Seattle based photographer caught many cool images of people coming and going to the Klondike from the docks. Here in this picture from the Elmer A. Rasmuson Library collection at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, is a picture taken in July 1899 of nearly $4 Million in gold dust packed into crates. Labeled as the Royal Canadian Force Collection, note the Mountie on the left. Everyone looks sooooo serious!
Corporal Ernest Harris signed up for the NWMP in Regina in 1893 and was sent to the post at Tagish on January 10, 1898. After two winters, he went to Skagway on leave in August 1899. It was paradise compared to Tagish. So, he decided he did not want to go back to Tagish. He became ill on March 15, 1900 so Dr. I.H. Moore did an emergency appendectomy on him. Luckily he survived that, but his NWMP Superiors in Tagish were not amused. So they sent Dr. Pare of the NWMP to Skagway to examine him, which he did, and reported that indeed, poor Harris could not travel.
Supt. Steele wanted him declared a deserter on April 6, 1900, but when he received a letter from Dr. Moore, he relented until May 29th when he said that unless Harris went to Tagish he would call him a deserter. On June 30th Harris finally returned to Bennett and Tagish at which time Steele had him examined by Dr. Pare.
So, in June 1900 Z.T. Wood finally declared him a deserter from August 26, 1899 which would prevent him from receiving pay from that time until 1900. What became of poor Harris, we don’t know, but if given the choice of spending another winter at Tagish or in Skagway, one can certainly sympathize.
library and archives Canada on the NWMP personnel records online.
Frank Alfred Novak
Frank Novak was born on April 5, 1865 in Webster County, Iowa. He ran a mercantile store in Walford Ohio. He suffered some “financial reverses” (actually a gambling addiction) and put the business in debt. So, in frustration he took out a $30,000 life and accident insurance policy on himself. Then, on February 2, 1897 lured his friend Edward Murray to the store, crushed his skull, robbed him and then burned the store over him to cover the crime. He fled the scene, I found some evidence that Novak’s wife, Mary had claimed that he died in the fire, thus claiming the life insurance. But insurance companies are not so easily fooled. He was pursued for six months across the continent and to Alaska by Detective C.C. Perrin of Chicago or Denver. In total they traveled 26,000 miles back and forth across the continent. Finally in Washington, Perrin discovered that Novak had taken the steamer Al-Ki at Port Townsend on February 23 to Juneau. Perrin took the steamer Mexico on May 24 to Skagway. Both men had to secure provisions to cross the Chilkoot Pass.
Detective Perrin spent many days on the Chilkoot Pass looking for Novak. He then briefly saw him as his boat passed Novak’s boat on Lake Bennet. He followed Novak to Dawson where he got a warrant from the Canadians to arrest him and take him back to Ohio for trial. Novak was claiming that his name was J.A. Smith. But when Captain Constantine compared the dental records (possibly dentures) of Novak with his dentists records from Ohio, the Mounties decided that they had their man!
On the way back through St Michael, Novak told Perrin that back in Iowa, he kept a bottle of whiskey impregnated with morphine in the store and found Murray drinking it. Later during the fire he tried to rescue him but was unable to (perhaps because he had first bashed in his skull). Such a story! Perrin was not swayed and succeeded in bringing the murderer back to Iowa for trial.
In November 1897 he was brought back, tried, and convicted of second degree murder and put in the Anamosa prison in Ohio. A second trial by the Supreme Court upheld the lower court decision. By 1903 he was involved in photography and was on the prison band being a model prisoner and his friends petitioned the Governor for clemency. Not sure if that happened as he was serving a life sentence. He died in Chicago on July 12, 1930 but was brought back home to be buried in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, a few miles from the scene of the crime in Walford.
The Carroll Herald, April 1, 1903. The Baltimore Underwriter October 1897. Two Years in the Klondike and the Alaskan Gold Fields by Haskell.
Philip Carteret Hill Primrose
P.C.H. Primrose was born on October 23, 1864 in Nova Scotia. He applied to the newly formed NWMP in 1885 and was commissioned then.
In 1898, at the outbreak of the Klondike Gold Rush, Primrose was assigned to the Yukon, where he was stationed at the H Division in Tagish. He became superintendent of that division in October 1899, then was transferred to become superintendent of the B Division one month later. In 1901, he was posted to Dawson, where he assumed responsibility for 43 Mounted Policemen and 4 other men at the Whitehorse station. During his time in the Yukon, the main role of the police was guarding people awaiting trials and prisoners serving sentences.
Primrose supervised the 1900 Yukon census, reporting to the Commissioner that the territory’s population was 16,463. On May 13, 1900, he fined 31 “members of the sporting fraternity” $55 each, boosting the territorial treasury. Other activities included more community-oriented tasks, such as firefighting when permitted. He returned to Regina in 1914 and worked in many different capacities including being the 5th Lt. Governor of Alberta. He married and had 4 children and died in Edmonton on March 17, 1937.
He is seen above as a young North West Mounted Officer.
Colonel Robert Belcher, NWMP
Robert Belcher was born on April 23, 1849 at London England. In 1868 and at the age of 19, he joined the 9th Lancers (Queen’s Royal) which was a cavalry regiment in the British Army and was assigned the rank of Trooper. He remained with the 9th Lancers until he departed to Canada and joined the new North-West Mounted Police on November 3, 1873. After serving three years he retired, but then reenlisted in 1885. When free time became available, Robert Belcher was actively involved in promoting sporting activities amongst the Force members. “In 1879 cricket was introduced at ‘G’ Division, Fort Saskatchewan by Sgt. Major Bobbie Belcher, a former English public school boy.” In 1897 he was selected to go to England for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Celebration The chosen members were all young, trim, handsome, 5’10” to 6’0” in height, average waist of 35 inches, average chest of 39 inches and most sported long waxed mustaches which were considered dashing at the time. He then served at the Chilkoot Pass that winter under Captain Z.T. Wood and later in Dawson (I wonder if they played cricket at the pass?). He then went to the Boer War in South Africa and served in Lord Strathcona’s Horse Regiment for which he was awarded the Companion Most Distinguished Order of St. Michael and St. George medal (he is circled in the photo above). He later served in the Alberta Dragoons and the 5th Cavalry Brigade and saw some action in World War One. He died suddenly on February 10, 1919. His son Perry Belcher also died in World War One at Passchendaele. (There is a very good movie by that name about that battle, I have it if anyone locally wants to borrow it.) Colonel Belcher Hospital in Calgary, Alberta is named for him. Honored in Places: Remembered Mounties Across Canada by Hulgaard and White, page 20.; www.rcmpveteransvancouver.com
Joseph Victor Begin
NWMP Inspector Begin was in Dyea in 1897. He was born on this day, February 15, 1856 in Quebec and spent several years working on steamboats on the St. Lawrence River and then served in the militia for three years before joining the NWMP in 1885. He served in several provinces before coming to the Yukon. In 1891 he married to Alexina Chartrand and in 1893 had a daughter, Renalde, and then two sons: Francoise Begin born in 1894, and Jean Berchmans Begin, born in 1897. His family must have lived in a larger community, not Dyea, certainly, judging from photos of the family.
From here he went to South Africa and later served in the Great War – a euphemism for WW1 which was big but not all that great. In 1929 he moved to Atlanta Georgia where he died.
The photos of Captain Begin were small and grainy but the fellow on the horse in this poster looks like he posed for this.
various Canadian history sites online.
Doll of Dawson
Mae Field was born in Ramsey County Minnesota in 1873. Her birth name may have been Mary Lavinia Sullivan born June 20, 1873 in Ramsey but I can’t be sure. In any event, she was quite famous in the north. When she married Arthur Daniel Field in Hot Springs, South Dakota in 1897 she had already been married and divorced. Arthur was ten years older and had some wealth derived from bootlegging and brothels. The couple decided to go to Dawson to mine. They were able to get their mining equipment over the Chilkoot Trail, but lost most of it in Lake Lebarge in a storm. Arthur staked claims and got a liquor license, just in case the mining did not work out. Mae decided to return to balmy Minnesota for the winter. When she got to Skagway the only boat available was the somewhat dubious “Georgia” which she decided to take, despite no one else taking the chance. Her luck held, but on returning to Minnesota, her mother told her to go back to her husband. So she did. After many adventures and working as a nurse, a babysitter, and a dancer. She later had a rooming house, but she always seemed to live well and have money. She moved to Vancouver in 1911 after her husband left her and the Mounties found her in bed with an unmarried man. (Hmmm) Although they were never able to prove she was a prostitute, the Canadians imprisoned her for six months and told her to leave the country. She eventually settled in Ketchikan where she was living in the 1940’s helping the Sisters of Mercy, orphanages, friends and the poor.
Seen above, Mae Field during her Dawson days.
Good Time Girls of the Alaska-Yukon Gold Rush by Morgan; Rebel Women of the Gold Rush by Mole; familysearch.
It has always been and still is a challenge to get mail to Skagway. Today we rely on small planes to fly our mail in from Juneau and if they can’t fly for three days, they put it on the ferry. Numerous times I have had retailers tell me they either don’t deliver to Skagway or they send it the dreaded FedEx way: which is, they send it to Anchorage and then hand it over to the post office there which puts it on the barge as parcel post. Recently I had a computer delivered this way that arrived with a big hole punched in the side of the box. Fortunately it hit only packaging material. There is no direct mail delivery on the road to Whitehorse, so if you send a letter there, it goes to Seattle, maybe to Ottawa and then back to Vancouver and then to Whitehorse. And takes 3 weeks. So here is what they did in 1898:
“The amount of mail stacked up on the Skagway dock that Christmas of 1898 was too much for one man to carry, however. The North-West Mounted Police took over the job of delivering the backlog of mail to the Klondikers. They formed relay teams of men and dogs to carry the mail in 30-mile stretches. Traveling day and night, the Mountie teams could complete the one-way 600-mile trip in an average of seven days. The use of dog teams on the Dawson-Skagway route ended in 1901 when the White Pass and Yukon Railway was completed. But dog teams were responsible for mail delivery in most parts of the Alaska Interior for another 30 years.”
Alaska History Course.org
In the RCMP report written by Capt. Steele, he mentions Staff Sergeant James B. Hyles who served in Skagway from August 1897 to May 1898. Steele described it as “one of the most disagreeable detachments in my command. His duties were receiving and forwarding mails and stores, giving information to people entering the Yukon Territory…later working in the pay office at Bennett and discharging the duties of acting Sergeant Major at Tagish.”
Hyles had 15 years of service at that time in the NWMP.
Report of the RCMP 1898.
Leonard Scofield Sugden
Doctor Leonard Sugden was born in June of 1873 in Scotland. He first came north on a whaling vessel and practiced in Juneau. In 1897, he headed for the Klondike but had to winter at Marsh Lake, where he built a cabin and worked as a doctor for the NWMP. When the real gold rush began in 1898, he helped pilot boats through Miles Canyon and the White Horse Rapids. Dr. Sugden stayed in the Yukon. He was the inspiration for Robert Service’s poem, the Cremation of Sam McGee when Service heard of the story of Dr. Sugden hauling a corpse to Tagish and contacting the family in Tennessee to get permission to cremate the remains.
Sam Steele mentioned in his memoirs that Dr. Sugden once hauled a woman 100 miles on a sled to get her to medical help and safety.
Dr. Sugden married in 1906 and moved to the Kluane area where he mined, hunted big game and bought a Prizma movie camera. With it he produced, in 1915, a film called The Lure of Alaska which played to rave reviews across America and Europe.
The film includes shots from the Seattle harbor and along the coast of Alaska and features scenes of Juneau, Sitka, Skagway, a midnight baseball game in Dawson City, a caribou herd swimming in the river, and icebergs calving from glaciers. The movie also includes scenes of Sugden piloting a raft through the Whitehorse Rapids.
The New York Times in 1917 wrote:
“Seldom have nature pictures been such a combination of thrills and wild beauty. They are a notable accomplishment of the camera and Dr. Sugden’s nerve.”
Unfortunately, Dr. Sugden’s life of adventure ended suddenly in 1923 when he fell off a barge into the Stewart River near Mayo and drowned. He was 50 years old.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin