Outlaw in Coal Harbor

William Clarke Quantrill, Coal Harbor Outlaw
William Clarke Quantrill, Coal Harbor Outlaw

William Clarke Quantrill was originally a school teacher in Illinois. Then in 1858 he joined a wagon train and traveled west to make his fortune. He had trouble finding employment and eventually became a gambler and petty thieve who was wanted for various crimes, he headed south to hide out.

When the American Civil War broke out, Quantrill joined up and was made a captain by the Confederate Army, he wound up leading a group guerrilla riders known as “Quantrill’s Raiders.” This group of raiders included Dick Yaegar, Jesse and Frank James, and the Younger brothers, they harassed Union soldiers and staged raids. Their most notorious raid occurred in 1863 when they led around 400 Confederate recruits in an attack on Lawrence, Kansas. where over 180 men, women, and children were brutally killed. They burned half the town in a drunken rage, murdering the residents one by one, and only stopped and retreated after union soldiers were spotted heading their way.

William Clarke Quantrill, Coal Harbor Outlaw
William Clarke Quantrill, Coal Harbor Outlaw

The Lawrence Massacre is still considered by many to be the worst atrocity of the Civil War.

As the war ended, members of the notorious raiders were labeled fugitives. Quantrill was reported to have been caught and killed in Louisville, Kentucky. Many believed, however, that he had actually escaped to live in hiding in South America. He was believed to have returned to North America in the late1880s under an assumed name, eventually making his way to Northern Vancouver Island in 1902.

Here is where the story gets interesting. A fellow by the name of John Sharp arrived in the Coal Harbour area and worked in various forms of employment, he eventually found employment as the caretaker of an empty mining camp. He lived in a shack along the shores of a local beach.

Coal Harbor Hotel, Coal Harbor
Coal Harbor Hotel, Coal Harbor

In 1907, a man by the name of J. E. Duffy came to Coal Harbour on business and encountered John Sharp there. Duffy had served in the Union cavalry during the war and his unit had clashed with Quantrill’s band. He thought Sharp had a striking resemblance to his old war adversary and spent several hours talking with him. Sharp finally admitted to being Quantrill, he even knew with accuracy Quantrill’s military history and had a scar in the right spot on his back between the shoulder blades that was said to have killed him.

Duffy gave an interview to a Canadian syndicated newspaper that was picked up by many American newspapers and the story spread across the country. The stories all stated that William Clarke Quantrill was alive and living in Coal Harbour, BC, under the alias John Sharp.

On October 1, 1907, two Americans, allegedly from Lawrence, Kansas, arrived on northern Vancouver Island, they had taken passage from Victoria to Port Hardy where they then hired a guide to take them over the trail to Coal Harbour, the guide left them at John Sharps cabin. The next day, it was discovered that John had been beaten with a fireplace poker and the butt of a shotgun. He died a day later. His killers were never apprehended.

Going through John’s stuff after his death revealed a pair of colt navy revolvers with the initials W.C.B. Engraved on the handles and a number of letters addressed to Quantrill.

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