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Born in Bells Corners-The Man Who Started Out to Become a Priest and Became a Train Robber – Anecdotes about Chris Evans and Daughter Eva

Born in Bells Corners-The Man Who Started Out to Become a Priest and Became a Train Robber –  Anecdotes about Chris Evans and Daughter Eva

Old Ottawa And Bytown Pics

Blair Stannard  · 16h  · 

Ottawa – 1847 – Chris Evans , Outlaw, born in Bell’s Corners–this photo is after his capture at Stone Corral–Also read-GUNFIGHT AT THE STONE CORRAL: WILD WEST OUTLAW WAS FROM OTTAWA 2016- CLICK

BornFebruary 19, 1847
Bells Corners near Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
DiedFebruary 9, 1917 (aged 69)
PortlandOregon, USA

Christopher Evans was born on February 19, 1847, in Bell’s Corner, about twelve miles from Ottawa, Canada. His parents, Thomas and Mary Ann Evans, were both Irish natives who came to Canada separately. They married in Bell’s Corner in 1837 and together they had eight children, including Chris. In various newspaper reports it was said that Chris was studying to become a priest in Bells Corners. By 1866/7 Bells Corners was a post village with a population of 150 in the township of Nepean. The village had a daily mail, two stores, a school and a church which was used by the Church of England, Presbyterians, and Wesleyan Methodists. 

In the summer of 1863, at age sixteen, Chris left home and crossed the border into the United States. They say he *joined the Civil War but no official record of this exists, assuming because he joined under a false name. In 1870, Chris moved to Visalia, California, where he began working for a lawyer named Daggett who helped Evans educate himself. A few years later, he began working as a teamster, hauling lumber to and from the mills is the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Soon after, Chris married Mary Jane “Molly” Byrd, a girl he met who ran an eating house along the road to the mills at a location known as Auckland, twenty-five miles northeast of Visalia. There, Chris and Molly Byrd married at her parents “Rattlesnake Ranch” on November 4, 1871. – Wikipedia.

Christopher Evans entered the United States at age 17 *because, as he once claimed, “the great struggle for freedom was going on and I left my home…to liberate the slave.” Newspapers painted a picture of Chris Evans as an enigmaand it was sais that he came to Tulare county in California from Bells Corners with just the blankets on his back.

He came to the West to work, he could do rough carpentering; knew how to handle horses and was generally someone that would be needed about a new community. He made no pretense to being anything more than a laborer, though the words he turned with just a shade of the Canadian twang were not such as wandering farm laborers or ordinarily used. So Chris Evans, the farm laborer, came to be a recognized as part of the communities between Fresno and Los Angeles.

Chris married Mary Jane “Molly” Byrd, a girl he met who ran an eating house along the road to the mills at a location known as Auckland, twenty-five miles northeast of Visalia. There, Chris and Molly Byrd married at her parents “Rattlesnake Ranch” on November 4, 1871

Chris, by this time a sturdy, middle-aged man, had established a character in the community. He was a solid man a man of sense and judgment, and his best friends were the Sontags, his future train robber partner.

Everybody knew how it was between his friend John Sontag and his daughter Eva. She was the oldest child a slender but strong slip of a girl with clear eyes and a resolute little mouth. The tall, quiet young man was waiting for her. The neighbors knew it and they waited, too, for a merry wedding of Chris Evans’ girl, for who in the town but liked the steady farmer! Eva married bachelor outlaw Sontag. Their union was brief because Sontag died later from his Stone Corral wounds.

Chris Evans-
Historical Crime Detective

One vice, and only one, could either Chris Evans or his son-in-law be charged with. They gambled, and gambled heavily. Still, they never went beyond their means, and with crisp bills settled their losses. Chris did not work much now. He had a timber claim and a mine up in the mountains, and these with the little orchard and what had to be done about the house and the barn took up all of his time. He and John and George were away at the mine when there was another robbery. It was at Cores and a railroad detective was shot through the throat There came a time when John and George wanted to visit their old home in the East. They had worked hard and were entitled to a holiday. George and John Sontag and Chris Evans went away from California.

George and John Sontag and Chris Evans eventually reappeared in California. The townspeople welcomed back the two young men and their older friend now a man of forty-five, a bit bent and bearded, but a sturdy man. There was some trouble about that settlement of the stable business at Modesto an unsatisfied note or something of that sort.

A man’s first duty is to his family, and Evans deeded over his timber claim and all else that he possessed. Mary, while John, like a true lover, made over all his little fortune to daughter Eva. So days went on. One morning a neighboring housewife pushed open the door of Evans’ cottage. John Sontag was within. At the opening of the door his hands went up and Eva and the rest laughed long at the joke. But the door opened once again that day and it wasn’t a neighbour. Chris was there then and no hands went up. Of the two officers who came one was left for dead and the other ran away, bleeding and scared. There had been another successful train robbery and out of the darkness of the night had shone the figure of steady, model Chris Evans, ribald and blasphemous, cruel and threatening.

And there came another night and Chris and John crept home to Mary and Eva, and again they were seen, and when the fight was done it changed into a victorious flight– a man lay writhing in the agonies of death in the stubble where Eva fed her chickens. And what did they do when father and son in law were following the sore wounded man to make his death a certainty? Why, they looked on and made no outcry. And when the Coroner and his jury considered above the murdered man, little Eva swore bravely against all the world and all possibility. And when she had told how two men had rushed into the house with drawn pistols upon father and lover she sat quite still looking at accusers and officers with her firm chin even firmer than usual and let the lawyers fire all the hard questions they had at her. And she never wavered a hair’s breath.

That is the kind of a girl John Sontag’s sweetheart was. Eva did everything she could to free her father to no avail. Mrs. Evans and her daughter Eva attracted attention in a play entitled “Evans and Sontag,” put on the stage for the dual purpose of creating sympathy for the bandits and securing money for Evans’ defense. She did theatre pieces all around the West to prove what a noble man her father was. On February 9, 1917, Eva was awakened in the middle of the night by a ringing phone. Her father the steady blonde- beared man who studied for the priesthood in Bells Corners was dead.

With files from

The San Francisco Examiner

This newspaper report says it was Chris’s wife, but it was really his daughter Eva. Molly was his wife’s name and Chris and his daughter Eva had a close relationship.

St. Joseph Saturday Herald
Saint Joseph, Michigan
30 Dec 1893, Sat  •  Page 4

Wikimedia Commons
File:Eva Evans(1893).jpg – Wikimedia Commons

Eva broke them out of jail and married bachelor outlaw Sontag. Their union was brief because Sontag died from his Stone Corral wounds

Chris lost one eye and injured his hand in a shootout.. but the hand amputation was done in the Visalia jail-

CLIPPED FROMSt. Joseph Saturday HeraldSaint Joseph, Michigan30 Dec 1893, Sat  •  Page 4

CLIPPED FROMThe San Francisco ExaminerSan Francisco, California03 Dec 1914, Thu  •  Page 15

An Individual Opinion by Chris. Evans, Outlaw

The San Francisco Examiner
San Francisco, California
24 Jun 1894, Sun  •  Page 24

read-My MFA program at USC required a non-fiction book as well as a novel and a screenplay. I don’t remember who told me about Sontag and Evans but their story fascinated me. Basically, Chris Evans – a family man – and his buddy John Sontag became central California folk heroes by repeatedly robbing the hated Southern Pacific Railroad. The story everything – exciting robberies, a noble cause, escapes from jail, mountain communities aiding and abetting the outlaws and a shootout at the Stone Corral– CLICK HERE


The Story of Wild Bob Ferguson of Dalhousie Township

The Thomas Alfred Code Journal – Letters-Part 23- Code Family–Brother John — John Code Goes West

Going West — From Lanark County Names Names Names

Billy the Kidd’s Mistress — Roxy Theatre Time

The Tale of a Pirate named Bill Johnston

Did Anyone Find the Lost Barrel of Silver Coins That Lies at the Bottom of the Rideau Canal?

Murder on Maple Island

Stories from Ash Island

Who Was Yankee Brown? Nathaniel Brown aka John Langstaff

Who Was Yankee Brown? Nathaniel Brown aka John Langstaff

Perth Courier, Nov. 23, 1888

After an illness of some weeks duration, there died at his dwelling in the east ward, in penury and misery a character well known here as “Yankee Brown”.  He came to Perth about the year 1862, a refugee from the draft ordered by the U.S. War Department for soldiers to put down the rebellion, leaving considerable property behind.  His real name was John Longstaff but he changed it to Nathaniel Brown on his arrival in Canada .  He followed the occupation of carting while in Perth and always drove a horse in the last stages of leanness and usefulness.  He was also an inveterate horse trader but was never successful in securing a horse better than the one he had before.  He was about 65 years of age at his death and he was buried at the expense of the town on Monday.

Perth Courier, Dec. 14, 1888

Mrs. Tufts, inmate of the dwelling in which the late “Yankee Brown” died and Tim Ryan, who assisted to shape and dress the remains say that there is no truth in the report current that the (illegible word) was made hideous by the alleged orgies and scandalous actions of certain persons in town.

1871 Census

Name:Nathaniel Brown
Birth Year:1821
Religion:Church of England
District Number:79
District:Lanark South
Sub-District Number:H
Household Members:
*carter-Carter is of Irish, Scottish and English origin and is an occupational name given to one who transports goods by cart or wagon

Robert Shaw “Cold as Ice” in a Cardboard Box?

Robert-John Shaw Spent a Quarter of a Million Dollars?

“The Italian Job” from Carleton Place?– Dr. Howard I Presume

“The Italian Job” from Carleton Place?– Dr. Howard I Presume

howardaa (1).jpg

He was a deceiver of women (including his wife) He extracted money for his pockets by the wiles of his mysteries. Standing over 6 feet tall, almost the size of a grand bear and occasionally sporting a turban G. S. Howard– The Sage of  Aru/Carleton Place definitely created the crime of the century in our town, yet no one  in Carleton Place questioned his guilt– ever. He was always considered one of the pillars of the town and was said to be treated unfairly.

In December of 1922 the fact was being deplored that Canada had let “slip over the border” one of the finest art collections on this continent.” This collection” had been housed at Carleton Place and was said to be priceless, containing as it did works by such artists as Gainsborough, Titian, Rubens. Rembrandt, Greuze, Veronese and Raphael and others of like renown.

For this act of dereliction of duty the National Gallery of Canada was being chided. Now there has come a sequel. The owner of the collection, one Dr. Howard, from Carleton Place is at present a fugitive from the law in Bermuda. The “priceless” collection which he sold to a New York collector for $300,000 has been pronounced by experts as practically worthless and a series of copies and imitations. With this view Mr. Eric Brown, director of the National Gallery, agrees, as also does Mr. Ernest Fosbery, of Ottawa, both of whom had an opportunity of inspecting the best of the collection at Perth, where it had temporarily been removed.

According to the American Art News of New York, he is a native of the southern United States and was a resident of an Ontario town, which is Carleton Place. On November 16th and the 22nd there  were letters in the Toronto Globe and an Ottawa paper from Mr. E. Billing, of Carleton Place. In these letters Mr. Billing, no doubt convinced of the genuineness of the canvases as others had been, said that he could not help deploring the apathy of “our art directors in Canada,” adding that a truckload of valuable paintings had just crossed the St. Lawrence into the United States.

The next chapter in the story, following the crossing of the border, is that printed by the American Art News for December 31st. It said: “in New York city at the  present time is an aged man, ill in body and with mind distraught, because he paid more than $300,000 for old masters which art experts have declared in affidavit not to be worth more than $500.

Back in Bermuda, watched by detectives, was Englishman called Dr. Howard, of courtly appearance, who sold him the pictures, and who sailed from New York on the day following the discovery of the true value of the property, lie claims the right to the title of nobility. His activities in the art world would have extended over several years. He is declared to have been the owner of three old masters which ex Senator Clark purchased in 1910.

The victim of the transaction whose name is not divulged, out of deference to the wishes of his family, is a retired New York business man. He had the acumen to amass a comfortable sum of money and  he ‘fell for the lure of old masters or the idea of fabulous riches to be made out of them forgetting that the making of money honestly in art transactions is the work of specially trained minds and of a knowledge so highly specialized that it takes years and years of experience to acquire it.

Mcliurk was the first New York expert to denounce the pictures,

“There Is not one picture in the whole collection,” was Mr. Mcliurk’s verdict.

“What do you mean?” asked the victim, who had lost a fortune.

“I mean that there is not a picture here which would bring more than ten dollars on the market,” replied Mr. Mcliurk. Augustus Lefevre, of Silo’s, was called, and corroborated Mr. Mcliurk.


Last Saturday’s issue of the American Art News retracts its reflection saying:

“We owe an apology to England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and all the rest of the British Empire, with the exception, perhaps, of Canada, because it said an Englishman had sold a retired New York business man a collection of 85 old masters which experts had valued at $500. It goes on to say that the man was a native of the southern section of the L S. A., albeit a resident for a number of years of a small city in the province of Ontario.

This man, it adds, is now about 80 years old and is extremely picturesque, in the proverbial southern colonel style. He wears a long goatee,  is declared to be about six feet tall, and to be a most convincing talker. He bears the appellation of  ‘doctor’ and is a maker on a small scale of patent medicines.

It appears that G. Frank Muller, another expert, had before inspected the pictures and placed their value at $1,500. Mr. Muller found on the pictures labels of Budworth’s and of the Manhattan Storage Warehouse, and of different New York auction houses. Thanks to the “apathy” of Canada’s art directors, this country was not victimized by the picturesque Carleton Place “art” salesman.




In 14 February 1922, Granby Billings, a 90-year-old chemist, arrived at Southampton from New York. Billings was described as having lived in Canada; with him was Edith Billings, a 42-year-old widow from New York. Both gave the same London address: 7 Endsleigh Gardens. Soon after, in 2Q 1922, it is recorded that Edith S. Billings married Granby S. Howard in Pancras, London.

It is thought that this was Granby Staunton Howard who had quite a fascinating background. In 1894, Howard — then around 60 years of age — was accused of swindling $5,000 from Mrs. Joseph H. Sprecht, wife of a wealthy St. Louis clothing dealer who lived at Gunton Hall, VA.

Howard was living in Montreal and styling himself as “Dr.”, although he held no medical license in Canada and was making a living selling patent medicines. Dr. Howard stood over six feet in height, and was described as having “a really handsome face and courtly address, he has the added advantage of a splendid education and great power of self-command.” Howard claimed at various times to have been descended from the historical Howards of Norfolk on his father’s side; that he was a baron by descent, one of the original thirty barons of England; that while he was heir to the baronial estate he went to India, entered the Brahmin-Indian order and gave up his heirship to his younger brother.

The libel action failed and costs were awarded against the plaintiff. It was not the last time that Dr Howard found himself in trouble. The New York Times on 24 January 1922 reported that a New York pearl merchant named David I Rogow was launching an action against Granby Staunton Howard of Carleton Place, Ontario, for selling him $150,000 worth of paintings which Howard claimed were the original works of old masters and famous modern artists but proved to be copies.

Three weeks later, “Granby Billings” and Edith S. Billings arrived in Southampton aboard the Cunard liner Aquitania. Howard, over six foot in height and reputedly aged 90, accompanying Edith Billings, under half his age at 42 and small at 5 feet 2 inches, with blue-eyed with dark brown hair. They must have made an interesting couple.

After their marriage in 1922, there is almost no trace of Granby or Edith Howard. Edith’s novel, Cleomenes was re-registered for copyright by Edith S. Howard, of Rutherford, N.J., in 1944, so we have to presume that she returned to the United States some time in between. By then she was in her late 70s, so it seems likely that she died in New Jersey.

As for Granby, he is even more elusive. Virtually nothing turns up on a search for him, other than two passenger records noting his arrival in Canada in 1921, where his age is given as 60 and his birthplace as Northumberland, England, and his arrival in New York on 29 December 1921 from Bermuda. Again, the age is 60 and he is English. In the latter it would appear, although the record itself isn’t easy to read, that he is travelling with his niece.

Are 60-year-old Granby Howard and 90-year-old Granby Howard one and the same? Was Edith Billings the niece he was travelling with from Bermuda to New York in 1921 and was Howard the “Granby Billings” who travelled from New York to England in 1922?

Was Granby Howard even his real name? It doesn’t turn up on any birth records in the UK (although if he was born in c.1831, that would predate births being centrally registered) or marriage records — and the court case in 1898 revealed that he was married. It is also known from the court case that he adopted the name Wilson for some time, so other identities are also quite possible.

And how did Edith Billings end up marrying a man who appears to have been a serial conman?

All mysteries for another day. Read more here







More on the Despicable Dr. Howard of Carleton Place

Dr. G. S. Howard of Carleton Place — Just Call Me Master!

The Shenanigans of Dr. Howard of Carleton Place – Part 2

Did You Know Who was Cooking in Back of Lancaster’s Grocery Store? Dr. Howard I Presume! – Part 3

Looks like Dr Howard’s business was located on the second floor of the Grand Hotel for a bit… 1899 Carleton Place Herald.

The Man Without a Country


Thanks to Jill Seymour from Carp for sending this to me– this original letter will now be kept at  the Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum. It was enclosed in a book belonging to the late Marjorie White of Carleton Place.



The man without a country stunned American Immigration officials with a neat trick which prevented his deportation, walked out of the county jail a free man. But in a sobering thought, he said:


“I have no nation. I’m a man without a country and it’s like having no face and no name.”


Robert E. Schermerhorn who was 25 at the time of the newspaper article in 1956 said he had been away from Carleton Place, his home, since the age of 12. In the last 13 years he had jumped borders illegally in Canada, Mexico and the United States. At that time all he had to do was tell immigration officials he had been born in Detroit or Texas and they would wave him on. My, how times have changed.



Bill had a wife and son in Mexico and had no idea how hard it would be to cross the border this last time. He had the sign of the notorious Pachuco gang on his right hand. The gang were a particular old school subculture of Chicanos and Mexican-Americans associated with zoot suits, street gangs, nightlife, and flamboyant public behaviour. Bill said he lived by his wits and luck since he had first fled home and had a long criminal record in all three countries. Immigration officials had tried to deport him back to Canada, but Bill figured out the only way they could deport him is if he was born there.


From his prison cell he fired off a letter to Canadian authorities asking for a form to renounce his native country forever. That stopped the deportation immediately. Bill was brought back to a Detroit Jail cell where John Muchaey Detroit director of immigration said there was nothing he could do as both Canada and Mexico refused him as a subject. However he was placed on a  lenient parole saying he could travel to the Mexican border and maybe make another stab at getting through. No one wanted him.


In September of 1955 he evaded immigration once again and visited his mother who now in Ottawa, but was later arrested by police. Bill said sometimes he crossed the border as much as seven times a day, and sometimes 20 times a month. He said the easiest was in Mexico as guys that belonged to the Pachuo gang ran lots of Mexicans over the border. In all honesty, he hated the United States and Canada, as he said everyone was about dollar signs.


So is the story of Robert E. Schermerhorn born in Carleton Place, Ontario  the man without a country, wanted by all three countries for running afoul of the law. He died in Florida in 1993.


With files from The Detroit Times- November 1, 1956.