FORLORN -- Ramon Gandia 1/19/2013

A gold rush story

.....

NOME CEMETERY, Nome, Alaska
September, 2009

I make it a habit, at least once a year, of going to the local cemetery and speak to some of my friends that are resting there. After finishing a visit with Jim Winterberg, I walked around and came upon an old grave.

Nothing much remained ... a lumber plank protruding out of the ground. It was thin, dry rotted and dilapidated. There was no name plate, or engraved name on it. If ever it had a name written on it, many decades of freezing and thawing had removed all traces.

"Who is buried here?" I asked myself. "I wonder who you are, and how come you are forgotten and forlorn?"

SAN FRANCISCO, California
December, 1899

Sam Heinrich had a modest dental practice in San Francisco. Daily he saw as many as five or six customers. And even though he had the most ultramodern belt driven drills and implements, the competition was keen and he was not going to get rich doing this. He wanted more.

"Look here," his dental assistant told him, "they are having a gold rush up there in Alaska."

"Another one? In the Klondike country?."

"No, that was an older one. This one is in a place called Anvil City, near Cape Nome. Some people call it Nome. Its in that part of western Alaska that sticks out towards Russia."

"Yeah, well, its a lot of work digging for gold," replied the dentist.

"Here in the paper," replied the woman, "it says that as many as 20,000 people are living in tents strung out over 20 miles of coastline. I bet that a dentist there can do a lot better than the miners fighting over every last inch of claims."

Sam's eyes opened wide. "By golly," he told himself, "I could charge whatever I want and become a rich man!" That night he told of his plans to his wife and daughter. "Just think: we could pack up and go up there and open a dental clinic. I bet there are few if any dentists up there."

There was some argument and discussion, but his mind was made up. The daughter in particular looked distressed. Lucy was a 16 year old girl, quite pretty, and already two years out of school.

The girl was thinking of her secret boyfriend. Michael was 20, and worked as a clerk for Bay Hardware & Feed. If they went to Alaska, she would be heartbroken.

Next day the man booked passage for his family and belongings, along with ample supplies, on the Steamship Victoria, bound for Nome, Alaska. In the spring of 1900, the family was off.

Meantime, young Michael was distraught. He wanted to book passage on the same ship as Lucy, but he just simply did not have the money. And in any case, Lucy's father disaproved of the relationship. He would have to get up there some other way.

One of the advantages of working for a waterfront hardware company was that he daily saw many owners and crewmembers from ships in the harbor. He started to ask pointed questions. Success soon crowned his efforts. The schooner Dobson was short one crewmember and he could work his way.

Michael was not a seaman, but he had several valuable skills, carpentry among others. And he could surely cook. He came aboard the stout, wooden sailing vessel and within a week he was best of friends with the entire crew. The little schooner left San Francisco loaded with supplies and paying passengers and made the passage to a point 400 miles north of the Kingdom of Hawaii. Then the boat turned north to Umnak Pass, where it made a landing for resupply and rest.

In a few days, the Dobson left Umnak and within two weeks was anchored in the Nome roastead. The captain and crew were saddened by Michael getting off the boat, as they knew he would. They knew his attraction to Lucy was too strong to keep him as a regular crew. On September 10, 1900 Michael packed his seabag, and stepped off the boat into the beach at Nome. The Dobson left Nome shortly after, racing south to stay out of the grip of the coming winter. It was one of the last boats to leave Nome that season.

NOME WATERFRONT, Nome, Alaska
September, 1900

From now until spring, Nome would be cut off from the rest of the world. Winter was coming; the ocean would freeze solid for hundreds of miles south. Michael started walking around the city ... if you could call it a city!

What a place! It was mostly tents. By 1900 the tents mostly had wooden frames, and here and there a solid wood building stood. It was incredibly noisy. Horses plied the streets pulling wagons full of supplies. Groups of men came to the beach, while others went inland. Stores sold items of every description, from Apple Sauce to Sauerkraut, from Linen to Hammers. There were an incredible number of establishments selling liquor and tobacco. Gambling was continous. There were swindlers, businessmen, pimps, burglars, prostitutes, gamblers, clerks, ministers, teachers, dogs, laborers, carpenters, masons, miners, politicians, soldiers, cooks. People shouted to each other. Every now and then a man would fly headlong out of a tent. Perhaps it was a bar. Michael just looked with his jaw hanging in amazement. This place put San Francisco to shame!

Anything and everything was for sale in Nome. You could have brought a complete outfit from San Francisco, but you could also find it here. Sometimes for more, and sometimes for a lesser price. People would pay tremendous money to get to Nome, and even more money to leave. Some left rich, some left poor and some left feet first, as testified by the caskets being loaded on southbound ships.

But, one thing Michael found out was that a person that could do good, honest work was in high demand and by the end of the day he had several job offers. Before he signed on as a carpenter, he located the Heinrich Dental Parlor. He also caught a glimpse of Lucy, and her mother, Sally. He did not approach them, and went to take up work.

....

Tony Parisi was a saloon owner. He was a rich man, and getting richer. His "boys" were his bodyguards, for 1900 Nome did not have any law whatsoever. Every man had to defend himself, lest someone steal it. Tony not only jealously guarded his troves, he also swindled, cheated and stole all he could.

His saloons - for he had two such establishment - were gaudy, noisy and full of working girls. These were experienced girls from San Francisco and even Seattle. The difference being that Seattle girls were livelier and more spontaneous, while the Frisco girls were more experienced. It was not uncommon for a dancing customer to spend a night upstairs with a Frisco girl and wake up a lot poorer than he started out! The stolen money, of course, would end up in Tony's hoard. If the Customer complained too much, he would get beaten up or even disposed of.

On the spring arrival of the SS Victoria, there was a family ... a man - a Dentist it turned out to be -- his wife, and - wonder of wonders - the prettiest girl Tony had ever seen. This was an exquisite creature, delicate, educated, civilized. In contrast, his bar girls looked dirty with black pores, sagging skin, dried hair, and in some cases the Pox. Tony felt a longing in his groin, and he coveted the girl. He would not only make her his toy, but also sell her to select customers for many times what one of his Seattle or Frisco rags would fetch. The best of both worlds!

But the Dentist immediately made friends with some locals. His practice was an instant success, and he could charge whatever price he wanted for dental work. His wife did his bookwork and office chores, the girl helped along the dental chair, and the family quickly became prosperous. But the main problem was that Sam had friends. Friends that would likely come to the aid of the Dentist if trouble arose.

As the summer wore on, and dentist Sam got wealthier, Tony brooded and plotted. In the end though, it was Sam's own doing ...

.....

Sam had come to Nome with some money, an outfit, and was comfortable from day one. But money is hungry, and makes people hungry for more money. He watched his hoard of gold coins, bullion and gold dust grow by the day. His clients would tell incredible tales of simply walking down some creek and picking up gold nuggets as easily as picking berries. Yes, mining was hard work, but the land was incredibly rich. All his customers noticed that Sam had gotten the gold fever.

So, it was not unexpected that three young fellows, honest by all accounts, approached Sam for a grubstake. Or perhaps, even Sam initiated the contact. Regardless, the three lads were soon laden with their outfit and exploring the hills and creeks, and indeed they made a good discovery and soon were producing gold. Sam's share was getting him even richer, and all he had to do was stay in the office and work on teeth, while the three lads produced more and more gold.

This was the Nome, Alaska gold rush, and it was a beaut!

.....

So it came to pass that Tony the saloon owner noticed how Sam was getting rich. He had the dental practice, the wife, the gold mines. Success was assuredly his ... but most of all he had Lucy, and Tony simply had to have Lucy. And Sam had created the perfect situation.

Tony knew the best way to get rid of the dentist with no repercussions was to involve him in a claim jumping dispute.

Tony sat in his office. In front of him were his three unsavory ruffians.

"Allright," said Tony, "What I want you to do is to file a claim over Sam's. Best bet is to pay off Judge Noyes ahead of time, and state that Sam's claims are invalid because he is a foreigner."

"But boss, I think he is an American."

"Maybe so, in a real court, but with a German name and no documents to back it up, we can present a case to have his claims thrown out. We can then grab whatever gold he has. Even his dental gold ... we can claim that its all from the mines!"

The matter was discussed at some length, and the details worked out.

....

Meantime, as the 1900 season ended, freezing weather settled in. Gold is mined in two stages: The first stage involves digging up the gold-rich ground by tunneling underground. This material is sluiced to separate the dirt and stones from the gold. In the second stage, the material -called concentrate- is panned or chemically processed.

The first stage involves digging for gold, and the gold fields are unworkable in the winter, thus all digging is done during the summer, and the concentrate in turn is worked indoors during the winter months.

Thus, Tony and his thugs allowed Sam to do all the work, and in February 1901 they filed their papers. One night when Sam and his partners were at a local eatery, the three thugs came in and started arguing and shouting. The arguments got heated, and a fight broke out. The thugs, armed, promptly dispatched Sam and his partners. Of course, all those present at the restaurant swore that the fight was started by the dentist and not the other way around.

Soon the marshals came to the Heinrich residence and confiscated all of the gold for "safekeeping." The woman and girl were powerless to do anything about it, and were left effectively penniless in Nome, Alaska in the middle of winter.

.....

Michael, in the meantime, had gotten a job locally when he got off the boat. He did not want to be out of sight of Lucy by working out on gold fields, so he spoke with the owner of the local smithy, and partnered there doing carpentry, wainwright and other work. While the pay was good, he was not in Nome to get rich, only to be near Lucy.

Because of her overprotective father, Michael was careful to stay out of sight and on the sidelines.

.....

MARBLEHEAD, MASSACHUSSETS
July, 1900

"Pa, Pa! Guess what?!"

"What is it?," Saul answered.

"Look at this newspaper. It has this story about the gold strikes at Nome, Alaska! We ought to go there!"

"Nah, I don't want to work digging dirt. I like being here on my schooner."

"But look, Pa," countered the other boy, "we don't need to dig and mine. What we do is go to the west coast and buy a boat and do what we know what to do: Sail a boat from the States to Alaska hauling people and cargo."

Thus, the idea was born, and Saul put up his schooner for sale in Massachussets, and within a few weeks was on the Northern Pacific Railroad to Seattle, Washington.

Arriving there, Saul and the two boys went to the waterfront looking for a suitable boat. Alas, all the good boats were already spoken for, but an older fishing schooner was on the selling block: the Mary V. Huntington, strictly sail. A price was agreed on, and the boat changed hands too late to go to Alaska that season. The captain and his two boys worked the winter getting the boat in shape.

In the spring of 1901, the three men and a hired hand sailed for Nome, Alaska, and thanks to moderate weather arrived at the Nome roastead in September. Its cargo of hardware, building supplies and mining tools was quickly unloaded. But the lure of the gold fields was too much for the hired hand and one of the boys. Saul was left on the schooner, alone save for Tim, his youngest boy.

.....

NOME, ALASKA
September, 1901

The summer had been a desperate time for Lucy and her mother. She really did not know enough about dentistry to make a go of the business, and she had no money to leave town.

The attentions Parisi lavished on the girl continued unabated, but she was a decent girl and no promises of money, liquor or good times would persuade her to go to Parisi's.

One evening, as the winds of fall were beginning to blow, Parisi had enough. He called his three ruffians into his back office and told them to fetch the girl, no matter what.

Shortly, the trio returned with the woman and the girl, but unbeknownst to all, Michael watched from across the street.

The girl was ushered into Parisi's office, and he closed the door so the two were alone.

"Miss Lucy," Parisi said, "I tire of offering my services to you. You have nowhere to go, and I have decided to bring you here. Forthwith you will be my mistress and your mother will tend to laundry and other things."

"Never!", exclaimed the girl.

Meanwhile, Michael listened outside through a crack in the window. The argument inside grew heated, and a scuffle developed. Parisi struck the girl, and as she fell upon his desk, her hand touched the letter opener. Grasping this, she brandished it and struck at the man, slicing his arm.

"Bitch! You whore!," exclaimed Parisi. And reaching inside pulled out his derringer one-shot pistol.

Michael, upon hearing the scuffle, plunged through the window. A shot rang out, and the girl fell. Michael in the meantime struggled with Parisi, who having fired his one Derringer shot, now fought hand to hand with Michael. But, the soft living bar owner and pimp could not match Michael's strength, and swiftly his life was choked out by Michaels strong hands. When Parisi expired his last, Michael went to the girl's side.

The girl was gasping for air, the .44 bullet having caught her square in the middle of the chest; blood bubbled between her lips. She saw Michael and called his name. "Oh, Michael, you are here! Don't leave me."

"I won't, I will never leave you," said Michael, while taking her hand in his. And as dusk fell upon the town, the girl breathed her last and was still. Michael looked around and took stock of the situation. He picked up the letter opener and plunged it into Parisi's corpse, right at the neck, to confuse any investigation. He then went out the broken window, and to his tent, where he changed his bloody clothing for clean ones.

Next, Michael went to the Saloon and sought out Lucy's mother. There was a commotion on the premises and he knew the scene had been discovered. Finding the distraught woman, he pulled her aside and told her what had happened and what he had done.

The woman asked, "What are we to do?"

"I have some money, let me see if that schooner out there needs a hand, perhaps we can get out of town before you or I are suspected of something and hung by Judge Noyes."

While Michael went to see about the boat, the woman went back to the Saloon and saw the two bodies being carried away. The girl's was dumped into a cart, and taken to the mortician. Parisi's, instead, went to the local Minister's.

The woman awaited the return of Michael.

"Michael," she said as he came into the room, "I knew you back in San Francisco. I wish Sam had been more reasonable, you were such a nice boy. But he just had to come up this way and try and make more money. With him all was about money."

"We can't help what has happened," cried the young man. Let me go to the mortician and have him prepare a casket for Lucy. I have obtained passage on the Mary V. Hungtington, which leaves for Seattle at first light. I have some money, and I will also work as a seaman for the boat as it is short handed."

And so it happened, that on Sunday morning, September 22, 1901, the schooner laid all plain sail and scudded south to Umnak Pass and Seattle. The girl was interred in the Nome cemetery, just north of Belmont Point, on a grassy field, with a resplendent white wood marker, and painted on it the inscription: "Lucy Marie Heinrich, b.1884 d.1901." No one save the mortician and the grave diggers were present, surprised no mourners showed up.

.....

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Thursday, December 5, 1901

The following notice appeared in page 17:

"The sailing schooner Mary V. Huntington, feared lost at sea in fierce Gulf of Alaska storm.

On October 14, 1901, the steamer SS Wenatchee spoke the schooner two days out of Umnak Pass bound for Seattle. It reported all was well, with captain, but only three seamen, and several passengers including a woman.

A terrible storm ensued later that week, and an inquiry was made by telegraph of all ports, but no word of the Mary V. Hungtington was received.

The Maritime Board has posted the vessel as 'missing at sea; presumed lost with all hands.'

The Seattle Post Intelligencer joins all men of the sea in praying for a miracle and the safe return of all by the mercy of our lord, Jesus Christ."


Copyright © 2009, Ramon Gandia
All black and white pictures are in the Public Domain;
the color grave picture Copyright © 2009, Ramon Gandia