A Vancouver time travelogue brought to you by Past Tense.
Bill Miner was the last of the great train robbers and is said to be Canada’s first. He began his criminal career in the 1860s when he reportedly coined the term “Hands up!” while robbing stagecoaches. By the time he moved to BC in 1903, he was a seasoned sixty year-old train robber. The following year a train was robbed near Mission, allegedly by Miner and his gang. But the job that landed him in the BC Penitentiary was a botched 1906 train robbery near Kamloops. After serving less than a year of his life sentence, Bill Miner and two accomplices tunneled their way to freedom.
Miner became a folk hero because, as the newspapers of the day liked to point out, he was a real-life Robin Hood. Under the alias George Edwards, Miner had made many friends in the short time he lived in BC, and everyone who knew him attested to his generosity and kindness. The many anecdotes about him include claims that it was not unusual for him to pay off someone’s mortgage or, as a trained shoemaker, to cobble shoes and give them to poor children. His good manners earned him the nickname the “Gentleman Bandit” and in the many heists he was involved in, Bill Miner never killed anyone.
When a Vancouver to Seattle train was robbed and one of the trainmen was bashed in the head in 1908, Miner wrote an indignant letter to the Vancouver World denying rumours that it was his work. Despite his fugitive status, he considered himself on a sort of parole, he said, and had come to realize that “you can get money here [in Seattle] without taking any risks. Business is business and I want to be left alone.” Besides, there was no one there “that I would go into cahoots with in a hold-up anyway.” Miner insisted that he had never in his life “bashed a man’s head to get the cash.”
Another time he explained that he did not “consider it a crime to lift money from rich corporations. It is not a crime, it is not a sin, it is neither immoral nor wrong. On the contrary … I have done what I have done and can look God and man in the face unashamed.”
Miner’s stint as a businessman “on parole” didn’t last long before he relapsed into his robbing ways. He never returned to Canada but landed in a Georgia prison, forty-two years after his first conviction, where he died of natural causes in 1913.
Source: Tacoma Times, 7 March 1911