Ben W. Olcott


Arthur O’Leary’s traveling companion, Ben Olcott has quite a story of his own, which I will summarize here.

Also born in Keithsburg, Illinois, Ben left earlier on his adventures west and in 1891 at the age of 19 moved to Salem, Oregon. He seemed to find Oregon his new home base from which he forayed to parts north to search for adventure and gold. After his 1898 trip with Arthur, he returned to Illinois to bank briefly and then headed back to Alaska in 1904. His journey ended notably when he drove a dog sled team to Nome, a trip of over 1,000 miles up theYukon and Tanna Rivers in the height of winter. Settling in Fairbanks, Olcott found work as a gold dust teller, and later a bank branch manager. He managed to make a sizeable profit from gold prospecting, allowing him to move back to Oregon.

Olcott became involved in Oregon politics because of his brother-in-law Oswald West and so found himself succeeding Governor Withycombe in 1919 who abruptly died of a heart attack only two months after being elected. Olcott served as governor until 1923 until he was defeated by the Ku Klux Klan candidate, Walter Pierce. Olcott went back to banking, first to Long Beach, California and then back to Portland. He died in Portland on July 21, 1952, and was interred in Mount Crest Abbey Mausoleum in Salem, Marion County, Oregon. He may have been pictured in the photos of Arthur O’Leary below, but here are his portrait and gravestone.


Arthur O’Leary

O'Leary 1898

I recently received some original photos of Mr. O’Leary’s cabin and compadres on the trail. It is near Mirror Lake, which I don’t immediately have access to the exact location. I will post these here along with a photo of Mr. Arthur O’Leary in 1898 as he prepared to come to the Klondike. He was only 24 years old and full of the Irish heritage of adventure and hard work – don’t I know about that from my own family!

Anyway, here is his story as told by his great grand-daughter, Jeanie Decker:

After their father’s death in 1897, Arthur O’Leary (born 1874 in Illinois) and his younger brother Richard (born 1876) were the only remaining members of their family. While Richard was attending Knox College, Arthur headed west. In 1898, Arthur went to Alaska. According to his obituary in an Illinois paper, “With Ben. W. Alcott, lately governor of Oregon, and also a hometown boy, he went into the Klondike and with two other men built the first cabin on the Yukon, being on the inside, when the Gold rush occurred in 1898.”
Arthur returned from Alaska in Aug, 1899. Arthur returned to Illinois and then, with his fiance Frances Cornell and his brother Richard, left Illinois and moved to Denver, where Arthur and Frances were married in 1900. Arthur and Richard mined in Colorado for a several years. By 1910, Arthur and Richard had moved on to the La Cienega Mine in Mexico, while Frances and her daughter roomed in El Paso. I don’t know if Arthur got caught up in the Mexican Revolution, but he sent his daughter a postcard of the troops entering Juarez with a cryptic message: “This picture was made possible by about 50 Americans but am afraid next time they will be against rather than with them as I think some time in the near future there will be trouble from another source.” (Odd thing to write to a 6 year old!)
By 1920, Arthur, Frances, and their daughter had moved to Placerville in California, where he would mine for the rest of his life. (Richard would remain in El Paso, mining in the south, until his death in 1952.) I still have two of Arthur’s mining claims from El Dorado County. Arthur died in Placerville in 1932 of a heart attack. His obituary included: “Mr. O’Leary has been active in the mining industry, from Alaska to New Mexico. At the time of his death interested in a number of mining properties including the one he was working on at the time of his death. During his long residence in El Dorado county he had attained a position of unique province among members of his chosen profession and in other lines of endeavor by his cheerful dispositon and stong character.”
The “Ben W. Alcott” mentioned is Ben W. Olcott, who was also from Keithsburg IL and became governor of Oregon in 1911. “

Frank Laroche photo of canoe at Dyea

Canoe at DyeaThe interesting thing about this photo of 2 native  women and child packing stuff in 1897 at Dyea is the shape of the canoe which is very traditional, yet this one is not that decorative.  It one of the few photos of Tlingit children and women at work.


Goldrushers in 1897

Hikers on Chilkot

During the winter of 1897 these goldrushers were using sleds to transport their stuff up the Chilkoot Trail. The photo is dated December 10, 1897.

Trail dog on Chilkoot 1897

dog at Chilkoot TrailThis picture taken in the winter of 1897 and processed on December 10, 1897 shows some goldrushers with their dog on the Chilkoot Trail. It looks like a rather large dog, perhaps a lab or cross. I wonder if he made it to Dawson!


James Lemuel Wortham



Wortham was born on August 12, 1873 in Paris, Texas and was the manager of the Clifford Sifton steamer boat on Lake Bennett in 1900. He was a latecomer to the Yukon, arriving in 1900 but was still able to run a business on Lake Bennett then.  The Clifford Sifton was built on Lake Bennett during the Gold Rush. Somehow it was later run on the Yukon River, how it got there must have been quite a feat!

Major James Matthew took the above photo of the Clifford Sifton running the Miles Canyon rapids around 1900. This was an extremely dangerous thing to do and only a daredevil would attempt it.  The photo below shows it in 1902 on the Yukon River. That photo was taken by M.W. Goetzman.

Wortham died on this day, May 21, 1941 and is buried in Juneau at the Evergreen Cemetery.


Digby Courier June 1900 online; ancestry message board