GEARING-EDGE: The tale of the Nicola Valley’s unlikely hero

By on December 6, 2017
Man looking through shotgun barrel. (stock image)


George Cavanagh, or “Geordie” to his friends, was once the unlikely hero in a true crime story which occurred right here in the Nicola Valley in the early 1900s.

In 1910 Geordie owned 160 acres on the upper portion of the Guichon Ranch, which today is a small part of Douglas Lake Ranch. He managed to pick out a meagre living; his daughter tended to his domestic wants and the boys from nearby ranches branded his few cattle for him at round-up time.

Every Friday, the stagecoach passed through Quilchena from Spences Bridge and every Friday the old-timer would make his way in to town to pick up his mail. At that time Quilchena had a hotel, a store, a town hall, a few corrals, stables and a blacksmith shop.

Geordie usually had a large amount of mail due to the fact that he would order “cures” for many different types of human afflictions for his friends; bald headed men who wanted hair, fat men who wanted to become thin…well, you get the idea.

Now Geordie enjoyed his drink, so after he bagged his parcels and left them at the store, he headed to the hotel. Every new arrival meant a drink and every departure meant two or three more. Needless to say in a short space of time, Geordie was very drunk.

Well, it was getting late and after helping himself to his neighbour’s drink Geordie bid everyone adieu and staggered over to the store to collect his bags and head home. The postmaster was out so Geordie walked over to the counter where the mail was lying and grabbed the largest bunch. Carefully closing one eye, he tried hard to make out the addresses and thought he saw his name.

He stumbled out of the store and started to make his way home, which was only a few miles away. The sun was low and the wind was picking up making Geordie take a zigzag course, all the while muttering away to himself. His load of mail was bigger than usual and getting heavier by the minute. As he turned up the trail for home, Geordie could hardly keep his eyes open. Soon, the bags slipped from his hands and the old man leaned up against a stump and fell fast asleep.

Meanwhile, the second stagecoach of the day was making its way to Quilchena. About two miles out the horses shied. The driver, known as “Old Murphy” knew immediately what was up and stopped the coach.

Sure enough, there was a masked robber with his shot gun at the ready. He was after the wages for the workers at the Stump Lake Mines and the registered mail but, unbeknownst to him, they had been shipped on the first stagecoach.

He searched each passenger and relieved them of their money then yelled, “Now Murphy, out with the money and registered mail.” Murphy assured the robber that there was no mine money and nothing but regular mail. After searching every inch of the stage coach, the robber grudgingly took the mail and sent Murphy and the passengers on their way.

Over the past few months the frequency of stagecoach robberies had increased alarmingly so when Murphy got to Kamloops, even though it was only regular mail that was taken, he reported the theft immediately. A posse was quickly assembled, with a large reward offered for the robber’s capture.

Now it just so happened that two young, strapping Englishmen had just come to town. What a more exciting experience than to capture the robber and earn the reward? They volunteered as a search party and set out immediately.

Cavanagh’s mail mistake proves fruitful

It wasn’t too long before they discovered Geordie sleeping off his happy times, his bags from the stagecoach nearby. Now, keep in mind how drunk Geordie was when he picked up what he thought were his bags.

Geordie had unexpectedly opened up a can of worms when he grabbed the bag containing the miners’ pay and the registered mail by mistake. He awoke to two rifles aimed right at his head.

The two Englishmen pounced on him, tied him up and threw him over a horse. They gathered up the bags, cutting open the one filled with registered mail just to be sure.

After a brief celebration, they headed to the sherriff in Quilchena. Meanwhile the Kamloops posse, headed by Ned, the hotel-keeper, were coming down the same road.

The Englishmen saw them coming and decided to hide so that the posse wouldn’t take credit for the capture. One decided that he would run and alert the Sherriff while the other tied Geordie’s horse to a tree and stayed out of sight. After a few minutes, the genuine robber crept out of the bushes and stealthily started to cut away the sleeping Geordie’s bonds.

Poor old Geordie, rudely awakened from his peaceful slumber, gave out a wild whoop and fell right on top of the robber, pinning him to the ground. The posse, hearing the yell, rushed to find the two men tangled in each other’s arms. “Where’s the robber?” asked Ned. The robber pointed at Geordie and yelled, “There, quick get him, he’s trying to escape!”

As the posse wrestled Geordie up, he still had a fast grip on his opponent, who was thusly “up-ended.” In the process a batch of registered mail, a mask of dirty sackcloth and a murderous–looking bowie knife fell from the robber’s greasy pockets.

Ned shouted out with glee, “This here’s old Geordie Cavanagh, who never robbed anyone. But he’s caught our man and by thunder, Geordie gets the reward!”

And so, Geordie did get the reward and slept off his adventures in his own bed that night.

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