A Northern Adventure - The Mad Trapper of Rat River
This saga of the "Mad Trapper of Rat River" is an extract from the October 1948 Notes of Interest - The Northwest Territories and Yukon Radio System. It was prepared for exhibition in the Communications and Electronics Museum during the early 1960s and all footnotes reflect the ranks and occupations of the participants at the time of preparation of this manuscript.
A NORTHERN ADVENTURE
This narrative was extracted from the October 1948 number of "Notes of Interest - The Northwest Territories and Yukon Radio System" a publication issued by the Command Signal Officer, Western Command Headquarters, Edmonton. Alta. In his introduction to the narrative, Maj. F.J. McCauley, now Officer Commanding the Northwest Territories and Yukon Radio System, states:
"Every member of the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals has, at one time or another, heard at least one version of "The Mad Trapper of Rat River". The following version of this story is taken in its entirety from the report rendered by Sgt Maj. (WO l) (1) "Nash" Neary, who was at that time the Warrant Officer in charge of the Royal Canadian Signals Radio Station at Aklavik. During the absence of QMS (2) Riddell and Staff Sgt (3) Hersey on police duty, the whole work of the station was taken over by Sgt. Maj. Neary, and while this might not have been so arduous a task in the summer time, in Winter it must have been a heart-breaking job."
- (1). Now Lt. Col. I. Neary, Retired.
- (2). Now R.F. Riddell, MBE, of the Canadian Signals Research and Development Establishment, Ottawa.
- (3). Now Maj. E.F. Hersey, Officer Commanding the Quebec Command Signal Squadron.
- (Please note that the use of the present tense here refers to the time this was written - in the early 1960s.)
At 8 a.m. on New Year's morning, 1932, Constable McDowell, of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, arrived in Aklavik bringing with him Constable King, who had been shot by a trapper from a cabin on the Rat River.
The natives of Fort McPherson who trap and hunt in and around the Rat River had reported that their traps had been sprung, hung on bushes, and in some cases, thrown away. These natives had had previous experience of this nature when some trapper had become a victim of the northern solitudes and had lost his reason. Therefore, they tarried not on the order of their going, but cleared out immediately. They later reported to the RCMP, and suspicion pointed to Albert Johnson, a trapper who lived in a cabin about 12 miles up the Rat River. It was understood that he was trapping without a licence. So, shortly after Christmas, Constable King left for the Rat River to question him on these two items. On arrival at Johnson's cabin he received no reply to his knocking, nor could he gain admittance, though he knew Johnson was within, King, accompanied by his native guide, then left for Aklavik to secure a search warrant. The warrant having been obtained, he again headed for the cabin, this time accompanied by Constable McDowell and two natives.
On arrival, King approached the door and, with his back to the wall of the cabin, leaned over and knocked upon the door with the back of his left hand. The only reply was a shot from within which entered his chest, travelling across the body and out through his ribs on his right side. Constable McDowell then went to the assistance of his wounded comrade and making him as comfortable as possible, loaded him in the carry-all of the toboggan and started a race to Aklavik for medical attention.
Perseverance and dogged determination are clearly exemplified in this dash to Aklavik. Leaving the vicinity of Johnson's cabin at noon, travelling during weather which was extremely cold with strong winds, having to break trail most of the way, easing the toboggan with its precious load over numerous portages and letting it down as carefully as possible over 80 miles, and arriving by 8 a.m. the following morning, was certainly a commendable feat.
On arrival at Aklavik, Constable King was immediately attended by Doctor Urquhart. It was then discovered he had been shot with a jacketed bullet, thought to be a .38 automatic, which fortunately had missed everything vital. The care and attention received, aided by his own splendid condition, enabled King to be up and around again in three weeks' time.
ANOTHER PARTY SETS OUT
This meant that Johnson was now wanted on a further charge and Inspector Eames, RCMP, requested the Royal Canadian Signals personnel at Aklavik to broadcast a request to Constable Millen at Arctic Red River for him to report at once at the mouth of the Rat River. Meantime, the Inspector had been preparing supplies, etc., to take another party out, and this party, consisting of the Inspector, Constable McDowell, Trappers Lang, Garland and Sutherland, accompanied by two native guides, left Aklavik for the Rat River. Enroute, they picked up some dynamite in the hope of being able to blow a hole in Johnson's cabin should he refuse to come out. Constable Millen, having received the message, was awaiting them at the mouth of the Rat River.
Preferring to arrive at Johnson's cabin from above, and following the lead of a native who led them astray, two days were lost, the native leading them in a triangle around the cabin all the time, telling them "cabin only four miles." They made camp and started over the mountain on foot, travelling a distance or 14 miles before sighting the cabin. Trappers Garland and Lang circled the cabin and ascertained that Johnson was still there but, being on foot and having no supplies, they were forced to return the 14 miles to their base. Early next morning, the camp was moved closer and operations to entice Johnson to come out of his cabin were commenced. The only reply received was rifle fire from the cabin, which was apparently loopholed at all angles.
A glimpse at the interior showed that the cabin had been dug out to a depth of about two or three feet. It was quite small, the roof well-packed with earth about one foot in depth, and a small window about a foot and a half by three feet. Later examination showed that the base of the cabin had a double row of logs and earth packed in between it. Thus nature, freezing the earth, substituted frozen earth for concrete, the cabin presenting a veritable "pillbox". For 15 hours, during which the entire party had many narrow escapes, many attempts were made to have Johnson come out but without success, and the charges of dynamite being poorly prepared and unconfined, proved ineffectual. Supplies and dog feed, having run out, the party was forced to return to Aklavik.
The RC Signals broadcast station was again pressed into service and a request sent asking Dodman of the Hudson's Bay Company at Arctic Red River to keep operations moving with dried fish up to the mouth of the Red. A call was sent out asking for volunteers and, the National Defence authority had been obtained. QMS Riddell who has an enviable reputation in the north country as a hunter, traveller, etc., and Staff Sgt Hersey of the RC Signals, were gladly accepted by Inspector Eames.
"GOOSE EGGS" ARE MADE
Preparation for this expenditure was going ahead quickly, and QMS Riddell again brought his ingenuity into practice in making what he termed "goose eggs." The engine cylinders of an old outboard motor were filled with gun powder, a half-minute fuse with a length inserted to be cut as required, was fed up through the intake port and then passed through a hole which had been drilled in the cylinder wall. The gun powder was forced into a compact mass and a two inch bolt passed through the cylinder head and then welded.
Thus, were the goose eggs created. Next some lengths 1½ and 2 inch pipe were cut about 15 inches long, holes drilled on a bias in the centre, the fuse fit snugly, a tin guard fitted along the side to protect the last half-foot of fuse, the whole filled with gun powder the ends squeezed tightly together and knitted and, to make certain of a burst, lead then poured in. Another inspiration was the filling of empty beer bottles with a mixture of gun powder and sulphur. After a fuse had been inserted, the tops of the bottles were tightly sealed and the bottles were then completely wrapped with electrician's tape, the idea of this being that if a hole could be blown in the cabin they could be heaved in to smoke the fugitive out.
It was considered communication for the base party with Aklavik would be of real value in obtaining additional supplies, further aid, or the doctor, if necessary. Signals personnel at Aklavik got busy on this and constructed a low-power transmitter to work around the amateur band using the Ever-Ready 108 field battery, and a 2l0B tube. A receiver to use the same battery was also devised, working on 55 and the broadcast band with dry cells as filament supply for both. These were tested satisfactorily but the biggest job was to secure everything as compact as possible for the rough riding in toboggans, so that it would not fall apart when going over rough portages.
At 2 a.m. on January 16th, Inspector Eames had everything ready, and at 9 a.m. that morning the party, consisting of Inspector Eames, Constable Millen, QMS Riddell, Staff Sgt Hersey, civilians Garland, Noel, Verville and Carmichael were on their way.
On January 18th, having given the party in the hills time to reach their base, Aklavik Radio Station commenced schedules, calling them at 7,8, 9, and 10 p.m., listening the first ten minutes and calling the next with plenty of time to get signals synchronized. VEF Aklavik called them nightly on 55 meters and nothing was heard, so all available information was passed along on the broadcast.
On January 23rd, Inspector Eames, Hersey and Carmichael returned to Aklavik at 6 p.m. They reported that Johnson had left his cabin and that high winds and drifting snows had erased any trail he left. Natives had been used in the capacity of trackers, but had proved useless and their only ability appeared to be in eating the party out of supplies. Here one must remember that the native is very superstitious, and searching for a "bad white man" -- well, it was not exactly the same as hunting caribou. They had, therefore, been shooed off home and returned with the three men mentioned above. Hersey said that owing to Johnson having left his cabin, they were away from base from daylight until dark, to pick up his trail, and for this reason many schedules were missed. This also meant no fire in camp for long periods and the freezing batteries. Then location was poor for short wave, being situated in a deep chasm but when batteries had been thawed out, although the variation in signal strength was great, they had been able to copy every transmission.
On January 28th, with a temperature of 47 below and a slight headwind, Hersey and a native, each with a heavy load of supplies, set out for the base now located "somewhere on the Rat River."
The following day it was 49 below, again with wind, and on Saturday, the 30th, when they passed the old base site, it was 36 below. They continued a further 25 miles up the Rat to the new camp established by the four who had remained behind.
In the meantime, Riddell, Millen, Garland and Verville had roamed and combed the timber along the Rat during every minute of daylight, trying to find some trace of Johnson. They found two caches, one containing about half-a-ton of grub. These were left untouched as a possible bait, and examined daily through field glasses in the hope that he would endeavour to reach them and thus leave a trail -but no luck. The party was now out of dog-feed and their supplies consisted of a little tea, hard tack and bacon only. They had been working in pairs, joining up at dusk on their way back to the base. While waiting for the tea to boil, Riddell went wandering around and coming upon a faint trail crossing glare ice followed it to the top of ridge where he lost it. He circled for a while and came across it again in a small creek. It appeared to be one or two days old so he returned to notify the others. Next morning the party set off on this trail, but as it was over hard, windswept ground, it was often lost and picked up again only in the sheltered spots. Thus they traced him through two or three old camps before finally losing the trail altogether.
Verville and Riddell now headed in one direction and Millen and Garland in another. By this time, Johnson's habits had become fairly well known to them, that is, he was slowly but surely heading in the direction of the Divide. He never crossed a creek unless on glare ice. Invariably, he travelled the ridges which were hard-packed and where the slightest wind erased his tracks. At times he even used his pursuers' trail. When he was ready to camp he would strike a creek at the head, continue down it until he reached timber and having selected his camping place, would continue on in a circle, back-tracking far enough so he could watch and see anyone on his trail without being seen himself.
The party was forced to extend and travel continually in half circles, trying to pick up his trail, and it was thus that Riddell and Verville came upon a fresh trail leading up a small creek heading for the "Bald" Hills. Here and there they came upon old quarters of caribou, and reasoned he was short of grub and was away in search of caribou. They divided, one on each side of the trail, fully expecting to meet him returning, but after following the trail for some few miles, it became obvious that he was making a huge circle and heading in the general direction of his starting point.
They then cut across the hills and picked up his trail again, only to lose it shortly afterwards. The half-circle method of travel had once more to be adopted in the hope of picking up the trail. Shortly afterwards, they came to a deep canyon and for the first time saw the smoke from his campfire. Expert musher, trapper and outdoor man, as Johnson proved to be, it is hardly necessary to say he was using only poplar and willows for his fire, thus carefully eliminating anything but a very thin haze of smoke. They drew level, and from the top of the canyon could see his fire and tarpaulin. While they could see these, though they watched carefully for two hours, they caught not the slightest sign of Johnson himself. Their travel had been strenuous and frost had gathered inside their fur clothing. With dusk coming on they were frozen out and forced to return to their camp.
Early Saturday morning, January 30th, they again started, in a severe blizzard, straight across the hillside to cover the eight miles to Johnson's camp. In figuring out the best way to approach, Riddell and Garland travelled some distance along the ridge, got down to the creek and took up a position about 15 or 20 yards from his camp.
From this position Riddell had a view of the side opening and part of his tarp, while Garland had a clear view of the fire, presumably without Johnson being aware of their presence. Verville and Millen, seeing the others settled, started off for other positions, but unfortunately one of them slipped, making considerable noise. Johnson was heard to check his rifle and cough but his definite position was not known. Verville got across an open spot but when Millen followed, Johnson fired. Verville replied but without having actually sighted Johnson. Johnson then moved for the first time, across his fire and at the same time, crossing Garland's sights. Garland fired.
For two hours no sound or sign was noticed in Johnson's camp. Garland thought he had hit him and it was decided to approach. Verville went back to his original position about 60 feet away and with an advantage in height. The others extended under a cut bank about 25 yards from the camp. Riddell was easing his way along the ridge when he noticed something queer and in making for the cover of a heavy spruce to take a closer look, a shot whistled by his head. Verville could not see where this had come from, and Riddell, yelling "look out", took a flying dive, hit the top of the bank, and slid over in the deep snow out of sight.
CONSTABLE MILLEN IS KILLED
Millen, in Riddell's rear, having spotted where Johnson was, dropped to one knee and fired twice; Johnson replied with three shots, and on the third Millen spun around and standing erect immediately fell upon his face. Riddell, having worked his way to a new position, now found that what he at first thought to look queer was the end of Johnson's rifle protruding from a mound of some kind. The three opened fire on this and Johnson withdrew his rifle. The question now was to reach Millen and find out how badly he had been hit. Riddell took up a position from where he could fire every time the muzzle of Johnson's rifle showed. While Verville and Garland went to Millen, Riddell's shots forced Johnson to keep his rifle under and he was unable to fire. Being afraid Millen would freeze to death if wounded and left where he had fallen, he was half carried and half dragged under the cover of the cut bank. Here he was closely examined and found to be dead.
Spasmodic firing was continued until dusk with no apparent results. At this time, Millen's rifle was retrieved and, it being dark with every advantage in Johnson's favour, they were forced to return to their base.
Meanwhile, Hersey had returned with supplies, and the native accompanying him, on hearing the report, immediately made off into the bush and stayed there. With the exception of Hersey, the party was in bad shape. Weather conditions had been miserable and the fact of their having to stick to the trail made their duffells practically useless through dampness. Their bed rolls and clothing were in the same state. They had been on the go continually since January 16th and it was quite apparent that they needed a short period of rest, sufficient at least to get things dried out. Their radio equipment was 25 miles away, and having been away from it so long, the batteries would be frozen and it would therefore be useless.
After a meal, Riddell hitched up his team, and with a native who had selected the best of his own and Millen's dogs, started for Aklavik. This run was another record; Riddell covered over 100 miles in bad weather, across country where there is 40 miles of bad trail to every 15 miles of good and at a time immediately following a blizzard when the trail was blown clear in spots and completely buried in others, and reached Aklavik in 20 hours.
On February 2nd, everything was ready for another start from Aklavik. A north wind, travelling between 30 and 45 miles per hour, made it impossible to see further than 100 feet ahead; nevertheless the party left Aklavik at noon. At 6:30 p.m. on this date, the radio station picked up the Edmonton Journal station announcing that a plane was being sent to assist in the search. Inspector Eames badly wanted this information before leaving but could not afford to wait. While carrying out the usual Tuesday evening broadcast programme from Aklavik, a request was sent out to Blake at the Husky River, or anyone at Fort McPherson, to send a team to meet the Inspector at the Rat and give him this information. Shortly after this, Jack Parsons came in and thinking he could catch the party before they left Lang's place, hitched up and started at once. His intention was to carry on until he caught up with them, so it was not certain the Inspector would get the information. The radio station next received a request from the Canadian Airways asking them to call Good Hope to have two barrels of gasoline down at the best landing place on the river. When one considers the extreme cold weather and the fact that the engine of the plane failed, resulting in a further loss of time, the value of the radio here is readily apparent.
On February 4th, it being considered that Riddell should have now reached his base, Aklavik radio station opened the usual schedules with him, sending progress of the plane, etc. This was sent blind and no answer was received. Meantime, six white men had arrived in Aklavik in answer to the call broadcast for volunteers, and were standing by awaiting the Inspector's instructions.
PLANE PICKS UP TRAILS
The plane arrived at Aklavik on February 6th and this information was immediately transmitted to the party on trail. Next day the plane took off about noon, in dull and foggy weather, made contact with some of the base party and landed Constable Carter, who had come in from the outside to report to Inspector Eames. The plane, having picked up trails which gave the impression Johnson was now legging it for all he was worth, was able to give the base party some valuable information. In the evening Aklavik called on the usual schedules, giving them the information regarding the tracks and also instructions to move the base up about 12 miles to the "out" camp. Inspector Eames and Riddell were to meet the plane at the same place as it had landed that day. For the first time, Riddell remained in Camp the entire day and apparently was not idle. He had worked with the transmitter, altered the aerial from a "Zepp" to a "Hertzian," and on his first call with this new aerial, Aklavik heard him with a steady R-6 note. He acknowledged all information, but on replying, was found very difficult to copy, signals being weak and fading very bad. However, communication had been established and the pilot had the satisfaction of knowing his information was received and he could not be certain of establishing contact with the Inspector.
The plane took off from Aklavik at 10:30 a.m. the next day and on his return, the pilot reported he had landed and met the party waiting for him. He took Riddell up, showing him the trails and where they seemingly ended abruptly. A closer examination disclosed a faint trail at the head of the Barrier River circling to the right and ending in some timber along the river, from where a distinct trail could be seen joining Johnson's old trail.
There being no detailed maps of the country, we will endeavour to describe what happened. From the party's camp, the Barrier River runs parallel with the Divide (the mountains between the NWT and the Yukon), its head being about 12 miles up from their camp. Having worked clear of the canyon and a small patch of timber which the party of four were searching when the plane first came over, Johnson had travelled on the bald tundra for a while, until he hit the next creek, going down this till he reached the Barrier River, then heading straight up. Reaching the head of the river, he again took to the tundra and hard packed snow, circled back on his trail till he came to a small draw and some sparse timber where he camped for a time; he then headed back to his old trail, and doubling this for a while, he travelled up a creek leading to the Divide, and going on up to the head, he parallel with the mountains and his old trail and headed down another creek to strike his old trail again on the Barrier River, about four miles from above his pursuer's camp. Before doing this, he had evidently climbed to a high ridge and looked things over very carefully. Once on his old trail again, he travelled up the Barrier, and branching off up another creek, this time continuing through a pass which was practically all glare ice, he headed down to the Bell River on the Yukon side.
It is only a surmise, but it appears very likely that what he had been endeavouring to do was to get back to timber and possibly his cache, expecting to have circled around the search party. Coming out where he did, leads one to believe that possibly he heard the dogs, or may even have seen the smoke and then finding himself cut off, made a desperate attempt to get over the Divide.
Owing to high winds, the plane could not take off on Tuesday, February 9th. On Wednesday the pilot tried to land in the hills, but terrific winds which swept the snow to a height of a thousand feet made this impossible, and he was forced to return to Aklavik. He made a further attempt to get in with supplies in the afternoon but was again unsuccessful, and was forced to land these supplies at the mouth of the Rat.
Thursday, February 11th, was fairly clear but high winds in the hills made landing on a pinnacle near the party's camp impossible, though this was attempted several times. Meantime, the ground party had pieced Johnson's trails together bit by bit, and since high winds had blown the hard-packed snow clear in many places, the difficulty of this job will be appreciated. Constable May from Old Crow, two civilians from La Pierre House, plus three natives, had now joined the party. It was not practicable to maintain such a large party in this country under the conditions existing, and Inspector Eames was forced to reduce his numbers as he intended, as soon as further supplies could be brought into him, to go over the Divide.
On February 12th, some of the party met the plane at the mouth of the Rat River. While discussing their plans a team arrived from above and reported an Indian (Peter Alexi) had arrived from La Pierre House, having travelled 130 miles without a break. He reported a strange trail on the Bell River, which one of the guides returning from the Yukon River then identified as Johnson's. On receipt of this information, arrangements were speedily completed for the party from the Yukon. accompanied by Staff Sgt Hersey. Trappers Joe Verville (just brought in by plane to replace his brother Noel who had a severe cold), Peter and a native named Lazarus, to go over the Rat River Portage with dog teams to La Pierre House. Inspector Eames, Riddell and Garland came back to Aklavik by plane for further supplies before going to La Pierre House. which they intended to reach by plane in an attempt to intercept Johnson.
The plane left Aklavik on Sunday, February 13th, and arrived at La Pierre House at noon on the same day. The trail was examined both from the plane and the ground and, because Johnson's snowshoes were home-made and had various peculiar features, the trail was identified as his beyond doubt. Due to the high winds, glacier-like terrain and the fact that the tundra was absolutely clear of snow in places, his route over the Divide could not be located to within a few hundred yards. He had certainly crossed the highest pinnacle, going over at about 9,000 to 10.000 feet, and his trail was picked up in the gently sloping hillsides leading down into the Bell River.
Having crossed the Divide, conditions of travel were now totally different. Formerly the snow had been hard and all traces of trail obliterated by high winds. It was now found that the snow was very deep and soft with little evidence of much wind during the winter. Except for places where he had taken off his snowshoes and travelled on foot, in the tracks of a large herd of caribou, Johnson's trail could be followed as he struck the Bell River and passed within a mile and a half of La Pierre House.
On Sunday, February 14, visibility was good for about an hour only, but during this time, the plane was able to follow his trail for about 20 miles up the Bell River before losing it in the maze of caribou tracks in the proximity of Eagle River.
On Monday, the trail was bad, due to deep soft snow, but good progress was made by being able to make the portages instead of having to follow the river, and so considerable distance was saved. The party who had crossed the Divide arrived at La Pierre House at noon, having made the trip in about three days. They carried ten days' provisions for men and dogs, which constituted quite heavy loads. They immediately headed up the Belt and joined the other party. In the meantime, the pilot had returned to Aklavik for refuelling and to bring spare gasoline.
The ground party, having successfully picked up Johnson's trail here and there amongst the caribou tracks, were now headed up the Eagle River and judging Johnson's trail to be about one and a half days old, had camped early for the night, preparatory to an early start and a long day's travel on Wednesday.
About 10:30 or 11 a.m. on Wednesday, February 17th, shortly after the teams had overtaken the Inspector, Riddell and Garland, travelling on foot had, owing to the deep snow, been able to keep ahead of the teams until they reached a point where snow was packed by large herds of caribou crossing and travelling along the river. They had just rejoined the teams and had erected another marker to guide the plane when they noticed Hersey grab his rifle from the toboggan and dash for the opposite side of the river.
Hersey, driving the first team, when rounding another bend in the river had spotted a man shoving his feet into snowshoes. The latter immediately grabbed his rifle and hiding behind a point in the bend of the river, made for the cover of the timber. Thinking it must be Johnson, Hersey had grabbed his rifle as described, and the man being more or less hidden from view, explains why Hersey was making for the opposite bank. Joe Verville, driving the second team had joined Hersey, and the word having been flashed back that Johnson was right ahead, the party scattered for positions on each bank of the river, though none of them, other than Hersey, had yet viewed him.
Johnson opened fire and Hersey dropped to one knee in the centre of the River and returned his fire. Verville was close behind Hersey and also opened fire. This apparently made it too hot for Johnson and he was unable to reach the top of the bank and the timber. Hersey was seen to come up on his knee and topple over, and it was figured he had been hit. In the meantime, with the rest of the party coming up fast, Johnson tried to reach the opposite bank, when he suddenly dropped and burrowed in the deep snow. Many of the party were now abreast of him and called to him: "Surrender, Johnson, this is your last chance," but he made no answer and continued to fire and the party, all now being in position, replied with rifle fire and in a few minutes Johnson's fire ceased.
Joe Verville attended to Hersey, who, though conscious, was suffering considerably from his knee, where he had been hit. Verville did what he could for him and placed him in a sleeping bag to keep him from freezing.
As this last fight started, the plane came in sight. The pilot circled overhead, watching the shots; seeing no movement from Johnson, he swooped low and then signalled that everything looked finished. One of the ground party then advanced and found Johnson dead. He was identified by Garland as the man whom they fought in the cabin on the Rat; Garland was the only one present who had previously seen Johnson.
The plane, having seen Hersey go down, landed immediately the fight was over, and taxied within a few yards of him. Riddell and Frank Jackson, from La Pierre House, had reached Hersey in the meantime but there was nothing they could do for him. The pilot, Captain W.R. "Wop" May pulled out his medical kit and administered a sedative to ease Hersey's pain.
One reads many newspaper articles about the exploits of various flyers and it is regrettable that little or nothing is heard of the work performed by these Canadian aviators who fly through the worst weather conditions, and in many cases at a moment's notice, over Canada's Northland, In this case, the weather was thick, with visibility practically nil, and on looking towards the hills, nothing could be seen. Nevertheless, Captain May took off under these conditions to carry the wounded man to a doctor who was 125 miles away, and on the other side of the Divide. Heading in the general direction where he knew an opening in the hills to be, he succeeded in finding it, and 45 minutes after leaving Eagle River he had covered the 125 miles to Aklavik and had Hersey under the care of Dr. Urquhart, who was assisted by Nurses McCabe and Brownlee.
None of the party, not even Hersey himself, had any idea he had been hit other than in the knee. However, as he was undressed, it was found that the bullet had glanced off the knee, travelled up the left elbow, and continued up on into the chest. He suffered greatly from shock, but the next day Dr. Urquhart was able to report that he had located the bullet, just under the skin on the right side of Hersey's back. and that Hersey was somewhat improved.
It is considered that Hersey's prompt action prevented Johnson from gaining the top of the river bank and good cover. When joined by Joe Verville the fire of both had forced Johnson to try to make the opposite side of the river.
QMS Riddell again proved himself a man of the North country. It was he who time and time again, picked up Johnson's trail after it had been lost, and the endless miles he travelled in circles when doing this, can be best imagined.
Why the newspapers dubbed Johnson as "mad" and "demented" is hard to understand. Constable Millen and several white traders had spoken to him in Fort McPherson the previous summer, without noticing anything of this. After he shot King, he did not act in the way a madman would. Rather, he displayed all the craft and experience of a skilled trapper. To evade capture, he took the fullest advantage of his knowledge of the country and its climatic conditions. Time and again he had baffled men who had spent years in the country. When one considers that the livelihood of such men depends on their knowledge and skill, it will be seen that Johnson apparently had full control of all his faculties.
As happens in most cases of this nature, he made one mistake, and in the opinion of those who trailed him, it was his only mistake and was practically forced upon him. This was his decision to go over the Divide and into a valley of deep snow, where there was little or no wind and practically no small game, such as rabbits, ptarmigan, etc., on which he could subsist.