This Day In History: The Future ‘Mad Trapper’ Heads For America (1904)

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On this day in history, one of Canada’s most infamous criminal
s and killers headed for America. Young Johan Johnsen the future “Mad Trapper of Rat River,” leaves his native Norway with his family. They head first to New York and then went on to settle on a large farm in North Dakota. From his youth, Johnsen was a brilliant woodsman who could survive for ages on his own in the wilds. For some reason, he became known as Albert. He was not cut out to be a farmer and instead took to a life of crime. He associated with gunslingers and rustlers and soon became something of an outlaw.

In 1915, at just 17, Albert Johnsen committed his first robbery. He robbed a bank in Montana. He was later caught and sent to a penitentiary and served some years in prison. After his release, he returned to a life of crime.  He was a master of disguise and used many aliases. No one has ever been able to decide how many crimes he committed.  For some unknown reason, he withdrew into the wilderness in Canada.

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Albert Jonsen’s destroyed cabin

By 1930, he was living in a cabin along the Rat River, in a remote part of the Yukon in Canada.  Johnsen forbade anyone entering his property on the pain of death. He had not totally abandoned his robberies other trappers complained that he stole from their traps. Johnsen made a living by trapping and selling beaver.

In the winter of 1931, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and three local  men arrived at Johnsen’s cabin with a search warrant . They wanted to search his cabin to find proof that he had stolen from other trappers. However, when the Mounties knocked on his door Johnsen opened up on them with his gun. The officer was seriously wounded. The Mountie and the locals all fled. The Mounties returned in great numbers, some dozen armed men.

There then began a 15-hour attack with gunfire. The police even tried to dynamite  his out of his cabin. Even dynamite failed to force Johnsen’s surrender. The following day, a blizzard swept in and Johnsen managed to escape. A massive manhunt began  that included Indian guides and tracker dogs. Johnsen travelling alone and on -foot managed to evade them all. He had to live off the land and he did this for some four weeks.

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Some of the Mounties who searched for Johnsen

On February 17, 1932, the police found Johnsen and trapped him on a frozen river. Still, he refused to surrender. To the Mounties calls to surrender he simply continued shooting. He was cut down by a volley of gunshots. Johnsen’s body was recovered and he was found to be practically starved. He was only skin and bone and weighed only 100 pounds. He had managed to survive some 40 days in the wilderness with no supplies. The Mad Trapper is one of the best-known figures in Canadian criminal history.

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