Famous cases, events and people
Important cases, events and people that have shaped the history of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
William A. Miner was a clever and successful "Gentleman Bandit" who continually eluded police both in the United States and Canada. On September 10, 1904, Miner and two accomplices, later identified as William "Shorty" Dunn and Louis Colquhoun, were involved in the first train robbery in Canada. A Canadian Pacific Railway car near Mission, British Columbia, was robbed of $7,000. The bandits were not caught, and managed a second CPR robbery near Kamloops, on May 8, 1906. On May 11, a team of Royal Northwest Mounted Police officers set out to capture the robbers who were innocently eating lunch when the police arrived. Dunn opened fire but the officers kept the threesome at bay. Dunn was wounded in the leg and the bandits were brought back to Kamloops for trial. Bill Miner was sentenced to 25 years in the New Westminster Penitentiary. In August 1907, he escaped and fled to the United States.
Bill Miner was a criminal for 48 years and in jail for 35 of them. He died from natural causes on September 2, 1913, at the age of 67. As a result of their success in capturing the renowned bandits, the Mounties made their mark on law enforcement in the West and their experience was highly valued in B.C. Bill Miner's bold attacks on the unpopular CPR made him a folk hero to many western Canadians. The award-winning Canadian film, The Grey Fox, is based on his career in Canada.
A man, claiming his name is Albert Johnson, encountered by RCMP Constable Edgar Millen at Fort McPherson in July 1931 claims he spent the previous year on the prairies and that he wants to live entirely alone. The following year, Millen is told that although generally surly, Johnson is particularly so with the Loucheux Natives who avoid the man who threatens and terrorizes them. When they complain that he is interfering with their traps, Millen sends Constables Alfred "Buns" King and Joseph Bernard to investigate.
They arrive at Johnson's cabin nearly a week later. When he refuses to answer them, they trek back to the post at Aklavik to find reinforcements and acquire a search warrant. With warrant in hand and Constable Lazarus Sittichiulis and Robert McDowell added to their party, they return to the cabin, and on December 31, 1931, are promptly greeted with a hail of fire. Constable King is severely wounded and the posse falls back. On January 9, 1932, Constables McDowell, Sittichiulis, Millen and Bernard, return with Inspector Alexander Eames, trappers Karl Garlund, Knud Lang and Earnest Sutherland, 42 dogs and 20 pounds of dynamite. A 15 hour siege follows but still, Johnson does not surrender. The men return to their post to restock their supplies. Twenty-one men, including 11 Loucheux Natives, return to the cabin on January 16, but this time Johnson has escaped, probably heading for the Alaskan border. With enough food to last them nine days, Millen, Riddell (a soldier), and two trappers, set out to find the elusive Johnson.
On January 30, the party discovers Johnson who kills Constable Millen. This only serves to intensify the Force's determination to catch the fugitive. With the help of an experienced young pilot, Wilfred "Wop" May, the RCMP uses the first plane to assist in the apprehension of a criminal. The team sets out on February 3, in pursuit of the criminal. The final shoot-out between the trapper, Albert Johnson, and the RCMP occurs on February 17, 1932, when a Royal Canadian Corps of Signals, Staff Sergeant H. F. Hersey, is injured and Johnson is killed. The Mounties "get their man."
On Johnson's person were found 32 kidney pills, $2,410 dollars in large bills, both Canadian and American (worth approximately $60,000 today), and two glass jars, one containing five pearls, and the other, seven gold pieces of dental work. He was also found with a .22 Winchester rifle, a model 99 Savage, a .30-30 rifle, 39 .30-30 ammunition shells, 84 .22 shells and four shotgun shells.
Who was this "mad trapper of rat river?" To this day no one has been able to prove who the man calling himself Albert Johnson really was and why he acted as he did. Many researchers have tried to solve the puzzle and one in particular, Dick North, has written several books. Even with his identity unknown, the RCMP, with the help of the first air search team, did a good job apprehending the man.
The North-West Mounted Police was formed in 1873, when Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald declared that the Canadian prairies needed a strong police force. The creation of this police presence was intended to solidify Canada's claim to the west, to improve relations with First Nations peoples, and to eliminate the illegal whisky trade that was all too common in the West. The first recruits of this new Force came from various parts of the country, forming six divisions who met at Fort Dufferin, Manitoba.
On July 8, 1874 this force of fewer than 300 men traveled westward from Fort Dufferin, covering a distance of fifteen hundred kilometers over the course of three months. They faced a great deal of hardship along the way, but when they reached their journey's end in what is now the province of Alberta, they set up camp, and began to build Fort Macleod. In the months that followed, the whiskey trade was smashed and lawlessness sharply declined. By 1875, the police had erected additional posts at Fort Saskatchewan, Fort Calgary and Fort Walsh. Law and order was firmly established on Canada's western frontier in a much less violent manner than in the United States.
From 1904 to 1921, it was an annual Royal Northwest Mounted Police tradition to make a trip from Dawson City, Yukon to Fort McPherson, Northwest Territories, approximately 620 miles, to deliver mail and dispatches. In December 1910, the Commissioner of the Force, Aylesworth Bowen Perry, asked instead that the trip be made from Fort McPherson to Dawson. The trip was to be led by Inspector Francis Joseph Fitzgerald. Accompanying him were Constable Richard O'Hara Taylor, Constable George Francis Kinney and their guide, Special Constable Sam Carter. The four set out from McPherson on December 21, 1910 but they never made it to Dawson. The trip became known as "The Lost Patrol."
Fitzgerald and his men left Fort McPherson, with fifteen dogs, three sleds and enough food for thirty days. The men felt no need to question whether they would reach their destination or not. They successfully completed the first leg of the journey and hired native Esau George to lead them through the next section. When he had completed his part of the trip, Fitzgerald let George go, trusting in Carter to lead them successfully to their destination. Unfortunately, Carter had been on only one patrol, in the opposite direction, and would soon prove to be an inefficient guide. By January 12, 1911, the patrol was lost for Carter was unable to find Forrest Creek which would lead them to Dawson. The team unsuccessfully travelled up and down several streams in search of the correct one. With only four days of regular rations remaining, Fitzgerald made a notation in his journal: "My last hope is gone...I should not have taken Carter's word that he knew the way from the Little Wind River." The following day, the patrol reversed their trail in the hopes of returning to Fort McPherson.
The trip back to McPherson proved to be difficult. Weak from lack of food and exhaustion, the team were able to walk only a few miles a day, sometimes not at all due to inclement weather conditions. Starving, frostbitten and ill, the patrol trekked on. Between January 19 and February 5, ten of the dogs were killed for food. February 5, 1911, day 47 of this fatal patrol, was the date of the last entry in Inspector Fitzgerald's diary.
In Dawson, the Fitzgerald patrol was more than a month late in reaching their destination. Anxiously, a relief patrol was sent to locate the Mounties. Accompanying Corporal William John Dempster were ex-Constable Frederick Turner, Constable Jerry Fyfe, and Charles Stewart, a Métis from Fort McPherson. They left Dawson on February 28, 1911. On March 21, the lost patrol was found, apparently on their way back to Fort McPherson. Kinney and Taylor were dead, side by side at an open camp, Kinney of starvation and Taylor of a fatal, self-inflicted bullet wound in his head. The next day, Fitzgerald and Carter were found. Having left the other two in search of help, they finally succumbed to the cold and hunger, just 40 kilometres away from Fort McPherson. They would never find help.
Why did this patrol fail? Although no single, conclusive answer can be given, several factors contributed. Although Carter had made the trip once, and convinced himself and Fitzgerald he was competent, he did not in fact know the route from Fort McPherson to Dawson. After becoming lost, the team spent much time attempting to find the proper stream to follow. With temperatures that winter between -45 and -62 degrees Fahrenheit, and food sources of limited supply and nutritional value, the patrol was doomed to fail. By the time they were missed at Dawson City, and a search party was sent out, it was too late.
Patrols were still made annually until 1921, but because of the fatal trip of 1910-11, measures were taken to ensure that this tragedy never occurred again. Future patrols always hired an aboriginal guide. Cabins and regular caches were established along the trail in case of food shortages. Most importantly, the Forrest Creek Trail was clearly marked so that it would not be missed again. These measures proved successful.
All four men were buried at Fort McPherson on March 28, 1911. In 1938, the graves were cemented over into one large tomb, with cement posts at the four corners connected by a chain. In the centre is a memorial to the Royal Northwest Mounted Police Patrol of 1910.
Mountie in Hollywood
The Mountie is undoubtedly one of the most recognizable Canadian symbols. This was especially true in the movie industry during the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, when Hollywood produced several movies featuring fictional Mounties. Hollywood directors during this time took a great amount of creative license with the Mountie figure, sometimes portraying them in an unprofessional manner. The 1919 film "Tyrant Fear", for example, showed an RCMP officer drinking in a brothel while still in uniform. Both the RCMP and the Province of Ontario made complaints about the film, which was eventually cancelled in Canadian theatres.
To combat such misrepresentations, the RCMP has often provided production crews with technical advisors for their films. These advisors were hired to ensure that a film's costumes, characters and storyline were accurate representations of the Canadian Mountie. Some directors, however, disregarded the advice of the experts and chose to be creative with the Mountie character.
The saying that the Mounties "always get their man" is usually considered to be the creation of Hollywood. Surprisingly, the phrase can be traced to an article in the Fort Benton (Montana) Record from April 1877:
"Thanks to the vigilance of Major Irvine and the energy of Captain Winder, of the N.W. Mounted Police, another attempt to smuggle whiskey has been frustrated by the arrest of three men, who were tried, found guilty and sentenced to pay a fine of five hundred dollars each or be imprisoned for the minor period of six months. They preferred the former. Horses were sacrificed for the arrest, but the M.P.'s are worse than bloodhounds when they scent the track of a smuggler, and they fetch their men every time."
This is the earliest record of the phrase that was later made famous by Hollywood. Interestingly, people often confuse this saying with the official motto of the Force, "Maintiens Le Droit".
Sam Steele is perhaps the best known member of the North West Mounted Police. His fame stems from his huge role in the establishment of the Force in the Canadian west.
Born in Purbrook, near Orillia, Ontario, on January 5, 1849, Samuel Benfield Steele came from a military background. He was educated at Toronto's Royal Military School, served as a Sergeant in the Canadian Militia, and then joined the 1st Ontario Rifles. He joined the Force in 1873 as a Troop Sergeant Major and was one of the officers to lead the new recruits of the NWMP on the March West in 1874.
During the 1880s, as the Canadian Pacific Railway was being built across the prairies to the Pacific coast, Sam Steele was in charge of policing the land and people along the rail line, a very difficult task. Then, during the Rebellion of 1885, Steele formed the Alberta Field Force and commanded many of the Force members whose actions put an end to the uprising.
In 1887, Steele was promoted to Superintendent, and charged with the task of restoring order in the Kootenay, where there were a great number of problems due to tensions between the native and white people. He was then ordered to do the same thing in the Macleod district, where there were not only problems between native and white people, but there was also a high level of crime with rustlers, horse thieves, outlaws and smugglers. In 1898, Steele was ordered to go north to the Yukon, to be in charge of maintaining law and order among the thousands of people who came to the area as part of the gold rush. He was policeman, magistrate and controller of rations under the very trying times of people seeking their fortunes and unprepared for the weather conditions.
In 1900, the year after the outbreak of the Boer War in South Africa, Steele was responsible for the raising and training of the group of mounted riflemen named the Strathcona Horse. Later that year, Steele left Canada to go to South Africa, where he was instrumental in the creation of the South African Constabulary.
It is easy to see why the name Sam Steele is so well recognized today. With all of the work he did, he was not only important to the history of the North West Mounted Police, but he also played a very important role in the history of Canada. Superintendent Steele died in London, England, in 1919.
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