The Case of Ernest Cashel
T. MORRIS LONGSTRETH
Another celebrated Mounted Police case—the story of one of the most sensational manhunts in the Force's history
IT IS nearly a generation ago now that a boy of twenty, gone desperado, brought more trouble and more criticism upon the Mounted Police than any criminal—with one or two notable exceptions—in the Force’s annals. His was the ingenuity and the bravado of which legends are made in a more loosely disciplined region. In his brief era of defiance a ripple on the stream of crime became a wave of violence. Curiously, this swagger youth was apprehended before his crime became known. Indeed, the whole career of Ernest Cashel fermented with differences from the usual case, and his name is not loved by the Force that he temporarily taunted.
Calgary in 1902 was the brightest and busiest centre in all Canada’s great prairie country. The flood of immigrants converging on the new wheat lands reached a peak in that bustling cow town that had the snowtipped Rockies for its background. North and south for a hundred miles the in-trekking ranchers were strewing the plains with their effects. No sooner was a remote railway siding laid down than the freight cars rolled in and began to disgorge settlers’ belongings. New homesteads grew even more quickly than the crops, fireguards were plowed, fences raised, and the scarlet patrols stored in their memories new faces and new names.
Many of these settlers came from the United States, where they had sold developed lands for high prices and hoped to repeat on Canada’s gift acres. More than a few of the immigrants were no loss at all to their native country. There were some whose sins had found them out and who craved obscurity for a time; others had mistakenly judged that .he new frontier offered fewer restrictions than their own, or a richer field for unscrupulous endeavor. Among these latter was Ernest Cashel. This Kansas youth combined an unimpressive exterior
—a slight figure of medium height, brown hair, with fairly deep-set eyes—and a bad-man complex. He had run away from home at the age of fourteen, and had been running away from something ever since. State after State wanted him for misdeeds and outlawry. He had spent a year behind the bars at fifteen, and the criminal acquaintanceships made then furnished him with gang partners in his subsequent years of outlawry.
Contrary to his undistinguished appearance, an aggressive bearing helped Clshel with his projects. He was a devoted student of Nick Carter, and lived imaginatively after Diamond Dick and the James brothers. To the other new Albertans he proclaimed himself a cow-puncher in nasal accents, and his broad-brimmed hat helped the claim, or at least concealed the fact that he earned his livelihood chiefly as a barber when poker went back on him.
In this new environment, where the novice settlers were too busy for cards or even haircuts, Cashel had to come at last to considering work. He secured a job with a rancher, but his enthusiasm faded with the appearance of callouses. Also he computed that an untrained ranch hand’s income could never support him in the excitement and intemperance to which he was accustomed. So one day a forged cheque made its appearance at a Calgary store.
Miraculously At Large
HPHE storekeeper, unluckily for Diamond Dick’s -*• disciple, had an excellent memory, and the Calgary chief of police quickly obtained a warrant bearing Cashel’s name. But the forger had disappeared, and as the chief had no jurisdiction outside town he called on the Mounted Police for assistance.
The officer commanding the Calgary division was
Superintendent Sanders, already an old-timer in the Force though still young, a man both astute and genial, to whom the proper conduct of the Force was more important than any other matter. Discovering that Cashel’s mother was reported to be living near Ponoka, he ordered Constable Rubbra, at Red Deer, an intervening point, to locate and arrest the fugitive.
It was a routine assignment and concluded in routine fashion, Constable Rubbra finding traces of the forger through another spurious cheque which was disturbing the serenity of a local merchant. A few hours brought Rubbra to the ranch where the boy had stopped, and the next train Calgaryward carried Cashel, escorted by the chief, Constable Rubbra having dropped off at Red Deer.
But the little American looked on adversity as a stimulus and was full of ideas. He sought permission to visit the washroom, which was granted.
With one eye on the washroom, only a few feet away, and the other on the bright autumn scenery, the chief gave himself up to pleasant musings, well satisfied that his job had been finished with so little difficulty. It was regrettable that all his cases were not equally simple. Of course, one had to expect a difference with mature criminals, but young fellows such as this one . . .
With a start the chief realized that for some seconds he had been listening subconsciously for a sound from that washroom. Uneasiness seized him, and, with pseudo unconcern, he stepped to the door and called. No answer. The door was locked from the inside. A few minutes of lock-forcing opened the door, but no one was surprised to find the room empty and the window open. Anxious heads peered up the track. Cashel had vanished like a gopher. The chief carried his late prisoner’s coat and vest back to Calgary as a fleshless substitute.
Forgery in Calgary was not a concern of the Mounted Police, but escape from custody outside the city was; so upon receipt of the news Superintendent Sanders wired Red Deer and the adjoining detachments to take up the chase. No difficulty was anticipated. On the windy plains of Alberta, in October, a man without coat or vest would be as conspicuous as a purple cow.
Yet several days of enquiry passed before a rancher at Lacombe was found with a likely clue. A chap named Ellsworth had come to him, saying that his horse had run away carrying with it his outer garments, and would the rancher lend him a coat and vest and a horse until
his were re-taken? The rancher had obliged the smoothspoken stranger; but neither his dark bay pony, his saddle nor his clothes had come back, and he was now wrathfully of the opinion that he had been swindled. As the mounted policeman took the description of the stolen property he reflected that the charges against Cashel were mounting up.
A week went by, two weeks, a month, and the fugitive was still almost miraculously at large. A petty thief had become master of the vanishing trick. It grew more and more irritating to the constables riding over the land, to the officer commanding in Calgary, and finally to the commissioner at Regina. It seemed impossible that a strange youth whose description was known could remain hidden in that sparsely settled region if t .e search was being properly pressed, unless of course, he were being sheltered, which was unlikely. Commissioner Perry ordered more energetic action.
Whatever of reproof resided in the order from Regina, it was not directed at the exceedingly active redcoat at Lacombe, Constable Macleod, and the very day that the commissioner dictated his opinion, Macleod got news of Cashel. He had been seen, a few weeks earlier, at a ranch near Haynes Creek, thirty-eight miles from Lacombe, mounted on the stolen horse. A Mr. Thomas, a settler from the States, remembered a youth of Cashel’s appearance with a similar pony. He had stayed for a few days at Rufus Belt’s place, a few miles away, at the end of October. Thomas’s son had seen the young fellow, who called himself Bert Ellsworth, when visiting Belt, his uncle, one Sunday afternoon.
So far, fine. Ellsworth was the name Cashel had used when borrowing the pony at Lacombe, and Constable Macleod only hoped that he would continue to employ the same lack of originality when giving his name elsewhere during his flight.
To interview Belt was the next step; but when Macleod mentioned this, Mr. Thomas said that his brother-in-law was not at home. In fact, Belt had not been seen by anyone since the Sunday visit of his son. It might be a good thing, he added, if Macleod would go over with him to see Belt’s place.
Everything about the missing settler’s home suggested hasty departure. The door and windows were open, though it was now November. A trunk with tools was unlocked and uncovered, and a pail filled with clean water stood in the path from the house to the Red Deer
River, two hundred yards away. This inexplicable carelessness was what worried Mr. Thomas. His brother-in-law was a methodical, industrious, neat old man of sixty who would never, in a normal state, have left things in such a condition. Further, a dark cream pony, a new saddle with the name J. R. Belt scratched on the skirt, a repeating shotgun, a new corduroy brown suit, a pair of blankets, overshoes, and a cap were missing. Mr. Thomas remembered that Belt had about $200 in cash with him, including a $50 American gold certificate.
Although Mr. Thomas had not put his fears into words, the neighbors were less reticent; and Macleod inwardly agreed that appearances did reasonably suggest that the missing man had been foully dealt with. But there was no sign of a tragedy, and it was suggested that he might have gone as a guide to Ellsworth-Cashel. But why the precipitous haste? There were good reasons for Cashel wishing to leave in a hurry, but Belt would hardly have gone on any extensive trip without notifying Thomas. Even the family in Iowa had not heard from him for so long that they were growing anxious. Before leaving Belt’s place Macleod made a hasty search of the river bank, certainly a convenient place to hide a body, but had found nothing. But one fact was known: Belt was gone, and with him the horse, saddle, and clothes. If these could be traced it would settle many doubts; while, if Cashel had stolen them, it was altogether likely that he would dispose of one outfit or the other, Belt’s horse or the Lacombe ranchers.
Stopping at his detachment only long enough to send a complete report to division headquarters, the constable resumed his search, and found, two days later, the Lacombe rancher’s saddle at Pleasant Valley, where Cashel had sold it on November 1. The buyer remembered that Cashel had asked about the main trails to the border. He had been well armed with a 44-40 revolver and a rifle of the same calibre.
Macleod’s report caused immediate activity throughout the Edmonton, Calgary, Lethbridge, and Macleod divisions of the Force. This was growing serious. An unpretentious reader of dime novels, passing bad cheques here, appropriating horses there, moving about the province as he pleased, had eluded the Mounted Police for several weeks, possibly killing as he went. It was perilous to the countryside and belittling to the Police. Each detachment within the suspected area
received descriptions of Cashel and Rufus Belt, the two horses, Belt’s saddle and clothing. All settlers and ranchers were notified to be on the alert. The commissioner, fuming at Regina, sent Pennycuick, the star detective, who had done most to solve the O’Brien murders of two years before, to see Constable Macleod and to probe the murder possibility; and Macleod was ordered to pick up Cashel’s trail and follow it "to the end.”
A False Trail
BUT as December progressed and the winter storms increased in violence, the wonder grew. How could Cashel, a stranger to Canada and a tenderfoot to boot, travel without a guide? How could he evade the ranches? How could his tracks remain unseen? And, supposing that Rufus Belt had chosen to disappear, what ability had Belt to travel without trace? The country was hilly, with few trails, the travel bad.
Christmas was only a week away and still the patrol reports were barren of useful information when the Wintering Hills detachment forwarded an account of two unknown men leading packhorses and riding south, no one knew why or whither. Enquiries failed to enlarge the knowledge, and the map suggested infinite possibilities of travel. The Police divisions to the east were cautioned to scrutinize all strangers.
Pennycuick, frustrated by the snow that now covered Rufus Belt’s acres, returned to Calgary, to find that the chief of police, stung by his sense of responsibility for Cashel’s escape, had been doing some investigating on his own hook. He now reported that a man whose description tallied with the fugitive’s had left a playedout horse at a stable in Shephard, taking his saddle with him. Shephard, Pennycuick remembered, was where Cashel had passed a forged cheque. From Shephard, the chief said, he had traced the suspect’s movements to Calgary, where the ticket he bought routed him to Laggan, Kamloops, and Revelstoke, British Columbia.
This looked like an escape down the Coast. A wire to the police at Vancouver brought a reply that the same man, identified by the saddle, had left for Seattle only an hour earlier. The next train for the Pacific carried Pennycuick.
The saddle lighted up the trail still further. At Seattle it had been checked into Oregon. At Shaniko the station agent recalled the quarry, and his description of a small, dark, thin man was a good picture of Cashel except for
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The Case of Ernest Cashel
Continued from page 17
the mustache, easily explainable by the fugitive’s desire to disguise himself. Pennycuick, with a Portland officer armed with a warrant, examined the hotel register and found the entry, “B. Nail, Moose Jaw.” B. Nail had checked out the previous day for Princeville.
It was very cold, the snow lay deep, a blizzard raged, and no one would undertake the trip for law or money, so Pennycuick sent a wire to the .sheriff at Princeville. The reply was all that could be desired, and it looked as if the Cashel case was drawing to a close. The sheriff had Nail under arrest and the prisoner would say nothing.
Pennycuick, reaching Princeville, found his satisfaction dimming as he looked the prisoner over. B. Nail’s face resembled the description of Cashel’s, so did his clothing; but Cashel was surely younger and taller. B. Nail continued his policy of saying nothing, although he was visibly startled at the charges read out to him. For a day his silence persisted, then trepidation overcame him and he explained, giving his right name and the ranch where he had been working north of Calgary. He had had trouble with a woman, he confessed, and had fled hastily by a roundabout route to prevent being followed. He offered to return to Canada to prove his statements, but Pennycuick was already half convinced. Two days later a telegram from Calgary corroborated Nail’s statements, and Pennycuick returned to Canada without the Christmas present of Ernest Cashel in person that he had hoped to make to his commissioner. The search was renewed along all lines of travel between Laeombe and the United States.
Cashel’s Favorite Trick
rT'HREE weeks more elapsed before the next clue came to light. A man from Jumping Pond reported to a mounted policeman that a chap) named Ellsworth had borrowed a horse from him to recover his own, which had thrown him on the prairie, and had not been seen since. Evidently Cashel liked his trick. This time the description included a pair of brown corduroy pants and two buckle overshoes, both items missing from Belt’s place.
Now Jumping Pond was near an Indian reserve and a half-breed settlement at Shaganappi Point, and the three places received the attention of the Police. It was not long before a half-breed woman admitted to Pennycuick that a young man, very like Cashel in appearance, had driven up in a two-wheeled rig about November 15 and stated that his name was Nick Carter! He had slept in the open that night, but they had taken him in afterward, for a month. He had a .4-1 calibre revolver, and he had induced a half-breed woman to buy ammunition for him in Calgary. Another woman had bought some underwear for this Nick; he had given her a $50 American bill, she remembered. A white rancher living near the ’breed advised Nick Carter’s host to tell the Police about his guest. The 'breed became alarmed enough to do as advised, and the Calgary chief sent men to arrest the boy.
Cashel had only begun to draw' on his repertory of tricks, however, and by hiding in a stable dugout succeeded in getting overlooked. But remaining was impossible, so, trading in Belt’s corduroy coat and vest for a light-colored outfit and giving his host the rig, Nick Carter Ellsworth Cashel resumed his trip. It was then that he purloined the horse from the man at Jumping Pond. Pennycuick asked to see the corduroy coat and vest. His lips tightened at the sight of a dark blotch on the lining; it suspiciously resembled blood.
With the fresh trail, events developed rapidly. A diamond ring was reported stolen in the shadow of the Rockies, at Kananaskis, by one Bert Wade, and this caused peremptory messages to be sent to all the detachments in the Banff area ordering a check-up of all strangers, section gangs and hoboes. As the circle tightened diverting rumors came in, but the Mounted Police postponed investigating them in order to ransack the Kananaskis-Canmore district, and finally, on January 25, Cashel was surprised and taken.
His composure was remarkable, though not w'ithout reason. For three months and more a youth with little but a lively imagination to assist him had survived not only an Albertan winter in the midst of a hostile group of disturbed ranchers, but had done this in the face of an active pursuit by the proud and practically invincible Police.
The Death Sentence
W/ITH Cashel again in custody, Pennycuick turned back to the investigation of Rufus Belt’s disappearance. A supply of Cashel photographs simplified this work. From them the Thomases identified Bert Ellsworth without hesitation and as readily recognized the corduroy clothing. Working from ranch to ranch in a southerly direction from Red Deer, the detective struck the trail taken by Cashel the previous November. One settler knew the photograph and remembered Belt’s cream-colored pony. Another rancher’s memory was equally effective when confronted with the photograph, and he recalled that Cashel had shown him an American $50 bill, taking it from a roll of about $200. Cashel spent the night at this ranch, and on departure left a pair of blue trousers which Thomas identified as Rufus Belt’s.
The trail was easy now, to the ranch where Cashel had bought the two-wheeled rig for $10 plus a new saddle and bridle and a pair of spurs. With the saddle in his hands that had J. R. Belt scratched on its skirt, Pennycuick knew that the essentials of the first part of his investigation were complete. But there remained the all-important body to discover.
To facilitate the search a reward was offered to anyone locating the body of Rufus Belt, the settlers along the Red Deer being asked to be particularly on the alert. Pennycuick determined to search the stream from Belt’s place to its junction with the Saskatchewan. For three weeks he and a constable worked their way along, probing bay and bar, examining drift piles and islands and every foot of shore. In the rain or cold, camping wherever nightfall found them, the pertinacious little party covered 365 miles, but without finding the slightest trace.
Meanwhile, back in Calgary, Cashel was formally arraigned on the charges centring around the major crime of which he was suspected but of which there was no proof, three charges of theft, one of forgery, and one of escaping from custody. On the day that Pennycuick finished his search Cashel was sentenced to three years in the penitentiary for his proven crimes. Like a true Jesse Jamesite, he received the verdict with composure.
But Pennycuick was not satisfied. The durability of the human body is an astounding thing and the detective felt that further search for Belt’s was justified. The snow was gone and Pennycuick returned to Belt’s cabin. New aspects were revealed, among them signs which might have been made by a heavy body dragged toward the river. A neighbor belatedly admitted that he had seen blood, hair, and skin on some stones after the snow left. If so, rain had washed these
marks away. But back to the river the detective went.
May passed, June crept toward its end, July was ushered in, and the new search continued.
Back at Calgary, Nick Carter Cashel was growing bold, boasting to a fellow prisoner that those sons-of-blanks, the Mounted Police, could do nothing without Belt’s body and that they would never find. Had he buried it, Pennycuick would ask himself, or burned it? Just as the detective’s persistence seemed utter folly, on July 23 news materialized. A body had come to light at the mouth of a remote creek. There was a bullet wound in the left breast. The body was naked except for socks and boots, and very much decomposed.
The coroner arrived, a jury was immediately empanelled. By that curious fatality which causes murderers to leave some sign, the boot remaining on the otherwise naked body had a steel clamp on its left heel, and this was recognized by Mr. Thomas and his son.
“But you don’t have to go by that,” said Thomas. “If that’s Rufus the left big toe’ll be twisted under the second toe. He cut himself there with the axe once.”
They removed the boot and the deformity as described camé to light. The jury brought in the verdict that Rufus Belt had met his death by a bullet wound inflicted by Ernest Cashel between October 27 and November 17, and Pennycuick laid the information against Cashel for murder.
Already public interest was intense and a great criminal lawyer was engaged for the criminal’s counsel. He began by ridiculing the coroner’s jury’s findings, and made nearly every witness admit that he had gone expecting to see Rufus Belt’s body. But not even Lawyer Nolan could get around the deformed toe and the steel-clamped boot. Pennycuick, relying on his other exhibits, was confident. His carefully articulated account of Cashel’s every movement from the moment of his escape, the production of Belt’s clothing, the pony and rig, the accused’s sudden wealth, the $50 American bill—these were conclusive and damning.
The case lasted from October 19 to 27 and was followed with great eagerness. Cashel sat with his rather deep-set eyes fixed on the man from whose lips would come the words of deliverance or doom. For the first time the confidence in his past skill and his ability to imitate his heroes deserted him. Furrows wrinkled his forehead, and pallor indicated the difficulty of self-control. Thirty-five minutes and the jury filed in. The prisoner followed with a quick and steady step. He scanned each member of the jury deliberately, and their faces told him what was coming. He gripped the side of the box w’ith an audible sigh and heard the foreman’s, “Guilty, sir.”
CASHEL came to his feet as the judge addressed him.
“Have you anything to say why sentence should not be pronounced against you?”
“Nothing,” said Cashel without hesitation, “except that I ain’t guilty.”
The date fixed for the execution was December 15, and Cashel was driven in the double-seated carriage, a guard on either side, to the Mounted Police barracks. His composure was remarkable. At first he refused to eat, saying that he preferred starvation to hanging, but the arrival of his brother from the States and of Nolan, who was making every effort to obtain a new trial, changed his point of view and he became a model prisoner.
So far as the Mounted Police were concerned, the case was finished save for the disagreeable part of the execution. The men responsible for the death watch received their orders without pleasure. Not that there was sympathy for Cashel, coolest of killers; but he was young and he was showing remarkable nerve as the calendar ushered in December and began to tick off the days. His brother, John Cashel, was decidedly of a finer type, too, and his genuine sorrow over Ernest’s disgrace and approaching fate commanded respect. The brother and the Reverend George Kerby, the Samaritan clergyman who had taken a deep interest in the condemned youth, were allowed to visit the prisoner. But the provost in charge of the guardroom and the two constables who assisted exercised perpetual vigilance, one constable remaining continually in front of the death cell, facing it.
As the last week left to Cashel to live arrived and his counsel’s efforts to obtain a new trial continued to meet no success, preparations for the last act began. By ironic contrast Cashel’s twenty-first birthday, December 10, approached. His brother, John, paid the usual visit. Outside, as night fell a stormy wind rose. The provost and his two assistants glanced frequently at the clock hoping for the arrival of their reliefs at six-forty. When it was time to make the daily search of the death cell, the provost and Constable Swiss entered a door in a steel network which shut off the corridor to the cells from the guardroom office, where Constable Spanish remained. Cashel was released from his cell to be watched by Swiss while the provost made his search.
Everything was in good order and the provost called to the prisoner to re-enter the cell. Cashel made no movement to obey. The provost looked around impatiently and repeated his order. Cashel still stood there, his hands in his pockets—he was in civilian clothing—but only for one tense second. With a swift determined movement he drew two revolvers from his pockets.
“You speak or move, either of you, and I’ll let you both have it.”
The provost made an attempt to jump away, but Cashel held those menacing muzzles on him and on Swiss with unmistakable design. With an almost equal desperation at his helplessness, the provost made a move to offer his holster and revolver, trusting to snatch control in the shuffle of acceptance; but Cashel was taking no chances and ordered the constable to drop them on the floor. It was that or extinction. In a minute Cashel was in command of the corridor. He made equally short work of the constable on the other side of the steel partition, who looked up to see a revolver poked through an opening and covering him at the distance of a few feet. Cashel backed the three men into his cell.
“I don’t want to shoot you,” said Cashel, “but I’m in a bad position.” None of his more celebrated models could have done it better. With his late captors powerless, Cashel walked coolly around to the office and, with the three imprisoned policemen watching him, obtained the key for his leg irons from its hook and freed himself.
A Desperate Chance
THE report of Cashel’s escape caused a stir throughout Canada. The provost and his assistants were arrested pending an investigation which the commissioner intimated he would hold in person. John Cashel was taken prisoner within fifteen minutes of the discovery of his brother’s escape on suspicion of having supplied the firearms which had so mysteriously ap-
Continued on page 30
Continued from page 28
peared in his brother’s hands. He was on his way to the guardroom when arrested, to see Ernest, he said. But he had a pair of shoepacks and a supply of cartridges on his person.
Most of the Canadian newspapers reviewed the escape, and an acid note permeated their opinions of the conduct of the guards in permitting themselves to be disarmed.
All this was gall and wormwood to the Force, which could not reply. Each man took the incident as a reflection upon himself personally.
From Regina and other points experienced trailers were sent to aid in the new search. The wires carried messages to all the detachments for hundreds of miles about Calgary, ordering them to assist.
Four days passed and the extraordinary youth was still at large, with a spirit quite undaunted, for on December 15, the day fixed for his execution, he appeared, as if to signalize the event, at a ranchhouse a few miles from Calgary, while the owner was away, and stole a diamond ring and some clothing, including a military cloak, and left his own clothes with this note:
Cashel, $1,000 return in six months.
Simultaneously the wildest rumors spread over the region like its own north wind. The fugitive was seen in a dozen widely separated places at the same time, while the sorely harassed Police rode hither and thither following up every story for the chance bit of truth. The trouble was that in most cases the narrators were so evidently sincere, so sure; even when I confronted with Cashel’s photograph they insisted that they were right and had seen I him. Yet this could not have been. Within the first few days an area of fifty square miles had been combed, every deserted I shack or dugout searched, every settler warned. One report—that Cashel had i been located at Cochrane—found the barracks strength reduced to six men, but these immediately dashed off through the Calgary streets, while Superintendent Sanders made arrangements for reinforcements and a special train. It was just i another false alarm. The executioner,
I Mr. Radcliffe, however, continued to linger in Calgary.
Cashel Mocks the Police
r“PHE first search for Cashel had been as : nothing to this. At the end of a week
the Mounted Police were almost as played out as their mounts; but, while new horses could be obtained, there was no ; let-up for the scarlet riders. Even the I most critical of Calgary citizens tempered I their remarks as they became impressed I by the widespread activity and thorough! ness of the search
Edmonton, Lethbridge, Macleod were I infected with the same silent determination to leave no sod hut, no settler’s stable unvisited. When Cashel was reported to have been seen in North Portal, “A” division hunted the trail, which did not end until the suspect was run to earth in the United States and found to be another man. A Montana sheriff wired that he believed Cashel was there; it was only another fugitive. The inhabitants of a region larger than New England began to have a Cashel complex, finding his double behind every woodpile. Seven Cashels were actually seen in one day.
Meanwhile Cashel himself, finding Christmas nearing, sent a taunt of defiance to the Mounted Police by letter directed to the clergyman who had sympathized with him, as follows:
“How are you making it, Mounted Police? I am in good health and spirits for the future life which I am undoubtedly going to have spite the hard workof.the Mounted Policeman.
"If you do get me it won’t be alive.
“Justtell Mr. Radcliffe he might as
well go back to Ottawa, Ont.
“And take scaffold with him.
“I am going to stay in Calgary for
some time yet.”
The handwriting was unmistakably
On December 12 a device rarely resorted to by the Force was tried, and posters announcing $1,000 reward for the capture and return, or for information resulting in such capture and return, of Ernest Cashel were spread abroad. But January came and no one had qualified for the thousand dollars.
“Wehere is Cashel?” became the leading question of every conversation. Superintendent Sanders was still convinced that the fugitive had not broken through the Police cordon. Many of the searchers were of the same opinion, believing that Cashel was being sheltered by some rancher, who was unwilling to inform on him for fear of reprisals to his women folk or property.
This view was supported on January 12 by actual news. A farmer living a few miles outside Calgary told of a stranger appearing at his door, three days previously, pointing a revolver at him and announcing that he was Cashel and needed a horse. The farmer was helpless. Cashel went indoors and eagerly read the newspaper, breaking out into threats of vengeance against those who would give evidence against his brother, John. He stopped long enough to write a letter and to take what ready money the farmer had.
On January 21 a rancher from Shepard, about twenty miles out of Calgary, reported that Cashel had come to his house two days before and had stayed all night. He described the wanted man as nearly frozen and covered with hay. He had been heavily armed and was wearing a blue military cloak. He admitted his identity. Unfortunately he had kept the upper hand in the adventure; the rancher was sorry to have only a cold trail to offer. So were the officer and constables who were sent out to check up. They found no trace of the fugitive save some footprints near the railway station where he had disappeared in the frozen grass.
On the same day John Cashel was found guilty of having helped his brother to escape. He appeared relieved when the judge seemed to recognize the human instinct behind his actions. Sentence was deferred until January 25.
The report of the conviction was a signal for the most drastic action yet taken by the thwarted Police. Superintendent Sanders, reinforced in his belief of Cashel’s presence near by through the discovery of the cloak and the two ranchers’ tales, felt certain that Cashel had remained to hear the result of his brother’s trial, perhaps to aid him to escape.
AS A first precaution he asked the local press to print nothing of the search, in spite of the scarehead circulation it was building up, since Cashel was obviously obtaining information through the columns. Then twenty civilians were sworn in, some of them members of the Calgary Mounted Rifles, to aid the Police, and on Sunday at eight a.m. this imposing
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cavalcade of forty rode from the barracks gate, divided into four units, half civilian, half police, and set about rounding up the condemned but uncaught murderer. Inspector Arthur Duffus commanded one party.
Upon crossing Nose Creek, the inspector’s party began a systematic house to house search, including a careful scrutiny of the haystacks. It was nearly noon when they had worked to a point where a number of ranch hands’ shacks stood. Here Duffus divided his strength into three to hasten operations.
One of the groups approached a ranch house and the constable in charge asked the usual questions.
“No,” was the reply, “we haven’t seen Cashel. But a stranger with side-whiskers and wearing a blue suit has been sleeping in the hay. Go ahead and search.”
They went ahead toward a shack occupied by two of the ranch hands. On the way they came to a haystack. One of the group made for it and began to look it over. The results this time differed from hundreds of other similar searches. An exclamation! And from a large hole that had been dug out of the stack came a military cloak and the other clothing stolen by Cashel in December. At last they were hot on Cashel’s heels.
The ranch hands’ shack was apparently deserted. No one answered Constable Biggs’ call and he, with two others, entered the building. It was not large and they soon satisfied themselves that the rooms were empty. Biggs saw a trapdoor leading into the cellar. It was awkward trying to hold the lantern, the door, and a revolver, so Biggs abandoned his weapon and let himself down under the house. The place was pitch black. Biggs swung his lantern. It caught a paleness in a murky corner, eyes, a man’s face—Cashel’s!
At the same instant there was a deafening explosion and a bullet whizzed by his head. Biggs jumped for the trapdoor and the revolver, pulled himself through, seized the gun and let fly a shot at Cashel. A shot came in reply. Just then another constable appeared, and Cashel dropped back through the trapdoor as Biggs fired his second shot. A sound from below indicated a hit; but orders were not to be too precipitate, so the constables retired outside, one of the group going to get Inspector Duffus while the others surrounded the shack.
With the arrival of the officer, the operations became systematic. Duffus ordered Cashel to come out and surrender.
! There was no reply. So Duffus determined to smoke him out, and ordered hay placed against the shack and fired. The flames licked the dry wood, and smoke, rolling up in clouds, was soon sucked into the house. Then the inspector crept cautiously to a point where he could reach one of the two windows and broke the glass, while another member of the party was doing the same thing on the far side.
“Cashel, you had better come out,” called the inspector.
A voice from the cellar replied:
“I’m not coming out. I’m going to kill myself. You’ll find a letter on the floor to my mother.”
There was a pause, while the flames increased.
"Come and get it before it’s burned. For God’s sake put out the fire. I don’t want to be roasted i”
With several rifles covering the trapdoor, the inspector continued:
“Come out with your hands up, Cashel. There’s no use your trying to shoot or you’re a dead man.”
Cashel knew what was facing him and did not reply. The party heard a shot boom in the cellar Then silence except for the crackling flames.
The Fateful End
TJUT Duffus was not to be deceived.
That shot might mean suicide; in fact most people expected this theatrical youth to try the quickest way out when capture loomed inevitable. But it might also mean a trick, a subterfuge to draw the Police within range of his arms. Once more Duffus repeated his order to the besieged to come out, and Cashel, finding that deception was finally useless, called out:
“I don’t want to be hung and I don’t want to kill any of you, but I guess I’ll have to give myself up.”
He called that he had dropped his gun, but Duffus took no idle risk, keeping him covered until he had climbed out of the cellar and it was seen that he was telling the truth.
He was changed in appearance, his skin reddened by wind and cold, with long unkempt hair and side whiskers, and for a moment it seemed as if his daring temperament had cracked.
“I’m sick of the whole business,” he said.
But he soon recovered, making jokes with the rest and whistling, except when the name of Pennycuick was mentioned.
“I wanted to kill that man,” he exclaimed. “I’ve been looking for him ever since I got out.”
But the real reason for his hanging around Calgary was, as he admitted, to try for his brother’s release. "Next morning this brother was brought before Justice Sifton and sentenced to a year’s imprisonment for aiding Ernest to escape; and half an hour later, on the same spot, Ernest Cashel heard his execution postponed for one more week. Mr. Radcliffe had gone home. Cashel kept his nerve throughout the ordeal, but when his brother heard of the capture, John broke down. There was universal sympathy for him.
The long-drawn-out case was completed on February 2, when Cashel, after confessing to the murder of Rufus Belt, was hanged. But for many days Calgary buzzed with stories of the sensational young killer, his crimes, his arrests, his defiance, his escapes.
The day after the execution the barracks square at Calgary resumed its normal appearance. Trains speeding east and west and north bore the searchers from other divisions back to their regular duties. A load had been lifted from each individual when the slight young man who had thrown the whole Force out of gear was pronounced dead. It was good to have seen the thing through, and good to know that the press and public were satisfied. Perhaps the feelings of the West are best summed up in a paragraph from the Edmonton Bulletin:
“Of the men who were finally successful in the capture, there is only one thing to be said. They showed a courage and persistency equalled only by Cashel himself and coupled with a devotion to duty as marked as his wolfish disregard of everything but himself. The prestige of the Mounted Police and of British justice have been maintained by their actions. They are entitled to every credit, and in such case the reward should be substantial as well as sentimental, proportioned to the risks taken and the success achieved.”