood. Ain't no fit place fer folks. Sinful! Must be nigh on t' four thousan' people there." An understanding of Jacob's ability with numbers can be partially achieved by knowing that at the time he made that statement the population of Collingwood would be in the neighborhood of fifteen thousand people.
            When Ma Clayton (During a previous life she had a name. It was Esther.) realized that she didn't have sons any longer, but three men to chase after and care for, she knew just what she had to do. She up and died.
            Behind the Clayton's barn there are a few out-buildings that look like they'll fall down any minute. One of them won't, because there's a Model A Ford truck inside holding it up.
            Every fall, Jacob would load that Model A with the year’s finest distilled product. At least, all that hadn't been bought by hunters, or drank by the production staff in an effort to maintain quality control. He would hide the jars of moonshine under a few sacks of wheat, drive the twenty miles into Collingwood, and sell the load, wheat and all.
            As preparations were made for these autumn trips, Jacob would fend off the pleadings of both of his sons for a chance to go with him.
            "Need you boys to stay home and keep the still runnin'," he would insist. "Can't make a living by shuttin' down production. 'Sides, you boys know that quality drops when you shut down."
            In these statements Jacob was right, as most parents are. Despite his being right, his sons continued to argue, as most kids will do.
            "But it'll only take one of us to keep the still runnin', Pa," one of them would whine.
            "The other one’ll be busy keepin' strangers away," Jacob would advise. "You know its huntin' season and there'll be folks wanderin' all over the hills."
            The boys' eyes would sparkle with the thought of sending a bullet whistling and clipping over some flat-lander's head, and the pleading would stop. However, Jacob would continue with his arguments.
            "Anyway, that city's a den o' transgression an' sin! No place for young boys like you to be! You'll be tempted to stray from the ways of the Lord!"
            Having completed his teachings, Jacob would climb into the old truck, set the fuel mixture, and nod. His sons would push the truck until it began rolling down the lane on its own. When he thought he had achieved enough speed, Jacob would pop the clutch, and the calm of the valley would be destroyed by the explosions of a flooded Model A engine.
            The boys knew they would be alone for at least two days, and perhaps for a week. They thought this was due to the long trip their father would be making, not being aware that it was only an hour’s drive in the Model A.
            Having sold his produce, Jacob would rent a room at one of Collingwood's finest hotels and stock it with one of the town's finest ladies of the evening. The length of his stay would depend on the variety of ladies available, and the amount of money he had raised through sale of his goods. When he spoke to his sons about "a den of transgression", he was not repeating some rumor he had only heard. He had first-hand experience.
            The son’s arguments for inclusion in the trip were likewise misleading. They were actually anxious for Jacob to leave so that they could start their yearly party.
            By drawing straws, one of the sons would be chosen to take a wheelbarrow loaded with sacks of grain down to the mill in Creemore. Having sold the grain, the chosen one would then purchase "some o' that store-bought sippin' whiskey," some bakery bread and a jar of peanut butter. Having returned home with the contraband cargo, he would join his brother in a serious comparison of their own product with the commercial variety, interspersed with an occasional peanut-butter sandwich.
            Since it was often difficult for them to remember the results of this comparison (even the next day), the test had to be repeated each year.
            One year Mark won the opportunity to push the bag of wheat down hill and to return with the whiskey. However, it was a particularly warm day, and he decided on the return trip to pause and take a small sip of his cargo.
            "Ah, that's mighty smooth corn," he proclaimed to the surrounding trees. "It deserves more 'preciation."
            When he had appreciated the whiskey several times, Mark found that the long trip and warm day had made him very tired. He decided that he should stop for a short rest before continuing on home. He passed out under a maple tree.
            On the Clayton homestead, Matthew began to worry about his overdue brother as evening turned to night.
            "Those folks down to the valley can't be trusted," he told himself. "No tellin' what they mighta done to Mark. He might be needin' my help."
            With a kerosene lantern, Matthew started down hill in the gathering dark to search for his wayward brother.
            With only a lantern to dispel the dark of night deep in the canyon of trees, Matthew missed his brother, sleeping soundly under the maple tree. He also missed the turn to the right that would have led him toward Creemore.

            On his way to work early in the morning, Harold Carlton saw someone standing out at the end of the long concrete dock on the Collingwood waterfront. Curious, he turned out along the dock and parked behind the vaguely familiar figure.
            The man did not change his stance as Harold turned the ignition off and slid from the car. Frozen in place, the man stood in the rays of the rising sun with a lantern held up at head height and stared out across Georgian Bay toward the haze on the distant horizon.
            Keeping his distance, Harold walked around the figure and began to approach from the left. When he could see the man's profile, he recognized him as one of the Clayton boys from down in Devil's Glen, several miles to the south.
            "Ah, Matthew," Harold said cautiously, guessing at which brother stood before him, "is there something I can help you with?"
            Matthew remained frozen, staring at the distant horizon. In a reverent tone, just loud enough to be heard over the waves slapping the dock, he said, "You know, I ain't never bin this far from home, but it was worth the trip, just to see the water!"


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Last "Official" duel in Canada

The last duel held in Ontario was in 1833. It was also the last fatal duel. The pistols used can be viewed at the local museum in Perth, Lanark County Ontario.

The participants were Robert Lyon and John Wilson accompanied by their respective seconds, Henri Lelievre (probably Lel-ee-vray) and Simon Robertson respectively. The focus of the confrontation was a school teacher Elizabeth Hughes.

Robert Lyon was born in Inverurie, Scotland on December 30, 1812. Along with his family he moved to Canada in 1829.

John Wilson was born February 5, 1807 in Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland and came to “the colonies” with his family in Perth, Upper Canada about 1823. In 1833 he was studying law under James Boulton.

In early June of 1833 Lyon, also a law student, made disparaging remarks about Elizabeth Hughes. John Wilson heard these remarks and, since he had begun a relationship with the young school teacher, demanded that Lyon retract the remarks which at the instant he did.

Most of us are aware how the passage of a few minutes which then become hours can change the view one might have of events. Apparently this happened with Robert Lyon for, at the urging of a “friend” Henri Lelievre, he challenged Wilson. Due to an ordinance which had recently been passed in one county they arranged for the duel to take place across the Tay River in another jurisdiction.

It was June 13, 1833. The two combatants paced off the distance, turned and fired. Both missed.

Everyone is satisfied, right?

No, not for Lelievre. He insisted that satisfaction had not been achieved and demanded a reload; the pistols where recharged and re-primed.

When they where fired this time Lyon fell. He was rowed back across the river to Perth where he died a short time later.

Wilson and his second, Simon Robertson were arrested by the Sheriff and tried in Brockville for murder where they were acquitted.

Robert Lyon, Dec. 30, 1812June 13, 1833.

John Wilson, Feb. 5, 1807June 3, 1869.

The last official duel, yes. Not the last gun battle. There seems to be one every few monts, usually in an urban area between gang members or with one of the police forces involved.
Most of the gun battles recorded in the late 1800s were between groups with several shooters on each side. Some of the confrontations where exagerated with the telling and some became, "oh, nothing worth talking about."