The RCMP Hunt for the Mad Trapper

(Listen to Wop speaking about the Mad Trapper story in 1952)

Jack Bowen, Frank Riddell and Wop MayMany stories & books have been written about the Mad Trapper, some fictional accounts, others where the author has gone into more detail. There was one incredibly bad movie which defamed the characters involved. One of the frustrations I have is that authors tend to look at other works and repeat mistakes they made – a good check is the spelling of Wilfrid May – if it’s spelled Wilfred – then it’s wrong. In the case of the Mad Trapper episode one of the special RCMP constables was Lazarus Sittichinli – most authors have called him Sittichliulis in error. I had the opportunity to meet Lazarus & his wife at Aklavik in 1978 – a great man.

I would recommend the book “The Mad Trapper of Rat River” by Dick North as the best. Two other authors have written good historical accounts as well – Thomas P. Kelly wrote “Rat River Trapper” and Frank W. Anderson has two books published with the title “The Death of Albert Johnson” – these two books have great photos.

Shootout from the air Mackenzie Mountains Shootout from the air

Another source of information is the web-site of the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals – their’s is a wonderful story – the web-site address is: – this address will take you directly to the story on their involvement with the search for the Mad Trapper.

Cabin destroyedI think rather than try and re-write the story (and risk creating more errors) I’ll put in the story my Dad told to the 12th Calgary Boy Scout Troop at their Father & Son Banquet on February 19, 1952. Fortunately, one of Scouters made a tape of his talk and gave it to me a couple of months later, after my Dad’s funeral. Here is the story as he told it.

 “Finally, I was called to go up and take part in the search. The first thing I had to do was to get them supplied with dog food, dried fish and then get their food stocks up. Where they had the camp at that time it was on top of a bald headed mountain, well there were no trees there, anyway, it was more or less bare land. The district they were in was just east of the Yukon border. We got them all supplied and then started to try to find, to track Johnson down , to try to find him. It was very hard to see as there was no sun if you know what the light is like with no visibility and no sun, you can’t see anything, everything is white and it was very hard to pick up anything, you couldn’t pick up his tracks, although we did see some of his tracks, very few of them. His tracks could be seen in one place tonight and then tomorrow morning they would be seen 20 or 30 miles away. He travelled that distance in one night, sometimes he would go straight as a die. Anyway, we looked and looked and we flew low over every inch of the country that he could be, we were hoping he would fire at us, he wouldn’t have hit us anyway, but we wanted him to disclose his position, but he was too wise for that, he wouldn’t do it.

 Plane at 50 belowFinally it was just the time that the sun came up, the first day, I think, the sun appeared and it was shining on this mountain that was behind where we were working towards the Yukon which is the range of mountains which is the Yukon and N.W.T. boundary and the sun just hit the mountain and it would show up very clearly then and I just happened to get a glimpse of what I thought was a track going over the pass of this mountain. I went in closer to get a better look at it and sure enough it was a snowshoe trail. I went over the other side, on the Yukon side about 75 or 100 miles. We were now on the Yukon into La Pierre House.

 La Pierre House was a place that in the olden days it used to take eight years to get supplies in to La Pierre House and get the furs back. Today you could do it in about 8 hours, you could certainly do it in 8 days by regular methods now. Quite a historic place. He had been there but when he crossed the Yukon the snow was much deeper than it was on the N.W.T. side. The snow over there is packed hard and you could walk on it very easily except when you got into sheltered places. Over there he had a hard time and he was slowing down ,you could see where he was slowing down from his tracks, from the stops his made and from his tracks, he was not going straight.

 Mad Trapper GraveWe got the dog teams and the police moved over to La Pierre House. Then at that time I went out scouting again to try and pick up his tracks. I did pick up one set of tracks. He was fooling us actually, I’ll tell you about this, he was using the Caribou trail, running along the centre of the river, the Caribou are by the hundreds of thousands there and when they start making a trail and going someplace it’s just like pigs, they have a regular sidewalk. He had taken his snowshoes off and was following this Caribou trail so that we couldn’t trace him, track him. I did notice though that one place he had gone up to camp at the side of the river. He was then on the Eagle River. I gave the location to the Dog Team then Inspector Eames and he took a short cut and the next morning we were after him. They left early in the morning and I could not get out as early as I wanted to because of the fog.

Mad TrapperActually we all met at the same place. I was up overhead when Alex Eames was coming round the bend of the river and Johnson was in the middle of the river. He tried to run up the bank to get out of his way, he didn’t have his snowshoes on, he couldn’t make it so he came back into the centre of the river, dug himself into the snow and the fight started. We were up on top and circling, watching the fight and taking pictures of it. I then saw, during the fight, that one man was hit, he was laying by his dog team and he had been hit so I came around the bend of the river and came up to him and picked him up and started back home. He was badly hit. That was a chap named Hersey. He was kneeling when he was firing – it came through his elbow, out his elbow, through his knee, out his knee and in his arm, out his arm, just missed his heart, went right through him and the bullet was lodged just under his arm at the back. He was in bad shape and the blood was just spurtin’ out and there was nothing we could do for him  but get him in the aircraft and get him back to Aklavik where there was a hospital and a Doctor. We got him back there, but going through, as we hit the mountains there was a very heavy snow storm . If I hadn’t have known, if I hadn’t have been through there probably about a hundred times I wouldn’t have known I’d  have never got through because I knew practically every stone, every turn in that pass and I was fortunate enough, with the help I was telling you about (God) to get through to Aklavik, and the Doctor said if we had been fifteen minutes later that Hersey would have died.

Mad Trapper GraveWell, that was it, we went back then and we picked up the some of the police and picked up Johnson and brought him back to Aklavik. They never found out who this chap Johnson was, whatever his name was. He had about $2,400 in cash on him, he some pearls with him, he had a lot of gold teeth that he’d  knocked the teeth out of out and kept the gold the bridge work, and he had a lot of pearls and a lot of fine gold too. Nothing was ever found out about the man, so they just buried him. at Aklavik.”

 One of the Scouts asked how many times he had been shot – he replied,“The last time I looked at him he about fifteen or twenty bullet holes in him. We’ve got one of them at home, haven’t we?” (the last question was directed to me – DM).