Old “97” was a train, a section of the westbound transcontinental that, after snaking its stack-throbbing way through the mile-high snowy gorges of the Rockies, pulled into Kamloops towards midnight. Here the crew changed and it was off again, on a schedule that gave the visitor to the coast a daylight look at the breath-taking Fraser Canyon and the lush Fraser Valley.
But if 97 whirled its passengers and express through the dead of night with speed and safety, somehow it was a hoodoo train for outlaws.
It was on May 8. 1906 that Bill Miner and two confederates held up 97 just west of Kamloops when engineer Joe Callin was at the throttle. The story often told, recalls the night time halt when Joe felt the muzzle of a .44 in the small of his back and turned to find two masked men in the cab. The robbers got practically nothing for their efforts, and after a quick police chase were caught and consigned to the penitentiary.
The next outlaw unfortunate enough to board 97 was a swarthy little Italian called Paul Mannarino who shared with his uncle a mountain-top cattle ranch high above the railroad between Creston and Sirdar in the southeast Kootenay country. There were hidden currents in Paul, he’d been in bad trouble in the States and one frosty day in mid March, 1907, he got the sudden notion to take over his uncle’s ranch.
There was snow on the ground when one afternoon Paul told Uncle James he’d found a cache of dynamite back of an old stump a few hundred yards from the house. Uncle James followed his nephew out of the sight of the cabin and down into a hollow but somehow on the trail nephew Paul managed to get behind the old man and yanking his 45 calibre single action Colt from his belt holster, fired from the hip and the old man caught a slug in the back. The bullet hit him below the ribs knocking Uncle James on his face.
However, somewhat dazed, he managed to struggle to a sitting position and as he did so, his nephew ran toward him and fired again. There was a sudden spurt of blood from the old man’s head and he subsided on the ground.
The murderous Paul had it figured that with no one within miles the old man wouldn’t be missed, and in a day or two he would bury him and none would be the wiser So he went back to the house, finding the treasure trove of bills his Uncle James hid, made up the fire, had a meal, then laid in his bunk.
Drawn to the scene of the killing the next day he was surprised to find no body! His uncle hadn’t got a bullet through the head, but rather only a surface wound. He knew he’d better get out of there before his nephew came back and finished him off. Somehow he’d managed to stagger to his feet and falling and dragging himself down the snow covered mountain-side, fell exhausted on the railroad tracks.
There was seldom a train and seldom a trackman in that vicinity, but by good luck on this occasion there was. The railroaders put him on a hand car and took him to Sirdar, a couple of miles away, where a call went in for the police and a doctor. The local hotel man P. D. Hope bound up the wounds as best he could and in due course Provincial Constable Joe Wilson arrived from Creston 12 miles away, and took the injured man to Cranbrook, the nearest hospital.
Wilson heard enough from Uncle James realize that nephew Paul was a very bad actor, a man who would use a gun as quick as spit. What he didn’t know was that Paul had recently stocked up with rifle ammunition, and now with the body gone knew the police would soon be calling.
Paul had figured he couldn’t get over the mountains because of the snow and he’d be intercepted trying to walk the railroad north or south, so he’d wait for the law. A day later Constable Wilson and two volunteers from Creston, Charlie Hull and Bob Reid approached the Mannarino cabin. With his Winchester gripped across his chest, Wilson peered into the cabin and saw Mannarino sitting at a table with his head in his hands.
With one quick poke of the rifle barrel of the rifle barrel the window was shattered and Wilson yelled “Get your hands in the air.” Paul jumped to his feet with his hands in the air, slowly backing to the door of another room, and in a flash disappeared, instantly to reappear with a rifle in his hands, spitting out a hail of lead. Wilson jumped back yelling to his assistants to take cover.
Twice during the long night hours the besiegers were enshrouded in snow squalls and with daylight they were still at it. It was finally three in the afternoon of the next day that Mannarino’s firing slackened, then stopped.
“He’s out of ammunition !” Wilson yelled to one of his hidden helpers, then suddenly stood up and yelled to the concealed outlaw, all right Mannarino come out with your hands up. “We won’t shoot!” Slowly the door of the cabin opened and the haggard little Italian appeared with his hands high in the air.
How Mannarino managed to keep alive in the cabin in the crossfire of bullets was a bit of a mystery, but there was evidence in the cabin that he’d fired over 80 rounds. His belt gun still had three shells in the chamber.
Found guilty of attempted murder, Paul Mannarino finally heard Judge Clement consign him to the penitentiary ” for the rest of your natural life.”
If you’re wondering how old 97 entered the picture, it was district chief of the Provincial Police W. H. Bullock Webster, who took the prisoners to the coast a week later. They were travelling on 97 when, between Kamloops and Ashcroft, an open car window gave Mannarino a sudden inspiration. Although he was handcuffed, Paul jumped out the window.
The lake edge was just below the tracks, and maybe he figured the water would break his fall. He forgot, however, the ill-luck of outlaws on 97 and a foot or two short of the water he hit the ground . . . at 40 miles an hour. When the train stopped he was picked up but his multiple injuries, which included a fractured skull, spelt the end for Paul Mannarino. A few minutes later he died In the baggage car, and at Ashcroft they took him to the morgue. They took him off exactly 12 months to the day since Bill Miner’s unsuccessful brush with old 97!
Two years later, in the spring of 1909, the Haney brothers, Bill and Dave, held up 97 just about where Miner and his boys pulled it to a stop. Again, the jinx, for the Haney boys had in mind a load of bar silver consigned to the Chinese government. It was about 6,000 pounds in 90-pound ingots and would have taken 30 pack horses to haul it away.
A week Inter a couple of men were reported in a boat drifting down the Thompson and Provincial Constable Ike Decker an oldtimer on the force, found him self posted upstream from Ashcroft with his ever-,ready Winchester. In an ensuing gunfight, one of the Haney brothers was shot and killed, but not before he shot Decker through the heart. The other Haney brother dashed into the nearby bushes and was never seen again.