Iowa boys shot rapids similar to these at Niagara Credit: Photo Courtesy of Library of Congress

Late in July 1928 a party of Royal Canadian Mounted Police set out for the interior of northern Saskatchewan Province looking for four University of Iowa students who had disappeared. John Fuller, Max J. Kane, Gordon Armstrong and Peter C. Boddum had left for their Arctic Circle adventure in early June. Traveling in two 17-foot canoes, the young men were attempting to paddle over 3,000 miles over lakes and streams in uncharted forests of northern Canada.


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Early in July Armstrong’s parents in Britt had received a letter from their son, who wrote from a location 700 miles north of Winnipeg. He described meeting a lone trapper living in a cabin in the wilds who taught the Iowans how to catch fish. They had put those skills to work, bringing in “a nice mess of trout” that averaged more than 20 pounds each. “After broiling two pans full of fish, we still had more to cook,” Armstrong wrote.  “I believe they would bite a sardine can if you dragged it past them.”

Armstrong’s letter explained that the men were dependent on “Indian ‘mailmen’” for transporting their letters. “Unless we meet Indians, our next mail will not go back until we reach Pelican Narrows,” he warned. He closed with a few words about the team missing steaks, French fries and chocolate malteds.

About the same time, Kane’s parents in Iowa City heard from their son. He wrote that they were nearing the ice fields. He indicated they were “far from shore” of Mound Lake after encountering a severe storm. But he also wrote that the men were changing their original course.

Fuller wrote at the same time to his dad in Keokuk. “We shall go north to Kasmere Lake, then east to Nueltin Lake, down the Thlewiaza River to Hudson Bay…to new Hudson’s Bay Company’s railroad, arriving there about the middle of September.” He said they had replenished their food supply and that their “ammunition was ample.”

However, the Canadian authorities had gotten conflicting reports from a trader who claimed he had run into the Iowans on July 3. He said they were “poorly equipped and short of supplies.”

On August 16 Corp. J.J. Malloy of the mounted police reported that the young men had been located at Lac Du Brochet. They had indeed changed course, taking a shorter route to their destination, Driftwood Point, 300 miles north of Port Churchill on Hudson Bay. Malloy stated that they were not in danger and were proceeding on their journey.

On September 8 three of the men arrived at The Pas, Manitoba, on the steamer, Nipawin, from Sturgeon Landing. Kane had stayed behind to continue working as a surveyor with the Topographical Survey of Canada. He returned to the United States in November.

The Lincoln (Nebraska) Journal Star newspaper ran an article written by Armstrong in which he provided detail about the experiences of the explorers. At one point when he and Fuller were about a mile ahead of Boddum and Kane, they tried riding a rapids for over a mile but were ultimately tossed into the river. “We rode rightside up until a bad eddy caught the bow and turned the canoe “clean over, throwing Fuller and me headlong into the icy river,” he said.

They had been planning to shoot movies of Boddum and Kane as they hit the rapids, but the movie camera and “3,000 feet of unexposed film” were lost to the river. After that, they referred to the rapids at that spot as “The Five Hundred Dollars Rapids.”

Armstrong said the men were startled to learn when they reached civilization that they had been reported “lost and starving somewhere on Reindeer Lake.”

“While we were neither lost nor starving at any time, the report brought back vividly the days when we were woefully short of food…” he said.

By the time they returned to their studies at the University of Iowa in September, it was reported the men were “laughing at rumors that they had been drowned, lost or driven by starvation to the verge of cannibalism…”



  • Armstrong, Gordon C. “Iowa Expedition Did Not Starve,” Lincoln (Neb) Journal Star, Sept. 13, 1928.
  • “Canoe Tour of Unmapped Arctic Is Planned by Four Iowa Youths,” Asbury Park Press (NJ), May 25, 1928.
  • “Expedition Found,” Pittsburgh Press, Aug 16, 1928.
  • “Iowa Boys Near Arctic Circle,” Des Moines Tribune, Jul 3, 1928.
  • “Iowa Boys On Venturesome Trip to Wilds of Canada,” Greene Recorder, July 4, 1928.
  • “Iowa students Start Back to University,” Macron (Missouri) Chronicle-Herald, Sept. 8, 1928.
  • “Iowans Chaanged Route Says Letter From M.J. Kane,” Des Moines Tribune, July 23, 1928.
  • “Kane Is Home From Arctic Explorations, Quad-City Times, Nov. 9, 1928.
  • “Looking Through the Day’s News,” Battle Creek Enquirer, Apr. 20, 1928.
  • “Report,” Cincinnati Enquirer, July 24, 1928.

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