Tales of Asessippi: The Robbery at Asessippi
by A. R. Devlin
Manitoba Pageant, Autumn 1972, Volume 18, Number 2
A few miles upstream from where the Shell River joins the Assiniboine, the McKay family established a boarding house and store in the 1890s or early 1900s. There was also a grist mill and sawmill run by water power. In the early years, some very spectacular log drives took place on the Shell River, between the Duck Mountain area and the dam at Asessippi.
In the years between 1910 and 1914, many central European immigrants came to the region and settled around the Lennard and Bolton districts. These people came mainly from what was known as Galicia, and for short were called Gillies by the local people.
One hot, sultry afternoon in August, four Galicians drove down the Asessippi hill, with a fast-stepping team of bay horses hitched to a democrat. (This is a four-wheeled vehicle, usually with double seats similar to the surrey with the fringe on top.) They came down the hill from the east and trotted the horses across the bridge on the Shell River. One man dropped off on the bridge, carrying a shotgun, as sentry from that direction; another was spotted on the hill road coming from the northwest, or Roblin road; the other two then drove up to McKay’s store, tied the team to the hitching post and entered the store, armed with shotguns.
The startled attendant was easily overcome, and was tied and gagged. The men took all the cash from the wooden drawer in the counter, then carried the small safe out and loaded it on the democrat. The attendant had convinced them that he did not know the combination, this being handled by Mr. McKay Sr., who was away at the time. The outpost sentries were called in, and the four men drove back across the bridge, turning north upstream along the Shell River towards Lennard village.
About an hour later, a farmer customer discovered the store attendant and released him. After a quick meeting with some of the managers of the boarding house, the grist and sawmills, etc., a horseman was dispatched to Russell to inform the local sheriff, George Wishart, of the robbery. (There was no telephone in the district.) As it is 14 miles from Asessippi to Russell, the sheriff did not leave until the next day. On arrival, he proceeded to form a posse to round up the robbers. Fortunately the attendant was able to give a good description of the men, and even identify two by name.
The sheriff appointed four men to act as deputies: Jack Devlin, a Boer war veteran; Jack Adams, a veteran of the Riel Rebellion; a Mr. Armstrong and Tom McLennan. All were armed with rifles. On horseback the posse, headed by George Wishart, rode down the trail after the robbers, but by this time the tracks were dim.
About ten miles from the scene of the crime, they questioned a few farmers who were very frightened, but who volunteered the information that some men had passed by the day before and seemed in a great hurry. Later they received word of where these men had camped. On arrival there, they found the small safe unopened. Several attempts had been made to blast it open with stumping powder but these were unsuccessful.
By this time, the sheriff had fairly accurate information on who the robbers were, and the next day was able to pick up all four suspects at their homes without having to use force. The men were taken to Russell and lodged in the local jail, then later moved to Minnedosa for the fall assizes. They all received sentences of several years for armed robbery.
This episode took place before the formation of the Manitoba Provincial Police, who were later incorporated into the RCMP.
Page revised: 19 November 2017