Caroll was respected in Golden despite being a mass murderer

This article is part two out of two in a series for Turning Back the Pages, by Colleen Palumbo. Read last week’s article in the newspaper or online at to get the full story.

By Colleen Palumbo

A recap from last week: Johannah was not about to see her husband hanged and she appealed to their family friend and local constable Jim Hodgins. They began a petition asking for clemency. It worked and Donnolly’s sentence was reduced to seven years in prison.

Although her hands were full with her husband in prison and eight children of her own, James Carroll asked his wife to care for Billy Farrell, the son of the man he was imprisoned for killing. With James in prison things were quiet for a time. That is until William Donnolly started a stage line in direct competition to one that already existed.

Fights broke out all over, barns were burned, stages and animals destroyed. The whole situation in Lucan was about ready to burst, and while they had no proof to back them up, many people were sure that the Donnolly family was responsible for the problems that were erupting. In the winter of 1875 a vigilante committee was formed, headed by Patrick Breen who was determined to bring the family to justice.

A private detective was hired and soon they believed they had enough evidence to arrest five of the seven Donnolly brothers on charges from arson to murder. Evidently, the jury didn’t think the evidence in the case that strong because in the end, only three of the brothers got time. William received nine months for assault; James got nine months for arson and assault and John was sentenced to three months on a similar charge.

On March 18, 1878, an attempt was made on the life of police chief, Sam Everett. He arrested Robert Donnolly for the crime and the young man was sentenced to two years in prison. This was not what the vigilante committee had in mind at the start, so after about a year, when Everett had not succeeded in putting any more of the Donnolly’s away, he was fired and James Carroll was hired to take his place. He immediately brought his strong arm tactics against the Donnolly’s.

In a bar fight on December 9, 1879 Michael was stabbed to death, many miles from his home. On January 15, 1880, the barns of Patrick Ryder were torched and although Johannah and the boys were away from home at the time, James Carroll had a warrant sworn out for the two elder Donnolly’s. A hearing was set for February 3, 1880.

Believing that he would be away from home for most of the day to attend hearings, James brought home Johnny O’Connor to do the farm chores while he was away. They were asleep at 10 p.m. when James Feehley stopped in for a brief visit. Stating that it was hot out he asked if he could leave his coat on a hook inside the door. If they left the door unlocked he could quietly pick it up on his way home.

The family was fast asleep at 1:30 a.m. when Cst. James Carroll let himself in through the unlocked door. Carroll went immediately to the bedroom and dragged Tom Donnolly off the bed and handcuffed him.

He was eventually joined by the elder Donnolly’s, Johanna, Bridget, and the neighbour boy Johnny. Carroll then called in other members of the group who were waiting outside. They dragged Bridget to the kitchen, beating her to death there. Tom put up a fight, but was eventually overpowered, and the swing of a spade in the dark decapitated him in the front yard. His body was dragged back into the house to lay beside those of this parents, James and Johanna, who had been shot to death by James Carroll. The vigilante’s set fire to the house and rode off into the night.

John Donnolly was staying at the home of his brother William and his wife Nora, and it was here that they struck next. Upon hearing a voice outside, John rose and opened the door. He was shot squarely in the chest. Strangely enough, the vigilantes then rode away. Maybe they thought they had killed the man of the house, but William was able to look out the window and recognized the leader James Carroll.

Once morning came, Chief Williams of London was sent for and an inquiry began. On the word of the eyewitnesses, Johnny O’Connor, William Donnolly and others, warrants were sworn for 10 men. James Carroll among them.

Throughout the trial 93 witnesses were called, and late on Saturday night, five full days after the trial began, the foreman returned to tell the court that they were hopelessly deadlocked and a new trial was ordered. The second trial had two judges on the bench and after another five day trial, the men were found not guilty. It seems impossible that they could find James Carroll not guilty when eyewitnesses watched him raise his gun and shoot James Donnolly but fear is an amazing motivator.

It wasn’t long until all the murderers moved from the area, and many were never heard of again. Not so James Carroll: he moved here. We do have records kept by a store merchant in Donald in 1887 that James Carroll was a regular customer, who often purchased large shipments for the general store he ran in Rogers Pass.

He never missed a dance held in Donald and was considered quite a good dancer. It appeared also that he was highly respected by all he had contact with and he never missed an opportunity to present himself for jury duty. He was still in business in Rogers Pass in 1897 but then we lose him for a few years.

He turns up in Golden in 1911, working as a handyman in the Queens Hotel and now we have evidence to show he homesteaded property near Beavermouth, B.C.

This man, who was responsible for one of the worst mass murders in Canada’s early history, lived in our midst as a respected citizen for at least 28 years. I wonder if the other members of the committee managed as well.

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