Harry Huntington’s letter

Harry wrote a letter to his fiance (later wife) Jennie from Alaska which is dated 1897, but he must have meant 1898 as it is written on the back of a newspaper extra which has the date April 3, 1898 printed on it. The EXTRA published by the Dyea Trail is about the death of eighteen prospectors in a snow slide.

“Sheeps Camp April 7, 1897, My beloved Wife:-How I wish I was on my way to meet you My Love My all. If tomorrow is a good day we will bid adieu to Sheep Camp and take up our abode at Lake Linder Mon. We were on the summit yesterday, paid our duty and took most of our freight down the hill out to Crater Lake. Wolff and Percival will finish up today. I went as far as the stables and brought back the dogs. Yesterday I dug my freight out of about eight feet of snow, you can see men all over the trail digging out their “caches”, some will never find theirs. Today is warm and the sun shines brightly on the snow covered Peaks. Up to yesterday fifty one bodies have been taken from the snow slide, and some that are alive are in evidence now of the awful experience of being under the snow and couldn’t move a muscle. I talked with one man that was in 45 minutes. He said he could breathe alright and was very comfortable physically but not mentally.
The search for the misfortunate was kept up until last night no one being allowed to pass the Place with a pack or load. There is no one at work this morning and I guess they have given it up. The snow slide made no noise whatever and wasn’t even heard by the ones that were caught.
We never left our camp during the storm and don’t work any stormy days, we have lost a lot of time but it has given us an opportunity to get mail from our dear ones a home. I hate to leave on that account. I rec. a nice letter from Halla yesterday, and I got it by accident too.
One of the Crossley boys was down Sheeps Camp and saw my name on front of a store.(?) There are two places to get mail and I suppose they got it on account of having “Please Forward to Sheeps Camp” on it. You can address your letters to Takish House North West Territory from now on They come from Dyea the 20th of each month.”

from “The Descendents of Nathaniel Huntington” online genealogy book.

Edward C. Robinson

This Edward Robinson was an army soldier here in 1903 where he succumbed to pneumonia on this day, September 27, 1903. He was only 29 and his body was sent to Seattle for burial. He is buried at the Ft. Lawton Military Cemetery. Seen above is his grave marker which says he was in Company M of the 8th US Infantry. Previous to this I thought that the 8th Infantry had arrived in July of 1904, but this proves they were here earlier.

Find-a-grave website; Skagway Death Record

The wreck of the Sternwheeler Columbian

The sternwheeler Columbian was lost in the worst accident in the Yukon River’s history on September 25, 1906. On the day of the accident, The Columbian was carrying only one passenger—Ernest Winstanley, a stowaway who had sneaked aboard, pretending to be the caretaker of the cattle on board. One report said he was kicked off when the ship docked at Tantalus, but another gave his medical condition while in hospital in Whitehorse.
The explosion happened at Eagle Rock when Phillip Murray showed a loaded gun to Edward Morgan, who accidentally discharged the gun into the load of blasting powder stored on deck. Morgan was killed instantly. Following the ensuing explosion and fire, the captain grounded the ship on shore and those uninjured or killed by the blast jumped ashore.

The explosion blew out the sides of the vessel, scattered men and cargo in the water, and in less than five minutes had involved the whole inside of the ship in a mass of seething flame.

The crew had no provisions and no way to easily go for help. The closest telegraph office was thirty miles away at Tantalus. A party of three set out on foot but they were overtaken by Captain Williams and Engineer Mavis in a canoe they had borrowed from a woodcutter.

Arriving at Tantalus after midnight, they woke up the telegraph operator who sent out a message about the disaster with no response—all the other operators were asleep. The first to receive the message, at 9:00 a.m. on September 26, was at Whitehorse. The first ship to arrive at the scene of the explosion was the sternwheeler Victorian, arriving at 7:00 p.m. Captain Williams had returned that morning to find that Carl Christianson and John Woods had died during the night. Phillip Murray died shortly after being carried aboard the Victorian.

Another sternwheeler, the Dawson, had been dispatched from Whitehorse with a doctor and nurses aboard. The Dawson had not received the news until 1:00 p.m. on September 26 and at 1:00 a.m. on September 27, the Dawson took the crew of the Columbian on board and returned to Whitehorse. Soon after, when Lionel Cadogan Cowper, the purser died in Whitehorse the death toll rose to six men.
The Whitehorse Star reported:
“Ernest E. Winstanley, the only survivor among seven victims of the explosion and fire on the steamer Columbian, which disaster occurred on the Yukon river on Tuesday, the 25th of September, is still at the general hospital at this place where, under the skillful treatment of J.P. Cade and careful nursing of the hospital corps, it is believed he will recover.
Winstanley displays wonderful fortitude and it is believed will be able to leave the hospital in another month or six weeks. His father Ernest Winstanley, arrived Sunday from Dawson and is spending much of his time at his son’s bedside.
The bodies of Mate Welsh and Fireman Morgan, who fell or jumped into the river after being horribly burned, have not yet been recovered.”
Then the Weekly Star reported on October 12, 1906:
“Today at 11:30 an artery in Winstanley’s neck burst and this may tend to complicate his chances for recovery.” Apparently they credited his long woolen underwear with keeping him from being burned over much of his body, but his face and hands were burned. He did survive and on September 31, 1906 he moved to Galiano in southern British Columbia where he was a farmer in the 1911 census.

Also lost was her cargo of 150 tons of vegetables and meat, and 21 head of cattle.
The disaster is described in “Fire on the Yukon” by Sam Holloway. A memorial to the victims was erected in the Whitehorse Cemetery by the employees of the British Yukon Navigation Company. The Columbian is seen above in better days in 1903.

Explore North; NWMP record; wikipedia; Dawson Daily News, September 26, 1906; Hougen group website; BC 1911 census online; Yukon Archives – Benjamin Craig’s list of people leaving the Yukon.

Wilbert Garfield Packard

There are records of a total of 98 people that died on April 3, 1898. All but three died in the avalanche on the Chilkoot Pass.
Wilbert Garfield Packard of Riverside California, born on this day, September 20, 1881 also died on that terrible day, but he died, along with two other men, of spinal meningitis. His marker in the Dyea Slide Cemetery says he was 16 years and 8 months old, the beloved son of Charles and Emma Packard of Los Angeles.

Packard family site on Genforum.

Fred Cope

On this day, September 19, 1897 two men died – one on each summit.
Fred Cope, the ex-mayor of Vancouver, British Columbia, drowned in Summit Lake which is just over the White Pass. He was buried on the shore there.
The election of Fred Cope in 1892 was the closest in Vancouver’s history, with a winning margin of 11 votes over his rival Dr. J.T. Carroll. Cope was the youngest mayor in Vancouver history, only 32 when elected.
The obituary at the Mountain View Cemetery in Vancouver says this about him:
“During Fred Cope’s mayoralty, Vancouver was experiencing its first economic slowdown and Mayor Cope’s efforts were directed to limiting expenses. City staff were laid off and those remaining had pay cutbacks. The Canada-Australia Steam Line began servicing Vancouver because of Mayor Cope’s efforts, with the first ship (RMS Minonuera) arriving in Vancouver June 8, 1893. He was elected mayor for two consecutive terms. Cope died while prospecting in Alaska during the gold rush. He fell from his horse while crossing a stream and drowned.” His photo is above.

Meanwhile, in a letter by George Young, a goldrusher on the summit of the Chilkoot Pass, he stated: “An old man who had his goods as far as the summit of the pass went back to Skagway to get horse feed and died of heart disease. His wife was along, but she has turned back. This is the saddest thing that has occurred.” -from George Young’s letter Sept 19, 1897.

Obituary Met Vancouver newspaper Oct 2, 1897; Skagway death record; Victoria Colonist says he was buried in situ because of advanced decomposition; The Vancouver Sun online obituary.

William G. Martin

Ok, so here’s a good one. There was no William G. Martin who was lynched on September 11, 1897 at Lake Bennett. This was a false story reported by Hal Hoffman to the Chicago Tribune and repeated many times thereafter.

It is still falsely cited on the “land of the free” website. William R. Hunt in the book “Whiskey Peddler, the story of Johnny Healy, North Frontier Trader” (1993) refutes this story.

Now this is not to say that there weren’t other cases of frontier justice as there are even pictures of men being whipped on the trail for theft. One man even committed suicide to evade such punishment. The photo above is a staged photo for a 1915 book about the Shooting of Dan McGrew.

William Smith Cobleigh

William Cobleigh was the assistant postmaster in Skagway in 1897 and part of 1898 until he moved to Dawson. He succumbed to typhoid once he got there. Should have stayed in Skagway. Here is the obituary from his home state where he was an esteemed birder:

“THE Cooper Ornithological Club has suffered the loss of an esteemed member in the death of Mr. William S. Cobleigh, who was perhaps best known to our readers as a worker in Illinois ornithology, although, for three years past he had been an active member of the Club. His excellent writings on the birds of his native State, Illinois, in many of the older magazines have made his name familiar to all the older workers. In August 1897 he left California for the gold fields of Alaska, where, a year later he was stricken with typhoid fever and died at Dawson [on this day] September 14, 1898.

The “Klondike Nugget” says: “William S. Cobleigh, formerly assistant postmaster at Skaguay, who came to Dawson in July last and who recently died at St. Mary’s Hospital, was buried Sunday afternoon (Sept. 25) in the Dawson cemetery under the auspices of the Order of Elks, attended also by members of the Masonic Fraternity and Knights of Pythias, of which organizations he was a member. In life he was a mgnificent specimen of physical manhood, being over six feet in height, and in good health, weighing 225 pounds. Contracting typhoid fever, despite the most diligent attention medically and otherwise he succumbed to the dread disease. At the cemetery a simple but beautiful service was rendered, the Rev. R. J. Bowen officiating. Bro. Captain Jack Crawford, the famous poet scout, made some feeling remarks after which Bro. George Noble of Seattle Lodge of Elks sang Nearer My God to Thee, ‘his magnificent voice and the beautiful rendition of this hymn touching the hearts of all. It is expected to forward his remains to his former home at the opening of navigation next spring.’

William S. Cobleigh, whose portrait we present, was born in Pekin, Illinois, August 30, 1868, being 30 years of age at the time of his demise. In 1880 he moved to Peoria, receiving his education in the public schools of that city and Pekin, after which he spent two years at Knox College, Galesburg Ill. In 1889 he removed to Canton, Ill., where he followed farming til his departure for California in 1897. He was married to Miss Jessie Justus of St. Cloud Minn., on Dec. 1892, but no children survive him. He leaves a wife in Peoria, Illinois, father, mother and sister in Los Angeles and a brother in Canton, Ill. He was an authority on the birds of Illinois and donated his large collection to the Peoria Scientific Association a few years since.”

Bachelder diary; jstor.org; The Condor Vol 1 Issue 1 obituary online by Chester Barlow; familysearch

Jefferson “Red” Saling

Jeff Saling was born on this day, September 1, 1845 in Missouri. He came from Idaho with his two cousins Erwin Mickey and Wiley Anderson to Skagway. However the avalanche of April 3rd 1898 caught Jeff and he was one of the victims buried in the Slide Cemetery in Dyea.

Over the past 113 years, some of the headboards may have been replaced, but in any event, the headboard is wrong according to one descendant. It reads Jeff Saley from Weiser, Idaho but should instead read Jefferson Saling from Mann Creek Idaho. It would seem that his cousins would have given his home town since they were here, it is unlikely that someone here in 1898 would have come up with a name like Weiser.

The spelling of Saling could have morphed due to the lack of upkeep on the headboard.

So here is a perfect example of how unreliable wooden headboards are.

I have often thought that the descendants should be the keepers of their ancestors’ graves and markers. For the municipality to replace all 700 grave markers in the Gold Rush, Pioneer, and Slide Cemetery would be an expensive and difficult process. Fortunately, the descendant is considering making a new headboard as Marshal Rowan’s great granddaughter did last summer. She replaced it with a beautiful and completely appropriate marble marker which the city workers installed.

Seen above is the current marker.

Sam Bonnifield

Sam Bonnifield was born in August 1845 in Ohio. He was perhaps a sea captain on the Steamer Humboldt and came to Alaska as early as 1888.

Sam Bonnifield was a professional gambler and saloon owner who followed the gold from Skagway to Dawson City to Fairbanks in the early 1900’s. It is said he won the Yukonia Hotel and then lost it in one night. He and his brother moved to Fairbanks and opened the First National Bank, which shipped out $3 million in gold dust before the depression hit. Bonnifield was known as “Square Sam” and “Silent Sam” because he treated people fairly. He took the near failure of his bank very hard. He became despondent and suffered a “nervous breakdown”, kneeling in the snow in front of his bank crying, ”O God! Please show me the way out.”

In August 1910, the Fairbanks Daily News Miner noted that Sam Bonnifield arrived in town after walking the Valdez Trail. He spent a year recovering on the family farm in Kansas. The newspaper celebrated his return by saying, “No man ever lived in the North who has more real friends than has Sam Bonnifield, and the entire community will be glad to have him here once again.” In October 1911, the Alaska Citizen ran the headline “Sam Bonnifield is Insane Once More.”

“Sam Bonnifield was taken into custody by the Marshall’s office on Wednesday last on the charge of insanity, and placed in the federal jail. He has been unbalanced for some time, but his condition only became very noticeable the day of his arrest.

Bonnifield has never entirely recovered from the mental breakdown occasioned three or four years ago when the First National Bank, of which he was president, went on a script basis. He was taken Outside for treatment at the time of his breakdown and later walked into Fairbanks over the trail.

A few days before his arrest he drew quite a sum of money from the bank and distributed a part of it among the laborers around town; the balance he carried across the river and played with it in the sand.

When arrested he violently talked about President Taft, Cardinal Gibbon and other of prominence, saying that money is their god.”

Sam Bonnifield was found to be “insane” by a jury of six men and taken to Portland. He was admitted to Morningside Hospital on December 23, 1911, where he stayed until June 26, 1914. A few months after his discharge, he received a letter from Dr. Henry Waldo Coe, the head of Morningside Hospital, verifying that he was “recovered”. Dr. Coe went on to give him the following advice:

“All that I can ask of you is that you do not take life too earnestly or strenuously. As I understand it, you are not compelled to do two men’s work. You have worked hard and are entitled to an easier time. Take an easy time.”

Not much is known about Sam’s life after his stay at Morningside. He died in 1943 in Seattle from being hit by an automobile.

1900; P. Berton p 121, 423; The Mysterious North; Gates p124; Morningside Hospital website.

John Hicks

On November 17, 1898 the Steamship Utopia caught fire while en route from Seattle to Skagway. During the excitement, John Hicks from Tacoma jumped overboard and everyone thought he had drowned. But Hicks managed to hold onto a capsized lifeboat and survive in the freezing water for 24 hours until the boat floated to Kake Island. He then wandered around for 8 days looking for some habitation until he returned to the beach to lay down and die. But no, he did not die there, as several local natives found him and took him to the local missionary, the Rev. Dr. Moon. Moon put him in a canoe to take him to Wrangell where he could receive proper care. But before they reached Wrangell poor Mr. Hicks died and Moon buried him on the beach.

Seen above, the Steamship Utopia was built in Seattle in 1893 and was captained by the famous Capt. “Dynamite Johnny” O’Brien. It was owned by the Alaskan Steamship Company until 1903 when it was acquired by the Puget Sound Navigation Company.

NY Times December 13, 1898; A Moment in the Sun by McSweeney online; Wikipedia