FORLORN -- Ramon Gandia 1/19/2013
A gold rush story
NOME CEMETERY, Nome, Alaska
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
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
"Look here," his dental assistant told him, "they are having a gold rush up there in
"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
"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 the
San Francisco Day Normal School.
The girl was thinking of her secret boyfriend. Michael was 20, and worked as a clerk for
Bay Hardware & Feed. If the family moved 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 one crewmember short 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
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. 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
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 ... and what a city!
Although mostly tents, by 1900 the tents mostly had wooden frames, and here and there a solid
wooden building stood. It was incredibly noisy. Horses plied the streets pulling wagons full of
supplies. A flux of men came to the beach, as others plied 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. The outfit you brought here from San Francisco,
could have been bought here. Sometimes for a steeper price, and sometimes for a less. People
would pay tremendous money to get to Nome... and even more to leave. Some left rich, some
left poor and some left feet first, 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, but took up work.
Tony Parisi was a saloon owner. He was rich, 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, 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 even 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 had made friends with some of the 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 those 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 wants 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, not unexpectedly, three young fellows, honest by all accounts, approached Sam for a
grubstake. 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 bringing in the 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
"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
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
"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 lad.
The summer had been a desperate time for Lucy and her mother. She really did not know
enough about dentistry to go into 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
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
"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 was no match Michael's strength. 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, confusing 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
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
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 a
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
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, 2018, Ramon Gandia