Wednesday, August 12, 2015

@TrapperBud and his Brush With Death

Today in the mail I received a package from my parents, an old brown envelope addressed to Grandpa as “Mr. Cyril M. Murphy, Whitelaw, Alberta, Can., postmarked Mar 17 1941 at 11pm at the GPO on New York, NY. It has a 3 cent stamp on it that, for some reason, is Canadian, a red King George VI from 1937 (I’ve done some research). Also stamped on the envelope are the words “POSTAGE DUE 6 CENTS.” Worthy of note is the fact the enveloped has been opened with a letter opener, pretty much a tool of a bygone era these days.

Inside the envelope are two stories, likely not the original contents, both of them attempts by Grandpa to tell the same story. These are a part of the @TrapperBud legacy, one I am keen to share, but clearly too long for Twitter, and so I have turned to this blog as a home for this story. The one I have transcribed below is likely the final draft, as the other has scribbled-out words as he corrected himself while writing, and I will supply footnotes to indicate when the stories diverge. He was operating on memory here and made a small dating error, it seems. But read and enjoy and don’t get too caught up in small details.

Mr. Cyril M. Murphy
Whitelaw, Alberta, Can.

The Stampede of Caribou*

I was a Barren Land trapper for ten years and during that length of time I had several narrow escapes from death, one of which a large herd of stampeding caribou took part in.

My father and I had been on Artillery Lake for four years and as the fur had not been very plentiful the last couple of years we decided to move to new trapping grounds. After much scouting around we made plans to settle on Back River about one hundred and fifty miles North East of Artillery Lake.

We left Artillery Lake on the fifth of May 1933* with our dogs and a canoe on the tobaggan with about four months supply of food. We travelled on the ice as the big lakes do not open until the end of July in the north. We arrived on Back River on the eighteenth of June, still on ice. After a hard pull for the dogs for fifteen miles over bare ground we arrived at our previously picked out camping place.

It took us about a week to get our camp into* shape for the winter and then came the task of getting our wood supply. It took us about a month of hard work to get what we thought would do us for the winter. The only wood that is available* in that country is small green willows about one inch thick and they are found only along the edges of the small creeks.

As we were short on food it was decided that I should take the canoe and the Johnson Outboard motor and make the trip to Reliance, two hundred and fifty miles south. The ice was just breaking up* in Aylmer Lake which delayed my start until the fifth of August. This lake was the beginning point of my trip as the Back river was too shallow for travelling on by canoe and engine.

With food for a week, a small tent, my rifle and sleeping bag I started out to walk the fifteen miles to Aylmer Lake, where the canoe and engine had been left. As I came up over a ridge about five miles from the lake I saw a herd of about five thousand caribou feeding along the base of the ridge. These Caribou come from the North East by the tens of thousands about the end of July and move on to the South West, making a big circular tour and come back through again from the North East about the last* of September.

Not needing any meat at the time I never bothered to take my rifle from the case which was an oversight* on my part which I regretted very much a few minutes later*. Suddenly I saw two bulls jump into the air, which is common of Caribou when something startles them. Thinking nothing of it, as I thought it was me they had spotted I kept on walking, but instead it was a couple of big grey Arctic wolves out after a caribou dinner.

Immediately all of the caribou stampeded and as they were coming straight towards me I did not have time to pull my rifle from its case. The only chance for my life that I could see was to make a run for the nearest large rock, which was about fifty feet away. When I got closer the rock looked pretty small but I couldn’t get any further as the leading caribou brushed my clothes as I fell on my face behind the rock. They came thundering on, some going on either side of my shelter but a large number jumped over me and the rock.

It seemed hours that I lay there tensely waiting to be trampled to death by thousands of hoofs, but it was only a few minutes until they had all passed. When I finally stood up I was shaking so badly I could not steady myself enough to put the rifle to my shoulder to fire at the wolves which were only two hundred yards away, still chasing the caribou.

That was the closest call to death I ever had in my ten years I was trapping in the N.W.T. and I don’t want another like that.

* The other version does not include is name and address

* No underlining in the other version

* He says twenty fifth in the other version. Going back to the diary doesn’t really pin it down, but it seems to be between the two dates

* “In” shape in the other version

* He doesn’t say “available” in the other version

* He doesn’t say “up” in the other version

* He says “end” instead of “last” in the other version

 * He writes “an oversight” in tiny script above the sentence, a late addition in the other version

* After “oversight” he writes “which I was to regret a few minutes later” in this version

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