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(S and N Railroad)

Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
Free Home Page Stories & Photos
The most in-depth, comprehensive site about the Skagit

Covers from British Columbia to Puget Sound. Counties covered: Skagit, Whatcom, Island, San Juan, Snohomish & BC. An evolving history dedicated to committing random acts of historical kindness
Noel V. Bourasaw, editor (bullet) 810 Central Ave., Sedro-Woolley, Washington, 98284
Home of the Tarheel Stomp (bullet) Mortimer Cook slept here & named the town Bug

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1914 Sedro-Woolley bank robbery
and the crime wave of that summer

(Wixson Hotel)
      The Wixson Hotel (now the Gateway) at the northeastern corner of Metcalf and Ferry streets. The bank scene of the robbery is in the southwest corner of the building, on the intersection. The photo was taken circa 1916. This view and time is most intriguing. When the annex on the left (north) was the Wilson Club, a bright neon sign and marquee hung out from the front-top of the building. We know no details of James Wilson and when he left town. If this is a view from 1916, the business had been changed to a "pool room" and the neon sign is gone. We hope a reader will know more about the Wilsons, the business and the neighborhood in that time period. The First National Bank was in the ground-floor corner, at the right in the photo. Photo from a postcard, courtesy of the late Howard Miller.

By Noel V. Bourasaw, publisher, Skagit River Journal of History & Folklore, ©2004
      Saturday, Oct. 17, 1914, dawned drizzly in Sedro-Woolley, as usual, and a lot of people cast nervous glances over their shoulders. Cashier John Guddall made sure his .38 caliber revolver was loaded under the counter of the First National Bank before he counted the money for the teller's cage. He was on full alert for possible trouble that morning because his safe bulged with cash from a big Friday payroll night when a lot of money had changed hands. This bank in the corner of the Wixson Hotel at the intersection of Ferry and Metcalf streets was soon to become the scene of the biggest robbery in the history of Sedro-Woolley. That hotel, which opened in 1910, was renamed the Gateway in the late 1930s.
      Marshal Charles Villeneuve Jr. and his deputy Jasper Holman were also on alert as they walked up and down Metcalf street and paced through the alleys, opening refuse bins and coal chutes. Frank Hoehn, the livery stable owner who performed with Buffalo Bill Cody before arriving in Woolley via stagecoach in 1889, watched everyone on Ferry street even more closely than he usually watched his pony teams in the corral across from the Gateway. In the Wilson Saloon (now the Schooner Tavern), next door to the bank, bartender Fred Carlin kept his ear cocked for any unusual conversation and focused his eyes on any strangers.

The Guns of August heard clear out here
      Why were they all on edge? Crime was rampant in Skagit county that year and strangers milled about that weekend, some looking like they came to town for trouble and mischief. We also have to go back a few months to fully understand. The U.S. was a fledgling world power with a weak military and navy, but pressures were mounting from both Mexico to the south and "the old county" across the Atlantic. Trouble was knocking on our door.
      In April some marines were hassled in the Mexican port of Tampico and relations got out of hand so badly that President Wilson dispatched the U.S. fleet to Tampico Bay to put a lid on it. Just a week later, marines seized the customhouse at Vera Cruz and occupied the city. Before that fracas was settled, four American boys were dead and 20 were wounded. Parents worried that young minds would be inflamed by the Insurgent Mexico dispatches in Metropolitan Magazine, written by American John Reed, who would soon be known worldwide as a communist sympathizer.
      Across the Atlantic all hell broke loose on June 28 in Sarajevo (before that area was called Yugoslavia) when a young student nationalist shot Archduke Francis Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian throne. European rattled their sabres but in 1914 U.S. citizens avoided entanglement in the future War to End All Wars for the time being. When the cannons starting firing in Germany and Belgium and France that August, American boys were not shedding blood but some Americans worried that the U.S. might be sucked into the European mess. The world also became smaller that year when the Panama Canal opened on August 15. The canal across the Isthmus of Panama was 40 miles from ocean to ocean and once and for all radically changed the options for transportation from the East Coast to the West. Until then, travelers and haulers had to choose between three alternatives: railroad routes cross-country, a muggy mixture of mule rides, canoes and a slow 30-mile rail trip across the Isthmus or a sailing route around Cape Horn.
      In our corner of the world, the trouble in Europe was putting local folk on edge. People were still arguing about those Socialists who started the Equality Colony near Bow in 1896 and swept the People's Party into office county- and statewide. In addition, immigrant types from Europe were tramping down from Vancouver and New Westminster, B.C., and up from Seattle to work in the logging camps. Many people worried that they were closet anarchists just waiting to throw a bomb or even worse, they might be Wobbly (IWW) agitators who might set the woods afire if they couldn't organize a strike. Rumors passed from business to business that swarthy Russian-looking men were loitering about and picking fights at the saloons on Metcalf near the bank.

The 1914 summer crime wave
      A crime wave broke out in northwest Washington that summer of 1914. Since the kidnap of logging baron Ed English in 1908, felony crimes in Skagit county had generally been restricted to those involving "whiskey and whoring.". But on Feb. 20, 1914, three men held up a Great Northern passenger train between Bellingham and Burlington and awoke locals from their doldrums. On the northbound train near Chuckanut Bay the robbers donned masks and two stood guard at both ends of the car while another extorted valuables from the frightened passengers. Suddenly Thomas F. Wadsworth, a Canadian, jumped one of the bandits and two other passengers helped wrestle him down. But another robber coldly shot them all and then fired into the air to discourage any more heroism. Another passenger yanked the emergency cord and the train screeched to a halt just south of the Samish depot, and the bandits fled into the darkness.
      A dragnet for the robbers began and in late March an ex-convict named George Ball was arrested in Alberta as a suspect in the robbery. Although he was later cleared of the charges, Ball was understandably frightened when he stepped off the same Great Northern train in Mount Vernon and saw a lynch mob gathered on the depot steps. He soon discovered that the vigilantes weren't there for him. They were assembled to witness the incarceration of the man responsible for the second major crime that summer.

True-Love bandit
      The mob was waiting for Charles Hopkins, the so-called "True Love" bandit, who was arrested while he slept the night before in a farmhouse near Van Horn, just east of present-day Concrete. Hopkins was a career criminal who graduated to the big leagues by killing another man in Seattle with a bed slat. Although he got away the authorities were confident that he would be found because of his unusual homemade tattoos, the letters "T-R-U-E" on his left hand and "L-O-V-E" on his right.
      Arrested in Everett a few days later, Hopkins made his getaway by shooting a policeman and two bystanders in cold blood. Near Everett he held up two laborers and switched clothes with one of them. Hopkins apparently believed in the old adage that dead men tell no tales. After he encountered two hobo bindlestiffs walking down the rail tracks between Arlington and McMurray the next day, he shot them both. One of them survived, however, and one of Hopkins' signature split bullets was extracted from the survivor's hide. In addition, the man identified Hopkins by the tattoos. The alarm went out all over Snohomish, Skagit and Whatcom counties. Unfortunately most of those locals who lived in the boonies did not hear the warnings unless they had a radio, which was not yet a universal item in pioneer farmhouses.
      Hopkins crossed the Skagit someplace upriver and eventually begged a ride with Gov Rogers, who was driving a milk truck from Sedro-Woolley to Lyman. A trusting soul, Rogers gave him a lift and suggested that he ask the Wiseman family to put him up for the night at their farm west of Lyman. Later that night, the Wiseman boys, Hobe and Brown (future county commissioner) returned from a spelling bee and were shocked to find Hopkins at their house. Although he brandished his pistol, the boys had just shot a coyote and produced a pistol of their own just to be safe.
      After breakfast the next morning, Hopkins continued upriver, seeking another oblivious host. Frank Yeager, who had a large family on a farm near the Moen road outside of Birdsview, denied him lodging. But Clark Ely, a bachelor who ran a store in Van Horn and lived in rooms above it, accepted him. Sometime that day, Mrs. Yeager was shocked to read Hopkins' description in the weekly paper. Mr. Yeager went to Ely's store, pretending that his children were sick and needed medicine. Ely stood guard while Yeager sped to Concrete to fetch marshal Joe Glover. Upon their return Glover kidnapped the weary fugitive while he was still asleep and his gun was under his pillow. Thus he was being transported by rail to Mount Vernon as George Ball arrived at the depot. Ball and the other prisoners at the two-room county jail begged to be herded into one cage while Hopkins was strapped to the other. After a speedy trial, Hopkins was sentenced to a life term at the Walla Walla penitentiary, where he later died.

The layout of downtown Woolley, a town on guard

(Ferry street)
      This is a photo of Ferry street, looking east from the Northern Pacific railroad tracks, taken sometime in the teen years. The Pioneer Hotel is at the far left. See the "Layout" section below for a description of the buildings and businesses. From a period postcard in the collection of the late Howard Miller.

(Metcalf Street)
Click on this thumbnail to see a much larger version of this photo taken during the big snow of March 1916. It shows in detail the east side of the 600 block of Metcalf street. On the left is a small building that once housed a confectionery store. Then is the Ramsey plumbing and sheet metal shop, then Wilson's saloon and then the new Wixson Hotel, with the First National Bank in the corner of the building. This section of Metcalf Street is where young Melvin Wilson became the only fatality of the robbery, caught in the crossfire. Photo courtesy of Alcina Harwood.

      Before we get to the robbery of Oct. 17 itself, a simple layout of downtown Woolley is in order. The brick buildings that we see downtown today were largely in place, built of brick to replace the woodframe buildings that burned in the great Woolley fire of July 24, 1911. That fire wiped out or severely gutted all of the buildings on both sides of the 700 block of Metcalf plus part of the 600 block. Back then there was an orchard at the southeast corner of Woodworth and Metcalf, planted by P.A. Woolley when he built his family mansion just after the turn of the century. His mansion stood where the back lot of Countryside Chevrolet is today. The brick Oddfellows [I.O.O.F. building that stands there today wasn't built until 1923.
      The Wixson hotel was just four years old then. The owner, John C. Wixson, moved to the little town of Montborne on the east shore of Big Lake from Rhinelander, Wisconsin, at the turn of the century to become a partner with John Day in the Day Lumber Co. The First National Bank was originally located in the Seidell building, erected west across Metcalf in 1905 with the bank as its anchor tenant. [See our Journal website about Civil War veteran Art Seidell and his building.] Wixson became the largest shareholder of the bank and moved it over to his new hotel, which he formally dedicated on June 23, 1910. The brick Wixson Hotel replaced the old woodframe structure called the Osterman House, which burned to the ground in September 1909. C.W. Waldron, one of the original bankers and developers of Fairhaven, financed the original hotel in 1891 as the Hotel St. Clair [see our Journal website about the St. Clair/Osterman House Hotel. ].
      The Wilson Saloon, owned by James Wilson, stood at 621 Metcalf, just north of the bank and hotel lobby. In later years after Prohibition it would become famous as the Wixson Club and today it is called the Schooner Tavern. Those buildings on the east side of the 600 block of Metcalf were located on a half-block triangle that was formed southwest along the bed of the old Fairhaven & Southern railroad spur that stretched on a diagonal from what is now the F&S Grade road on the northwest to Sedro Box & Veneer on the south by the river. The veneer plant stood near Mortimer Cook's original store and townsite of Bug/old Sedro, where Riverfront Park is today. North of the saloon was Ramsey the plumber and Frye's Meat Market. After Frye moved across the Great Northern tracks a few years later, the market became the Whoopey Noodle Cafe. Across the alley east of the bank/hotel on Ferry street was Homer H. Shrewsbury's Sash & Door mill and further east was the home and boarding house of Mrs. Maggie Osterman, the mother of one of our most famous pioneers, Susie Osterman Alverson, and owner of the former hotel. Maggie's house stood where the Bank of America is today and Susie's house was about a half block east.
      Across the street from the bank to the west was Shrewsbury's second store in the old bank location in the Seidell building. To the north was F.A. Douglass Drugs. Douglass was one of the first retailers in the old town of Woolley, moving here in 1890. His store was being bought out by Paul Rhodius, who moved here from St. Louis at the turn of the century and would soon become famous as postmaster, then founder of Sedro-Woolley Greenhouses and finally as manager of the town semi-pro baseball team.
      Next to the drug store, on the south side of the alley, was the Howard & Reynolds grocery, which dated from 1899. Across the alley, sawdust and splinters were flying from the Morris Schneider building -- now the vacant bowling alley, which was being rebuilt after a disastrous fire in January 1914. That new building opened on the corner of Northern avenue, the first business street of P.A. Woolley's company town of 1890. West from Schneider on Northern was the Keystone Bar, then Jim Gray's Palace Saloon, Charley Hill's saloon, and the Keystone Hotel with saloon and restaurant, which stood on the corner of Eastern avenue, owned then by William Liskas. The Keystone may have been the first hotel in old Woolley and it was still known as a den of sin. That is now the location of Ace Hardware.
      South of the Keystone, at the corner of Ferry street, stood the Pioneer Hotel and Bar, owned by Charles L. Yommas [sp.?]. Continuing east, you would have found Josh & Rose Davison's Forest House Hotel; Josh was the son of Sedro pioneer Ad Davison. Next door was French & Co. novelties and notions, then Shea & Lederle Saloon where Domino's Pizza is today, and then J. Scott Turney, the jeweler. The Seidell building stood on the corner of Metcalf.
      Across Ferry street from the Pioneer was the Vendome Hotel and Bar, which Frank Bergeron had recently bought from Charles Villeneuve Sr., the father of the town marshal, Charles Jr.. Josh Davison's brother Adam Davison Jr. owned the bowling alley where Gloria Jeanne's bar stands today. Their father was one of our most colorful pioneers, arriving in Sedro in 1889 even before P.A. Woolley himself.
      Kitty-cornered from the First National Bank, at the southwest corner of Metcalf and Ferry, was the Union Mercantile, the town's first real department store, which mainly sold clothing, dry goods and groceries. Founded by partners F.A. Hegg, Emerson Hammer, Ad Davison and George Green in 1903, the Merc's woodframe building burned in the 1911 fire. They built a new brick and stone store within six months with plate glass windows along the front. Where the Castle Tavern stands today on Metcalf was the Vienna Bakery, which burned to the ground in 1911, all except for the gigantic brick oven on the back alley. Sandwiched in between was an unnamed barbershop Across the alley to the south stood the new Baldridge-Wixson building, now the home of a dental office. And on the northwest corner of Woodworth and Metcalf stood Fritsch Bros. Hardware, the building where the 1911 fire started. Photos of the fire's aftermath show the firewall between the two buildings and very little else but rubble.
      Across Metcalf from Fritsch was Ted Bergman's Star Grocery. Bergman's parents, Henry and Anna Lisa, settled in Sedro in August 1892 after immigrating from Sweden. Just north was Adolph Bauer Shoes, George Clark's Haberdashery and on the alley was Horace Condy, the jeweler, optometrist and music instruments dealer. The beautiful Condy clock is our remnant from those days and it is now being repaired and restored by his great grandnephew, Glenn Allen III.
      East across the alley from Star Grocery was Sedro-Woolley's newest pride and joy, Ben Abbott's Dream Theatre, opened on Christmas 1913 with a seasonal pageant. The first silent movie was shown in January 1914. Ben Abbott and his mother would die four years later in the massive flu epidemic of 1918. His father, "Dad" Abbott, took over the theatre and built the first Chevrolet garage in Washington state on the site that is now Countryside Chevrolet [see our Journal website about Abbott and family and businesses. ]. Across the alley to the north from the Dream was Hoehn's corral for his ponies. His livery stable originally stood there but it burned in the 1911 fire and he moved his stable business east on Ferry to where the Skagit State Bank now stands. He had a corral for his ponies where the fenced boatyard is today. A year after the fire he started dabbling in that dreaded new internal combustion machine along with Ad Davison, which took away time from his buggies with a fringe on top and his pairs of smart ponies.
      On the east side of the 700 block of Metcalf, north across the alley from Condy's store was the Charles H. Nye Confectionery. Next was the Swastika Café, which became the Liberty Café in 1929. The Café took its name from the swastikas or Indian good-luck symbols that were painted in squares along the upper brick façade. The squares were painted over years ago, but not until well after the Nazi outbreak. North in the same building was Coddington's Dry Goods store and on the corner was J.F. Mott Drugs, directly across the street from the bank.
      Two blocks south of the bank, at the intersection of Woodworth and Metcalf streets, was the heart of downtown. On the southwest corner was the site of the Bingham Bank, built in 1904 and opened on the Fourth of July, 1905, by Charles E. Bingham and druggist Albert E. Holland. In the past few years, it has housed various retail stores an in September 2004, a Dollar Store is remodeling the interior for a reopening. Holland started the first cable ferry over the Skagit at old Sedro in 1885, clerked for Sedro founder Mortimer Cook, opened a drug store in 1889 and later became one of the most shrewd financiers of our frontier town. By the 1960s, the bank was a branch of the statewide SeaFirst chain and the building lost its importance to the corporation. Then the bank built new quarters on Ferry street and it has evolved into the Bank of America. The original building deteriorated badly until a series of owners totally restored it, starting five years ago. At the time of the 1914 robbery, City Hall stood just west of the bank building, about where the concrete extension to the building stands today. That woodframe building also housed the police and fire departments until the City Hall at Woodworth and Murdock as opened in 1930. On the opposite corner, P.A. Woolley's orchard extended for a half-block south on Metcalf and a half-block east on Woodworth. And according to a turn-of-the-century map, a woodframe combination stationery store and post office stood at the southeast corner of Woodworth and Metcalf itself, replaced today by the 1923 Odd Fellows building. By the time of the robbery, the post office was in a new brick building on the west side of the 800 block of Metcalf street, nearly a block south of the Woolley orchard.

1914 Sedro-Woolley was fat and sassy

(Metcalf street north)
Photo looking north on Metcalf street, from State street, taken sometime before 1923.

      Both Bingham Bank and the First National were bulging with money on Oct. 27, 1914. The business district was on the site of original Woolley. The business buildings of Sedro, a half-mile south, mostly burned in the fires of 1892, 1895 and 1897. The remains of Sedro's old Pioneer business block was leveled in 1911 for the Union High School that still stands today, although vastly expanded. The fabulous Hotel Sedro didn't survive its second fire in 1897 and those lots across Third street stood empty. Almost exactly a year after the robbery, the Carnegie Library would open at the hotel's old location. Like the Dream Theatre, it too was razed in the 1960s to make room for the present high school gymnasium. The Dream was replaced by the National Bank of Commerce, which has now evolved into the U.S. Bank.
      Sedro was home in 1914 to revenue producers such as the Sedro Box & Veneer plant and the Casey-Childs mill, a creamery and a vinegar works. Woolley had the retail businesses, assorted mills, an ice plant, two grain and feed stores, and various businesses dependent on the north-south Northern Pacific Railway and the west-east Great Northern. Add to that the new Northern State Hospital for the Criminally Insane just a couple of miles northeast and a coke mine next to it. The town was still riding the crest of an economic boom that gained momentum in 1912.
      The cash on hand at both banks that Saturday morning was mainly from the 17 saloons, restaurants and brothels in the Woolley area. Just as horses had recently been banned from Metcalf so that respectable wives didn't have to step in the droppings, the saloons were restricted to areas north of Ferry and south of State for generally the same reason. The only exception was Higgins's Capitol Bar, located about where Holland Drugs is now, but it was a gentleman's club — no soiled boots and wear a tie please Unlike Blackburn's saloon a half-block down the street, at the Capitol, you were obliged to aim for the brass spittoon and hit it with your cheek full of chaw.
      Both entrepreneurs and rapscallions made a pretty penny catering to men who came to town from the upriver and Clear Lake and Big Lake mills on the weekends. Barber Jack Ames gave them a shower and de-loused the burly ruffians before they ventured forth for fun and gambling, and he often served as temporary banker for the pay poke, doling out just enough cash as they needed to become blotto and get serviced, as they say.

The robbery unfolds

(Metcalf street, looking south)
Photo of Metcalf street, looking south from the Great Northern railroad tracks, taken in 1913 by Frank LaRoche.

      John Guddall returned downtown after supper on Saturday evening, Oct. 17, from his house, five blocks east on Ferry street. He walked down to the post office, two blocks south on Metcalf, and left his counterman to make change. One of the robbers came in to change a $5 gold piece, probably casing the bank, and was told that Guddall would soon return. Guddall then walked back to the bank just before 9 p.m. in time to handle the brisk Saturday evening business. He didn't take special notice that two men stationed themselves in the shadows across the street from the bank, nor did he notice the man who loitered outside the bank entrance or the fourth behind a lamppost outside. A fifth man noticed a large group of boisterous hunters eating dinner in the Wixson Hotel dining room next door to the bank, so he stood outside to keep an eye on them.
      F.A. Hegg entered the bank to make a deposit after walking up Metcalf street from his store next to the post office. In one version of the story, Hegg had just handed his deposit over the counter when the two bandits burst in and yelled hands up. In another, the men outside spooked him and he left the bank just before they crashed in the front door. Regardless, Guddall held up his hands as demanded, but one hand came up with a .38 revolver in it, which he shot repeatedly over the heads of the men in the hopes that Marshal Villeneuve was near. A volley of bullets began as Guddall's two assistants, J. Marsden and bookkeeper Frank Lebold hid behind their desks. As Guddall and the robbers traded shots, two of the outside robbers shot out plate glass windows of nearby businesses to scare the curious away.
      Hoehn and Carlin were outside on the street when the shooting started and they quickly decided to head east two blocks to Hoehn's livery barn but they only got 15 yards when Carlin was shot in the his left leg between the knee and thigh. A robber behind the bank kicked in the back door of the hotel on the east side, raced through bank president Wixson's office and managed to slip up on Guddall, shoving his pistol into the banker's ribs. As the Skagit County Times reported on Oct. 27, 1914, "John reflected upon all the possibilities of life and his hands ascended a considerably bit nearer heaven.
      Villeneuve and Holman were coming back to the bank from the Vendome hotel (the empty service station on Ferry) and were standing in front of Lederle's bowling alley (now Gloria Jean's Bar) when the shooting broke out. After they and Frank O'Connor emptied their revolvers towards the bank, Villeneuve raced across the street to the Forest House hotel to get more guns. He stationed himself in the alley behind, next to the Howard and Reynolds grocery and handed one of the pistols to William Maw, a guest at the hotel. Holman was a block south in the alley alongside the Vienna Bakery (now the Castle tavern). He ran across the street and continued east on that alley, turning north through what is the boat lot today. He huddled next to the brick building across from the hotel and then peppered the back door of the bank/hotel with bullets whenever one of the robbers tried to escape that way.
      A few townsfolk including night watchman R.C. "Rolly" Beebe and attorney D.B. Cogswell, along with A.J. Morrison, an ex-sheriff who was staying at the Wixson, were unsuccessful in their own attempts to shoot the robbers. One observer who kept her wits about her was Helen Hanson [also spelled Hansen in one account, the telephone operator whose cubbyhole office adjoined the Wixson Café. As bullets shattered the windows around her, she placed a frantic call to Sheriff Ed Wells in Mount Vernon and held out the receiver so the lawman could hear the shots whizzing by.
      Two observers had a close call. Joe Mott, the druggist whose shop was on the corner south across Ferry street from the bank, and Dr. Fred Mills were fired at but managed to duck just in time inside the building. Susie Alverson was headed to her mother's house east of the bank when she heard the shooting began but she headed back to her home a half block away when she realized where the sounds came from.

The robbers take their booty and escape
      Back at the bank, the robbers had the upper hand. Once they cornered him, he gave up his pistol and then tried to fool them by claiming that the safe had a timed lock. They had cased the bank, however, and one shoved his pistol at the cashier so hard that he commented later, "so far that the muzzle seemed to be in his vest pocket." When he gave up and opened the vault, the bandits quickly slit open the tops of the moneybags to determine which held gold or silver or combinations with paper currency. Each of the robbers tucked bags of gold coins under their arms and when they had all of those in hand, one robber took a bag of silver as consolation along with some paper currency. They apparently exited out the front door of the bank as their confederates showered the street with gunfire to dissuade any locals from trying to stop them. Marshal Villeneuve was still across Metcalf street in the alley so he did not have a good line of fire.
      The robbers fled down Ferry street to the east and then turned north on Murdock, where they disappeared in the dark. One of the robbers apparently decided that the paper currency was not worth carting away; many paper bills littered the street after they left. Witnesses conjectured that they stashed a car for their getaway but Sheriff Wells arrived within minutes and could not find a trace of the robbers' method of escape. Sedro-Woolley's small police force of two decided to stay back just in case to guard the town while Wells quickly assembled a posse to comb the area. Nearly a hundred men searched the woods and the area all around the Northern Pacific railroad tracks leading north out of town.
      Meanwhile, the townsfolk were shocked to discover that the only mortal wound of the night was Melvin Wilson, variously described as 7, 12, 13 or 14 years old. He was the son of James Wilson, owner of the saloon next door to the hotel. When the shooting broke out, he remarked to his mother about the sound and bolted out of their house before she could stop them. The Times did not give their location, but it was somewhere between the Northern Pacific tracks and the bank. He apparently turned down Metcalf from the corner at Schneider's store and was hit in the abdomen with a stray bullet from the hail of gunfire.
      Nearly everyone in town was out in the streets by now or meeting at various hotels and club halls, sharing what they knew or had heard about the robbery. Maggie Osterman remarked that the robbers fled right past the front of her house and spoke in a foreign language that she could not identify. She noted that none of them appeared to be wounded. Sheriff Wells concluded that the men were Russian and he suspected that they were part of a gang of 20 men who robbed various locations during that summer of crime. The most expensive damages needing repair were sustained by the new Union Mercantile building at the southwest corner of Ferry and Metcalf streets, kitty-cornered from the bank. The partners had to replace $300 worth of windows, most of which were shattered by bullets. Many other homes and businesses in the area suffered the same damage. A nick in the stone at the corner of the Gateway Hotel still exists today as a result of one of the bullets.
      When Guddall totaled the remaining coins and currency at the bank, he announced that $11,649, mainly in coin was missing. Keep in mind that this robbery occurred nearly 20 years before the FDIC insured banks, so there was added impetus to catch the robbers and recover the stolen coin. Townspeople soon learned that the October 17 robbery followed a possible attempt by the same robbers exactly one week before. Guddall noticed suspicious men loitering around the bank that earlier Saturday evening, secured the bank with the exterior safety-iron gates and exited by the back door so that he could go by the circular route south and east to the Bingham Bank, a block south on Metcalf, and warn them to also close for the evening.
      Possibly the oddest aspect of the robbery shows up in one source but not all. Historian Ray Jordan does not mention this part of the story in his column about the robbery that he wrote in 1974. But oral tales about the robbery include a claim that several of the robbers were dressed as women to disguise their intent. While amusing, the claim seemed apocryphal until 1992 when Ken Rosencrantz was remodeling the oldest house in town, on Gibson street, and found in the walls a hand-scrawled note from that evening that reads: "1st National Bank has just been robbed by 3 masked ladies believed to be ___ [the last part is an illegible scribble]" He gave the note to researcher Roger Peterson who checked with old timers; they repeated the story to him and explained that the note was apparently passed along Metcalf street from store to saloon to store that were still open at the time.

Justice is served
      As Sheriff Wells and Sheriff L.A. Thomas of Whatcom county led a posse in their search from Sedro-Woolley north over the next couple of days, a hunter discovered a makeshift camp that the robbers apparently set up north of town near the railroad tracks. One of them carved out a sort of crow's nest in a tree so that he could see down the tracks and twigs were broken off the trees along the line for a ways to eliminate any obstructions to his view. When the police investigated, they found various evidence and maps that indicated some of the robbers had camped there for four to five weeks and that they planned to rob both banks. Evidence also indicated that they met up back at the camp on the 17th to plan their final retreat. The police concluded that the men stayed in the camp until Monday before hopping the Great Northern train north to British Columbia through Blaine.
      Sure enough, on Wednesday following the holdup, Thomas Wychoff, an immigration inspector, encountered what he said was a trio of foreigners in the rail yard near Ferndale on Wednesday and attempted to detain them but soon stared the barrels of three revolvers. They told him to beat it, which he did, running back to his hotel where he picked up his shotgun and called the sheriff about his discovery. By that time, the robbers were back on the train, close to the Blaine border crossing. Deputy Sheriff Phillip Shaffner was notified and saw them just as they crossed the border but he was too late to stop them. But just north of the border, a combination of train officials and American and Canadian officers were lying in wait at 3:30 a.m. at the North Bluff crossing near Hazelmere. According to the Oct. 23, 1914, Bellingham Herald, a gun battle ensued during which two of the robbers were shot and killed and one robber later died of his wounds. He was apparently wounded in the battle and one of his fellow robbers tried to finish him off. Cliff Adams, a Canadian immigration officer, was also killed in the battle. A total of $3,067.20 was recovered from the clothing of the three men. Two other men escaped.
      On Friday afternoon, three men showed up at a farm north of Ferndale and demanded food from Otto Wilson's wife and then appeared at a Custer farm and asked directions to Custer, B.C. They were probably desperately hungry, but both choices were mistakes. Mrs. Wilson alerted Sheriff Thomas, as did the Custer man, named McGee, who was formerly a U.S. Deputy Marshal for nine years in Mobile county, Alabama. Thomas then contacted Sheriff Wells and Wells implemented a clever plan. He had a hunch that the robbers would return south on the old Smuggler's Trail, used two decades before for smuggling contraband Chinese laborers. He attached his Model-T headlight to dry-cell batteries and attached it to a block building by the Great Northern Railway bridge over the Nooksack river through Ferndale. His hunch was correct and the robbers showed up on Friday night, crawling over the bridge. The light was switched on, the men were blinded and two men were shot and killed. Only one managed to escaped. This time they collected $3,088.10.
      Over the next two weeks, Sheriff Wells and Walter Thayer of the Burns Detective Agency pursued the last man like bulldogs. On November 9, they received a tip that a suspect was at a poolroom in Seattle. Two days later, Wells returned to Mount Vernon with Haig Kazansais, Russian-born Armenian, and Guddall quickly identified him. In closing, we want to thank Rusty Robertson and Lesley McConnell for their very detailed story of the robbery in the 1998 Sedro-Woolley Centennial issue of the Courier-Times for the letter they reprinted. The letter was presented to Sheriff Wells on News years Day, 1915, along with a souvenir sheriff's badge, when the First National Bank honored him.

Dear sir: On behalf of the bank, I am presenting you with a little token of remembrance of the chase and the two battles with the bandits at Hazelmere, B.C. and Ferndale, Washington, in October 1914. This coin was one of several, which were bent by bullets in these fights. We trust that you will find pleasure in wearing it. In this connection, I want to thank you for the splendid service you rendered, for we recognize that it was due to your good judgment, energy and sticktoittiveness that his lawless band was finally wiped out. Trusting that all future work for you will be less hazardous and wishing you the most happy and prosperous New Year, I am
      Yours very truly, J. Guddall, Cashier

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Story posted on Aug. 1, 2001, last updated on Aug. 30, 2006
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