PAST TIMES BY JOHN ASHTON
Located near the state capital building in Salt Lake City, Utah is a memorial honouring the law enforcement officers who have given their lives in the line of duty.
On this cenotaph is a plaque commemorating the name of a brave Pictou County man who died in the largest manhunt in the State of Utah history.
J. William (Billy) Grant was born in Marshdale, Pictou County in the year 1864. Deep in the woods off Culloden Rd. the original homestead of John’s parents Joseph and Flora Belle has long disappeared, taken over by forest growth.
Young Billy and his three siblings would meet tragedy early on, as their mother unexpectedly passed away in 1878. His father Joseph struggled, raising the children as best he could by laying down basic beliefs of honesty and hard work that the children would thrive on later on in life. Bill Grant eventually learned the blacksmith trade and set out in the world to find his place.
Bingham Canyon, Utah during the early 1890’s was booming. Great deposits of gold, silver and copper ore had been discovered. The mining companies called for much needed workers and the area became a melting pot of nationalities. British, Irish, Italian, Scandinavian, Canadian, Austrian, Greek, Japanese, Slav and Mexican workers all converged into the narrow canyon to dig for work.
This mining area that supported a few shanties quickly grew to a town of 15,000 people. Like most mining towns that grew quickly, lawlessness and chaos was rampant. In 1892, Billy Grant settled in with the confusion at Bingham Canyon, two years later Catherine Fraser of Glengarry, Pictou County became his wife and in 1895, they began their family of seven children.
Bingham Canyon continued to be wide open, however on Feb. 29, 1903 the town was incorporated and organized structure, including a police force, was established. Our J. William (Billy) Grant of Marshdale, signed up and in 1907 he was appointed Chief of Police. In a Salt Lake City newspaper Chief Grant was praised, “With a firm and courageous hand the chief of police restrained the evildoers of the camp and crime was kept at a minimum. The chief knew no fear and always took active part in the apprehension of criminals. He had been under fire many times during public service, but was never hit.”
Police Chief Grant’s unblemished record fatefully came to an end in 1913.
Rafael “Red” Lopez, an experienced Mexican mine worker, secured work as a “leaser.” Widely known as a ladies’ man and quick tempered, Red Lopez got into argument with a fellow miner by the name of Jaun Valdez.
In the early hours of Nov. 21, 1913, outside the McKenzie Boarding House, Red Lopez drew his revolver and gunned down the unsuspecting Jaun Valdez. The murderer quickly fled the scene on foot and headed for the hills.
The manhunt was on.
A posse was organized immediately. Chief Grant with Salt Lake County deputies Nephi Jenson, George Witback and Julius Sorenson mounted their horses and began the pursuit.
That November day was cold, snow was on the ground and Red Lopez had no intention of surrendering, he managed to cross the mountains and reach an old ranch near Saratoga Springs on Utah Lake some 20 miles away. The four officers were dogged in their chase and eventually caught up with the fugitive. Thinking Red Lopez was holdup in the old ranch, the posse split in two and approached cautiously on either side of the cabin. The culprit lay in a nearby ditch and completely surprised the two on horseback, Lopez opened fire at a distance of 118 yards. Chief Grant was the first to get hit with a .30-06 bullet, he tumbled from his horse and died instantly.
Deputy Jensen was the next to fall. He lay on the ground and within 20 minutes was dead. The two other deputies hurried around to where the shot were fired, Deputy Whitback collapsed immediately, having been shot through the chest. Deputy Sorenson had luck on his side, his horse reared from the commotion and he was thrown to the ground, unscathed. He did manage to get off a few shots in Lopez’s direction. Within a few seconds the outlaw disappeared in the bush.
The three fallen lawmen were taken back to Bingham Canyon for a hero’s funeral. John William (Billy) Grant was buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery, Salt Lake City. Wife Catherine and seven children were left to mourn this tragic event for a Pictou County born citizen.
The State of Utah was in a panic mode. Hundreds of lawman gathered in the Bingham Canyon community ready to advance in any direction to capture Lopez. Word was received that the criminal was holed up in a mine outside the town. A throng of police officers converged on the colliery. They had their man. Two officers offered to go after Lopez inside the dark mine and smoke him out by lighting a fire in an ore car. The shrewd Lopez killed them both. Almost a month transpired and the gathered police force tried every trick in the book to flush Jaun Lopez out. On Jan. 3, 1914 the search was called off, a day after finding the mine empty.
Rafael Lopez became a folk hero and a legend in Mexico and the surrounding American States for the next seven years. It wasn’t until 1921 when the famed Frank Hamer, the Texas Ranger who orchestrated the capture and death of outlaws Bonnie & Clyde, also took down Rafael “Red” Lopez.
John Ashton of Bridgeville is a local historian and the province’s representative to the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.