With all the media attention Alaska has been getting lately, I’m reminded how young the state is. The population growth never really got started until the late 1890s, during the Klondike gold rush. Little more than a hundred years ago.
Alaska has an exciting and colorful history. Around 1897, when the rest of America first heard that gold had been discovered in the Klondike, in nuggets as big as a man’s fist, everyone from schoolteachers to mayors to the worst criminals in history headed north for a piece of the action.
The most direct route to get to the rich Klondike River was by ship to the port of Skagway, Alaska. From there, people crossed the mountains by foot, then built rafts to take the rivers to the Klondike.
I took these photos on my research trip to Skagway. What a fascinating place! They’ve restored the buildings as they were during the gold rush, so I felt like I’d stepped through a time machine.
With roughly a hundred thousand people arriving in Alaska within the first two years of the gold rush, it took a while for the law to catch up.
Skagway was run by an organized crime leader who made life hell for folks on the trail. His name was Jefferson Randolph Smith, with a nickname of ‘Soapy.’
Soapy was a con artist from the lower States who fled to Alaska to make a fortune. He had his fingers in everything—his gangs targeted gold miners on the trails who’d struck it rich, stole precious supplies of food and clothing headed into the area, and he conned people right off the boats by declaring he’d set up a telegraph office in Skagway so they could wire their families at home to say they’d arrived safely. Well, in order for telegrams to be sent, there had to be wires strung between the two places, usually on posts that followed the railroads. Although several honest people tried to convince the others that the telegraph office was a hoax, many believed Soapy, and wired home. Can you imagine? They had a real building, using fake instruments where they tapped the fake messages and just pocketed the money. Playing devil’s advocate here, what a great con!
Soapy even had the local law enforcement, what little there was, on his payroll. He bribed them and they did as he asked. This is the spark of history that ignited my novel, WANTED IN ALASKA.
It’s the fictional story of an honest man who’s fighting to get the truth out, but he’s been set up by these organized criminals to take the blame for the violence and robbery on the trails. Quinn Rowlan’s face is plastered on every Wanted Poster from Skagway to the Klondike for stuff he didn’t do. In truth, he and his band of men have been saving lives.
When Quinn’s brother is wounded in one of their heroic fights, Quinn is desperate for medical help. There are no doctors around, so he recklessly kidnaps a nurse. First big mistake.
This would be the heroine, Autumn MacNeil. The book opens with Autumn and her friend at a masquerade ball in Skagway. They’ve come dressed up as each other. Autumn is a singer and her friend is the nurse. Quinn asks for a dance with Autumn, leads her to the balcony, then with the help of his men, snatches her from the party. He doesn’t realize until it’s too late that she’s not a nurse at all.
Besides being an outlaw, Quinn has an interesting profession, but I won’t spoil it by saying what he does. It’s another reason why he has to clear his name.
Of course, Autumn is outraged at what this madman has done, and has a few tricks of her own for survival. What neither of them counts on is how intense and meaningful every moment they spend together becomes.
Slowly, they lower their guard, and set off on a dangerous and exciting plan to set the world right. And their love story unfolds….
An excerpt just went up on my website, if you’d like to read it. www.katebridges.com
Have you ever visited Alaska? Have any of your ancestors been involved in gold mining, or silver or copper, in other parts of the country? So much of our history and our population growth was influenced by the location of precious metals.
Just like Soapy, don’t a lot of con artists still hang out at railroad stations and airport lobbies to lure unsuspecting tourists? I’ve encountered a couple in European railroad stations, and in New York City airports—men who claimed to be legitimate taxi drivers but weren’t. Have you ever come across any con artists in your travels?
Click on the cover to link to Amazon.