There was a lot more to Pansy May Stuttard than met the eye, authors Jim Dwight and Gary Cullen attest.
As the Delta-based writers document with loving attention, in their eminently readable biography Lord don’t want me, Devil won’t take me, she was a very colourful survivor of a colourful era.
Over the course of more than 80 years of hard living, the diminutive, grey-haired former White Rock resident had been a ‘blind pig’ (downmarket speakeasy) proprietor, a rumrunner and a brothel-keeper – most notably, from 1920 on, in the Tsawwassen area, where she was, and remains, a local legend.
Born Hulda May Miller in Oswego County, New York, in 1873, by the time she was in her early 20s she had already done five years in a reformatory in Rochester for being an inmate of a ‘disorderly house’ – before moving to Canada’s West Coast to seek other opportunities.
But while she had many run-ins with the law during her life, she also earned a hard-won ‘skipper’s licence’ – at a time when it was unheard-of for a woman to captain a ship – while operating a tugboat/freighter business with her second husband, Royal Navy veteran Rupert Stuttard.
“I see her as a combination of Tugboat Annie (heroine of a series of 1920s stories by Norman Reilly Raine) and Miss Kitty (in the radio and television series Gunsmoke),” Dwight told Peace Arch News.
“She was a survivor in a man’s world,” he added. “I think she had been used and abused by men early in her life, and at some point, she started to use that to her advantage.”
To her neighbours in White Rock, where she moved in 1957, Stuttard must – at first – have seemed the archetypal ‘granny’, living by herself in a small house on Fir Street.
They may have received a hint otherwise when in November of that year she was discovered at her home suffering from a blow to the head and a badly twisted leg, following a robbery in which two men reportedly made off with $25 in cash.
Stuttard had apparently been lying there for four days, and the person checking on her had called an ambulance, a priest and a hearse to the house, believing, at first sight, that she was dead.
According to a contemporary newspaper account, the 84-year-old declared she was very much alive and kicking and expected to live to be 100 – adding the memorable line that Dwight and Cullen appropriated for their title.
If that pithy phrase didn’t give staid and respectable residents of the newly-independent city pause, another report in the Vancouver Sun a month later, picked up by magazines and newspapers across Canada, must have.
It described a return visit one evening by one of the men, with two other accomplices, in which they tied her up and wrested away $15,000 in cash – a huge sum in 1957 – that she had concealed in her nightgown.
“The doughty grandmother slipped her bonds, chased after them with a shotgun and fired blasts up and down the darkened street but failed to halt the fleeing thugs,” the story stated.
“Police said friends had warned her repeatedly to put her money in a bank, but ‘she’s a real old pioneer type and she figured she could look after herself.’”
A follow-up story in the Sun on Jan. 3, 1958 said Stuttard had her considerable arsenal of firearms loaded and ready in case the robbers came back for the rest of her money, and dubbed her ‘Pistol-packin’ Pansy.’ Stuttard obligingly posed for a photo as she checked the chambers of one of her revolvers.
What the robbers may not have known about Stuttard, who finally passed away at age 89 at Cloverdale’s Scenic View Hospital in 1963, was just how infamous a character she was in her Tsawwassen days.
For many years, particularly during the US Prohibition era of 1919 to 1933, her sprawling cabin/compound the ‘Goat Ranch’, situated right up against – and possibly over, in those inexact times – the border with Point Roberts was the destination for fishermen, sailors, cannery workers and the more unruly segment of campers to buy booze and obtain services of other kinds.
As Dwight and Cullen describe in detail in their well-researched book, a series of men played continuing roles in the divorcee’s story, sometimes as friends and allies, sometimes as vengeful opponents in long-running feuds, sometimes as both.
And, according to their account, the feisty Stuttard wasn’t above brandishing a shotgun – or even practising arson – when others’ activities threatened to impinge on the ‘privacy’ of her operation.
Finally evicted from the Goat Ranch property in the mid-1930s – she had only ever been a renter – sheretired to a residence on English Bluff. When the property was bought by B.C. Electric (forerunner of BC Hydro) in 1954 Stuttard was offered an estimated $30,000, which she demanded, and received, in cash.
After living in the Sunnyside area of Surrey for a couple of years, she bought her White Rock house for $7,000, the book relates.
Lord don’t want me, Devil won’t take me is an auspicious writing and publishing debut for Dwight, a retired former circulation manager for the Buy and Sell and Cullen, who used to own a company which sold holograms all over the world.
Dwight said he first remembers learning about Stuttard from old Delta Optimist columns by Edgar Dunning; while Cullen said he was unaware of her history – even though he once used to live on land that was part of the ‘Goat Ranch’ property – until he learned about it from the Point Roberts Historical Society about 10 years ago.
They acknowledge their book is rare, from a local history perspective, in the range of background material and family photographs they were able to draw from.
“A few years ago I wrote a short story about her for the Delta Museum and Archives Society (now the Delta Heritage Society) which was published in local papers and online,” Cullen told Peace Arch News.
“Fortunately, a (Stuttard) relative in Banff saw the online article and contacted the Delta Archives to say she had Pansy May’s photo albums, scrapbooks and diaries,” he explained.
“So we hit the motherload!”
Lord don’t want me, Devil won’t take me is available at Black Bond Books or online, through www.blurb.ca