Gold was discovered in the Klondike in August of 1896. By the following summer Dawson had sprung into existence and was a full-fledged city at the confluence of the Klondike and Yukon. At least it claimed there was some resemblance to a city.
Dawson at the height of the stampede in 1898 was a sea of mud. The streets were so soggy that devotees preferred sleeping on the saloon floor to returning through the quagmire to their shacks. Horses sank belly deep in the sticky stuff while their owners took to spirits for relief. Heavy team traffic and persistent spring rains obliterated all resemblance of a roadbed.
Despite the muck, Dawson continued to expand as the sternwheelers, lumber scows and rafts kept coming down the river from Lake Bennett. Log cabins mushroomed and tents were boarded over to last the winter. Each steamer that arrived meant more hotel outfits, more staples, and more dance hall girls.
Most of the glamour was contributed by the queens of the dance dormitories. They quickly learned the art of sidling up to a grimy mucker hanging over the saloon bar, to ask him for a dance. As soon as the music stopped (sometimes in a minute and a half) the danseuse led her partner back to the bar so he could buy another drink or two. The girls split 50-50 with the management on their customers’ drinks and dances.
If one of the young ladies found a rich prospect and wished to make a cleanup, she danced with him one or twice and then reported a weakness in her left ankle that could only be healed by sitting down in one of the upstairs booths. Then after they had watched the dancers for a few minutes, she would gently close the curtains, push the buzzer connecting with the bar, and raise a thirst for champagne at $15 a pint. If, an hour later there was any gold dust remaining in his poke, it was not the fault of the management.
Of course some of the fair denizens of the dance halls were nice girls who would never dream of progressing past the champagne stage in separating a man from his loot. Among them was reputed to be one Mary C., a mysterious belle who was one of the outstanding beauties of Dawson. According to local gossip she left Seattle with a string of debts and adopted her lively occupation as a means to pay them off. She never allowed her gum-booted barroom friends to escort her home. When she finally hopped a steamer south she was a very rich little gal.
Largest of the dance halls was the notorious Palace Grand Opera House, where Cecile Marion Crooned in dulcet soprano and Cad Wilson swung her beautiful hips. Originally designed for a theater, the Palace was transformed soon after it was built to meet the popular demand, and its two rows of tiered boxes became drinking closets for the Klondike Kings. Among them Cad Wilson was a favorite, and she pulled out for Seattle in the spring of 1899 with $50,000 to show for a winter’s work.
One of the most famous yarns of the Klondike concerns the Raymond sisters, Maud and Violet, who were appearing on the stage of the Palace in a specialty singing number and had won favor among the boys out in the creeks. Among those hearing reports was a black-haired young Austrian named Antone Stander who had come north before Carmack’s discovery and had later cleaned up spectacularly on Eldorado Creek. With his continental appreciation of beauty aroused, Stander went to investigate the reports, and soon became a nightly attendant at each performance of the sisters.
Violet became the focus of his affections and Stander tried persistently to interest her in an offer of marriage, but she had another daddy on the Salt Lake Line and refused to listen to him. One evening Antone moved in on his beloved as she sat at a booth after her appearance on the stage, and after swallowing several beakers of sherry he offered her weight in gold to her if she would marry him.
The proposal overwhelmed Violet. After excusing herself she hurried backstage where her lover was waiting and told him the news. He wholeheartedly approved — provided it did not interfere with their personal relations. That settled, he took Violet into an upstairs room and lined her corset with 20 pounds of buckshot!
The bride-to-be waddled back to Stander’s table a bit heavy on her feet, and sweetly told him that she had decided she really loved him after all, and would consent to become his wife. He blinked dazedly, unable to believe his good luck. When she suggested an immediate ceremony he was a little reluctant, but she called to the orchestra leader and asked him to make the announcement. Everyone immediately rushed to the bar for a round of drinks on the fortunate Antone, while Violet daintily perched on the scales and allowed herself to be weighed. A hundred and forty pounds! Who would have believed it? The miners swore into their beards and cheered Antone Stander, whose bride was costing him $33,600.
To her lover, Violet gave $5,000 in dust as a wedding present. She then graciously moved out to her new husband’s Eldorado Creek cabin and stayed with him a whole winter. By spring the $33,600 marriage was on the rocks; Violet returned to her Dawson lover and Antone went back to the creeks to refill his empty gold sacks.
Twenty-four years later the Seattle Post-Intelligencer published an interview with the graying Mr. Stander. He had just returned from Siberia. After discovering gold on Big River, 150 miles from Anadir, he ran into trouble, for the Russians refused to allow him to take it out of the country. His Klondike fortune had left him soon after his wife did. Finally in 1935 he entered the Pioneers’ Home for pinched-out sourdoughs at Sitka, Alaska, stayed there a year or two and collected a grubstake to go back to mining.
As for Violet — there are no reports. The prospecting season for her species is usually short. Violets wither fast. Perhaps if one is carrying one’s weight in gold, it doesn’t matter. If ham and eggs were worth $35, hearts and flowers were priceless in the land of gold.
Dawson at the height of the stampede in 1898 was a sea of mud. The streets were so soggy that devotees preferred sleeping on the saloon floor to returning through the quagmire to their shacks. Horses sank belly deep in the sticky stuff while their owners tookto spirits for relief. Heavy team traffic and persistent spring rains obliterated all resemblance of a roadbed.