E.F. Hersey

Major Earle Frank Hersey

August. 6, 1905 - January 1, 2006

"Haps" Hersey was involved in the hunt for the Mad Trapper, Albert Johnson, and was seriously wounded by a bullet from Johnson's rifle during the last fatal encounter. For an account of that event go to The Rat River story.



Below are some copies of Frank Hersey’s obituaries and various newspaper articles about him. Some of these are repetitive but to do justice we have included here all the ones we could find.

Frank Hersey
The Globe and Mail.  Toronto, Ont.: Mar 4, 2006

Section: Obituaries. All material copyright Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc. or its licensors. All rights reserved. Fraser McKee of Toronto writes about Frank Hersey, whose obituary appeared on Mar. 2.

I only met Haps Hersey once, after the war, but throughout the war years he was mentioned very frequently by my father, Lt. Col., later Brigadier, Clarence McKee, who was his commanding officer in 1st Division and later 1st Corps Signals. He and others felt, in his words, "All those fellows who have been on stations in the North [with the RCCS] have lots of self reliance and initiative." Haps went over as the very competent Regimental Sergeant Major of 1 Div. Signals and gained a commission by September of 1940. Whenever there was a platoon with problems, dad sent Hersey, or one of those other signalmen "to sort it out." Throughout the training in England and the fighting in Sicily and Italy, Haps was one of dad's favourites, absolutely reliable and requiring minimal orders or supervision. He came home an acting major.

After the war, Haps stayed in the Army, although he undeservedly had to drop back a rank, and my father became a stock broker. When Haps won his sweepstakes he called dad in some panic as to what he should do! Dad told him to take $5,000 and blow it on anything he and his wife needed, just so he'd feel he had actually won something, and divide the remainder into stocks, bonds and property. Haps told him that being married just before the war and with minimal money, their furniture had been pretty ordinary. So he called the Salvation Army and said "Come and get your furniture!" Buying the sweepstake ticket was just a chance happening during a training course in the Signals School in Kingston. He had been on his way to a lecture when the seller, another officer, asked him to buy a ticket. "Haven't time," Haps said, but the seller, who was about to make out a ticket to another chap, persuaded Haps to take that one and pay him later.

Danny Gallagher.  The Globe and Mail.  Toronto, Ont.:Mar 2, 2006. p. S.7 Author(s): Danny Gallagher.      Dateline: Toronto ONT.      Section: Obituaries

In 1932, he was a young army signaler borrowed by the RCMP in its hunt for the Mad Trapper of Rat River. For weeks, he and a posse of about 20 chased a desperate gunman across the frozen wilderness

Frank Hersey was the last surviving member of a posse that tracked down the Mad Trapper of Rat River during a 240-kilometre chase along the Arctic Circle in 1932.

A party of more than 20 Mounties, soldiers, natives and trappers tracked Albert Johnson for weeks in -40 temperature. By the time the trek ended in the middle of a frozen river, two men were dead and two others were badly wounded. One of the wounded was Mr. Hersey.

It all began with a complaint by trappers that Johnson was interfering with their trap lines. According to author Dick North, Johnson was probably Johnny Johnson, a convicted murderer from North Dakota, who set foot in Fort MacPherson, NWT, on July 9, 1931. After a series of complaints, RCMP constables Alfred King and Joe Bernard set out in late December of 1931 to question Johnson. The next day, they found a cabin he was believed to use, but when one of the officers peered through a window, someone blocked it with a burlap sack.

The officers retreated and returned several days later with three additional men.

"Are you in there, Mr. Johnson?" Constable King shouted through the door. The fugitive responded by firing a bullet through a hole in the door, badly wounding the officer. The posse retreated, travelling 20 hours to get treatment for him.

Several days later, an even bigger party returned to lay siege to the cabin. After 15 hours of gunplay, a bomb was hurled onto the roof and the cabin collapsed. When the posse went looking for a corpse, Johnson stood up from a fox hole and started shooting. The siege had failed. Johnson disappeared into the wilderness and the RCMP returned to Aklavik, NWT, to assemble a more sophisticated posse.

It was then that Frank Hersey joined. A former high-school teacher from New Brunswick, he had joined the Canadian Army in 1927, spending six years in Aklavik as a communications expert, helping to construct and operate a radio station that broadcast to Edmonton. As part of the Royal Canadian Signal Regiment, he had vast experience in the North, became familiar with explosives and was a crack rifleman. He was also an experienced musher.

"My dad was chosen because he had the fastest dog team . . . seven huskies,'' said Mr. Hersey's daughter Sheila. "He had the lead team. He was so familiar with the North and good on tracking. He was single in those days and he would always want to be doing something. He bred his dogs with wolves.''

Notwithstanding his competence with dog teams, Mr. Hersey's involvement in the manhunt marked the first time two-way radio was used by police in Canada. Another first was the use of an airplane in such an operation. While the posse travelled via dogsleds, First World War flying ace Wop May, an experienced bush pilot, searched from the clouds in a Bellanca monoplane equipped with skis. As a young pilot during the war, it was May whom the legendary Red Baron (Manfred von Richthofen) was pursuing when the German ace was downed and killed.

The search for Johnson was a formidable assignment. The fugitive eluded the posse in what was the coldest winter on record, using wilderness skills that seemed almost superhuman. Strapping on his snowshoes and weighed down by a backpack full of pots, pans, household goods and food, the stocky, muscular man of 35 was still capable of travelling two miles for every mile covered by the dogsleds.

At one point, the posse's advance party stumbled on a hut to be met by gunfire. Johnson scrambled behind a fallen tree and a two-hour interval unfolded in which nothing happened. Finally, Constable Edgar Millen became concerned that Johnson would escape and moved closer. Johnson fired several shots, striking Constable Millen in the heart. It was Mr. Hersey who next day retrieved the body.

The pursuit went on for weeks until on Feb. 17, Wop May spotted snowshoe tracks on the Eagle River and radioed Mr. Hersey. Within hours, some of the posse caught up to Johnson. Going down on one knee, Mr. Hersey shot at the desperado three times at a range of about 80 metres.

"I didn't want to kill Johnson. I have trouble killing flies," Mr. Hersey once told The Quarterly, an RCMP magazine. "I'd hit his back three times . . . and down he'd come and he was just disgusted with me. He reached behind and got the rifle and, bang. He hit me dead centre. I had fallen and gone over backward and down in the snow. He fired three more times at me as I lay in the snow and didn't hit me once. [I was hit] through my left knee.''

Meanwhile, Johnson seemed untouched until finally a freak shot changed everything. An RCMP bullet found the spare ammunition Johnson carried in his backpack and it exploded. Johnson was seriously wounded and the posse moved in for the kill. The fatal shot was a bullet in the spine. By some accounts, it was the last of 17 bullets found lodged in his body. Police recovered $2,410 in cash on him, along with gold fillings from corpses, a pocket compass, a razor, knife, fish hooks, a dead squirrel and a dead bird.

With the mission accomplished, Mr. Hersey's life was on the line. The only man hurt in the final shootout, he was scooped up by May and flown to hospital in Aklavik.

"Without Mr. May's quick action, my dad would never have made it," his daughter Sheila said. "He was shot through the knee and the bullet then went into an elbow and into his chest. They found it embedded in flesh in his back.''

The Johnson adventure spawned several books, including those written by Mr. North, several television productions and a fictionalized movie Death Hun t , starring Charles Bronson and Lee Marvin. Recently, it was featured on the History Channel's Manhunt series.

"Frank would always carry the bullet with him, the bullet from Johnson's gun," RCMP chaplain and historian Gerry McMillan said. "Hollywood made a movie a number of years ago about the Mad Trapper but it was poorly done and far from being true to the account.''

Mr. Hersey remained in Aklavik for another year before he was transferred. Over time, he received postings to such places as Kingston, Montreal, Alberta, and Barrie, Ont., where he eventually settled.

Drawing on his experiences in the North, the army called on him in early 1946 to participate in Exercise Muskox, a trial run to determine if snowmobiles could replace dogsleds. The 2,900-kilometre expedition ended with a reception in Edmonton in May. It was also during his army days that Mr. Hersey had the great fortune of winning $157,000 in the Irish Sweepstakes, exceptional coin for those days. During the Second World War, he served in the army's Signal Corps Armoured Division, landing in Sicily. Somewhere along the way in Italy, he got to meet the Pope.

Mr. Hersey retired from the army in 1955 at the age of 50 and settled in Barrie, where he became involved in local activities. Mr. Hersey served on Barrie City Council for 16 years. He was voted Barrie's Citizen of the Year in 1960 and was a member of the local Rotary Club for close to 50 years. He was also a passionate curler until his 80s, often lying about his age so he wouldn't be passed over for bonspiels.

"If I tell them my real age, they won't pick me," he would often say.

Frank Hersey was born on Aug. 6, 1905, in Fredericton, N.B. He died in his sleep on Jan. 1, 2006, in Elmvale, near Barrie, Ont. He was 100.

He leaves his daughter, Sheila. He was predeceased by his wife, Olive, and his son, David.


Last of Mad Trapper posse recalls hunt: Ex-signalman wounded in Albert Johnson's final stand:

[FINAL Edition] Kerry Powell.  The Vancouver Sun.  Vancouver, B.C.:Aug 10, 1995.  p. A.7 Author(s): Kerry Powell
(Copyright The Vancouver Sun) SouthamStar Network

EDMONTON -- He's the last man alive of the posse that tracked down the Mad Trapper of Rat River.

That was 1932. But the details of that famous 48-day chase across 240 kilometres of tundra are still sharp in the memory of major Frank (Heps) Hersey, who has just turned 90.

He's perhaps the most famous member of the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals, which manned the Northwest Territory and Yukon Radio System from 1923 to 1959.

Signal corps members gathered in Edmonton on the weekend to share memories and dedicate a cairn to their efforts in the North.

In 1931, Hersey was a signalman in Aklavik, a tiny settlement in the extreme northwest corner of the Northwest Territories. On the last day of that year, Albert Johnson, a trapper in nearby Fort MacPherson, shot a Mountie investigating him for trapping in aboriginal territory.

Over the next 48 days, Johnson led pursuers on a 240-kilometre chase in temperatures averaging -40 C.

Early on, the inspector in charge of the hunt asked Hersey to join.

``I was at one time a pretty good third baseman,'' Hersey explained, light flashing from icy blue eyes.

``They had some bombs and I was to throw them at Johnson's cabin.''

But by the time the trackers reached the cabin, Johnson was gone.

``It was February before we caught up with him. I had a really good dog team, some say the finest in the Mackenzie Delta. I led the posse.''

On Feb. 17, Hersey was rounding a bend in the Eagle River when he spotted a man in the distance.

``I recognized the snowshoes and I knew it was Johnson so I went for my rifle,'' said Hersey, an army marksman. Johnson tried to scramble up the eight-metre bank rising above the frozen river.

``I can't kill people very well so I shot at his pack. I hit him and he slid back down the bank, then went and climbed up again. So I got down on one knee and fired again and down he came.''

But Johnson stood up again.

``All of a sudden I saw him reach behind his back for his gun.''

But Hersey wasn't worried. He didn't think Johnson could be accurate at that distance. He was wrong.

The bullet blasted through Hersey's knee, then his elbow, into his side and out through his back.

``I was paralysed from here down,'' he said, gesturing to his waist. ``But I dug in. He fired three more shots.''

Johnson took off down river with the Mounties in pursuit. They fired and hit him in the hip. The inspector shouted for Johnson to surrender.

``He refused. He wasn't firing. He just lay there behind his pack. I'm conscious and watching all this. Then the inspector gave word to fire and Johnson got 17 bullets in him.''

Bush pilot W.R. (Wop) May arrived just as Johnson was shot. He picked up Hersey and flew him to hospital in Aklavik.


Tracker of Mad Trapper remembered:
Ian Mcinroy.  Examiner.  Barrie, Ont.:Jan 13, 2006.  p. A3  People: Hersey, Frank,  Johnson, Albert,  Hersey, Sheila,  McMillan, Gerry. Author(s): Ian Mcinroy

Obituary of Frank Hersey

Frank Hersey, who helped track down Albert Johnson, dies at the age of 100

From the wilderness of Canada's north country to the wilds of Barrie city council, Frank Hersey made contributions above and beyond the call of duty.

The Stroud resident, who lived with his daughter, Sheila Hersey, died in his sleep on New Year's Day at 100 years of age and has left a legacy in his community and across Canada.

He was the last surviving member of a posse that tracked down Albert Johnson, the infamous Mad Trapper of Rat River, during a grueling 240-kilometre winter chase along the Arctic Circle in 1931 and 1932.

Hersey was an important part of the capture that has been recalled in books and television shows for years, the most recent being an episode on the History Channel's Manhunt.

RCMP Chaplain Gerry McMillan, an avid history buff and RCMP historian, said Hersey's story is an exciting part Canadian history.

"It's a famous Canadian story -- it's become a legend," he said, of the capture of the Mad Trapper, later identified as Albert Johnson. According to author Dick North, he was a convicted criminal on the run after living in the United States who possessed incredible skill and endurance to survive the coldest winter on record and to outwit the RCMP, other trappers, natives and members of the Royal Canadian Signal Regiment who were hunting him down.

As a member of the signal corps, Hersey was called on because of his experience in the far north, great familiarity with explosives, his communications skills and his skills as a marksman.

The mounties had good reason to get their man -- Johnson had killed one of their own during a shootout, inspiring the scarlet soldiers to find him and bring him to justice.

But it was no easy task -- the story goes that Johnson could snowshoe two miles for every one mile the posse's dog sleds could travel while breaking trail.

"There is a mystery about him and how he defied the elements for so long during the chase, and there's also the persistence of the RCMP in the elements," McMillan said. "What was amazing was that he could keep on travelling the tundra -- the way he survived was a miracle. The mounties had to keep going back to get supplies for their chase and he kept on going."

After 48 days, when the Mad Trapper was finally cornered, Hersey was in a position to take him down.

"Johnson was on top of a hill and Hersey took a shot at him. It knocked the Mad Trapper over. He stood up and shot at Hersey," he said, adding that Wop May -- a legend of his own with his early bush piloting exploits in the far north -- was brought in to aid in the chase and was instrumental in saving Hersey's life.

McMillan and RCMP Const. Eric Rebiere interviewed Hersey a few years ago for The Quarterly, an RCMP magazine. In a conversation, he described how he was wounded on Feb. 17, 1932.

"He reached behind and got the rifle and bang. He hit me dead centre. I came up and then I was down. I had fallen and gone over backwards and down in the snow. He fired three more times at me as I lay in the snow (and) didn't hit me once. (I was hit) through my left knee. I was in my shooting position, you see (showing his knee). This is living proof that he shot me in the knee. I did not want to be moved until Wop May came and loaded me on the plane. I was conscious all the time. I saw the whole battle," he said.

Johnson was killed when one of the posse shot the bullets he was carrying in his pack, causing an explosion that brought him down. Eventually, he was shot 17 times.

Sheila Hersey, 66, said Hersey was a good father and set a good example for his family.

"He was pretty busy. You obeyed the rules and did as you were told (but) he was loving with it," she said.

She brought her father home to live with her a few years ago when his health started to fail.

"It was really important for him to be a good citizen and to give to the community, and he was well respected in the community. He gave so much of his time and effort. He did a lot of work with the Red Cross and he became involved in children's aid and he spent 16 years on Barrie city council.

"He had lots of stories to tell -- not so much war stories, but about the interesting people he'd met. He met the pope during the Second World War while serving in Italy with the Signal Corps Armoured Division and he was really liked by his army buddies."

Hersey was also very active in the Rotary Club of Barrie and would have been a 50-year member at the end of January, according to Charlie Wilson, who has been a member since 1951.

Sheila Hersey said anyone who knew her father will have fond memories of him.

"I think they'll remember him with a smile."

Final police link to Mad Trapper hunt remembered:
Stephanie Waddell.  Whitehorse Star.  Whitehorse, Y.T.:Apr 28, 2006.  p. 11  People: Hersey, Frank

Frank Hersey has been remembered by Yukon author Dick North as a man who knew his own mind and lived a very adventurous life.

On Jan. 1, Hersey, who had been the final survivor of the group who tracked down the Mad Trapper in 1932, died at the age of 100.

More than 20 RCMP officers, soldiers, first nations and trappers spent weeks tracking down Albert Johnson in what started as complaints to the RCMP that he was interfering with local traplines.

Officers had attempted to question Johnson by showing up at his cabin, but someone covered the window with a burlap sack. After they returned days later with three more officers, a bullet was fired at them through the window.

That was followed days later with more firing until a bomb was thrown through the roof of the cabin and the building collapsed.

Johnson, however, stood up from a fox hole and started shooting before disappearing into the wilderness.

At that point, the RCMP opted to bring in more forces, including Hersey, who had joined the Canadian army in 1927 and was based in Aklavik.

The track down continued for weeks with Hersey shooting Johnson three times, but it wasn't until an RCMP bullet ended up connecting with the extra ammunition Johnson carried that it ended. The ammunition exploded, seriously wounding Johnson.

The group then moved in and Johnson was shot in the spine.

Hersey was one of two in the group wounded with Johnson shooting at him after he fired the three shots. He was flown back to Aklavik by pilot Wop May who was part of the track down as well.

"He had a pretty adventurous life," said North, who interviewed Hersey many times over the years for his books on the Mad Trapper as well as exchanging Christmas cards with him for years.

After the track down, Hersey went on to serve in the Second World War, where he survived being wounded again.

"It's funny how fate takes care of those guys," said North.

Hersey was also accomplished in the sports community as both a runner and baseball player.

"He was a heck of a good athlete," said North.

While North interviewed Hersey many times about his experience in the trackdown, it was never something Hersey seemed to dwell on.

"He looked at it as a signals (communications) guy," said North.

Hersey retired from the army in 1955. He settled in Barrie, Ont.

He is survived by his daughter Sheila and predeceased by his wife, Olive, and son David.

Credit: The Daily Star (Whitehorse)

Posse survivor slams book on Mad Trapper
The Globe and Mail.  Toronto, Ont.:Sep 13, 1980.  p. E.6  Dateline: Edmonton AB

Edmonton AB -- EDMONTON$QR A NEW BOOK by Rudy Wiebe on the Mad Trapper of Rat River has been called ''inaccurate and ridiculous'' by the last surviving member of the posse involved in the famous manhunt almost 50 years ago.

''That fellow just didn't do his homework,'' Frank Hersey, 70, said from his home in Barrie, Ont. ''You can see he doesn't know anything about the North.'' Hersey, a renowned sharpshooter, was wounded in a shootout with Albert Johnson, the so-called Mad Trapper of Rat River, moments before Johnson was gunned down on the Yukon's Eagle River.

Wiebe himself criticized the makers of the movie Death Hunt, a Hollywood film about the Mad Trapper, for brutally distorting Canadian history. ''It destroys a part of our heritage, a part of our vital past,'' Wiebe said of the film.

But Hersey said Wiebe's new book, The Mad Trapper, ''depicts the RCMP of that time as blundering, inefficient and undisciplined.'' He said the book ''unjustly downgrades the RCMP of that era.'' He said the book depicts First World War flying ace Wop May, instrumental in tracking down Johnson from the air, as a fool. ''It has him flying the plane, operating the joy stick with his knees and shooting at Johnson at the same time. That's ridiculous. Wop May was no fool. He was an outstanding natural flyer.'' Wiebe said there is evidence May was a ''very comical and colorful character. I depict him as flying the plane and shooting at Johnson at the same time because he represents a kind of dare-devil bravery that only a war ace could show.'' Wiebe said he has attempted to be true to the people in the story ''not in terms of facts, but in terms of personalities.'' Hersey turned down an invitation to attend a promotion for the book in Edmonton Thursday night because ''my attendance would mean I agree with the book and I certainly do not.'' – CP


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