Richard Martin was born at the head of the Peel River in either 1879 or 1882 to Martin Sha-un-Nakhya (Old Martin) and Jane Chiljulthoo. Martin’s family were Tukudh, a Gwich’in speaking people who lived and traveled in the upper Porcupine River region, down into the headwaters of the Ogilvie River and through the western portions of theupper Peel River basin.
Martin was a respected hunter, trapper and guide. He was among the first group of Gwich’in hunters and trappers to travel from Tetlit Zheh (Fort McPherson) to Dawson City in 1901 on what became annual winter trips to sell caribou meat to residents, staying down the Yukon River in Moosehide with the Tr’ondek Hwech’in, and returning home with trade goods. Martin also guided North-West Mounted Police patrols between Dawson and Fort McPherson and to Herschel Island, drawing on his skills and his knowledge of traditional routes and camps.
Martin was a devout Christian who ministered to Gwich’in in remote regions throughout the Peel watershed and later to Tr’ondek Hwech’in. He lost the sight in both eyes in two separate accidents. The second incident, when his rifle backfired and exploded during a hunting trip, happened just months after he was ordained in 1926 as a deacon in the Anglican Church. Unable to regain his sight, he settled in Moosehide and continued to serve in the church there. Many decades after losing his vision, Martin could still vividly describe landmarks of his homeland in the Blackstone River country.
Martin married four times and had several children. Richard and his last wife Mary were among the last people to leave Moosehide, in 1962, for Dawson City. Richard Martin died in 1975. The Gwich’in people of Tetlit Zheh chartered a plane to attend his funeral. The chapel behind St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Dawson City is dedicated in his name.
Photo: Yukon Archives, Anglican Church, Diocese of Yukon fonds, 89/41 #1490