Pioneer justice might be described as ruthless. But the question remains, did they always get the right man?
We often think of public execution by hanging as a symbol of the myth of the old west as told in novels and seen on television and at the movie theatre. But, Grey County was also the scene of such public exhibitions of pioneer justice.
The first public hanging in Grey County occurred in Owen Sound on December 5, 1884. (Because the County Court and Jail was located at the County Seat of Grey County, that is where the hanging occurred.)
In the movies, hangings where festive events with hundreds of area citizens, and their children, arriving in town for the big event. Often there were community picnics and other festivities planned for the day the condemned person went to the gallows.
Sadly, this phenomenon of public celebration was not just a Hollywood creation. No, it happened in Grey County as well!
It was a cold and dreary early winter day as hundreds of onlookers from many parts of the region gathered in the streets outside the County Jail to see pioneer justice meted out.
At 8:00 o’clock in the morning the church bells of nearby St. George’s Anglican Church rang out moments after a black flag had been raised on the flag pole of the County Jail.
A few moments later, the gate to the jail’s courtyard swung open and about 60 invited guests were ushered in to witness this historic, but gruesome event. These 60 invitees had received hand-written invitations to attend the first public hanging in Grey County.
Once inside, the dignitaries would have seen the gallows. It stood in the southeastern corner of the courtyard. It had been erected with great care to meet the traditional standards of this tool of execution. The condemned man would walk up thirteen steps to meet his fate. From the cross arm of the gallows hung a length of sturdy rope which would deliver the executioner’s fatal message.
Outside the courtyard, citizens scrambled to find a view of the events about to take place. Some went so far as to climb the east hill of Owen Sound and search for a favourable vantage point. The Sheriff, perhaps expecting the lengths the public would go to see the doomed man meet his fate, had ordered that a high wall be erected to block the view of the “uninvited guests”.
About five minutes after the church bells had tolled, the condemned man arrived in the courtyard. Accompanied by two clergymen, Reverend Howell and Reverend Scott, following the Sheriff and other dignitaries, the prisoner whose name was Cook Teats, made his way towards his place of execution.
Local newspapers reported that Mr. Teats ascended the gallows “with a firm step” and “never seemed to lose his self-control”. The same journalists recorded that when he stepped on the trap door he wryly remarked “well, this is the fatal board”. When the hangman attempted to tie his legs together Teats “asked him to wait until the prayers were said”.
When the trap door was sprung and the length of rope stretched to its limit, the expected did not happen. No, it took more than an hour for the last breath of life to leave the condemned man.
Mr. Teats was a blind man who had been convicted of killing his wife of only two months. He had professed his innocence to the end. And, in a bitter irony, the courts may have indeed hung the wrong man!
A few years after that fateful day, rumours began to circulate that another person had made a deathbed confession to the killing of Mrs. Teats.
There was never any public exoneration of Cook Teats. Whether the first hanging in the history Grey County was justified, or not, will always linger in the mists of time. Something to ponder.
A version of this story first appeared in my Local History column in the Owen Sound Sun Times.
Charles Rankin, I Presume: October 7, 1840 marked the meeting of Land Agent John Telfer and surveyor Charles Rankin on the banks of the Sydenham River and the founding of Owen Sound.
Black History: Emancipation Day celebrates the abolition of slavery and it continues to be an annual celebration in many locations that were in some way, or another touched by the impact of slavery.
Black History of Owen Sound: Version 2: There is some debate about the first black citizen in the Owen Sound area. Here is more information for your consideration.
A Curvy Route to Toronto provided a rail connection between Owen Sound and Toronto, the curvy part was thrilling, but beautiful for the passengers and strenuous for the crew.
Billy Bishop: Owen Sound Hero earned national and international fame as a World War One Fighter pilot and used his high profile to aid in the World War Two effort.
John Muir, the legendary naturalist, who promoted the idea of protected nature spaces, spent time in Ontario and I went to help find evidence of his stay in the Owen Sound area.
Black Clawson Kennedy: An Iconic Owen Sound Industry provided income for area residents and economic development for the community for almost 150 years.
Amalgamation In and Around Owen Sound is not an unusual happening. Some form of boundary changes have occurred at many different times over the years.
Canada' First Pharmacy Chain Store: The Owen Sound-based drug store chain of Parker and Cattle is credited with being the first pharmacy chain store enterprise in Canada.
DC Taylor: Owen Sound Entrepreneur was not only progressive businessman, he was also an important contributor to the social and cultural fabric of his community.
Owen Sound Businesses: 1920s were owned and operated by families whose deep roots in the community and their efforts had created the backbone of the community and brought success to the port city.
Owen Sound: Dry Gulch Canada Learn the reason why Owen Sound was the last city in the grasp of the temperance movement.
First Cars in Owen Sound could be purchased for less than $500.00!
The harbour history of Owen Sound is rich with detail of businesses which were located at various wharves.
Hillcrest School Memories a look back at my public school days when Owen Sound's Hillcrest Public School celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1998.
News of War: The 1940s was supposed to provide the world with a respite after the hardship of the 1930s depression. However World War Two brought more adversity.
Owen Sound 1840 Onward! From a clearing in the Georgian Bay wilderness to a booming port city the 1800s were a time of growth and prosperity.
Owen Sound's First Newspaper: The Comet came into existence a mere 10 years after the first settlers braved the wilderness that would become the Grey and Bruce region.
Owen Sound's First Town Council was created to develop the necessary infrastructure for a pioneer community to grow and prosper.
Owen Sound Tavern Bylaw (1857) tried to tackle the issue of monitoring taverns in the Upper Canadian pioneer wilderness.
Owen Sound's 1857 Bylaw: Dog Control illustrated how a pioneer town controlled dogs in the community, sometimes even using harsh measures.
Owen Sound CPR Strike in 1908 immobilized harbour activities in that important Georgian Bay port, the CPR's eastern Great Lakes terminus.
Owen Sound CPR Link began with a bang, suffered a setback, and ended with a whimper.
Owen Sound Entrepreneurs: S.J. Parker & Richard Notter used their wealth and their friendships to built many community-oriented businesses in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Owen Sound 1920 Stories provide an interesting look at the community as it was about to become a city.
Owen Sound 1920s: Optimism abounded in the port city as a new decade began, The town was becoming a city and the economic outlook seemed bright.
Owen Sound Hospital History is one of a community coming together to take care of the medical needs of the entire community.
Owen Sound Softball and Baseball has a Long Tradition From the 1980s Clippers and the Wawanekas to the 1990s Selects, Owen Sound has a been well-represented in these sports.
Owen Sound Stories: On the Attack! Throughout the history of the community, citizens were not afraid to go on the attack to promote the needs of their town.
Owen Sound Street Names honour the individuals who made a contribution to Owen Sound's development. Today the streets are numbered to help visitors find their way.
O.S.C.V.I.: the History of an Owen Sound High School details from the very beginning the establishment of a high school in the community.
Pioneer Story of a Child in 1846 Owen Sound details life in the last wilderness in Upper Canada in the 1840s.
Pioneer Story of a Child in 1846 (Part 2) continues the memories of Elizabeth Byth as she encountered life in the Upper Canada wilderness that became Owen Sound.
Pioneer Theatre was a big hit in Owen Sound and across southern Ontario, where Vaudevillians like Perth Ontario's Marx Brothers played to full houses.
U.S. President Taft Visited Owen Sound Ontario, a Georgian Bay port in a momentous winter of events in 1920 as Owen Sound celebrated its incorporation as a ci
Some Interesting 20th Century Events in Owen Sound: One, in particular featured a mayor acting to avert a major labour-related confrontation.
The 1940's: An Eventful Decade in Owen Sound and Grey County: A war; a surprising political event; sports celebrations and much more.
Wawanekas: Fastball pioneers who were a legendary women's fastball team from Owen Sound who dominated their sport for a decade or more.
Political Corruption in 1852 Owen Sound? Does it seem possible that this could happen in a pioneer community on the Georgian Bay shores? Read on, and decide.
Emily Pankhurst Visits Owen Sound. The well-known suffragette visited Owen Sound and spoke not only about suffrage, but the bolshevik threat.
Owen Sound Church History: First United Church was in fact the very first church in the Owen Sound community. It was preceded only Rev Neelands a circuit rider.
Lacrosse History in Owen Sound begins in the late nineteenth century and records the numerous championships that have been captured by Owen Sound teams.
Pioneer Ingenuity: Building Lime Kilns was essential for pioneers as without lime they could not build their brick homes.
Boosterism in 1890s Owen Sound targeted promoting economic development in Owen Sound. The port city showcased what it had to offer investors and visitors alike.
A pioneer home was very utilitarian. It served the pioneer family's essential needs, while the work of clearing the land and planting crops took priority.
Pioneer justice might be described as ruthless. But the question remains, did they always get the right man?
CPR Grain Elevator Fire in 1911 in Owen Sound harbour would have a profound impact on that Georgian Bay community.
Reverend Ryerson Visits Owen Sound and despite a great reception from the citizens of the community, he posts a negative newspaper story of the community.
The Leith Golf Course has provided many families with great memories. The history of this golf course starts, and ends, with the generosity of one family
Fenians: A Threat: The threat of an attack by Fenians was very real in Upper Canada in the 1860s and this was especially true in port communities like Owen Sound.
Inglis Falls is not only a beautiful place to enjoy nature, it is also the home of one of Owen Sound's first industries.
An Owen Sound pioneer, A.M. Stephens provided us with a story about his early years helping to carve out a community in this part of Georgian Bay.
Pioneer industry: William Kennedy William Kennedy's efforts to build an important foundry and machine shop on the banks of Owen Sound's harbour.
Pioneer Resort: King's Royal Park From 1840 meeting to opulent pioneer resort, the citizens of Owen Sound have always worked hard to promote the economic growth and development of their community, and their part of the Georgian Bay shoreline.
Sailing stories: Owen Sound Shipbuilding from the earliest time of settlement busy shipyards dotted the Owen Sound bay where shipbuilding took place, sometimes at a feverish pace.
Spanish Flu Impacted Owen Sound, Ontario causing illness and death throughout the region. But it also illustrated the strength of the community spirit in the area.
Golf Course Review: Stone Tree Golfing at the Stone Tree Golf Club, a golfer can also enjoy sighting American Goldfinches, Purple Martins and the majestic Blue Heron while they pursue their quest to improve their golf game!
Owen Sound Ontario: A Unique Perspective: Book provides a unique and humorous perspective about this Georgian Bay port and hockey hotbed.
Water Quality in Owen Sound has been an issue since the 1840s, two Owen Sound entrepreneurs in the 1870s attempted to rectify the situation.
Owen Sound, located on beautiful Georgian Bay offers a wide variety of entertainment and shopping delights for visitors of all ages. The city and its surrounding area has a rich history, parks and other natural areas for bird watchers, hikers, cross country skiers, etc.