Whitehorse Daily Star

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Left: From 1972 to 1986 Michael Oros’ spent 14 years roaming freely in the bush from Alaska to Telegraph Creek and Atlin covering a 5000 square kilometer area. Right: Michael Oros’ cabin at Hutsigola, September 1981. Photos courtesy of the book “Descent into Madness”.

Sheslay Free Mike suspected all

Michael Oros hated airplanes. He lived with the belief that they sprayed poison on the earth and that some of that poison fell on him and his dogs. He hated the police. They represented the authority that he wanted to escape. He also blamed them for killing two of his dogs.

By Whitehorse Star on March 20, 1985

Oros didn’t care much for other humans; he cared only for his dogs, people who knew him say.

He spent at least the last 14 years of his life living alone, free-ranging over 50,000 square kilometers of bush, eating whatever he could find - wild meat, berries, or food left in bush cabins.

Darryl Bruns, a pilot in Atlin at the time who had contact with Mike, discovered some of his diaries at Mike’s cabin south of Teslin Lake. According to Bruns, Mike believed that everytime a plane flew over him it sprayed him with chemicals.

“Mike felt this was the reason why he was all mixed up. He said that everytime an airplane flew over he would start feeling all crazy inside and he wished they would stop so he could straighten himself out.” Bruns said.

So it was little wonder that on Monday afternoon when an airplane flew over him on the south end of Teslin Lake on the B.C.- Yukon border that he might have taken a shot at it, probably not knowing police were on board. According to sources he had threatened and may have shot at planes before, but no damage was ever reported.

The planes had come for him before and with disastrous results but nothing to compare with the consequences that followed Monday’s incident.

He was known in the area as Sheslay Free Mike, sometimes as Crazy Mike. A local phenomena, he was gossiped about and feared as a kind of madman but at the same time respected for his extraordinary bush knowledge.

They talked about his “weird ideas” that big companies were putting poisons in our food, that the waters were filled with chemicals that would kill you, and that there were poisons everywhere and destroying us. He wanted to escape.

Oros arrived in Canada sometime around 1972 from a commune in New Mexico. He had apparently escaped a heroin addiction and arrived here looking for a new way to live.

He found it on the banks of the Sheslay River, 50 kilometres north of Telegraph Creek where he built a cabin and carved what is thought to be the first indication of his nickname - Sheslay Free Mike. The area is virtually uninhabited by humans. It is a large plateau area of rolling mountains, dense bush, and swamp. Trappers, outfitters, and Sheslay Free Mike were the ones who ventured into the territory. In many respects it was his; but his territorial imperative excluded others from sharing it.

Mike believed that all of the land in the area was his, thus anything that was on it was also his. This included trapper’s cabins, fish camps, and their contents.

Oros ran into trouble with the local people of Telegraph Creek and “they ran him out”. They did not take kindly to his raids on their cabins for the essentials such as salt, flour and anything else that happened to be lying around the cabin.

There would be no mistaking a visit from Mike. He fancied himself a writer and according to Bruns he would leave poems on the door, or signs decrying his freedom and his desire to be left alone - “I am a Free Man... leave me be!”

He used the symbol of the Greek cross or swastika that he would emblazen on trees in the area, leaving his mark where he went.

From Telegraph Creek he moved to the Dease Lake area on the Stewart Cassiar Highway. He trapped illegally in the area, selling furs and eating the meat from his traps. He free ranged from Telegraph Creek north to Teslin, from Dease Lake west to Atlin, both summer and winter. He has been spotted as far south as Stewart and Smithers. He did not have any permanent place of residence but used cabins and camps along the way.

He was a superb bushman, travelling up to 80 kilometre a day through dense bush and was virtually impossible to track.

He was completely dedicated to his dogs. Bruns said, “They were his family. If anybody wanted to do anything to him, all they had to do was hurt his dogs.” He used them to pack his belongings and their protection from the world and its poisons became a cause celebre for him.

In many respects his history is the epitomy of the back to the land movement, but he also embodied what the movement seemed to overlook - being seriously bushed. Fourteen years of living off the land alone is certain to have an affect on one’s mental attitude.

He lived entirely off of his own resources. He did not have a cultured garden, he lived off of the wilds and the animals that roamed it. He was reported to have had five moose at one time hanging around his cabin. He was considered one of the most bush-wise men in the area.

He had a strong will and an unfailing commitment to his beliefs. But so did another trapper in the area named Gunther Lischy. Their contact spelled the beginning of the end for Sheslay Free Mike Oros.

Lischy, a German prisoner of war in Siberia, had also come to this country to “escape”. A shy man, who like Mike, carried a resentment for society and a desire to be left alone. He learned to trap and first met Mike on the old Telegraph Trail that runs from Telegraph Creek to Whitehorse.

They became good friends and one of Lischy’s prized possessions was a picture of him and Mike that he had pinned to the wall of his cabin.

But Lischy was also a proud man and their ways inevitably were to cross.

For unknown reasons, Lischy, who ran a trap line just east of Atlin, began building a cabin in July 1981 about 100 metres in front of Mike’s cabin on Hutsigola Lake just south of Teslin Lake. It was Mike’s “turf” and a long way from Lischy’s trapline.

Lischy had arranged to be picked up by a bush plane on September 10, 1981. According to the pilot who was to pick him up, Dave Weibe,”When he says he’s going to be there, he’s there.” When Weibe arrived he found Sheslay Free Mike instead.

Mike denied knowing Lischy, Weibe felt otherwise and took his suspicions to the police. “He gave me this cock and bull story.” Weibe said. A search during the next week turned up neither Lischy nor Mike.

Atlin pilot, Gordon Heynen, feels his superb bush techniques let him ‘disappear’ into the bush. Felled trees that he tried to disguise as beaver work became bridges to cross streams. There was a heavy rain and his trail simply disappeared. Nobody knew that part of the bush the way Mike did - it was his home.

Earlier on in 1980, police had suspected Mike of stealing a forestry boat on the Nakina River and setting it loose. Bruns noticed the wrecked craft and went to inspect.

All he found was a handwritten note on the door of the cabin which was matched with Mike’s. A warrant was issued for his arrest, but they had been unable to apprehend him. The suspected link with Lischy’s disappearance intensified the search.

But police finally caught up to him in March, 1982, in his cabin on Hutsigola Lake.

The flew a squad of men into the lake by helicopter. According to a pilot on the flight,Mike had apparently heard that they were looking for him from a CBC report that he picked up on his radio. They did not surprise him; he was waiting for them.

Bruns confirmed Heynen’s amazement that Mike didn’t shoot at the planes. “The police knew about his thing about planes,” Bruns said, “and we were only lucky that noting happened. They weren’t so lucky this time.”

When they landed, Mike appeared at the door with a.44 pistol in his hand, but then apparently changed his mind about the whole thing. He went back into his cabin, came back out again and tied up his dogs.

Two plainclothes police walked to the door under the cover of a sharpshooter. After a brief scuffle at the door of the cabin, they arrested him.

They discovered many things coincident with Lischy’s disappearance. Mike was carrying Lischy’s .22 calibre pistol, he had some of his camera gear, and building logs that were distinctly Lischy’s. But since Lischy was not around to confirm or deny that he had given Mike the goods, a possession of stolen property charge didn’t stick.

They flew him to Atlin to be held in custody.

He was ordered sent out for a month of psychiatric assessment in Vancouver. The police, not knowing what to do with his dogs, destroyed them. Finding out about that, Mike flew into a rage. His hatred of police intensified.

Cpl. Peter Bird, the R.C.M.P. officer in Atlin at the time said, “Oros was a pretty volatile guy. He treated the world with suspicious eye.”

He was certified fit to stand trial. In August, 1982, a B.C. provincial court judge acquitted him of charges of illegal possession on handgun, theft of the boat, mischief from misleading the police searcher, and possession of goods believed to have belonged to Lischy.

Sheslay Free Mike was free again and went back to his life in the bush.

People who work the dense bush area would look up and suddenly he would be there. He would come and go in the Atlin area, living in the survival cabins along the road or in trapline cabins.

Local pilots, like Dick Bond of Atlin, would pity him and fly him around the area while on his routes.

But nobody ever talked at great length with him . He was quiet, reserved, kept to himself, and would only talk about his obsession with the damage being done to him and the world.

According to sources, the fancied himself a writer, creating short stories and poems about the horrors of the world. He was the hero of his stories who emerged from a depraved underworld to save young girls from the evils of society.

Mike lived outside the hunting and trapping laws. He did not participate in society; he opted for raiding it when he needed to and otherwise shunning it. He rarely came into tow and then only to buy shells for his rifles and a bit of grub.

In 1983 he headed to the east coast of Canada but then, as was his style, he suddenly appeared in Atlin again.

Not much was heard about him until the cabin incident of this March. This time the police arrived in the same fashion - in planes. He had threatened to “shoot them out of the sky” if they ever came close.

The world finally caught up to him - leaving a legacy of mystery and intrigue that, like the Mad Trapper of Rat River who killed a police officer and died only after a cross-country chase, is sure to become part of northern mystique.

by Phillip Adams, Staff Reporter

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