Horses onboard

These poor horses thought they had it bad onboard the steamship – assuming they even made it off the ship at Dyea or Skagway without breaking a leg, the worst was still to come.
This drawing was made from an early photo by Tappan Adney in 1898.

Poor boys

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

Polly the Parrot

Although I have blogged about Polly before with a real picture of her, here is a picture of her gravestone. They claimed she was born in 1850 and died in 1972 but I have a hard time believing that. Since she was just a bird she did not have a birth certificate to prove she was born then, but who knows? She lived in the Carcross Bar/Hotel from 1918 when left there by the owner who died on the Princess Sophia. I talked to some folks who remembered her and said she was green and said naughty things, but they could not remember what exactly…..

photo by Reed McCluskey

Skagway Monkey Business

In her book of stories from the Gold Rush, Ella Lung Martinsen in “Trail to North Star Gold” remembered an organ grinder in Skagway in 1898.
She said the monkey was putting on a “Soapy Smith street show”. It was dressed in a tiny man’s suit, a red striped vest, a derby hat and high topped boots. Across his chest dangled an imitation nugget watch chain, and in his belt was stuck a toy pistol.
“…His little green eyes roamed furtively over the crowd, as he kept up his odd little jig. The gypsy organ grinder energetically pumped out lively, bouncy tunes, but “A Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight” seemed to be a favorite with the crowd. It greatly pleased the monkey too, who almost went berserk when the tempo was increased to a fever pitch. Jumping up and down, flapping his arms, he grabbed up tiny pieces of soapy from a container and flung them in wild frenzy at the audience, just like a jungle beast throwing coconuts! Of course his antics hightly pleased the crowd, They dodged and grabbed and got souvenir soap. At quick intervals, the little fellow hopped down from his box and passed his hat among the crowd for donations. When the hat was full of nickles and dimes, the monkey would rush back to his master. Greedily, he would sweep the contents into a small tin box, then he would pat the little fellow and give him peanuts.”

I haven’t seen an organ grinder with a monkey since about 1969 and that was at Knott’s Berry Farm in Anaheim. As kids, I remember my brothers and I would beg pennies from our dad to give to the monkey who would grab them and put them in his little bag. Seen above is a picture from 1892 but not from Skagway.

Trail to North Star Gold by Martinsen p 24-25.

“Cat Man of the Yukon”

James H. Wheeler was born on this day, July 25, 1871 in New Orleans, Louisiana. He worked for the Chicago Portrait Company in the late 1800’s on the West Coast. He was based out of Portland and met Father Duncan who founded the mission at Metlakatla. As a friend of Fr. Duncan he was invited to Metlakatla where he did business and was the first “white man” to stay overnight in the village. (Wouldn’t we love to see some of those portraits!)
Seeing another business opportunity in Skagway, he bought up stray cats in Portland for 50 cents each, brought them to Skagway and sold them to dance hall girls for as much as $300 each. This earned him the apt nickname of the “Cat Man of the Yukon”. If he thought of himself as a cat wrangler, perhaps that is why he moved not long after, to Wrangell. There he bought the Ft. Wrangell Hotel, sent for his fiance, and started a drug store which he ran for several years. The family also ran businesses in Petersburg. James died in January 1974 in Seattle at the age of 103.

Is this the source of the term “Wheeler Dealer”?

Family website:

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.

Two step Louie

A couple of years ago I was working in Arizona manning (womaning?) a booth for the City at the Quartzite show when the great-grandson of Louis Pollak (born 1883 Missouri) told me this story. Perhaps it qualifies as a tall story for today:
Louie came to the Yukon in the gold rush but did not do so well, so after the rush he returned to Chicago. Not satisfied with the city, he set out for the West again. He built a cabin at Nunn Creek (?) and was attacked and eaten by wolverines. Hmmm.

Ok, so it isn’t the best tall story, but it is true according to his great-grandson, and family stories are sometimes the best.

John Henry McIllree

Assistant Commissioner McIllree of the NWMP arrived in Skagway on the Steamer Queen on August 14, 1897.
He was born on this day, February 28, 1849 in Kingston, Jamaica and died on May 17, 1925 in Victoria. He served in the NWMP from 1873 to 1911 when he retired.
While in Skagway he was laid up with a bad ankle and diarrhea and wrote this:
“The trail is a terror, there is no doubt of that, and no one can form an idea of it unless he goes over it himself. One of our horses got his foot in a crevce and broke the leg clean off and went on three legs until stopped and shot. Another horse died and the balance are in bad shape: sore backs, cut legs & c., and I am afraid we cannot work them much longer… Would you let my wife know I am getting on all right. You can imagine how awful it is to lay on your back all day in this little dark shack, thinking, nothing but thinking.” Seen above with his horse is Asst. Commissioner McIllree

Mission Klondike, Sinclair; civil servants online;Dobrowolsky p. 26;
POLICING THE PLAINS Being the real life record of the famous ROYAL NORTH-WEST MOUNTED POLICE By R. G. MACBETH, M.A.