WILLIAMS, David Ricardo (1923-1999)




Author Tags: Biography, Cariboo, Essentials 2010, First Nations, Law, Politics

QUICK REFERENCE ENTRY:

Robertson Davies said the fundamental difference between the U.S. and Canada is that the United States broke away from Britain, whereas Canada was the dutiful daughter. Consequently, Canadians are law-abiding, more orderly. The Mounties always get their man. This paradigm explains why Americans tend to revere their outlaws and gangsters, whereas Canadians, in general, do not.

In a province that reveres the so-called hanging judge, Judge Matthew Begbie, the classic B.C. outlaw book is David Ricardo Williams’ Trapline Outlaw: Simon Peter Gunanoot (1982), an investigation of the capture of the fair-dealing and respected Gitksan outlaw who was accused of two separate murders, near Hazelton in 1906, after he was reputedly offended by one man’s disparaging remark in reference to his wife and/or the morality of Gitksan women in general.

Rather than face a trial by a white jury, Gunanoot and his brother-in-law fled into the bush, where they eluded capture for thirteen years. Eventually, through an intermediary named George Beirnes, Gunanoot surrendered to the authorities, having acquired the services of a Vancouver lawyer named Stuart Henderson. Williams describes Henderson as “perhaps the most effective criminal lawyer British Columbia has known.” After Gunanoot was acquitted in 1920, his brother-in-law Peter Hi-madan surrendered and was also acquitted. The missionary Thomas P. Kelley wrote a book about Gunanoot, Run Indian Run, which built up Gunanoot’s folk hero status. Then along came Williams, an experienced biographer and lawyer, who debunked Gunanoot’s Robin Hood–like reputation.

Williams’ sobering indictment of Gunanoot (alternately spelled Gun-a-noot) was based on his interviews with Gunanoot’s children and information not raised at the botched Vancouver trial during which the prosecution failed to provide evidence or witnesses. According to Williams’ investigation, Gunanoot privately confessed to killing both Alec McIntosh and Max LeClair to his wife, to his father and to another man named Tom Lula. Gunanoot’s co-defendant Peter Hi-madan implicated him and Gunanoot also told two of his sons he had committed the murders.

If labour activist Ginger Goodwin of Cumberland can be classified an outlaw, Susan Mayse’s biography Ginger: The Life and Death of Albert Goodwin (1990) can be considered as a classic alongside Trapline Outlaw. Arriving on Vancouver Island in 1910, the socialist Albert “Ginger” Goodwin was a slight, red-haired man who was forced to take refuge in the wilderness around Comox Lake as a subversive. He had run unsuccessfully for parliament in 1916 and demanded an eight-hour day for miners in Trail. In 1917, he brought 1600 Consolidated miners to strike action, upsetting Canadian arms manufacturing. The shooting of the coal miner unionist in 1918 by Pinkerton constable Dan Campbell, at the behest of Canada’s Dominion Police, sparked a 24-hour protest strike and labour unrest across Canada. Goodwin was a tubercular coal miner whose only crime was a belief in democracy.

Two other important books about B.C. outlaws are Peter Grauer’s Interred with Their Bones: Bill Miner in Canada, 1903–1907 (2006), a 600-pager that exhaustively recalls the four years spent in British Columbia by the chronically inept “gentleman bandit” Bill Miner, and George Bowering’s novel Shoot! (1994), about the McLean gang from the Okanagan.


FULL ENTRY:

David Ricardo Williams was one of British Columbia’s foremost biographers. After his little-known local history of his parish, 100 Years at St. Peter’s Quamican (1966, reprinted in 1991), he produced an impressive string of books mostly concerned with legal and political figures. The Man for a New Century: Sir Matthew Baillie Begbie (Gray's Publishing 1977) received the UBC Medal for Canadian Biography and it was reprinted as Matthew Baillie Begbie in 1980. His sobering study of Simon Peter Gun-a-noot’s life, Simon Peter Gunanoot: Trapline Outlaw (Sono Nis, 1982) was followed by a biography of Chief Justice Lyman Poore Duff, Duff: A Life in the Law (1982), for which he received the Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize. Duff was a judge of the Supreme Court of British Columbia from 1904 to 1906, then a judge of the Supreme Court of Canada from 1906 until 1944. Williams' biography of Gerry McGeer was Mayor Gerry: The Remarkable Gerald Grattan McGeer (1986).

One of Williams' most essential works, Simon Peter Gunanoot: Trap-Line Outlaw (Sono Nis, 1982), dissected the notorious case against the Gitksan trapper and storekeeper, effectively dismantling Gunanoot’s romantic reputation as a wrongly accused murderer that was first described in book-length by Peter Kelley’s Run Indian Run. “We cannot disregard the strong evidence of guilt,” Williams concludes. “It establishes that Simon Peter Gunanoot killed both Alexander MacIntosh and Maxwell Leclair…. Simon killed MacIntosh possibly as the result of MacIntosh’s supposed or real trifling with his wife, or as the result of the fight, or of some insult or slight connected with it; Simon would have considered the cuts inflicted by MacIntosh to his face almost a mortal insult. In any event, Simon’s hostility combined with too much liquor led to a fatal outcome. He may have killed Leclair as the result of his taunts, but more likely he shot him in a drunken frenzy.” Williams based his sobering indictment of Gunanoot (also spelled Gun-a-noot) on his interviews with Gunanoot’s children and an array of pertinent information that was not raised during the botched trial. Gunanoot’s shooting spree is chillingly recalled, during which he shot three horses, killed another horse with an axe and threatened to kill his own children. According to Williams, Gunanoot privately confessed to killing both MacIntosh and Maxwell (after supposedly losing his drunken fight with MacIntosh), to his wife, to his father and to another man named Tom Lula. Gunanoot’s co-defendant Peter Hi-madan implicated him and Gunanoot also told two of his sons he had committed the murders. But Gunanoot was effectively represented by Stuart Henderson, an unconventional lawyer who defended 45 men on murder charges during his varied career around B.C., and secured acquittals for all but two. Williams describes him as “perhaps the most effective criminal lawyer British Columbia has known.” Henderson died in Victoria in 1945 at age 81, having formed an unusual business relationship with Gunanoot after the trial, traipsing around the Kispiox as a prospector hoping to strike it rich with Gunanoot’s guidance. [See also Thomas Kelley entry. As well, Cecil Clark gives a different, less sophisticated synopsis of events in Volume One of Outlaws & Lawmen of Western Canada (Heritage House, 1983).]

Williams' only novel, Ace of Pentacles (Sono Nis, 1990) was followed by portraits of seven noteworthy Canadian lawyers, Just Lawyers, and a non-fiction study, With Malice Aforethought (1993), that received the Crime Writers of Canada award for best book of true crime. In 1998 he published his study of the Pinkerton Detective Agency’s work within Canada on behalf of the Canadian government and Canadian police forces entitled Call in Pinkerton’s. A lesser-known work was Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow: A History of Vancouver's Terminal City Club (Terminal City Club, 1992).

Born in Kamloops on February 28, 1923, Williams descended from a long line of Church of England country parsons. He spent his formative years in Vancouver and trained as a lawyer at UBC in the late ’40s. Williams mainly practiced law in Duncan, as a criminal and civil litigator, and became a Queen’s Counsel in 1969. He was one of the founders of the B.C. Forest Museum and served in the Senate and Board of Governors of UBC. He became an Adjunct Professor of Law at UVic in 1980. Williams published primarily in the 1980s and 1990s, but he never fully abandoned the legal profession. He was an important contributor to the Writers Union of Canada, often providing legal advice and countering fuzzy, liberal rhetoric. He died on January 29, 1999.

Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
Mayor Gerry: The Remarkable Gerald Grattan McGeer
Duff: A Life in the Law
Simon Peter Gunanoot / Trapline Outlaw
Sir Matthew Baillie Begbie, The Man for a New Country


BOOKS:

100 Years at St. Peter’s Quamican (1966; 1991).

The Man for a New Century: Sir Matthew Baillie Begbie (Gray's Publishing 1977; 1980).

Simon Peter Gunanoot: Trap-Line Outlaw (Sono Nis, 1982; Trapline Outlaw, Sono Nis, 2005).

Duff: A Life in the Law (1982).

Mayor Gerry: The Remarkable Gerald Grattan McGeer (1986).

Ace of Pentacles (Sono Nis, 1990).

With Malice Aforethought (1993).

Just Lawyers

Call in Pinkerton’s (1998).

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow: A History of Vancouver's Terminal City Club (Terminal City Club, 1992).

[BCBW 2010]

Ace of Pentacles (Sono Nis $9.95)
Review



THE LATEST LAWYER-HERO IN B.C. fiction, Cyril Bagshaw, was born somewhere between the Andaman Islands and the Gulf of Oman. While travelling on an American freighter from Singapore to the United Arab Emirates in 1987, author and retired Duncan lawyer David Ricardo Williams happened upon a copy of Robertson Davies' "Tempest Tossed" in the ship's library. Impressed by Davies' style, Williams, a self-described Anglophile, decided to begin his own amusing novel of manners, Ace of Pentacles (Sono Nis $9.95). It's a courtroom novel about Cyril Bagshaw, a small-town Canadian lawyer who is initiated into the dizzying depths of tarot cards and romance. With a twinkle in his eye, Williams now wonders aloud if his sortie into fiction will be detrimental to his reputation as B.C.'s leading biographer and writer-in-residence with UVic's Faculty of Law. His previous books include studies of Sir Matthew Baillie Begbie, Indian outlaw Simon Peter Gunanoot, Duff Pattullo and Mayor Gerry McGeer. Williams' current projects include a history of the Pinkerton Detective Agency's extensive operations in Canada since 1850, a commissioned centennial history for the Terminal City Club and another Cyril Bagshaw novel.

[BCBW 1991]


Trapline Outlaw: Simon Peter Gunanoot (Sono Nis $19.95)
Article



Simon Gunanoot, a prosperous Gitksan trapper and merchant, was charged with the cold-blooded murder of two men near Hazelton in 1906. With family members in tow, he fled into the wilderness and eluded capture for thirteen years.

Several expeditions pursued the fugitives, but Gunanoot’s superior wilderness skills along the Skeena, Nass and Stikine Rivers soon made him into a Kispiox folk hero. The Gitksan helped him elude capture and provided food. Gunanoot sometimes followed his own posse, but he never harmed them.

He surrendered to Mounted Police in Hazelton on June 24, 1919 after Vancouver lawyer Stuart Henderson took an interest in his plight. With Henderson at his side in a Vancouver courtroom, Gunannoot was acquitted in 1920.

His co-accused brother-in-law Peter Hi-madam was soon exonerated, too. Evidence against both men was scant, and some prosecution witnesses had disappeared or died, so the Crown prosecutor did not pursue the case with rigour.

Thomas Kelley wrote the first book about Gunanoot, Run Indian Run, in which his outlaw status was glorified. Then along came David Ricardo Williams, a trial lawyer, who dissected the case more thoroughly for Trapline Outlaw: Simon Peter Gunanoot (Sono Nis, 1982).

Williams interviewed some of Gunanoot’s children and gathered pertinent information not raised during the trial. After an extensive recounting of the facts, Williams effectively dismantles Gunanoot’s romantic reputation as a wrongly accused murderer. “We cannot disregard the strong evidence of guilt,” he concludes. “It establishes that Simon Peter Gunanoot killed both Alexander MacIntosh and Maxwell Leclair.” According to Williams, Gunanoot possibly killed MacIntosh as the result of MacIntosh’s supposed or real trifling with his wife, or as the result of their drunken altercation, or some insult or slight connected with it. “Simon would have considered the cuts inflicted by MacIntosh to his face almost a mortal insult,” Williams claims. “In any event, Simon’s hostility combined with too much liquor led to a fatal outcome. He may have killed Leclair as the result of his taunts, but more likely he shot him in a drunken frenzy.”

Gunanoot’s shooting spree on the day of the alleged murders is chillingly recalled from eyewitness accounts. The folk hero shot three horses, killed another horse with an axe and threatened to kill his own children. Gunanoot’s co-defendant Peter Hi-madam implicated him and Gunanoot also told two of his sons he had committed the murders. According to Williams, Gunanoot also privately confessed to killing both MacIntosh and Leclair (after losing his drunken fight with MacIntosh) to his wife, to his father and to another man named Tom Lula.

Gunanoot was represented by Stuart Henderson, an unconventional lawyer who defended 45 men on murder charges during his varied career around B.C., and secured acquittals for all but two. Williams describes him as “perhaps the most effective criminal lawyer British Columbia has known.” After the trial, Henderson formed an unusual business relationship with Gunanoot, traipsing around the Kispiox as a prospector, hoping to strike it rich with Gunanoot’s guidance. Henderson died in Victoria in 1945 at age 81. Born around 1874 in Gitanmaax, Simon Gunanoot died of heart failure in October of 1933 while tending his trapline near Stewart. He was buried in the wilderness. David Ricardo Williams’ sobering indictment of Gunanoot (also spelled Gun-a-noot) will not suit the needs of Hollywood, or please anyone eager to imagine an Aboriginal equivalent of Robin Hood. Now back in print, Trapline Outlaw: Simon Peter Gunanoot (Sono Nis $19.95) serves as a fascinating work by one of the province’s foremost biographers. 0-919203-98-1

[BCBW Spring 2005]