The ongoing search for two suspected murderers that has spread from northern B.C. to northern Manitoba recalls the year-and-a-half-long saga of the outlaws Moses Paul and Paul Spintlum.
CLINTON, May 3rd. — At a quarter to nine this morning a man rode into the temporary camp of the two Indian murderers Paul and Spintlum who are wanted for killing a man named White and a Chinaman [sic] who was a witness against them in his killing, both of which murders took place near Clinton last fall.
He recognized them but managed to leave their camp without arousing their suspicion and carried the alarm to a ranch house. The news was brought to Clinton immediately and a posse of six men left here at 11 o’clock headed by the local Provincial officer Alex Kindness….
This 107-year-old news account from the Ashcroft Journal recalls one of the greatest manhunts in British Columbia history, the 18-month search for the outlaws, Moses Paul and Paul Spintlum. More than a century after, this pair is remembered for the wild chase they led authorities.
Their amazing saga began in the summer of 1911 in the appropriately named Suicide Valley, south of Clinton, when fate brought together the first four actors of a tragedy which ultimately would involve hundreds of men, criss-cross hundreds of square miles of range land, cost tens of thousands of dollars — and five lives — before the final scene was enacted in a Kamloops jail yard.
The first supporting actor was an elderly Chinese woodcutter and gardener named Ah Wye; the scene, his shack on the historic Cariboo wagon road, just outside of Clinton. The second actor was a teamster named William White (who has also been referred to as Alexander Whyte), who arrived at Ah Wye’s on the hot afternoon of July 4 to buy eggs. A third man named Charlie Haller arrived with the same intent, when all were joined by the star of the unfolding drama, 25-year-old, mustachioed Moses Paul (also called Coxey Mowie) of the local reserve.
The tragedy began uneventfully enough with White, Haller and Paul enjoying a drink, and, shortly after, the three men left Ah Wye’s for Suicide Valley to consume the rest of their bottle.
Not until the next morning did the pace of our play pick up, when teamster Louis Crosina, passing through Suicide Valley discovered White’s battered body. Informed of Crosina’s find, provincial police Const. John McMillan hastened to the scene, to learn that White had been beaten to death with a blunt object.
Although he found few clues at the scene, McMillan had no difficulty in tracing the murdered man’s last movements and soon learned of his drinking bout with Charlie Haller and Moses Paul. After questioning Ah Wye, McMillan concluded that, after emptying their bottle, the three men had quarrelled and fought, either Paul or Haller — or both of them — having ended the argument with the bloody rock found beside the body.
Arresting Haller, the officer proceeded to Paul’s shack to question him, and, after a search of the cabin uncovered White’s watch. He charged the now sobered man with murder and locked him in the decrepit Clinton jail with Haller. Brought before Magistrate Saul, both men were twice remanded. However, on Aug. 12, Haller was released, Paul being further remanded eight days.
So far, the drama had proceeded almost routinely: Paul and/or Haller murdered White, and McMillan arrested both of them. But at this point the script went awry, when McMillan made two grave tactical errors, although quite understandable ones under the circumstances. Firstly he overlooked the security of the Clinton lock-up. Secondly — and worse — he forgot about Moses Paul’s erstwhile friend, Paul Spintlum. In his 30s the stocky Spintlum proved to be not only loyal but lethal, possessing daring and determination — an unfortunate strength of character, as authorities soon learned to their regret.
The unholy alliance of the two Pauls was consummated when Spintlum had a file smuggled into the jail in a baked salmon and Paul soon rasped his way to freedom. On Aug. 15, joining Spintlum, he fled from Clinton to prompt one of the most trying manhunts in Cariboo history.
But before they vanished into the Cariboo hinterland six weeks later, the outlaws made an important stop at the cabin of Ah Wye. It had been the old woodcutter who’d linked Paul with White in Suicide Valley, and the killer concluded that, with him out of the way, the Crown would have no case against him. Thus he cold bloodedly removed the witness by splitting his head open with his own axe.
Although the inquest ruled that Ah Wye died as the result of “a blow of an axe, inflicted by a party or parties unknown,” authorities entertained no doubts whatever as to Paul’s guilt and intensified their efforts to apprehend the outlaws. Weeks before, officials knew, Paul had secured a horse, rifle and ammunition. None doubted for a moment but that the manhunt would be difficult and, quite likely, deadly.
When Const. McMillan and his posse had galloped to Ah Wye’s cabin, they realized that — if the event of preceding weeks hadn’t been sufficient — they were up against two expert woodsmen. But for a few moccasin tracks about the murdered man’s cabin, there was not a trace of the outlaws — Moses Paul and Paul Spintlum had vanished.
As retired deputy Commissioner Cecil Clark of the B.C. Provincial Police noted many years ago: “…As successive generations of Cariboo lawmen will testify, it’s no easy matter to run an Indian to earth in that part of the world. Especially if he has friends to supply him with grub and fresh horses. You can couple this to the fact that no foxier pair existed than Paul and Spintlum.”
Consequently, despite the healthy rewards ($1,000 for Paul, $500 for Spintlum) offered by the authorities that October, fall and winter of 1911 passed without their capture. Then it was the spring of 1912. Previously, Const. McMillan had been replaced by Const. T. Lee of Savona who, in turn, had been replaced by “Mr. A. Kindness, late of the Vancouver Police Force [sic]” as reported by the Journal Dec. 23, 1911.
The tempo picked up on the morning of May 3, 1912, when ranch hand Charles Truran stumbled into the wanted men’s camp. As the Journal noted, Truran had immediately recognized them, but pretended to be unconcerned and “managed to leave their camp without arousing their suspicion”. Then, whipping his horse about, Truran galloped back to his employer’s ranch to give the alarm. Alerted to the outlaws’ campsite, Const. Kindness and a five-man posse charged in pursuit.
(To be continued)