>> BRENNAN STORR
Ask almost anyone in Revelstoke about Holten House and they’ll immediately know where you’re referring to.
They may even know that the stately Queen Anne-style home, now Mustang Bed & Breakfast, turned 120 this year.
What you may not know is how the story of Holten House intersects with that of most-wanted American fugitive Craven Edward Silcott, who, in 1879, famously disappeared from history after robbing the US government of nearly two million (in today’s) dollars.
PHOTO from Mustang Bed & Breakfast’s Trip Advisor page.
JUST A SMALL-TOWN BOY
Before his fall from grace, Craven Silcott was a merchant and family man living in Youngsville, Ohio. In 1879, he threw his hat in the political ring, running as the Democratic candidate for Adams County Auditor in an election that was legendarily bitter and, according to a 1911 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine, bought and paid for by the Republican party. Silcott lost the prize but he came away with something just as valuable: insider connections. One of his greatest supporters during the election was Democratic congressman John P. Leedom. The two became such friends that when Leedom’s term in congress ended and he was named Sergeant-at-Arms of the House, he persuaded Silcott to join him in the capitol as his cashier and chief accountant.
In Washington, Silcott was disconnected from his family—his wife Mary, daughter Lyda, sons Jim and Eddie—and quickly found himself caught up in a fast-paced, high-maintenance life. He also picked up a mistress, Quebec native Louise Thibault, along the way. Silcott also became a regular at the horse track with his new friends.
It wasn’t long before his gambling debts piled up to the point of desperation. On November 30, 1889 Silcott pulled off the heist of the century, embezzling the entire congressional payroll from the House Bank—$75,000 at the time ($1.9 million adjusted for inflation). He fled Washington with Ms. Thibault.
REALLY A SWELL GUY
He left behind not only his now-penniless family but his poor friend John Leedom, the man who appointed him in the first place. The breach of trust left Leedom disgraced and a pariah in Washington. Meanwhile, rumors ran wild. Some said Silcott had been led astray by his French-Canadian paramour and was holed up in a Montreal boarding house. Others said he escaped to Mexico. The truth came out in January 1890 when a reporter from the New York Herald located Silcott at the home of Louise Thibault’s parents in Terrebonne, Quebec.
Silcott blamed the racetrack for his downfall. “It was to keep-up and be hale-fellow well-met with these same members of congress who now are running me down that I first went to the races,” he said. “My curse on the races! I wish to God I had never gone near them.”
Before ending the conversation, Silcott told the reporter, “The day will come when I will not appear as black as I am now painted.” That day never really came, and the final mention of Silcott on the public record was a single line in a Victoria newspaper, The British Colonist, published a month later: “Silcott the defaulting cashier of the U. S. House of Representatives is said to be somewhere on the [Howe] Sound or in British Columbia.”
There’s no official record of Silcott past this point. Within the next year his entire family relocated to New Westminster where, according to an 1891 census, they were lodging with—and had taken the name of—a hotel keeper named Charles Edwards, allegedly an Australian and former sea captain. Despite his casual acquaintance with the Silcott family in official documents (in the census Mary gave her relationship to the man as “lodger”) Edwards accompanied them when they relocated to Revelstoke in 1894, and stayed with them until his own death from influenza on May 6, 1897. A final indication that Silcott and “Edwards” were the same guy came in the form of the age on Edwards’ death certificate, which listed him as 58—the same age as the missing cashier. His tombstone (for Mr. “Edwards”) now rests at the Revelstoke cemetery.
Six months after his death, Silcott’s daughter Lyda Edwards married local businessman Charles Holten, who built the Holten House in her honor, and Craven Edward Silcott, who fell from grace—and then off the edge of the world—became part of its legend.