Hougen Group

The Mad Trapper

He was called the Mad Trapper of Rat River. There is no compelling evidence that he was mad. There is plenty of evidence that he wanted to be left alone. But when he wounded a Mountie, his days as a loner were over.

When Albert Johnson arrived in Fort McPherson on July 9, 1931, he refused to talk to anyone about anything except that he was going to trap on the upper Rat River. Later in the year, native trappers in the area complained to the RCMP that a strange white man was lifting their traps and hanging them in the trees.

On Boxing day, 1931, Constable Alfred King, of the Arctic Red River detachment, set out by dog team to investigate the complaint, and to see if Johnson had a license to trap. It took two days to reach the cabin, but Johnson wouldn't come out. So King travelled another 80 miles to Aklavik to pick up a search warrant.

King returned to the cabin with another constable and two native guides. As he approached the cabin, Johnson fired a shot through the door. The bullet struck King in the chest. Constable McDowell bundled King up on the sled and rushed him back to Aklavik in just over 20 hours. King survived.

On New Years Day, 1932, another posse headed by Constable Edgar Millen was sent to find and arrest the trapper. But Johnson was now on the run. During the month of January, Johnson and the posse came into frequent contact, but each time the trapper out-shot and out-foxed the posse on his way to freedom. On January 30th, Johnson and Millen met face to face in a bush-covered ravine. Millen was killed with a single bullet shot to the head.

Now the Mounties were determined to get their man. An even bigger posse headed by Inspector Eames, along with native trappers, army signal corpsman, and an aircraft piloted by Wop May, were involved in this incredible manhunt. They marvelled at the way he could elude the posse and survive in the incredible cold of a northern winter. They figured he was heading to Alaska. They eventually followed him to the Eagle River in the Yukon. Here, on the morning of February 17, the posse cornered Johnson.

They surrounded Johnson, who had piled snow around him in the middle of the river. Army signal corpsman Earl Hersey was wounded in the shootout which lasted less than half an hour.

Johnson now lay dead in the snow. He had taken 17 direct hits before he died. Albert Johnson took whatever secrets he had with him to his grave in the little cemetery in Aklavik.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin

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SS Baychimo

Al Oster has written a lot of story songs about the Yukon. One that doesn’t get as much attention as it deserves is about the Ghost ship of the Arctic. It was called the SS Baychimo.

Back in the 1920s, the Arctic coast especially around Herschel Island in the Yukon was an active place. The Hudson Bay company operated outposts where furs were traded and then shipped south on ocean going vessels.

The SS Baychimo was first based in Scotland and completed nine successful voyages along the north coast of Canada, visiting trading posts in the east and collecting pelts.

Then she was based in Vancouver. The steel hull single stack ship was about the length of the SS Klondike. The Baychimo, played a key role in opening the North but was abandoned in 1931 after becoming trapped in ice in the Beaufort Sea, forcing an Arctic air rescue of its 39 man crew. They were certain that the ship that was loaded with furs from the northern coastal communities, would sink.

But the Baychimo became free of the ice and for years drifted back and forth in the western Arctic Ocean. In 1932, explorer Leslie Melvin saw the ghost ship floating along the coast as he made his way by dogsled from Herschel Island in the Yukon to Alaska. Explorers, scientists and hunters reported many sightings after the second world war. At times, the ghost ship was boarded by curious Inuit hunters. They often wanted to salvage the ship but it proved impossible. Remarkably, the deserted ship stayed afloat for at least 38 years.

Finally, in 1969, as the U.S. oil tanker Manhattan crossed the Northwest Passage, a group of Inuit said they saw the Baychimo floating between Point Barrow and Icy Cape, Alaska. It was the last time anyone claimed to have seen the deserted vessel.

Now, many years after the Baychimo was left to the notions of nature, a team of scientists from the University of Alaska is charting the estimated four thousand sunken ships along the Alaskan shore for a marine heritage preservation program. A sea floor survey of shipwrecks could identify the final resting place of the fabled ghost ship of the arctic if it has actually succumbed to an icy grave.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin

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