Frances Fitzgerald first came to the Yukon as a 29 year-old North-West Mounted Police corporal with Inspector John Moodie’s 1897/98 exploration party. Moodie, Fitzgerald and three special constables were looking for an all-Canadian wagon road route from Edmonton, Alberta to the Klondike Gold Fields. The trip was long and arduous and not to be recommended - although many stampeders tried.
In 1903, after a post was established at Fort McPherson on the Peel River, Sergeant Fitzgerald organized a patrol to Herschel Island and established a post there. Annual patrols to Fort McPherson and on to Herschel Island started the next year and Fitzgerald traveled on the second patrol in 1905.
On December 10th, 1910, North-West Mounted Police Inspector Frances Fitzgerald and three companions departed Fort McPherson for Dawson City - a distance of 765 kilometres. They never arrived. A search party, led by Corporal Dempster and guided by Charley Stewart, found their bodies in March 1911. An investigation determined that Fitzgerald’s party perished due to a shortage of supplies, bad weather, sparse game and the lack of an experienced guide.
After this tragedy, the Mounties put rest cabins and supply caches along the route from Dawson to Fort McPherson and between Fort McPherson and Herschel Island. All subsequent patrols were led by an experienced native guide and hunter.
“No point too far distant in [this] vast country for the long and strong arm of the law.” Commissioner A. B. Perry, 1906.
During the winter of 1904-05, Corporal Mapley led the first annual winter patrol from Dawson to Fort McPherson and return, a distance of 1,000 miles. They checked on local trappers and prospectors, recorded game movements and carried mail and orders to detachments at Fort McPherson and Herschel Island. For the next sixty years, the police patrolled this territory with the help of the First Nation guides and special constables who knew it best. The Mounties used snowshoes, sleds and dogs purchased from the First Nations.
The special constables and guides often stopped along the way to hunt game for the dogs and men. The contributions of men such as John Moses, Lazarus Sittichinli, John Martin, Richard Martin and Peter Benjamin live on in the annals of police history and family stories.
The Mounties survived by wearing hats, mitts, parkas, pants and mukluks made by First Nation seamstresses. The traditional fur and caribou skin clothing was warm, lightweight and windproof - ideal for winter travel.
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