Although many of the details of William A. Miner’s life are either unknown or contested, such as the precise place and year of his birth, the picture is that of a clever and successful “Gentleman Bandit” who continually eluded police both in the United States and Canada. His life-long career of crime began in the United States in 1865, and ended with his final capture in Canada in 1911.
It is generally believed that Bill Miner was born around 1846-1847, likely in Bowling Green Kentucky. He joined the army in April of 1864, but left after just three months. In 1865, Miner stole a $50 watch and an expensive suit from a store. The theft of a horse enabled him to travel to San Francisco. On his way, he met a 15 year old named John Sinclair. They rented horses, which they did not return, and on January 22, 1866, they robbed a ranch hand of $80, though Miner returned $10, securing his reputation as a Gentleman. They were captured the next day and were sentenced to three years in prison, followed by two more for the theft of the first horse. Miner was released after four years on July 12, 1870.
Miner then joined Alkali Jim for a successful series of burglaries. In 1871, they were joined by Charlie Cooper. On January 23, 1871, the three men held up a train, where they stole a five dollar gold piece, as well as the watch and boots off Bill Cutler, the driver, although they returned them. They then opened a strongbox and took $2,600 worth of gold dust and coins. They did not wear masks and because of the telegraph, their descriptions were widespread. They hid, but when Cooper went into town, the others escaped with the money. In retaliation, Cooper went to San Francisco and told authorities where to find them. Both Miner and Alkali Jim were caught and sentenced to 13 years. Miner was released on July 14 1880, after serving nine years, and went to live with his sister, Mary Jane Wellman, in Colorado Springs to work for her husband’s mine. He did not stay for long.
Miner’s next associate in crime was a farmhand named Arthur Pond. On September 1, 1880, they stole $50 and two mail sacks in Ohio city. On October 14, they held up a stagecoach on the Del Norte route, and hit a jackpot of $4,000. To elude authorities, Miner and Pond changed their names to William A. Morgan and Billy LeRoy. The authorities were not fooled. Pond was soon caught and sentenced to 10 years, although he escaped. He met first with his brother, then Miner, and a new spree began. The Del Norte route was attacked on May 15 and again on May 18, 1881. While Miner was buying supplies with this new money, the Pond brothers were caught and lynched by a mob of angry citizens outside the jail house. The loss of these boys did not derail Miner.
Stanton T. Jones was Miner’s next partner. They met in Saguache County and were captured in San Juan, although they soon escaped to rob the Deming stagecoach line in New Mexico. Their next trip was to California by rail. There, Miner joined the team of Jim Crum, Ben Frazee and William Todhunter. Wearing masks, and referring to each other by number not name, they held up the Sonora train, getting $ 3,800. All were captured. Crum was sentenced to 12 years, while Miner and Miller both got 25, although as usual, Miner did not serve his entire sentence. When he and his cell mate, Joe Marshal, attempted to escape, Marshal was killed and Miner was shot in the cheek.
Miner was released from prison on June 17, 1901, at the age of 55. Retirement was not in his immediate future, however. On September 23, 1903, Miner and three men held up a train at Portland.
On September 10, 1904, Miner and two accomplices, later identified as William “Shorty” Dunn and Louis Colquhoun, were involved in the first train robbery in Canada. A Canadian Pacific Railway car near Mission, British Columbia, was robbed of $7,000. Miner also took a .38 revolver from an express messenger present on the train. The bandits were not caught, and managed a second CPR robbery near Kamloops, on May 8, 1906. This time, they were not so difficult to find. On May 11, a team of Royal Northwest Mounted Police officers set out to capture the robbers who were innocently eating lunch when the police arrived. Dunn opened fire but the officers kept the threesome at bay. Dunn was wounded in the leg. The bandits were brought back to Kamloops for trial. Bill Miner was sentenced to 25 years in the New Westminster Penitentiary. In August 1907, he escaped and fled to the United States.
Bill Miner reappeared after he and five others took $3,500 from White Sulphur Springs on February 22, 1911. He was placed in the Milledgeville prison. After serving less than a year, he escaped, but was captured days later. On June 29, 1912, he escaped yet again, but was recaptured without resistance. The outlaw was now 66 years old. A criminal for 48 years and in jail for 35 of them, Bill Miner finally died from natural causes on September 2, 1913, at the age of 67.
As a result of their success in capturing the renowned bandits, the Mounties made their mark on law enforcement in the West and their experience was highly valued in B.C.
Bill Miner’s bold attacks on the unpopular CPR made him a folk hero to many western Canadians. The award-winning Canadian film, The Grey Fox, is based on his career in Canada.