Isaac Decker is buried in Ashcroft cemetery beside his friend and colleague Joe Burr

Isaac Decker is buried in Ashcroft cemetery beside his friend and colleague Joe Burr

Past, Present & Beyond – In the Line of Duty, pt. 10 Finale

Barbara Roden concludes her 10-part saga of Special Constable Isaac Decker who was gunned down by a train robber in Ashcroft in 1909.

By October 1910 – more than a year after the hold-up of a CPR train near Kamloops, and the murder of Special Constable Isaac Decker in Ashcroft by one of the bandits – the search for Bill Haney, Decker’s murderer, had ended. Whether Haney and “Edward Smith”, convicted in Montana that month for assault (and identified by more than one person as Haney) were the same man will probably never be known.

Decker left behind a wife, Lena, and a son, Archie. Lena was born in 1880, and was the daughter of John Tetlenitsa, Chief of the Pokeist Band near Spences Bridge (although Lena’s maiden name is transcribed as “Teettaneecha” on her marriage certificate). There is no record of her death, nor of where she is buried, although it seems likely that she was buried in the cemetery at Pokeist church.

Archie Decker, born in April 1898, was only 11 when his father was killed, and it seems almost certain that the boy found himself an orphan at a young age. The 1911 Census of Canada shows that in that year he was living in Vancouver, in the home of a Thomas and Mary-Jane Holmes on 11th Ave. E.; the enumeration form describes him as a “lodger”. Also pointing to his orphan status is the fact that the CPR put aside $2,000 in trust for young Archie’s future, which suggests he had no parent living who would be able to provide for him.

Alas, the grim shadow of World War I intervened. On Sept. 30, 1915 Archie Decker joined the 1st Pioneer Battalion of the Canadian Engineers. He was only 17, but lied about his year of birth, claiming it to be 1897, as his war record shows. That same record indicates young Archie named “T. Holmes, 11th Ave. E., Vancouver” as his next of kin, and that Archie was the ward of a T.H. Holmes, 58th Ave. E., South Vancouver. A single poignant line in his war record tells the rest of the story: the box marked “Survived War” reads simply “No”. He died on June 13, 1916 on the final day of the Battle of Mont Sorrel near Ypres, Belgium. He is one of the 55,000 Commonwealth soldiers who were lost without trace defending the Ypres Salient and who are now commemorated at the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres. Every night at 8 pm Archie and his comrades, so far from home, hear buglers play “The Last Post” in their honour, under an inscription reading “To the Armies of the British Empire who stood here from 1914 to 1918 and to those of their dead who have no known grave.”

We know where Special Constable Isaac Decker is buried, but in a way he, too, has no known grave. He was laid to rest in Ashcroft cemetery on July 1, 1909, and fittingly enough is buried beside his former commanding officer and friend, Joe Burr, who died in 1929. Burr’s grave is marked, and easy to find. Beside it, however, where a plan of the cemetery shows Decker’s grave to be, there is only grass. If he ever had a headstone or grave marker then it is long gone, disintegrated or eroded or damaged beyond repair and never replaced.

Decker was a policeman in Ashcroft for several years, respected and liked by his colleagues and by the community. When, during the manhunt for the CPR bandits, Joe Burr needed a trustworthy deputy to stand in for him and head up the Ashcroft detachment during Burr’s absence, Isaac Decker immediately said yes. He returned to Ashcroft and was sworn in as a special constable. Within hours he would be dead, shot on the bank of the Thompson while trying to apprehend the men who held up the train, and who had evaded capture until that moment.

It is a shame that a man who gave his life in service to his community should be buried in an unmarked grave. Unfortunately, Isaac Decker is one of several people buried in the Ashcroft cemetery who have no stone marking their resting place. The Village has managed the site since 1974, but prior to that it was in the care of a private company, and unfortunately all the records up to the time when the Village took over the cemetery have been lost. Thanks to the survival of an old plan of the site we know who is buried where; what we do not have are contact details for any family members. In the absence of family members, there is usually no one interested in ensuring that damaged or missing headstones are fixed or replaced.

It is not just members of the family who can erect grave markers for the deceased, however. That is why a drive to raise funds is being started, so that a headstone commemorating Isaac Decker’s life and death can be made and installed. It is hoped that members of the community – businesses and private individuals – will be able to step forward and help, by donating to the Isaac Decker Memorial Fund. Funds raised will go toward having a marker for Isaac Decker’s grave purchased, engraved, and installed in the proper location in Ashcroft cemetery, with any excess funds being donated to the Ashcroft Museum for exhibitions or acquisitions. Donations can be made to the Isaac Decker Memorial Fund, care of the Ashcroft Journal, either at the Journal office on 4th Street in Ashcroft, or by mail to P.O. Box 190, Ashcroft, V0K 1A0.

Let us give Constable Isaac Decker a fitting memorial, in the town which he served so well, and where he gave his life in the line of duty.

Many thanks to Kathy Paulos of the Ashcroft Museum and Archives for her invaluable assistance during the writing of this series.

Barbara Roden

Just Posted

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about B.C.’s plan to restart the province during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, Tuesday, May 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Interior Health COVID-19 cases falling slower than the rest of B.C.

More than a third of provincial cases announced Thursday came from the Interior

A tent housing a mobile vaccination clinic. (Interior Health/Contributed)
Second dose vaccinations accelerating throughout region: Interior Health

To date, more than 675,000 doses have been administered throughout the region

Okanagan Lake (File photo)
Thompson-Okanagan ready to welcome back tourists

The Thompson-Okanagan Tourism Association expects this summer to be a busy one

Aerial view of a wildfire at 16 Mile, 11 kilometres northwest of Cache Creek, that started on the afternoon of June 15. (Photo credit: BC Wildfire Service)
Wildfire at 16 Mile now being held

Wildfire started on the afternoon of June 15 at 16 Mile, east of Highway 97

The Desert Daze Music Festival is doggone good fun, as shown in this photo from the 2019 festival, and it will be back in Spences Bridge this September. (Photo credit: Barbara Roden)
‘Best Little Fest in the West’ returning to Spences Bridge

Belated 10th anniversary Desert Daze festival going ahead with music, vendors, workshops, and more

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

The pilot of this single-engine propeller plane was unhurt after crash-landing in a Como Road orchard Friday, June 18. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Plane crash lands into Grand Forks orchard, pilot injured

RCMP have secured the crash site, pending investigation by Transport Canada

A tenant walks in front of her home on Boundary Road on Friday, June 18, 2021 after it was destroyed by fire the night before in Chilliwack. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Family homeless after fire rips through Chilliwack house

Turtle rescued, no one seriously hurt following Boundary Road fire in Chilliwack

BC Ferries’ newest Island Class vessel is experiencing an issue with one of its thrusters off the Algerian coast. Photo courtesy
BC Ferries newest vessel having mechanical issues in Mediterranean

Island 4 will be repaired in Spain before crossing Atlantic

Wild rabbits are all over Chilliwack, but people often think they’re someone’s lost pet and try to ‘save’ them. But the owner of Chilliwack’s Reptile Room says good intentions can have bad consequences for wild animals. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Owner of Chilliwack’s Reptile Room asks people to leave wild animals in the wild

Amber Quiring says people who think they’re helping are actually doing more harm than good

Thousands of protesters make their way through the downtown core during a Black Lives Matter protest in Ottawa, Friday June 5, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
MPs’ study of systemic racism in policing concludes RCMP needs new model

Chair of the House public safety committee says it’s time for a reckoning on ‘quasi-military’ structure

A case filled with packages of boneless chicken breasts is shown in a grocery store Sunday, May 10, 2020, in southeast Denver. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-David Zalubowski
One million chickens euthanized during labour dispute at Quebec slaughterhouse

Premier says waste amounts to 13 per cent of the province’s chicken production thrown in the garbage

Premier of Manitoba Brian Pallister speaks at a news conference at the Manitoba Legislative Building in Winnipeg on Wednesday, April 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/David Lipnowski
Provincial leaders want more federal money for health care, plan to meet in fall

Premiers ask Ottawa to increase its share of overall health spending to 35 per cent from 22 per cent

Most Read