Why the Citizens Robbed the Train
The winter of 1907 was extremely cold. Nanton was running out of coal. The CPR said that coal would be delivered soon.
But trains with coal kept going through town without stopping for the next three days.
Then, on February 5th, a train with seven cars of coal arrived but the citizens were told that none was for them.
Someone suggested that the train should not be allowed to leave until some coal was made available.
The local CPR agent, J.P. Longpre, checked with the CPR superintendent. He told the agent to refuse and to demand police protection for the train.
A Robbery is Contemplated, A Shot is Fired, AND AN ARREST MADE
As Longpre and Royal North-West Mounted Police Const. Tom Currie discussed the situation, the train began to leave.
Ira Shoop jumped on the caboose and ran along the box- cars, dropping down between them and putting on the brakes.
Const. Currie threatened to shoot, but Ira continued – even when a warning shot was fired. Shoop was arrested but released because the jail had no heat.
The train crew again attempted to leave, but this time a crowd of citizens set the brakes on all the cars.
Pausing the Robbery for Lunch and a Meeting
It being noon, the train crew, Longpre, and Const. Currie went for lunch.
The citizens of Nanton then held a meeting on the station platform. It was chaired by the Baptist Minister with minutes being taken by the Presbyterian minister. A motion was passed to proceed with the robbery.
It was further agreed that each rural resident would take one ton and each town resident, one half ton. They would pay the CPR $6 per ton.
With a hearty “Three Cheers for Ira Shoop,”” the meeting was adjourned and the robbery began.
When the ‘authorities’ returned following their lunch, they were advised that the robbery was on.
Being Orderly and Fair as the Robbery Proceeds
Const. Currie and the CPR officials calmly watched as the coal was distributed to the citizens, who politely lined up in alphabetical order to receive their share. Hugh Shaw collected the money and gave it to the CPR agent.
The Consequences? – There Weren’t Any
An RNWMP Inspector investigated. His report exonerated everyone writing that, “All parties behaved properly and honourably.” But the CPR was horrified that the hold-up was ignored and no charges were laid.
Thus the Nanton train robbers got off scot-free because of the transparent, civilized, orderly, and polite manner in which their community had robbed the train.
Nanton’s ‘Great Train Robbery’ is thoroughly documented. Details for the above version were obtained through:
- Baker, William M. Vigilante Justice Tolerated -The Great Nanton Train Robbery, 1907:
Alberta History [Journal of the Alberta Historical Society] (Winter 1997).
- Mosquito Creek Round-up: Nanton and District Historical Society. 1975.
- The Nanton News. February 7, 1907.