An almost love story

Most folks have heard of the April 3, 1898 avalanche and how it swept away 100 people, with about 85 people dying and being buried in the Dyea Slide Cemetery. But have you heard of the strange case of Arthur L. Jappe and his “sweetheart” Vernie Woodward who saved him?
Pierre Berton wrote that when Jappe’s lifeless body was dragged out of the snow, Vernie was beside herself. Now, not being one to stand by and accept things, she worked on him for three hours, moving his arms and legs, pumping on his chest and breathing warm air into his lungs. Smart girl! It worked! Jappe came to – and supposedly uttered her name. We all assumed they lived happily ever after, but no, when I looked into it, I could not find Vernie at all, but I did find Mr. Jappe – and his wife and 5 kids back in New York. Turns out he had gotten married to Katherine Henrietta Reuflei in August of 1897 and had gone to Alaska soon after.
So he must have returned after his notoriety of surviving the avalanche. The Dyea Trail newspaper of the time reported that Jappe feigned ignorance of his relationships with Vernie, but it would seem that after the newspapers blew the story all out of proportion, poor Jappe felt the need to return to New York and do some explaining.

Pierre Berton, The Klondike Fever p 265; Snowstruck: in the Grip of Avalanches by Jill Fredston; familysearch; One Came Late by Allen p 319.

Avalanche survival story

On April 3, 1898 there was an Avalanche on the Chilkoot Pass that buried 80-100 people. I have unique names of 85 people who were reported buried and suffocated to death.
However there were several survival stories. There was a dog and an ox who were dug up after several days who seemed none too upset by the experience. There reportedly was a woman who had been buried head-down and was “hysterical” when dug out (who wouldn’t be?). But the best story of all is that of Vernie Woodward and her beau Al Joppe. Joppe was pulled from the snow and Vernie was shown his lifeless body. But she had not come this far to bury her man. So she “flung herself hysterically upon Joppe’s limp figure” [why do men love the word hysterical?] She yelled at him to return to her, moved his arms and legs, rubbed his back and breathed warm air into his lungs and prayed. For three hours she persisted despite men trying to drag her away, and LO! Joppe suddenly opened his eyes and spoke her name! Voila!

Seen above is a profile of the trail, picture going up this in spring with tons of snow hanging above you.

from Pierre Berton, The Klondike Fever p 265-266.

Howard Atwood Kelly

While perusing Jeff Smith’s book today I found a reference to a doctor that I had not previously known of in Skagway. He was writing in his journal on March 25, 1898 about the shell games on the Skaguay and Dyea trails: “The most prominent feature of the landscape is the activity of the shell-game men and thier cappers. How any one can be deceived by these crooks is a mystery, but many are. They look evil, and are evil. Great numbers lose heavily and a good many have had to give up their journey and turn back, all funds being lost…Shell-game tables extend from Dyea to Sheep Camp and one comes across them every hundred yards or so…”
Well, when I looked up Dr. Howard Atwood Kelly wasn’t I surprised to find that he is not only the founder of the modern science of gynecology, but also one of the four founders of the Johns Hopkins Hospital where he stayed until 1919! Turns out he is another hero who passed through Skagway. Kelly was born on February 20, 1858 in Camden, New Jersy and died on January 12, 1943 in Baltimore.

Captain Hamilton R. Foote

H.R. Foote was born in 1848 in Ireland.
Captain Foote had run the Steamer Danube and later the Steamer Islander. As mentioned before, he was the drunken captain who was asleep when the Islander struck a massive iceberg that had calved off of the Windom Glacier near Taku Inlet. In 1955 when Gordon Newell wrote “SOS North Pacific” he stated that cruise ships in the area would blow their whistles which was all that was needed to “coax the great ice mountain into its sensational act. A frozen mass as tall as a city skyscraper slowly detaches itself from the parent glacier, topples majestically on the brink, then makes its awesome plunge in to the sea, culminating a drama that has been thousands of years in the making.”
So when the ship’s pilot steered the Islander down Lynn Canal in the dark on August 15, 1901, the events were eerily similar to the Titanic’s crash with an iceberg.
I earlier said that all souls were lost but actually only 42 lives were lost. Onboard that day, were 77 first-class passengers, 30 second-class, 5 children too small to need tickets, 3 stowaways, 5 “workaways,” and a crew of 61 totaling 181 souls.
The survivors were picked up after Chief Engineer Brownlee walked up the beach toward Juneau in search of help. He reached the Treadwell Mine where the ship Flossie was docked. One of the casualties of the sinking was Capt. Foote, who purportedly said, “Tell them I tried to beach her,” before he died.

But the story certainly did not end there, for many years the stories of gold being on the sunken ship drew salvagers, but they did not find anything. In 1934 some salvagers raised the rusted hulk and found a bit of gold, but it was only a hundredth of what they hoped for. Above is a picture of the rusted hulk that lay on the beach until 1952 when it was cut up and sold for scrap.

Gordon Newell, “SOS North Pacific” 1955.

Thin Ice

On this day, May 10, 1898, two men drowned near camp Cozy Cove, 14 miles north of the Lake Bennett camp. They were Luc Richard from Frenchtown, Montana and Thomas A. Barnes from Kansas, ages 38 and 35 respectively. It all started when four men started across Lake Bennett with a dog team, but the ice was thin and they broke through with their dogs. The bodies of the two victims were buried a few days later on an island. About a hundred and fifty men attended the “short and impressive” funeral service. “It was virtual suicide to venture out on the ice at such a time the way these boys did,” Ole J. Wold wrote in his diary on the day of the burial.

page 79 of Klondike Saga by Lokke.

Two-Step Louie – the rest of the story

I just received this update to the Two-Step Louie story, turns out he died in Alaska at Nome Creek, not Nunn Creek in Colorado.

“I am the Great-Great niece of Two-Step Louis Schmidt. I have an original letter from the Fairbanks Comissioner’s office dated June 18, 1947.
The commissioner at the time, Eleanor Ely wrote to my Great Grandfather Ted Pollack to inform him of his Uncle’s death. The details of the letter state Louis was last seen in Fairbanks the latter part of Dec. 1945. He returned to his cabin at Nome Creek on Dec 26. The last marking on his calendar was March 3, 1946 indicating his death occurred after that date.
His long time friend, Blanche Cascaden found his body on May 29th when she was able to hike in to the cabin.
From all indications, death probably occurred while Louis was in bed, as he had on his underwear and wool socks. His hat hung on a nail on the wall, as did his other clothes. The provisions in the cabin were strewen and gave the appearance of having been eaten by animals. The chimney was down, evidently wolverines had made their entrance thru that opening and attacked his body. Whether he was ill at the time they entered, or dead, we can never know. There was no wood supply in the cabin which might indicate he had been ill, unable to cut wood and had frozen to death.
His wishes were that he be buried near his cabin on the land he loved. His remains were laid to rest under the only tree a short distance from his cabin and a name plate placed there with a cross marker.
I have in my possession a photo of his friend Blanche and an unknown male companion, placing the cross at his final resting place. He was buried June 8, 1946.
He is a legend in our family and I am happy to say at long last, I will be making the trip from Phoenix, AZ to Fairbanks this month to pay my respects.
Thank you,
Lynn Plesotis”


There is a headboard in the Dyea Cemetery that simply says “Noscitur”. The first time I saw that it seemed like an odd name, but I found out later that it is a legal term which means “he is known by the company he keeps”.
The news report in the Dyea Trail on this day, May 7, 1898 started with “Someone has committed murder! ….Phil F. Hardesty found the dead body of an unknown man on Tuesday last. He hurried back to town and reported his discovery to Mr. W. S. Levens, by whom he is employed. Mr. Levens organized a party to bring the body to Dyea, the party consisting of Attorney McEnany, Theodore Houseworth, Ed Welch, Messrs. Hardesty and Levens, a teamster and a representative of the TRAIL. After an hour’s climb up the steep side of the mountain, a small bench of level land was reached, and there, stark and stiff, in the midst of the timber, lay the body of a man who had been shot either accidentally or purposely, by some hand other than his own. …

A careful examination of the wound was then made. It revealed the fact that the man had been shot from behind. The bullet had entered squarely in the back of the neck and had come out at the left side of the mouth, shattering the bones and flesh of the left jaw mercilessly. The man’s face, torn and covered with blood, presented a horrible and sickening sight.
Stooping over the body, one of the party remarked that evidently robbery was not the motive of the killing as the man’s watch was still in his pocket. That was the way it looked. The watch pocket in the man’s pantaloons was bulged out and shaped just exactly as it would be with a watch in, but when touched it gave evidence that while a watch had been there it had been taken.
The body was carefully wrapped in a large piece of canvas and tied to a pole. In this manner it was packed down the mountain, but only with great difficulty, several men with axes being required to cut a kind of a trail. The body was brought to Dyea and an autopsy performed by Dr. T. L. Price, who said the man had been dead from 24 to 48 hours,a nd that the wound had been made by a bullet of not less than 44-calibre, if not a 48. In the man’s pockets were found a Canadian $2 bill, a pocket knife, a match box, a box of 22 calibre cartridges, a small key tied to a piece of r..?.ou and three pieces of pilot bread. In a small purse secreted in the hollow of his [?] next to the flesh and tied just above the ankle was $80 in gold and greenbacks. He wore a black slicker-hat and striped mackinaw coat, a white and black checkered flannel shirt, blue overalls, and rubber boots. He weighed about 160 pounds, was muscularly built, about 5 feet 8 inches in hight, had bluish gray eyes, brownish black hair, sandy mustache and was between 35 and 40 years of age. It is judged that he was an Irish-American.”

So apparently an inquest was done and concluded that the man had come to his death as a result of a gunshot wound (duh!). Since no one came forward to collect the body presumably the $80 in gold and cash should still be in the sheriff’s office. Nope, missing….
Yep, things were getting bad at that time… bios noscitur; Dimitra Lavrakas for her insightful comment on legal terms.

William Brooks Close

William Brooks Close was born on this day, May 6, 1853 in Naples, Italy and was brought up on his father’s yacht.
He was educated at Wellington College and Trinity College, Cambridge. In 1878 he started the Close Brothers Group with his brothers James and John. They were involved in the financing of the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad in the 1880’s. The Close Brothers Financial Group is still in existence in London.
Close came to Skagway in 1899 to see the railroad and became an honorary member of the Arctic Brotherhood but he never lived here. He was related by marriage to Samuel Graves.
William Close died in 1923 on the Isle of Wight.

Close Brothers website history; the White Pass by Minter; Freemasonry website.

Charles Christiansen

Constable Christiansen of the Northwest Mounted Police worked at Tagish in 1898 where he and Special Constable Loucks and Corporal Spreadbury took off on a little adventure on December 4th 1898. They left Tagish for Bennett to deliver the mail and pickup supplies for the division mess:
“After an arduous four-day trip, Spreadbury and Christiansen collapsed on the lake ice within sight of the lights of Bennett. Loucks pushed on to get help for his exhausted comrades. Fortunately, they soon revived under the medical care of police surgeon, Dr. Louis Pare.”
Christiansen later worked at the Customs Station at White Pass Summit in 1902.

Report of the RCMP 1898 and 1902; Helene Dobrowolsky “Law of the Yukon”;