Pinkerton’s and the Hunt for Simon Gunanoot by Geoff Mynett

“Pinkerton’s and the Hunt for Simon Gunanoot throws new light on the extensive manhunt for an accused murderer in northern British Columbia in the early 1900s. After a double murder in 1906, Gitxsan trapper and storekeeper Simon Gunanoot fled into the wilderness with his family. Frustrated by Gunanoot’s ability to evade capture, the Attorney General of BC asked Pinkerton’s National Detective Agency in Seattle to assist in the pursuit.

In 1909, two Pinkerton’s operatives disguised as prospectors were sent to Hazelton, BC, to find and apprehend Gunanoot. From 1909–1910, they delivered reports to Pinkerton’s in Seattle detailing their progress. Many of these reports, written around campfires in the wilderness, provided a vivid picture of life in the frontier, relations of settlers, prospectors, and the conflicting loyalties and tensions in both the Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities.

One of the most famous fugitives in BC history, Gunanoot’s story has taken on the status of legend. This is a tale of early twentieth-century crime-solving techniques, politics and backwoods survival, based on never-before-published accounts of the two operatives.”

Somewhere in the dim recesses of my memory – second-year college, I believe – I took an elective course on BC history, the content of which was, for the most part, colonial settler history. Despite a decidedly narrow window onto Canada’s west coast past, I enjoyed the course, learning more about my home province than I’d previously known: the Dominion enclave of Victoria, the capital (at the time) of New Westminster, place names alone alluding to perceived provenance, and the vast wilds of BC’s northern interior. We learned what we knew at the time about Simon Gunanoot, perhaps BC’s most famous “outlaw,” quotation marks indicating the fact we don’t know all the facts, and assuredly never will. But now, for the first time, through extensive research by author Geoff Mynett presented in a well-organized, engaging narrative, we have perhaps the very best account of this fascinating story.

“One night in June 1906, a Gitxsan trapper and storekeeper named Simon Gunanoot argued and then fought with a packer named Alex MacIntosh. When MacIntosh’s dead body was found the next morning, Police Constable James Kirby swiftly concluded that Gunanoot and his brother-in-law, Peter Himadam, were the killers and out to bring them to justice.”

As a retired lawyer, Mynett shares meticulous research in readable detail, along with good story-telling, suitable slices of speculation, and a clear passion for the subject matter, before, during, and after the trial of this story’s famous fugitive.

“While waiting for trial, Gunanoot would have understood that, if convicted, he could well be hanged. Necessarily, he had to trust entirely to his counsel’s abilities and to the mercies of a Vancouver jury.”

Like any great tale, particularly one in which the players involved may or may not share a common language (literally), this story struck me more often than not as a childhood game of “whisper.” When something is stated with certainty, then told and retold, partially forgotten, then embellished, too often peppered with preconceptions and prejudice, and so on, until eventually what actually occurred (or what was initially said) no longer resembles what it once was. So too during an investigative search by operatives in frontier wilderness, discrete discussions over too many drinks in saloons and around campfires – the setting alone, uncertainty, and personal biases skew every facet of every piece of dialogue. The result? Too many versions of “facts” to be certain as to where the truth lies. Even reading the text I found myself unwittingly deciding my own version of truths, taking sides and pulling for certain parties over others.

This book sheds light on a richly layered piece of history, challenges preconceived notions of right, wrong, justice and law, and provides an intriguing window onto a time and a place, surprisingly not far removed from where we are now. I applaud author Geoff Mynett for his diligent work and commitment to share an important and riveting story from BC’s past and doing it exceptionally well.

About the Author: Geoff Mynett was born in England where he qualified as a Barrister. After emigrating to British Columbia in 1973, he became a Canadian citizen, requalified as a lawyer and practiced law until his retirement. His first book, Service on the Skeena: Horace Wrinch, Frontier Physician (Ronsdale Press, 2019), received a Jeanne Clarke Memorial Award. His second book, Pinkerton’s and the Hunt for Simon Gunanoot, was published by Caitlin Press in 2021. Geoff and his wife Alice live in Vancouver and have two sons.

  • Title: Pinkerton’s and the Hunt for Simon Gunanoot
  • Author: Geoff Mynett
  • Publisher: Caitlin Press Inc, 2021
  • ISBN: 978-1-77386-050-3
  • Pages: 256 pp

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Bill Arnott is the bestselling author of A Season on Vancouver Island, the Gone Viking travelogues, and A Perfect Day for a Walk: The History, Cultures, and Communities of Vancouver, on Foot (Arsenal Pulp Press, Fall 2024). Recipient of a Fellowship at London’s Royal Geographical Society for his expeditions, Bill’s a frequent presenter and contributor to magazines, universities, podcasts, TV and radio. When not trekking with a small pack and journal, Bill can be found on Canada’s west coast, where he lives near the sea on Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh land.