WILD MINERS I HAVE MET
By E. WARD SMITH
First City Clerk, Treasurer, Assessor and Tax Collector of Dawson City
THE first time I saw George Carmack, the discoverer of the great gold fields, was one snapping cold day in January. I was a comparative newcomer then but I knew all about the great Carmack even to the exact value of the gold that he had so far taken out of his rich claims on Bonanza.
Such things were common camp knowledge. Consequently I was much interested in the man himself.
My first view was rather disappointing for he was not in any sense picturesque. He was a stolid, big fellow, muffled up in furs and striding along with head bent forward. The man I was with at the time knew Carmack quite well, so he hailed him and then introduced me.
“Howdy?” said Carmack, with a friendly smile. “New comer? Well—hope you strike it. Course you can’t all expect to strike it as rich as some of us that got in early. We kind of hogged the richest bits.”
He was very affable. His sudden riches had not gone to his head nor, as I learned later, had it altered his way of living to any extent. George Carmack did not strew his money up and down the Bright White Way of Dawson. He was a primitive fellow and the life he had learned in his long, lonely prospecting years was the life he continued to live. As far as I know', he kept his wealth. How he employed it I never learned.
Carmack was a native of Southern California. Perhaps it was the pent-up instincts of his frontier ancestors that started him after gold. Certain it is, however, that he shouldered his prospector’s pack when a mere lad. For years he W'andered back and forth from Dyea to Behring Sea, seeking to discover the secret that the silent, frozen north was hiding from man. During all that time he was accompanied by two Siwash Indians, Skookum Jim and Takish Charlie.
On August 17, 189G, Carmack was fishing for
grayling, a species of salmon, along a claim that he had staked about twelve miles from the mouth of Bonanza Creek. He was never able to explain why he went to Bonanza, for it seemed the most unlikely place in the world to find gold. A few prospectors had W'andered along it on the way to more promising fields. So great was the surprise caused by the discovery of gold there that a bard of the Yukon—this was before the time of Robert W. Service—wrote a verse that I often heard sung around Dawson:
George Carmack on Bonanza Creek, went out to look for gold.
I wonder why, I wonder why ?
Old timers said it was no use. the water wafc too cold.
I wonder why. I wonder why?
They said that he might search the creek until the world did end And not enough of gold he’d find a postage stamp to send ;
He said the willows on the creek the other way should bend.
I wonder why. I wonder why?
Well, there was George Carmack on this warm August day fishing for grayling in Bonanza Creek. It so happened that his eye caught a glint of yellow where the sun reflected on bedrock on the opposite side of the creek. He went over and there it was— gold ! The exposed vein was under a big birch tree which, I believe, stands to this day and is shown visitors.
Carmack hallooed to Skookum Jim and Takish Charlie to come across and bring a pick and shovel. When they joined him, he set to work and loosened up a panful of gravel. Coarse colors were found and the three men washed out enough gold in half an hour to fill a shotgun cartridge full.
The Biggest Stampede on Record
CARMACK staked off a claim which he named Discovery, starting at the birch ti’ee. Skookum Jim located a claim above and Takish Charlie below. They then traveled in to Forty Mile to record their claims. The two Indians were as mum as oysters and, after the business of recording had been finished, they moped
around as though nothing had occurred. But Carmack could not stand the strain and, after a drink or two, he let the word out. Gold had been found, pay dust in great quantities!
Old Timers say that the stampede that followed was about the wildest on record. The merchants of Forty Mile tried to discourage it, but everyone knew that the tongue of George Carmack spoke nothing but the truth and they let out for Bonanza as fast as their legs would carry them.
One of the things that sticks in my memory about Carmack was the way he stood by his two Indian partners. It was seldom that an Indian was able to keep a rich claim, for there were always plenty of wily white men to “do” them on technicalities. But Carmack stood like a bulwark against the squabbling mob who would have deprived Skookum Jim and Takish Charlie of their rights. As a result both Jim and Charlie worked their claims and took fortunes out of them. It was estimated that Carmack took at least two and a half millions out of Discovery. A pay streak fully one hundred feet wide and from four to five feet deep would show, at a low estimate of fifty cents per pan, a total of two and a half millions. It was known that Carmack’s claim yielded sometimes as much as a hundred dollars to the pan!
■\JEXT let me introduce a miner who was unquestionlN ably one of the characters of the Yukon—Jerome Chute of the firm of Chute and Wills.
Before I was appointed to my municipal post I was in charge of the Dawson office of Chute and WJlls, so I came very closely in touch with this good-hearted and ill-fated fellow. In fact, 1 was engaged by Chute soon after I arrived in Dawson.
He was a rather handsome man with a black eye and coal black hair. At that time he was piling up a tremendous fortune from some rich claims on Gold Run Creek, over the Divide, and he just naturally liked to talk about it. He was an American with a nasal drawl.
“Smith,” he said to me, “I’ve moved up to the creeks. I built me a place up there—cost over $30,000 but it’s worth every cent of it—so I don’t need my place here. You better take it.”
So I moved in. It was a comfortable cabin, built by Chute in the days when places costing $30,000 were bevond him, and I made it my home during the first five years of my stay in Dawson. Once I was inclined to regret my occupancy. It was in the following spring and I was clearing up the yard to get ready
for gardening. A piece of wood stuck up from the ground and, in loosening the earth around it with my spade, I cut through the top of a box of dynamite that Chute had buried there and forgotten about. If it had not been fqr the fact that the sticks of dynamite within were still frozen, I would not be writing these chronicles.
One Wash-up Brought $885,000
HE spring wash-up was always the great event of the year. Soon after the dynamite incident, Chute breezed into Dawson and into the office with the information that the wash-up was going to be a record-breaker.
“Say, Smith,” he said. “It’s going to take a mighty lot of sacks to hold all the yellow stuff I’ve got up there. When you come back after lunch, will you bring the gold sacks I left up in the wood-shed at the cabin?”
1 did so and Chute and his partner, Doc Wills, an easy-going big fellow who left things pretty' well in the hands of the impulsive Chute, counted them over.
“Doe, there’s only seventy here,” said Chute. “Well sure need some more.”
“How much will one hold, Jerome?” I asked.
“Oh, them sacks don’t hold much,” he said. “Only about ten thousand dollars’ worth.”
I did some rapid calculating. “Look here,” I said. “Do y-ou mean to say that you’ll have more gold than you can put in that pile of sacks there?”
“I reckon so,” said Chute.
One day early in June I heard the buzz of many voices and a loud ‘whoa!’ in Chute’s familiar twang. Going out I found that he had driven up with four horses attached to a big wagon loaded with well-filled sacks. The street was lined with people and, sitting up there on the box, Chute was the happiest man in creation. He was fairly boiling over with the triumph of the occasion.
“Wall, got a little over two ton on,” he called to me. “It was a purty’ hard pull over these here damn roads but I got here. We’ll take this load down to the bank and put ’er in.”
He turned the horses and drove off for the bank and I followed in company7 with half the population of Dawson, more or less. It took a lot of time to complete the weighing in but it was finally7 announced that the wash-up had brought in a total of a little over $885,000.
His $30,000 Boarding-House
THE first chance that presented itself I went up to the claims on Gold Run to look over the ground. The firm had secured some extremely fine properties and they had large gangs of men engaged in working them. The thirty7 thousand dollar place that Chute had built I found to be sort of hotel and boardinghouse on one of the claims. The sum specified had covered the construction only*. An additional fourteen thousand had been expended in furnishings. Chute had sent down to Vancouver and Seattle for brass beds, expensive rugs, mahogany chairs, grandfather clocks and all the trappings of luxury. His guests were his own miners! I saw rough old sourdoughs tramping with their shoepacks over Jerome’s costly carpets and emptying their pipes on his mahoganytables. He served meals as elaborate as could be obtained anyAvhere the world over.
He greeted me with warmth. “Glad to see you,” he declared, shaking me by the hand. I could see that he wanted to observe the effect all this magnificence would have on me. for he took me around and showed me everything—the marble wash-basins, the silver and ivory knives and forks, the onyx tables and so on.
“This is wonderful,” I told him. “I can hardly believe it’s possible.”
His face lighted up like a boy’s. “I reckon there aint anything to beat this anywhere,” he declared. “The best ain’t too good for my men.”
Shortly after he retailed a characteristic piece of information.
“Wal, the boys took a chunk of taller (tallow) out a me last night,” he said. “We had a game of draw.” He seemed anxious to talk about it, in fact he was always glad to boast of the sums he lost, so I asked: “How much, Jerome?”
“Oh, nigh on $12,000, I guess. But the old man can stand it. If the bank don’t bust up on me, I’ll put a kink in them fellows yet.”
I found that he played draw poker every night and anyone w-ho cared to could sit in. The parties were made up for the most part of his own miners, some of them gamblers of wide experience. Chute was almost an infant in their hands. He would sit there, boasting and heaping up his bets, with the roof off, as they say, proud of his ability to lose in big sums. There was always a gleam of satisfaction in his eye when he recounted his gambling exploits, starting with the familiar: “Wal, the boys took a chunk of taller
out a me!”
T TIS employees were not content to ease him of his -*■ wealth in this way, however. One day I received an anonymous note at the office in Dawson which read:
I’m honest, but 1 want you to know that some here don’t wait for pay da'y to collect. They are robbing Jerome Chute right and left.
I went right up to Gold Run and told Chute about it. He pooh-poohed the whole thing.
“Nothing to it, nothing to it!” he said. “These here sons a guns can’t put anything over on me. I aint being robbed. I’ll tell you that. Why say, they can’t fool a business man. You know, Smith, I’m a purty strict employer. I get all my help for five fifty a day, where they pay six fifty all other places. They can’t rob me!”
“But, Jerome—” I began.
“It’s just some trouble-maker,” he said, patting me on the back. “Run back to the office, Smith. I’m watching things up here.”
Long after this, long after Jerome had gone from the Yukon, I heard from one of his employees how systematic the “looting” had been. This man waxed quite reminiscent on the score.
“You know the old boss wouldn’t ever pay us as much as the other mine owners,” he said. “Why, doggone, we were ready to work for him for nothing. We made a heap more than our wages on what we could pick up. There wras always a man on the watch for the boss and he passed the signal back so things would be shipshape. Me? I got a five-pound lard pail full of nuggets, one way and another.”
The chief fault with Jerome Chute, however, was his desire to do things in a big way. He was always sinking money into improvements — extravagant schemes that held no promise of return. It was no use pointing out to him that any of these pet ideas were wrong. “Wal now, look here,” he would sayin his penetrating twang, “I know all about this. You got to put money in to get it out. You leave this to me, son, leave it to me.”
Once he ordered three huge hoisting appliances such as the French use in the coal mines—ordered them in France at a cost of $60,000 a piece. And remember,
that was not the laid-down price. He had to pay for the shipping of them across seas and up into the Yukon; so theycost him a pretty penny.
One of them was erected on Gold Run and it was then discovered that the machine was built for handling dry coal and not wet gravel. It went to pieces in less than a w’eek and the other two were never even erected.
In Jerome’s big dayof prosperityhe took a trip to Ottawa with another Yukoner.
During his stay of two months in Ottawa he drew on the Dawson Bank for $75,000. No doubt mostly lost in draw.
The Failure of Jerome Chute
'T'HE firm of Chute and Wills had about five years of great prosperity; and then things started to get bad. The improvements began to outpace the profits and finally the affairs of the firm got into the hands of the bank. Ultimately the whole propertywas lost and Jerome Chute went down the river looking for fresh camps and new claims.
On a trip out some years later I fell into conversation on the boat with a wealthy American who informed me that he owned a number of good claims on the American side. They had never yielded him anything, however, and he had just been up to investigate.
“You see,” he explained, “I put them into the hands of an experienced man up there. He was to handle them and take a percentage of the profits. Well, sir, he was a man of big ideas, of vision you might say. But he spent so much for this and that and putting in machinery and building dams and one thing and another that every dashed cent was used up. There never were anyprofits though he dug up a fortune out of the ground all right. I’ve had to take them away from him.”
“Verysimilar to the case of a man I worked for on the Canadian side,” I said. “He was a fellow citizen of yours—Jerome Chute.”
“By Crickey!” cried the owner. “That’s the man I had working for me!”
The last heard of Jerome Chute was in the lower country. One night some men from Dawson, who had been out on a stampede, put up at a roadhouse. In one corner of the bar, a shabby looking old miner sat huddled up, nursing a pair of sore feet and muttering to himself. The old fellow, they found, had been out on the stampede and had been disappointed. He was on his way back.
It was Jerome Chute. And, as he sat there, a broken, lonely figure, they heard him muttering to himself: “Sarves ye’ right, ye old fool! Didn’t know
enough to hang on to it when you had it. Sarves ye right!”
The Fortune of Belinda Mulrooney
AND now for Belinda Mulrooney—brave, cheerful, capable Belinda, with the map of Ireland on her face and the grit of her Celtic ancestors in her honest
heart! To my mind she was the most interesting character in the Yukon.
Miss Mulrooney was a stewardess on a steamer plying on the north Atlantic coast in 1895 and the tales she heard from miners, coming and going, decided her to try her fortune in the gold country. So she resigned her position and started for the magic north. She fitted out in Seattle in March 1896 and travelled alone to Dyea. Here she cast, in her lot with a party of mining men and got as far as Lake Bennett where she joined some Seattle merchants. They secured a large scow and made the trip down the river to Dawson. On the way she kept the party supplied with fish and game, being an expert with both rod and gun.
At Henderson Creek, Belinda made her first try at fortune by staking claim No. 22 below; some time after, this developed into a very valuable property. In the early part of June she arrived in Klondyke City with a 2,000-pound outfit and one twenty-five cent piece, the last of her money.
“Here’s for luck!” said Belinda and gave the quarter a toss far out into the water of the Yukon.
But it soon developed that, in coming to Dawson, she had not left everything to chance. Her outfit contained a supply of merchandise that was almost invaluable—silks, linen and such like. Most of her stock she was able to sell at a profit of at least a thousand per cent.
With the capital thus obtained, she opened à restaurant. It was a big success, for Belinda knew how to serve meals and, still more important, she knew how to charge. Her tneals, I think, cost $4.50 except during the panic seasons and then of course, they went up. This venture netted her so well that she built a two-storey log hotel at the forks of El Dorado and Bonanza and named the place, which grew up around, Grand Forks. Here she did a thriving business. All the time, of course, she was taking a hand in the mining business. She picked up claims here and there. She acquired claim No. 27 below Discovery on Dominion Creek and an interest in No. 50 above on Bonanza, both of which were valuable properties.
Her Broad Ambitions
'T'HE first time I ever saw Belinda Mulrooney was one winter day when she had come in from Grand Forks in a basket sleigh, drawn by her faithful dog, Nero. He was a magnificent animal, a St. Bernard, and the largest dog in the Yukon. He took his mistress wherever she went, dragging the sleigh along with a noble ease and making the eighteen mile trip to Dawson always in less than three hours. She had come in on this occasion to close up a deal by which she was securing the Fairview Hotel in Dawson from Alex. McDonald. It was quite a pretentious place and the fact that she was able to buy it in demonstrates how well her affairs had been coming on. The business brought her to the Administration Building.
I found her a brilliant and refined woman. She was an exceedingly bright talker and had a wealth of ideas. She told us that day all about her plans for the Fairview. It was going to be made the finest hotel on the continent.
“Why shouldn’t it be?” she said. “We have the wealth here. The people of Dawson can pay for service and I’m going to see that they get it. I’m going to import furnishings that’ll make the Waldorf look shabby and there’s a high-priced chef coming in on the first boat. This is going to be a real hotel.”
She succeeded in her plans in so far at least as service was concerned. I remember an occasion when Mr. F. C. Wade arrived to take the position of Crown Prosecutor for the Territory. Miss Mulrooney invited Mr. and Mrs. Wade and my wife and I to dinner with her at the Fairview. It was a most astonishing meal that she served us; course after course of the most expensive foods—terrnpin, turkey, caviare, grapes, fine wines. Through it all our hostess kept up a running fire of talk that was most entertaining.
After dinner she took us in to her private sittingroom and, among other things, showed us a silver platter containing various sized nuggets of gold that had been found on her claims. This she passed around, as though it were a platter of cookies. "Have one— Oh, come now, choose one—No, not that little one Continued on page 55
Continued from page 31
Take this—Have another—I’ll be offended if you don’t.”
The nuggets ran in value from twenty to one hundred dollars apiece!
In time Belinda Mulrooney became one of the wealthiest citizens of Dawson. Her hotel was a good investment and some of her claims proved very rich. She was shrewd enough to look after her wealth too. Then entered on the scene one Charbonneau who used the prefix Count.
The Romance of Belinda
THE Count was handsome enough in his way and he was most plausible. He had come to the Yukon to make his fortune but, as far as we could learn, he did not plan to go up the creeks and moil for it in the frozen soil. He became one of the characters of the camp. We ail called him Count, though we knew that his title had no foundation in letters of nobility. Then one day a startling bit of information circulated around the town. Belinda Mulrooney had become the Countess Charbonneau!
That was the start of a brilliant career for our friend the Count. With Belinda’s wealth behind him, he blossomed out in unexpected colors. After a short but colorful stay in Dawson, he whisked his countess off for a honeymoon trip to Paris. They never came back, never at least while I was in Dawson. However, we got word of them occasionally.
A miner named Edward Lewin happened to go to Paris about the same time and this -was the story that he brought back. One day he was sitting in the rotunda of a fashionable Paris hotel when a handsome carriage drove up with a coachman and footman on the box in livery. Down got the gorgeously caparisoned footman and spread a roll of fine carpet across the pavement to the hotel steps. Lewin got up in a flurry ot excitement to see what important Per* sonage this was arriving. He expected a prince, a duke, a famous diplomat at the least. Out of the coach stepped— Count and Countess Charbonneau!
The Count was a picture of what your gallant of the boulevard should be— morning coat, pearl grey spats, speckless silk hat, gardenia in button hole, ingratiating smile and all. Lelincia looked blooming and happy.
As they passed through the rotunda, the eye of the Count fell on Lewin and for a moment he looked rather taken aback. Then a smile lighted up his face and a sly wink flickered a message to the brother miner; a message which Charbonneau amplified shortly after over some liquid refreshments.
“Putting up a big appearance, you know,” he informed Lewin. “Got some big deals on and it is necessary to look
,m8erSSd the bill for the drinks with a hundred franc note and airily waved the waiter away with the change.
It was reported later in Dawson that the Count's transactions in Paris got him into a tangle, the exact nature of
which we did not learn. We heard also that he had made very serious inroads into Belinda’s fortune. But what became of the couple I never heard.
'T'HERE were plenty of other eharac-
ters in the camp but space will not permit of more than a passing mention of most of them. There was “Curley” Munroe who always went around in his shirt sleeves, even appearing on the streets in dead of winter that way and who refused to don coat and vest when he accompanied a deputation to Ottawa; Joe Barrett, a French-Canadian who made a big strike on Dominion Creek and who was brought into Daw’son society by the marriage of his niece, a very pretty dark-eyed girl, to the son of one of the Judges; Ross who was a humble messenger in one of the banks but cleaned up at least $300,000 through buying claims on the side and who stayed with his job nevertheless because, as he explained it, “If I stay two years more I get a superannuation allowance of $50 per month.”
The King of the Klondyke
Finally, there was the greatest miner of them all—Alex.-McDonald, who was known wherever mining men met as “the King of the Klondyke.” Alex, is worth a whole article in himself.
McDonald was born in Nova Scotia, of Highland Scotch parents, and he drifted into the mining game early. He spent many years in the gold fields of Colorado without acquiring any wealth and went to the Yukon among the first. The story told was that he had three dollars and a half when he landed in Dawson. His income the first year was over a million dollars.
It was not entirely luck that enabled him to acquire valuable claims on practically all the best creeks, though, of course, luck played a big part in it. He had long experience back of him, a magnificent physique and plenty of grit. He worked hard and long and no hardships ever daunted him. Within a few years he was the richest man in the Yukon and perhaps one of the richest in Canada.
When I first reached the Yukon, he was in the heyday of his fortune and fame. Alex, was a man of powerful stature, over six feet in height and heavily built. He was homely and stolid appearing, with a long nose and a most tremendously heavy underjaw. He looked like a moose. In fact, the miners had dubbed him from the first “The Big Moose”; and the name stuck.
He was a rather dull fellow and always gave one the impression of a man who had had wealth and responsibility sprung on him and had never quite recovered from the surprise. “I speakit the twa talks,” he used to tell us, meaning English and Gaelic—but in reality, he spoke little of anything. He was a silent, dour man, mixing little with the community and taking no interest in things outside of his claims.
At the height of his career in the
Yukon, he owned perhaps as many as forty claims and most of them were good ones. He had located a number of them hirnself, the rest he had bought in. No estimate could be placed on the amount of his wealth; he had only the vaguest idea of it himself. He was a Roman Catholic and always gave most liberally, building a church and hospital and contributing liberally to all funds, for which he was given the Order of Knighthood of the Roman Catholic Church by the Pope.
Alex, brought a wife up to Dawson in the height of his affluence—a pretty girl whom he had met in Seattle. She was dark-eyed, vivacious and quite young, in fact the very opposite of big Alex, in every way. They seemed quite happy although the young consort of the mining King began to drag him into social activities that were far beyond his ken. I remember seeing him at a reception given on the memorable occasion when Lord Minto, then Governor-General, visited Dawson. Alex, had donned a Prince Albert and silk hat and he looked hopelessly miserable. Out on the creeks he was a giant among men; in a drawing-room, he dwindled into vacuous insignificance.
His Fortune Swept Away
THE turn in the King’s affairs came when he began to branch out too far and got beyond, his depth. He bought up a great deal of property in Dawson, including at least one hotel and several stores and a large machine shop. He launched one big deal—or someone did for him—to buy up all the water front and develop it. But this fell through. Finally it was suggested to him that he should consolidate all his claims and place them on the English market. With this idea in mind he went to England;
taking an agent along, and offered his holdings to an English syndicate for the sum of four million pounds sterling. The capitalists did not see the value in the property and offered one million sterling. Big Alex, returned to Canada lí uffed.
From that point on his fortune dwindled away from him. Many of his claims petered out and it took the revenue from the paying ones to support the losing propositions. His wealth vanished almost as rapidly as it had been accumulated. One day he wakened up to find himself penniless. Even a fine home that he had built for his wife at Tacoma, Washington, had been swept away. Nothing was left.
Undaunted, the old fellow started out to rebuild his fortune. He took hold of a new scheme—the opening up of lowgrade property by hydraulic work. An old foreman of mine went with him and •worked all summer. At the finish McDonald owed him $1,700 for wages and did not have a cent to pay. The scheme had completely failed.
One cold winter night a few old acquaintances dropped in to see him in the cabin he was occupying. The ex-King wa3 very morose and spoke of his nrospocts gloomily. “The cream is gon«_,” lie declared. “We’re trying to get something out of the skimmed milk now. I’m feared it’s too late.”
The fire burned low and he went out to pet more wood. He was gone longer than seemed necessary so one of the party went out to see what was the matter. The massive body of the old miner lay stretched out on the snow—Alex, was dead. He had apparently been -awing the wood and the exercise had proven too violent for his weakened heart.
So passed the King of the Klondyko.