Law enforcement: not for the meek

Ray V. Fetterly

The black gelding, a farm plug tied in the willows, laid his ears back in defiance of the strange approaching steed and its overcoat-clad rider. The early morning hoarfrost cast a scene of ornamental tranquility over the southern slopes of the Riding Mountain National Park. Several inches of new snow completed the peacefulness and stark beauty on this November morning in 1952.

It was 7:05 a.m.. My very first realization of the seriousness, danger and anxiety of the job was about to be brought abruptly to the fore. I had been on the job a mere nine days. A half-mile inside the park I found it anything but peaceful. In a moment it would erupt into a violent confrontation and a test of wills between the resolve of a young park warden and an equally determined early morning hunter.

My saddle horse Flick, went from a fast trot to an abrupt halt in the face of a leveled .30.30 carbine. The poacher levered a live shell into the chamber. Not more than ten feet away he snarled a defiant, "Hold it right get your hands up!" His white angry face left no doubt of his will and intentions. He would by any means or method, frighten off this bothersome obstacle on horseback and either continue the hunt or make good his escape.

Fearing the horse would be shot, I proceeded to point out the error of the poacher's ways. But the madman in dirty overalls only sneered again, shouldered his rifle and brought it up to my midsection. In the meantime the issued .303 lay comfortably in the saddle scabbard, where in retrospect I am glad it remained.

Many strange thoughts entered my mind and I was annoyed at the thought of a bullet hole through my new sheepskin lined overcoat. I thought of my dear mother (recently widowed) and how she would cry again. But who would tell her? No one knew where I was. Her son would be dead somewhere in the bush perhaps never to be found. As I tried to maneuver my horse into a more advantageous position, the poacher fired a shot. How close, I did not wish to know.

Immediately he reloaded and brought his gun up again, snarling a, "Now get to hell out of here!" At this awful moment, there was instilled in me a need for immediate departure. Pushing the horse hard through an entanglement of young poplar, willow and underbrush out onto an unused sleigh road, I beat a hasty but not so dignified retreat. At a fast gallop for three miles finally reaching the nearest farm, farmer Mike Baraniuk was on his way to the barn, in preparation for the morning milking. As I excitedly explained my presence, the unmoved farmer calmly said, "Now lad, just calm down. I'll drive you to the phone at Mountain Road (six miles) but first we take care of your horse. Then, we'll go in and have a cup of coffee."

With heaving sides, the lathered animal was unsaddled in the warm stable and given a good rub down, some fresh hay and blanketed. Soon however, we were on our way where a phone call to my Chief Warden brought RCMP Corporal Bill Stewart and Park Warden Bud Armstrong to my aid and a search for the suspect began.

The process of elimination brought us to an all night stakeout at the backwoods farm of Harry Z. (not his real name). In the log house was an old man and a teenage girl. The supper table was set for three. In the stable was an empty stall. On a hook near the stall post hung a matching blind bridle to the one on the poacher's horse. It was known the farm owner had a team of black workhorses and one was missing. We watched the place from a distance throughout the night but no one came.

We learned through unnamed sources our suspect had that day left the district for winter employment in the woods of Ontario. The winter passed and in April, 1953 Harry Z. was arrested. He was fined $150, a substantial penalty at that time.

Ray V. Fetterly is a retired Manitoba conservation officer.