American Heroes of the Klondike Gold Rush
Posted on May 1, 1998
Listed by their native State
Jim Hall - Hall had already been in the Yukon for ten years before
he bought the claim that made him rich. When Hall made his fortune, he and his partner
spent their gold on wine and women. At one point Hall fancied a woman and purchased her
for twenty thousand dollars in gold dust. Hall did invest some of his money wisely when he built
the Greentree Hotel in the most expensive section of Dawson. His investment was reduced
to ashes a short time later when a dance-hall girl inadvertently started a fire that
burned up half a million dollars of Dawson real estate.
George Carmack - Carmack, the child of an earlier gold rush,
co-discovered the gold on Bonanza Creek that would trigger the Klondike Gold Rush. At
sixteen, he was dishwasher on an American man-of-war when he jumped ship at Juneau, Alaska.
His life's ambition was to become chief of an Indian tribe. Toward that end, he married the
daughter of the chief of the Tagish tribe and worked with other members of the tribe as a
packer on the Chilkoot Pass. Dubbed "Lying George," Carmack would boast of various gold
discoveries. While it was true he had discovered a seam of coal on the Yukon River, nobody
took him seriously as a prospector, including Carmack himself. After having a strange
vision of huge salmon with gold nuggets for eyes, Carmack and Indian relatives took up
salmon fishing at the confluence of the Yukon and Klondike rivers. Here they heard of a
gold strike nearby on a small tributary of the Klondike River. Carmack and his Indian
relatives, Skookum Jim and Dawson Charlie struck gold on Rabbit or (as they re-named it)
Bonanza Creek on August 17, 1896.
Clarence Berry - Berry was one of the few truly sober, honest,
hard-working men to hold claims on Eldorado and Bonanza creeks. Berry took a million and
a half dollars out of the Klondike and, unlike so many, died with his fortunes intact.
After leaving the Klondike, he went on to own two professional baseball teams, the Los
Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants. Berry was tending bar in a Fortymile saloon
when he encountered an Austrian, Antone Stander, who needed a loan to work his prospect
in the Klondike. Berry obliged, receiving half of Stander's Eldorado claim in return.
Jefferson Randolph "Soapy" Smith - Soapy Smith was king of the Denver
underworld before leaving in 1892 for the new booming silver camp of Creede. This roaring
community, entirely without government or police, served as a training ground for Smith's
later criminal conquest of Skagway, Alaska. Smith joined the masses on their way to the
Klondike in 1898 with one purpose in mind: to seize control of the Alaskan port of Skagway,
key gateway to the Yukon gold fields. By April, his organization numbered between two and three
hundred gangsters, prostitutes, pimps, gamblers and card cheaters who effectively ran the
town. Smith orchestrated the crime, including numerous beatings and murders, all the while
attempting to cultivate a public image as a man of "law and order."
"Swifwater" Bill Gates - Gates earned his nickname by telling stories of
his prowess in steering boats over rapids in the gold country of Idaho. He was, however,
never taken seriously by early prospectors in the Klondike. After the first finds on
Bonanza and Eldorado, Gates reluctantly took a lay on the thirteenth Eldorado claim,
considered unlucky because of its number. It yielded a tremendous amount of gold and with
his share, Gates purchased more claims and went on to become one of Dawson City's richest
men. "Swiftwater" bathed in champagne and was notorious for
lusting after dance hall girls. He often escorted them to his claim in groups, allowing
them to help themselves to gold. Perhaps to ensure a ready supply of young women, he opened
and co-owned the Monte Carlo dance hall. Gates continued his womanizing ways through two tangled
marriages and a host of scandals with teenage girls before ending his days in Peru. There,
he was supposed to have wangled a twenty-million acre silver mining concession before dying
C.C. Perrin - Perrin was a detective from Chicago, Illinois who, to his
amazement, found himself in the midst of the gold rush while pursuing his man. Perrin was
hot on the trail of a murderer who had led him on a zigzag chase across the continent and
finally up to the Canadian northwest. Perrin was forced to get extradition papers from the
Canadian government before arresting the criminal in Dawson City. Both Perrin and his
quarry could easily have been wealthy men, as they had arrived unwittingly in the gold-fields
before the outside world knew of the strike. However, Perrin left town with his handcuffed
prisoner without a glance back.
Lambertus Warmolts - Thousands left Chicago for the Yukon gold fields in
1897-98. One opportunist, Lambertus Warmolts, masqueraded as a veteran of the Mackenzie
country and advertised himself in Chicago newspapers as a guide. Thirteen Chicago residents
responded to his guarantee to deliver them to the Klondike. He charged them $500 each and announced the journey would
take six weeks flat. At Great Slave Lake, Warmolts abandoned camp with all their money and
disappeared. The Chicago group pushed on to Destruction City in the Northwest Territories
of Canada where most of them died of scurvy. Only a few of them ever made it to Dawson City.
Martha Louise Black - Born in Detroit, Martha was abandoned by her first husband en route to the Klondike
in 1898. She hiked over the Chilkoot Pass and sailed down the Yukon River to Dawson while pregnant, and
then bore her child in a log cabin, raised money, bought a sawmill,
bossed 16 men on a mining claim and later married George Black who became Yukon's Member of
Parliament. When he became ill, she ran for, and won, his seat, becoming the Yukon's
first, and Canada's second, female Member of Parliament.
(More about Martha Louise Black)
A.J. Goddard - Goddard was an engine designer from Iowa who saw an
opportunity to cash in on the gold rush. With the help of his wife, Goddard planned to take
two steamboats into the Yukon through the White Pass during the winter of 1897 so that they
could take the first cargo down the river in the spring. Goddard discovered that this was not as easy as he thought.
He and his wife were forced to move the vessels in bits and pieces across the narrow White
Pass, a job that took the entire winter, forcing them to endure deathly cold and physical
exhaustion. The Goddards' determination paid out in the end, as they established the first
steamboat link between the gold fields and the Pacific coast.
Leroy N. Jack McQuesten - Often called the "Father of the Yukon," some
claim McQuesten was born in Litchfield, New Hampshire in 1836, while others report his birth
in Maine two years later. Regardless, he prospected the Fraser River, then became involved
in the fur trade and wound up in the Yukon River Valley. McQuesten set up Fort Reliance, six miles from what would be
Dawson City. Later, he founded Circle City, Alaska, which enjoyed a gold-induced boom and
lively history until its inhabitants left it overnight for Dawson City and the Klondike Gold
Rush. The Father of the Yukon retired to San Francisco where he lived in comfort until his
death in 1909.
Erastus Brainerd - This Harvard University graduate and former
curator at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts played a huge role in spreading news of the Klondike
gold rush from Seattle across North America. He was editor-in-chief of the Seattle Press-Times
and then the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. His objective was to make Seattle the central
starting point for stampeders. He out-advertised (by up to five times) Tacoma, Portland, San
Francisco, Vancouver and Victoria. When the Seattle Post-Intelligencer published a special
Klondike edition in the spring of 1898, Brainerd sent 70,000 copies to post offices, 6,000 to
public libraries, 10,000 to the Great Northern Railway and another 5,000 to the Northern
Pacific Railway. Without his advertising efforts, the Klondike gold rush might not have been
what it was.
Frank Reid attended the University of Michigan, moved across the plains, fought Indians in
Oregon, then settled there as a schoolteacher. He stampeded north at the first news of the
Klondike gold rush, helped found Skagway and went on to become the town's engineer.
But Reid became immortalized when he shot the gangster Soapy Smith. Reid himself died of
injuries sustained during the gun fight with Smith.
Brackett was an ex-mayor of Minneapolis turned stampeder. In 1897, he witnessed the carnage
and horror of the White Pass trail. Scarcely a single horse survived of the three thousand
that were used on the trail. Finally, it was closed to all and Brackett began to construct a
wagon-road along the mountainsides. When it was completed, the stampeders who followed in
the winter were glad to pay a toll to use it, but each one who passed that way was haunted in
some fashion by the ghosts of the pack animals that had died that fall.
James "Nigger Jim" Daughtery - Daughtery was a tall, blond Missourian who got his name from the spirituals
he liked to sing while playing the banjo. His gold fortune allowed him to buy two dance halls
and a saloon. Daughtery's generosity was legendary, and though he tried, he could neither
spend nor give away his money as fast as he came by it. Daughtery was responsible for a second
mini-gold rush, called the "Nigger Jim Stampede," that occurred in Dawson during January of
1899. During a bitter cold spell with temperatures dropping to sixty below, Daughtery led a
small knot of frenzied men to a valley that was reported to be rich in gold. The men that
survived the trek hammered in their stakes, only to ironically learn that it was quite worthless.
Harry Woolrich - Woolrich was a big-time gambler from Montana who would often play cards for days, taking
his meals at the table. Many believed that Woolrich had a magic touch with cards and so gave
him their money to play with. If he lost, he lost nothing, but if he won, he took half.
Woolrich ran the gambling concession at the famous Dawson City Monte Carlo Dance Hall and
Saloon. One night, after winning sixty thousand dollars, Woolrich decided to renounce gambling,
and bought a ticket out of the Yukon on a steam ship. Alas for Woolrich, the ship was delayed.
Back he went to the gaming tables, and placed a half dollar down as a farewell bid. Twenty-four
hours later, the boat long gone, Woolrich had lost his fortune and his ticket out of the Yukon.
Pat Galvin- Galvin was a one-time town marshal from Helena, Montana who sought fame once he had found
his fortune in gold. Galvin spent his gold freely on everyone, and it was said that he was good
for two thousand dollars a night in the various Dawson saloons. The free-spending Galvin sunk
the profits of his Bonanza claim into a steamboat company which failed miserably. An even heavier
millstone around Galvin's neck was his financial manager, who embezzled forty thousand dollars
and, when forgiven by Galvin, promptly forged a cheque and set out for South Africa. Upon
learning of the defection, Galvin merely said "he was a good fellow."
John Jerome Healy - Healy's illustrious career included more than a few occupations. He was hunter, trapper, soldier,
prospector, whiskey-trader, editor, guide, Indian scout and sheriff. He ran the legendary Fort
Whoop-Up, selling liquor to Indians in southern Alberta and along the Montana-Canadian border.
This brew consisted of whiskey, red pepper, Jamaican ginger and hot water. By 1893, Healy was in
the Klondike, challenging the authority of "miner's meetings" which ruled in the absence of
established law. As a result, the North West Mounted Police established a presence in the Yukon,
led by Inspector Charles Constantine. Healy created the North American Trading and Transportation
Company with trading posts in Fortymile and, later, Dawson City. His financial success was
well-known to stampeders during the gold rush. He and Swiftwater Bill Gates (a man who never
drank champagne but bathed in it) lost five thousand dollars between them in a single bet over a
stud poker game. Healy died a rich man.
Arthur Harper - Harper was born in Ireland in 1835. He emigrated to New York as a boy and, at twenty,
moved west to California. One of the first prospectors and traders in the Yukon, he worked with
Jack McQuesten, "Father of the Yukon," and Joe Ladue, founder of Dawson City. Harper cashed in
on the Klondike gold rush by investing heavily in real estate. He ran the Fortymile Post, and
was later involved in Dawson properties. He left over $200,000 to his wife and children when he
died of tuberculosis in Arizona in 1897.
J.J. Clements - Clements was lucky to be alive when he and four others staked claims on what would become known
as the "richest creek in the world." He had almost starved to death prospecting during the
winter of 1896. But in August of that year he and his companions stared into a pan that, to
their astonishment, had at least six dollars' worth of gold in the bottom. Each of the claims
staked that day eventually produced one million dollars or more. Clements later sold his claim,
however, to Clarence Berry and Antone Stander. He disembarked from the Excelsior at San Francisco
in July 1897 with $50,000 in Klondike gold. His starving days were over but his windfall could
easily have been millions, had he held his claim.
Joe Staley - Staley, of Dayton, Ohio, was a newcomer to the Yukon gold rush in the summer of 1897. Staley
got lucky when he fell in with an old miner called Caribou Billy who had a theory about a lost
channel of gold that ran through the Klondike Hills. Caribou and Staley began searching for the
gold and miraculously found it the following spring. The two miners hid their discovery until
they could stake the land. The next day when they recorded their claim the secret was out, and
a stampede followed. Of all the hundreds and thousands that roamed the Yukon that year, Staley
and Caribou were among the few who were able to unravel the riddle of the Klondike hills.
Lieutenant Frederick Schwatka - Schwatka attended Willamette University in Oregon before going on to become a U.S.
military lieutenant. In 1883, Schwatka led a party of six men from Portland, Oregon to Alaska.
They were to report the number, character and disposition of the Indians, their relations with
each other, their feeling toward the Russian government and their attitude toward the United
States. Schwatka's journal contains one of the first records of a Chilkoot Pass crossing by a
white man. Schwatka's legacy remained in the Yukon sites he named: Lake Bennett, Lake Lindeman
and Miles Canyon. Without his early explorations, maps of the Yukon circulated during the
1897-98 gold rush would have featured different names.
Belinda Mulroney - Mulroney left Scranton to become the "richest woman in the Klondike." She waitressed her way to
the Yukon where she turned fortune into fortune, opening roadhouses and hotels and managing the
largest mining company in the region. She and her husband, the supposed "Count" Carbonneau from
France (who was in fact a Montreal barber) left Dawson City and bought a ranch near Yakima,
Washington, commuting each winter to Europe, where Carbonneau became a bank director and
steamship magnate. "Count" Carbonneau was killed in World War I. Belinda Mulroney settled
finally in Washington State were she lived until her death in the 1960s.
In the fall of 1897 a Philadelphia promoter talked twelve technical-school students into
persuading their fathers to buy a schooner and send them around Cape Horn to the Klondike. The
promoter was supposed to be a navigator, but turned out to be a very poor one. After a series
of fits and starts, delays and bunglings, storms and calms, the vessel finally stumbled into
Juneau, Alaska. All of the boys went home except one, Frank Neill. He pressed on to the
Klondike, arriving finally in 1900. All the gold was gone, but Neill made a small fortune
hauling logs, used it to get started in the construction business in Long Island, and did
well enough to marry and make a wedding trip back to the Klondike. He remained a wealthy,
respected man in Skagway long after the great rush abated.
Ed Schieffelin - As the world buzzed with news of gold in the Klondike,
one of the area's first prospectors died. His name was Ed Schieffelin. In earlier years,
he had discovered a mountain of silver and founded the town of Tombstone, Arizona. When
he embarked on his gold-seeking trek to the Yukon he was already worth one million
dollars. But his appearance belied his wealth. His beard and his glossy black hair hung
long. His gray ghost-eyes had the faraway look of the long-time prospector. In 1883,
Schieffler prospected in the Yukon, where few white men had ever travelled. But after
an arduous search he dismissed the Klondike as a frozen waste. He was still searching
for gold in Oregon when a heart attack ended his life on May 12, 1897. Ed was born in Tioga County, Pennsylvania, on May 27, 1847.
Dick Lowe - Lowe was a rugged and wiry ex-mule-skinner who had already made and lost one fortune in
South Dakota. In the Black Hills he struck gold and started a transportation company, only to
have it wiped out by the Indian War. Lowe wandered up to the Yukon trying to recoup his losses
and joined a survey team measuring claims. Lowe claimed a small fraction of land on Bonanza
Creek which he vainly tried to sell, then to lease, but there were no takers. The lucky Lowe
decided to work the fraction himself, which eventually paid out over half a million dollars,
the richest claim per square foot ever staked in the Yukon.
Sam McGee - "Sam McGee was from Tennessee, where the cotton blooms and grows," according to Robert Service,
the Bard of the Klondike. Service immortalized the miners of the Yukon gold rush in his famous
poetry about the era. McGee, based on a man Service met in Whitehorse, was among the poet's
most popular characters, and his story is told in "The Cremation of Sam McGee." In the ballad
McGee was lured to the Yukon by the prospect of gold, though being from Tennessee he despised
the cold. Fearing that the bitter weather may kill him, McGee forced a promise from his partner
to cremate him if he should die. McGee did indeed freeze, and his partner cremated him in the
boiler of an abandoned ship. When the partner decided "I guess he's cooked, and it's time I
looked," he discovered McGee with a smile on his face, enjoying the heat.
George Lewis "Tex" Rickard - A former Texas marshal, his friends called him Tex. After the frenzy to secure stakes on
Bonanza Creek, he and a partner were able to buy a half-interest in one of the claims. They
sold it almost at once for twenty thousand dollars and bought an interest in another, which
sold for thirty thousand dollars. It was the start of a career that led Tex Rickard to Madison
Square Gardens in New York as the greatest fight promoter of his day. In 1898, Dawson City
dance hall girls often shared the stage with prizefighters who could bring in spectators at
$25 a chair. Rickard's first fight-promoting effort matched two friends but promoted them as
bitter adversaries. They were Australian Frank Slavin, the heavyweight champion of the British
Empire and Joe Boyle, his Canadian sparring partner. The two had arrived in Dawson City together,
but Rickard talked them into publicly "hating" each other to increase interest in the upcoming
boxing match. He billed Boyle as a man who had defied gangster head-man Soapy Smith in Skagway
and dubbed Slavin the "Sydney Slasher."
W.D. Wood, Mayor of Seattle
Wood happened to be in San Francisco attending a convention when news of the Klondike steamships'
arrivals hit. He did not bother to return home to Seattle, simply wiring his resignation as mayor.
Before the month was out he had raised one hundred and fifty thousand dollars, bought himself an
ocean steamer, the Humboldt, and formed the Seattle and Yukon Trading Company, whose subsequent
history was a troubled one. Every ship going north was overloaded. When the Humboldt, after a
series of delays, finally escaped from San Francisco on August 16, W.D. Wood tried to leave
behind some fifty thousand pounds of his passengers' personal baggage behind. This so enraged
them that a group actually attempted to hang the former mayor on the dockside. Cooler heads
prevailed, and the ship was reloaded.
"Silent Sam" Bonnefield
Silent Sam Bonnefield, who never cracked a smile or uttered a word as he played, was the best
known gambler in Dawson and the owner of a popular saloon. Bonnefield never turned down a bet
and never pulled out of a game until it was over. The biggest poker game ever recorded in the
Klondike was won by Bonnefield, who took home one hundred and fifty thousand dollars.
During one desperate poker game Bonnefield, after losing seventy-two thousand dollars, put his
saloon in the pot and lost that too. At the eleventh hour a crony of his arrived and loaned the
gambler enough to stay in the game. Within six hours Bonnefield had won everything back and
cleaned out the customer at the same time.