On Sept. 10 1904, CPR train No. 1, which had just left Mission Junction, was robbed. It was Canada's first train robbery. The robbery was pulled off by a sixty year old grandfatherly looking man named Billy Miner. His accomplices were Shorty Dunn and Lewis Colquhoun. They boarded the train at a water tank. After control was gained they had the engineer separate the locomotive, baggage car and two small mail cars from the rest of the train then moved these cars to Silverdale.
What they took were 6,000 to 7,000 dollars worth of gold dust, $914.37 in cash and a 50,000 dollar bond, yet left $7.94 cents scattered across the baggage car. They then, according to reports, rowed across the Fraser River and fled on horseback across Matsqui Prairie to the US border.
Miner had arrived in town a few days before the robbery took place. People believe he took up residence in the bushes in Solloway's field (west of the rail bridge and SW of Mission Junction) being careful not to attract police attention, but also to be at a point where he could watch the coming and goings of trains at the junction. Many people reported they saw or talked to Miner while he was waiting for his targeted train.
Nothing further was heard about Miner and his friends until May 1906 when, after robbing a train at Ducks near Kamloops, they were caught by the Royal Northwest Mounted Police at Chaperon Lake. In the short fight Dunn was slightly wounded. The gang was handed over to Provincial Police.
Miner was tried and convicted, and sent to the BC Penitentiary at New Westminster. Within a year however Miner had escaped, presumably back to the US to continue his trade of robbing trains. Miner escaped and was caught numerous times right up until his death.
Billy Miner was not just a train robber, the man was a natural born leader who is believed to have first said the phrase "hands up" and was quoted as saying "Goodnight boys, sorry to have troubled you" in the 1904 robbery. At the age of 67, Miner was again put in jail for train robbery, this time in the Georgia State Penitentiary. For a number of years there were conflicting stories of Miner's life after this point; some say he escaped yet again, some say he died at San Quentin, and some say he died at the age of 70 at the Georgia State Pen. Along with many others, author Frank Anderson did further research into this popular topic and clearly indicates in his book "Old Bill Miner" that Bill was born in 1846/47, died in 1913 in Milledgeville prison, Georgia, and was buried in the local cemetery (he notes that the dates on the gravestone are wrong).
What happened to his friends is well known however. Shorty Dunn served his life sentence, but drowned in a lake near Kamloops. Lewis Colquhoun died in prison of Tuberculosis. It was ironic that the same railway company Colquhoun robbed (CPR), and the same baggage handler on that railway, later took him home in death to be buried.
We also know that Billy Miner brought National attention to Mission almost a century ago. Mission is located about 60 km east of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Source: Mission Museum
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