A photograph from the period when Simon Gunanoot was under arrest in Hazelton and before he was taken to Vancouver for trial. Stewart Henderson, his lawyer, is standing on Gunanoot’s right and George Biernes, his friend who helped the negotiations that led to his surrender, on his left. While he was in jail there, Sperry Cline , the police constable in Hazelton, left his jail door unlocked and allowed him to work in the garden, frightening one passing lady who saw him with a large knife and who imagined he was on the loose and about to slaughter people. He was, in fact, peacefully working in the garden.

100 years since the surrender of Simon Gunanoot

The famed Gitsxan hunter was a fugitive for 13 years

On June 24, 1919, Simon Gunanoot, accused of a double murder, walked into the police station in Hazelton, B.C. and gave himself up, thus ending one the longest manhunts in British Columbia history. He had been on the run for thirteen years.

Gunanoot was a well-respected Gitxsan hunter and merchant in Kispiox, eight miles up the Skeena River from Hazelton. One evening in June 1906, he stopped for a drink at a disreputable bar at Two Mile, near Hazelton. There, at about four in the morning, he argued and then fought with Alex McIntosh, a packer on the mule-trains and worker on the steamers. Although what sparked the fight is not totally clear, many people believed that Alex had taunted Gunanoot with having slept with his wife.

“I will go away and come back and fix you,” one witness reported Gunanoot as saying to McIntosh as he left the bar. Another witness reported him saying, “Just wait and I will kill you.”

After helping round up horses for a pack train leaving that morning, McIntosh rode toward the hospital to have his injured hand attended to. Bested in the fight, partly drunk—it isn’t clear just how drunk— and angry, Gunanoot, the police alleged, had ridden home to get his gun, and had come back two hours later and shot McIntosh dead.

Next morning, McIntosh’s body was found on Doctor Wrinch’s pasture land on the trail to the hospital. Constable James Kirby rounded up a posse and started the search.

Within hours he received news that a second body had been found on the trail to Kispiox. This one was of Max LeClair, a guide, who had no connection with either McIntosh or Gunanoot. Why LeClair was shot is not known, but some suspected that the murderer might have mistaken him for a policeman coming to arrest him.

The police started the hunt. They raided Gunanoot’s home at Kispiox. They sent out search parties and they gathered evidence from witnesses. By then Gunanoot had disappeared into the wilds of northern British Columbia. With him went his family and his brother-in-law, Peter Himadan. No one was ever quite sure exactly what Himadan’s role in the murders might have been. The police seemed to think they could work that out after the arrests they expected to make shortly.

The authorities in Victoria were determined to arrest them and try them for murder. When the first search was unsuccessful, they sent out special parties, some more capable than others, some more honest than others. Finally they hired two Pinkerton’s agents to go about the district disguised as prospectors in an effort to catch them. They too failed.

The police were faced, though, with a major problem. Gunanoot was popular, and McIntosh had always been seen as a bit of a thug. There were few Gitxsan or settlers in Hazelton who wanted to see Gunanoot caught. No one stepped forward to collect the reward. Eventually the authorities lost interest and merely hoped that someone would betray him.

Gunanoot spent the thirteen years in the wilderness east and north of Hazelton. Through middlemen such as his friend George Beirnes, he was able to sell his furs in Hazelton and earn an income. The clerks in the Hudson’s Bay Company store usually knew when they were selling Simon’s furs but said nothing. Friends kept him supplied with food and ammunition. From time to time he was spotted, and it is known he was often in the woods around Kispiox. He even came into Hazelton occasionally, something the frustrated police learned about afterwards.

Public opinion in the Province turned in his favour. Having at first been depicted in the newspapers as a murderous savage, as the years passed he became seen more as a Gitxsan Robin Hood, a heroic outlaw.

For some years Gunanoot had been thinking of taking his chances with a trial. His surrender was carefully orchestrated. Sperry Cline, the police constable in Hazelton in 1919, had, through George Beirnes, persuaded Gunanoot that he should get a lawyer before surrendering. Stuart Henderson, one of the best lawyers in the province, was quietly hired for him. Gunanoot stayed in the forests for another winter to catch sufficient furs to pay for Henderson’s fees.

On June 24, 1919, he said his prayers and farewells to his wife and children. Then he stepped through the doors of the Hazelton police station and said to the surprised police constable there, “I’ve come to fight my case.”

Gunanoot was tried for the two murders in Vancouver in October, 1919. Witnesses were heard; evidence was examined. Henderson damaged the credibility of those who had dangerous testimony. After being out for only ten minutes, the jury returned with a verdict of “Not Guilty.” Himadan surrendered early in 1920 and charges were dismissed against him. Simon Gunanoot returned to Hazelton and died out on the trails in 1933.

Following his death, a friend said of him, “So Simon Gunanoot is dead, eh? He was a good fellow, as good as anyone would wish to be on the trail with… . There was nothing bad about him.”

Geoff Mynett’s biography of the pioneer medical missionary Dr. Wrinch—Service on the Skeena: Horace Wrinch, Frontier Physician—will be published by Ronsdale Press in October, 2019. (www.geoffmynett.com)

 

It was 100 years ago today that Simon Gunanoot turned himself into police to face trial for a double-murder ending one of the longest manhunts in B.C. history. (File photo)

Just Posted

Smithers golfer competes in university golf nationals

Mitchell Turko shot a final round 73 to finish tied for 24th

Climate, reconciliation and industry top all candidates agenda in Terrace

Debate was the candidate’s last opportunity to address voters in a public forum

Smithers fighter wins bronze at karate worlds

Lando Ball narrowly missed a chance to fight in the gold medal match in Austria

Climate change, economy and reconciliation take centre stage at Oct. 15 All-Candidates Forum

Six of the eight candidates were in attendance at the Smithers event

ELECTION 2019: It’s so close, it could come down to who turns out to vote

Black Press Media’s polling analyst on the origins of predictive seat modelling in Canada

Zantac, the over-the-counter heartburn drug, pulled in Canada, U.S.

Health Canada also investigates possible carcinogen in some ranitidine drugs

B.C. public safety minister says cannabis edibles not in stores til January

Mike Farnworth says he wants regional issues considered when it comes to licensing

Greta Thunberg calls for climate action in Alberta, but doesn’t talk oilsands

Swedish teen was met with some oil and gas industry supporters who came in a truck convoy

Scheer denies spreading ‘misinformation’ in predicting unannounced Liberal taxes

Conservative leader had claimed that a potential NDP-Liberal coalition could lead to a hike in GST

Council asks to limit cruise ship visits to Victoria harbour

Mayor says motion is not meant to curtail current visits or limit local cruise industry expansion

Chilliwack man pleads guilty in crash that killed pregnant woman

Frank Tessman charged under Motor Vehicle Act for accident that killed Kelowna school teacher

Kawhi Leonard, former Toronto Raptor, welcomed back to Vancouver at pre-season game

Fans go wild at pre-season game between L.A. Clippers and Dallas Mavericks at Rogers Arena

Greens and NDP go head to head on West Coast; Scheer takes fight to Bernier

Trudeau turns focus to key ridings outside Toronto after two days in Quebec

Most Read