Lord Gordon Gordon

by J. L. Johnston

MHS Transactions, Series 3, 1950-51 Season

This article was published originally in MHS Transactions by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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The story of the character known in the annals of this continent as "Lord Gordon Gordon" is romantic. His achievements as a confidence man and swindler present an almost unbelievable record which can be understood only against the background of time and place.

The romantic element has been utilized by the late "Colonel" Porter of the former Winnipeg Telegram and later of the Winnipeg Tribune for many columns; and in a more lengthy article in the National Home Monthly of October, 1933. He realized fully the human interest aspect of this subject. In recent years the Provincial Library and its Archives has obtained many documents pertinent to the phase represented by Colonel Porter's interest, as well as many others presenting a diplomatic aspect to the history, which is the primary reason the subject is presented to this Society.

In illustrating this feature it is essential that the more human interest side be repeated and probably amplified with the additional resources now available.

The time of this story is the six years between 1868 and 1874; and the places: in Great Britain - London, Forfar and Edinburgh; in the United States - Minneapolis and New York; in Canada - Montreal, Toronto and Winnipeg (or Fort Garry as it was still being named). Lord Gordon Gordon committed suicide at the home of Mrs. Abigail Corbett in Headingly on August 1st, 1874.

The record begins with a letter written by the Rev. J. W. Simpson of Glenisla, Forfar, Scotland, on October 3rd, 1872. This is Exhibit 16 of the evidence of Thomas Smith, of the firm of Marshall & Sons, goldsmiths and jewellers of Edinburgh, produced in the Supreme Court of New York, in October and November, 1872, in the case of Jay Gould against Gordon Gordon, and a counter case of Gordon Gordon against Jay Gould. The latter case did not come to court. This letter illustrates well the method of Gordon Gordon, or as he was known in Great Britain, Hon. Mr. Hamilton and Lord Glencairn.

Free Church Manse
Glenisla, 3rd Oct., 1872

My dear Sirs:

For reasons which you can easily understand, I do feel a reluctance to give evidence against our former friend 'Lord Glencairn,' but I also feel that it would be very unjust to you to withhold any information I can give you. I proceed to do so as shortly as I can. He first appeared here in June or July '68. So far as I can recollect, he then passed under the name of Hamilton and had a small shooting in this neighborhood. No one knew anything of him, and there was much surmising as to who he was, but as he paid his bills punctually, lived quietly and had the manners of a gentleman, no one could find anything against his character or conduct. He left about the end of the season, having taken a larger shooting for the following two seasons. He returned next August and then appeared under the title of "Lord Glencairn". During the previous season he threw out hints to those with whom he came in contact, that he was something grander than he seemed to be. To myself he said that he had a place in Lanarkshire and another in Ayreshire, but that he had not good health at either of them. He also hinted that he had property in Northampton, in England. His manner was not to tell any one directly who or what he was, but to make statements which led you to infer that he was a man of title and had property in various places in Scotland, England and Ireland. When he returned in July, '69, as Lord Glencairn, there were grave doubts as to his character. His own account of his title was plausible - that his grandfather had left money in chancery - an immense sum, to him, on condition that he should take up the title of Glencairn when he reached the age of 27; that he was now of age and must take it up; that his agents in London had nearly completed the process, and he would in a few months be served heir to his grandfather and to the earldom of Glencairn. He did not speak to me of his Scotch estates, but often hinted of his property in Northampton and at the immense sums in chancery.

There were things about him I could not well understand, but as he continued to behave in a gentlemanly way and had friends from England with him who were men of standing and respectability, and especially as he was certified to be a man of rank and wealth by his lawyers, a well-known firm in Lincoln's Inn, I was willing to think the best of him, and at least to wait until he discovered himself before I judged him. And he did discover himself. His estates in Scotland and England turned out to be pure falsehoods, his claim to the Earldom, whatever it was, ended in nothing.

No process in pursuit of it had been entered even in any of the law courts of England or Scotland, and though he left very little unpaid debt in this quarter, yet I know that he swindled various parties elsewhere out of large sums.

I could enter more into detail, but it is unnecessary. I may shortly add that as in all material points his pretentions to rank and property turned out to be utterly false and untrue. I can consider him nothing else than an imposter, and yet who or what he is I know no more than the first day I saw him.

With much regard, I am,
My Dear Sir,
Very truly yours,
J. W. Simpson."

From the deposition it may briefly be established that he had deceived Howard Paddison of Lincoln's Inn, London with the story of being a ward in Chancery of the title of the Earl of Glencairn (dormant from 1796), with estates of great value in Scotland, England and Ireland; that he was a cousin of the late Marquis of Hastings and closely related to the Duke of Hamilton's family, and an intimate friend of the Prince of Wales. Marshall and Sons had checked the Scottish Peerage when Rev. J. W. Simpson had introduced him to the firm in September or October, 1870, and found the statement accurate in regard to the Glencairn family. Debts were created with a number of firms, both in Edinburgh and London according to the evidence taken in New York. The solicitor had issued guarantees of these business accounts based on the alledged estates to be turned over to his client Glencairn on March 25, 1870, estates valued, as he had intimated, and believed, at £100,000 sterling.

To his banker at Dundee Glencairn implied that the income was £40,000 to £50,000 a year. The end result was that Gordon, or Glencairn, disappeared, appropriately, before March 25, with accounts unpaid, with the solicitor out of pocket for over £5,000. (Only a few days before Glencairn absconded he had given him cash down for £800). Many of the purchases made from jewellers had been gifts of Glencairn to Paddison and his family and other friends. When they found how they had been duped some of the recipients of the gifts (including the solicitor) returned them, and thus reduced the account of Marshall & Sons to £116 from £300. Thomas Smith notes that he knew of five businesses of Edinburgh and two of London which had received no payments when Glencairn disappeared, but there were many more. The only careful man was the banker of Dundee, who reported that he had refused Gordon an overdraft. Mr. Robert Yeaman, the banker, later returned to Marshall & Sons a gold chain and locket given by Glencairn to one of his bank clerks. This was one of many items that had been stolen by the Lord. Thus ends the British record.

A brief description of Lord Glencairn or Lord Gordon as a composite view from different sources shows no serious variation in judgment - impressive but of medium height (5' 10"), small, well formed hands and feet, curling brown hair, side whiskers, eyes of blue or grey, finger nails manicured, full or protuberant forehead, erect form, peculiarly stiff and set way of holding his head up and back, nervous and restless manner; age-claimed estates as of March 25, 1870, when twenty-seven year of age. When in Minnesota and New York he dressed carefully with silk hat, gloves, patent leather shoes. He was calm in demeanour, poised, ceremonious, and spoke excellent English with careful articulation. He was, apparently, a successful after-dinner speaker.

Lord Glencairn had disappeared from Great Britain in March, 1870. He now appeared as Lord Gordon Gordon in Minneapolis in the summer of 1871. There is no knowledge of his whereabouts during the intervening period of fifteen months. The following incident indicates that some accomplice or relatives were aware of his movements and activities. Very shortly after registering at the hotel a letter arrived addressed to Lord Gordon Gordon. He had registered as G. Gordon. This information aroused an immediate interest in their guest in this city of 20,000 people. A deposit of $20,000 in English pounds had been made in the National Exchange Bank of Minneapolis known locally as "Westfall's Bank". A lord in Minneapolis in 1871 with great resources was obviously a social lion, and was made a house guest of one citizen and taken to Minnetonka on an elaborate picnic by another, among much entertaining. The husbands were interested in business deals for their mutual advantage. He was courted and banquetted and entertained in the best of style at private and civic functions, and lavishly. It is reported that he spent rather freely.

In conversation he let it be known again that he had estates in England and Scotland and was interested in settling some of his Scottish folk on land in this new country. He embellished it as the wish of a beautiful and kind sister desirous of doing some beneficial deed for his tenants. This plan immediately aroused the interest of Colonel J. Loomis, Land Commissioner of the Northern Pacific Railway, which was then advancing slowly across the plains towards the West Coast. A favourable impression resulted in an invitation to join a party about to travel out on the line of the railway, and beyond. The arrangements became elaborate. A description of the party is given from a number of sources: It consisted of Lord Gordon Gordon, Colonel Loomis, the land commissioners secretary and attorney, and George B. Wright and Nathan Butler, surveyors. A more romantic description is from the Fergus Falls Daily Journal, written upon the occasion of the anniversary of the visit to Ottertail County and Pelican Rapids: "a caravan of forty horses, twelve men to pitch tents, a French cook and a number of colored waiters wearing white linen aprons and white silk gloves." Another reference states: "twenty men and from thirty to forty horses were employed. The guest travelled in royal state, with two wall tents for his own use. He had what was elsewhere called a "gentleman's tiger" to serve as valet and secretary. One covered wagon was a virtual armoury of weapons for deer hunting and another was equipped with complicated fishing tackle. Meals were served on silver and china and there were tropical fruits for desserts. The guest had fourteen changes of raiment. The personnel was carefully instructed never to fail to address him as 'My Lord'. A government surveyor galloped along with the caravan to point out choice sections of land and to mark those selected on a man as 'sold'. The banner of the Gordons and the Stars and Stripes fluttered side by side before his marquee. Colonel Loomis spent forty-five thousand dollars of railroad money, but told his directors that the noble lord would spend five million dollars with them. This was written in Putnam's Magazine in January, 1910, by Dr. William A. Croffut of Washington, who was editor-in-chief of the Minneapolis Tribune from 1871 to 1875.

It appears from the Story of Erie, written by Edward H. Mott, New York. 1901, that the sum actually expended was $15,000, the land selected and marked on the surveyor's map about 50,000 acres, and the trip approximately two months in time. The Fergus Falls Daily Journal announces the anniversary of the visit in August; he was at the Douglas County fair in the week before October 7, about a fortnight later he was laying out a new town on his property to be known as "Loomis", in Ottertail County, which is probably Pelican Rapids of the present day; on November 18 the party was camped at Oak Lake in Becker County; and on December 23 he was at Detroit Lakes. He led the citizens to believe he would return to New York and arrange for one hundred of his Scottish families to reach Duluth in the spring of 1872. Nathan Butler, a surveyer of the party, and later a large land holder near Fergus Falls, in his later years stated that Lord Gordon Gordon left Detroit Lakes about Christmas and travelled with him directly to St. Paul. In 1923 Butler wrote to Dr. Folwell that immediately after their arrival back he was shown in Gordon's hotel room about twenty pieces of solid silver, some of them claimed to be presents from officials of the Northern Pacific, and one from Mrs. Jay Cooke. It was just after the New Year that he left Minneapolis for New York, and as may be expected, with many letters of introduction to prominent citizens. One, and the important link, was from Colonel Loomis, addressed to his friend Horace Greeley, famous for his slogan, "Go West, Young Man." He left Minneapolis just after the New Year. Geo. W. Sweet writes: "Lord Gordon", on the stationery of the Northern Pacific Railroad Company, under date of January 1, 1872 (presumably the attorney of the company with the party) with which he encloses one blank and advises, "I have the Bond for Deed partly drawn and will finish it as soon as I can get at some of my papers in a hotih which will probably be on the morrow. Yours in haste." These are probably the documents prepared for the disposition of the land selected, and the delay is probably accounted for by the fact that the writer had returned from the trip and his papers were still unpacked.

It is in New York that Gordon Gordon, as far as the record is known, reached the peak of his career as a master of his craft. He arrived in New York early in January, 1872. His clash with Jay Gould is the highlight of the New York period, and later repercussions arise out of this battle of wits between two giants of racketeering, the one British and the other American - both of whom were at the peak of their professional careers. It is apparent that he spent some time looking over the situation. Whether the Jay Gould-Erie railway development was a flash of inspiration or a pre-arranged scheme cannot be proved - either con's elusion could fit the method of Gordon. Dr. Folwell in his description of this incident largely depends upon an article prepared by General Charles H. T. Collis for the New York Sun of January 3, 1893. He was one of Gould's attorneys, and in view of the fact that in Gould's case he partnered Elihu Root, he must have possessed some distinction. Gordon lived quietly for a couple of months, or at least there is no note of his movements. He made many friends, and particularly used Colonel Loomis' letter of introduction to Horace Greeley, who, apparently, became enthusiastic over the plan of Gordon to bring out a Scotch settlement to the western plains, which fitted into the editorial and political policy of Greeley in his New York Tribune. Gordon has met Mrs. Beldon, the first wife of James Fisk, in Minneapolis, and it was one of those fortunate coincidences for Gordon that she travelled to New York from Minneapolis on the same train. His entry into the New York social scene was thus assured. He spent some time in the Beldon home in New York, which probably accounts in part for the lack of hotel bills for the period from January to March. There are in our archives six weekly accounts of the Metropolitan Hotel of New York - March 4, April 1, 8, 15 and May 6 and 13. The grandeur of his living is illustrated. He paid $150.00 per week (this in 1872), and meals, wine and all other items were extra. The average was well over $200.

Gordon arrived in New York at the height of a speculative boom and at the peak of the commercial and political corruption which followed the Civil War. In the two months following his arrival he obviously gained much information about past operations from the men with whom he was associating, and probably through his friends the Beldons; William Beldon apparently being on the opposite side of the Gould, Fiske-Drew group. With the reorganization of the Erie Rail road coming up in March, 1872, as a result of the Vanderbilt-Gould fight for control, with Jay Gould anticipating defeat in the election of its directorate, and thus losing control, Gordon let it be known through Horace Greeley that he was the owner of 60,000 shares of Erie stock and had control of many more which h intended to vote at the coming election. Greeley was delighted with the prospect of reform of Erie. Arrangements were made for introductions to others, one of whom was Colonel Scott of Philadelphia, and a friend of Gould, and who was willing to aid in remedying this distressful situation - for Gould. Scott and Greeley then formally called upon Gordon at the hotel where he went fully into his background, his wealth in large British estates; his purchase of land in Minnesota and the other circumstances that established his prestige and authority to participate in this transaction. Colonel Scott communicated with Gould and on March 2 Gould called upon Gordon, by appointment, but had to wait for some considerable time while Gordon completed his toilet. Gould was told that he (Gordon) owned $30,000,000 of Erie stock and had control of $20,000,000 more, belonging to his noble English friends. It was his desire to name three English directors, the other directors could be named by Gould, but Horace Greeley was to be one of them. Gould was elated at this stroke which provided salvation for him. Gordon elaborated his status to the extent that he told Gould that he at twenty-two years of age had been the youngest member of the House of Lords, that the Queen had the greatest confidence in him, and had him complete an important diplomatic mission because he was the only man capable of coping with Bismarck.

Gould swallowed the whole line. For two weeks the enterprise was discussed in detail. At the proper moment Gordon intimated that he was out, million dollars in making preliminary investigations, one-half of which should he paid him by the new management, but that in the meantime he should have something more substantial than Mr. Gould's word. The keenness was so great that Gould brought to Gordon:

"600 shares of Erie, some 1,900 of corporations affiliated with Erie, and 4,722 of the Oil Creek and Allegheny Valley Railroad, twenty-one thousand dollar bonds of the Nyack and Northern Railroad, and $160,000 in currency. The careful recipient of these securities and cash presently found an error of forty thousand dollars in the footing of Gould's memorandum and sent word of the shortage. Gould did not think there was such an error, but under the circumstances he would not dispute the point and came back with an additional forty thousand dollars in cash. To a modest request for a memorandum receipt, his lordship replied with exceeding dignity that his word of honor ought to be receipt enough, and handed the bundle back to Gould. Gould took it, went as far as the door, returned, laid it down, and departed in faith that his property was in safe hands. It must have been sheer sport in playing a fish which had taken his hook so greedily that led Gordon to demand that Gould separate himself from the old directorate. On March 9 Gould delivered to him his resignation as director and president of the Erie Railway Company, to take effect upon the appointment of his successor. The great covenant was complete." [1]

Gould was happy for two weeks, but then, on March 22, he learned that a Philadelphia broker in the employ of Gordon was selling his Oil Creek and Allegheny stock at a reduced figure.

"He reacted to the new situation instantly and with admirable sagacity. On the next day he obtained the use of a room adjoining Gordon's suite, with a door between, and gathered there a small company, which included the New York chief of police and a police justice. One of the number, selected as an intermediary because of his relations to the two parties, sent in his card and was presently admitted to his lordship's parlor. He made known Gould's desire to have his money and securities returned and suggested that Lord Gordon could not afford to be involved in a vulgar controversy over money matters. My lord was at first reluctant and demanded an interview with Gould but he was given to understand that he had a choice between restitution on the spot or arrest and a probable committal to the Ludlow Street jail. Rather than submit to such an indignity, and seeing that Gould was repudiating his agreement, Gordon handed over the $200,000 in currency and all the securities except the 600 shares of Erie, which he had sold in New York, and 4,722 shares of Oil Creek and Allegheny Valley, which he had put on the market in Philadelphia. Upon Gould's further demand he made out an order to his brokers in writing to have the sale of Oil Creek stopped and the shares surrendered. As if he were the lawful owner of the Oil Creek shares, Gordon presently directed his Philadelphia brokers not to honor the order he had furnished to Gould and to deliver the stock to no one but himself. Gould then entered suit for felonious conversion of both the Oil Creek and Erie shares. The court fixed Gordon's bail at $37,000. His lordship had no difficulty in securing bondsmen from a group of still loyal friends not unwilling to put an obstacle in the path of Jay Gould. One of the bondsmen was A. F. Roberts, a New York merchant. The case did not come up until May 17 as the courts were crowded with litigants. Contradictory affidavits were read. For two hours, Gordon, on the witness stand, responded to questions with composure and frankness without a single point being scored against him by the prosecution.

After a consultation, Gould's leading counsel, David Dudley Field, started a series of questions in respect to Gordon's family relations. It is here that Gordon, apparently displayed a weakness. He gave the names and addresses of his alleged stepfather, a sister, a brother-in-law and an uncle. He ultimately protested successfully against such further inquisition and demanded the protection of the court. At this stage the proceedings were adjourned until the next day. Cables were immediately sent to the American consulates in Paris, London and Berne and brought back replies that no such relatives as those mentioned by Gordon existed at the addresses named." [2]

Whether Gordon discovered these enquiries were made, or realized that he had slipped at the trial in disclosing these alleged facts about his background, he did not turn up the next day. He had slipped over the line to Canada - one story stating to Montreal. It is reported that soon after two of Gould's lawyers - Elihu Root, of great fame in his later years, not only in the United States, but in international affairs, and General Collis (whose writing has been quoted) went to Toronto with a member of the firm of Marshall & Sons of Edinburgh expecting to make an arrest upon a British warrant. The fact that the evidence of Thomas Smith of Marshall & Sons, quoted at the beginning of this paper, is given in New York in October and November, 1872, it may be presumed that it was following that hearing that the trip to Toronto was made. However, by this time, Lord Gordon was in Winnipeg. One report of the time states that Gordon went to Montreal. In the Free Press of February 24, 1879, there is a story of Gordon allegedly being at Toronto. It is reported that he became very intimate with a family operating a boat travelling across the Lake to the American ports. If the story is correct he travelled on this boat for some time in the state room of the younger son of the family and it is suggested that a black box which he watched carefully and stored in the cabin with him was used to smuggle jewellery into the United States.

The next scene is the registration of Gordon Gordon in Winnipeg in October, 1872. Colonel Porter states that it was at the Munro House. Not for long was he in the centre of even our pioneer life. Mrs. Corbett, in August, 1874, reported that he had boarded with her at Headingly for about two years. He was accepted in the community, apparently without question. Nothing had been reported of the lawsuits or the Erie steal in the papers of Winnipeg. Evidence for his arrival in October is that he early made arrangements to leave in a hurry. On October 25, 1872, a Mr. Buchanan of St. Boniface issued the following one-page note:

"Station Keepers and Agents on Red River Route. Will you please afford Mr. Gordon every facility in making a speedy passage thro' to Thunder Bay. W. W. H. Buchanan." [3]

The documents that have provided more information about his stay in Winnipeg and the events that occurred before his suicide were obtained from the official papers of Lieutenant-Governor Morris, some files of Sir John Schultz, and from Mrs. Ebbs-Canavan of Victoria, niece of the first Premier, Hon. H. J. Clarke, Q.C. Some reproductions of originals have been obtained from the Minnesota Historical Society and there are, of course, the extensive reports in the newspapers of the settlement, as will be noted. Very good short anecdotal references are to be found in Begg's Ten Years in Winnipeg and in the small, rare volume entitled, Both Sides of Manitoba, by Geff Gee, a pseudonym for J. F. Galbraith, a young man who came from Toronto to work for the Free Press, later settling at Pembina Mountains and ultimately established a press and printing plant at Nelsonville.

Gordon lived very quietly. There are accounts of purchases from Schultz of October 1, 1873. covering the period from November 26, 1872 to September 20, 1873, and of July 25, 1874, for purchases from December, 1873, to May, 1874. These consist of liquors, food, clothing, harness equipment, tents, blankets. There are seven pages of items to be ordered, and probably were obtained from Ashdown. Begg reported that in March, 1873, Gordon was out shooting in Brokenhead River and bagged 1,500 pheasants. [4]

Counsel for his defence in July, 1873, brought out in cross-examination that he had been residing at different periods since his arrival, at White Mud, Lake of the Woods, Manitoba Lake, or wherever good sport was to be had. He explained on this occasion that the reason he came to the country was partly for pleasure and to recruit his health, and that he had spent a few weeks in Toronto and New York State, and had been engaged in litigation some time ago with the Erie ring. He thus illustrated a subtle offensive in drawing attention to the Gould-Fisk-Drew combination that was anathema to a large public affected by losses of public sale of shares.

On May 6, 1873, there is an account for purchases from James Mackay (Hon. James Mackay)

6 cows at $65.00
1 Indian Wagon at $100.00
2 oxen at $87.50
1 cart at $35.00 and 1 at $15.00
5 calves at $10.00
100 bushels of grain at $1.00
600 lbs. of flour at $4.50
Totalling $892.00

There is a deduction for "by amount advanced on grain" $600.00. An acknowledgment of $50.00 cash received and a balance unpaid of $242.00.

On May 1 he sent a note to Dr. Schultz thanking him for the papers that he had sent to him. Almost from the beginning of Gordon's career in Winnipeg the name of Thos. H. Pentland appears in various positions of trust and responsibility and indicating that he was continuously with him. Pentland's name is noted in the first directory issued in 1876, as of Headingly, probably near the residence of Mrs. Abigail Corbett, whose nephew he was.

In the summer of 1873 George N. Merriam and Hon. Loren Fletcher of Minneapolis were in Winnipeg on business - selling pine logs from Minnesota. Mr. Merriam, on Main Street, saw the figure of Lord Gordon Gordon one summer day, the man for whom friends of his were searching. He immediately reported this knowledge to Geo. A. Brackett, Mayor of Minneapolis, who was the friend of A. F. Roberts of New York, the sole survivor of the bail bondsmen of New York. Bracket advised Roberts who left New York for Minneapolis after getting from attorneys an interpretation of the law in regard to warrants issued for Gordon's arrest from United States authorities. He also got from the court an exemplified copy of the bailpiece (an attested copy of a document under official seal, obtained from Mrs. Ebbs-Canavan). With the assistance of the Mayor he confirmed the advice of his New York attorneys and planned the seizure of Gordon. The peculiar advice was given that a warrant could be issued in the United States for Cordon's arrest on the ground that wherever common law prevailed, regardless of national boundaries, such a document was effective. It was compared to a situation where a parent could follow and take possession of his child, or a master an apprentice without any process of law. This argument was later presented by a letter of United States Consul Taylor in the newspapers of Winnipeg.

Mayor Bracket arranged for Michael Hoy and Owen Keegan, policemen of Minneapolis, the former a distinguished Civil War veteran, to take this warrant for the arrest of Gordon at Fort Garry or its vicinity. Instructions were further issued for delivery to Hon. Loren Fletcher at Winnipeg, who was a member, and later Speaker, of the House of Representatives of Minnesota, and still later a member of Congress. Hoy and Keegan left Minneapolis on July 26 by train to Breckinridge and stage from there to Fort Garry, arriving on July 2. They met Fletcher. A meeting was held in the office of L. R. Bentley, at Portage Avenue and Main Street, he being a former Minneapolis citizen, and a business man of St. Anthony, where all the details of the capture of Gordon were completed. Bentley's store was the location of Gordon's office, or had been, and it was space in this building that was rented by the city as a Council Chamber for its first meetings. The indirect and secretive methods indicated they had some considerable doubt about the validity of their American warrants and also, probably, were very anxious about the support the community would render to Lord Gordon in this extremity. They had reason to be.

On July 2, at about 8.00 p.m. the party went out to the residence of Hon. James McKay where Gordon was visiting. McKay was away and during the day the staff of the farm had apparently become incapacitated, so that there was little difficulty in seizing Gordon; binding him hand and foot thoroughly and moving off to the south via Fort Garry and the ferry to the Pembina trail. In the meantime in Winnipeg the word was out and there is a suspicion that Hon. Loren Fletcher, thinking the job was complete, let the cat out of the bag. In any case, someone - likely Frank Cornish, Gordon's solicitor - with the collaboration of the Attorney-General, Hon. H. J. Clarke, telegraphed Mr. Bradley, the Custom's official at Pembina who was also a justice of the peace, and with the help of Fred Boswell, his assistant, the party was stopped. Gordon laid an information against Hoy and Keegan who were arrested and returned to Winnipeg on board the S.S. Dakota. Upon arrival at Winnipeg, further informations were laid by Gordon on the ground that he was feloniously seized with the intent of unlawfully sending him out of the country against his will; and L. R. Bentley, hardware merchant. Hon. Loren Fletcher and George N. Merriam were all arrested and placed in the jail of the Fort - two in the jail proper and two in the Orderly Room. The plans of Roberts and of Gould were being frustrated again; though Gould does not appear in the official record it has been taken for granted he was out for revenge.

When the first plans were made at Minneapolis and completed at Bentleys store, some consideration had been given to failure. A code message had been drawn for use by Fletcher in case of eventualities. If successful he was to wire "O.K., return today," but if failure resulted he was to telegraph Bracket at Minneapolis "Too high; can't purchase; have written." The second message was delivered, but only after a few days when he had an opportunity, as they were all kept in strict confinement, being considered desperate criminals. He also sent a telegram which became somewhat famous. It read: "I'm in a hell of a fix. Come at once." On July 5, Mayor Bracket was speeding northward on a special train and reached Winnipeg on the morning of July 8. He brought with him Eugene M. Wilson, a late representative in Congress from Minnesota and District Attorney. William Lochren, one of the American legal group who had confirmed the legality of the American warrant, prudently stayed at Pembina within American territory. The atmosphere was becoming charged.

On the official side, messages had been transmitted to the respective capitals. Governor Morris in a wire to Sir John A. Macdonald on July 3, regarding an attack of half-breeds upon the incoming Mennonites, added that "man known as 'Lord Gordon' was last night kidnapped by some Americans near here, a reward of $10,000 being offered for his apprehension in States. They were, however, arrested this morning by Bradley, Custom's House Officer at Pembina who, I am informed, has them in custody." On July 9 the Acting Secretary of State for the United States at Washington, J. C. B. Davis, acknowledges a telegram from J. W. Taylor, Consul of the United States at Winnipeg, in which Taylor had stated, "Two detectives from Minnesota attempted to arrest a person 'Lord Gordon' in New York proceedings by Jay Gould. Did not consult me. I have not seen their papers. Detectives arrested near Pembina for kidnapping and just arrived here."

On July 5 the preliminary hearings opened in Winnipeg, bail was refused and the proceedings adjourned until Tuesday, July 8. On that date Consul Taylor rose in the court and requested that Hon. Mr. Wilson, late member for Congress and District Attorney be permitted to appear as counsel for their friends the American prisoners. Judge Betournay, as would be expected, pointed out that in the British Courts the preliminary proceedings were only to see if they had broken the laws and should be committed for trial, and practice by law did not provide for such representation.

It took a fortnight for the trial to reach a conclusion. In that intervening period the tension rose rapidly. Consul Taylor went to the press with a full statement setting out the opinions in regard to the validity of the United States warrant. Attorney-General Clarke, leading the prosecution took a day in court to attack Taylor and the publication as an attack on justice, contempt of court, and an improper act. He telegraphed the Minister of justice, proposing that Washington be requested to recall the Consul. Three letters were exhibited in the trial; Norman Kittson of St. Paul to J. H. McTavish of the Hudson's Bay Company asking for his kindly interest in Roberts' effort to secure the arrest of Gordon, a notorious scoundrel; one from Horace Thompson, St. Paul banker, to Taylor, requesting his aid so far as he could consistently render it, officially or otherwise: and one from Rev. Father Tissot of Minneapolis to "the Catholic Priest visiting at Fort Garry," recommending Hoy and Keegan. Bail was not further requested from judge Betournay but requested of Judge McKeagney, who on July 26 admitted Merriam to bail but refused it to the other four men. He wholly rejected the opinion of the American lawyers as "most dangerous to our national independence." For forty days and forty nights, as it was described, the prisoners were to lie in the common jail and Hon. Loren Fletcher was a problem prisoner. Lieutenant-Colonel A. C. Irvine, in charge of the Fort at the time stated, "we treated him and the others just as well as we could, and they had the same fare and just as good sleeping accommodations as we had; still we were unable to satisfy Fletcher. But we all liked him."

The situation in the United States was reaching a high state of tension. The St. Paul Pioneer of August 1, contained a heading, "Our People Should Make Ready," denouncing the crime committed by the corrupt and venal Canadian authorities and advised putting no obstacles in the way of the Fenians should they decide to move upon the colony in force. If any other plan should he preferred, it should be well matured, but there should be no delay in preparation. "It should be swift, silent and terrible." The Minneapolis Tribune of August 2 quoted the New York Tribune's statement that the refusal of bail would be considered on the American side of the border as being purposely and offensively hostile; and it quoted the Chicago Tribune as considering it a flagrant violation of judicial decency.

The friends of the prisoners got into action as soon as the news of the predicament reached them. Conferences were held as soon as bail was refused. Senator Ramsay and Governor Horace Austin, of Minnesota, went to Washington, visited the Assistant Secretary of State, who gave slight comfort, and Ramsay returned home. Governor Austin visited the British Ambassador. Mayor Bracket then followed Austin to Washington and they saw President Grant at Long Branch, New Jersey, who asked for a statement in writing. Brackett then followed Secretary Hamilton Fish to his summer home and had a personal interview, Fish expressed a desire to see the prisoners released. The Mayor got a telegram from him which he transmitted to Fish - "If our government can not act so as to secure release, hurry home, and aid in measures that will prove effective." Brackett then stated to Fish in a letter that, "We have stood more than American citizens ought to stand." Fish explained the difficulties in the way of interfering with judicial proceedings but that he was using his good offices in the case. Attempts were now made to show that the arrest had been made on American soil and Captain Cameron in an official report pointed out that the surveyor had checked and found the spot inside the British territory. In another confidential report he indicated some doubt based on the results of a further astronomical survey made from a point at the Lake of the Woods, but thought even though the line passed through the Custom's House the arrest would remain inside our territory.

An excellent illustration of the rising tide of feeling is the letter of Governor Horace Austin to Consul Taylor of July 12, 1875. He refers to the information reaching St. Paul as to the manner in which the examination was being conducted, the denial of the choice of counsel, refusal of the right or privilege of advising with their personal friends and of providing the means of their defence, to say nothing of the outrage of manacling them, and the rigour of their confinement. He states that the conduct of those officers is an outrage upon the acknowledged principles of the common and constitutional law of all civilized peoples. It was a violent denunciation of the persons responsible for the trial here and from the highest responsible position. It accounts for the extreme clamour of the Minnesota citizens.

There are some ninety items in the files of Lieutenant-Governor Morris dealing with the Gordon case; from July 3, 1873 to November 6, 1875. They represent a specialized study in themselves. The documents record correspondence and telegrams by Governor Alexander Morris between Sir John A. Macdonald, Consul J. W. Taylor, Governor Austin of Minnesota, Alexander Campbell, Minister of the Interior and responsible for the Northwest, and many others of greater or lesser importance. During July the problem was the general question of the right of Manitoba to arrest the prisoners in the face of their claim to exercise a common law right of seizing Gordon with an American warrant. Macdonald refused to consider the American claim and was emphatic in his denial to act except under the extradition treaty. [5] The Americans in Minnesota were obviously getting false information as to the treatment of the prisoners (and probably any treatment of prisoners would have been considered a reflection on their national status at this time) and were protesting through official channels. Governor Austin's letter of July 12 is a good example of the feelings that were aroused. On July 17 Macdonald advised Morris not to maintain communication with the Governor of Minnesota as communication should be between Washington and Ottawa. The Manitoba Government was beginning to worry about the expense being incurred in this international case. On August 7, Alexander Campbell, in a wire, indicated that some of the Washington pressure was beginning to tell as he advised that the English government was making enquiries as to whether the prisoners could not be released on their own bond, and questioned the location of their arrest - whether it actually was in British territory or on the American side.

The Lieutenant-Governor stood firm in his reply of the following day and opposed the release of the prisoners as having a bad effect and would be recognized as a failure of justice. On August 9 Morris reported that he has affidavits that another party of Americans are in Manitoba seeking Gordon. On August 12, Campbell telegraphed, asking that the prisoners he given hail to help clear the air internationally: it would be an advantage if they did not return to stand trial. Governor Morris on this occasion stated he will write fully but later advises that the judges absolutely refuse to release the prisoners; Betourney advised trial and then exercise of executive clemency; but he will ask the Manitoba Executive Council for a special term of court if the Dominion would assume costs. Ottawa advised on this point that the offences being an ordinary felony they will not pay costs. On August 22, Sir John A. Macdonald wired that the Governor-General was anxious to have the prisoners bailed. The Lieutenant-Governor advised that the judges were beyond his control and both refused bail except on grounds of new evidence. On August 25 the Governor-General carried the responsibility when it was asked by Governor Morris if the Governor-General would approve the judges stating that bail was granted at the wish of the Imperial and Dominion authorities. On August 27 Sir John A. Macdonald wired that there are reports of Fenian excitement arising out of the question of bail-but advised not to mention the Imperial or Dominion Governments.

From some source there developed the idea of having the prisoners plead guilty and receive a light sentence. Governor Morris wired Sir John A. Macdonald that this could be arranged. Folwell states that Fletcher telegraphed Mayor Brackett to this effect.

Ultimately, a special court term was fixed for September 16 on condition the Dominion pay the costs and this was agreed to by Alexander Campbell as long as it meant only the court costs and not of counsel. On August 28 and 30 the previous situation was revived when Macdonald wired Morris in a somewhat garbled message that it was very important that bail be granted in order to alleviate the feelings in Minnesota. There was also a hint from Macdonald that the Attorney-General may be charged with blackmail by some party or parties which would create a very serious situation. The trial was held, the prisoners were sentenced to twenty-four hours in jail, the Governor of Minnesota was in good humour sitting on the Bench when sentences were passed and this concluding event appeared to be a very happy occasion. The situation was restored as between Manitoba and Minnesota.

But not so for Gordon. The Attorney-General who had now become very well acquainted with Gordon's past discovered Gordon on a hunting trip - but very far away. He sent after him with a warrant and had him arrested at Touchwood Hills. It would appear that Gordon realized that another move was necessary and he was on his way to British Columbia. Dr. C. N. Bell, a former president of the Manitoba Historical Society, told Colonel Porter that he was once asked by Gordon to guide him to British Columbia. The charges and counter charges between Gordon and the Attorney-General provide material for a comic opera - Gordon charging the Attorney-General with an attempted blackmail, and set out his charges against the Attorney-General to the Lieutenant Governor for submission to the Executive Council for constitutional action and requesting that a copy of them be sent to the Minister of Justice. The story is in Gordon's handwriting in great detail. There is also a later letter in the Attorney-General's file in which Gordon presents a mild form of apology and withdrawal.

It can be understood that the disposition of the case thus far did not satisfy the vengeance of Gould nor the responsibility for bail of A. F. Roberts. It was not long before another line of attack was started. On this occasion it was arranged for Thomas Smith of Marshall & Sons of Edinburgh to come again to this continent, this time to Toronto. He arrived, and with stimulation and assistance from New York a warrant was issued upon Smith's evidence, from this British court. Plans were made and completed for police officers to come over British territory through the Dawson road to serve this warrant upon Gordon. This was done, and Magistrate McNabb's warrant, issued at Toronto, finally reached Fort Garry and was countersigned by Magistrate McMicken of Winnipeg. With the Toronto party was a New York citizen who remained in the background and who for the occasion assumed a fictitious name.

The party reached the home of Mrs. Abigail Corbett at Headingly where Gordon resided with his servant Pentland. He decided the game was up. He packed his bag, returned to his room on the pretext of obtaining a warmer coat for the trip back through the wilds of the Laurentian Shield, picked up an ever handy pistol and shot himself through the head.

An inquest was held over which Mr. W. F. Lonsdale presided as foreman. At that inquest Mrs. Corbett gave lengthy evidence in which one important bit of information is buried. She stated that a number of weeks previously Gordon had packed up some of his possessions and records and mailed them to "Canada", which is an unknown and unrecorded supplementary story.

There remains but one question: who was Hamilton, Glencairn, George Hubert Gordon, Lord Gordon Gordon? There are a number of choices from which to select the possible. Colonel Porter has an excellent account of Gordon, obtained from a letter of Colin H. McRae of Dundee, Scotland, written as the result of one of Colonel Porter's columns in the Winnipeg Tribune. Colin McRae was with his father at Pigeon Lake in Manitoba when one day Gordon rode up on a large black horse and engaged his father in conversation. His father later told him that his name was Gordon though he had known him as Hubert Campbell Smith, a lieutenant in a Scottish regiment, a regiment in which his father was a sergeant, some twenty years before, in India. This gentleman records that his father had many visits from Gordon at later dates and often talked well into the night over incidents of the Indian campaigns. This appears authentic except for the age, which was accepted in Scotland in 1870 as of about twenty-seven or twenty-eight, and this is borne out again when the late Rev. George Gunn records in a notebook an interview with Andrew Fidler. He had often seen Gordon driving through St. James between Headingly and Winnipeg and he states that his age was probably near thirty with a general appearance of a cultured gentleman. What appears at this time to be the most reasonable is recorded in the Free Press of February 12, 1879. It is there recorded under the heading, "Gordon Gordon, a Mystery Probably Solved at Last - Who and What he Was". There are two parts to the despatch. One notes that Dr. Chambers of Chamber's journal made a very thorough investigation of the Gordon case through personal curiosity, and the second part is the substance of a letter from a very responsible correspondent in England to a responsible correspondent of Winnipeg, apparently vouched for by the editor of the newspaper. Briefly, it establishes that Gordon's father and sister had become known - they were of cultured, gentlemanly and ladylike manner and appearance, of an exceptionally good appearance, linguists of ability in the languages of Europe, travelled and well-spoken. However, they were leaders in a group that operated from the Isle of Jersey in the business of international smuggling.


1 W. F. Folwell, History of Minnesota, II, 369.

2 Ibid.

3 The initials are not quite decipherable.

4 These must be prairie chickens, as pheasants, according to our Director of Game and Fisheries, were introduced into Nebraska only a number of years after this date.

Page revised: 22 May 2010