August 7, 2011

Mountie Bob Holden and the Klondike machine guns

Cst. Bob Holden and Simpson
on the day of Queen Elisabeth's Coronation
in front of the old married quarters residence, 1952.

Back on June 28 and June 30, 2011 I posted about the two North-West Mounted Police machine guns set up on the Canadian side of the borders at the summits of the Chilkoot and White Pass trails to keep Soapy Smith and his gang out of Canada. A little over a month later, on August 3, 2011, I received a  wonderful email from Mr. Bob Holden who had served in the NWMP in the early 1950s. Mr. Holden is most likely the last man to fire one of the machine guns. I'll let Mr. Holden tell the story.

Dear Jeff Smith.

I lucked out and found your article (Canada uses machine gun to keep Soapy Smith out)

I was stationed in the RCMP in Dawson Dawson City from 1951 to 1953. A very interesting time to be there. Many of the old timers who were and still were involved in the Stampede were still there. Also several of the Gold Rush Madams and their girls kept things going in the summer time (madams like Bombay Peggy, so named because her breasts were so large she used flower sacks opened up for a brazier. Also one of the real old timers, "Zoom" and a couple of French madams and their girls from France. All of which made life interesting.

Cst. Bob Holden at Moosehide Indian village
just north of Dawson on the Yukon River

The Norden machine gun you show being displayed in the RCMP museum was still in our storage building which was the old horse stables used by the NWMP. It was dissembled and neatly packed in various crates. I asked our Cst in charge, Ray Bradford if I could put it together and see if it still worked. After assembly, without too much difficulty I loaded it in the back of the 1947 Fargo pickup which was our only police vehicle at the time. As it was winter and bitterly cold, I filled the water chamber with boiling water, loaded up a belt with about 100 rounds of original .303 cal. bullets and drove out the the Klondike river and the gravel tail ponds left the Dredge #5 which was still working the Bonanza creek area. I was a little nervous about firing the gun while sitting on the seat, so I tied a long cord to the trigger, pulled back on the fireing lever, laid down on the ground and pulled the cord. It fired but only once as the old grease and cold weather slowed it down. After two or three tries it eventually began to repeat fire. At which time I sat down on the seat and blew away an old stump about 76 yards away. Cst Jim Simpson who was with me did not venture up off the ground until I used up all of the ammo.

Cst. Bob Holden enjoying a glass of rum
and listening to message from home on his Webcor wire recorder.
"Over proof rum was only sold in the Territories.."

We returned to the Detachment put the gun back in it's box where is stayed until some time after I left in 1953 and all the old artifacts including the machine gun were sent to Regina.

Trapper complaining to the Yukon Game Commissioner
about someone trespassing on his trapline.

To the best of my knowledge the gun had not been fired since it's return from the Chilkoot pass episode. I wish of course, I had taken pictures of that event. I do have some of myself and the other members of that period if you are interested, Let me know.

Bob Holden

Dawson City looking south
Klondyke river entering Yukon River from the left above City.
Ice rotting as spring approaches.

My response...

Hello, Bob.

Thank you very much for that exciting story. I would love to see some of the old photos you have! With your permission, I would like to write up a post on my blog with your photos and the story you told of the gun.

Possibly the Casca wood burning paddle wheeler
pushing barge of supplies down river from Whitehorse to Dawson.

I found about the guns back in the 1980s when someone who lived in Regina saw one of my old ads I used to put into magazines looking for information on Soapy. In the mid 1990s a librarian in Canada was going through some old files on Sam Steel and came across his two notes to his superiors stating that the Skagway deputy marshal (J. M. Tanner) had told him that Frank Reid did not kill Soapy, but that Jesse Murphy did. This was a key piece of evidence I had been searching for in the gunfight controversy that ended my great-grandfather's life. Although he was a bad man, his history is so much fun to study and write about.

I look forward to hearing from you!
Jeff Smith

The Casca returning to Whitehorse
This is in front of the detachment
The current runs very fast making it hard and slow to make progress.
Wood for burning to make steam was cut along the entire Yukon shoreline
and stacked at intervals along the shore so the the boats
could load wood as needed.

Dear Jeff

I have had some difficulty getting some of the pics. Sorry for the quality but they do have a few years on them. Hope you find the interesting. As I said previously, I can't believe I did not take some of the machine gun.

Bob Holden

Paddle wheeler tied up
and unloading at Dawson City

One of the main streets in Dawson
with the Moosehide landslide in the background

The photographs you see in this posts are the ones he sent me. I enlarged them and did a little clean up as I feel they are an important look into the history of the Klondike and those two machine guns. I'm sure I speak for many when I say thank you Bob for sharing these photographs and your wonderful story with us.

NWMP/RCMP graveyard
Member of the Force that
was killed during the
"Mad Trapper of Rat River"

incident is buried here
Ice breakup during spring
on the Yukon River

Robert Service's cabin
Dawson City
Gold dredge #5
working on Bananza Creek

Jeff Smith


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Thank you for leaving your comment and/or question on my blog. I always read, and will answer all questions left here. Please know that they are greatly appreciated. -Jeff Smith