Posts made in August, 2011

Sam Bonnifield

Posted on Aug 31, 2011 in Goldrushers, Odd People, Tragedy | 3 comments

Sam Bonnifield was born in August 1845 in Ohio. He was perhaps a sea captain on the Steamer Humboldt and came to Alaska as early as 1888.

Sam Bonnifield was a professional gambler and saloon owner who followed the gold from Skagway to Dawson City to Fairbanks in the early 1900’s. It is said he won the Yukonia Hotel and then lost it in one night. He and his brother moved to Fairbanks and opened the First National Bank, which shipped out $3 million in gold dust before the depression hit. Bonnifield was known as “Square Sam” and “Silent Sam” because he treated people fairly. He took the near failure of his bank very hard. He became despondent and suffered a “nervous breakdown”, kneeling in the snow in front of his bank crying, ”O God! Please show me the way out.”

In August 1910, the Fairbanks Daily News Miner noted that Sam Bonnifield arrived in town after walking the Valdez Trail. He spent a year recovering on the family farm in Kansas. The newspaper celebrated his return by saying, “No man ever lived in the North who has more real friends than has Sam Bonnifield, and the entire community will be glad to have him here once again.” In October 1911, the Alaska Citizen ran the headline “Sam Bonnifield is Insane Once More.”

“Sam Bonnifield was taken into custody by the Marshall’s office on Wednesday last on the charge of insanity, and placed in the federal jail. He has been unbalanced for some time, but his condition only became very noticeable the day of his arrest.

Bonnifield has never entirely recovered from the mental breakdown occasioned three or four years ago when the First National Bank, of which he was president, went on a script basis. He was taken Outside for treatment at the time of his breakdown and later walked into Fairbanks over the trail.

A few days before his arrest he drew quite a sum of money from the bank and distributed a part of it among the laborers around town; the balance he carried across the river and played with it in the sand.

When arrested he violently talked about President Taft, Cardinal Gibbon and other of prominence, saying that money is their god.”

Sam Bonnifield was found to be “insane” by a jury of six men and taken to Portland. He was admitted to Morningside Hospital on December 23, 1911, where he stayed until June 26, 1914. A few months after his discharge, he received a letter from Dr. Henry Waldo Coe, the head of Morningside Hospital, verifying that he was “recovered”. Dr. Coe went on to give him the following advice:

“All that I can ask of you is that you do not take life too earnestly or strenuously. As I understand it, you are not compelled to do two men’s work. You have worked hard and are entitled to an easier time. Take an easy time.”

Not much is known about Sam’s life after his stay at Morningside. He died in 1943 in Seattle from being hit by an automobile.

1900; P. Berton p 121, 423; The Mysterious North; Gates p124; Morningside Hospital website.

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Mr. Patsy Henderson

Posted on Aug 30, 2011 in Alaska Natives, Other Communities | 0 comments

“Kulsin” Koolseen was Tagish Charlie’s youngest brother. He was with George Carmack when the gold was discovered in the Klondike. He was the only original member of the Discovery Party (although he was back at camp at the time of actual discovery) to record the history of the discovery on tape. As a young man, he wanted a white man’s name, so Carmacks gave him one: Patsy Henderson.

He was born in 1879 maybe in Tagish and worked for White Pass as a storyteller in Carcross. He also had a fox ranch in Carcross. In 1950 he wrote “Early days at Caribou Crossing and the Discover of Gold on the Klondike”. He died in 1966 and is buried in the Carcross Cemetery.

Thornton; Duncan Frontier Spirit

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No Smoking!

Posted on Aug 30, 2011 in Skagway streets | 0 comments

So, on Thursday we had an election to decide whether to ban smoking in Skagway. It passed overwhelmingly as similar such elections have passed in other Alaskan towns. More people turned out to vote than in any other past election to anyone’s memory. So, now you cannot smoke in buildings that employ people or in any government facility, or within ten feet of any doorway or window of such. You can still smoke in your car or in the privacy of your home. So far “No Smoking” signs have not popped up, but they will I’m sure. The city’s trash cans still have little ashtrays on top labeled “Butts” which I always thought just encouraged people to stand next to them and light up. In case you wondered, yes, there have been little fires that have started on and under the boardwalks and in the flower planter boxes. So perhaps this will prevent any fires in downtown.

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Robert McDonald

Posted on Aug 29, 2011 in Faith and Religion, Other Communities | 0 comments

Robert McDonald was born in 1829 in Point Douglas, Manitoba.

In 1861 he became an Anglican missionary to Yukon. In 1862, McDonald established a mission at Fort Yukon. He began in earnest to learn the native language. His work was cut short when devastating epidemics of influenza and scarlet fever swept across the North. The diseases wiped out large populations of natives and McDonald himself became ill. Fearing he would not survive his illness, the Church Missionary Society (CMS) sent William Carpenter Bompas to replace McDonald. However, before Bompas arrived, McDonald had regained his health. He owed his recovery to a tonic the natives gave him made from a plant root called “Toayashi”. The English translation of this word meaning “it helped cure his uncle”. He went on to translate the entire Bible, prayer Book and 300 hymns to Tukudh and two other Indian dialects. He later became the Archdeacon of the Yukon.

Although not credited, McDonald is believed to be the first man to discover gold in the Yukon. In 1863, while visiting natives on Birch Creek, he reported seeing gold and scooped a spoonful which he sent to the British Museum for analysis. McDonald was interested to learn that the substance was indeed gold, but he did not wish to pursue the life of a miner. He was more concerned that news of a gold discovery would trigger an influx of gold miners and feared the devastating effects the miners would have on the native way of life.

McDonald died on this day, August 29, 1913 in Winnipeg and is buried in St. Johns Cathedral cemetery. He is pictured above, late in life.

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Poor boys

Posted on Aug 26, 2011 in Animals, Odd People | 0 comments

Although this fellow was kicked by a horse, poor Reed had to pay thousands to his oral surgeon to achieve the same handsome look!

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