A fiery blast from a rifle cuts the cool autumn nighttime air. A raucous crowd fuelled by post war nationalism is thrown into confusion and scatters. A man lay dead.This was the scene at a Verdant Valley farm on November 11 of 1918. The Allies had won World War I, and a group of celebrants were intent on showing their national pride by selling “Victory Bonds” to German immigrants.
The night was summed up in one sentence on the front Page of the November 14 edition of The Drumheller Mail: “Joy Changed to Gloom at Midnight—Tip Blain Killed by Albert Arnold.”
Last Week The Mail detailed the events as reported of the evening, and reiterates that justice took a much swifter course in 1918, as between the events of November 11 and when the paper came out on November 14, the inquest over the death of Edward A Blain and preliminary trial of Albert Arnold took place.
The inquest was not open to the public due to an order of the Department of Health as the valley was in the midst of the Spanish Flu Epidemic. It was held in the reception room over the Standard Bank. The Coroner Jury was composed of A.H Gibson, Wm. McKee, W.B. Gordon, Jack Campbell, E.A. Toshack and A.E Sibbald.
The first witness was M.F. Steel, a switchman with the CNR. He swore he arrived at the Arnold Farm when Blain was knocking on the door of the farm. No one answered, and Blain walked in. Several shots were fired. He said when the event happened only he, Blain and Al Hagglund were present. When the shooting commenced he said he ran away, but returned to the house and called out to Arnold, asking permission to speak. The two eventually conversed and Steel was allowed to come in and see the body. He said he asked permission to call in help with the body, and Arnold told him to wait five minutes. He left and then in five minutes called out and there was no reply. The group assembled threw some rocks at the house, and returned to find Blain dead and Arnold gone.
Detective McDonald was next called at the inquest. He went to the farm of Arnold, and thinking that Arnold might be hiding, waited until morning to enter the home. There he found Blain laying in a doorway on his side draped in a Union Jack. Later in the day, he returned to the farm with detective Shoppe and found only one bullet hole and one empty cartridge. His assessment of the scene was there were several rocks in the room, and the windows and lights were broken.
The neighbour of Arnold, Alex Nichol, was next called. He was awakened by Arnold rapping at his door. Arnold stated there had been a terrible tragedy at his home and he thought he had killed a man. Arnold told his neighbour a bunch of cars had driven up on his place and rocks pelted his home. He grabbed his rifle and when someone broke into his house he shot the man, and shot another round to scare the crowd. He asked Nichol to take him to Delia where he could give himself up.
Nichol’s horses were out to pasture and he thought another neighbour, surname Douglas, has a team in his barn and directed Arnold to another home.
Douglas drove Arnold to Delia where they ate breakfast and then went to Magistrate McBeath. The magistrate did not arrest Arnold, but told him to remain in town.
Next called to the stand was Arnold’s neighbour Fred Bixby, who lived less than 200 yards from the Arnold home. He was awoken on the night in question by automobiles and loud yelling. He got up and went to his window and observed five cars and about 20 people. He swore he saw the crowd stone Arnold’s home, and then he heard two shots. Bixby had been married less than a year and his wife, in fear, would not let him exit the family home.
The inquest concluded that E.A. Blain had met his death from a bullet wound from a gun in the hands of Albert Arnold, and set a date for the preliminary hearing.
Magistrate Sibbald presided over the preliminary hearing at the Police Barracks on Thursday morning, November 14.
Steel was again called and he provided some fresh details of the evening leading up to the trip to Arnold’s home. He and Blain were party to the victory bond drive. The rest of his testimony roughly matched his statements at the Inquest, save for telling the court he did not believe any in the party were under the influence of alcohol during the events.
Al Hagglund, proprietor of the Reno Pool Hall was next called. Leading up to the trip to Arnold’s farm, he told the court how the crowd took a man named John Tesher from his home in front of his wife and daughter, and took him to the Club Café to kiss and wave the Union Jack. They then went to the home of Henry Cook and “took him for a ride on the radiator” to the club café to sign bonds and kiss the flag.
Alex Nichol was again called, and under cross examination he relayed how Arnold told him on the night in question that when the men came into his home, Arnold called out and asked what they wanted, and received the reply “we’ve got you now, you s-o-b.”
Following his testimony, detective McDonald and Sgt. Skelton gave details of the crime scene, and Dr. Gibson gave medical evidence.
No other witnesses were called. The prisoner was asked if he would like to make any statements and he refused. Arnold was remanded for trial at the next court of competent jurisdiction.
Arnold’s trial took place on January 20, 1919, just over two months after the incident. It was in Calgary in front of Justice Stuart. It was reported that only half of the witnesses for the crown were called, and none of the witnesses for the defence were sworn. The attorney for Arnold asked the judge if the jury could be asked to render a verdict from the evidence given by the witnesses of the Crown, and after a brief discussion, Justice Stuart charged the jury.
The jury did not leave the box. They rendered the verdict that Mr. Arnold had been justified in the act of defending himself. Justice Stuart charged the jury that Blain and his companions had committed an indictable offense by invading Arnold’s premises and Arnold had every reason to believe his assailants meant to do him bodily harm. He was justified in shooting to protect his own life.
Arnold returned home a free man, but only after a reception was held at the St. Regis Hotel in Calgary by friends and family.
The Mail concluded in its January 23, 1919 edition, “The tragedy was a very regrettable one but the courts have done their duty and shown again that fairness which is characteristic of the British Nation.