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Joseph William Burr – Saddler & Policeman

February 14, 2015

Saddles, harness, collars, bridles, whips, spurs, robes,  bells, shackles and irons were the mainstays of JW Burr’s professions at  Yale and Ashcroft.

Joseph William Burr, saddler and harness-maker of Yale BC,  was the  "Special Constable" who escorted the McLean gang in shackles on the perilous winter journey down to Brownsville  in 1879,  from which place, on Christmas Day,  they crossed the Fraser River over drifting ice floes.  In 1887 Burr gave up his trade to become a full-time Constable for the provincial police and in the latter years of his career  he was instrumental in securing the arrest of the outlaws Moses Paul and Paul Spintlum.

Born in Ireland – Came of age in the Fraser Canyon

Joseph William Burr was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1851, the son of Joseph Burr  and Elizabeth Mary Harford.  His parents brought him to Canada at the age of five, and to British Columbia in 1864. His siblings included Agnes Burr and Hans Harford Burr.

The family settled at Yale, where Joseph Burr senior was employed as the school-teacher.

Yale BC 1884 - The West Shore

A former Sgt.-Major in the British Army, Burr senior obtained the position of Constable in 1869. According to FJ Hatch’s history of the British Columbia Police, Burr was suspended after one year for "drunkenness and insubordination." His popularity notwithstanding — the citizens of Yale petitioned the Governor for his reinstatement—, he was summarily dismissed.

Young Joseph W Burr took employment with saddlers  Benjamin Douglas and Richard Deighton.

Douglas & Deighton – The full line

Douglas & Deighton - saddles - harness
JW Burr’s employer,  the firm of Douglas & Deighton,  advertised “A Full Line of Saddles, Harness, Collars, Bridles, Whips, Spurs, Robes, Surcingles, Sleigh Bells, etc.”
Benjamin Douglas  moved to New Westminster in 1884, re-establishing the business there. 
Douglas served as President of the New Westminster Southern Railway that ran from Brownsville to the Blaine WA.  He gave his name to Douglas BC, the border crossing, and the name of his  birthplace in Quebec was given to a second border crossing at Huntingdon BC.
Another alumnus of Douglas & Deighton in Yale was Alfred Smither, clerk,  who later served with the civic governments of Surrey, New Westminster and Burnaby.

Spence’s Bridge

With the departure of Ben Douglas to New Westminster in 1884, JW Burr moved to Spence’s Bridge continuing his trade as harness-maker. He was married that year to Rosie C Loring.

Appointed Constable at Ashcroft

The Burrs moved to Ashcroft in 1887 where Joseph W Burr  entered the service of the Province as police Constable.  He assumed the additional responsibilities of collector, registrar, recorder of land claims etc., under the general  rubric of Government Agent.

Moses Paul and Spintlum

Joseph W Burr was still holding this position into his sixties, when he was involved in the apprehension of the notorious outlaws Moses Paul and Paul Spintlum.

The general excitement stirred up by these two renegades rivalled that of McLeans and Alex Hare in 1879.

On July 4, 1911, William White, laborer,  was killed near Clinton, his head crushed by a rock.  At the inquest Ah Wye, woodcutter, gave evidence that led to the arrest of Moses Paul. After three weeks in jail, Moses Paul escaped, believed to be with the help of his friend Paul Spintlum, and on September 29th  Ah Wye was found dead, his head split open by an axe.

Warrants were issued for Moses Paul and Spintlum, who went to ground.  A massive manhunt proved ineffective.

In May 1912, authorities got word of their whereabouts and a posse again went out after them, one of whom,  Constable Alexander Kindness, was shot dead by a bullet through the chest.


1912 05 03 Alex Kindness gravestoneKindness was a former Vancouver City policeman and his grave is in  Vancouver’s Mountain View Cemetery marked:

“A tribute to the memory of Alex. Kindness, native of Banffshire, Scot.

Shot while in discharge of his duty at Clinton B.C. on May 3rd, 1912.  Aged 29 years.

Erected by his friends”


Forrest Loring, a brother-in-law of JW Burr, was shot in the arm.

Once again the outlaws escaped.

There had now been three murders believed to be committed by these two,  but proving who committed the acts would prove difficult and catching them was a challenge.

The manhunt intensified, with a posse of 60 men spread out over a territory 50 miles in extent.  According to a newspaper report,

"the inhabitants of the entire countryside were in a state of excitement. Every rancher went armed and lived in daily fear of the outlaws, whose presence was on more than one occasion manifested by thefts of horses or supplies from widely separated ranches."

In late December 1912, JW Burr negotiated with  local first nations leaders to persuade Moses Paul and Paul Spintlum to give themselves up.

In stark contrast to his trek by canoe, wagon and sleigh with the shackled McLean gang in December 1879, this time JW Burr sent a motor car to pick up the outlaws, who, by agreement, travelled unfettered.

The two men were committed to trial in March 1913.  In December, Spintlum was hanged for the murder of Alex Kindness.  Moses Paul, serving a life sentence for being an accessory to murder, died in the penitentiary at New Westminster and was buried in the prison graveyard.

Burr’s final years

Joseph William Burr retired in 1914. He passed away at Ashcroft  in March 1929, survived by three sons and three daughters. His wife Rose Loring Burr lived until 1942.


Agnes Burr  and  Jacob Edwin Brouse

Dr Jacob Edwin Brouse  - Yale 1865JW Burr’s sister Agnes married Jacob Edwin Brouse, MD, of Yale in 1866 at the age of seventeen. 

Jacob Brouse was the brother of Cyrus A Brouse, who in 1860,  with William Ross and George Robertson,  built the first public highway south of the Fraser River, from Langley to Sumas. 

Jacob and Agnes Brouse had a son, also Jacob Edwin Brouse.  

Jacob E Brouse, junior,  studied medicine in the east, later coming out west to the vicinity of Nakusp, where he is remembered with a place-name.  At the time of his death in 1925  Dr Brouse was practicing in Vancouver.

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