The posse retired to the Mount Sicker Hotel barroom after Beech fled. (T.W. Paterson collection)

Column T.W. Paterson: There really should be a ghost haunting Mount Sicker (Part 2)

Bibeau, a friend, had been an innocent victim — the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The other letters confirmed that Bibeau, a friend, had been an innocent victim — the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Although I know of no credible source that substantiates tales of a headless woman wandering about Mount Sicker, I’m suggesting that this Westholme Mountain, the scene of a frenzied copper mining boom at the turn of the last century, should indeed be haunted.

Not, perhaps, by the restless spirit of a mutilated lady, but by those of Joe Bibeau and Fred Beech, his supposed friend and killer.

We’ve seen that Beech developed an unholy obsession for his late partner’s widow, Mrs. Campbell, who rejected his advances and told friends that she was afraid of him. Her fears came true on the morning of Sunday, Aug. 20, 1895, when she had to seek refuge from an enraged and rifle-toting Beech in Bibeau’s Mount Brenton Hotel. Joe, likely thinking that he could calm his friend, set out to find him. Minutes later, before four horrified witnesses, he was shot down in the street. Hit in the stomach, he struggled to his feet, only to be hit again, this bullet severing his jugular vein; he died minutes later.

After driving off his audience with two more shots, Beech disappeared in the direction of his cabin. Word was sent to B.C. Provincial Const. A.H. Lomas in Duncan, who alerted Const. R.B. Halhed in Chemainus and headed for the murder scene. There, he recruited a posse from among the eager miners and placed armed guards at the junctions of all roads and trails leading from the mountain. He then proceeded to Beech’s cabin near the Richard III Mine with Const. Halhed, Special Const. Morton and more armed miners.

Under cover of their rifles, Halhed shouted to Beech to surrender. Repeated calls drawing no response, they broke down the door. There was no sign of Beech but a search of the cabin yielded three letters. One was a farewell message to his friends in the camp; he admitted killing Bibeau but placed all blame on Mrs. Campbell and Mrs. Thomas, wife of the Mount Sicker hotel proprietor, whom he blamed for having come between them.

The other letters confirmed that Bibeau, a friend, had been an innocent victim — the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Beech had in fact set his sights on the widow who’d rejected him, an alleged rival named Jim Hardy, and a second unidentified young man.

By then Beech, known to be bush-savvy and a crack shot, had fled and the disappointed posse retired to the comforts of the Mount Sicker Hotel’s barroom to discuss the day’s events and their former workmate’s crazed outburst. Mrs. Campbell was placed in protective custody in an upstairs room.

The Victoria Daily Times noted that Bibeau, originally from Minnesota and one of the mining camp’s earliest residents, had been “genial and kindly”. Just 42 years old, he left a widow, his mother, five brothers and two sisters.

A posted police description of Beech described him as being of stocky and athletic build, five-feet-seven, 180 pounds, with fair hair and moustache and a red face. When last seen he was wearing a blue coat and grey trousers and a light tweed cap. More importantly, he was armed with a 38.55-calibre Winchester rifle and, possibly, a revolver.

Like Bibeau, he’d been popular in the Mount Sicker community but had become noticeably moody and had begun acting strangely. The Times went so far as to declare him deranged and “in such a condition as to make the efforts of the police more difficult than if he were sane…” The newspaper thought that, surrounded but well-armed, he’d “sell his life dearly”.

In reconstructing the tragic sequence of events, police surmised that Beech had originally hoped to find both Mrs. Campbell and his rival Jim Hardy at her cabin, early Sunday morning. Instead, he burst in on the widow and her three children who fled in terror; the widow to Joe Bibeau’s Mount Brenton Hotel, up the hill, and daughter May to the nearby Mount Sicker Hotel to raise the alarm. Just minutes later, Beech gunned down his friend in the middle of the street.

The Cowichan Leader expressed the grief and bewilderment of many: “…A young man with life in all its brightest hues before him has taken the life of a man, not only respected by all, but the friend in need, of his slayer. What force controls such natures?”

By this time police were convinced that Beech had fled towards salt water, perhaps Barkley Sound, and that he was suicidal as indicated in one of the letters found in his cabin. Sure that he’d be driven back to civilization by hunger, or that he’d do himself in, police and posse settled down to wait with Mrs. Campbell under guard in the Mount Sicker Hotel. It was thought highly unlikely that he’d dare risk returning to Mount Sicker but they weren’t taking chances.

It didn’t occur to Const. Lomas, in charge of the manhunt, that the desperate killer would attempt to achieve both ends in a single, terrifying act.

(To be continued)

T.W. will be selling his latest book, Cowichan Chronicles, Volume 5, at the Providence Farm Christmas craft show on Saturday, Dec. 2.

www.twpaterson.com

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