Monday, March 17, 2014

FORWARD BY LONE E. JOHNSON The following article by Lone E. Johnson titled, Alaska’s mad Trapper was printed in the 1959 Tundra Times. My father-in-law, Dick Janson, Sr., was a genuine character in his own right, a well as being a master story teller. His tales of adventure with Pancho Villa’s “Rover Army,” of roaming the Old West, logging, prospecting, and following heavy construction work, and of early Alaska, used to keep us entertained by the hour. Dad left Sweden in 1909 at the age of 20 and came to Alaska in 1916. He taught himself English by reading newspapers. His strength was prodigious and proverbial. He was one of those bull Swedes who would never go around a thing if he could go through it. His two sons used to complain that there were two ways to do things—Dad’s way and the easy way. “The hardest way is not hard enough.” He was a great guy, and as I say, master story-teller. Dad’s stories of the “Mad Trapper of Cordova, another great guy and interesting character, especially caught my fancy. These stories as wild as they seem, are all true. The Mad Trapper was one of those fellows who set his mind a thing and did not quit till he was good at it. When he first came to Alaska as a cheechako, he listened to stories about legendary old-timers and set out to out-do them. He set out to learn to shoot straighter, mush farther, trap better, and anything else he heard about, including flying. In many cases, he succeeded. With it all, he was a born clown and a great favorite with old and young alike. The Mad Trapper went to the Kenai country after he left Cordova, where he continued to pile up the stories and legends about himself. I know little of his subsequent career after leaving Cordova. All I can tell is what dad told me about the “mad Trapper” of Cordova, one sunny day sitting on a clam bar waiting for the tide. I’ll never forget the stories Dad told me about the Mad Trapper. It was a time when Halferty Cannery was putting up an experimental pack of cockles. There were tons of cockles on the clam bars and they were starving out the razor clams, so we were hoping to create a marker for them. They asked dad to get a skiff load, and my husband, Dick Jr., and I went along to help. There were so many cockles on that bar we had all we could carry before low water so we had to wait for the tide. We sat on the edge of the skiff and Dad began to tell stories. A small plane flew overhead about that time and it reminded him of the Mad Trapper. “Now, Toni, let me tell you about the Mad Trapper. If that plane had been him he’d have been diving on us, just to see us jump face down in the mud. He used to do that to the cockle-diggers out on the mud flat in front of Cordova. “And he had the funniest-looking plane—built it himself. I guess it had a pusher-type motor mounted on top and he could do acrobatics with it every-thing. “The way the mad Trapper learned to fly is this: One day he went down to the airport, and he found this plane all gassed up and running: warming up for the pilot, I guess. So the Mad Trapper just piled in and took off. That’s how he learned to fly. When he told me about it I asked him if he landed all right. “Well, I’m here ain’t I?” he demanded. That’s the kind of guy he was. “He used to fly around and buzz bears sleeping on the mountainside. The bears would rise up and growl and bat at him. “When the mad trapper flew over town, he’d come over Main Street, cut the motor and holler: ‘Send me a cab to the airport!’ Authors note* {This is true. He did this on several occasions when I was riding with him.} “One time I was out on the flats fishing and the Mad Trapper landed his plane on the flats nearby. So I took him to the boat for coffee. Well, I poured him a cup and handed it over. He took one sip and spit it overboard. ‘Do you call that weak slop coffee? He said.” Dad’s coffee was pure battery acid. He kept it on the middle of the stove all day, boiling vigorously. Whenever the pot ran low, he’d add some more grounds and more boiling water. Once a week or so he’d have to throw out all the grounds because there would be no room in the pot. This was the “weak slop” the Mad Trapper complained of. Dad went on with the story. “Well I threw all that coffee out and handed him the pot and the can of coffee and told him to make it himself. Well, he did. He took a whole pound of coffee and put it in the pot and added water. When it was boiled up, he said, ‘Now that’s coffee!’ “So while we were drinking this here coffee, the Mad Trapper asks me if, I ‘me going to town this weekend, and I told him no, it took too long to run in-this was in the days before the big, high-powered kickers. “‘Oh,’ he laughed. ‘That’s no problem, I’ll fly you in!’ “Well I looked at his plane, and I say, “It looks like there’s only one seat in there. Where would I ride?’ “Well, the Mad Trapper pointed to the plane, “See those handles up on the wing? You just lie out on the wing under the engine there and hold on and I’ll have you to town in no time at all!’ Well, that’s one ride I didn’t take. That crazy fool might have decided to do a few loops and dives while I was up there! “Do you know what happened to that plane? On day he decided to fly through a narrow canyon-–a real narrow canyon—and he came walking out the other side with the engine strapped to his back. “Well you know, the Trapper, he was a real big guy—strong as a bull—and tough! He could chew up railroad spikes and spit out carpet tacks! His real name was Henry Kroll, but no one ever called him anything but the Mad Trapper. He’d do some of the craziest things. I’ll never forget the time I met him coming down the trail one winter in hip boots on skis. And he didn’t have a thing to eat with him. I told him that the jackrabbits carried more lunch than he did. “The Mad trapper had a funny sense of humor. He would go into a tear-jerker movie and when the movie got real sad and all the women started crying he’d bust out laughing at the top of his lungs, and pointing to all the people dabbing their eyes. “The kids used to tease him all the time, and the mad trapper would chase them. They always got away, because they had all their avenues of escape mapped out—like they’d run through the Northern Hotel, out the back and jump over the bank so he couldn’t catch them. They considered it great sport to tease the mad trapper. But one day, Sonny Olson made the mistake of running down the dock, and when he got to the end there was no escape. He was cornered. “The mad Trapper took Sonny’s pants off and chased the embarrassed, kid all the way through town. He followed the kid all the way carrying his pants over his arm and yelling. “I’ll teach those little so-and so’s to tease me! “Oh the best story of all was the time he took a contract to capture some live animals for a zoo outside. The first thing he tried for was a mountain goat. Being the sort of man he was, he ignored the smaller specimens and lassoes the biggest goat in the heard. The big Billy took off across the mountainside before the Mad Trapper had a chance to snub off the rope. Off they went--the trapper trying to snub the rope on every rock, tree or outcropping they went whizzing past—but the big Billy was moving too fast. It was all the trapper could do to keep upright and moving in the same direction. Then the goat came charging over a rock slide area. Both the goat and the Trapper lost their footing here and went sliding down the mountain. They slid just a little way when the rope fetched up in the middle around a clump of alders. With this, the two contestants began to slide closer together, and the mad Trapper began to figure at last that he might be able to tie the legs of the goat and have him. But he glanced up at the alder clump and saw that it was gradually pulling out by the roots and that soon the Trapper and the Billy goat would resume their slide down the steep slope. So the Mad Trapper admitted defeat, whipped out his hunting knife and as soon as he got close enough, cut the goat loose with only a short bit of rope left which would easily come off. He later captured some smaller goats for the outside zoo people. “But he did trap three live wolverines for the zoo. One of the wolverine he knocked out so he could put him in an old Yukon stove. That one he drug behind him on a sled. Another one was tied to his pack and the third he was pushing in front with one leg hobbled to a pole. This one was trying to turn around all the time and bite him. The one in his pack was struggling to get free so violently that he was making the Trapper stumble. This is the way he traveled the twenty-five miles into Cordova from his trap-line on the Copper River. “Well after a while the wolverine in the stove came too and started to growl and the one in his back kept fighting the ropes and the one in front kept trying to bite him and it put the Mad Trapper out of sorts. “Well thing were going pretty good till the Trapper got a little careless once and forgot to watch. Now a wolverine is a pretty tough animal, and when the Trapper--- You have to read the book to find out what happened next because I lost the rest of this article.

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