The Founder of the Legion of Frontiersmen
||The actual idea that led to the organising of The Legion of Frontiersmen must be credited to Captain Roger Pocock. Born in Cookham, Berkshire, England, on 9 November 1865, he came to Canada at the age of seventeen with his father, who was a retired Commander of the Royal Navy, and settled in Brookville, Ontario in 1882. In the same year, he enrolled at the Guelph Agricultural College, which he left in 1883 to become a survey hand in the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway which at that time had reached the north shore of Lake Superior. It is quite evident that, even at this early age, he had a desire to meet the challenge of the unexplored Frontier.
|In 1884, he enlisted in the North West Mounted Police at Fort Osborne, Winnipeg. Regimental Number 1107. He came west in 1886 with Colonel Irvine's Command, and was stationed in Regina when the Reil Rebellion broke out in 1885. It was during the Reil Rebellion when, as one of a detachment of 90 men, sent from Regina to Prince Albert, that, crossing the Salt Plains west of the Touchwood Hills during a bitter snowstorm, his feet were so badly frozen that a S/Sgt A.E. Braithwaite, who was the detachment's veterinary surgeon, had to amputate the toes of one foot. This resulted in Constable Pocock receiving a medical discharge from the Force, and being the third man to be discharged in this manner.
In 1887, he established a Trading Post at Kamloops, in British Columbia, and while there wrote his first book. Following a further disability caused by being kicked by a horse, he became a Seaman on the "Adele", on a winter voyage to the Behring Sea, and accumulated much knowledge from the West Coast Indian Tribes. In 1888 he drifted south to California and from then until 1897, he prospected, wrote several novels, and generally pioneered until his return to Canada.
In 1897 he rode Boundary Patrol with the North West Mounted Police, and did some range riding for cattle ranchers in Alberta, and some gold mining in British Columbia. In 1898 he ran a pack horse train north from Ashcroft, British Columbia. .With his knowledge and experience, he was engaged as a guide by Sir Arthur Curtis' Expedition, which culminated in the leader becoming lost in the bush and dying, and the expedition was disbanded. Rumours started that Pocock had lured Sir Arthur into the bush and then murdered him. Detectives were sent from London to search the area. Pocock denied the allegations,. but pointed out that the sending of detectives from London was an example of the British Authorities' stupidity. He said that the knowledge of any experienced bushman would have made the discovery of a body by them an impossibility.
In 1889, he rode horseback from Fort McLeod in Alberta to Mexico City. This ride still stands as one of the most remarkable rides on record in that he covered some 3,600 miles, alone, at an average of 25 miles a day, and found his way across unmarked, difficult, and often hostile territory.
Starting out from Fort McLeod at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, on June 20, 1899, with three good saddle horses and six pack horses, his planned trip was to take him 3,600 miles through the United States, much of the country infested with hostile Indians, settlements very scarce and far between and he had to rely on his own judgement for direction, and his skill as a hunter for food. The journey took 200 days, although he was actually travelling only 147. W.F. Cody, who old timers as children will remember by the more popular name of "Buffalo Bill", said he envied Pocock that ride.
Passing through Blood Indian Country, and on into Northern Montana, he came across about 1,400 Blackfoot Indians in a mile wide ring of teepees, celebrating their Annual Ceremonial Dances. His Indian "know how" got him safely through this. Beyond, for many days, he rode through country in which were many herds of wild horses. Stallions would repeatedly come charging at the lone rider in challenge. Then he came across some old settlements that had been abandoned because of mosquitoes. He rode through Yellowstone Park where bears cleaned up all his provisions except for some coffee and tobacco.
Fifty miles further he entered outlaw country, where. robbery and cattle stealing was still the order of the day. At Jackson's hole, an outlaw stronghold in the vast Grand Seton Mountains, he was continually watched by hard-faced outlaws who were suspicious that he was a Sheriff, which would have meant the end of his life. The country was full of game, which helped his provision problem considerably. For 700 miles he travelled through this outlaw country, where, after .proving his peaceful intentions, he was made welcome by the outlaws and criminals who had prices on their heads, and stayed with them in their camps and cabins. Some 400 desperadoes were still living from the proceeds of armed robberies in the district, including the Jackson's Hole and Hole in the Wall gangs from Wyoming, the Robbers Roost and Brown's Park gangs from Utah and others from Wildox, Arizona and the Texas-Mexico border.
The next leg of the journey took him across .the Great Desert. and through a maze of canyons into the Navajo and Apache country, and they were anything but trustworthy at that time. Reaching the Red Creek Canyon he came across another outlaw stronghold, and had supper with the chief of the gang.
Two days rest at Grand Junction, Colorado and he hit the trail again climbing 10,000 feet to a plateau where he encounter bitterly cold nights. Then through the Upsweep Canyon and down a very steep 4,000 feet into Canyon Dolores, from which there seemed no way out. After three days searching he found a possible way, but the climbing was so steep that he had great difficulty coaxing the horses to make it.
A deal with a Navajo Chief got him a guide named Manito. The guide spoke no English, and Pocock couldn't speak Spanish, and When they came to a stretch of desert infested with rattlesnakes, scorpions, centipedes and tarantulas, the guide disappeared, and Pocock became lost. The desert heat became extreme, and matters seemed to be pretty bad for Pocock until, when making a stop for a rest, one of the pack horses bolted away. He gave chase on one of the saddle horses, and found the Mormon Oasis of Tuba. He used this lucky find for a rest period to recuperate, and then rode into the Painted Desert. There he came across a prospector who had gone mad with the heat, who claimed that Voices of the Dead were leading him to caves filled with Gold.
Using the San Francisco Mountains as a bearing. he made his way down a steep grade to the Colorado River 6,000 feet below. He passed through the town of Phoenix, which at that time had a population of about 12,000. Out into the desert from there, he again became lost, eventually reaching the Mexican border just in time to find a small war starting up. Both sides of the border were lined with troops, and 150 American cowboys were preparing to invade and capture Mexico City. He hired a Mexican to guide him east out of the hostile area, but the man double crossed him, and robbed him. He was left with one pack horse and his saddle horse, and there were still several hundred miles to go. However, the country was fairly well settled, and the majority of the people friendly to a traveller.
He was suffering from an attack of the flu, combined with dysentery, and this made riding an agony, however on the last day of his historic ride, he travelled forty miles, and arrived at his goal, Mexico City, on 1 January 1900.
Although a Russian is credited as riding a greater distance, in a shorter time, the ride was over well defined trails, and through well settled country. Pocock's ride was an outstanding example of courage and determination, and ability to cope with extreme hardship.
When he learnt of the outbreak of the South African War, Pocock returned to England, and enlisted in the Army for service in South Africa. Little knowledge is available from records as to his service there but he must have continued to excel in his ability to cope with Frontier conditions.. He had attained the rank of Captain when the War was over. He returned to civilian life and continued to write many books.
Captain Pocock had made many friends, some of whom were outstanding as Explorers, Adventurers, Big Game Hunters, etc., who were active in many parts of the world. Possibly from comparing opinions of many of these men, Captain Pocock realised that there was trouble brewing for the British Empire, and being intensely patriotic, thought that if a number of men were organised, scattered throughout the world, to observe and report, that information might be gained that would be of benefit to the British Military Intelligence. It was with this idea in mind that on Christmas Eve in 1904, that a quiet meeting of some prominent men in Frontiersmen activities was held in London, which resulted in the organisation of The Legion of Frontiersmen.
What the Legion was able to contribute fully vindicated Captain Pocock's idea of its worth, and his continual efforts in its organisation in spite of adversity, amply illustrates his determination and ability. Although he was continually opposed to British traditional reluctance, the Authorities respected his opinions.
When World War 1 broke out, he was medically unfit for active service, never-the-less, he served in France with the rank of Captain. After the end of the War, he again became active in world challenge, this time with the support of The Legion of Frontiersmen.
Adversity continually dogged his efforts, but never dampened his enthusiasm. His visits to Units of The Legion of Frontiersmen in Canada, Australia and New Zealand were a source of inspiration to them.
Never a wealthy man, in his later years, enfeebled by age, he was given residence at Charterhouse, London. This might be compared to present day "Veteran's Homes", but at that time, residence was restricted to those who had rendered outstanding service to the British Empire. In 1941, after repeated bombings, he was moved to the country.
He died on November 12, 1941, at Weston-Super-Mare at the age of 76 years. He could not be buried in the family Vault in St. Catharine's Holy Trinity Church in Cookham as a law had been passed forbidding further use of the vaults as burial sites. His remains were cremated, and his ashes scattered at Bristol.
A tablet on the family Vault reads:
CAPTAIN ROGER ASHWELL POCOCK
BORN 9 NOVEMBER 1865 DIED 12 NOVEMBER 1941
FOUNDER OF THE LEGION OF FRONTIERSMEN 1904
AUTHOR AND EXPLORER
"The History of the Legion of Frontiersmen"
By Brigadier D. Mack, CD, CDM
Legion of Frontiersmen
God Guard Thee
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