In the fall of 1866, the remains of a man were discovered in some bushes near Beaver Pass, between Quesnel and Barkerville, at a point where the Cariboo Wagon road intersected an old trail. Gold Commissioner George Cox, accompanied by Chief Constable Fitzgerald, held an inquest at the spot where the remains were found. Members of a jury witnessed the examination of the body.
The crime had taken place some months before because the body had been reduced to a skeleton but a bullet hole was visible at the back of the skull. An examination of the mouth revealed teeth in good condition with some of the back molars filled with gold. The clothes were still intact and these revealed someone who was quite well-to-do; not your typical gold seeker. The following description was printed in the Cariboo Sentinel in the hopes that someone reading it would recognize the person.
Gold Commissioner Cox looked through mining licences to find any record of the name C.M. Blessing, but there was nothing.
In the months leading up to the discovery of the body, Barkerville’s barber, Wellington Moses had been doing his own inquiries about a man who had gone missing.
On May 28, 1866, Moses shared a stagecoach with a well-to-do New Englander to Soda Creek. Moses was returning from a winter in Victoria and Charles Blessing said he was looking for an adventure; it was quite obvious he didn’t need the money. Moses remembered the unusual gold nugget pin he was wearing; he’d never seen anything quite like it. They caught the sternwheeler to Quesnel, arriving in the evening. At the Brown and Gillis’ Saloon, they ran into a Texan gambler named James Barry who admitted being down on his luck.
After Blessing paid for their drinks, it was agreed that Blessing and Barry would start the next morning along the trail for Barkerville since Moses had decided to stay in Quesnel another day to collect money he was due.
Weeks passed and Moses resumed cutting hair at his barbershop in Barkerville. It wasn’t until he saw James Barry that he was reminded of Blessing. He asked Barry what became of their travel companion, but Barry was vague, telling him that Blessing complained of sore feet and wanted to turn back. On one occasion, Moses remembered, Barry sat in his barber chair wearing a distinct nugget pin. It looked familiar.
That day, Moses closed up his shop and made a few discreet inquiries and discovered that Barry had arrived in Barkerville on June 2nd and was able to pay for a room at Wilcox’s for $12 a week which he paid with a $20 bank note. Moses was suspicious but he didn’t go to the police.
One day, Bill Fraser, one of his long-time customers from Victoria, showed up at the barbershop. The topic turned to James Barry and Fraser recalled how he had travelled with him just that spring from New Westminster to Quesnel before they parted company. He remembered Barry making remarks that suggested that he had been in and out of jail. He was also wearing a Colt six-gun and cartridge belt and he never let it out of his sight.
As soon as he read the description in the paper, Moses decided it was time to go to the Chief Constable Fitzgerald and tell him what he thought. As soon as news went around Barkerville, Barry was nowhere to be found. Fitzgerald instructed Constable Sullivan to find Barry and bring him in.
Sullivan rode his horse for 120 miles to the steamboat landing at Soda Creek and it was here he learned that Barry had crossed the Fraser River two days before and had taken a stagecoach to Yale.
At this time, the Collins Overland Company had just finished stringing a wire to Quesnel. An operator at Soda Creek tapped out a message to the BC Police at Yale. Twelve hours later when Barnard’s stagecoach pulled into Yale, a police officer was waiting for Barry.
In the summer of 1867, James Barry was led into the Richfield courthouse to face Chief Justice Begbie and a jury of Cariboo miners. At the trial, the prosecutor brought forward the gold nugget pin and asked Barry where he got it from. He said he had bought it from a man in Victoria. The prosecutor then asked Wellington Moses how did he know it belong to the murdered man.
Moses pointed out that when you looked at the gold nugget pin in a certain way, you could see the profile of a man’s face. It was this profile he had seen as he put the barber’s cape under Barry’s chin. Judge Begbie looked at the nugget closely and sketched it in the margin of his notes.
On August 8, 1866, James Barry was hanged outside the Richfield courthouse for the murder of Charles Blessing. Afterward, Moses helped to raise funds to give Blessing a decent burial. They placed a headboard and a fence around Blessing’s grave. It is a provincial historic site.