Monday, March 12, 2012

Murder of a Policeman

When he arrived on Vancouver
Island in 1858 he was known as Charlie Brown. Due to his
proclivity for so called easy money he soon came to the attention of the newly
formed British Columbia Colonial Police and Victoria Municipal Police. However,
with a gold rush breaking out in some area of the colony almost every year, law
enforcement was hard pressed due to the constant influx of gold seekers. Due to
the lack of manpower and time as well as the insipidness of his name, little is
known about Charlie’s earlier history except that he may have been in California
and Oregon Territory.
Once in the British colony,
however, it was obvious Charlie’s search for gold would not include digging or
washing for it. He was caught on several occasions selling grain alcohol to
Indians. Following one of those occasions, while awaiting trial, he was
attacked by another arrestee, a Haida Indian to whom he had sold a barrel of
sea water as whiskey.
Mr. Brown’s last extended stay in
Victoria’s Bastion Street Jail began some time in 1875 with a one year sentence
for, once again, selling alcohol without a permit and selling alcohol to
Indians. He refused to work and was placed in solitary on bread and water.
One afternoon another Charlie,
jailer Charles B. Wright came to move Brown to a new cell. Mr. Brown threatened
to kill Wright if he tried. During the ensuing struggle Brown managed to put
Wright in a headlock. The jailer (they were armed in those days) drew his
revolver and put it up to Mr. Brown threatening to “blow his head off.” When
Brown increased the pressure, Wright pulled the trigger.
Charles Wright did not manage to
blow Charlie Brown’s head off as he had predicted. He did manage to blow his
ear off, however, thus creating “One Eared Charlie Brown” who, though he lost
an ear, gained another year to his sentence.
It has been stated, with great
justification, that “One Ear” Charlie Brown, “Hospital” Hall, and “Sebastopol”
Jones and their distribution of alcohol were the greatest reason for the
disappearance of the Songhees Indians.
Having served a good portion of
his sentence One Ear Charlie became “ill” and was transferred to hospital. He
suddenly improved dramatically, escaped and left the colony. Victory lawmen
didn’t look too hard for, as one said, “If he has left the island its good
riddance.” One Ear Charlie became a problem for US lawmen. However, he would
return to the colony in the spring of 1867 for a short time. After that short
stay he would return very briefly to the US
and then be a problem for no one.

In 1866 there was another gold
rush in the Kootenay Country, centred on a town called Wild Horse Creek.
Following some serious turbulent times the town and the Kootenay area were
being policed by four BC Colonial Constables, William Young, James Normensall,
John Carrington and a rookie, Jack Lawson. The young rookie was very popular
with the Kootenay miners.
In the spring of 1867 One Ear
Charlie Brown showed up in Oregon Territory
at Kootenay Trading Post. He stole two horses and rode north into the BC
The brothers who owned the
horses, Dutch homesteaders, rode north after their property and, having
determined the proper trail, rode on to Wild Horse Creek in search of a lawman.
Upon arrival they found that all officers were out on patrol except for the
rookie, Jack Lawson.
The Constable and the two horse
owners rode south, eventually approaching One Ear on the trail. Jack had the
brothers wait while he closed on the horse thief.
Having identified himself, Jack
inquired as to the ownership of the horses where upon One Ear made a move with
one hand toward the inside of his shirt. Jack drew his Colt and demanded One
Ear freeze but then made the mistake of diverting his attention to the brothers
behind him on the trail.
Perhaps he was concerned for the
brother’s safety or intended to call them forward to identify the horses. Maybe
it was a young man’s belief of invincibility or a disbelief in old men’s
stories of gunfights. Whatever the reason for Constable Lawson’s distracted
attention it allowed One Ear the opportunity to draw his revolver and shoot
Jack in the head.
The brothers fled back to Wild
Horse Creek for more help.
Jack Lawson fell dead from his
One Ear dismounted, dropped his
Manhattan Revolver (probably a .36 or “Navy Model” but it could have been a .31
pocket model) on the ground and picked up Jack’s relatively new Colt. (The 1860
Model Army was issued to BC officers.)
On their arrival in Wild Horse
Creek the two horse ranchers discovered the other three policemen still hadn’t
returned. They told their story to the citizens who were all upset about the
murder of Constable Jack Lawson. Four local miners were so upset they took out
on One Ear’s trail.
They followed the trail for
several days. Eventually they deduced One Ear’s intention and by taking another
trail managed to get ahead of him and lay an ambush. They confronted him on the
Walla Walla Trail 43 miles south of the BC Colonies border, not far from
Bonner’s Ferry.
According to accounts, three
shotgun blasts blew One Ear Charlie Brown from the saddle. They buried his
riddled body beside the trail.
Why three shotguns and not four?
Who knows? I suggest a possible explanation in my fictional account of the
event in the novel “Partners”.

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