Monday Dec. 21, 2020’s Smile of the Day: The RCMP Lost Patrol
On this Day:
Four Royal Northwest Mounted Police set out from Fort McPherson to Dawson City in the Yukon in Canada’s north. The trip became known as “The Lost Patrol.”
But first a bit of background on the RCMP.
It was Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald who first began planning a permanent force to patrol the North-West Territories after the Dominion of Canada purchased the territory from the Hudson’s Bay Company. Macdonald received his inspiration for the creation of the RCMP from the Royal Irish Constabulary, the quasi-military police force of Ireland from 1822 to 1922. Reports from army officers surveying the territory led to the recommendation that a mounted force of between 100 to 150 mounted riflemen could maintain law and order. The prime minister first announced the force as the “North West Mounted Rifles”. Despite being originally created to with a primary purpose to clear the plains, the Prairies, of Indigenous people officials in the United States raised concerns that an armed force along the border was a prelude to a military buildup. Macdonald then renamed the force the North-West Mounted Police (NWMP) when formed in 1873.
The force added “royal” to its name in 1904. It merged with the Dominion Police, the main police force for all points east of Manitoba, in 1920 and was renamed the “Royal Canadian Mounted Police”. The new organization was charged with federal law enforcement in all the provinces and territories, and immediately established its modern role as protector of Canadian national security, as well as assuming responsibility for national counterintelligence.
The RCMP are famous for their distinctive dress uniform, or “review order”, popularly known as the “Red Serge.” It has a high collared scarlet tunic, midnight blue breeches with yellow leg stripe, Sam Browne belt with white sidearm lanyard, oxblood riding boots (possibly with spurs), brown felt campaign hat (wide, flat brimmed) with the characteristic “Montana crease”, and brown gloves (with brown leather gauntlets for riders). Members wear the review order during the Musical Ride, an equestrian drill in which mounted members show their riding skills and handling of the cavalry lance. On normal duties, the RCMP uses standard police methods, equipment, and uniforms. The RCMP uses horses for ceremonial operations such as escorting the governor general’s open landau to the opening of Parliament (per Wikipedia).
Now – back to the Lost Patrol.
From 1904 to 1921, it was an annual Royal Northwest Mounted Police tradition to make a trip from Dawson City, Yukon to Fort McPherson, Northwest Territories, approximately 620 miles, to deliver mail and dispatches. In December 1910, the Commissioner of the Force, Aylesworth Bowen Perry, asked instead that the trip be made from Fort McPherson to Dawson. The trip was to be led by Inspector Francis Joseph Fitzgerald. Accompanying him were Constable Richard O’Hara Taylor, Constable George Francis Kinney and their guide, Special Constable Sam Carter.
Fitzgerald and his men left Fort McPherson, with fifteen dogs, three sleds and enough food for thirty days. The men felt no need to question whether they would reach their destination or not. They successfully completed the first leg of the journey and hired native Esau George to lead them through the next section. When he had completed his part of the trip, Fitzgerald let George go, trusting in Carter to lead them successfully to their destination. Unfortunately, Carter had been on only one patrol, in the opposite direction, and would soon prove to be an inefficient guide. By January 12, 1911, the patrol was lost for Carter was unable to find Forrest Creek which would lead them to Dawson. The team unsuccessfully travelled up and down several streams in search of the correct one. With only four days of regular rations remaining, Fitzgerald made a notation in his journal: “My last hope is gone…I should not have taken Carter’s word that he knew the way from the Little Wind River.” The following day, the patrol reversed their trail in the hopes of returning to Fort McPherson.
The trip back to McPherson proved to be difficult. Weak from lack of food and exhaustion, the team were able to walk only a few miles a day, sometimes not at all due to inclement weather conditions. Starving, frostbitten and ill, the patrol trekked on. Between January 19 and February 5, ten of the dogs were killed for food. February 5, 1911, day 47 of this fatal patrol, was the date of the last entry in Inspector Fitzgerald’s diary.
On March 21, the lost patrol was found, apparently on their way back to Fort McPherson. Kinney and Taylor were dead, side by side at an open camp, Kinney of starvation and Taylor of a fatal, self-inflicted bullet wound in his head. The next day, Fitzgerald and Carter were found. Having left the other two in search of help, they finally succumbed to the cold and hunger, just 40 kilometres away from Fort McPherson. They would never find help.
Why did this patrol fail? Although no single, conclusive answer can be given, several factors contributed. Although Carter had made the trip once, and convinced himself and Fitzgerald he was competent, he did not in fact know the route from Fort McPherson to Dawson. After becoming lost, the team spent much time attempting to find the proper stream to follow. With temperatures that winter between -45 and -62 degrees Fahrenheit, and food sources of limited supply and nutritional value, the patrol was doomed to fail. By the time they were missed at Dawson City, and a search party was sent out, it was too late (per ExploreNorth.com).
First, a Story:
What happens when an RCMP officer takes off his red serge and gets into bed? He becomes an undercover cop.
Second, a Song:
Well today it is more of a performance.
The Musical Ride of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police is an event showcasing the equestrian skills performed by 32 cavalry who are regular members of the force. The event is held in Canada and worldwide to promote the RCMP. The first official ride was held in 1887 in Regina, District of Assiniboia, and was commanded by Inspector William George Matthews. The Musical Ride is featured on the Canadian fifty-dollar bill of the Scenes of Canada banknote series produced from 1969 to 1979. Domestically, it is found every 1 July in Ottawa on Canada Day and has performed at the Expo 67, the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal, the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, and the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver (per Wikipedia).
The RCMP Musical Ride is performed by a full troop of 32 riders and their horses. Their performance consists of intricate figures and drills choreographed to music. These movements demand the utmost control, timing and coordination.
The Musical Ride performs in up to 50 communities across Canada between the months of May and October. They help raise thousands of dollars for local charities and non-profit organizations.
The Musical Ride provides the opportunity to experience the heritage and traditions of the RCMP. The riders act as ambassadors of goodwill who promote the RCMP’s image throughout Canada and all over the world (per https://www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/). Here is the RCMP Musical Ride. I hope you enjoy this!
Thought for the Day:
“By the 1970s, Western sanctions had hollowed out the Soviet economy. Ultimately, however, what brought down the Soviets was their inability to repair the catastrophic damage that began with the meeting of Igor Gouzenko and the RCMP.” – Erin O’Toole
On a personal note, I was a Special Constable with the RCMP in the Flin Flon Manitoba detachment during law school. The RCMP has an amazing history as part of Canada and I am proud to have shared a tiny part of it. Hat tip to Randy Prokopanko of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, a high school and university buddy of mine and a Civilian Member and 35 yr Veteran of the RCMP, for drawing the story of the Lost Patrol to my attention.
Have a great day!
Dave & Colleen
(c) 2020 David J. Bilinsky & Colleen E. Bilinsky