Fancy Ladies,Soiled Doves,Cortesans,Fallen Women,Entertainers,Floozies,Hookers,Hurdy-Gurdy’s, Women of Questionable Repute. Many labels were given to the woman who came to a mining town and they came for much the same reasons as the men. Many were emigrants driven by desperation, both men and women were lured by the tales of fast fortune and droves followed the gold,despite harsh and dangerous working conditions and low prestige.
Lottie’s story is a common tale, not of an extraordinary individual but of the extraordinary role her and others like her, played in the development of mining towns. Women were scarce in California in 1849; 50 to 1. As travel improved and word of the rich gold strikes spread, ‘The First Women’, which is OUR preferred label, began to come to California.
The roles they played were so much more than their profession suggests. They mended socks and sewed on buttons, they were the first to offer aid to injured miners and organize gatherings and funerals. But the real story we have found over and over is of the companionship they provided for a camp of male miners who had very little contact with woman, some for years. “Many’s the miner who’d never wash his face or comb his hair, if it wasn’t for thinkin’ of the sportin’ girls he might meet in the saloons” From The Diary of a Forty-Niner edited by Chauncy L. Canfield.
Born on a farm in Iowa in 1855, little is known of Lottie Johl’s early years or how she came to the rough gold mining town of Bodie, California in 1882 at the age of 27.
“Bodie is second to none for wickedness, bad men and the worst climate out of doors’, It is a sea of sin, lashed by the tempests of lust and passion.” Says Reverend. F.M. Warrington. The True Fissure, Candalaria, Nevada May 1881.
German immigrant, Eli Johl, was a butcher and a gold prospector and known to be a kind man. He became infatuated with a new dance hall girl named Lottie and they fell in love. Although she was a prostitute and he knew it would be disapproved of by townsfolk, they married.
Eli had a successful business and was able to buy them a cottage near his butcher shop, and fill it with the fine furnishings. To celebrate their new home, the couple threw a party but some of the townsfolk convinced the others that to attend a party at the home of a former prostitute was not proper and if they didn’t want to be written about in the paper, they’d best not attend. No one came and Lottie was heartbroken.
Eli gave Lottie a gift of paints and canvases to fill her time and she filled their home with her art. Several still exist and are hanging in the museum in Bodie today. Loneliness was a common malady for all women in gold rush towns but for Lottie,it was more than that, it was a life of exclusion and seclusion. As the populations increased, the proper Victorian-era woman moved into town as well. Lottie did not find a place with either class of women.
Mining towns often threw dances to brighten up the difficult life in a mining town. When the Bodie Miner’s Union Hall posted announcements of a masquerade ball, Eli saw this as an opportunity for Lottie to get out and have some fun and let the women of Bodie get to know her without judging her. From San Francisco, he ordered a white satin dress decorated with pink rhinestones and pearls, with a crown to match. She was delighted and went to the masquerade ball disguised by her fine costume. So no one would recognize her, Eli stayed home.
It is certain that Lottie enjoyed the early part of her evening in disguise as her costume was described by the local paper as by far the most beautiful. At the end of the evening, the appointed committee announced her as the winner of the most outstanding costume and she removed her mask as requested. Two men approached her and whispered something into Lottie’s ear and she left the ballroom visibly upset.They would not award the prize to her.
Eli was furious but little was written about the event. Lottie already knew the townsfolk would never accept a woman who had been a prostitute. They lived a quiet life together,sharing their deep love for each other in the solitude of each other’s company, until Lottie became ill in 1899. A doctor was called in to examine her, and a prescription was given. Eli gave Lottie the medication but her condition became much worse and within 24 hours, Lottie Johl had passed away.
Even in her death,Lottie could not escape the town’s gossip.There was talk that she had committed suicide. Determined his beloved wife would never have killed herself, in spite of her unhappiness, Eli demanded an autopsy on her body. The results of the autopsy proved that she had been poisoned, but officials decided that it could not have been intentional and never pursued her killer.
“Sudden Death. A great gloom was cast over Bodie on Tuesday by the death of Mrs. Eli Johl. A mistake having been made, it is said, in taking a dose of poison instead of salts. Doctors Cox and Robinson did all in their power to save her but without avail.” Bridgeport Chronicle-Union November 7, 1899
Eli’s challenge turned to where he would be allowed to bury Lottie. Although she had been a changed woman and married to Eli for many years, town laws still forbid her from being buried on the consecrated ground of the local cemetery. After much debate, it was decided that Lottie Johl could be buried just within the fence of the cemetery. Eli built a memorial for his wife with a tall wrought iron fence around her grave, decorated with a canopy, her photo and every Memorial Day he would drape it with flowers and red,white and blue bunting. It was the most elaborate memorial in the entire cemetery.
Bodie’s days of sin, and wealth, were brief as in many mining towns. As the California gold declined, so did the population, falling from 10,000 in 1879 to nearly zero in 1942. The people who abandoned Bodie left with whatever possessions could be carried in a wagon and great deal got left behind — clothes hanging on bedroom walls, dishes on kitchen tables, boxes of gunpowder on store shelves — and a little cottage where a butcher and a ‘First Woman’ made a life together. Much still remains mostly undisturbed today.
In 1962, it became Bodie State Historic Park and has been protected ever since.
T Lee’s thoughts on designing a collection for Lottie Johl:
‘Designing a collection for Lottie was difficult because very little was printed about who she was. We know little of her past before whatever happened in her life that brought her to the mining town of Bodie. In a small mining town there was often multiple newspapers that printed mostly town gossip and these were the resources I had available to use for inspiration for her collection. Three different publications described her masquerade ball costume. My translation of the lovely pink hue of the pearls sewn on the gown is represented through the gemstones in peice. Pink sapphire, morganite and a huge custom cut rose quartz were the three I worked with. The bodice of the gown was lace and with Victorian style tradition, much of the line detail is organic and layered. I enjoyed designing for Lottie and Ely because his love for her was so clear and there was no precious jewel that meant more to him than she did….reminds me of many of the custom clients that I am honored to have designed for in my career.’ T Lee, December 2016
Clara Brown was a kind-hearted, generous woman whose determination led her on a life-long quest to be reunited with her daughter. Born in Virginia in 1803, Clara grew up as a young slave in Kentucky. She married at age 18, and had four children. At age 36 her owner died and her entire family was sold and separated to settle his estate. Her oldest child,Robert was sold so many times that Clara lost track of him. Her eldest daughter Margaret was sold to another Kentuckian but died several years after. The last two children were the twin girls were named Eliza Jane and Paulina. Paulina died at age 8, just two years before the family was split up. Eliza Jane was sold to another family nearby. In 1852 when she was 23, Eliza Jane was sold again and Clara lost track of her last surviving child. Despite her continued enslavement, Clara vowed to never give up searching for her lost daughter.
Clara had been sold to George Brown-a hatter and worked for him for 20 years raising his children. In 1856, her owner died and according to his wishes and the efforts of his three daughters, Clara’s freedom was bought at age 53 and set out to find her daughter. After searching Kentucky, Missouri, and Kansas with no leads,Clara thought Eliza Jane had joined the thousands that were rushing to Colorado where just over Pike’s Peak from Colorado Springs the biggest good strike in US history had been made in 1859.
She had secured a job as a cook on a wagon train in exchange for the free transportation of her laundry tubs and followed the wagon train on foot for 680 miles to Cherry Creek, Colorado where she set up a laundry business to serve the miners. She left shortly after since Eliza Jane was not there. She went further west to the mountain community of Central City where she set up another laundry business and invested her earnings in multiple pieces of real estate. All totaled, she owned 7 houses in Central City, 16 lots in Denver, Georgetown,Boulder and Idaho Springs and a few mines. She acquired a small fortune. Although she could not write, with the help of influential white friends, she set up a letter writing campaign to send lookout to any states she thought her ‘Liza Jane could be.
She became known in Central City as “Aunt Clara” as she provided food, shelter, philanthropy and nursing care to the townspeople.
When the Civil War ended in 1865 Clara Brown returned east to Kentucky and then to Tennessee in search of Eliza Jane. Brown offered her $10,000 in savings and earnings as a reward for news of her daughter. Her search was unsuccessful but Brown returned to Central City, Colorado, bringing with her a dozen impoverished freed people she had befriended while in the south. In 1879 at age 76,She repeated this rescue mission,spending large sums of her own money helping other blacks emigrate to Colorado. Far and wide, she was known as the “Angel of the Rockies.”
Clara Brown’s continual search for her daughter, her support for local churches and charities and her financial assistance to college bound young women of color, eliminated most of her wealth but at nearly 80 years old, she received the news she had waited her life for.
On Tuesday last, Aunt Clara was almost overwhelmed with joy upon the receipt of a letter from Council Bluffs, Iowa, giving tidings of her long lost daughter. A telegram was sent to Mrs. Eliza Jane Brewer last night, assuring her that there was no mistake and that Aunt Clara would come to Council Bluffs as soon as she could perfect the necessary arrangements. The Denver Republican Feb 18, 1882
The story of this heartwarming reunion was published by newspapers throughout the west.The two women, possibly with one of Clara’s grandchildren, returned to Denver and lived there together until Clara’s death on October 26,1885. Clara’s life and achievements are commemorated with a stained glass portrait of her in the Old Supreme Court Chambers of the state capitol in 1977. She was inducted into the Colorado Woman’s Hall of Fame in 1989.
T Lee’s thoughts on designing a collection for Clara Brown:
‘Clara was an exceptional woman of substance but her greatest success was finding her daughter after 47 years of searching. She would not have been a woman to spend money on convincing anyone of her status through decorative jewelry but if it helped her further her sole purpose of finding Eliza Jane, she would wear it. Like a proud hockey mom wears an over sized picture pin of their kid with a hockey stick so they can talk about them, Clara would wear the Spotlight Pin and Searchlight Earrings as she asked everyone she met “Have you seen my daughter Eliza Jane?” Although she settled her business in the gold rush town of Central City, it was easily apparent that her treasures were her 4 children, represented by the 24k beads. A woman who could not sign her own name with anything other than an X, she never let her shortcomings stop her life long campaign of being reunited with her child. She was the living example of the message of never losing faith in what we search for.’ T Lee, December 2016
Susan Anderson was born in Illinois in 1870 and graduated from high school in Wichita, Kansas in 1891. One year later, her father moved the family 400 miles west, to Cripple Creek, Colorado a rugged town that had grown out of the 1859 gold strike rush.
In 1893 it was decided by her father, that Susan would be sent off to medical school in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Cripple Creek and most all mining boom/bust towns, was not a place for a young Victorian era woman. Lawlessness ran wild and many of the other women were either worn-out wives of miners or “fancy ladies”. There was an even better reason to send her away. In 1873,US Congress voted to abandon the “bi-metallic” standard which backed paper money with silver as well as gold. Silver mining towns in Colorado like Leadville, Georgetown and Aspen were boarded up as miners packed up their gear and fled to where the gold mining still was: Cripple Creek. In the face of unlimited labor supply, mine owners tried to cut the men’s wages; miners stood up to them and violent conflict seemed inevitable.
Susan Anderson graduated from medical school in 1897 and returned to Cripple Creek to set up practice in the town that had grown to 30 thousand people but after only 3 years of her practice,she suffered a series life changing events. In 1900,She contracted tuberculosis as did many others.Then her beloved,known only in her letters as W.R,left her at the alter heartbroken. She suspected her father had shared the news of her diagnosis with him. And last but most devastating, her brother John dies. Without being notified by her father of his illness, John passes away from pneumonia that she felt she could have cured. Not one to keep detailed notes, in her journal she tersely records her despair.
“Monday,March 12.1900:Pictures returned by WR. The end of a vain hope. No use to cast pearls before swine… Friday March 16 1900: John died at 6:15pm…he is gone from sight but is not far away, I seem to feel he knows of all my troubles and how I feel..he was my best friend on earth…I am about done up”
She moved around looking for work as a physician but her TB was worsening and by 1907 she moved to the remote high altitude lumber town of Fraser, Colorado to either beat her illness with the cold dry climate or die there. Settling into a tiny shack by the tracks (above right), she started a regimen of snowshoeing to heal her damaged lungs and hid the fact that she was a doctor. While in town one day she heard a lumberjack urgently yelling for help, that ‘Dave’ was tangled in barbed wire and bleeding to death. She offered to help, followed him to his horse Dave and word about her medical skills was out. “In a bitty town,only thing harder to hold onto than money,is a secret”SA
Her reputation spread and she was soon treating all the injuries and illnesses of the town out of her little shack. A local rancher offered her a small sturdy barn and grateful lumberjacks disassembled and moved it into town for her to live in and practice out of. She worked in the barn that still stands in Fraser today,until 1956. She was known to snowshoe to house calls in remote areas and accompany seriously ill patients by train to Denver, often during dangerous snowstorms.“I wear boots and long handle underwear just like everybody else up here,…course, I don’t wear them when I go to Denver – they’d probably throw me in jail.”SA
In 1922 construct ration of the Moffat Tunnel began. It was actually two tunnels…one to carry much needed water from the mountains to Denver and the other to replace the treacherous 5 hour and 12 thousand vertical train ride over Rollins Pass and make it a 12 minute ride through the mountain. Doc Susie was asked to become the Coroner for Grand County. Although she would rather treat patients that were living, but she knew she could confront the Tunnel Commission about the dangerous working conditions that faced tunnel workers and help bring about changes better as the coroner. It took 6 years to build the 6 mile long tunnel and 28 miners were killed building it, most related to rock collapse or explosive accidents.
In February 1928 the Moffat Tunnel officially opened. Opening ceremonies were held by the rail officials and the Denver Post on the east side of the tunnel near Denver, not on the west side near Fraser. Workers and their families were expected to ride the deteriorating rails above the tunnel over Rollins Pass if they wanted to attend, and were told that they could not walk the 6 miles through the tunnel to witness the first train emerging. ‘Nobody, but nobody goes through the tunnel ahead of the dignitaries’The Denver Post 1928
Doc Susie, always the self appointed town spokesperson, made a large sign to greet the newspaper men riding the first train as it came out on the west side near Fraser…
“WE BUILT THIS TUNNEL…THE POST DIDN’T”.
Doc Susie was Fraser’s only physician and she continued her practice there until 1956.
T Lee’s thoughts on designing a collection for Dr. Susan Anderson:
‘I was determined to see Doc Susies house in Fraser, Colorado and knew that my inspiration for her collection lay there. Her house is not marked but I set out armed with old black and white images of its unique construction and was confident I could find it in the small town. Doc Susie never got the wedding ring she dreamed of , so I knew that I wanted to design a beautiful engagement ring for her. I designed The Sunflower Ring based on the first thing I saw in her yard, a rusty sunflower pushed into the ground by the window . It was a moving moment and the dog inside kept his eyes on me as I trespassed around all sides of the house, looking at the details of the construction. When the current owner of the home came out, he confirmed that sunflowers grow all over the yard during the brief high altitude summer. The delicate detail of the Sunflower Ring would suit her petite stature and feminine nature. The doc was known to always carefully pin up her hair before beginning any procedure so she most likely would have had a collection of tortoise hair combs. The fluid Victorian lines of this comb inspired the design of Docs Hair Pin Pendant, although being the pragmatic mountain doctor that she was, I doubt she would sport something this fancy. I admired this dedicated woman that spent her life caring for an entire town like they were her family.’ T Lee, December 2016
Caroline Nichols Churchill, the “Queen Bee,” was born on December 23, 1833, in Ontario, Canada to American born parents.
In 1857 she took a teaching job in MN and became friends with a newspaper editor who was an ardent feminist and she enlisted Caroline to travel to the western states to sell ads and subscriptions and gather news. In her memoirs she tells tales of many entangled encounters with men on those trips. She was assaulted by an inn owner, thrown from a wagon by driver who had made advances, and chased out of town by a group she had poured a bucket of ice water on to quiet their loud party below. She exposed these individuals in the paper’s next edition and often argued that women could solve many of society’s problems if only given the chance.”If women could have a hand in executing the laws for their own, these shameful performances would become of rarer occurrence”CNC
She moved to Denver in 1879 and founded Denver’s earliest women’s rights newspaper, The Colorado Antelope, which was “devoted to the interests of humanity, woman’s political equality, and individuality.” Churchill’s editorials denounced female complacency. She was not one to hold her fire with her pistol or her pen and to this end, Caroline kept up a steady beat for women’s suffrage and as many of her male targets discovered, she could never be persuaded to wear kid gloves because it took too much valuable time to put them on and off.
“…Women should remember that all the evils of society are caused by the bad management of men, and women are greatly to blame for folding their hands and permitting this state of things,” The Colorado Antelope, April, 1880.
She changed the paper’s name to the Queen Bee in 1882 and single-handedly performed the duties of editor, publisher, reporter, printer, and hawker. She began publishing on a weekly basis and her quickly circulation reached 2500. “The highest circulation for any weekly between Sand Francisco and Kansas City’ she printed in her paper. Her editorials championed vocational education for girls, pensions for mothers with dependent children and of course, a woman’s right to vote. By the early 1890s, the suffrage debate was at a fever pitch in Colorado. Churchill called for a suffrage amendment to the Colorado Constitution in every issue. In November of 1893,Colorado’s male voters passed the suffrage referendum unanimously. It would be 27 more years before the ratification of the 19th amendment federally which meant that the women in Colorado mining towns now had power to shape and control those towns with their votes. The front page of the Queen Bee heralded the event with a typically enthusiastic headline:
“Western Women Wild With Joy Over the Victory in Colorado. Come Ye Sinners Poor and Needy, Come to Colorado Now, This Shall Be the Land for Women!”CNC
It was the highlight of a writing career that spanned more than three decades in Colorado. But good times were coming to an end as a nationwide Panic began in May of 1893. Silver had been devalued in 1873 and mines had been closed. The railroads built to carry gold and silver ore from the mountains were now collapsing, taking many banks with them. Caroline was forced to quit publishing weekly but continued to put out her paper intermittently and before she died in 1926 at the age of 92, she wrote her memoirs: Active Footsteps. Churchill had lived and worked for suffrage her entire life and was immodest in printing “It is not at all likely that another woman on the continent could, under the same conditions, accomplish as much”CNC
T Lee’s thoughts on designing a collection for Caroline Nichols Churchill:
‘The Queen Bee was not a woman that would earn much popularity among men or women, those that speak the truth often suffer that fate, but she changed things for women in Colorado. Without her opinionated publication that helped to convince the men of Colorado to allow women the right to vote (27 years sooner than most of the rest of us) its my opinion that more mining towns would not have survived. When miners in Colorado left mining towns overnight to follow the ‘gold’ that had been found elsewhere, I believe that since women had the power of the vote, they could better manage the fledgling towns that were forming. Towns with school children, merchants and elderly. This is my own opinion based on stories I’ve collected of other gold rush era towns that literally disappeared overnight when mines were played out. Her collection is based on her chosen nickname that she aptly earned.’T Lee, December 2016
Belinda Mulrooney was born in 1872 in Ireland. Her family emigrated when she was very young and at 21, she set out on her own, operating a sandwich stand during the 1893 Worlds Expo in Chicago.
With her profits from that shop she traveled to San Francisco and opened an ice cream parlor. A fire ended that shop so she found work as a stewardess on a steamship working its route from California to Alaska. She earned extra money on the side by selling necessities to the passengers on board.
With the discovery of gold in Juneau, Alaska she made another move-this time to the north in 1896. But less than a year later, news of the huge Klondike gold strike to the east,in Canada broke. She wasted no time and moved again.
She had no interest in seeking her fortune in mining as 300 thousand ‘Stampeders’ did, she saw a different golden opportunity. But first she must get there….The journey to the gold fields of the Yukon was a long and treacherous one.
Although there were few, the presence of women along the trails was noted in the letters and diaries of male stampeders. In a letter to his wife, Kitty, Fred Dewey wrote:
“It is a big day’s work to haul 100 pounds a distance of four miles, and then go back for another 100. There are three women alone on the trail and they are taking their own stuff in. I would be ashamed to back down before difficulties that those women surmount.”
With her savings of $5000.00,Belinda financed the ton of supplies required and she paid to get help with the transport. What she kept to herself as she traveled was that her supplies were mostly items she intended to sell. She secretly brought what she could make a fortune on. Not the necessities this time, instead she brought the niceties. Silk underwear for the in-demand ladies of the night, bolts of fine cotton fabric and hot water bottles. All sold for 6 times what she had paid for them in a matter of weeks. This was June of 1897 and she was 25 years old.
With her profits from her first venture, she opened a restaurant, a dress shop and purchased land lots in Dawson recognizing the need for housing.
“There was nowhere then in Dawson for the newcomers to live and lumber was as scarce as hens’ teeth so I started buying up all the small boats and rafts that were arriving, hired a crew of young fellows who had nothin to do and had ’em build cabins”
Next she went southeast from Dawson,into the heart of the mining claims. She traveled down the Bonanza and Eldorado Rivers, both the richest tributaries to be found in the Klondike. She built a roadhouse for the miners;The Grand Forks Hotel, at the junction of the two gold rich rivers.
In Dawson City and the outlying mine camps in 1897, gold was used to buy what was needed much more than paper currency. Every business had a set of scales and lucky miners kept little bags of gold nugget, flake and ‘flour’ in their coats. It occurred to Belinda that some of that fine gold dust was bound to end up on the floors of her establishment. She began collecting the sweeps from her saloon, boarding rooms and dining hall and ran them through a sluice daily. This is a commonly found simple piece of equipment used to recover gold.This ingenuity alone brought her $100 a day from the gold dust dirt that fell off the miners. And they were a dirty bunch! In 2016 terms…$2690.44 a day off dirt!
Belinda was also able to profit from information gathered from miners sitting around talking about their digs as they drank in her saloon. By the end of of the year, she either owned or was a partner in five gold mining claims.
“Miss Mulrooney is a modest, refined and prepossessing young woman, a brilliant conversationalist and a bright business woman. Mulrooney, with no big brother or husband to rely upon, believed that if a women could grace almost any business or profession at home, she could be a successful trailblazer” The Klondike News April 1898.
She sold The Grand Forks Hotel in 1898 and set about building the finest hotel in Dawson. The Fairview hotel was her final dream project and she filled it with the most exquisite goods, all which had to be transported over the Chilkoot pass and up the Yukon river. Cut glass chandeliers, silver and China linens and brass bedsteads for her rooms. The three story hotel held thirty guest rooms and also had a fine restaurant.
On October 1, 1900, Mulrooney married self-styled “Count” Charles Carbonneau, who claimed to be a French aristocrat, but was actually a champagne salesman and former barber from Quebec. By 1903 the couple separated, and she had lost her fortune through embezzlement and fraud. In 1906 she obtained a divorce. Her business experience and skill did not help her see who this charlatan was but her invincible spirit was not down for long.
Starting over, she moved to Fairbanks, Alaska in 1905 and prospered once again but this time by opening a bank with her sister Margaret.
Mulrooney died in Seattle in 1967.
T Lee’s thoughts on designing a collection for Belinda Mulrooney:
‘Belinda Mulrooney was a creative, determined and ambitious entrepreneur from a very young age. She had the uncanny ability to study a community and see what their needs were….and then provide that very thing at a fine profit. She never let failure, and she had many, keep her from starting over with another new business idea. The prospector scale was most certainly an object she handled every day as she bought and sold, and this was my inspiration for the Prospector Pendant with Pick Ax Toggle. Complete with 24kt scattered on the chain links and yellow sapphire in the pan, this would be a symbol important to her. She was a woman more likely to wear a neck scarf than a necklace, so I next designed the Yukon Scarf for her. The fine silver flowers terminate each end of the scarf strands illustrating that although the mining town of Dawson was rugged, the beauty of the landscape was irrepressible.’ T Lee December 2016
Once known as the richest woman in North America, Kate Carmack, born Shaaw Tláa, played a pivotal role in the rush for Dawson Alaska and the Canadian Klondike gold. Shaaw was from a small, isolated First Nations tribe and in 1886, she was given in marriage to prospector George Carmack, who renamed her Kate. During a dozen years of wandering with her husband as he searched for gold in vain, Shaaw cooked, sewed, and did laundry to support them.George had first married Shaaw Tlaa’s older sister, but when she died not long after their marriage, Shaaw took her place. No official record was made of the marriage, an oversight Shaaw would live to regret.
In January 1893, seven years after their marriage, Shaaw gave birth to the couple’s only child, a girl named Graphie Gracie. The family continued to roam across the Yukon territory, prospecting.
Then on August 17, 1896 on an expedition up the Klondike River, her brother Skookum Jim, accompanied by her nephew and her husband, discovered the gold that set off one of the biggest stampedes in history. The sight was marked by Carmack’s hand-written sign:
“TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN: I do, this day, locate and claim, by right of discovery, five hundred feet, running upstream from this notice. Located this 17th day of August, 1896. G.W. Carmack.”
Carmack earned the nickname of ‘Lyin George’ after he convinced his brother in law that Indians could not stake claims, which was not true, so all the claims were put in his name. Although the group was digging thousands of dollars of gold out of their claims, they were far from any town, and gold could not heat a cabin or fill a stomach and the winter of 96 was harsh. Until the spring thaw (when the gold could be sluiced and separated from mud and dirt), they had no means of support. So, while her husband and brother spent that fall and winter digging out their gold, Shaaw kept food on the table by doing laundry for other miners.
When spring came, the partners were finally able to collect their washed out gold. Carmack, Skookum Jim and Shaaw had over $100,000 from their winter of mining. (Using an inflation calculator this means that today that 100k would be worth 2,690,444.58) The couple stayed in the Klondike for one more year but the start of what would be a 300 thousand person stampede to the north was beginning, they left the Yukon with their treasure. One of the very few that got their gold out of Canada.
In 1899, they left for California,stopping in Seattle where they were the center of attention wherever they went in response to the sign George insisted on putting on their carriage: “Geo. Carmack, Discoverer of Gold in the Klondike.” In early September the pair caused quite a disturbance when they tossed coins from their hotel roof to an ever-growing crowd. Life away from the rest of her family and the land she knew best was more than hard on Kate and she was increasingly unhappy in Seattle. The local newspaper was quick to print the story. “Mrs. George W. Carmack, the Indian wife of the discoverer of the Klondike, who is probably the richest Indian woman in the world, was fined $3.60 by Judge Cann this morning for drunkenness. The Seattle Times, September, 1899. It was a solitary indiscretion that would come back to haunt her.
Instead of returning to the north together, George left Shaaw and Gracie at his sisters ranch in California and returned to Dawson alone. It was clear he enjoyed his “discoverer” status and within a brief time of his return to Dawson, he stated his intentions in a letter he wrote to his sister. He instructed her to send Shaaw back to her clan in Canada and to inform her that he intended to marry another. Shaaw made a legal appeal for her share of the gold and sued for divorce on the grounds of desertion and adultery. Unfortunately for Shaaw, since no marriage papers had been filed, the court did not recognize its existence. George and Marguerite were married late in 1900.
Carmack died a rich man in Vancouver in 1922 and his new wife inherited his wealth. Shaaw, who subsequently lost her daughter, Graphie, to George as well, returned to her Tagish clan and lived off of a government pension in a cabin that Skookum Jim built for her. In 1920, Shaaw died in Carcross, Alaska during a flu epidemic. She was 63.
T Lee’s thoughts on designing a collection for Shaaw Tláa:
Shaaw’s life was one of lost opportunity, abuse, loss and injustice. She worked tirelessly for the men in her life and it has been estimated that she profited a mere $500.00 from their multi million dollar strike. The Circle of Life Ring illustrates the Tlingit crow clans community and the support that she and her people gave to miners searching for gold. The twelve holes that pierce the shank of the ring signify the years that she gave in service while George prospected in vain, and the 63 partial holes represent prospecting that never produced gold. Her Eagle Earrings were a study in courage using inspiration from other Canadian First Nations art. The Pave Boat Ring uses forms borrowed from a river boat, a pivotal tool to a gold prospector. The 18kt gold ‘boat’ is pave set with yellow sapphires and held upright by two nuggets of pure 24kt gold. Again, 12 marks around the shank indicate 12 years Shaaw spent supporting George and receiving no support in return. The PickAx and Shovel Earrings with rutilated quartz were inspired by tools she saw every day. Shaaw played a huge part in Yukon Gold Rush but like many women of her times, had little recognition for her role.’ T Lee December 2016