Thomas James McGill

Tom McGill was born in 1863 on the farm in Elma Twp, Perth, Ontario to George McGill, an Irish immigrant and Margaret Sutherland who was of Scottish origin but born in Ontario Canada. It was a large family.
McGill was one of the members of the Klondike Brigade of missionaries sent to the Gold Fields to minister to the miners. He arrived in May 1898 on the steamer S.S. “Tees” to Skagway and then proceeded to Dyea.

He was also later a member of the Yukon Order of Pioneers. He and his wife Laura (who he married in 1899 in Victoria) probably settled in Vancouver since he wrote a book about the founding of the Salvation Army there. He died on this day, February 16, 1950 at the age of 87. The picture above is the Salvation Army in Dawson in 1900. It might be McGill.;1880 census for Perth, Ontario, Canada.

John W. Nordstrom

John Nordstrom was born on this day, February 15, 1871 in Alvik Neder Lulea, Sweden.
According to some sources he “found $13,000 in gold in Skagway” and so, being a good Swede and a businessman, he went south and started a store. That store is now very famous and has a reputation for being very helpful and courteous. I find I cannot walk through it without having at least a couple of helpful ladies ask if they can help me find anything. Jag älskar Nordstrom’s!

Anyway, John left Skagway about 1899 and was in the Yukon in 1901. He died in 1963 at the age of 92. Vad en lyckosam guy!


My rant about the cemetery

Julius Johnson died on this day, February 12, 1899 and is buried in the Gold Rush Cemetery. There is no headboard for him, so don’t bother to look. His is one of the graves that the city magistrate back in the 1970’s wrote down when she did an inventory of the remaining headboards. It was not replaced when vandals destroyed many back in the late 70’s. His name was not on the Skagway Death Record either, so all that is left of him is the Magistrate’s record.
Of the 205 records of graves in the Gold Rush Cemetery that I have gathered over the years, there are only a few headboards and headstones left to view. Here is a good example of how folks who go to the cemetery and report on the graves, think they have the correct information when in fact, the headboards that were replaced had misspellings and wrong dates.
I am sure the same is true for other cemeteries in the country, but the Gold Rush Cemetery is probably one of the most visited ones in the world. On a summer day there are traffic jams of tour buses. The new walkway and modern outhouses are practical but oddly inappropriate for such a tiny cemetery. The commercialization and exploitation is sad. In the past few decades I can think of only one family that has replaced their ancestor’s headstone (Marshal Rowan). Why do families assume that others are caretaking their ancestor’s graves?
Well at least there is not an entrance fee such as the one in Tombstone Arizona!

Sophia victims

While researching Albert David Pinska (born on this day, February 10, 1877 in Minnesota and drowned on the Princess Sophia), I found some interesting facts about other victims on the Princess Sophia. The dates of death of some of the victims were later reported in news accounts that put the death dates later than the actual death dates of October 25, 1918. Some victims even fail to show up in the Ken Coates book on the Sinking of the Princess Sophia, 1991.

The Daily Alaska Dispatch Newspaper of 29 OCT 1918, Juneau, Alaska stated that additional victims of the Princess Sophia had been identified. “Advices from Skagway show there were ten more people on the vessel than shown by the list, to-wit: Geo. Allen, W. Barton, Jim Kirk, N. McLeod and wife, C. P. Queen, H. F. Robinson, D. Williams, W. Wright and George Williams, the latter being aboard without having purchased a ticket.” (Mrs. Pinska was later identified as a victim also).

There was a G.W. Williams who worked for Soapy but left Skagway June 16 1898.
The San Francisco Call, on March 16, 1905 said that John Lee Kirk, a Soapy Smith collaborator, was arrested in Victoria for crimes committed in Nome, in 1905 – however he was released three hours later for lack of a warrant. (See SoapySmiths.blogspot of April 17, 2009)
The Fairbanks News reported the deaths of a G.W. Williams and a William Wright on December 10,1918 – these reports could have been delayed and the deaths occurred earlier, such as in October, not December 1918.

Could G.W. Williams and Jim Kirk actually have been the G.W. Williams and John Lee Kirk who worked for Soapy? Or just a case of similar names. The fact that George Williams on the Princess Sophia was reported to have been onboard “without having purchased a ticket” throws suspicion his way. Whether the Jim Kirk is the same as the John Lee Kirk who was arrested in 1905, and released is pure conjecture, I know, but its a delicious thought to think that these scoundrels were still working their tricks in 1918.

And furthermore, was James Kirk’s middle name Tiberius?
see British Colonist online March 16, 1905.

Roy Minter

“Once you have breathed its early morning air after a light rain… Once you have listened to the silent hiss of the slowly flowing Yukon River… Once you have basked in a Yukon sun-tinged midnight dawn… And once you have seen the ice come in and the ice go out, you are beguiled and enchanted and you are never quite the same again.”

These words by Roy Minter to the Vancouver Yukoners annual dinner capture the spirit of Roy’s life long love of the Yukon.
Roy Minter was born in England in 1917, but came to Canada as a child. He later served as an officer in the Canadian Army.
In 1955, he began his long association with the Yukon while serving in the Whitehorse headquarters of the Northwest Highway System.
He later worked for White Pass & Yukon Route as marketing director. The picture above pictures him in the center – third from the right. This was a publicity shot to promote the Yukon. He started the Dawson Music Festival, the Klondike Defense Fund, and the Yukon Foundation to help researchers and historians.
He produced internationally acclaimed films, TV and radio programs, but the most memorable to me is his book “The White Pass: Gateway to the Klondike” which he worked on for twenty years. Anyone interested in the history of Skagway should definately read this book. It is much more factual that Pierre Berton’s somewhat romantic “Klondike Fever”.
A recipient of the Order of Canada, Roy Minter died on this day, February 8, 1996.

Hougen website.

Albert J. Goddard

Albert J. Goddard was an engine designer from Iowa who saw an opportunity to cash in on the gold rush. With the help of his wife, Clara, Goddard planned to take two steamboats into the Yukon over the White Pass during the winter of 1897 so that they could take the first cargo down the river in the spring. The little “A.J. Goddard” was prefabricated in San Francisco and Seattle. But Goddard discovered that moving the boats over the pass was not as easy as he thought. He and his wife were forced to move the vessels in bits and pieces across the steep White Pass, a job that took the entire winter, forcing them to endure deathly cold and physical exhaustion. The Goddards’ determination paid out in the end, as they established the first steamboat link between the gold fields and the Pacific coast. After building the boats at Lake Bennett, they plied the Yukon River in 1898, and then left the Yukon in 1901 when the A.J. Goddard sank.

In 2008 a Yukon River Survey team discovered the A.J.Goddard in 40 feet of water on Lake Laberge. It had foundered in a fall storm in 1901, sinking at the north end of the lake and killing three men.

While diving on the boat, they saw two axes lying on the deck at the bow where they were dropped after the crew apparently cut away a barge in tow. One firebox door is open and stuffed with unburned wood, suggesting the crew tried to restart the boiler fire as the ship was foundering.

Goddard died in 1958 at the age of 94. Clara the faithful wife died in 1953 at the age of 89. I guess hard work did not kill them. I am reminded of a ghost story I heard about ten years ago. A friend who was staying at Sheep Camp at the ranger cabin was getting ready to retire one night when she heard people outside. She heard a man saying to his wife, “Come on Clara, it’s not much further, we’re almost there…” My friend opened the door expecting to see them on the trail, but to her surprise, there was no one there, she looked up and down the trail. This story is true, my friend is a very sensible person who would not make up a story. Of course that was the Chilkoot Trail and the Goddards used the White Pass trail, still…..

Pierre Berton; Daily Alaskan 1898; familysearch; online obit; Explorenorth.

Clara Nevada

On this day, February 4, 1898 the Clara Nevada was docked in Skagway and no one knew that the following day, February 5 would hold disaster. Several people were preparing to take the boat to Juneau, little did they know it would be the last time they would see their loved ones and feel the ground beneath their feet.
The Nevada was formerly the Hassler of the United States Revenue Service and was built at Camden, N. J., in 1872. As a pioneer iron steamer, the Hassler had both advantages and disadvantages. Her innovative steeple compound engine made the ship economical to operate during survey work. Roomy enough for 30 or 40 people, the ship usually proved a comfortable place to live and work.

Unfortunately defects in the iron hull worsened over time. The Coast Survey spent significant sums of money annually to keep the ship afloat. The amount of maintenance, however, proved insufficient. By the early 1880s, Hassler Captain Henry Nichols cautioned his superiors that due to inadequate maintenance, the ship was beginning to show her age. In October 1892, during a voyage from Alaska to San Francisco, one iron plate from above the waterline cracked outright and at least one other warped severely during a major storm. Later inspection revealed that the cracked plate had rusted through and the wood bracing behind it had rotted. Observers in the engine room noted that the ship flexed enough to alter the distance between the main steam pipe and the inside hatch of the engine room by 1 inch. Although repairs were made, the working of the ship and creaking of the bulkheads continued during subsequent storms. By the fall of 1893, Hassler Captain Giles Harker described the ship as being on “her last legs” but capable of a few more years of service “barring accident.” The Coast Survey officially decommissioned the Hassler on May 25, 1895. In August, the vessel sold to the McGuire Brothers, a dubious pair whose nefarious reputation helped to create the legend of the Clara Nevada. They paid $15,700, or 25% of the ship’s original cost. The McGuire’s insisted on secrecy regarding the sale, requiring that the announcement of the transfer take place via mail rather than telegraph so they could “take possession without publicity.” The Hassler was quickly overhauled for Alaskan service and renamed the Clara Nevada.

On January 26 1898, the 26 year old Hassler/Clara Nevada departed Seattle for the first time under the management of her new owners.
The voyage north was beset with problems. The Clara Nevada hit another ship while leaving the dock, and there were constant problems with the boilers, and at one point she even caught fire. Somehow she reached Skagway and most of her passengers got off, but some were already so discouraged by the whole “adventure” that they remained on board, and on February 5 they headed south with an unknown number of passengers between 25 and 150 by various reports. There is no proof yet of what exactly happened to the Clara Nevada. It is thought that in order to maintain control in the high wind and sharp following seas, the steamer would have had to maintain a reasonable level of forward progress with her steam engine. This made the force of the collision on Eldred Rock especially great—and could have led to the overturning of lamps, fireboxes, and stoves, which would account for the reported fire. Impaled on the rock, the helpless vessel became subject to the strong waves and winds that swept the stern first toward the west and then 180 degrees to the south. Catastrophic hull failure occurred, with the brittle bottom giving way amidships and hull plating probably pulling away from the degraded frames. Sinking would have been almost immediate.
Witnesses reported “a flash, a burst of flames and all was over.” Everybody on board was killed in the explosion. Today, the wreck, lying in pieces in 25-40 feet of water, is a popular spot for divers.
Here is a very partial list of the passengers:

Robert Bruce Banks, a woodcutter – see earlier blog
Jesse Theo Wilkins, from Alabama
George Foster Beck, ship’s purser (the only body recovered)
Kelly, also reported as being the Captain of the ship
C.H. Lewis, Captain of the ship
Al Noyes
Rogers, freight clerk
Frank Whitney of Cripple Creek, Colorado

Pennington;; NY Times article of 2/18/1898; Seattle Post Intel obit 2/5/1895; familysearch; genforum

John Schyler Killmore

John Killmore was born on this day, February 3, 1873 in Missouri. In 1898 he joined the throngs coming to Dyea where he ran a freighting business from Dyea to Sheep Camp for 4 months. He was successful for a short time, but as business waned he sold his outfit and returned to the Kittitas area of Washington. He married Kate, settled in Ellensburg and farmed until his death in 1959 at the age of 86. Seen above is the farm area in that part of Washington – maybe I’ll retire there too!

Ancestry bio from 1904; Washington state records

Blowing Like Thunder

On this day, February 1, 1899, a U.S. Marine died in Skagway. He is buried in the Evergreen Cemetery in Juneau. I can only guess that he was part of the 14th Infantry that had arrived in December 1897.(The main body of the 14th Infantry, companies A, B, G, and H arrived in February 1898 from Fort Vancouver, Washington with orders from the War Department to stay “at least through the coming summer”.)

When the troops first heard of their destination, an air of excitement pervading the barracks. “All were wild to go, and each feared his company might be kept back to man the garrison at Vancouver.” Soldiers leapt into action, rapidly preparing equipment, supplies, and Klondike clothing for the journey. Throughout the Vancouver/Portland area, preparations and goodbyes began as the army prepared to move most of the 14th Infantry north.

Once they arrived, their enthusiasm turned to despair: “Colder than blazes and blowing like thunder described this place from one week’s end to another,” wrote one young soldier the following month. “You never saw a more disgusted set of fellows in your life than our men”.

Politically, the arrival of the troops was meant to cement the U.S. occupation and the boundary with Canada. When Colonel Thomas McArthur Anderson and the troops of the 14th Infantry arrived, they encountered a major of the Canadian Mounted Police – probably Zachary Taylor Wood, with five men and a British flag flying overhead. A potential international conflict began as Anderson ordered the major to remove the flag and move his men to the Canadian boundary, a division determined by the United States. Outnumbered, the flag came down and the Mounties shed their uniforms while in town.

The photo above is of a soldier (Ernest Rue Davidson) in 1899. He was part of the 14th Infantry that went to the Phillipines, so he may or may not have come to Skagway, but it is a good image of the uniform.

Juneau Evergreen Cemetery website; Ft Vancouver NHS online manuscript: “Part 2-The Waking of a Military Town, Fort Vancouver and the Vancouver National Historic Reserve 1898-1920”; Anderson, Arline, “Daughter of Uncle Sam”, Unpublished Manuscript (Vancouver, Washington: Fort Vancouver Regional Library, n.d.), 83.