Infant Mortality

On September 20, 1900, three babies died, Elias Rudd, Constant Schemich, and one of Kitty Smith’s babies. The only cause of death listed on the Skagway Death Records was for Constant and that was for brain fever. They were buried in the Gold Rush Cemetery. The influenza which spread over the world in 1918 reached Alaska in force in 1919 and 1920.
Then in 1935 on September 20 Leonard A. Sweeney, another newborn, died and is buried in the Pioneer Cemetery. In those days folks had a curious penchant for photographing dead people in their coffins.

Skagway Death Record

Matthew M. Sundeen

The Sundeen family came to Skagway in 1898. Matthew was a master mariner and had a steamship business as well as being a quartz miner. His wife Ida ran the Pearson and Sundeen laundry. Matthew was born in 1866 in Sweden and married Ida Louella Crosier in Oregon in 1892. They had three daughters, Carrie, Lucille Loraine and Etta who was born here in Skagway in 1903. Mrs. Sundeen died in 1914 at the age of 38 in Portland but Matthew stayed in Skagway for many years and died on this day, September 9, 1941 and is buried in the Pioneer Cemetery.

Just prior to his death in 1941, Sundeen wrote an article that appeared in The Fairbanks Daily News. Back in 1898, Sundeen said he was in the hardware store opposite the Juneau Wharf and had been first on the scene when he looked out to see Smith and his gang confront Tanner and the boys. He remembers Reid’s revolver failing to fire three times, as Smith fired four shots into the surveyor. Then he watched Jesse Murphy struggle with Smith, trying to wrestle the Winchester away from him before he killed anyone else. In the process, Smith shot and killed himself. Well, enough people had remembered seeing Reid kill Soapy through the years to put into question one old miner’s 43-year-old memory.

Sundeen claimed no one else but him, Smith, Reid, Tanner, Murphy and Landers were on the wharf approach when the killing occurred. Further he claimed that Tanner, Murphy and Landers all agreed to lie to the officials to let Reid think he’d died a hero. Who knows, the story has a certain amount of credibility. I have tried to find record of what became of Jesse Murphy, but with such a common name, he disappeared after 1898. Certainly White Pass who employed Jesse Murphy had much to gain from the end of all the lawlessness in Skagway.

Here is picture of the schoolkids in 1906 in front of the school, no doubt Carrie, Lucile and maybe even Etta are here.

censuses; familysearch; Fairbanks Daily News.

George Herman Miller

Mr. Miller came to Skagway around 1912 and then worked for White Pass as an auditor by 1915. He was born on this day, September 2, 1873 in Canada but by the 1910 census he was living in Maryland, his parents were from Germany. He registered for World War One while here and was still here in 1923. During the Crash he lost everything and was later seen on the streets of Vancouver begging.

So apropos of nothing, here is a picture of a girl wearing a rhubarb leaf.

1920 census; 1915 and 1923 Polk’s directory; WW1 Registration

Willie Egbert Feero

Happy Birthday to Willie Feero born on this day, August 31, 1883 in Maine. The family came to Skagway from Auburn, Maine via Tacoma arriving on October 19, 1897. His father, John Eleanor or “Sandy” Feero worked as a packer until he froze to death in December of 1898 on the Chilkoot Trail.

Willie and his mother, twin sisters, and brother stayed in Skagway. Willie worked and lived in Douglas and Skagway until his death in 1950. During that time he married, had a family and worked as a White Pass engineer/fireman and a carpenter.

There are descendants in Skagway today who I am sure would have better stories than mine. Here is a picture of his son John taken in front of their house in Douglas about 1935.

1900 census;1915 directory; WWI registration; Skagway death record; Pennington.

Mama Minnie Field

Minnie Field was born on this day, June 1, 1892 in Belfast Ireland. In 1909 at the age of 17 she emigrated to Canada and by 1919 found herself working as a cook in the Golden North Hotel in Skagway. She also worked in Atlin and later in Juneau.
In Juneau Minnie became known as one of the best cooks in town, and baked a cake for President Harding when he passed through in 1923. After she had worked at the Juneau jail for about seven years, her duties were increased to include caring for prisoners’ children. At the time, Juneau had no orphanage, designated child care system or foster home program. Minnie began caring for several tots; she laid them side-by-side, crosswise in her bed, and slept on the floor. She worked tirelessly to house and feed the city’s children through her own and later government help.
She is a largely overlooked heroine – not a politician or an activist, not a teacher or a missionary – but a woman who contributed a great deal to the “least of them,” Alaska’s needy children, many racially mixed.

from a Juneau Empire Story by Ann Chandonnet about a biography written of “Mama Minnie Field by Dr. Walter Soboleff.

Caspar Jack Kossuth

Happy Birthday to “Cassie” Kossuth, born on this day, May 2, 1892 in Seattle to Caspar Kossuth and Stella Barnum. Caspar senior died in Seattle between 1892 and 1897 because the widow Kossuth, her mother and her son little Cassie arrived in Skagway in July 1897. Stella set up a little hotel with her mother and soon found help from a gentleman friend, George Buchanan (not the same George Buchanan as the Detroit philanthropist of an earlier blog).
George apparently did not like the boarders at Stella’s hotel, and so did as some jealous men do, he shot her and then shot himself. We do not know if Cassie was witness to this, hopefully not, but by 1900 he had been adopted by another Skagway family the McArthur’s. Now in the 1900 census William and Annie McArthur show both Cassie and a Kenneth McArthur both born in 1892 in Seattle and arriving in 1897. Perhaps they are the same boy, in any event, Cassie grew up and married in 1930 to Margaret in Seattle. He passed away in 1966 in Seattle at the age of 74.
Now those of you who wonder if the spirits of Stella and George still inhabit the hotel building which now sits behind the Red Onion Saloon on 2nd Avenue, the answer is maybe. The current owner told me that his aunt always said she felt a presence in that building, but nothing more. If you happen by on the night of September 20, the night of the murder-suicide listen for a couple of shots!

Victoria Daily Colonist 9.26.97; Klondike Fever

Francis Mims

Although we know very little about Francis Mims, we do know that he was probably born in Oregon about 1893 and definitely died in Skagway on this day, April 29, 1898 at the age of 5 from meningitis. Francis’ remains were shipped home to Oregon.

The Mims family did not stay until the 1900 census in Skagway. There are family records online that point to the Matlock family in Pendleton where Nellie Mims was living with her father and her kids: Hazel born 1896 in Oregon, Lulu born 1899 in Alaska, Pauline born 1894 in Oregon and Wesley born 1897 in Oregon. Oregon records show that Nellie divorced her husband Edwin in 1901. If that entire family came to Skagway in 1898, they were lucky to have only lost one child. The photo above is of Pendleton Oregon in 1905.

Edwin was convicted on November 4, 1899 of manslaughter and was sentenced to 5 years in prison and $1000 fine. He had been involved in a barfight with a bouncer when Mims pulled out a gun and shot J. Henry Miller.
On April 10, 1901 Governor T.T. Geer of Oregon granted him a full pardon. Presumably that is why Nellie divorced him. Edwin died in 1925 in Tonopah, Nevada.;
Citizen Call of Phillipsburg Montana of April 10, 1901 – online.

Margaret Elizabeth King

Happy Birthday to Margaret Elizabeth King, born on this day, April 13, 1902 in Skagway. Her mother, May Farrington King and her father, William B. King both worked in the head office of White Pass. William was the chief auditor in 1902. William was also in the Arctic Brotherhood in 1900, City Council in 1903-4, Mayor in 1905, and the President of the Elks. The family stayed in Skagway until 1921.

Pictured above is the White Pass Administration Building that Mr. King worked in. Today it is the administration building for the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park.

San Diego Historical site; censuses.

On To Alaska with Buchanan!

George Buchanan was a successful businessman, a coal merchant in Detroit. During the Depression he decided to help boys to get out of town and see Alaska. Every summer from 1923 through the Depression, Mr. Buchanan and 50 or 60 boys journeyed across Canada to Vancouver, sailed up the coast to Skagway, spent several weeks touring Alaska, climbing glaciers, panning for gold.

Part of the deal was that their parents would donate 1/3 of the money ($81), George would donate 1/3 of the money and the boy would work selling items such as kitchen implements door to door to raise the remaining 1/3.

In the White Pass depot building there is a glass display which has one such kitchen gadget that was sold as part of the fund-raising.

On the rocks below the U.S. Customs Station at Clifton are the words “On to Alaska with Buchanan” which was their motto. In 1935, he agreed to take girls, the sisters of the boys who had gone, but he made them earn money by baking pies and darning socks also.

George was born in Thamesville, Ontario on January 29, 1869 and died on this day, March 23, 1939 in Stuart, Florida at the age of 70. He is buried in the Woodlawn Cemetery in Detroit.

Kiwanis Newspaper Online; article of May 13, 1935 online