LEGENDS AND TALES OF THE MOUNTAIN KINGDOM: I Fought the Law and the Law Won, Part Two--Jack Ingram

Allyson Kenning
By Allyson Kenning
January 12th, 2012

About a year ago, I wrote a column about John Kirkup, Rossland’s first official lawman. I gave accounts of some of his exploits and tried to provide a sense of this big man’s personality around town. Kirkup didn’t have a long tenure as keeper of local law and order; he was apparently not popular with the politicians of the time and when Rossland’s first official mayor, Robert Scott, came to power one of his first acts was to relieve Kirkup of his duties.  

Nobody knows what kind of personality conflict went on between these two men, but I can tell you that the man hired to replace Kirkup was no angel himself and came to Rossland complete with a very rough reputation. This man was John S. Ingram, popularly called Jack, and if anyone was back then was destined to be known for something unpleasant, it has he.

Born in St. Thomas Ontario April 3, 1853 and coming from a long line of military men, Jack Ingram migrated west at the tender age of 17 and joined the Manitoba Provincial Police Department. Back then, Manitoba had a provincial police force, but in the early 1870s Winnipeg was big enough to warrant its own, and in 1874, at the age of 21, Jack Ingram was hired to head the city’s spiffy new police force as its Chief Constable.

What were they thinking? It would be a tenure that would live in infamy!

Jack had a staff of a whole two constables under him and was paid a salary of $750 per annum, However, with a reputation already as a “rough and tumble” kind of guy, he quickly cemented a reputation as a successful lawman when he arrested Ambrose Lepine, a wanted murderer.

A contemporary account notes that, “The arrest was made through the simple expediency of Ingram walking up to Lepine, putting him off guard by greeting him as he would an old friend, then knocking him out with a well placed left hook to the head.”

But shining professional accomplishments like were soon sullied because young Jack had a thing for prostitutes. The powers that be in the newly-incorporated City of Winnipeg obviously thought that a 21 year old might be more judicious with his behaviour when they put him in charge of enforcing the brothels.  But he wasn’t.  A new madam in town, Carrie Lyons, brought with her five “sporting girls” (so they were called and the brothels were called “sporting houses”). She soon had Jack spending more time in her establishment than doing his job.

His constables began complaining that Jack was MIA while on duty, and a city alderman accused him of running a protection racket in the red light district. Jack tried to sue the alderman in retaliation but the whole situation soon unravelled because he was caught with his hand in the proverbial cookie jar one night during a surprise raid on the red light district.

He was enjoying the charms found at Carrie’s house, namely a young lady named Ella Lewis, when his own constables barged in and found him in flagrante delicto. Two days later, on June 9, 1874, Ella Lewis and another sporting girl caught in the raid went before the magistrate and were charged $20 each for prostitution, and Jack and another john were charged $8 each plus $2 for fees.

Not surprisingly, Jack was relived of his duties.

He went home to Ontario for a little visit but returned to Winnipeg soon after and began boxing and frequenting saloons. Once, in September 1875, he was even arrested for being “drunk and pugilistic.”

No doubt wearing out his welcome in Winnipeg, Jack decided to head further west, and in 1884, he was hired by the newly incorporated City of Calgary, population 500, as their police chief.  At first, things went well, and Jack, who, with a couple of constables, ran the police HQ from the back of a saloon, earned a good reputation early on by keeping the peace in without firing a single bullet.

In 1887, perhaps in an attempt to settle down, Jack married pretty widow Edith Oake. His friends threw him a bachelor party that, according to sources, lasted three days. But old patterns came back to haunt Jack; in 1888, just six months after his marriage, he once again found himself in the bad books of local politicians and newspaper editors, and was–again!–accused of running a protection racket in Calgary’s red light district. In February 1888, he resigned and took up managing two hotels in town, The Palace and The Royal. Apparently these became the only such establishments in town that had any law and order in them.

But he didn’t stay long. Pehraps the siren call of another policing position was too much for him to resist, because in 1890, he moved himself and his family to Montana where he became police chief for Great Falls.

In 1897, after Kirkup’s dismissal, Jack Ingram was invited to Rossland to become the town’s first police chief. I couldn’t find anything terribly controversial about Jack’s tenure, but he was police chief in 1901, when a Chinese cook, Mah Lin, was murdered by an eight-year-old boy named Ernest Chenoweth. Mah Lin was an employee of the Chenoweth’s and was cooking dinner for the family when he was shot in the head.

Jack Ingram was certain young Ernest was guilty, but rumour had it that he had an agenda: Jack might have had an axe to grind with Ernest’s mother, Mary, whom he was quoted as saying she “is no better than a prostitute and her three sons are very tough boys.”  Did Mary perhaps spurn Jack? Who knows! What we do know is that after some very questionable interrogation–not done by Jack personally, but rather by a Pinkerton investigator hired by the Chinese Benevolent Society, who also seemed to have an agenda and wanted to absolve any other Chinese men in Rossland of the murder–young Ernest was charged with the crime, and remains to this day the youngest Canadian every to be tried for a capital offence. Luckily for the boy, he was acquitted at his trial in Nelson. Eventually, he took off to California.

In 1901, after yet another clash with a local politician, this time C.O. Lalonde, Rossland’s second mayor and successor to Robert Scott, Jack left his position, and was briefly rehired under a new mayor in 1903, but shortly thereafter he retired from law enforcement for good. As a new career, he took up working with explosives at the Centre Star Mine.

Jack Ingram was now a dynamite man, but this would end in tragedy. On December 16, 1905, he was killed in an explosion in the mine’s fuse house, where he had gone to thaw explosives. The damage from this explosion was evident all around the town. A quote I found gave some details: “the thawing room exploded, sending black smoke 600 feet in the air and breaking most of the glass in town (it took them months to bring enough glass into town to replace it all). They found Jack buried head first up to his ankles in a bank, the only fatality. No one knows what happened.”

According to one source, the explosion was felt 30 miles away, and “houses on the rise of the mountain, and nearest to the mines, were wholly destroyed, while for a distance of five miles bricks and plaster fell in showers and window glasses were shattered by the concussion.”

It was miraculous that Jack was the only fatality given the enormity of the explosion. The source goes on to say that “Lockhart, the assistant diamond drill operator, who was at work under the Centre Star offices, was badly cut about the head and legs, but will recover. Several members of the office staff and men in the compressor building were hurt by flying glass or by being thrown violently against the machinery…The big War Eagle boarding house is badly damaged, some of the inmates being injured slightly.” Meanwhile, on Columbia Avenue, “nearly all of the plate-glass windows…were smashed, many people receiving cuts from fragments. Merchants had Christmas goods displayed, much destruction being wrought among these. The amount of glass destroyed is enormous.”

Three days after Jack’s badly mangled body was found, he was put in a casket and shipped back to St. Thomas, Ontario, his hometown, where he was buried. He was in his early fifties and left behind his wife, Edith, his stepson, Bert, who was working with him the day he died, and three other children.

Though tragic, it was a suitably dramatic end to what was, by all accounts, a dramatic life.


1. http://thiswaswinnipeg.blogspot.com/2008/07/james-s-ingram-winnipeg-and-calgarys.html

2. http://www.winnipeg.ca/police/history/story10.stm

3. http://www3.telus.net/ridgerecords/ridge-records-pages/jack-ingram.html#jack-ingram-story

4. http://www.asian.ca/media/chinacity/afong.htm

5. http://www.clarksoftomfad.ca/NotWithaWhimper.htm

Other News Stories