Lawman Frank Canton’s adventures in Alaska are legendary.


Frank Canton’s adventures in Alaska did not receive much publicity if any at all while he was in the territory, but his and his adventurous comrades’ reports on life in the frozen North were far from golden. Frank Canton Photo Courtesy True West Archives/Newsclippings Courtesy


In the summer of 1897, Frank Canton was looking for new opportunities. He’d made a name for himself as a cowboy, a Wyoming lawman, a mercenary and a hired killer. Under his original name—Joe Horner—he’d been associated with the Sam Bass Gang in Texas. In recent years, he’d been serving as a deputy U.S. marshal in the Indian Territory. But now, distant climes were calling: Alaska.

Certainly, the lure of gold was big. But there was also another issue. The previous November, federal elections led to a change in the U.S. Marshals Service leadership. The new regime decided to check the books of the old. And what they found: most of the deputies, including Canton, had padded their expense accounts. Canton decided to get out while the getting was good (and just before he was fired).

The process of getting a similar appointment in Alaska was strangled by distance and bureaucracy. It took months, during which Canton did a little prospecting, with no success. It took until July 1898 for the deputy appointment to reach him. But even before the official letter reached him, Canton was assigned to guard a private company’s $1 million shipment of gold down to St. Michael, where it would then be sent on to the U.S. The voyage was uneventful.  He then moved to Circle City, his new base. He oversaw several thousand square miles. For the next year, Canton made numerous arrests (the number is unclear) throughout the region, often in cooperation with the Canadian Mounties. A force of U.S. Army troops also assisted—although Canton chafed at jurisdictional disagreements.



Overall, though, things went well for the deputy. Certainly, he missed his wife and daughter, still living back in the States. And very ironically, his expense reimbursements were slow in coming. But things were about to take a downturn.

In the middle of 1899, Deputy Canton headed to Fort Yukon to pick up prisoners. He failed to wear protective dark glasses and suffered a bad case of snow blindness, which would be an issue for the rest of his life.

And around that same time, the marshals service finally realized that it had fired Canton in 1898 for the reimbursement scandal in the Indian Territory. There was no way they would allow him to serve in a similar capacity up North.

So Canton was out of a job, again. He headed back to the States in September 1899. The Alaska venture left him financially destitute. But that would change as he went back to old stamping grounds in Wyoming and Oklahoma and reached even new levels of success. 


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