February 8th, 2017 ~ Vol. 87 No. 6
Looking Back - John Kinnear
Tales of a York Creek Trapper
Looking Back
John Kinnear photo
A young Coccioloni in his $200 moose hide jacket
Denise Coccioloni-Amatto put the bug in my ear some time back about her Uncle Joey Coccioloni and said that he had some stories to share about the going’s on up North York Creek around the time that that DC-3 plummeted into the valley below Ptolemy Mountain back in 1946.

That unfortunate crash, as we all know, took the lives of seven Canadian serviceman 71 years ago on January 16th of that year. The weather was somewhat like we had this last weekend with heavy blowing snow and cold temperatures so you can imagine the flying conditions over the Rockies as that C-47 Dakota passed over the Flathead Range on its training mission from Comox, British Columbia to Greenwood, Nova Scotia.

Last week I sat down with Joey Coccioloni to talk about his memories of that time and got taken back into the world of a post-war trapper working one of the longest trap lines in Southern Alberta. A glass of Carlo Rossi Piasano table wine got the conversation going pretty good and here is some of what Joey shared that day.

It seems he and his trapping partner Adam Youschuk hiked out from their trap lines the very night that that DC-3 plowed into the headwaters of North York Creek. You can imagine what snowshoeing out of that basin this time of year would have been like and on arrival at home, about 3 A.M., Joey’s mother Rosie Coccioloni asked him: “Did you find an airplane crash on the trap line?” They were unaware of what had happened and a few days later headed back up that way for their usual seven day trip out to check their lines. Joe says they ran into forest ranger Bill Liddell and a couple of RCMP at Camp 1.
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They were on their way out from investigating the crash site. Liddell asked where they were going and they were then told that part of their trap area was off limits.

I should recap here how the recovery of those seven airmen went down according to newspaper reports shared by Bill Liddell’s son David. It was Jimmy McElliegett (forestry lookout man), Bill Liddell (forestry ranger) and Harry Boulton (chief ranger) that first set out to see if they could spot the crash on the Wednesday morning. The crash had apparently happened late the previous Saturday night. Their trip up to Ironstone Lookout above Blairmore to scan the area eventually led to Jimmy spotting a spiral of smoke rising out of the headwaters of the right branch of York Creek. A long hard day of snowshoeing into the area to check out that spiral led to Liddell spotting the wreckage and an eventual assessment of the site that revealed three badly burned bodies. It was then that a decision was taken that it was highly unlikely there were any survivors and they headed back into town to report their findings. On the Thursday a party of twelve men that included airmen flown in from Western Air Command, some R.C.M.P. and rangers Liddell, Boulton, McElliegett, Freeman and Butler headed up to the crash and in two trips brought down the seven bodies by toboggan to town.
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A further study of the ranger investigators reveals interesting ties to the air force. Bill Liddell, first person to find the wreck, had been discharged from the RCAF himself just five months earlier after two years service and that he had been in the forestry service prior to enlisting. Bill made no less than four trips to the crash site to effect the recovery operation, a feat in of itself. Also Harry Boulton, Chief Ranger, was the father of Foss Boulton, a famous World War Two flier who after 120 sorties was shot down over Amiens, France and eventually wound up in Stalag Luft 3, a POW camp for officers. This is the camp that the Great Escape occurred from but fortunately Foss, who had suffered serious head injuries when shot down, was not fit enough for the actual break-out. Good thing I’m thinkin’ because the Germans shot about 50 of those escapees after they were caught!

Anyways, getting back to Joey Coccioloni. So as I said he and Adam ran their combined trap line up in the York Creek, Lynx Creek area for many years and there were, as you can imagine, a few mind blowing adventures and stories that went with this part of his life. Joey told me that they were required to have cabins every seven miles apart on their lines for safety reasons and that each had a root cellar where they kept supplies, some of which were stored in sand to keep them fresh. It was at one of these cabins that an incident occurred in 1951 that very nearly was the end of Joey and his friend Ray Kiemle.
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As Joey tells it: “In mid-February, after snowshoeing through deep snow and cold all day we finally made it to the cabin. I felt like fish for supper so Ray got a can of kippered herrings and some preserves from the root cellar. After supper we both felt sick and our stomachs started to swell. When I held the empty herring can up to the coal oil lamp I saw many small rusty holes through the bottom of it.”

Joey said his stomach got huge and he knew he had to get rid of that putrid supper so he warmed up some: “rotten smelling neatsfoot oil and drank it down and upchucked everything”. Neatsfoot oil is a yellow oil rendered from the shin bones of cattle and is used for conditioning, softening and a preservative agent for leather. Good grief! Joey said that Ray got a free one that day. That is to say that once Ray saw Joey throwing up he was prompted to do the same without having to swallow that nasty concoction.

According to Coccioloni they crawled into beds with their clothes on and extra blankets and being too weak and feverish to move lay there for ten days. They eventually snowshoed out the 20 kilometers to Coleman and he said sometimes it took us three hours just to go one kilometer. Doc Aiello asked what in hell they had taken to purge themselves of the poison as he felt it might be an important remedy. When he learned what it was he was astounded. Neatsfoot. A neat trick.
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Cutch as they call him shared a lot of fascinating stories about trap line adventures some of which are just a little too rough to share with you the reader but you can trust me when I say that there were some nasty and dangerous characters involved in some hairy backwoods confrontations. Characters who wanted to take his trap line from him by discrediting him as a trapper.

Joey Coccioloni lives in Pincher Creek these days. He moved there many years ago after the coal mines in the Pass shut down. His is part of the classic Italian immigration Pass family story with him being one of five brothers and five sisters of Joe and Rosie Coccioloni. His dad Joe came from Naples in 1902 and was working in Coal Creek Mine outside of Fernie that year when # 3 Mine blew up and killed 130 men in one day. Cutch looks amazing for his 87 years and I’m thinking he is going to be around for a long time to come. One reason I can say this is that at the end of our conversation he demanded Denise break out a special elixir for me to try that he drinks every day. It was in the fridge in a large juice container. When I asked what was in it he said: “Eight large elephant garlic cloves run through a blender and mixed with orange juice.” Oh oh I thought, this sound lethal. He poured me a large shot glass of this concoction and I warily tossed it down and then Denise started laughing. She knew the effects (and breath smell) from this powerful shallot was going to stay with me for a good 24 hours. Joey says he drinks this every day and swears it keeps him young and healthy. I’m thinking ever since he gulped down that neatsfoot preservative oil it pretty much guaranteed he is gonna be around for a long time.
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February 8th, 2017 ~ Vol. 87 No. 6
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