Peace River – Yukon Patrol 1910






Veteran Windy Gale transcribed the following article which appeared in our Division’s 1946 edition of the Scarlet & Gold magazine.





Before the “Reports of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police” reports  became overwhelmed with statistics they used to contain appendices of lengthy patrols undertaken by the Force. This patrol is one that had only a couple of lines notifying its safe arrival. This is an endeavour to dig it out of that oblivion which has overcome so many similar activities of bygone days.

Superintendent Constantine and his merry men hacked a trail from Fort St. John to the 4th cabin on the Ashcroft-Yukon telegraph line in the early years of this century with the idea of providing an all-Canadian route to the Yukon. Our patrol was charged with repairing the route and making suggestions as to any improvement of the route. Whether its suggestions were taken into consideration when the Alaska Highway was built, I don’t know, but they should have been.

In April of 1910, Sergeant “Jock” Darling, Constables A. St. Laurent and myself, with fifteen green pack ponies assembled at Fort Saskatchewan. The ponies’ backs were covered with botfly maggots and were just off the range, and it says much for the horsemastership of Jock Darling that when we arrived in Whitehorse their backs were cured.


We left Fort Saskatchewan on May 4th, with Jack Aylesworth driving a four-horse team, and Constables Percy Spurgeon and Fraser. We had a circus with the ponies and that night at Sturgeon River they broke out of the corral and we spent the next day retrieving them from assorted points of the compass. On the whole we made good time to Athabasca Landing, the H.Q. of “N” Division under Supt. Sanders, D.S.O. We ferried the outfit over the river on the 3rd of May, and I spent the night on a haystack with Denny La Nauze and a bottle of Irish.

We left on the 4th of May along with Fraser and a team and a civilian, Frank Anderson, who was to help us as far as Fort St. John. Owing to the roughness of the road we packed a few ponies and travelled through Moose Portage on the Slave and Mirror Landing to Sawridge on Lesser Slave Lake. On the way we met J. K. Cornwall, M.P.P., and Corp. Bill Schurer near Tomato Creek, just at the time when the blue horse had somersaulted on to his back in a creek with my bedding underneath. We tried to convey that this was in the normal course of events. From Sawridge to Lesser Slave Lake post the trail led round the edge of the lake 80 miles long and for a considerable part of the way through boulders of assorted sizes and the going was tough. I tried a new saddle pony but gave him up as he either tried to catch his tail like a kitten or kept backing into the lake.

At Lesser Slave Lake we found Insp. “Donny” Howard, Sergeant “Skinny” Adams, Constable Summers and Special Constables Joe Bellerose and “Turkey” Macleod, who entertained us with his tales of a tropical valley. Sid Clay arrived from Grande Prairie with a prisoner and pack pony. (I hadn’t seen Sid since we worked together in the bush north of Prince Albert many years before.) We took along a team driven by Joe Bellerose, sending Fraser back to the Landing, and made good time to Peace River, arriving there on the 18th. We delayed here because we heard of prairie fires along the Peace, but finally left on the 24th with a team to pack feed until the grass grew.

After being stuck three times in one morning at the Montaignais River it was decided that the wagon was a nuisance and sent it back. The first time we packed all the ponies was a memorable one. As soon as they were freed they galloped off, and ponies, packs and saddles were strewn over a lot of country. It took us a day to make and mend.

The crossing of the North Pine was picturesque and dangerous, the ford being crooked and landing just above a cut-bank round the foot of which we had to crawl. At Fort St. John the horses were shod by the Sergeant and we left, going up the Halfway with its wonderful flats, the grass of which came up to our knees in the saddle. Here we had good fishing, rainbow, char and grayling. Crossing the Halfway we reached that lovely stream, the Cyprus, which we followed up to the Laurier Pass. After crossing the pass we ran into a confused trail, up one stream and down another. At one time we crossed and re-crossed the same stream 19 times within a very few miles.

We ran into snow on the trail named Devil’s Canyon summit and had a perilous crossing of Davis creek on a single log, where, because of the tough landing for the ponies we had to pack the outfit over by hand.

At the Ospica, a good sized river, we could only find green logs for a raft, and had to make several crossings with the water round our knees. This was a swift river and we had to clear the alders and willows for a distance of several hundred yards on either bank. At each crossing we drifted about 400 yards.

The Herchmer pass which we crossed is beautiful and on the west side running down into Collins creek, there are two gems of lakes.

We reached Fort Graham on June 28th. Here we met Alf Perry, Mr. Fox, the factor’s nephew, and a prospector, Frank Perry. The small tribe of Sikkanee Indians were not accustomed to horses, and didn’t help, and we had difficulty in getting the ponies to face the wide Findlay. We ferried the stuff over nervously in a very cranky and ancient dugout. Not far from the Findlay we passed near Mica Mountain, the mica of which is of no commercial value, but the countryside is impregnated with it, and several little lakes whose bottoms were floored with mica fragments were just like mirrors

For the next ten days the trail was terrible and the way difficult to find. From the Omineca valley we crossed the Bear Lake summit, where in places the snow was 8 to 10 feet deep. Our lower halves were soaking and our upper halves were eaten alive with mosquitoes. In one place a precipice extended right across the pass. Luckily it was drifted up with snow and we pushed the ponies over to slide down on their haunches.

The last six miles took up five and a half hours, the drifts only bearing the ponies in spots. They would often break through into 3 feet of icy water. It became difficult to make them face a drift. Coming down the pass we had to throw a couple of logs across a small stream a few yards from a waterfall. It is true they were pretty tired but the sangfroid with which they got over this obstacle I shall never forget.

After a twelve and a half hours drive we reached Bear Lake and rested and even the clamour of Plug Hat Tom’s bell wouldn’t entice us to evening service. Plug Hat Tom was an ardent convert to the Roman Catholic church and having acquired a bell, he rang it, week days and Sundays. This was Sunday. It was told me that he used to take down the trousers of the recalcitrant and lay on the hickory. It is believable!

We were now on the Pacific slope and the difference in the vegetation was noticeable. Here we first met that engine of destruction the Devil’s Club. From here to the 4th cabin we took eight days, the Bear River and Skeena were in flood and caused us lots of trouble. We arrived at the 4th cabin on the 18th of July, and were welcomed by the operator, Douglas Potts and Billy Oag. We wired to the Commissioner.

Apparently the H.B. Co. pack train provisioning the telegraph line had left our provisions at Kispiox, so on the 3rd of August we went down the telegraph line to pick them up there. After travelling through the lovely Skeena valley we arrived there a week later. Kispiox is a considerable Indian village and the totems and graves were very interesting.

We picked up a guide, Tommy Hankin, and fully loaded, one pony with scotch, we retraced our steps, leaving the telegraph line soon after re-passing the 4th cabin, we climbed “Son of a B- hill”, (so called because you never seem to be able to get to the top), and reached Blackwater on the 24th. Our ponies were failing, and several of them picked up poison weed. We had a joyful time at the Blackwater River where Indians were engaged in spearing salmon and drying them. On the footbridge over the river I caught more fish with a gaff than I have ever done before or since.

From here up to Groundhog Mountain was a nightmare. The mountains came straight down to the river bed and for days we slept on a slope. The only feed was on the paths of old avalanches. All the way to Telegraph Creek we came across the remains of outfits left by stampeders. Some of them were most peculiar. I remember seeing a plush seated lady’s sidesaddle, a wheelbarrow and sets of wheels that looked as if they had come off a boxcar. As the bacon was mouldy we were feeding off groundhogs, and very good they were. Crossing Currier and Abrahams creeks we got down to the Skeena in a few days and followed it up through a lovely wide open valley. One day we shot a caribou in prime condition and had a regular gorge. It was so fat that we used to cook our bannock in the fat instead of baking it.

We passed the divide without noticing it. The third south fork of the Stickine and the Skeena running out of each, end of a big puddle. A little way down the Stickine we turned west up a small tributary and finally arrived on a plateau from which we could see seven passes debouching. This was a favourite place to get lost in rush days. Hankin had been here before but even he was puzzled and searched for the best part of a day before he was sure of the road. Here we had snow and with only wet juniper to burn we could only singe the outside of the caribou steaks.

We left following a branch of the Klappan and shortly left this crossing through a pass to pick up another branch. This pass was ten miles long and in grandeur and beauty I have seen nothing to surpass it in Canada. Following down the Klappan the trail in places became the typical mountain path, in one place an outjutting rock caused us some anxious moments.

River head

Klappen – Thirty miles from source.

Fifty miles down the river we came to the crossing where there was a canoe. The river is very swift and the crossing would be very dangerous in high water. Comments of the Klondikers, caustic and otherwise, were seen along the trail. One I remember expressed the opinion that if the hill was much higher one might be expected to meet St. Peter. Here we left the Klappan and followed the second south fork of the Stickine for 30 miles, where we crossed by a ford that because of the swift and muddy water took some time to get over. Between here and Buckley Lake we crossed an old lava bed which played havoc with mocassins and the ponies’ feet.

A day’s long drive from the Buckley meadows brought us to Telegraph creek. The Hudson’s Bay factor here, Ware, had gone to my school, and such is the solidarity of “old school tie” that he gave us the key of his cellars, which courtesy was duly appreciated. We had taken just a month from Kispiox, 400 odd miles.

We had a short lived vision of a gas boat and Wrangel but received orders to proceed to Whitehorse. The British Columbia Provincial Police here were most helpful, and after helping to open a hospital we left for Atlin on 19th September. We left Tommy Hankin here. He intended to hunt his way back to Hazelton.

The next 100 miles of trail had been built by the Yukon Field Force and was in good condition except the corduroy which had rotted. We lost a pony the first night out. He had tried to jump a rivulet and caught his hobbies on a stump which threw his head into the water. We reached the Chesley telegraph cabin where we dined sumptuously off Andy Johnson’s porcupine stew. The ponies had started to pick up when we reached the high ground at the head of the Skeena and were by now in good shape, but the weather had broken and we were getting rain, snow and frosts, so we were anxious to reach Atlin.

The next day after leaving the Chesley we crossed the Dododontes where St. Laurent shot five ptarmigan for supper, all through the head. It took us a couple of days to reach the Nahlin cabin where we were welcomed by Mr. Pilling and George Hughes. Soon after leaving here we left the Field Force trail and kept to the telegraph line, camped for the night on the Half-way summit in a linesman’s refuge. There are two lakes on this summit and they are joined by a ditch, in which we noticed fish. In the ditch was a shallow place and I was stationed there with a crowbar, whilst Jock and St. Laurent chased the fish to the shallows. They were beautiful fish and good eating. A clear indigo blue in colour with the fins and gills edged with silver, the belly scarlet and a ferocious up-bent lower jaw. I was later elected an honorary member of the Ananias club in Dawson on relating this tale.

We crossed another summit in the morning, quite a steep one in a heavy snowfall. It must have presented a similar picture to that one of “Napoleon Crossing the Alps.” We camped in misery, and next morning passed the Nakina cabin three miles on. We climbed two miles out of the valley and covered a stretch of trail that passes description. Many times we had to haul the ponies out of mudholes by main strength. We passed Mr. Cox, the Indian agent from Telegraph Creek, and camped the following night at Pike River.

The next day we reached Atlin Lake at the mouth Pike River, where we were hospitably entertained by Mr. and Mrs. Billy Whitfield. They kindly took our outfit down by boat to Atlin, whilst we went on light. An Indian boy steered us wrong and we had to swim the O’Donnel River, getting wet up to the waist and the weather was chilly. We reached Atlin on the 5th October, having forded 12 good sized rivers, rafted eight, and crossing 12 divides of considerable height besides innumerable smaller ones.

We had an enjoyable time in Atlin and finally received orders to proceed by Tagish to Whitehorse, but because there was no feed we could not do so. We crossed the lake in S.S. “Scotia” and drove the ponies on the railway track across the portage on a dark, windy, wet night. The coming of the engine (vintage circa 1860), drove the ponies into the bush and the boat was delayed until they were retrieved. On arriving in Carcross we shipped the outfit by train and drove the ponies to Whitehorse by trail, arriving on the 15th October.

The ponies were later handed over to the Yukon–Alaska Boundary survey and their ultimate fate is unknown, but years later I met the sole survivor, old Grey, the quiet old kitchen pony, on the San Piet bar on the White River. He was wild but stuck around with us for three days until we left the bar. The old chap was lonely.


Windy Gale closing block with the "Royal Navy" being added