7 of the most dangerous outlaws from Canada's Wild West

Horse thieves, holdup artists, and the infamous Mad Trapper make for a real rogue's gallery

Exhuming the remains of the Mad Trapper (CP Photo/HO)

The Canadian West of the 19th and early 20th centuries was as teeming with villains as its American counterpart. Indeed, many outlaws north of the 49th parallel were fugitive Yanks.

1. Boone Helm: A Kentucky-born marauder lured out west by the California Gold Rush, then forced into British Columbia in the early 1860s after a string of murders from Oregon to Utah, Helm was said to enjoy eating those he killed. He was arrested in Victoria in October 1862 for being of bad character and spent a month on a chain gang repairing streets. The next year he was arrested at Fort Yale on the Fraser River and sent back to Montana where he was hanged in 1864, after complaining that the executioner was taking too long in carrying out his sentence.

2. Brothers Allan, Charles and Archie McLean: The McLean Gang terrorized Kamloops, B.C., in the late 1870s, stealing everything from horses and liquor to ammunition. When the law came after them, the McLeans shot their way through, eventually killing two men, including a police constable. Eventually caught and convicted—the jury took 20 minutes to reach a verdict—they were hanged together in New Westminster in 1881.

3. James Gaddy and Moise Racette: After meeting in a Saskatchewan saloon in the 1880s, they decided to partner together in the horse-thieving business. To seal the deal they got their photograph taken; it would later become their wanted poster. When the Mounties went after the duo, a shootout ensued and a North West Mounted Police constable was killed. Gaddy and Racette were later convicted of murder and sent to the gallows in Regina in 1888.

4. Ernest Cashel: He was from the American Midwest but turned up in Alberta in 1902, a young man noted for his charm. Arrested in Calgary for forgery, he managed to escape, making his way to Lacombe and stealing a horse. Later, a rancher he worked for disappeared, and Cashel, caught after a two-month manhunt, was found wearing the rancher’s clothes. After the man’s body was discovered with a bullet hole in his chest, Cashel was convicted of murder. He escaped after his brother slipped him guns but was soon caught again and hanged in 1904.

5. Bill Miner: Originally from Kentucky and known as the Gentleman Bandit, Miner was reportedly the first holdup artist to use the phrase “hands up.” He committed one of Canada’s first train robberies in 1904 near Mission, B.C., at the age of 60, then struck a second train outside Kamloops in 1905. When the law closed in on him, Miner tried to shoot his way free but was caught and jailed. He later escaped the penitentiary in New Westminster, fleeing back to the U.S., where stories of his end are varied.

6. Harry Wagner: Named the Flying Dutchman after the famed ghost ship, he was a member of the ruthless Cassidy Gang in Wyoming before travelling northwest in a small ship, darting through the inlets of British Columbia. In March 1913, while robbing a store at Union Bay, Wagner was happened upon by police. One officer died in the gunfight that ensued, and Wagner escaped, only to be captured later and brought to trial in Nanaimo, B.C. He was hanged on Aug. 28, 1913.

7. Albert Johnson: Better known as the Mad Trapper of Rat River, he triggered a massive manhunt and captured the public’s imagination during the Great Depression after shooting a Mountie in the Yukon. He remained on the run for 48 days, travelling almost 300 km across the frigid Far North, before dying in a shootout in February 1932. His true identity has never been established.

Sources: Barkerville Cariboo Sentinel; Gold Country Communities Society; Glenbow Museum; Vancouver Sun; Vancouver Province; Whitehorse Daily Star

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