About Me

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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Pinkerton's and Old Bill Miner

The Pinkerton National Detective Agency plays an important role in Swedes’ Ferry by Alan Safarik. The investigation into a bank robbery in Bismarck where the bank manager was killed involved both the United States and Canada. James J. Hill, President of the Bank and The Great Northern Railway called on the Pinkerton’s because they had operatives in both nations. 

Having not heard of the Pinkerton’s undertaking 19th Century investigations that involved Canada and the United States I did some online research. 

The Pinkerton’s were definitely involved in investigations covering both jurisdictions. A prominent case even involved railways. 

The case at the end of the Century involved Bill Miner. He had a variety of nicknames including “Old Bill” and “The Grey Fox” and “The Gentleman Bandit”. 

In Canada there were very few train robberies. Unlike the American West Canadian trains were not subject to holdups. 

Most sources say Miner was the first to rob a Canadian train. At least one source claims there was a robbery sometime earlier in Ontario. 

In September of 1904 Miner and two confederates held up the CPR transcontinental train about an hour out of Vancouver. While they netted $6,000 in gold dust and $1,000 in cash and possibly bonds they were frustrated as a larger quantity of gold dust had not made it on to the train. 

In Call in Pinkerton's: American Detectives at Work for Canada by David Ricardo Williams the Pinkerton’s were swiftly called by the CPR and the B.C. Police because of their past experience in pursuing and catching Miner. Assistant Superintendent, James E. Dye, was soon on the scene and confirmed the robbers were led by Miner.

Frank W. Anderson, in Old Bill Miner: Last of the Famous Western Bandits, explained that the key factor in identifying Miner as the leader was the politeness of the robber. Miner was purportedly the originator of the robbers’ demand “Hands Up!” The phrase was used in the robbery. As well at the end of the robbery the leader warned the engineer to back up carefully and to have a good night.

Dye followed tracks south into the state of Washington but could not find further evidence of the group.The investigation had more farce than glory for the Pinkerton’s.

A man they said was acting suspiciously was arrested. It turned out he was a detective on another case.

A boat supposedly stolen to aid the robbers’ escape had actually just drifted away.

Lastly, three men arrested in northern Washington were actually homesteaders.


Dye returned to Seattle.


Miner was not actually caught until he committed another train robbery in 1906 further north in B.C. near Kamloops. 

Tried and convicted he was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Gaining the trust of prison staff he promptly escaped in 1907 and returned to the U.S. 

Though over 60 he continued to be involved in robberies. He was eventually arrested in Georgia and convicted and escaped and was recaptured and died in prison in 1913. The Pinkerton’s did find him after his last escape in Georgia.
Safarik, Allan - (2015) - Swedes' Ferry


  1. What a story, Bill! I wasn't aware that Pinkerton's got involved in cross-border cases - interesting! And what a character Miner was. Definitely it all shows that truth can be at least as full of adventure as fiction...

    1. Margot: Thanks for the comment. There was a movie made about him called "The Grey Fox". There were mixed emotions about him robbing the CPR. More than person were not sympathetic to the railway saying it robbed them every day.

  2. The whole story about Bill Miner is very interesting, Bill. No wonder it inspired a movie.

    1. TracyK: Thanks for the comment. I encourage you to look Miner up online. He was also a robber in California.