Murder at Field, BC

“Canadian Pacific Railway locomotive 732 and crew, Field, British Columbia.”, [ca. 1899-1903], (CU1157610). Courtesy of Libraries and Cultural Resources Digital Collections, University of Calgary.  

As is evidenced by the excavation and assessment carried out on the bodies removed by Simon Frazer University from the Golden Pioneer Cemetery, violence played a big role in the early history of this area. Five of the eight bodies removed from the cemetery showed signs of violence. One of these had a fractured skull that would have resulted in death and one had a bullet hole through the skull.

The following story is about a murder that took place in Field, B.C., on September 16, 1902 and the information used comes from a copy of the inquisition and from the information of the witnesses.

James Mathews, who worked on Donald Bain’s Mason Gang at Field, stated that on the morning of the 16th of

September, 1902, as he entered the sleeping car he saw Guiseppe Donato, an Italian, roll over in his bunk, shove a 38 caliber revolver into the left breast of Dan Gordon and shoot the revolver, re-cock it and fire again.

He then saw Billy Thompson knock the revolver out of the Italian’s hand and another man by the name of Olinger picked up the revolver. Next Mathews reported he pulled the prisoner off the bunk and placed him on

a table between two sets of bunks. After the shots were fired, Gordon fell into Frank Varney’s arms and said, “I’m gone” or some words to that effect and then Gordon was placed in birth No. 3. The deceased was shot at 10 minutes to seven in the morning and died at 10 minutes to eight in the morning. Matthews also stated that Donato always carried a revolver.

Frank Varney stated that he worked for Bain’s Mason Gang and that he was a particular friend of the deceased. He stated that he was in the bottom bunk No. 3 when Dan Gordon came into the car and that he was awake. He had Gordon’s check for $28.90 as well as $30.00 cash. Gordon set down on the edge of bunk No. 3 and asked Varney if he had the money and then Gordon proceeded to fool with the Italian. He lifted him out of his bunk and put him out of the car. Varney stated that he did not notice the Italian make any particular objection until he picked up an axe after he entered the car again. The axe was taken from him by H. Blanchford and the Italian got back into bed again and Gordon put the blanket over the Italian’s face again. At this point, Gordon sat down on bunk No. 3 to continue his conversation with Varney. The breakfast bell went and Varney got up to go to breakfast.

Varney stated that he was gone for 15 or 20 minutes and that when he returned and entered the car, the Italian shot Gordon and that he tried to shoot him a second time but that the revolver didn’t go off.

Ben Olinger. Who also worked for Donald Bain’s Mason Gang stated that Dan Gordon came in to the car about six o’clock and stayed for a few minutes smoking. The Italian Donato was awake and Gordon told him to get up. The Italian was not dressed and Gordon lifted Donato out of his bunk. The Italian said to Gordon

when he was being lifted out of the bunk, “You hurt my back.” But that he did not hear the Italian make any loud protests.

Gordon carried him to the door and stood him outside the car on the ground. Donato had only his shirt and

under-drawers on. Gordon then helped him back into the car and the Italian raced for the axe and tried to strike Gordon with it Gordon seized him around the arms and the blacksmith named Harry Blanchford took the axe away from him Gordon then told the Italian to get back into his bunk and then Gordon recovered him with his

blanket. Olinger stated that he never saw Gordon fool around with Donato before.

The following was the findings as taken from the indictment.

“The jurors for our Lord the King present that Guiseppe Donato, at Field, in the County of Kootenay, in the Province of British Columbia, on the sixteenth day of September, in the year of our Lord, one thousand nine hundred and two, unlawfully did kill and murder one Daniel Gordon, against the peace of our Lord the King, his crown and dignity.”