June 24, 2000

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They were a determined bunch, these women who flocked to the Klondike's gold fields. There were the usual dance hall girls, sidewalk Cinderellas and saloon "hostesses" of course, but there was also a number of others who came to start a new life and grab their share of the riches. It was a man's world out in the creek valleys; most women chose to mine the miners rather than the mines, and do it legitimately, taking advantage only of the laws of supply and demand.

One such was a Mrs. Wills. With an invalid husband to support back in the States, she made the journey to Dawson in 1895. A laundress by trade, she staked a claim, then bought a stove and began selling bread for a dollar a loaf. Obviously stoves were relatively plentiful in the area, but one commodity was almost non-existent. When bread sales brought in $250 in profits, she immediately spent it all. For one box of starch. Returning to her stateside occupation, she literally and figuratively cleaned up. The money went to support work on her gold claim and to fight off those who would try and cheat her out of it. She became wealthy enough to turn down an offer of a quarter of a million dollars for the claim.

Another intrepid lady devised her own road to wealth. One of Skagway's founders, Captain William Moore, needed someone to cook for his crew of construction workers. When farm woman Harriet Pullen approached him, looking for any kind of work (she only had $7 in her pocket) she landed the job - at $3 a day. Enough to keep her going, if not enough to support her four children living with a friend back in Seattle. In her spare time she went around town scrounging discarded tin cans. She flattened the metal to make pie tins, then used the Moore kitchen to make apple pies, hawking them to hungry miners with a sweet tooth.

Soon she had enough money put aside to have seven horses from her Washington farm shipped north to her. Obtaining some wagons, she went into the freight hauling business. Most of the men coming across the White Pass trail knew only slightly more about handling horses then they did about nuclear fission, and the mortality rate for the animals was horrendous. Harriet had the advantage of first-hand knowledge. As long as the supply of gold seekers held out, she was able to turn a handy profit, often as much as $25 a day. When the transportation business began petering out, she bought Moore's home from him, opened the Pullen House Hotel, and sent for her kids. Turned out she had a husband as well. When he arrived it was only to visit for a brief while before setting out to make his own money in the gold fields. Now known affectionately as "Ma" Pullen, she began the task of making the Pullen House a luxury hotel, importing fine china and silverware, soft beds. and an even greater rarity, bathtubs. She then found time for a hobby, amassing a huge collection of gold rush memorabilia and regaling guests with tales of Skagway lore. When she died, on August 9, 1947 she was buried near the site of her hotel.

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

© 2000 David Minor / Eagles Byte

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