Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Shot in a Bagnio

A typical brothel 'menu' around the turn of the century
- Click to see clear copy -
[Warning:  Graphic Language]
HEADLINE:  The Fate of a Hotel Proprietor at Emerson

Winnipeg, Man., Oct. 19, 1892 - John Wagner, proprietor of the Carney house1, Emerson, Man., was shot in a bagnio a mile (south)west of the town last night. His body was taken to Pembina, where an inquest will be held tomorrow. The inmates of the house are under arrest in the Pembina jail. The murderess was Nellie Gunn, keeper of the house. She originally resided in Winnipeg. Wagner and others were in the act of battering down the door, when five shots were fired, one taking effect in the breast, from which he died in ten minutes. He leaves a wife and two children. The murderess is one of those under arrest at Pembina. Drink was the cause of the whole affair.

From the St. Paul Daily Globe October 20, 1892

For a more detailed description of Nellie and the event above, read the following recollection by an eye witness (courtesy J. Rempel of Halbstadt, Manitoba...)

I asked Mr. Ronan where I could get some facts about the tragedy of those days of 1891, when a woman killed Jim Wagner, proprietor of the Carney Hotel, still standing in that town, or, at least, it was the last I heard of it.

"Oh, you mean Nellie Gunn? Sure I can tell you.  I saw the shooting and was the chief witness in the murder trial over at Pembina.  It occurred on the south side of the line between Emerson and Pembina."

Nellie Gunn was a strikingly handsome woman, whose rare physical charms had been but slightly marred by contact with the seamy side of life.  Whence she came or where she went, no one could tell after a sympathetic jury gave her the benefit of a doubt and turned her loose after this killing.

She had been the mistress of road houses around Winnipeg for some years and in the spring of 1891 she was conducting such a resort in a group of five night spots between the two border towns.  She had quite a reputation for her charities even though her moral standards were not those of the community.

Always a liberal subscriber to funds for celebrating this or that, Nellie, in spite of her ancient profession, had many real friends.  She was a woman of much refinement, university education, and good family.  The tragedy of her career was never revealed in this section, as far as I have ever heard, but she was a power in the underworld of Winnipeg, Emerson, and Pembina.

Her victim was a very popular frontiersman, widely known and of many interests.  "The night of the shooting," Ronan told me recently, "I was at his hotel and Jim asked me to go with him across the line to the Gunn roadhouse as Nellie owed him $500 and he needed it.

"We drove over and stepped up on the porch.  Jim knocked.  It was midnight.  A voice from within asked what was wanted.  She said it was Nellie speaking.  My companion told her who we were and said he wanted to come in.  The voice replied:  'No, get away from that door or I'll shoot.'

"Jim rattled the door a second time and two bullets came through, narrowly missing us.  I stepped away and pulled Wagner with me, remarking to him that I thought Nellie meant business.  We had walked ten feet when the door opened and a single shot was fired.  Jim dropped dead.  I saw the woman clearly in the light behind her.

"The police rushed over and took Nellie into custody.  She said the shooting occurred when Jim attempted to force his way into her house.  I testified to the fact as related but the jury acquitted her."

From: Old Timer Talks by Col. G.C. Porter (Winnipeg Tribune, May 4, 1940)
1 - Strathcona Hotel, Emerson, MB. Originally called Carney House because it was built by Thomas Carney in 1881 (at a  cost of $50,000...) David Forrester bought it in 1898 and renamed it Strathcona Hotel. It burned down in 1906.