17 Feb. 2007:
This is the 75th anniversary of Mad Trapper’s Death on Eagle River, above Ft. McPherson
The Mad Trapper of the Rat River (D. Solie)
In the fourth and final shoot-out on the Eagle River, the Mad Trapper of the Rat River was finally killed on 17 February 1932. For the previous six weeks, through Arctic blizzards and temperatures averaging -40C, the mystery trapper had eluded capture. Near starvation when they ambushed him for the final time, he took seven slugs before he died. It was the largest man hunt in the history of the Canadian North.
“If any single episode of the North American frontier represented the end of one era and the beginning of another it was this.... For the first time, the RCMP used an airplane in a man hunt ....People [in the north] purchased radios for no other reason than to keep up with the news of the pursuit of the trapper....Throughout North America people remained by their radio sets waiting for news about the great chase across the “roof “ of the world.” (Dick North, from “The Mad Trapper of the Rat River”, Macmillan of Canada/Toronto, 1972)
And who was the Mad Trapper? Those in the Rat River country knew him as Albert Johnson, but he had no identification on his body. Dick North it seems, has finally cracked the mystery. He started life as Johnny Johnson, a young Swedish/Norwegian immigrant farmer raised near the Badlands of North Dakota who was befriended by one of the last of the “Wild Bunch”. A love of horses and no doubt, stories of Butch Cassidy lead to horse thieving and the tip to the wild side. North has traced his path from a daring bank robbery in Montana—where the 16 year old shot his way through two posses in a snow storm to escape— to the Wyoming State Penitentiary, Folsom Prison, San Quentin and then a spotty trail north.
For Albert/Johnny Johnson—a legendary shot with almost un-human cunning, stamina and the bravado of Butch Cassidy when under fire—life’s choices it seems, usually found him on the wrong side. Described as shy and at times easily taken in, his brilliance blossomed under fire. Had fate somehow spun slightly different for him, he might have been a hero.
For more on this fascinating story see Dick North “Mad Trapper of the Rat River” Macmillan of Canada/Toronto, 1972 and Dick North “The Mad Trapper of the Rat River A true story of Canada’s biggest manhunt” The Lyons Press, 2005
Also see: http://www.mysteriesofcanada.com/NWT/madtrapper.htm
The Mad Trappers Grave in Aklavik, NWT (NWT Archives/G-1979-023-0048)