In the late-1800s, North Okanagan rancher and postmaster Cornelius O’Keefe was busy looking after his cattle and the little post office he managed at O’Keefe Ranch.
Little did he, or local residents, know then that amongst their midst was one of North America’s most wanted stagecoach/train robbers.
Although there is no record of O’Keefe actually meeting Kentucky-born Billy Miner, while Miner lived, and robbed, his way through B.C., there are records that the “gentleman bandit” used to frequent these parts.
“He came under the alias George Edwards, a cowboy and horse trader, and once attended a Saturday night house dance on Parkinson Road, just west of Armstrong,” says local cowboy singer-songwriter Rob Dinwoodie, who has been doing a lot of research on Miner for this year’s Cowboy Dinner Show at O’Keefe Ranch.
Why Miner was visiting this area, no one actually knows. His home at that time was in Princeton, where he would frequent dances playing his fiddle and earning the respect of the local community, added Dinwoodie.
What the authorities came to know was while selling and trading horses in Chilliwack, Miner was also casing out the opportunity to rob trains, which he did one evening, making off with gold and bonds worth several thousand dollars. A second robbery occurred east of Kamloops when it was rumoured a large shipment of gold was being transported on the train.
The commonality between the robberies was the politeness used by the robbers and the phrase “Hands Up,” which Miner is said to have invented.
Those attending the Cowboy Dinner Show at O’Keefe Ranch will get a chance to hear the stories and songs, and see both Miner and Cornelius O’Keefe, and other characters from the west, who will make a surprise visit at this year’s production.
The theme of this year’s 149th anniversary of O’Keefe Ranch is Where the West is Retold, said Dinwoodie, whose musical troupe is producing the seventh annual show under that name.
“We are presenting a very entertaining and informative show, where the west will be retold,” said Dinwoodie. “Most folks are unaware of the fascinating history and individuals that lived and moved through the area.
“We are going to tell the story of the west through song, poetry and drama, starting with the First Nations and moving through the Fur Brigade Trail, the key route that joined eastern Canada with the Pacific.”
Along with famed cartographer David Thompson, who mapped most of B.C. on his travels, the show will also follow the cattle drives, where cowboys and settlers such as O’Keefe were instrumental in the ranching history of the Okanagan.
The drama is once again being performed by local playwright, actor and radio personality Jason Armstrong and his son Christian.
Local historian, author and cowboy poet Ken Mather will provide the narrative through story and poetry, while Dinwoodie will be joined by fellow musicians Shootin’ Newton (Julia Zalit) on bass and Diamond Kevin (Kevin Bader) on guitar and mandolin.
Cattleman’s Club Restaurant is once again providing the cowboy meal of sizzling steaks with all the fixings. Visitors can also ride the authentic BX Express stagecoach and learn how to both rope a wooden steer and join in the competition for cowboy of the night.
Songs and stories told ‘round the campfire complete the cowboy experience.
“This show is a great event for the whole family and will be sure to become the highlight of your summer, so pull on your boots and cowboy hat and become a cowboy for the evening,” said Dinwoodie.
The Cowboy Dinner Show starts July 1 and continues every Friday night at 5 p.m. in July and August at O’Keefe Ranch. For tickets or information, call the ranch at 250-542-7868 or visit www.okeeferanch.ca.