KID IN THE KLONDIKE
CONCLUSION Girls, Gold and Gamblers
Charlie Anderson took a million dollars from a claim he bought when he was drunk. One-Eyed Riley made a fortune at faro bank. Cad Wilson dug gold from the pockets of her dance-hall partners. And the writer, a retired sourdough at eighteen, hit an unexpected bonanza selling newspapers in Dawson City for as much as sixty-five dollars a copy
ABOUT m AUTHOR
Bert Parker was eighteen when he climbed the frozen White Pass and floated down the Yukon River on the Trail of ’98. Five years ago, when he was dying of cancer, he decided to write his memoirs. He completed his manuscript before he died. This is the concluding installment of his eventful story, just as Parker set it down.
DAWSON was strictly a tent city. I had never seen anything like it. The tents were all shaPes and all sizes. Some were on frames and some looked as though the occupants were holding them up with their hands. Every tent had a cache for storing supplies, a miniature cabin built on stilts about eight or ten feet high so the dogs and bears could not get into it.
There were a few cabins when we arrived and they soon started to build more, but the place to see the cabins was on the hill, back of Dawson, and in the Klondike Valley, between Dawson and the mouth of Bonanza Creek. There were thousands of them, of all shapes and sizes, some of them works of art, and others that looked as though they had been put up by ten-year-old boys. Very few had windows. A favorite stunt was to insert a row of about ten bottles, usually quart beer bottles. You could not see out of the window, but they did let in a little light to help out the candle.
We pitched our own tent on an island at the mouth of the Klondike. It took us a day or two to get our camp on a permanent basis and our outfits in the cache, and then we started fry the creeks where they were mining the gold. There were four of us in the tent, my partner, Angus McIntosh, and myself, Jack Riddel and Bert Hargraves.
Riddel seemed to know all the worth-while people. One man he knew was F. C. Burnham, who later became famous as a South African scout in the Boer War. Burnham had come in ahead of us with a man named Anderson who owned the Anderson Concession, two miles up Hunker Creek. It proved to be very rich ground and was still being worked forty years later. Anderson told Burnham that the hillsides on the left limit of the concession had gold in them so we all went up there and staked. I staked Claim No. 15 two or three days after I arrived.
A man could stake only one claim. My partner had No. 12 and we thought it was better than 15 so decided to record it and prospect it before recording mine. We brought up a tent and the materials necessary to put down a shaft. The ground was frozen and had to be thawed. We did this by cutting wood and building a fire. Then when it had burned out, we’d clean out the dirt and put in another fire. Down about fifteen feet we ran into solid ice. This was easy to pick out and we could have got through it in short order. We decided there was no gold there and abandoned the hole. It was the best claim of the lot and was sold that fall for about twenty thousand dollars. That was not much in the Klondike but it was quite a sum for a kid who had been working on a farm for the preceding three years for ten dollars a month.
We left Hunker Creek and started scouting around the country for something that looked better but never found anything good that someone hadn’t found before us. We did see lots of rich ground though and I think we lost our sense of proportion looking at it.
After our first mining venture folded up we went back to our town house and decided to have a look at the cultural side of Dawson City. This proved very interesting. There were two or three theatres running full time and more getting ready as fast as possible. The stage manager and principal comedian at one of the leading shows was John Mulligan. Mulligan was versatile and it did not take him very long to find out that the acts he’d heen putting over in the Pacific Coast towns were not spicy enough for the Klondike miners. He lost no time switching. The miners had money to pay for their fantasies and Mulligan did his best to give them what they wanted. He put on some great skits based on suggestions from gamblers, miners, dance-hall girls and saloon keepers.
For instance, there was the business of the river boat, Bonanza King. This boat was ready to enter into competition with the up-river steamers, hauling passengers between Dawson and Whitehorse. To get a little free advertising they put on an excursion. Sunday was a dead day in Dawson; theatres, saloons, gambling houses and dance halls were closed up tight, and the gamblers, actors, actresses and dance-hall girls hibernated from midnight Saturday till midnight Sunday. So the Sunday excursion went over big. The Bonanza King left Dawson early Sunday morning and headed down river for Alaska, known then as God’s country, where a man could do what he liked on Sunday or any other day. As things worked out, going down river was a mistake. Something went wrong with the engines and they could not get back.
All kinds were drawn to the Klondike in 1898: John Mulligan whose skits were raw and lusty Father Judge who died healing sick miners Nigger Jim whose mad stampede led to nowhere The Oatley Sisters who sang sweet ballads And Bert Parker who remembered all of them
This was fine for a while; they had all the women in the town on the boat and a lot of the liquor. But when Monday came and went and then Tuesday and supplies were running short, things changed. The girls were used to seeing lots of men, got tired of seeing the same old faces day after day and began to get peevish. The owners in
Dawson did not know what was wrong. There was nearly two thousand miles of the Yukon River below Dawson and they thought the Bonanza King might have been kidnapped. However, she limped back to her wharf on Thursday with a sad-looking bunch of fun seekers.
During this time Dawson was also completely closed up for there was nobody to run things. It was a dark period. Up to this time, I don’t think anyone realized to what extent the city was dependent on these people who, in a very few years, were to be legislated out of business. The Bonanza King’s reception was as spontaneous as it was sincere. When her whistle was heard down river, it was the signal for everybody to get down to the waterfront.
I will never forget the remarks that were hurled at the girls as they walked down the gangplank —or the retorts of the girls, who were all able to take care of themselves in any kind of company. Someone would shout, on seeing Nellie LaMore walking down the gangplank: “Hey, Nellie, do
you know that Dago Frank committed suicide yesterday? You ought to be ashamed of yourself; you didn’t have him half cleaned. Now all his money will go back to his mother. Why don’t you tend to business?”
The next week John Mulligan had a show ready for the Monte Carlo Theatre showing what happened on the trip down river. There were no censors then and the word subtle did not have any meaning for Mulligan. He did not believe in leaving anything to the imagination.
Dawson was a lively town in ’98. Twenty years later on a trip up the Yukon a Fairbanks lawyer named de Journel and I got to talking about those days. I mentioned a dance-hall girl who came to Dawson to do a hoochy-koochy dance but was stopped by the police. “My God!” said de Journel, “it must have been some dance if they wouldn’t let her do it in those days. I myself saw Captain Harper of the Northwest Mounted Police bet a hundred dollars he could strip off naked, stand on his head on the stage of the Monte Carlo Theatre and eat a pound of raw beef steak off the floor. And he won the bet.”
After sampling the life in Dawson, we went up ¡♦to have a look at Bonanza and Eldorado Creeks. These were the main creeks in the district and everybody was talking about the money that was being taken out there. One place that interested us greatly was Dick Lowe’s Fraction, a piece of ground at the mouth of Big Skookum Gulch, one of the richest pieces of ground in history. A fraction is a part of a claim. When the surveyors came along to survey the claims the miners had staked they often found that the man had staked more than five hundred feet, the legal length. The piece of ground between the end of the five hundred feet and the number one stake of the next claim would be open for relocation, and the first man lucky enough to become aware of it could stake it. Dick was one of the gang that worked the original survey party when Bonanza was being surveyed. All the other members of the party had staked a fraction but Dick and, when the one at the mouth of Skookum was found, the chief of the party pointed it out to him. It was shaped something like a piece of pie. None of the three sides was much over ► a nur.dred feet long. Dick decided it was too small, but as they worked along till night and no other fraction appeared he thought that he had better go back and stake it. He did, and within a couple of years had taken a million dollars in gold out of it.
The bedrock was mixed in with a sort of gumbo clay, and the gold stuck in this clay. There were a bunch of Lowe’s men standing around the dump box with brushes made of small buck-brush boughs, tied together with wire off the hay bales. I really do not think that they could have mined at all in the early days if it had not been for the hay wire. Every one of those rocks had to be scrubbed and then his men would scrape the gold out of the cracks and indentations in the rock.
We stood there for a long time, and the foreman finally came over to us and said, ‘T see you boys have axes, do you want a job cutting wood?” He offered us five dollars a cord to cut wood up Big Skookum Gulch. There were three of us and my partner and myself were good axemen, so we decided that was a pretty good way to make fifty dollars apiece. He took us up that night and we threw up a lean-to.
It worked out according to plan; we got one hundred and fifty dollars fifty dollars apiece for two and a half days of the crudest sort of work. We would have been well advised to stick at it, but we had come into the Yukon to mine and we still had the gold fever. That was the last contract that I was party to in the Yukon, I am sorry to say.
Lowe was soon driving up and down the creek, between his claim and the city of Dawson. He had a fine team of trotting horses; they did not grow on trees up there, nor did the hay and oats that they burned up but by now Dick didn’t care. He usually had a girl with him, and these also came high in the Klondike in 1898. Dick was one of the lucky ones, or so we all thought at that time. He had one hell of a good time for a couple of years; then he began to realize that the harvest days were almost over. This did not greatly alarm him, as he figured thirty or forty thousand would keep him happy for the rest of his life. But the claim was worked out before he had even thought of saving anything. The last I heard of him, he was
peddling water in Fairbanks at so much a bucket
one of the toughest jobs in the world. I can’t see how he could ever have spent his fortune in a primitive camp like Dawson without a lot of expert assistance.
We spent a few days in Dawson, baked a fresh supply of bread and cooked up a pot of beans. We used to cook the beans so they were practically dry; when they were cold this made them easy to carry. Then we hit for the creeks again.
There were no roads at that early date, the weather was comparatively dry but the trails were knee deep in mud. This was largely due to the fact that most of the ground in the Yukon is permanently frozen. It never thaws out for more than a foot or two unless the moss and the muck are removed. This muck is anywhere from one foot to more than a hundred feet deep, very black in color and wondrously rich. The trails would get churned up by the horses’ hooves and in lots of places you could almost navigate with a small boat. This all went to make a trip to the creeks with a pack on your back anything but a holiday.
The trip up Bonanza was a bad one and we used an alternate trail that took us over the hill behind Louse Town and brought us out just below Sixty, on Bonanza. It was a nice change from wading up the regular Bonanza trail. We kept right on up Bonanza and then up Eldorado.
Eldorado was the banner creek of the whole Klondike. It was not very long, just about four miles from the mouth till you ran out of pay -but those four miles! 1 do not think that there has been anything in the history of mining to compare with Eldorado Creek.
Everybody was busy. There were great strings of burros and mules packing supplies up to the claims and packing gold back to the city. I have seen as many as twenty-five pack horses come down the Bonanza trail all loaded with gold dust without an armed escort. Crime was almost non-existent.
We heard numerous stories about how some of the owners had acquired their claims. Very few of the original locators of the claims on Eldorado were in possession of them, even at this early date.
I am going to tell you about Claim No. 29. It is an old story, but a typical one. This claim was owned by Charlie Anderson when I arrived in the Klondike. Charlie was known as “the Lucky Swede.” He blew into Fortymile in the winter of ’96-’97, had about a thousand dollars in his possession with which he intended to purchase his winter’s outfit. The owners of No. 29, AÍ Thayer and Winfield Oler, thought it a good chance to unload the wildcat that Oler had staked just prior to this. They got Charlie full of hooch and then sold him the claim. They were careful to have a bill of sale made out, however, and have it properly witnessed. In the morning after Charlie had sobered up he found that most of his money was gone; he had paid eight hundred dollars for the claim and had no money left. He went to Oler and tried to call the deal off, but no soap. He then went to Inspector Constantine of the Northwest Mounted Police. When the inspector saw the bill of sale he told Charlie the sale would have to stand.
Poor old Charlie then decided that in order to avoid the jeers of the wise guys he would have to get out of town, so he decided to hit up river and have a look at his new property. He found his claim and found a hole down about eight or nine feet. Charlie went into it and found at the base a bit of slide rock that the original owner evidently thought was bedrock. Charlie went through this rock and kept on till he got to bedrock, which was not very far. I am told that the first pan of bedrock had enough gold in it to reimburse him for the original outlay on the claim.
Charlie had a gay time for a few years. I really think he was in a daze for a long time. Ben Levy, who was in there in the old days, told me that in the spring of 1897 when they were getting ready to sluice their winter dumps Charlie ran out of nails to build sluice boxes. There were no nails in Dawson, but Ben had picked up a keg of burnt nails some l ime before in the ashes of a fire that had burned down a building. Charlie paid eight hundred dollars for them.
Charlie soon got mixed up with a couple of girls and had a real sleigh ride from then on until he was insolvent. He lived a quiet life on one of the islands off the west coast of British Columbia for forty years or more after he left the Yukon. The man who sold him the claim never had enough to take him from here to the corner, and, after living for nearly half a century to ruminate on the difference between a wise guy and a sucker, he died in the old man’s home in Sitka, Alaska. I' really think he had more regrets than Charlie had.
We went along and heard a lot of tales about the various owners of the Eldorado claims, their habits and even their favorite brand of likker. They were all big news. One of the claims near the mouth of the creek, and a very rich one, was owned and operated by Frank Phiscator. He had a partner originally, but they did not get along and Frank bought him out for thirty thousand dollars. Thus Phiscator became the sole owner of one of the richest claims in the district. They had quite a dump when this transfer was made and when the dump was washed up in the spring it was found that there was enough gold in it to pay for several claims at the same price. The money did Frank no good; he took to drink and died shortly after the claim was worked out. I do not mean literally that the claim was worked out. It was dredged afterward and thousands more taken out and it is very likely that it will be dredged again some time.
There was a lot of ground in the Klondike, never nearly as rich as the claims on Eldorado, that have heen dredged two and sometimes three times and good money taken out each time. I met the man who sold out to Phiscator in 1923. He was a road superintendent in Alaska; he was looking well and enjoying life.
We wanted to get back to Dawson for the sports of July 1 and 4. For a great many years the Canadian and U. S. national holidays were celebrated on the same day—it might be any day from July 1 to July 4 inclusive. This was the only holiday during the summer, when the water was running and mining operations were being carried on full tilt seven days a week. It was some celebration. All kinds of vehicles were sent out to the creeks to assist the stages in bringing the miners in for the sports and taking them back again after the celebration was over.
The sports in 1898 were held on Front Street, and I wish you could have seen the crowd, all men, primitive men, I might say, judging from their appearance. There were a hundred and ten men entered for the hundred-yard sprint, and the race had to be run off in ten heats. This celebration, like the others, was very orderly. There was little of the lawlessness that was characteristic of so many western mining camps. This was due largely to the Mounted Police.
During this holiday there was a famous six-day foot race held for the purpose of settling who was the best man on the Trail. There was an Indian named Louis Cardinal in it, a Mounted Police guide and known as one of the best mushers in the country; there was another great musher, an Englishman named Montague Martin, and a footrunner, an elderly man named George Taylor. It was an awful track. If I remember correctly, they were running on sawdust. The promoters had erected a grandstand with an eight-foot-high canvas fence around the track which made it look like a miniature wild-west show from the outside.
Most of the runners had dropped out by the night of July 3 and only the
first three named remained in the race. At that time the “restricted district” was on Fourth and Fifth Avenues and there was a bunch of foreign girls congregated there. It was daylight all night and the town did not seem to really wake up till along in the evening. At midnight the populace started to celebrate the Fourth of July with bells ringing, whistles blowing, firearms of all descriptions going off and dogs howling in every quarter of the town. One of the French girls on Fourth Avenue came out to the door with a revolver to take a hand in the celebration and fired two or three shots in rapid succession with her eyes closed. When the smoke cleared away and she got her eyes open again she saw them carrying an old man out of the enclosure where the race track was. This old man was a well-known bar-fly by the name of Dominick McCaffery who used to hang around the Bucket of Blood and would always walk up to the bar and have a drink when someone was buying for the house, which was pretty often in those days.
Dominick Was Shrewd
They carried Dominick out onto King Street and took his pants off. There were hundreds of men there, for it was almost in front of Arizona Charlie’s Palace Grand Theatre. Dominick had been shot about a half inch above the seat that he was sitting on. They had him down on his hands and knees, the blood running down both legs, and everybody giving first aid and advice while they were waiting for the doctor. Everybody was well aware that he was not seriously hurt and I don’t think it would have had much bearing on the gang if he had been. It was a holiday crowd, they were out for fun, and they sure got their full measure of it that night. But the girl who shot him was in quite a state, with visions of being hung for attempted murder. Dominick impressed upon her that he would not lay a charge. He was too wise a bird to do that. He had her working for him as long as they both remained in the country. He would go up to her place whenever he was short of funds and take all her earnings. Otherwise, he said, he would lay the charge which he told her the police were urging him to do.
Incidentally, the six-day foot race was won by Louis Cardinal. It was a financial flop.
I put in the rest of the summer of ’98 doing odd jobs. One job I had was scraping the mold off a shipload of bacon that had got wet in transit.
In September we started in to make arrangements with a fellow who had a claim about five miles up Bear Creek. We drew up an agreement to work the ground for the winter on a fifty-fifty basis. I was not feeling well but did not want to say anything, as it was considered had form to complain.
We left Dawson with a big load of provisions. There were four of us, as we had thrown in our lot with two men from New Zealand, James Dalziel and Adam Jowett. Dalziel was a big man of about fifty, with whiskers. He was one of the best-read and best-informed men I have ever met. The trail was very bad, mud was deep and the weather was freezing in the morning and all night.
I was so sick I could not keep up with the rest of the party. Next day I headed back to town. I found a doctor near the Good Samaritan Hospital who told me I had typhcrid fever and should be in a hospital. I told him I had forty-five dollars and he said he would go over to the hospital and see if there was any room. He came back shortly and said there wasn’t a vacant bed. I paid him for the consultation and he watched me, the youngest man in the country, walk out of the tent and hit for the camp across the Klondike.
1 went back to the tent, got into bed and said to myself, “Well, this is it.” About eight o’clock that night Dalziel came into the tent to see how 1 was. I told him what had happened. “Bert,” he said, “1 will get, you into a hospital and you will be all right.” He went on to say that he had been afraid ever since he saw me the previous morning that I had typhoid, and that there was a regular epidemic in the Yukon. He fixed me up as best he could for the night and said that he would return first thing in the morning to take me to the hospital. The next morning two Mounted policemen came in with a stretcher, lifted me out of bed and then carried me out of the tent to a canoe. That was the last time that 1 ever saw the tent. It was gone when I came out of the hospital.
As there was no vacant bed in the hospital I was put on the floor. I was soon to learn why I had been put there. A man died in the bed right alongside me in less than half an hour after I was admitted and I was put into his bed, which was still warm.
This was the end of an era in my life. I did not realize it at the time, but 1 realized it after I left the hospital, which was not for a long time. It was in the early forenoon of Sept. 25, 1898, when I went, into the hospital and it is about the things that 1 saw and some of the people I met while I was in St. Mary’s Hospital that I want to tell you about.
One of the first people, and by far the most important and certainly the most lovable man that 1 ever met in my long life, was Father Judge. I had been in bed for only a short time when he came to see me. He had been told I was a boy and as boys were scarce in the Klondike at that time he was anxious to see one. He was a tall, very slender priest, with snow-white hair and broad high forehead. Though frail he gave you the idea he was an athlete, from the way he moved. He was well past middle l fe, but he ran up the stairs faster than anyone else and seemed to be on the job day and night. We all knew there would have been no hospital if it had not been for him.
St. Mary’s Hospital had started out with one tent. Father Judge had come up to Dawson from Holy Cross Mission, near the mouth of the Yukon, a thousand miles from Dawson. The only way to get from there was to walk over the ice on the Yukon River, which is very rough for it only freezes when it is running full of ice blocks. In the winter of ’97-’98 when Father Judge made his pilgrimage he had an ordinary Yukon sled loaded with medicines, potions, salves and bandages. He did not carry enough food along to even sustain himself for he knew that the miners would not have medicines. It was an awful trip, in the dead of an Arctic winter. There were a lot of men scattered along the Yukon who had heard of the big strike in the Klondike and most of these men were on the stampede. Many of these passed the heavily-loaded priest on the way up the river. He arrived in Dawson not a day too soon, as there were already a lot of scurvy cases due to the lack of fresh food.
It was not long before he had three tents full of sick men, most of them scurvy cases. This is a loathsome disease, and many men do not want to be near anyone who is afflicted. Father Judge, himself already marked for death, went out and gathered herbs, acted as cook, lau.nderer, medical ad-
viser and undertaker. The duties of an undertaker included the digging of the grave in the frozen muck, no small accomplishment for a miner, let alone an ailing priest.
Father Judge’s principal aim in life was to comfort the men he nursed, and if there was ever a time and place that men needed spiritual uplift it was there in the Klondike. When the tents were overflowing the miners built him a hospital and promptly filled it with patients. He slept on a board couch with an old piece of carpet for a mattress, for the beds were needed for the five hundred patients now lying around him. The nucleus of his nursing staff was a half-dozen nursing sisters who came up from Holy Cross Mission on the first up-river steamboat in the spring of ’98. There were scores of M Ds in Dawson who had come in to mine but reverted to their profession.
The priest was growing more frail all the time and his friends, who numbered thousands now, begged him to conserve his strength. But he was so busy going from bed to bed, comforting the sick and ministering to the dying, that he did not have time to
rest. Finally we had to put him to bed and we were aware that he would never be around among his patients again. He died on Jan. 16, 1899. We learned that he was forty-nine years old, though he looked like a man of sixty. He was laid to rest beneath the edifice which he had erected by his own efforts.
Men died by the score in the fall and winter of ’98. It went down below sixty and they could not dig the graves. The ground was frozen so hard and it was impossible to get men to work in the extreme cold. They piled the bodies like cord wood in a shed alongside the hospital and then buried them after the weather moderated.
While I was in hospital that winter an episode occurred which was very characteristic of the country. This was the “Nigger Jim Stampede.” There was a lot of men in the north then who were known as stampeders and there were one or two women also that came under this category, such as Stampede Mitchell, an old lady who was always on the lookout for a new strike.
There was considerable mystery connected with the Nigger Jim Stampede. Some people thought that it was all a joke, concocted by Nigger Jim Dougherty himself. Others maintained that Jim was fooled by a fellow who came into Dawson with a big poke of gold and sold him a map for a thousand dollars. Anyway, the Nigger told some of his friends about a new strike and they told their friends and before long there was a big crowd getting ready to go somewhere. They didn’t know where they were going and they didn’t care.
Nigger Jim was a big good-looking white man who spoke with a southern drawl. He had made some money up on Bonanza and everybody liked him, but he was known as a practical joker and this was one reason why a lot of the people thought that the affair was a hoax. It was also whispered that the stampede was the result of a wager that he had made that he could start a stampede in a few hours simply by a bit of whispering.
The sad part was that a lot of the fellows who took part were not able to contend with conditions that arose soon after they hit the trail. They started down the Yukon River and went up the Twelve Mile. They had an Indian trail to follow for quite a way, but they had to leave it and go into deep snow to follow the instructions laid down in the map which Jim had. It was pretty heavy going, and by the time the boys had got to their destination they were all in and, to make it worse, there was nothing resembling a camp or anything to show that there had ever been any mining done. The weather was down nearly sixty below, the party was almost out of grub, and the dogs were about all in.
There was nothing to do but start the long trek back to the city. A lot of them were badly frozen before they got there and some of them were maimed for life. One man lost both feet and both hands and used to sit in a high chair in the Bucket of Blood so he could see what was going on. There would likely have been trouble had it been anyone other than Nigger Jim Dougherty. Everybody knew that Jim would be the last man in the territory that would knowingly injure anyone.
All this time 1 was still in hospital. Things did not run along as smoothly after Father Judge took sick. The job was a pretty big one for the six Holy Cross Sisters. There were only three other women nurses that I can recall. All the other nurses were men. A lot of them had no experience and some had been in jail. It was quite a racket for some of the nurses to go to a man who was dying and borrow money from him. One scheme was to tell him that their watch had been sent to the jeweler and that they had to have a watch to take his pulse. They would like to borrow his. If they had his watch when he died it had little chance of being found in his estate.
Another stunt was to try and get a cheap jag while on shift. It was customary to prescribe a stimulant for a man getting over typhoid. The favorite prescription was a bottle of brandy or good whisky. Whisky was a tremendous price at that time and the hospital did not furnish it, regardless of how sick a man was. A favorite stunt of one of the male nurses was to rush up to the bed of a patient who’d been able to buy alcohol, grab the bottle, which was usually at the head of the bed, pour out a drink, then look at his watch and say: “It is an hour too soon for you to have a drink 1 wonder how I made a mistake like that? Well. I guess I will drink it myself.”
There was a prairie farmer named Greer who came in with typhoid. He imagined he’d staked a rich claim and succeeded in making everybody else believe it. The hospital had instructions from Greer’s doctor that he was to have anything that he wanted. Greer was one of the very few men in hospital who were given champagne as a stimulant. When he came out of his delirium he still insisted that he had a rich claim, but he did not know just where it was. Finally it was discovered he had no claim at all; it seems he thought that he was on the track of something about the time he became sick and it was an obsession with him.
1 took very sick that winter and one night they didn’t think 1 would live till morning. There was a fight that night in town and one of the orderlies wanted to see it. They thought he might be needed to carry me out if I died, so, finally, as there was an empty bed in the room where Greer was it was decided that I should be put in there. Then if I died I could be left there till morning.
Dalziel had brought me in a small jar of honey, which must have cost him plenty. I was not supposed to eat anything at that time—in fact, it was said to be suicide to eat anything when you still had the fever. When 1 learned that I was likely to die I decided that none of the damned nurses was going to get that honey. I had kept it under my pillow and was careful that nobody would see it, for some of them would eat it in front of you. calling you down all the while, and insist that they were saving your life.
As soon as I was sure that there was
nobody around to interrupt me 1 took out the jar of honey and ate all of it, then settled down to die with a smile. I left the jar where the nurse could see it when he came into the room to pour out some stimulant for Greer. 1 understand they prescribe honey for typhoid now, but I am sure that none of the staff in St. Mary’s in 1898 were aware of the fact that honey was good for typhoid. Who knows? 1 might have died fifty years ago if it had not been for my greediness.
Mv friend Dalziel came into town on March 16, 1899, and he and 1 left
the hospital at about ten on the morning of St. Patrick’s Day for Bear Creek. Our supplies were limited to bacon, beans, flour, rice, dried apples and tea. My partner had a touch of scurvy and we were busy trying to get him to eat dried apples. We also made Hudson Bay tea by boiling the boughs of a bush that grows in the north. At any rate we succeeded in keeping him from get t ing any worse.
Our cleanup that spring was a very small one, hardly enough to enable us to purchase another outfit. The claim was abandoned and 1 don’t think that if was ever worked again. We left soon after this and went to Dawson where my partner and I drifted apart. He was big and husky and I, after my long siege of sickness, was hardly able to keep up with him.
1 left the cabin and got a job as clerk in a cheap hotel on Third Avenue where my principal chore was making beds. I hadn’t had this job very long when I happened downtown one night and met Bert Collyer. Bert was business manager for a paper called The Gleaner, run by a man by the name of Billy Semple. It was one of the hottest sheets ever published in Canada. It ran for a very short time before the Mounted Police closed it up.
When I told Bert what I was making he said, “Why, you ought to be able to make more in a day than you are making in a month.” I asked him how, and he replied, “Selling papers.” To get rid of him I finally took about a hundred papers and started for South Dawson. I was walking along with the bundle of papers, not saying a word, ashamed of myself, when suddenly a man hollered “Let me have one!” and handed me a fifty-cent piece and told me to keep the change.
The Gleaner was supposed to sell at ten cents, but as there was no money in that country smaller than a two-bit piece during my twenty-one years in the Klondike, I can hardly see why Semple set the price of his paper at ten cents. At any rate that was his price, and I was supposed to turn in five cents for each paper sold. Very soon another man asked me for a paper and then another. Before I knew it I had sold twenty papers and had made a day’s wages. I became excited. I started to yell. I came up Front Street yelling my head off. Everybody thought I was a new kid who had just hit the town.
I sold all the papers I had and went into the gambling part of Tom Chisholm’s Aurora Saloon. Things were quiet in there as it was early in the evening and the night shift had just been on for a short while. Collyer had his office upstairs and I had to wait for him. I did not know enough to go up to his office. I stood watching the roulette wheel. There was nobody playing, but the dealer was spinning the ball. I watched him for a while, then 1 placed a dollar on one of the columns. I made fifteen bets and won every one of them. The dealer was as mad as a wet hen and I thought that he was sore because I was winning. I got to know him afterward and he told me that he had never in the many years he had dealt the wheel seen a run of luck like I had that night.
“Why,” said he, “you should have taken the house,” and I know that this was true! The first time I ever played I had a run of luck that a gambler hopes for just once in a lifetime.
I now had more money than I ever had had since I turned over my two hundred dollars to my partner when we left home. I agreed with Collyer that I would be out the next night when the paper came out. It was published twice a week and its principal mission was to roast the government. That was one thing that was sure to make a hit with the inhabitants of the Klondike; they blamed the government for everything, not excepting the weather. They blamed the government for not warning them to stay away from the Yukon and they blamed them for the mining laws that would not let them stake as many claims as they wanted to. The men who had claims blamed the government because their claims were not larger; the government had cut down the size of the claims so that more men would be able to stake and anyway the ground was very rich and they thought that a small claim, in most instances, would give a man all the money that was good for him. The result was that The Gleaner was a popular paper with the dissatisfied—a major part of the populace. The Gleaner also had a lot of news of the underworld, or sporting fraternity, and they were quite a large bunch, so it was easy to sell.
Now life changed completely for me. I was like a person who has received religion at a revival meeting. I wandered around the hotel in a sort of a daze. When the paper came out again I was waiting to get an early start and I had a very successful night. Collyer indicated that I was almost indispensable to him, so I quit my job making beds at the hotel.
In a very few days I was busy during all my waking hours selling papers, and it certainly did pay well. One day Charlie Anderson gave me sixty-five dollars in gold dust for a single copy. I started selling what we called the outside papers. This was a full-time job during the time that the river was open. In the winter papers would come in spasmodically, freight was very high in cost as well as very slow. The only other way to bring papers in was by fast dog team. The team would load up with late papers and magazines in Skagway and make a race for Dawson, the driver well aware that it was up to him not to let anyone beat his time. Most of these fellows also carried mail, for people were just as anxious then as they are now to have their letters delivered as promptly as possible.
Mail carriers were well repaid for their efforts once they got a reputation for speed.
Very shortly after I started selling papers a little fellow by the name of Harry Pinkert asked me if I would sell papers for him and him alone. I was to have the monopoly on his papers and as he had the agency for the San Francisco papers his proposition was mighty interesting to me. I had already convinced myself that the ’Frisco Examiner was the biggest seller of all the outside papers. Pinkert’s proposition was that we split fifty-fifty. In the early spring and late fall papers sold for fifty cents each. During the summer, when steamboat travel was regular, the price was twenty-five cents. Regardless of the price I was to turn over half of the sales money to Pinkert. I agreed to this and started to work.
Now I just want to tell you how Pinkert got these papers and how he could afford to be so generous with the newsboys. I learned afterward that he had made arrangements with the San Francisco Call, Chronicle and Examiner to send him their surplus Sunday papers. He was going to distribute the papers among the miners and see that the papers got lote of free advertising. Every week they would wrap up thousands of surplus papers in bundles of fifty and send them to the Yukon prepaid. Pinkert had made arrangements with the boys who were waiting on table on the steamboats to have the papers on the upper deck. When the boat came up alongside the wharf the boys would be standing ready. They would grab one of the bundles, heave it onto the wharf where Pinkie would be standing with a knife in his hand. He would cut the bundle open and hand it to me.
There were always thousands of men down on the wharf to see the boats come in, for there was often a new bunch of dance-hall girls on board. I could sell anywhere from two to four hundred papers before the boat tied up and the passengers had time to get off. Then I would tear up town and through the gambling houses, where most of the men congregated. I would sell anywhere from five hundred to a thousand papers within an hour of the time when the boat arrived. I would then go around among the less densely populated part of the town, where sales were slower but still good.
I would be going through one of the gambling rooms hollering out about the papers that I was selling, when I would get the high sign from Pinkie at one of the faro games. I would pull up alongside of him and make a settlement. I would count out the amount of money that I owed him and then continue selling. He was a swell fellow to do business with. We never had anything but a verbal agreement, but he always played ball with me. I wish I had saved all the money I made selling papers in Dawson City. I might have been a rich man.
After 1 had been selling papers for a few weeks I moved down to a hotel called Hilton’s, on Queen Street, almost across the street from the back door of Chisholm’s saloon, known as the Bucket of Blood. Hilton’s was quite a popular place with the sporting fraternity. One reason was that it served guests a cup of coffee in bed on Sunday mornings. That was the one morning in the week when everybody slept in; there was nothing to get up for. The dance halls were closed and the churches had not got well under way yet. There were some funny characters at Hilton’s. The beds were all bunks, j one on top of the other.
There were four fellows there when ¡ I arrived who had come in that summer I of 1899. There was a little man whose hair was thinning by the name of Tourist O’Malley. He was a fervent talker and a great admirer of another of the party known as Bughouse Lee. The third member of the foursome was called Boxcar O’Riley. He was a yes-man for Tourist and would agree with everything Tourist said. He was always along with Tourist, purely as an affidavit man. The fourth member of the firm was known as Beau Johnson, an American Swede, tall, goodlooking and always well-dressed, a waiter who worked in the Royal Cafe, supposed to be the swellest eating place in town. Beau seemed to be the anchor for the gang; they were always sure they would eat when he was working.
Bughouse was a faro player. He was supposed to know more about faro than the man who invented the game, according to the Tourist. The Tourist filled me so full of Bughouse’s prowess that I was anxious to stake him. By staking a man to play faro for you, you put up the original stake for him. Then, if he won, you split the profits fifty-fifty. Needless to say the staker was a pure sucker. 'There was no system for beating the bank, although a lot of the tinhorns maintained that there was. Tourist persuaded me, nevertheless, that Bughouse held the secret and I used to give Bughouse twenty dollars every once in a while to try his luck. Bughouse would come ; over once in a while, after he had just lost some of my money, and he would j say, “Kid, never gamble. Your money is no good. I can’t get going with your money at all. It’s hoodooed.” He gave me the impression that he always won when he was playing with anybody’s money but mine. The Tourist would be back in a day or two to talk me into staking Bughouse again. He would assure me that if he ever got luck coming his way we would own the town; they couldn’t keep him down forever. It took me a long time to get wise to the Tourist and Bughouse. I think the police got wise to them before I did. They all went out later that summer at the suggestion of the Mounted Police.
After their departure it was harder to talk me out of my money. I began learning how to lose it for myself. It took me a long time to find out that I could not make money bucking the various games that were running wide j open in Dawson; in fact, I’m not quite j sure that I am thoroughly convinced of it yet.
In my job as a professional newsboy and an amateur gambler I learned a ! lot about the real gamblers. Among those who were famous in ’98 were Kid Kelley, Ed Holden, Louis Golden, Sam Bonnifield, Harry Woolrich, the Oregon Jew (I never did know his name), Swift Water Bill and Tex Rickard. Rickard j went on to become the greatest boxing promoter of modern times and, with I Jack Dempsey, converted pugilism into a multi-million-dollar industry.
Ed Holden owned and operated the Monte Carlo in the early days, before the turn of the century. It comprised a saloon, gambling room, theatre and a hotel, with rooms on the two upper floors. Holden looked after the gambling in person, while John Mulligan managed the theatre and Jack Cavanagh the dance hall.
One evening Kid Kelley sauntered into the gambling room and started to play faro bank, one yellow chip at a time. Holden and he had set the value of the chips and every bet was the limit. I strolled into the room, as I often did, to sell papers, saw the two of them playing and I knew it was no small game, in spite of the fact that they were only playing one chip at a time. 1 watched them and I listened as they Í kidded one another, a great habit with
gamblers. Soon after I arrived Ed Holden got up and Kid Kelley sat down behind the faro table—as the new proprietor.
This change of ownership changed the lives of several people. Kid Kelley’s girl was a blond ex-actress named Caprice. She had been after John Mulligan to put her on the stage. John had a low opinion of her acting. When the Kid took over Monte Carlo, Caprice immediately installed herself as stage manager and fired Mulligan. That was the last job Mulligan ever had in Dawson.
Ed Holden had better luck. He went down the river soon after that, got into a poker game in Nome, played for twelve nights without ever getting up from the table a winner, lost, sixty thousand dollars, then on the thirteenth night changed his luck and won it all back. He went into business again and soon had every dance hall in town under his control. But he was legislated out of business and when I last saw him in 1910 he was working with a pick and shovel on the Big Ditch on the North Fork of the Klondike, trying to get enough money to pay for a ticket to Juneau.
One highly-respected gambler was “the French Kid.” He was a man of about fifty like Kid Kelley. The French Kid was one of the best billiard players I have ever seen. He played for recreation and would take on anyone who happened around.
Gamblers Believe In Luck
But the Kid’s profession was faro bank dealer. The other faro dealers used to say that no two dealers ever lived who could keep track of the Kid’s bets when he was playing against the bank. The placing of bets on a faro layout is too complicated for me to explain here, but anyone conversant with the game will know what I mean. When the Kid started to buck the game, the best dealer got behind the layout and the next best one took the lookout’s chair. As soon as it got noised around town that the French Kid was playing bank, all the faro dealers that were not on shift at the time would go to the house where he was playing.
The Oregon Jew was another type. He was always meticulously dressed, wore spats and carried a gold-headed cane. He had a wife and family there, but they were no part of his profession and he kept them on a pedestal. I never saw him downtown at night, unless things were coming his way and he could not afford to leave the game. His system was to stroll into the gambling house in the afternoon, buy a stack of chips, usually twenty to fifty dollars worth, sit down and try his luck. If he lost, he quit. If he started to win he would play along to see just how lucky he was, and if he became convinced that he was really lucky every bet from then on would be the limit—and someone was going to get hurt.
All gamblers, according to my observations, believe in luck. It was remarkable how quickly the nows spread around when some game was losing fast. All the boys would rush over to the place, get their money down and try to get in on the kill. Sometimes the game would close down to keep from going broke, but this was considered bad form. As a rule the house took its medicine.
One of the last big wins at faro bank in Dawson was made by One-Eyed Riley, a nightwatchman for the White Pass Navigation Company. He used to come over at midnight when he went out for supper and play a stack when he was in funds. He always lost and was always broke. But one night he sti oiled into the Sam Bonnifield’s gambling hall, sat down and started to play. He started to win and very soon was playing the limit. By morning his winnings were away up in the thousands.
He left the bank to get something to eat and then sauntered around to \ the other houses with a lot of the I tinhorns following him, for the news of his big winning had spread. He would sit down and say, “Well, what are you going to set the limit at?” The limit would be established, Riley would I play for a while, then go to another ! house. He was a small man. in an old stiff hat pulled down over his eye. By the time the day was over the insignificant little watchman had become a legend. He never went back to the watchman job. 1 don’t think he even collected his wages. He left the country soon after and lost almost all his winnings in Skagway.
In the heyday of the camp there were hundreds of dealers, cashiers and lookouts working for the houses and they all drew big salaries. Every month they had to appear in court automatically and were each fined fifty dollars. There j was never any shooting in Dawson.
\ The gamblers were safe but they conI tributed nothing toward the mainte! nance of the camp. This had to he ! rectified and somebody proposed that the best way was by fining the gambler. This was easy, for they were breaking the laws of Canada. They kept running because it seemed to be the desire of the people of Dawson that they be allowed to run.
Gambling wasn’t the only means by which the lucky settlers succeeded in disposing of the huge amounts of gold they took out of their claims. I can remember one case of a miner—I think his name was Charlie Kimball—who sold his claim for almost a hundred thousand. He took the money and built a saloon and dance hall called The Pavilion.
Charlie started in to celebrate his success at once and he never stopped celebrating until the night he closed. He went on one prolonged bender that lasted for exactly one month. During that time he had taken in nearly three hundred thousand dollars. Most of the bartenders and waiters had made a nice stake and a lot of the other people connected with the institution were well on the way to affluence, but poor Charlie was broke. He uttered not a single word of complaint but quietly disappeared. 1 never heard of him again.
In the winter of 1897, before my arrival, there was a girl who was the leading soubrette at the little show shop that was running that winter. Her name was Cad Wilson. 1 don’t think that there was ever a more popular girl in the Klondike from a sucker’s angle. One tall gawky-looking fellow came to town one night and to show Cad that he had lots of money and was not afraid to spend it had the waiters fill a bathtub full of wine, for which he paid twenty dollars a bottle, and then had Cad jump in and have a bath in the wine. 1 am sure the wine was salvaged, rebottled and put into circulation again. Incidentally, Cad got a ten-dollar rake-off on every bottle of wine that was opened.
A Swede who had taken a lot of gold at Hunker Creek became enamored of one of the dance-hall girls and wanted to marry her. He offered to give her her weight in gold if she would consent. She was to sit on one side of the large balance that they used to weigh gold and he would pour gold dust on to the other side until the scales tipped. I can state positively that he was cleaned and cleaned thoroughly.
There was Rody Connors, who sold his claim for fifty thousand. He had a mania for dancing and would be in one or other of the halls from the minute they opened in the evening until five or six in the morning. He couldn’t bear to miss a dance. If he got a little tired he would get hold of a girl and walk her around the hall once, then go up and pay his dollar, then have another promenade. He kept this up till his fifty thousand was gone.
After the very early days of the camp the dance halls and the bars were separated. At the conclusion of a dance you went up and paid a dollar for the
dance but you did not get a drink. Your money was split fifty-fifty, tbe girl got a check that called for fifty cents and the rest of the dollar went to the house. The Mounted Police separated the bar and the dance hall because when they served the drinks with the dance it was the easiest thing in the world to dance a man drunk and then clean him. If you wanted to buy a drink for a girl you had to take her into a box and ring for a waiter. This was a very popular pastime and a very lucrative one for the girls, especially when they got the sucker
to the state where he was buying wine, and there were many girls who never drank anything but wine.
The Monte Carlo was just one of the many shows that flourished in Dawson in the early days. There was the Tivoli, the Oatley Sisters’ Theatre and Dance Hall, Nigger Jim’s Pavilion, the Opera House, Floradora, Arizona Charlie’s Palace Grand, the Savoy and many others. There was great rivalry in 1899 between the Monte Carlo and the Opera House, both on Front Street, between Queen and King Streets, the highest-priced property in the city.
There were two sisters came into the town called the B - S Sisters. They were well advertised and were supposed to be really good, but refused to show what they could do. They were anything but good looking, but they stuck around for a week or more and the bidding kept going up and up. They wanted a contract at six hundred dollars per week as well as a percentage on the dances and the wine.
I heard the manager of the Opera House say one day that they must be good. He signed them up and they were a complete flop. They could not sing, dance or act, and not being good lookers were not so hot when it came to selling wine. The manager of the Opera House had quite a time living that down, but the sisters’ stock went up with a lot of the wise boys who liked their business ability.
The Oatley Sisters hit Dawson early in ’98. They had a platform put up on King Street, about a hundred feet back of the Bank saloon and gambling house. They were a team, Lottie and Polly, medium small in stature, fair to medium figures and not hard to look at. They had a canvas stretched over a frame that sat on the platform. A big German-American with a pompadour moved in with a portable organ, accompanied by a fiddler and two or three more girls, and they started in business as a dance hall. The rates were one dollar for about three rounds of the little platform. It was one of the best-paying propositions in town. The Oatley Sisters ran the tent show until it got too cold, then moved down on to Front Street, main block, to a new dance hall and concert hall called the Horseshoe.
The procedure followed by tbe sisters was to sing a song in harmony to gather the crowd. Then the orchestra would strike up and they would start dancing. After about twenty dances, which would take about as many minutes, the sisters, in order to give the rest of the girls a chance to catch their breath and attract a few more customers to the platform, would sing another song. A lot of those songs are graven on the walls of my memory.
Within a humble cottage sits a broken-hearted man,
His little girl is sobbing on his knee.
A letter on the table tells the same old plaintive tale,
She left her home with all its poverty.
He holds his darling in his arms, looks at her tear-stained face.
Perhaps, my child, your mother’s not to blame,
The path to sin she’s taken, her loved ones all forsaken.
Don’t cry, my child, I love her just the same.
I love her, yes I love her just the same,
Although she’s fled and has disgraced my name.
Though she’s fled with another, She is still my baby’s mother,
And I love her, yes I love her just the same.
I stood there with my mouth open night after night listening to the Oatley Sisters sing those sad ballads. 1 never knew the sisters personally, but they helped me to put many a lonesome night behind me. I take this opportunity of thanking them, if they are still alive.
I think of all my recollections of Dawson City this is the sweetest. Long after the girls and the gold and the gamblers were gone, long after I had stopped selling papers in the gaming houses and settled down to a more prosaic life, the memory of their song remains. I can remember every word of every verse they sang, just as I heard it half a century ago as an eighteenyear-old kid in the Klondike.