EMBARGO- LAST OF THE HORSEBACK PATROL
By Ryan Siegmund
By Ryan Siegmund
When Ben Pound set out to BC in search of gold during the Great Depression he never figured his travels would lead to a 25 year career with the Mounties.
However, Ben and the two friends accompanying him were unsuccessful in their search. Running out of money to feed themselves, they headed back home to Winnipeg in the old van they had originally bought to get out there. During a stop in Regina, two of the men, including Pound, decided to sign up for the RCMP.
Ben’s son Bruce says at that point his father simply saw an opportunity for a paying career. The career spanned 25 years and allowed Ben to become one of the last RCMP officers to patrol on horseback.
When Ben passed away in late May 2004 at the age of 93, he left a diary that his son Bruce has been reading to help him reflect on his dad’s life.
“I think once my father got into the job, he really, really enjoyed it,” says Bruce. “I think it was ideal for him in that it provided a lot of variety and he got to meet a lot of people. It was a time when police officers were highly respected in the community…
“My dad always had a strong interest in horses and maybe that’s what made him join the RCMP.”
As an RCMP officer, Ben would get transferred regularly and Bruce remembers moving around a lot and never feeling there was one place he could call home.
While in Regina, shortly after joining, Ben would become an original member of the RCMP musical ride. Two years later Ben would be transferred to Mercoal, Alberta where they still had a patrol on horseback. Bruce figures his father was transferred there for that very reason.
He would travel several hundred square miles on horseback and often be gone a week at a time or longer. Along the way he would stay and/or sleep in tents or log cabins, most times occupied by trappers.
“The outdoors never bothered him, he rather enjoyed it,” says Bruce, adding his father taught him how to camp.
In 1940, Ben began a marriage that lasted 64 years. His wife Margaret once accompanied him on his tour of duty. This was a unnerving experience for Margaret, Bruce says, as she was pregnant with her first child at the time and had never ridden a horse. Bruce says he has a very interesting picture from that spring of ’41 where his mother is wearing the riding chaps and the big RCMP hat.
At one point Ben left her at a log cabin as he had to attend to some business. Margaret was given a gun for protection and fished to entertain herself. Showing her ingenuity, she used a bobby pin and long pole to catch an ‘enormous’ amount of fish.
“In 1941 or so was when the last mounted patrol was done and that was out in Edson, Alberta,” says Bruce, adding his father was modern enough to understand it’s time was passing.
From reading in his diary, Bruce says horses would get lame and they’d have to put them down, which his father didn’t like to do. “He had a real attachment to certain ones.”
The diary also revealed that his father used between six and eight different horses. They weren’t all owned by the RCMP, Bruce points out, as some were provided from an outfitter. “When I see the horses (pictures), they aren’t the standard RCMP black issue.”
Ben at one point bought an old 1896 30-30 lever action Winchester from a trapper for five dollars. He would take it on his patrols in case a grizzly bear or other unwanted visitors should give him problems.
“Dad had a very quiet career in the sense he never ever drew his gun – he always mentioned that,” Bruce says. “He never mentioned making any heroic arrests or catching any serious criminals.”
However, he did have a gun pointed at him one time. “The guy said to my dad, ‘Well I guess I could kill you now if I wanted to.’ His dad responded, ‘Well I suppose you could and I guess I’d be dead.'” The gunman said ‘oh, hell,’ and reluctantly handed over his gun.
“He liked working with people and I remember in Wainwright as a small boy, he’d take me out on a Saturday on patrol. Back in those days it was a ’51 Chevy they had and he would wave a flashlight at a vehicle if he was trying to pull it over.”
When it came to traffic, Bruce says his father would always stop people but he never saw him give anyone a ticket. “He would just warn them and that seemed to be enough.”
Ben as it turns out, was very inspirational to people, even in glimpses.
Once in Rochford Bridge, Ben drove home a young boy and the father who had owned a pool hall and during the ride the boy became quite impressed with the RCMP. “Maybe it was the uniform or something… but the boy ended up becoming the commissioner of the RCMP K-Division.”
Ben rose to the rank of sergeant after about 20 years of service. This transpired after his transfer to Wetaskiwin, where he would eventually retire from policing. While Bruce says his father enjoyed being in charge, he doesn’t think he valued that position so much.
“I mean he appreciated being in charge of a detachment… I know 95 per cent of the officers who worked under him enjoyed it. He was supposed to be a good man for training and teaching them.”
Ben retired from the RCMP in 1959 and later became involved with the provincial government tracking down dead beat dads. “With his investigative ability and background, he would be able to track down these people and deal with them in an effective manner,” Bruce notes.
For a while Ben managed a single man’s hostel and once took Bruce there so he could get a feel for those who were not so well off.
“I think my dad was my role model growing up,” Bruce admits. “Although he was strict, he was always fair and honest. My dad never thought of himself as an important man.”
Bruce says he always wanted to be an RCMP officer but could never qualify because his eye sight was not good enough. He hopes he has his father’s blood in him however. “Being 93, he was quite physically healthy up until he went into the hospital for a month (until he died).”
Ben was a daily swimmer even in his later years and was always known as a sportsman.
“My children all hold a special place to the fact he was a mounted policeman,” says Bruce, citing it will be up to him now to carry on his father’s stories.
“I would think for the most part, his legacy will be the fact he knew the difference between right and wrong – and he taught that.”