Saturday, November 26, 2011

Line of Fire

Back in the day, just as now, lawmen worked together between Canada and America.  There was less red tape then, although that was there, too.  The excerpt below is about one of the early lawmen of our area, this time on the Canadian side of the 49th parallel.  He has been mentioned in passing before, in the story of Sheriff Charley Brown.  You could say he was Charley's counterpart over the line.

It's fun to learn more of his story, and the context.  We're very lucky to have this recounting - I have read that "virtually no documentation was preserved for the MPP"...
The North-West Mounted Police were not the only officers who made life difficult for bad men in the Canadian West. Even before the Mounties arrived on the prairies, the newly formed province of Manitoba organized a small, but effective, police force. The Manitoba Provincial Police began in 1870 with nineteen men. It was operated out of an old Winnipeg post office that was converted to a police station and courthouse. A log house behind the building was used for a jail. The force was poorly funded, so the officers had to provide their own firearms. They had no standard uniform. Within a few years, the department dwindled to a mere eight men. Some constables were dismissed for inappropriate behavior, such as public drunkenness, others resigned to seek better paying employment! 
In 1874, Richard Power, a twenty-three-year-old who had become an original member of the force at the age of nineteen, was made Head Constable - the equivalent of Chief of Police. The rapid decline in the force's number was only a part of the reason for this young man's promotion to such a position. Even before joining the MPP, he had allegedly served as a scout for the United States Cavalry. He was also a lieutenant in the Winnipeg militia. Power's contemporaries described him as "a fine looking man, magnificently proportioned, every inch a soldier with the courage that nothing could daunt. Power wore a Colt .45 with a nine-inch barrel, and a gunbelt that was always full of cartridges. Local newspapers called Power "a terror to evildoers." In A few short years, Power had shown himself to be a courageous and enthusiastic policeman. Some thought he might have been too enthusiastic. He had once been sharply reprimanded for shooting a Native during an arrest. 
By the time Power took command of the Manitoba Provincial Police, Winnipeg had been incorporated as a city and had its own police department. That left the rest of Manitoba under the eyes of Power and his tiny department. Power strategically placed men in the more populous settlements outside Winnipeg; towns like Selkirk and Kildonan. He kept a few men with him at his headquarters in Winnipeg. Most Manitoba communities had to depend on special constables - civilian volunteers - to keep the peace. If there was any real trouble, Power could send one of his constables out to see to the matter. The policing situation in rural Manitoba was not unlike that of rural Ontario and other points east. 
Manitoba, especially the country along the American border, was woefully under-policed, but the situation was same on the other side of the international line in the Dakota Territory. There was a sheriff in Pembina, just over the border, and another many miles away in Fargo. For those lawmen, just looking after their towns was a full-time job. They didn't have the resources, or manpower, to go chasing after the desperadoes who roamed the plains and hills of the Dakota country. Rustlers, gunmen, and other men on the dodge had only to keep out of the Sheriff's way to avoid arrest. With so much open country, that was not a hard thing to do. Moreover, American lawmen were often unwilling to apprehend fugitives wanted in Canada, unless there was a reward involved.
Nonetheless, Power seems to have developed a good working relationship with the sheriffs in Dakota. In October 1873, a Metis named Gilbert Godon killed a man in a drunken brawl at Red River, and then fled to the Dakota Territory. The following June, Godon got into another saloon-wrecking brawl in Pembina, and was tossed into the local jail. The sheriff there held onto Godon until Power could get down and pick him up.

One of the outlaw gangs operating along the border was a band of horse thieves, led by a man named Edward Courture. His bunch had a hideout south of Pembina, within easy striking distance of the border. Under the cover of night they would slip across the line to raid farms and ranches in Manitoba, The outlaws would drive the stolen horses down into the Dakota Territory and sell them off. Quite likely, as they squandered their ill-gotten gains in the saloons of small Dakota towns, the outlaws enjoyed a good laugh at the inability of American and Canadian law officers to interfere with their business. 
Early in September 1874, Chief Constable Power received a message from F.T. Bradley, Justice of the Peace and Customs Officer in Emerson, a Manitoba village just across the line from Pembina. Bradley had information that one Edward Martin, a rider with the Courture Gang, was heading north to visit relatives in Manitoba. On the morning of September 7, Power rode out of Winnipeg accompanied by a constable named Heusons. Power was sure Martin would come along the stagecoach road that followed the meandering course of the Red River. Forty-three miles south of Winnipeg, the two policemen stopped at a stagecoach station called Scratching River (now Morris, Manitoba). Darkness had fallen, so they left their horses with a farmer and settled in to watch the road. They did not have to wait long. 
Edward Martin soon rode into view, astride a stolen horse. With him as a fellow horse thief named Charles Garden. The two Manitoba policemen took the outlaws completely by surprise and without gunplay. Power grabbed Martin's horse by the bridle , and Heusens seized Garden by the leg. Power told the pair to dismount, and they meekly obeyed. 
Because it was late, Power decided to keep his prisoners at the stagecoach station overnight, and then take them to Winnipeg in the morning. He told Garden to help Constable Heusens take care of the horses. Then he began walking Martin towards the station building. But Edward Martin had no intention of going to jail. 
At the doorway of the station, Martin suddenly wheeled around and threw himself at Power, knocking him off balance. The outlaw pulled a revolver and fired at Power from point-blank range. Amazingly, the bullet missed! Before Martin could cock the weapon for a second shot, Power recovered his footing and grappled with the desperado. By now they had tumbled through the door and were inside the stations. 
When Charles Garden heard the shot, he bolted for the station house. Constable Heusens was right on his heels. Garden burst into the room in which his partner was struggling with Power, and knocked a lantern off a table. The room was thrown into darkness. Garden pulled a hunting knife from his boot and turned to meet Heusens. He might as well have tried to fight a grizzle bear with a toothpick. Constable Heusens was a big, muscular man, and his one thought was for the safety of Chief Constable Power. Heusens tossed the knife-wielding Garden aside like a rag doll. Then he groped in the darkness, trying to go to Power's aid. 
Martin managed to fire off two more wild shots. The bullets hit no one, but the sound of gunfire put Garden to flight. The terrified outlaw hauled himself up from the floor where Heusens had thrown him, and ran into the night. 
Power finally had a chance to pull his big Colt .45. At that moment, Power could have blown Martin to kingdom come, and no one would have blamed him. Instead, he told Martin to drop his gun. Facing that small cannon, the outlaw did as he was told. 
Power left Heusens to watch Martin while he went after Garden. In the darkness he heard a noise from the direction of the corral. He briefly caught sight of a figure running away. Power fired a short, and heard a stifled roan of pain. He didn't bother to go searching for the fugitive in the dark. If Garden had been hit, he was likely to get very far. 
The next morning the two officers found blood on the ground near the corral. Power sent Martin back to Winnipeg in Heusens' charge, then rode out after Garden. He trailed the outlaw to a settlers shack where the horse thief had sought attention for the bullet wound in his leg.

Power took Garden to Winnipeg in a wagon. He had a doctor treat the wounded leg, then locked Garden in the Winnipeg jail, where Martin was already a reluctant guest. 
The capture of Marti and Garden would have worried Ed Couture; not so much because of the loss of the two riders - saddle tramps like them were a dime a dozen - but because Martin and Garden might be made to talk, one way or another, about the activities of other gang members. However, Martin, who evidently had some skill with locks, decided that he didn't want to stay in a Canadian jail. 
On the night of October 1, Ed Martin and a prisoner named Charles Bigeral broke out of the Winnipeg jail. Charles Garden was left behind, probably because of his bad leg. Power didn't learn of the escape until the following morning. He found that Martin had picked a total of five locks to get himself and Bigeral from the cells to the street. 
A known Couture gang member named Rogers had been seen in Winnipeg, loitering near the jail. Power was certain he had been awaiting the escapees with horses and a change of clothes. He knew he wouldn't have much chance of catching the fugitives before they crossed the border, so he telegraphed information of the jailbreak to sheriffs in the Dakotas and Minnesota. On October 23, Martin and Rogers were arrested by American lawmen near Glyndon, Minnesota. The deputies also recovered several stolen horses that the outlaws had with them. The other escapee, Bigeral, had long since split from the others, and was not found. 
Ed Martin was locked in the jail in Moorhead, Minnesota, to await extradition to Canada. The Sheriff put him in leg irons and had an extra lock put on his cell door, but this horse-rustling Houdini was not ready to accept the idea of a long prison term. He knew that he would be kept under close watch for awhile, but that sooner or later the guard would be relaxed and he would get his chance. 
The opportunity came months later, on the night of May 5, 1875. Martin easily picked both locks on his cell door, and then used the keys he found in the Sheriff's desk to get out of his leg irons. Instead of boldly walking out to the street, where he might be recognized, Martin cut a hole in a wall, crawled out to an alleyway, and escaped. 
Ed Martin was now a wanted man on both side of the border. He headed for the Canadian line, but was caught at Sioux Falls, South Dakota [Note from Trish - This makes no sense if he was in Moorhead; to get to Sioux Falls, he would have been heading south, not back towards  Canada...] This time, an American court sentenced him to a long prison term. Martins days of stealing horses in Manitoba were over. 
The Manitoba Provincial Police pose for a group photo at
Rat Portage, 1883. Four MPP officers died in the line of duty,
including Chief Richard Power.

[Source: Archives of Manitoba, N271] 
That was also the end of the line for the Ed Couture Gang. American and Canadian police now had enough evidence to round up the rest of the horse thieves. Courture himself was arrested and taken to Winnipeg, where he stood trial on June 14, 1875. He managed to escape jail, but his gang was finished.

- Source: "Line of Fire: Heroism, Tragedy, and Canada's Police", by Edward Butts
1 - During his career as Chief Constable, Power escaped death twice: in September 1874, when he was shot at while making an arrest in Scratching River (Morris), and again in 1879 when the gun belonging to a man he was trying to arrest at Kildonan misfired. In 1880, his luck ran out and Chief Power became the first provincial police officer killed in the line of duty. While he was returning an escaped prisoner from St. Boniface (who he was handcuffed to), the prisoner started to deliberately rock the boat and the occupants were thrown into the Red River. Both men drowned. Power's body lay in state at the Provincial Court House and his funeral was one of the largest that Winnipeggers had ever seen. The procession wound through the streets of Winnipeg and after services were held, he was interred in St. Charles Cemetery next to his father, Manitoba's first official jailer. From "Manitoba's Finest" (Manitoba History, June 2006) and "Rough times, 1870-1920 : a souvenir of the 50th anniversary of the Red River Expedition and the formation of the Province of Manitoba" by Joseph F. Tennant (1920)