June 17, 2000

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Shaaw Tlaa was born here. Belinda Mulrooney, a stewardess for the Pacific Coast Steamship Company, traveled in from San Francisco. Harriet "Ma" Pullen came in from Seattle. A couple of tourists, Mary Hitchcock and Edith Van Dorn, arrived on the steamer St. Paul, along with their dogs Queen and Ivan. Doesn't sound much like your typical Hollywood-based gold rush crew, brawling brutes out of a Jack London novel, with fists like battering rams and a gigantic cigar clamped between fur-rimmed lips. But not all that atypical either, here on the Klondike, at the end of the 19th century. It's generally accepted that one-tenth of the arrivals at the gold fields were women. One of these, journalist Annie Hall Strong, summed up their qualities. "...women have made up their minds to go to the Klondike, so there is no use trying to discourage them....when our fathers, husbands and brothers decided to go, so did we, and our wills are strong and courage unfailing. We will not be drawbacks nor hindrances, and they won't have to return on our account." Each had their own story to tell.

If some men have luck thrust upon them, no better example can be found than George Carmack. A former dishwasher from the Frisco area who had jumped ship in Alaska and gone native, George married the daughter of a Stick Indian chief. When she died he married her sister Tlaa and dubbed her Kate. George lazed around the area creeks with his native in-laws, trying his level best to avoid doing any real work. He had no intention of laboring to bring gold from the ground. But it found him. Told of a strike on a small creek off the Klondike River, he took umbrage when his informant, referring to Cormack's companions Skokum Jim and Dawson Charley, told him the other miners didn't want any damned Indians up at the findings. George later consoled his companions, telling them, "This is a big country. We'll find a creek of our own." Which they did, at Rabbit Creek, where it fed into the Klondike River. What they found there on August 17th, 1898, would change the name of the Rabbit to Bonanza Creek and start the last of the great gold rushes. George, Charley and Jim were suddenly very wealthy men. After working the diggings for another year George took Kate to Seattle and began living the high life, tossing coins from the roof of the Butler Hotel to crowds below, and riding around in a carriage sporting a banner reading "Geo. Carmack, the Yukon. Discoverer of Gold in the Klondike." Kate was a bit confused by civilization. Getting lost once in the hotel corridors she found her way around by notching blazes in the doorways and bannister posts. Then George fell in love with a local madame and sent his common-law wife back to her family. She later sued for her share of the gold profits but without a marriage license, had no case. She died in poverty during a flu epidemic in 1920. The three partners left large estates. Jim wore himself out searching for even more gold. Charley fell off a bridge while drinking and drowned. And George passed away quietly in Vancouver, a pillar of the community. Other ladies had better luck than Kate's. We'll look at several of them next week.

OUTRO For Classical ninety-one five, this is David Minor

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© 2000 David Minor / Eagles Byte