Stories From North Of 60

The Mad Trapper

The mad trapper of rat river known as Albert Johnson, was a fugitive whose actions started off a huge manhunt in the Northwest Territories in Canada. The event became sort of media circus as Johnson eluded the Royal Canadian Mounted Police that were sent to take him into custody, which ended after a 150 mile (240 km) foot chase in a shootout in which Johnson was shot dead.

Very little is know of this man before he arrived in Fort McPherson on July 9, 1931. He was a short person but stocky build. It was said he could pack almost 200 lbs. of supplies on his back and hike the rough country all day. Some speculated that he had been in the Headless Valley area of the Nahanni and was maybe responsible for some murders there. Of course no one will ever really know. Shortly after he arrived in the Rat River area he built a small 8x10 foot cabin on the banks of the Rat River, which is near the Mackenzie River delta.

In December one of the local native indian trappers lodged a complaint to the local RCMP in the settlement of Aklavik stating someone had been springing his traps, tripping them and hanging them on the trees. He figured Albert Johnson most likely the cause because he had never had problems until Albert Johnson had moved into the area. On December 31 RCMP Constable Alfred King and Special Constable Joe Bernard, headed out to Albert Johnson's cabin to ask him about this complaint they had received. When they arrived they noticed smoke coming from the chimney, and approached the cabin to talk. But Albert Johnson was in no mood to talk to them. Constable Alfred King approached and tried to looked in through a window, but Johnson placed a sack over it. The two officers decided to return to their detachment in Aklavik and get a search warrant.

The two officers returned in two days with another two officers and a civilian deputy. Albert Johnson still refused to talk and eventually Constable Alfred King decided to enforce the warrant and tried to force his way in. No sooner had he started for the door and Johnson shot him through the wooden door. A brief shoot out broke out, and the other officers managed to return Constable Alfred King to Aklavik, where he eventually recovered.

Soon a posse was put together with nine men, 42 dogs and 20 pounds of dynamite which they were going to use to blast Johnson out of the cabin. Once they had the cabin surrounded they thawed out the dynamite and tossed it at the cabin. After the dynamite exploded the roof off the cabin, the officers rushed in. But Albert Johnson was a bit t clever. He was waiting for them. When they rushed him he opened fire from a foxhole he had dug under the building. No one was hit, and after a 15 hour standoff in minus 40 below weather the posse again decided to return to Aklavik for further instructions.

Soon the news of the these events were being broadcast to the rest of the world via radio. In the south and cities of the south, Albert Johnson was becoming kind of like a hero, a legend in his own time. Here was a man who was out running teams of trained officers that had guides and dogs and extra food. Finally when the posse did return on January 14, delayed because of blizzards, Johnson had left the cabin and the posse gave chase. They eventually caught up to him on January 30, surrounding him at the edge of a cliff. Next another gun fight broke out but this time Albert Johnson didn't miss out. He shot Constable Millen right through the heart. The officers held their positions but sometime during that night with temperatures dipping below minus 40 degrees, Albert Johnson scaled vertical cliff in a blinding blizzard and total darkness and made his get away again.

By this time the posse was getting bigger, enlisting local Inuit and hunters who were better able to move in the back country. Also Johnson must have decided it time to leave the Yukon and maybe head for Alaska, but the RCMP blocked the only two passes over the local Richardson mountains. But once again that didn't stop Albert Johnson, who climbed over a 7,000 foot peak and once again disappeared. This was only discovered when an Inuit trapper reported odd tracks on the far side of the mountains.

By now the RCMP were getting desperate. They knew they had been beat. Never had they know of a man who could do such amazing feats. They then decided to hired an airplane to help out in the search. This is where the famous Wop May was brought in to help in the hunt. On February 14 the pilot discovered the trick Albert Johnson was using to elude the posse. He noticed a set of footprints leading off the center of the river. Albert Johnson had been following the caribou tracks in the middle of the river, where they walked in order to give them better visibility of approaching predators. Walking in their tracks hid his own footprints, and allowed him to travel quickly on the tramped-down snow without having to use his snowshoes. (in other case Albert johnson had worn his snow shoes backwards sending the posse in the opposite direction) The pilot radioed back his findings and the RCMP gave chase up the river, eventually being directed to Johnson by February 17.

The team rounded a bend in the river to find Johnson only a few hundred yards in front of them. Johnson attempted to run for the bank, but didn't have his snowshoes on and couldn't make it. A fire-fight broke out in which one RCMP officer was seriously wounded and Johnson was eventually killed after being shot nine times.

Upon examination, over two thousand dollars in both American and Canadian currency was found in his pockets. As well as some placer gold, a compass, razor, knife, fish hooks, nails, a dead squirrel, and a dead bird.

During the entire chase the Mounties had never heard Johnson say a single word. To this day no one knows who he was, why he moved to the arctic, or what he was doing to the traps.

In the book there are accounts of breif conversations he had with others where he had worked in a few mining shows in the Dease Lake area of BC. He was know to be a very good woodsman and few could compare to his use of an axe. He had the strength and stamina not seen by anyone. Many say that if no airplane was used, Albert Johnson would have made it into Alaska. There he would have been able to escape the law.

Here is the grave of the Mad Trapper in Aklavik NWT

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