Thursday, December 12, 2013

News From Back in the Day

Today the mail brought a bunch of goodies for my ongoing @TrapperBud project. For anyone not aware of this, I am tweeting the diaries of my grandfather, "Bud" Murphy (yes, Bud, even though at the time he was called "Spud." It's what we knew him as) from his time as a trapper in the Northwest Territories. The current set of entries are in late 1929.

Anyhow, a bunch of diaries from my father, uncle, great-uncle and second cousin arrived today, via my dad, as well as some ephemera. While the diaries lend themselves nicely to Twitter's format, some of these items may not. In those cases, when appropriate, I will put them up here.

The first is an article from either the Edmonton Bulletin (which died in 1951) or the Journal. It's been clipped, and nowhere do I see the date. However, I feel it safe to say it was written some time in the late 1930s. There are a few clues to that assumption. First, Grandpa is mentioned in the article, and he was in the north for pretty much all of the '30s. Second, the article seems to have been on the second page of the paper, and what remains of the front page mentions Edmonton mayor John W. Fry. Wikipedia tells me he was mayor from 1937 to 1944. Also on the front page is a British United Press article dated May 21 from Vancouver entitled "Unemployed Sit-Downers Still Control," about an "efficiently organized army of unemployed" engaged in a sit-down strike. So, the Great Depression. Since elections were in November, this would be 1938 or 1939. I'm guessing 1938.

The unnamed author is breathless in his statements about just how barren and alien the north must be, so much so that I'm surprised Grandpa hung onto it for all of his life. He was always sure to mention how wild and bare and dangerous the north was, sure, but never without telling me about how great it was as well. He respected it

As a point of interest, Edmonton in 1938 had a population of 88,887, as opposed to a metropolitan area that sits at over one million today, over 800,000 of them in the city itself.

No More Exciting Than Clerking in Store Hardy Men Declare

Running a trap line in the barren lands is no more exciting than clerking in a city store, not nearly so dangerous as trying to cross a city street, and is a darn nice way to earn a living if you don't mind doing without a few comforts, is the unanimous opinion of eight barren lands trappers who arrived in Edmonton Friday afternoon in a Mackenzie Air Service plane piloted by Archie Vanhee.

The party, consisting of M.P. "Matt" Murphy, and his son, C.M. "Spud" Murphy, George Magrum and his son John, A.J. Knox, Allan "Skipper" Stewart, J.W. Cooley, and John "Tin Can Johnny" McKay, have spent the past winter, and many others, trapping in remote parts of the barren lands about 200 miles north and east of Fort Reliance.


To reach the plane at Fort Resolution, the men trekked by dog team more than 400 miles across the dreary, frozen wastes of the barrens, bringing their winter catch of furs on sleighs with them. The country in which they trap is so remote that even the Indians and the Eskimos shun it and, except for wolves, foxes and caribou, these white men are its only inhabitants.

The two Murphys spent the winter trapping along the Back river, within 60 miles of the Arctic Circle. The Magrums trap north of Aylmer Lake, Stewart was trapping at Muskox Lake, as does Cooley, while "Tin Can "Johnny" McKay traps far to the eastwards, on the eastern side of the Thelon river, beyond the game sanctuary. Knox traps north of Aylmer Lake.


The country in which these men trap is a barren, rocky waste, traversed by numerous little streams and lakes. Beside these lakes grow small patches of scrub willow, and it is upon these patches of willow that the trappers depend for their supply of fuel.

In order to live in the barrens during the long cold winters, when the icy wind howling out of the north, drives even the foxes and wolves to shelter for days at a time, these men spent two months each fall preparing for the winter's work.

Cabins, usually canvas topped mud huts, are set up at strategic points along their trap lines. Then, for nearly a month, the trapper busies himself laying in the winter's supply of fuel.

Frome (sp) the sparse willow thickets, the men cut branches of willow -- usually less than half an inch in diameter.


These willow branches are piled onto the sleighs and skidded across the barrens behind a team of six or seven dogs. Sometimes they have to carry their wood as far as 50 miles. And they must be sure that an adequate supply is laid in, because a man must have fire to live in that frozen land. For weeks he will cut and bundle willow roots and shoots, and haul them to his cabins and pile them where they will be readily accessible.

After the supply of wood is laid in he must lay in a supply of meat. There must be not only food for himself, but food for his dogs, and bait for the traps. Fish are plentiful in the streams and lakes, and the country is the natural home of caribou. But it takes two or three weeks to catch enough fish and shoot enough caribou to last through the long winter.


The traps and equipment must be repaired and put in good working order. Supplies of coffee, tea, tobacco and canned butter, bacon, flour and other supplies brought in from Fort Reliance.

When these things are finished the trapper is ready for the winter. Then he walks miles behind his team visiting his traps marked by mounds of snow. Foxes and wolves are taken from the traps and skinned, and the skins stretched. The trapper is a busy man.


But these men of the north would rather live there than anywhere else. "We live there by choice. We think that trapping is as good a way to earn a living as any other. We don't mind going without inner spring mattresses and the comforts of home. And we prefer being up there where we aren't bothered by salesmen, politicians or reckless drivers. And after a short holiday we are all going back," stated Stewart -- known to these men as "The Skipper" -- and the others nodded their agreement. They don't waste words.

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