The Toughest Beat in the World

In the north the Mounties are the only law — and often enough the only doctors, cooks and nursemaids too. Or they may — as two did — spend five years hunting a whole primitive tribe of killers

ALAN PHILLIPS September 15 1954

The Toughest Beat in the World

In the north the Mounties are the only law — and often enough the only doctors, cooks and nursemaids too. Or they may — as two did — spend five years hunting a whole primitive tribe of killers

ALAN PHILLIPS September 15 1954

The Toughest Beat in the World


In the north the Mounties are the only law — and often enough the only doctors, cooks and nursemaids too. Or they may — as two did — spend five years hunting a whole primitive tribe of killers


STRETCHING north from Canada’s provinces far into the polar sea is a trackless wilderness half as large as the United States. In this lonely land the only law is 140 Royal Canadian Mounted Policemen whose 43 outposts are scattered from the Yukon to the fringe of Quebec. These outposts, small weather-beaten frame buildings, each with its flag flapping bravely in the wind, proclaim Canadian sovereignty over a great empty region that has now become a strategic area our first line of defense, the crossroads of future intercontinental air travel and a potential treasure chest of minerals.

The men stationed at them, no ordinary policemen, represent the Government of Canada in a multitude of roles. Their duties have been increasing ever since the Mounties went north to the Yukon before the goldrush—a handful of redcoats who were to make Dawson City so peaceful that a gold miner didn’t dare chop wood on Sunday, at a time when Skagway, in neighboring Alaska, was the toughest town in the world. Today they send rock specimens to Ottawa for analysis, collect taxes on furs, report now and then on the aurora borealis. They issue relief, old-age pensions and family allowances to Indians and Eskimos. They are postmasters, mining recorders, fisheries officers, game wardens. It is typical that an RCMP inspector once brought in an Eskimo murderer in his capacity as a policeman, committed him for trial as a magistrate, kept him locked up as a jailer, supervised his

hanging as a sheriff and recorded his death as coroner.

Mounties on this frontier— known as G Divisi —have acted as midwives, nurses and doctors. April last year an Eskimo hunter named Ming neeak was brought into the Lake Harbour pol post on Hudson Strait, bent over with pain a clutching his stomach. Const. A. P. Wight took temperature; it was 101. He put him in bed, th radioed his symptoms to the nearest doctor Pangnirtung.

“It sounds like appendicitis,” the doctor radio back. “Keep him in bed and give him penicil daily.”

The retching stopped and the pain disappear« But in four days, Mingeeneeak’s lower abdoir started to swell. “Better operate,” the doci advised.

Wight put a pot of water on his stove to boil a went next door for the Hudson’s Bay manag They laid the Eskimo on the detachment tali sterilized their instruments, washed the swol' brown abdomen with alcohol, put an ether mí on Mingeeneeak’s face, and with the radio bes: them an invisible but audible fourth person, Wif made the incision. Somewhat disturbed, he repon to the doctor that Mingeeneeak didn’t appear have an appendix. The doctor said that was right—some Eskimos who lived entirely on a m« diet didn’t have one. But the operation was nev theless successful, for

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ine Toughest Beat In The World


the swelling vanished, the stitches healed well and within a week Mingeeneeak was back hunting.

In the Arctic any illness can be fatal. Even a cold can kill the Eskimo. When Sgt. George Abraham was serving at Cambridge Bay on the Arctic Ocean just before the war a native came in to ask for help. His people, camped on the sea ice twenty miles out, were coughing and spitting.

Abraham knew the danger. He left at once. He found the entire camp, a dozen igloos, some forty people, sick with flu. Many were lying on their skin-covered sleeping platforms waiting to die, for the Eskimo is a fatalist. Two were already dead. Abraham pointed to the bodies. “You can take them to the land,” he said, meaning he wanted them buried. “None of you will leave here, and each family will stay in its igloo.” They’d been spreading the disease by visiting one another.

The Mountie made sure each patient was warm. He gave them laxatives. He rubbed their chests with antiphlogistine. “You’re not going to die,” he told each patient firmly. He made jokes, arousing their sense of humor and their hope.

Next day he heard that the natives were sick in another camp twelve miles away. He hurried back for his detachment partner—they’re always stationed in pairs-—and the Mounties nursed the two camps back to health. Then they let the Eskimos return to the mainland where they had food cached.

Murder in a Snowhouse

If anyone dies in the north without making a will it’s up to the Mounties to make an inventory of his goods, auction them off, pay his debts and deliver what’s left to his heirs. In the case of one trader who died a Mountie had to trace several hundred Indian customers and collect money they owed the trader.

The Mountie has to inspect aircraft, naturalize aliens, collect customs and explain to the luckier trappers among the Eskimos why they must pay income tax. After one Mountie’s long and patient explanation, an Eskimo trapper vehemently shook his head. He wasn’t going to “buy” any income tax, the “price” was too high.

Several times a year the Mountie goes on patrol, an adventurous trek by dogteam to the native camps in his district. In 1942 Const. Clifford Delisle set out behind his huskies from Pond Inlet, 425 miles north of the Arctic Circle, to check a rumor that a young and attractive Eskimo woman had murdered her husband at Victory Harbour. In the next fifty-two days Delisle covered 1,176 miles. He wore out two dogs and shot a third which went blind in a sleet storm. He bridged a series of deep crevasses with his komatik (sled) and narrowly escaped death when the ice he was traveling on broke up.

He recorded strange accidents: an

Eskimo hunter had drifted out to sea on an ice pan and was lost; an Eskimo boy had frozen to death when a bear chased him out of his igloo.

In a snowhouse of the isolated Netsilinguit tribe the Mountie found his murderess, Miktaeyout. By the wavering flame from a dish of seal blubber, he wrote down her story. Her husband had been a mighty hunter, and an influential tribesman had persuaded him to leave Miktaeyout and take his daughter as wife. Miktaeyout had

been given a shiftless substitute named Kookieyout. For two years she and her children were constantly on the verge of starvation until, unable to bear the pain and shame any longer, she had shot Kookieyout in his sleep.

Delisle took the frozen corpse, murderess and witnesses to Fort Ross for trial when the yearly supply ship, Nascopie, came in. But the ship, for the second summer, was unable to break through the ice. A U. S. plane evacuated the Hudson’s Bay manager. But Delisle had heard by radio that his partner at Pond Inlet was ill. He re-

leaäjg „ with a warning to

be ,.i year when the ship

arrivi^^l^aheaded home in a long looping patrol through the Eskimo camps.

The sun sank low in the Arctic sky, then disappeared for the winter, and Delisle had to travel by moonlight. He froze his nose, ran out of food and had to live off the land. It took him 98 days to reach Pond Inlet. Going and coming he had covered 3,550 miles, interviewed 750 Eskimos, recorded 50 births, 52 deaths, two marriages and had put on 20 pounds.

Delisle was an athletic man who jumped out of bed every morning for a snow bath at 30 degrees below zero; the Eskimos thought him mad. He was shaping up as a noted northern traveler till he caught pneumonia at Clyde River and had to come “outside.” He now works in the RCMP canteen at Montreal.

(As for the widow Miktaeyout, she trudged back to Fort Ross next year only to find that once again the supply ship could not get through. The Nascopie finally made it in 1945, Miktaeyout was convicted and sentenced to

His body dropped in the crevass, legs dangling over a blaek abyss. Before be fainted he called to the Eskimos

one year’s hard labor in charge of the Mountie at Pangnirtung. On her release she married again, but the marriage did not work out. Her husband was afraid to come home after each unsuccessful hunting trip.)

Patrols are made to deliver mail, rescue the sick or insane, map the country, and hunt for missing men. In 1930 the German Arctic Expedition led by Dr. E. K. Krueger disappeared across the glacial icecap of mountainous Ellesmere Island.

Two RCMP patrols .set out to search ninety thousand miles of frozen wasteland, where gaping crevasses hundreds of feet deep are deceptively bridged by drifted snow. Heading north with two Eskimos, Gpl. H. G. Stallworthy, a tall, loose-limbed man with an easy drawl, had one of the closest calls in bis notable northern career. His dogs dashed off in a frantic chase after a bear and dropped Stallworthy down a crevass. At thirty feet it narrowed like an hourglass and Stallworthy’s body jammed, his legs dangling over a black abyss. He managed to call to the Eskimos coming behind him before he fainted and when be came to they hauled him up on a harpoon line. “I felt a bit shaken,” he says. “But after a drink of brandy, I was none the worse for the experience.”

Const. R. W. Hamilton, heading west, was finding the going tougher. One by one he was eating bis dogs, chewing the frozen hindquarters raw and feeding his team the remainder. After five days of starvation they sighted a bear. All one day his Eskimo stalked it, finally shot it and waited beside the body for Hamilton.

As the Mountie came up, the Eskimo tossed his hat at the bear to make sure he’d killed him. 'The bear sprang up and hit the seat from the Eskimo’s fur pants. Hamilton shot the beast which gave them fuel to reach easier country.

In a cairn left by the explorer Peary, Stall worthy found a note by Krueger saying that he was going toward Meighen Island. It was late in the year, the ice was rotting, the patrol’s food

was gone, they had lost 29 of their 125 dogs; they couldn’t go on. Stallworthy was certain Krueger, unable to find game, had perished anyway. No trace of the explorer has since been found.

Three years later, in 1935, Stallworthy guided the Oxford University expedition up the precipitous icesheathed coast of Ellesmere. The party split up and Stallworthy’s section ran out of food. For three days the Mountie fished through a hole in the sea ice, stirring the water to keep it from freezing, catching only a mouthful a day for each dog.

Meanwhile a herd of musk ox appeared on nearby slopes. They were protected by law and the Mountie refused to let his Eskimo guide shoot one. “I cannot look at them,” the Eskimo told another member of the partv. “They give me a headache.” Luckily a group of caribou crossed their trail and Stallworthy was able to ignore the musk ox and keep his ethics intact .

Tug-of-war with a Bear

The Mounties gave dogs, rations, refuge and advice to the explorers Stefansson, Rasmussen and Amundsen. On meeting a Mountie beside the Arctic Ocean in 1906 Amundsen remarked, “A policeman looks very peculiar up here.”

In 1929 Insp. Alfred Joy, sometimes called The Admiral Byrd of the Arcti' , made an epic patrol through the Parry Islands and once turned down an invitation to be Byrd’s Antarctic adviser. Joy finally left the north at forty-five to be married in Ottawa hut died on the eve of his wedding, exhausted by his Arctic travels. His last patrol is still remembered in RCMP annals. He was with Const. R. A. Taggart, and in an igloo one night they were wakened by their dogs harking.

“Bear!” said their Eskimo hunter, cutting a hole in the igloo with his snow knife and peering out. “Bear is stealing stores.”

Taggart had left his loaded rifle outside by the entrance so it wouldn’t sweat and freeze. But the ent ranee was

blocked by drifted snow. He pulled on his clothes and began to cut a hole beside the entrance.

“Bear on the roof,” the Eskimo reported, taking his cue from the direction the dogs were looking.

Taggart put his head out his hole and looked squarely into the bear’s face. He backed in hurriedly and the bear lunged after him. Taggart whacked him across the nose with his snow knife. The bear withdrew his head and lay crouched like a great cat in front of the hole.

The bear and Taggart looked at each other. Just outside, tantalizingly within reach, Taggart could see his rifle. Cautiously, he stretched out his arm; he had the gun halfway inside when the bear’s paw flashed out and hooked the weapon.

Taggart pulled and the bear pulled and the bear won. Again they stared at each other with the rifle in front of the bear’s paws. Again, Taggart slowly reached out and slowly pulled it in. In an instant he reversed it and shot the hear through the head.

Adventures like this are mixed with a lot of prosaic paper work, for the Mountie, off patrol, has forms to fill in for fuel, supplies, mileage, natives’ pay. He has to compile monthly reports, annual reports, patrol reports, vital statistics reports. He may even have to cater to philatelists. For years the annual supply ship brought the* Craig Harbour outpost mail from all over the world to stamp. It was sent by collectors, addressed to themselves, because they wanted to obtain the postmark of the world’s most northerly post office.

Simply to stay alive keeps the Mountie occupied. Ice for water must be cut from a lake or iceberg, hauled by sled and stored out of reach of the dogs. The dog harness must be mended, rifles oiled, boats caulked, tools sharpened, fish nets repaired, stovepipes cleaned. Before the annual supply ship arrives with Supt. Henry Larsen, officer commanding G Division, aboard, the detachment must he scrubbed, the grounds raked, the stones in the walk whitewashed. Larsen, a bluff, red-faced Danish-born sailor, skippered the tiny RCMP patrol ship St. Roch in her historymaking cruise through the North West Passage, the first vessel to sail from the Pacific to the Atlantic around the top of the world.

Every aspect of Arctic life takes energy and aptitude. The Mountie must sew, wash and iron his clothes. He has to hunt and fish for dog food and fresh meat, which is often sport hut sometimes hard work. He learns how to skin and cut up a carcass. He becomes an accomplished housekeeper and cook. Two Mounties once had an argument about who baked the better bread and didn’t speak to each other for two months. Week about, each cooked the meals, and woke the other by gramophone.

G Division is not made up entirely of lonely bachelors. More than a fifi h


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of (he men on Arctic service are married. Several wives are nurses for the Department of Health and Welfare, and they too must measure up to emergencies. At Old Crow in the Yukon (ho wife of Cpl. E. A. Kirk happened to see an Indian boy fall and j his huskies leap upon him. In a few moments, their long fangs had torn his | clothing to tatters, and his face was ! slashed. Mrs. Kirk grabbed a stick and beat off the blood-maddened animals. Her prompt and courageous action won her a Humane Society certificate.

It is not an easy life for a woman. When Margaret Clay went into the Arctic with Staff-Sgt. S. G. Clay in the Twenties all her household possessions sank with an over-loaded scow to the bottom of the Athabaska River. Aí Chesterfield Inlet a few years later, when Clay was away on patrol, she went into the dog corral and the huskies attacked her. No one knows exactly why, but the wolf strain in ( he husky lies close to the surface.

A native woman beard the dogs snarling and ran to the post for help. Two Mounties drove the dogs back and carried Mrs. Clay, unconscious, into the bouse. The flesh of her right leg from ankle to knee bad been chewed off.

In terrible pain, she begged the Mounties, Cpl. O. G. Petty and Const. Stallworthy, to amputate her leg. The two men.talked it over through most j of that night. They did not think the leg could be saved. By morning they’d decided. They asked Father F. Duplain and the Hudson’s Bay manager. F. B. Snow, to operate. “You’ve had more experience than we have,” Petty said, “but I’ll take full responsibility.” ¡

Tea and Games on Saturday

The operation seemed to go well. | Mrs. Clay was cheerful when she recovered consciousness. Stallworthy and two Hudson’s Bay men set out j by boat in a blizzard to fetch Clay, | but the wind drove them back. That j night Mrs. Clay sank into a coma and | died. By the time Clay returned his men bad buried her.

“Tragedy isn’t uncommon,” says Sgt. Henry Kearney, the red-haired ; NCO who runs G Division for Larsen, j “but life is far from grim.”

They huddle close to their radios to j catch the Northern Messenger, a CBC j program that brings news from the | relatives at home. “We have a message ¡ for Corporal MacBeth,” the broad; caster says. MacBeth hitches his chair ! closer to the loudspeaker. A sudden storm obscures the message.

They read. Crates of books circulate i from post to post. Occasionally, by error, one post gets the same crate back.

On Saturday night the Eskimos drop i in for tea and games and the Mountie j must get down on the floor for friendly ¡ contests of arm twisting and thumb pulling. No matter how strong the Mountie is he’s at a disadvantage, for ; the Eskimo, who seldom washes, has slippery hands. When the last; native visitor has said good night, the Mounties close their kitchen door, bring out their I portable rubberized tub, fill it from the hot-water kettles and soak.

At Moose Factory Cpl. F. S. “Tiny” Coveil, six-feet seven-and-a-half, used to amuse himself by impressing the Indians with feats of magic. One of the Mountie’s favorites was to conjure j up a dollar bill by burning a cigarette : paper. After a show at. Albany post an Indian chief came around and presented him with a bundle of newspapers. “Medicine man burn these,” he suggested. “Make lots of money.”

Covell played his biggest audience j —600 natives-—-in a boat shed turned j

hint and Amegealnik stabbed him with a snow knife. He was running toward the sleigh, he tried to get a rifle.

I do not think this would have happened if the white man had not beaten Kaneak ... or if we had understood the white men.

Aningnerk X his mark

Witness: F. H. French, Inspector

After questioning many other Eskimos in the district French found no flaws in this story. His orders had been lo make no arrests if the killings were provoked. His concern now' was to get back. The patrols’ supplies were gone. Their health was poor from the diet of half-spoiled meat. The trip back across the Barrens loomed in their minds like a nightmare.

French heard of a trading post to the west and they pushed toward it over the rotting sea ice. They found the post and here they rested, waiting to go out with the Hudson’s Bay Company boat. “It has been the hardest trip I have ever made,” French wrote in his diary, “We suffered much from cold and exposure.”'

The boat never came. They moved along the coast, fishing for salmon. On Oct. 16, with enough snow on the ground to travel, they started the long journey back. They were soon close to starvation. French shot ten dogs for food. “A hard thing to do,” he wrote in his diary. “In this country a mam grows to love his dogs.”

“Duly Must Be Done”

They came across a herd of muskox in time for Christmas dinner, but in two weeks they were starving again. They were smoking tea leaves. Their skin clothing was ragged. Their hands and faces were frozen. A bitch in their team produced seven pups which the dogs immediately devoured. The men stumbled along, weak, numb in the 75-below-zero cold, with a storm blowing up and no sign of game. “It looks like our last patrol,” French wrote on Jan. 20.

Next day a band of deer crossed t heir trail and a kill of ten took them through to Baker Lake. “After more than 10 months,” French wrote, “we’re safe at last.” They had traveled 5,000 miles on foot through a hard unknown country. They had brought a five-year quest to a finish—to prove three Eskimos innocent.

French was rewarded with the Imperial Service Order, and Sgt.-Major Caulkin with the King’s Police Medal. Shortly after French was invalided out of the force.

In bis diary the man who had started out so confidently wrote: “Could I

have foreseen or realized the immensity of that journey, could I have but visualized its hundreds of perils and hardships, bad 1 but a glimpse of the gaunt spectre of hunger, cold and starvation, and nameless fear for my party, then I might have decided that life was too short to be walking side by side with fate. But duty must be done.”

It was a rare but understandable break-through of feeling into a mounted policeman’s laconic recording of fact. But with the last sentence French comes back to earth. He must have realized suddenly that he had no free choice. No glimpse of the future could have spared him his hardships.

Even in the Arctic, where a Mountie is free from nagging regulations and superiors, where a self-reliant policeman has the power of an emperor and half the men who go in do not want lo come out even in the Arctic, no Mountie can escape his concept of duty. *