Updated: Nov 28, 2018
Notorious train robber Bill Miner had a lookalike in Nelson. This story appeared in the Nelson Daily News on Nov. 16, 1911 and was located by former Castlegar-area resident Byng Giraud. It was published shortly after Miner was nabbed for one of his many prison escapes.
WILLIAM NOBLE, NELSON MAN, INTRODUCED AS BILL MINER
Mistaken for the notorious train robber “Bill” Miner, followed by amateur sleuths for days, questioned by regular detectives, and finally introduced by his friends as the train robber, has been the fate William Noble, government road inspector of Nelson, BC, who has been in the city for some days past, says the Calgary News-Telegram.
Mr. Noble was in the city before the story of the arrest of Miner in Georgia was published, and for several days was pointed to as the desperado for whom a reward was out, and It was not until the story of Miner's arrest became public that many who had met Mr. Noble were convinced that he was not the robber wanted by the police of Canada and the United States.
The road inspector is Miner’s double and during the time that the train robber was operating around Kamloops, was several times held up and questioned by policemen who were not aware of his identity until he bad produced his credentials,
His appearance in the city following the story to the effect that Miner was heading in this direction, and was supposed to be in Calgary, caused many to believe that Mr. Noble was the old train robber and seeing that this impression was gaining ground, many of his friends Introduced him as Miner, swearing the people they introduced him to into keeping the matter quiet.
It was not until Mr. Noble left town and the story of Miner's arrest in Georgia was published that many of those whom he met here awoke to the fact that they had been duped, the resemblance between the two men being so pronounced. Mr. Noble derived a lot of amusement from being taken for the old train robber, but was glad when the arrest of the real “Bill” Miner was chronicled.
I can’t add much, except to note with regret that the newspaper didn’t run a photo of Noble so we can judge how closely he resembled Miner. (Photos were a rarity in most small newspapers in those days.) It’s interesting that Noble was not just a victim of mistaken identity, but helped perpetrate it.
Noble was not listed in the Nelson civic directory in 1910, 1913, or 1914, nor can I find anyone by that name in Nelson on the 1911 census — but there’s a William James Noble in Cranbrook listed as a foreman on a wagon road. Sounds like him. He was born in Ontario in May 1853.
In the 1914 Southeast Kootenay directory he’s listed as a bridge man residing at the Royal Hotel in Cranbrook. He’s not listed there in the next available directory of 1918, nor can I find him on the 1921 census. I checked the death registrations of several William Nobles in BC, but none seem to fit.
The only other mention of him I can find is from the Creston Review of Aug. 30, 1912: “The government road gang under the management of William Noble which has been working between Yahk and Moyie has now completed that part of the road in a first class condition …”
One postscript: the late Dick Blyth (1913-1992) of Nakusp said his uncle was a dead ringer for Bill Miner. According to Kyle Kusch of the Arrow Lakes Historical Society, Blyth told Ken Williams that his uncle died passed out in a hotel doorway in Cranbrook. However, while the BC vital events index finds a few people named Noble who died in Cranbrook, none were William. I also checked to see if any Blyths died in Cranbrook, in case Dick and his uncle had the same last name, but there weren’t any.
Kusch says: “Dick Blyth was an orphan before arriving in Nakusp as a ward of Tom Abriel. In his interview with Milton Parent, he does mention living with his uncle at Tappen before coming to Nakusp. Could this uncle be the faux-Miner, William Noble? With so little to go on about Mr. Blyth’s childhood other than being shuffled around between Hope, Tappen, Kamloops, Golden, and Agassiz before ending up here, that’s an interesting family connection.”
Below: The real (we think) Bill Miner is shown in a portrait taken by Mary Spencer in Kamloops in 1906 following his arrest for train robbery. (Wikpedia)
Updated on March 26, 2018 to add the details about Dick Blyth and his uncle.