Updated: Jul 27, 2021
Based on a presentation to the Lardeau Valley Historical Society.
Sundown Slim was the champion liar of the Lardeau. The king of whoppers. A master fibber without peer. He had a fabrication for every occasion and was literally a tall tale teller — for he stood 6'3½".
Sundown Slim seen at Lardeau, ca. 1951.
(Jeanne McCartney photo, courtesy Paul Jeffrey)
One of his best and most oft-told stories was how he had been a sheriff for a day in Tombstone, Arizona. He couldn’t remember the year, but said he read an ad for a man to be marshal of Tombstone with only a badge for protection. Bandits and drunken cowboys were shooting marshals at the rate of about one per day, and the city, by hiring an unarmed man, was trying to show that the job wasn’t so hard, so they could convince someone to take the job permanently.
Sundown says he got through it in good health but minus both heels of his cowboy boots. In the Sunset Saloon, a cowboy who’d had a few too many to drink heard Sundown was the new marshal and shot off his heels. The next morning Sundown walked to city hall to collect his wages. The day after that he went to Tucson, got into a poker game and lost his $200.
That story wasn’t true and neither were most of the others he told. But it hardly mattered.
Until recently Sundown’s actual early life has been a mystery, but this is what I have discovered about him — both fact and fiction.
I’ll discuss how he got his nickname presently. But his real name was Edward Charles Stuart. Some sources give his first name as Eldon or Edlan, but he signed it Edward. He was born on June 23, 1885 in Portsmouth, England to James Lumsden and Mary Tatum Stuart. He was the 12th of 14 children — some born in England and others in Boulogne, France.
The family immigrated to Canada while Sundown was still an infant. They settled in Manitoba, first at Neelin, then Killarney, where another daughter was born, then St. Boniface, where Sundown’s father died in 1901, age 63.
On the census that year, Sundown, then 15, was shown living with his widowed mother and six of his siblings at Turtle Mountain, Manitoba. I’m not sure when he came to BC, but it was probably within the next couple of years because his mother died at Fort Langley in 1903.
Sundown claimed to be one of the first people into the north end of the Lardeau around the turn of the century. While it’s possible that he was there, anything and everything he ever said has to be taken with fistfuls of salt. He’s nowhere to be seen on the 1911 census. He’s hardly mentioned in any local history books, although given that he was only a teenager or in his early 20s during the Lardeau mining rush, it’s possible that he was there, but wasn’t old enough to have done anything deemed worth recording in the newspapers.
In his early days in the Lardeau, Sundown said he had a partner named Billy Kemp — whose very existence I cannot confirm or deny. But according to Sundown, “Billy stood only 4'5" and with me at 6'3" we must have made quite a sight. The boys used to give us quite a razzing. Mutt and Jeff is what they called us.” That comic strip was created in 1907.
Sundown said of the Lardeau boom towns, Ferguson was the most notorious. He said it had five hotels, nine brothels, and the saloons were open 24 hours a day where it wasn’t uncommon to see women fighting.
He also said — or imagined — that the Lardeau was a favourite hideout for American fugitives and that more than once he was deputized as a special constable to make an arrest.
On June 1, 1915, at age 29, Sundown enlisted for the First World War at Vernon. This surprised me because I would have expected his wartime exploits to be a fertile source of tall tales, yet I don’t know that he ever talked about it.
On his enlistment papers (pictured below) He gave his occupation as “railroadman” (apparently he was a telegrapher) and his next of kin as brother Arthur of Aylesworth, Saskatchewan. The field where he was supposed to list his age was a mess, with several different ages scratched out. Which is a bit perplexing, because he didn’t need to fudge his age in order to enlist.
The Revelstoke Mail Herald of July 7, 1915 reported: “Edward Stuart of the 54th Battalion wishes to thank the ladies and gentlemen of Trout Lake and Ferguson for the dance and refreshments which they gave in his behalf, July 3, at Trout Lake, also for the many presents which he expects will come in handy for him while on his way to Berlin.” But this is the only early newspaper reference to him I can find.
Sundown left with the 54th from Halifax on Nov. 22, 1915 aboard the SS Saxonia. His recently digitized file reveals he was also with the 7th Battalion Canadian Infantry and 30th Battalion and saw battlefield duty in France. He had a rough time — in and out of hospital regularly with bronchitis, measles, and neurasthenia, aka shell shock. According to one of his medical reports:
He states that on Jan. 17, 1916 he fell into a shell hole and injured his back. He was nine days in the dressing station, then returned to duty; his back still continued to give him trouble, he says he could not straighten up; he carried on. About the middle of March he noticed he was becoming nervous, his legs and head being shaky; about this time he began to experience dizziness. On April 27, 1916 he states he was again buried [at Ypres]; had to be dug out as he was unable to get out himself; was sent to Poperinghe [Belgium]. Next day while on drill he states he fell over and was unconscious for half an hour. He states his back was giving a great deal of trouble at this time, he could not walk without the aid of a stick. While at Taplow [military hospital in England] he was put in a plaster cast which he wore for two and a half months … Was in France six months on duty.
He returned to Canada in late 1916 and was discharged in March 1917 as medically unfit. His “military character,” however, said to be “very good.”
The file also noted “In event of casualty also notify Miss Frances Lauthers, Arrowhead BC.” His girlfriend, perhaps, although she would have only been 14 when he enlisted. In 1923, she married Herbert Livingston Green in Salmon Arm. She died there in 1961, age 59.
Sundown returned to Revelstoke, where on March 18, 1918, he married Beatrice Hay. He was 32. She was 17. Beatrice was born in Revelstoke in 1901 to Henry and Mary Wilson Hay. Sundown and Beatrice had at least four children: James, born in 1918; Gordon, born in 1919; Barry, born in 1920 or 1921, and Ida Beatrice, born in 1924. We know Ida was born in Revelstoke and the others presumably were as well. On the 1921 census, the family was shown living at 73 5th St. in Revelstoke. Sundown gave his occupation as electrician. But by 1923 he was an upholsterer.
Where did his nickname come from? He claimed it came from his height and the fact that he once lived in the town of Sundown, Arizona. But there no such place. There is a Sundown, Texas,, but it wasn’t named until the 1920s.
A much more likely source for the nickname was a 1920 silent Western movie called Sundown Slim, starring Harry Carey. It was based on a 1915 novel by Henry Herbert Knibbs. The title character is a 6'4" hobo-poet who decides to become a cook at a cattle ranch. Hijinks ensue.
In the photo at top of this page, our Sundown’s appearance also reminds me of a Gasoline Alley comic strip character introduced in the 1920s named Squint — who was a champion tall tale teller from Arizona. So he might have taken inspiration from both characters.
Sundown was last listed in the civic directory in Revelstoke is 1925. After that he moved to Trout Lake City, although he didn’t show up in the directory there either. But we know he had a cabin on William street by Lardeau Creek, which was said to be “in use constantly” in the 1930s.
He recalled that one day a blacksmith went insane and began chasing Alice Jowett, the owner of the Windsor Hotel, with a butcher knife. Sundown called to the blacksmith: “Just a minute, Jim, I’ll get another knife and help you cut her up!” The blacksmith answered: “Hey! That’s a good idea.”
When the blacksmith stopped to wait for Sundown to get a knife he was able to talk him out of murdering Mrs. Jowett. Sundown said it took six men to take the main to jail, which was the vault in the mining recorder’s office.
I once asked the late Edna Daney about this. Edna came to Trout Lake in 1930 to work for Mrs. Jowett at the Windsor Hotel. She married Mrs. Jowett’s grandson Seldon and was postmaster at Ferguson for many years. When I brought up Sundown’s name and the story about the blacksmith with a butcher knife, Edna just groaned and told me Sundown was a legend in his own mind. She once referred to him as “Slimy Slim.”
The Windsor Hotel at Trout Lake City in 2000.
In the book Circle of Silver, Edna recalled something that happened in the Ferguson Hall.
Sundown Slim didn’t have a violin so he got an old cigar box and glued a neck on it, gave it some strings and away he went. May Oakey was great at chording on the piano. They played up on a little stage which, after so many years of pounding and being neglected by the carpenters, was in bad shape. Old Slim was tuning up while May plunked out his note when all of a sudden the piano stool went through the boards and poor May went bouncing across the floor. Beverly [Daney] and I laughed so hard we had to go outside!
Sundown said that during the early stages of World War II he opened an upholstery business on Cedar Avenue in Trail. Six months later he left town $4,000 richer — the equivalent of about $72,000 today. That was thanks to the help of Cominco who hired him to re-cover two truckloads of furniture.
In 1945, he was listed on the voters list as residing at 18-525 Ward Street in Nelson (the Madden Hotel) and gave his occupation as prospector.
The next we hear from him is in the spring of 1951, when he shows up in Lardeau. And here I’m indebted to Paul Jeffrey’s memoir, Kootenay Days (third edition, 2014), p. 100-102, which has the most detailed profile of Sundown ever published.
Paul recalled that Sundown got off the SS Moyie one day in a cowboy hat and boots, carrying a large pack and several other bundles. He pitched a tent down by the water.
Gradually Paul and his friends got to know him, although they were confused by his curious language.
“What’s your handles?” he asked them. They didn’t understand the question. “Ye are a mighty strange bunch of hairpins, ye certainly are,” Sundown said. He invited the kids over to his tent, where he told them about himself:
“I came up the lake from Idaho and Montana ‘cause I wanted to see the country, and as this is as far as the lake goes this is where I stopped.”
But he had been further south as well, “‘fore that t’was in Texas and Mexico where I learned how to handle a knife,” and with that he reached back and drew a knife from behind his neck. It was pointed and sharpened on both edges while the handle was wrapped with rawhide.
He said: “You will notice that I moved slowly when I took out the knife, because many a man has been shot because of moving too fast. Keep it slow and smooth and all’s okay.”
I asked “Why do you keep that knife there?” Everyone else that I knew carried knives on their belts. With that he slid the knife back behind his his neck and put him his hands as though he were being robbed.
“Say someone has a gun on you, you put your hands up, and your fingers are only inches away from your knife. This allows you to grab the handle and throw the knife.”
Sundown explained that he carried a second knife in his boot — just in case he dropped the other one. He also had a revolver that he showed to the kids. He cultivated the image of a tough guy, but nobody really bought it.
When the kids told him they spent their spare time building forts and hiding treasure, Sundown replied: “I have a treasure as well, but I didn’t get it mining.” From under his cot and produced a bag that clinked loudly when he shook it. “Silver dollars,” he said. “This is my nest egg.”
Later Sundown moved into an empty buildings on main street and opened a cafe, although locals didn’t expect it would last long since there wasn’t much money to go around in the community.
He built a serving counter down the middle and room for a half dozen stools. A sheet hung from the ceiling divided the cafe from his bedroom.
He had no cash register, so he made change from his pocket. At first he stayed open seven days a week, but to no one’s surprise, there wasn’t enough business to justify those hours. It was only busy on Wednesdays and Saturdays when the boats came in.
Sundown’s cafe on July 1, 1952, probably the busiest day he ever had.
(Wallace photo 4109, courtesy Paul Jeffery)
He served coffee and tea along with pie, cake, and cookies. You could also order bacon, eggs, or pancakes any time of day, and sandwiches of whatever was available.
Jeanne Pangburn — who became Jeanne McCartney — worked at the cafe for a while on the promiseshe would be paid in gold nuggets. But Sundown proved a difficult boss, and she soon quit.
Paul and his friends used to hang around the cafe, but appeared to get on Sundown’s nerves. One day they were in his cook room and he was feeding them an old pie that hadn’t sold. It was tough and dry and hard to chew. Paul’s brother Bruce was standing with his back to the door, which was closed.
We were talking about his knives again and asking him to show them. Sundown must have thought that it was time for us to see him in action, for he suddenly reached for the knife behind his neck, grasped it by the handle, and threw it into the door just above Bruce’s shoulder. We were all started by this, and poor Bruce just stood unmoving, too started to even react.
Sundown said: “You want to see my knife? Well there it is, in the door. Eight inches to the right and it would have been in his jugular.” …
Sundown tried to make us understand that Bruce had never been in any danger because he practiced a lot, and would never miss his target at such close range. This still left us a little uneasy and we soon left. We didn’t tell our parents this story until long after Sundown Slim had pulled up roots and left in the fall for somewhere south to avoid the winter.
Sundown and his wife Beatrice were by now divorced. She then married a fellow named Frank Steeves. Sundown, meanwhile, put the moves on the local school teacher, who was probably 20 years his junior. She rejected him forcibly and he walked away with several visible bruises.
Another time Sundown returned from a trip south and came off the Moyie bent over, walking with a cane, and sporting two black eyes. When asked, he replied that he’d been in a car accident in Spokane. But the rumor quickly circulated that he’d been caught in Nelson with someone else’s wife.
Sundown closed his Lardeau cafe in the fall of 1952. In 1957, he moved into a cabin at Ainsworth built by Archie McLeod and friends eight or nine years previous. I don’t know exactly where it was, but it became a familiar landmark because it was painted green with a red roof and had elk and deer horns hung at the front. Pink rocks and bright flowers surrounded it and it attracted comments from passersby.
One evening in September 1962, Sundown was in his pajamas, reading before bed. He fell asleep only to awaken shortly before midnight to heat and flames coming up from behind the couch. He grabbed his sleeping bag to shield himself from the heat ad also took his Hudson’s Bay blanket and coat (he is pictured below wearing the latter). They were the only things he could save.
Sundown only had half a teakettle full of water. He hauled his water from the lake, 80 feet down the bank in front of the cabin. Neighbours saw the flames and drove to find Sundown sitting on the ground watching his 40 years of treasures go up in flames.
The BC Forest Service arrived from Kaslo with a pumper truck to keep the flames from spreading into the bush, but the cabin was left in charred ruins.
Sundown was taken to the Ainsworth Hot Springs Hotel, where the owner gave him a bed for the night and breakfast in the morning while friends provided him with clothes. He then went to live with his daughter Ida in Christina Lake. He said he was planning to move back to Ainsworth, but I don’t know if that ever happened.
But Sundown considered himself very fortunate to have survived the fire. Not only that, but a few weeks earlier he was sitting by the cabin window when he was knocked over by a bolt of lightning. And when awoke, he found a bear in the cabin with him.
We next catch up with Sundown in 1964. Ida and her husband Paul Tokarow are now living in Trail and Sundown is staying with them. On New Year’s Eve he made sure not to be on the streets at the stroke of midnight.
He said “This is kissin’ night and I don’t wanna stay down here after dark. Trailites are so sociable, you know. My kissin’ days are over. I don’t go in for for that business anymore.” He made it to his daughter’s home safely before anyone tried to kiss him.
By 1969, Ida and her husband had moved to Vancouver, and Sundown followed. He was by then suffering from esophageal cancer. But he said his health was generally good even though he started smoking heavily at the age of ten and drank what he called “moderately.”
Sundown died in Langley on July 1, 1969, at age 84. He was buried in Fort Langley, in the same cemetery as his mother and three of his sisters. His grave marker refers to him as “Private Eduard C. Stuart” although it misspelled his first name.
Sundown’s death registration gave his occupation as automobile upholsterer and said he spent 25 years in that line before retiring in 1945. Which doesn’t account for the cafe he later ran in Lardeau.
Sundown’s ex-wife died in Vancouver on March 29, 1982, age 80. I don’t know where or when Sundown’s three elder children died, but his daughter Ida died in 2004 in Surrey and was buried in Fort Langley. She had two children.
Sundown claimed to have seven children, and that is possible, but if so, I don’t know who the other three were. Or it could have been just another flourish in the arsenal of a man whose imagination didn’t so much run wild as it barreled along like a locomotive.
Update, July 2, 2018:
Over the Canada Day long weekend, I had a chance to visit Sundown’s grave in Fort Langley. He is buried next to his mother, his daughter Ida, son-in-law Paul, and granddaughter Barbara. See pictures below. Thanks to BC Historical Federation president Jane Watt and her family for leading me to them!
Sundown Slim is buried as Eduard C. Stuart, although it should say Edward.
Mary Stuart’s grave marker is difficult to read (she was Sundown’s mother).
Ida Tokarow was one of Sundown’s daughters; he lived with her in the 1960s.
Paul and Barbara Tokarow were Sundown’s son-in-law and granddaughter.
The Stuart family plot is in the south corner of the Fort Langley cemetery.
Additional sources not cited above:
• “Fire destroys home of Sundown Slim,” Nelson Daily News, Sept. 4, 1962
• “Sundown Slim had heels shot off as Tombstone’s one-day marshal,” Nelson Daily News, Sept. 12, 1962
• Trail Daily Times, Jan. 2, 1964
Updated on April 18, 2018 with details from Sundown’s military file.