Robbery, murder and frontier justice at 141 Mile House

I thought that I would relate the story of another murder during the gold rush era, and then I’ll move on to other events.

I thought that I would relate the story of another murder during the gold rush era, and then I’ll move on to other events in subsequent columns.

This one deals with the death of Tom Clegg, who lived in Lillooet during the 1850s and early 1860s.

He was a trusted employee of the firm of E.T. Dodge and Co., which transported goods to and from the Cariboo goldfields.

In the summer of 1863, Clegg was sent up to Barkerville to collect monies due to the company.

He was accompanied on this trip by Captain Joe Taylor of Seton Lake, who was a friend and partner with Tom Clegg’s brother.

Clegg collected the debts owed to the company, and the two men began heading back to Lillooet on horseback.

Clegg was carrying about 50 pounds of gold dust, worth about $10,000 in his saddlebags.

On their trip south, the men stayed overnight at the original Williams Lake village (located in the area we commonly call the Dairy Fields), then set out the next morning and rode to the 141 Mile road house, arriving there for a mid-day dinner.

After eating, watering their horses, and rearranging some of their gear, they headed south again.

They were only a quarter of a mile or so along the Cariboo Wagon road, climbing the hill, when two men attacked them from the bushes at the side of the road.

In the ensuing struggle, Tom Clegg was killed why Captain Taylor managed to escape, although his horse suffered a bullet wound.

The Lillooet newspaper of Aug. 28, 1863 describes the event as “a most horrid cold-blooded murder,” and goes on to say that “Poor Tom Clegg was shot dead, one ball going through his head behind the ears, and several shots entering his body.”

The robbers searched Clegg’s body and his belongings for the gold, but found virtually nothing.

In an interesting twist, during the stop for dinner, Captain Taylor had volunteered to carry the heavy gold dust on his horse for a while in order to give Clegg’s horse a break.

So Clegg’s saddlebags were empty, and there was little of value to be found.

The two thieves beat a hasty retreat and headed south.

Meanwhile, Taylor had ridden back to 141 Mile where word was soon passed along about the ambush and murder.

A posse of special police and angry Cariboo residents was quickly formed and a reward was offered. The chase was on!

The two murderers were followed down to Bridge Creek (100 Mile House), then to the Green Lake Brigade Trail which led to the Bonaparte River near Cache Creek, and then to the Thompson River.

As they were attempting to cross the Thompson, one of the men, an American identified as Fred Glennard, was drowned. His body was recovered downriver in mid September.

The second man doubled back and was captured hiding out in a hut near Cache Creek.

He was William Armitage, an English remittance man.

A remittance man is a person, often of aristocratic lineage, who had been in trouble in England and who had been sent to the colonies and was paid a stipend to stay away from the “old country.”

When searched, Clegg’s distinctive pistol was found on Armitage and he was taken to Lillooet, charged, and jailed. The newspaper noted that “Everyone turned out to view the animal.”

At first, Armitage admitted to the crime, but in his trial before Judge Matthew Begbie, he declared “I did not shoot Clegg. Fred Glennard shot him.”

Armitage was found guilty and hanged at Lillooet in late October 1863.

Before he was hung, he gave the local magistrate some personal belongings to be sent to his family back in England, and he asked that for the sake of his family’s honour, they not be told that he had been executed, rather that he died of a broken neck by a fall from a horse, which was, in a strange way, the truth.

Thomas Clegg was buried at the side of the road right near the spot where he was killed.

For many years afterwards, the freight drivers and stagecoach operators would stop and toss a rock or pebble onto the gravesite as they passed by. Eventually, quite an impromptu cairn was built up.

Today, the gravesite is still there, although it is hard to find.

It sits on the little island of land just up the 140 Mile hill with the old highway on the right and the new Highway 97 on the left as you travel south.

It is a reminder that here in the Cariboo, we too had our wild west episodes of robbery, murder and frontier justice.