Drugs and alcohol

When Alaska was purchased in 1867 the prohibition of alcohol was extended from the lower 48 where liquor was prohibited from areas inhabited by Native Americans. In the Spring of 1898 however, a bill was introduced to Governor Brady to suspend the law since it was, by and large ignored anyway. Certainly the dozens of bars in Skagway attested to that. I have already blogged on the alcohol issue which is quite extensive, but I was more interested in the use of drugs in Skagway during the gold rush.

I just went through my database and counted about 30 druggists and owners of drug stores here in the gold rush. I never really thought about that until an article in the New Yorker described the use of opium, cocaine and marijuana at the turn of the century as legal. We’ve all heard the story of how Coca-cola actually had real cocaine in it which gave a real high. Morphine was commonly prescribed for all kind of ailments and apparently so was marijuana. In some cities, such as San Francisco, the many opium dens became such a problem that citizen vigilantes attempted to drive them out, or at least underground. Seen above is such a group in San Francisco.

Certainly there was opium here, or at least morphine, as I have a note that Syd Dixon, an accomplice of Soapy was an opium addict. Did the druggists in town regularly prescribe these? Here is a photo of an opium container and an advertisement from New York from that time.




Intoxicants & opium in all lands and times, p. 163, By Wilbur Fisk Crafts; 

Klondike Chest by Grainger; Mission Klondike, Sinclair; historynet.com


Dr. Richard M. Allen

Dr. Richard M. Allen was in Skagway in the winter of 1897 as seen in the photo above. He is in the dark outfit leaning on the post. His descendent, Natalie Gohrband kindly allowed me to post this previously unseen family photo. Family lore says he died on a shipwreck at the Kuskokwim River in 1899, but it could have been on the Jessie which sank there in 1898. It was described in a book by Gordon Newell titled the Shipwrecks of 1899, so that may be the source of the confusion.

The Jessie swamped in turbulent water at the mouth of the Kuskokwim River on June 28, 1898. Rev. Welsh and 18 miners from the Columbia Exploration Company were believed to have been massacred by the Yupik Natives or lost in the wreck. One person, a trader called Ling survived and sent word to St. Michael of the shipwreck.



H.M. Berge

Hjalmer Melachton Berge was born on November 22, 1896 in Ohio, one of 10 children born to Norwegian immigrants Olaf and Thilda. Somehow H.M. managed to attend college and graduate from medical school. He came to Skagway in 1923 and worked for White Pass as a surgeon. He later went back to Snohomish where he married Jeannette and had a child. In 1928 he was appointed the Snohomish County Health Officer but on April 10, 1933 he died of tuberculosis in the Laurel Sanatorium in Seattle. An occupational hazard for doctors I suppose back then. Washington records.

Dr. Samuel D. Cameron

Dr. S.D. Cameron was famous for attending the autopsy on Soapy here in 1898. He was fairly young at the time, 24, having come from Ontario where he was born in 1874. He came from a big Scottish family, his parents were from Scotland. He worked at Log Cabin in 1901. After the Skagway bank robbery in 1902, he examined the body of the dead bank robber and chaired the coroners inquest here. He emigrated to the U.S. in 1902 and applied for his physicians license in Washington state also in that year.
In 1917 he married Laura Bouillard in Yakima, she was 26 then and Dr. Cameron was 43. He died on August 19, 1922 in Yakima and is buried there.
In the picture above, I believe that the young bloke to the far right is Dr. Samuel D. Cameron.

Howard Clifford p 142; yukon genealogy; 1920 Yakima census; Washington marriage, licensing, emigration and census records.

Grit Grief and Gold

In 1933 Dr. Fenton B. Whiting wrote his account of the events in Skagway in 1898. He dedicated it to his friend Patrick Augustus Heney.
I was contacted recently by Ernie and Nancy Brace who found a copy of this little book in the estate of a Norwegian Homesteaders farm in North Dakota. They felt it belonged in Skagway and so mailed it to me to keep here in Skagway for reference. It will certainly be one of the items which we will feature in our new museum at AB Hall. The best part of this book is that it is personally inscribed by Dr. Whiting to his friend Austin Lathrop who he says was one of the beloved “makers of Alaska.”
So here for the first time ever viewed by the world is the inscription. He was 67 in 1933 when this book was published and he died in 1936, so this is from just before he died.

Dora Ouellet

Dora Ouellet (or Oullette or Owlette) was born during the Gold Rush, on this day, January 5, 1898 faraway in Pringle in Muskoka and Parry Sound, Ontario.
In the 1930s, Alaska Natives in the Yukon-Kuskokwim region near Bethel had the highest rate of Tuberculosis deaths and illness in the entire world. For 20 years, TB scourged the population throughout rural Alaska. By the mid-1940s, it was estimated that 10 percent of the Alaska Native population had active TB. The epidemic lasted into the early 1960s. One in 30 Natives resided in a sanitarium.
In 1945 the U.S. Health Service opened a tuberculosis sanitarium in the army hospital across the river in Skagway. Nurses came from Sisters of St. Ann in Victoria, B.C. It held as many as 90 patients before closing in 1947.
Poor Dora may have been one of the patients here because she died on July 19, 1946. A total of 56 people died in Skagway between 1945 and 1947, though not all by tuberculosis. Most of the deceased were sent back home, but a few were buried here in the Pioneer Cemetery.

Seen above is Vanilla dressed in her very best. She claims to be an Ouellet.

Skagway Death Record; Ontario 1901 and 1911 censuses.

John Allen Hornsby

Happy birthday, December 19, 1859 or 1861, to Dr. Hornsby, surgeon for the White Pass Railroad, editor of the Daily Alaskan and member of Skagway City Council. Unfortunately he was also a friend and likely co-conspirator with Soapy. In the coroners report for Ella Wilson, the black woman who was murdered by strangulation in her bed, Hornsby’s report said the death was “unintentional” and the case was forgotten in all the excitement of the day. He also apparently failed to publish an account of the Stewart robbery, no doubt at Soapy’s request. After the death of Soapy, the town “rounded up” various supporters and associates. To quote Hornsby: “I was sent out of Skagway in a most arbitrary manner. The United States Commission said there were no charges against me, but that he had no power to combat the citizens’ committee that had put me on the boat at the point of loaded Winchesters.” In any event, he left and went to Eagle and then back to Chicago where he became superintendent of a hospital, then on to Washington D.C. where all good scoundrels end up. He appears to have died in 1939 at the age of 80.
Seen above are the 10 members and friends of Soapy that were rounded up. I don’t know which one is Dr. Hornsby, but I would guess it is the guy in the center saying to toss your eggs carefully (this doctored photo was used in 2008 for our Egg-Toss).

-Jeff Smith page 574 in “Alias Soapy Smith”;Haigh p.89: The book of Chicagoans by Albert Nelson Marquis online

Dr. Emory Kniskern

Emory Leroy Kniskern was born on this day, October 3, 1868 in either Marne or Berlin Michigan. He attended the University of Michigan medical school to get his medical degree in 1895. He came to Skagway in the gold rush and signed death certificates in April of 1899. By November 1899 he was in Washington and married Cornelia “Nellie” Butler. He was a Captain in the Medical Corps at Camp Worden, Washington in World War One. He had two sons and moved back to Muskegon Michigan where he specialized as an oculist and aurist. Dr. Kniskern died in Michigan in 1946 at the age of 78.

Not having a good picture of Dr. Kniskern here is a photo of a guy with his faithful steed on the dock at Skagway.

Skagway death records of April 29, 1899; family search; Washington census 1910; Univ of Michigan online.