Book Review: Lord Don’t Want Me Devil Won’t Take Me, The Life and Times of a Tsawwassen Legend

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Lord Don’t Want Me Devil Won’t Take Me, The Life and Times of a Tsawwassen Legend, recounts the life and crimes of Pansy May Stuttard. Tsawwassen historians Jim Dwight and Gary Cullen have gathered extensive family memorabilia, newspaper articles, photos and verbal accounts to create a portrait of a woman fiercely devoted to breaking the law.

Previous tales of Pansy May have been marked by inaccuracies. Not so with the meticulous research of Dwight and Cullen. And they haven’t confined themselves to just one crook’s life. Sketches of other characters from Tsawwassen and Point Roberts flesh out this journey back to the first half of the last century.

Pansy May Stuttard was born in New York state in 1873, just eight years after the end of the civil war. At 16, she began work as a stenographer but was soon laying the foundation for a more lucrative future.

In 1895, she opened her first brothel. With her husband as accomplice, it wasn’t long til they were caught. He spent one year in jail, she spent five, an inequity fueled by the lawyerly notion that those extra years in prison would keep her off the streets and she would be “bettered.”

Thus provoked, Pansy May ramped it up and on her death at 89, she could look back on a career of prostitution, procuring, robbing, shooting, bootlegging – with a side of arson. Three times she set fire to a neighbor’s home, to settle a score.

By 1905, the madam was running from the law again, and made her escape to Canada. She eventually landed in Vancouver and opened a brothel in the red light district. When US prohibition began in 1920, Pansy’s smelled new opportunity.

With unerring instinct, she moved to Tsawwassen to get as close to the U.S. border as possible. At the south end of English Bluff Drive, next to Point Roberts’ Monument Park, she built a 150-foot long “lodge” with 16 rooms. Woods shrouded her “House of Disrepute, where you could get anything you wanted,” in those days, providing cover for her brothel and for the cable tram that ran from her house down to the bottom of the cliff.

“A sizeable cable, used for hauling booze up or down the bluff was fastened to an upright log on the beach just below Pansy’s property,” the book reads. 

While this is chiefly the saga of Pansy May, the authors touch on other legends, including the Reifel family, of bird sanctuary fame. Their earlier “fame” was due to bootlegging of an altogether higher magnitude.

“The Reifels were amongst the largest brewery owners in British Columbia and also the largest of the rum runners.”

Reports were they “indirectly shipped liquor worth over ten million dollars into the US during prohibition.” Though the Reifels were fined over 17 million dollars by U.S. officials, only half a million was ever paid.

When prohibition ended in 1933, taverns began to appear in Point Roberts, and Pansy moved her establishment to today’s location of Fred Gingell Park on English Bluff Drive. The authors have researched a trove of gossipy stories of the Point, and the photos and newspaper articles bring them to life.

In June, 1934, a report in Vancouver’s Province newspaper told of 5,000 Canadians descending on the taverns of Point Roberts, leading to the chaos that led to the construction of our first, two-room jail. My favorite photo, also from 1934, is of a cramped tent propped up by roughly-hewn tree boughs. The first U.S. Customs office.

In Dwight and Cullen’s view, Pansy May’s life was more reflective of a man’s. Few women of her time were this self-sufficient, few so shrewd in business. “She was a survivor in what was very much a man’s world.”

Though unencumbered by a moral code, she is described somewhat fondly by the authors, with anecdotes of those who spoke kindly of “Pistol Packin’ Pansy.” The outlaw loved dogs.

A “vibrant, free-wheeling, roughneck,” she would be satisfied, I think, with this colorful and accurate account of her life. “Lord don’t want me, devil won’t take me,” are Pansy May’s own words and are clues, perhaps, to a prescient self-awareness.

“Lord Don’t Want Me, Devil Won’t Take Me” is available online through blurb.com or blurb.ca and Black Bond Books in Ladner. All profits from this book go to the Delta Heritage Society.

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