John Kirkup is still a presence in Rossland today. Every time you look at the courthouse, completed in 1901 and still in use today … it was John Kirkup who oversaw the original day-to-day construction of it. We’ll be dealing with three generations of John Kirkups here so I’ll differentiate them as follows. John Kirkup is the lawman of legend in Rossland and elsewhere. As you can see in the postcard in the Kirkup Family photo gallery, he went by Jack within his family but in the records he was John, and that’s how he will be referred to here. His son was always called Jack and that’s how we’ll refer to him. The grandson is John Victor Kirkup.
The John Kirkup Legends
For a couple great storytellers with their Kirkup stories … Carolyn McTaggary with The Seige of Farwell and Barry Gray with Legends of John Kirkup … go here Legends of John Kirkup
Dan Dunn’s Outfit
This is the true story of when, where, and how the famous Remington sketch of Kirkup was done. It’s a great account of the very beginnings of development on the Arrow Lakes
The Kirkup Family
John Kirkup was born in Kemptville, Ontario on 13 March 1855. The 1881 census for Kemptville shows parents James Kirkup (1820-1903) and Hannah Taylor Kirkup (1826-1904) with seven children ... Annie, John, Robert, George, James, William, and Elizabeth. The oldest daughter, Catherine, is usually missed in the genealogy, probably because James and Hannah immigrated to Canada from England in 1853 with two daughters, Catherine and Annie, and by the time the 1881 census came around Catherine was already married to Ambrose Clothier with kids of her own, and doesn't show up on the census as a Kirkup. She is listed as Mrs. Ambrose Clothier, a surviving child, in James' obituary of 4 June 1903. The obituary makes no mention of Robert, he died working for the CPR in 1885 (see Kirkup Documents). There is also a gravestone in the Kemptville Public Cemetery for a Bessie Kirkup with no dates, just referred to as "infant daughter of James", presumably she died at childbirth.
See Kirkup Genealogy
Catherine Kirkup (sister of John)
Catherine Kirkup Clothier, the oldest sibling, (see Kirkup Family photo gallery) was a frequent visitor to Rossland. She was John’s oldest sibling. She was grandmother to Robert Clothier who played Relic on The Beachcombers (see Kirkup Genealogy for Clothier family genealogy). Coincidentally, John Victor Kirkup was the accountant for The Beachcombers but he told me that he had no idea that Robert Clothier was his cousin until the producer of the show told him.
James Kirkup (brother of John)
James Kirkup was John’s younger brother. He was in Rossland and area for a number of years. I have a document dated 27 April 1897, given to me by Alfie Albo (see Kirkup Documents) in which he applies to The Board Of Police Commissioners for the job of Police Constable of the City of Rossland. He gives his occupation as Night Watchman, perhaps at one of the mines. I also came across him in the 1 July 1899 edition of The Cascade Record in this story : "James Kirkup, brother of the gold commissioner, was camped near the lake early this week with a force of men, sent to repair the Dewdney Trail. Since then this end of the trail has been cut out and all windfalls removed in good shape, making it much more available for the large traffic now daily utilizing it. All the Rossland race horses, were brought over it this week". Presumably he was hired to clear the trail for the upcoming carnival in Rossland. James is also mentioned in Greg Nesteroff's Blog as an unsuccessful applicant for the job of Nelson's first Fire Chief in 1897. In that application he claimed to have firefighting experience in New York. John Victor Kirkup said he had never heard of James and knew nothing about him.
John apprenticed as a carriage-maker with his father, and at the age of 21 went to Winnipeg to work construction in the housing boom, as well as operating a ferry on the Red River. The next year he went to Victoria to return to his trade, but soon joined the Victoria Police. In 1881 he joined the BC Provincial Police and went to Yale for the construction of the CPR, following it east to Savona in 1884, then Farwell (Revelstoke) in 1885. In 1890 he was sent to Sproat's Landing across from Castlegar on a temporary assignment to police the construction of CPR's Columbia and Kootenay Railway (see Dan Dunn’s Outfit). In December 1890 he took a 3 month leave of absence and went home to Kemptville, where he married home town girl Sue Kerr (born 1866) on 1 January 1891. They visited "all the places of interest in Canada" on their honeymoon, ending with a week in Victoria before returning to Revelstoke. In the end, in Revelstoke, as was the case later in Rossland, politics was his undoing. Ron Shearer gives an excellent and very thorough account of his entire career and the politics he faced in Revelstoke and in Rossland in his essay.
On 27 February 1895 a dispute erupted in Rossland over the location of a cabin in Sourdough Alley, when Hugh McLaughlin built a cabin and James Westlake considered it much too close to his. After McLaughlin laid his foundation, Westlake, that night moved it further away. The next day on the 28th, McLaughlin moved it back and the feud was on ! Westlake, who only had one good arm at the time, either pushed or hit McLaughlin. McLaughlin hit Westlake with an axe, Westlake fought back with a board. McLaughlin then attacked with a vengeance while Westlake tried to defend himself with an axe in his left hand, since his good arm, the right, was useless at the time. He lost control of the axe, released it, and McLaughlin received a serious wound in the lower leg. Westlake was charged with "unlawful wounding with intent to maim". A few days later, while the preliminary hearing was in progress, McLaughlin died of blood poisoning, and the charge was upped to "wounding with intent to murder". The jury convicted him of manslaughter and he got 11 months. Years later the Rossland Miner, in a review of Rossland History, depicted it as a bloody and cold blooded murder, and that version stuck, but a look at the evidence given at trial shows a pretty good case for self defence. In any case this incident is often given as the reason for Kirkup being sent to Rossland, since the Order In Council was dated 1 Mar 1895, but it must have been planned weeks before that with the decision that it was time for the creation of a Mining Recorders office and a constable in Rossland, as it was fast becoming the largest mining camp in the province.
Kirkup arrived in Rossland on 19 March 1895. He was paid $110 per month, the same as he was in Revelstoke, but he was now only mining recorder and constable, no longer being the government agent overseeing public works as he had been in Revelstoke, although as the senior government official in Rossland he was still involved in day-to-day oversight. The mining claim records, originally recorded in Nelson, and then in 1891 moved to Trail Creek Landing under Colonel Topping, were so carelessly made and kept that it made court cases difficult. Kirkup was kept extremely busy putting them in order, as well as keeping up with the exploding rush of new claims. He also oversaw the day-to-day construction of the police station and lockup, opened in 1895, and the courthouse, opened in 1901 and still used today.
As busy as he was, he still found time for his policing duties. Strict enforcement of the gambling and liquor laws was his priority, as well as expulsion of vagrants and trouble makers. His imposing size (6'3" and 300 lbs) and growing reputation with it's implied threat was usually enough to get the job done, but he could get physical if required. The one area of law that he did not enforce was prostitution ... he seems to have judged that trying to interfere with it in a mining camp full of single men would cause more law and order problems than it solved, and by just fining the prostitutes small fines the city finances would benefit and everyone would gain. In 1900, after complaints about the location of brothels on Lincoln Street, the city suggested to the brothels that they move down below town and the railway track to Kootenay Avenue along the wagon road to Trail, and this became both the Red Light district and Chinatown.
By June Kirkup was officially Chief of Police with Constable Hooson transferred from Victoria under him, and soon after two more constables. On 18 November 1895 their first son Jack Kirkup was born. In May 1896 he was appointed the Board of Health for the Trail Creek Mining District, with a Rossland physician under him. Soon after that he was appointed tax assessor and collector for the Rossland Electoral District, which meant he had to travel all the way west to Midway in the Boundary area to assess property, including mining claims, personal property, incomes, and then collect the taxes, and then to seize and auction any properties on which taxes weren't paid, as well as attend any court proceedings resulting. His workload kept increasing as he was appointed Government Agent in Rossland. By this time Rossland was widely regarded as a model mining camp for it’s unparalleled law and order, especially compared to American mining camps. On 23 December 1896 their second son, Robert Kerr Kirkup was born.
As had happened in Revelstoke, Kirkup's supporters and those against him were split more or less evenly, and in 1897, when Rossland incorporated and elected their first mayor, it was his detractors that won the day. That was the end, for the most part, of his involvement in law enforcement, as the new city took over policing. Kirkup's responsibilities steadily increased ... Collector of Votes for the Rossland Riding in May 1898, Gold Commissioner for the Trail Creek Mining District and Stipendiary Magistrate for the West Kootenay in June 1898, Police Magistrate for Rossland in August 1899. This appointment was temporary, replacing G.A.Jordan, who was ill, until John Boultbee took over. In this capacity he presided over the intimidation and corruption trial against John Ingram, the Chief of Police who had replaced him. He also co-presided over the preliminary hearing of the Daniel-Morgan criminal libel case. One story from this period, showing his sense of humour, involved a letter which appeared in the Phoenix Pioneer in the nearby mining town of Phoenix on 26 May 1900 which was published as follows:
"A solicitor in this riding, acting on behalf of the estate of a man who has been dead for some time, has received the following communication addressed to the deceased by the well known Rossland law officer, John Kirkup. "Dear Sir - I am to inform you that objection has been taken to your name remaining on the voters' list for the Rossland Riding of West Kootenay, upon the ground that you have been dead for some time. You will kindly let me know by return mail whether you are dead or not. If you are dead let me know, and I will strike your name off, but if not, of course your name will remain as it is."
In July 1911 he once again became a policeman for the last time with a temporary posting to Tete Jaune Cache to establish law and order there (see Kirkup Documents). He succeeded spectacularly and returned to Rossland in January 1912. By this time diabetes was taking it's toll on him, and there was no treatment in those days, so at the beginning of 2013 he was posted to Alberni on Vancouver Island. In August 1915 he was transferred to Nanaimo. On 2 November 1916, at age 61, he died of septicaemia after surgery to treat a carbuncle resulting from his diabetes. Sue died in Nanaimo in 1937 at the age of 71. They are both buried in the Nanaimo cemetery.
Let's take a look at some of the legends surrounding Kirkup.
There is a famous story from 1890 about the time he chased a fugitive into the US. According to a former owner of some of Kirkup's papers and photos (Bernie of Antiquarius Books), this story is documented in his warrant. He chased the man into the US and across eight states, capturing him near Chicago. He put him in Chicago's jail for holding, came back to Canada for extradition papers, then went back and got him and brought him back to BC, where he was hung. Frederic Remington, the western artist spent six days with him on this trip and made a sketch each day. One of these, entitled Jack Kirkup the Mountain Sheriff was published in Harper's Monthly in 1891 (see Dan Dunn’s Outfit). Five of these are in the Remington Museum; it's not known what happened to the sixth. However the facts are significantly different. John Victor Kirkup talked to Laura Foster, Director of the Frederic Remington Art Museum. They only know of one Remington sketch, the Mountain Sheriff water colour wash (see Dan Dunn’s Outfit), they know nothing of five others, and they know nothing of where it was done. She told him about a request from Harpers to Kirkup asking for changes to the Mountain Sheriff water colour wash ... he did not want to make any changes but had no choice since he was commissioned by Harpers to do the sketch.
In 1950 when the RCMP took over the BC Police, Jack Kirkup, who was a sergeant for the BC Police, was demoted to constable. John Victor’s recollection from what his father told him and from what Gordon S Wismer, who was BC Attorney General in 1950, told him is that it was payback for John having put two Northwest Mounted Police members in jail who had been sent to Rossland to get Edward Killy, who was wanted in Saskatchewan for murder and who John had in Jail but was holding him for Pinkertons. The story was that he held the two NWMP members in jail until Pinkertons came for their man and then let them go. Apparently Killy had fled across the border from Saskatchewan after committing the murder. This would seem to bolster the story about Kirkup going to the US to get his man. Except why would John be holding Killy for Pinkertons if the crime was committed in Canada ? In 2004 John Victor was working as Commissionaire for the RCMP at Little Mountain, Vancouver. The historian in the archives there told him that Jack's demotion had nothing to do with payback, only with the amalgamation of the two police forces. The Extradition Requisition (see Kirkup Documents), addressed to John Kirkup, Provincial Constable, City Of Victoria states that Edward Killy murdered Robert Baird in Kootenay District, British Columbia on or about 27 November 1884. The Warrant of Recipias (see Kirkup Documents), is dated 6 March 1886, and addressed to John Kirkup re Edward Killy. In 1886 Rossland wasn’t even a mining camp yet, let alone a town with a jail, and Kirkup never came to Rossland until 1895, so whatever the truth of the legend, it had nothing to do with Rossland.
"Big John Kirkup", at six foot three and 300 pounds, was a big man and very strong. He was notorious for using his fists instead of his gun. Contrary to popular myth, before coming to Rossland Kirkup always carried a Colt 44 sidearm, though he seldom ever shot it. During his time in Rossland he abandoned his sidearm and instead carried a lead weighted walking stick. If he did use his gun, it was usually as a club, rather than shooting it, but more often he would use his walking stick for a club if his fists wouldn't do (his supporters in Revelstoke had presented him with a gold topped walking stick as a token of "the estimation and appreciation in which you are held for the fair and impartial manner in which you have discharged your onerous duties and obligations"). One of his classic methods for handling two opponents was to bang their heads together. A famous story from his short time as the law in Rossland was the time he intercepted Jack Lucy, an infamous gunman from Idaho, coming into town. Placing his hand on his shoulder and looking him straight in the eye he said pleasantly: "That is a very steep hill. It would be a shame to go all the way down there when you will just have to turn around and come right back up." As Kirkup's grip on his shoulder tightened, Lucy finally agreed and headed back to Northport.
Kirkup preferred to settle matters out of court. When a squatter insisted on building next to the creek in Sourdough Alley (a practice not considered proper by common understanding) and refused to take Kirkup's advice to move it, Kirkup simply put his shoulder to it and pushed it into the creek.
It is said that John Wayne used Kirkup as one of two models in creating his persona. He is said to have taken his distinctive walk from Hollywood stunt man Yakima Kanut, and several other of his signature traits from Kirkup, including his habit of using his gun as a club. This could likely be true as Harper's Magazine published a story of an incident at Donald, BC from Kirkup's time policing CPR construction when he forcibly persuaded a belligerent and reluctant gambler, who was armed, to leave town ... at least once he had carried the inert body back to the jail, cleaned the blood off him, then walked him to the train, at which point they parted on good terms, after which Kirkup commented "I had to get a little rough". The story was picked up by many newspapers across the US. Ronald Shearer in his essay lists six newspapers from California to Texas and says it's just a partial list. So the Kirkup legend was known far and wide, and if the stories are to be believed, even three men were no match for him, it was only a question of how much violence he would be forced to employ, and the fact that violence was always his last resort only added to his legend.
Born in Rossland 18 November 1895, died 1961.