Column: North to Alaska, once upon a timeWORTHINGTON — The Tramp — Charlie Chaplin — was one of perhaps 100,000 Americans who headed for Alaska between 1897 and 1899. The word was, “There’s gold in them thar snowdrifts!” There was.
By: Ray Crippen, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — The Tramp — Charlie Chaplin — was one of perhaps 100,000 Americans who headed for Alaska between 1897 and 1899. The word was, “There’s gold in them thar snowdrifts!” There was.
The Worthington Globe reported on the Butler brothers of Ellsworth. I can’t tell you who the Butler brothers were. All I know is what I read in the newspapers:
“James Maher and John Butler passed through Worthington Monday en route to their home in Ellsworth. These gentlemen left for Alaska in March and arrived in Dawson City about June 1, and there accompanied the Butler Brothers and their partner to Seattle. From all reports the Buther brothers who went to Alaska three years ago have made a fortune estimated at from $200,000 to $500,000, have sold their claims and come back to stay…”
Another Nobles County resident who headed for the Klondike was N. A. Call of Org. Call was a farmer and hay shipper who built a large warehouse at Org and shipped hay by rail through the country. In 1898, with people through the region talking about the Butler brothers, Call made his decision to sell his hay business to head for the gold country.
Call rode trains to Seattle where he came upon 40 men from the Salem, Mass., area who also were heading north. They called themselves the Witch City Mining Co. Another prospector who joined the group was a cowboy from Montana, Milford (Doc) Tanner.
After they debarked from their steamship in Alaska, the 40-plus men divided themselves into groups of about five men each. One of the groups was Nobles County’s Call, Montana’s Tanner, William Lee, G. A. Pierce and a prospector named Haines, all of Massachusetts.
It was January. The snow at Valdes Pass was six feet deep. The thermometer was at zero. The group agreed with N.A. Call; this was no weather for camping out. The thing needed was to forget the tent and build some manner of shelter from lumber. Tanner, the Montana cowboy, refused to join in the work. On the evening of Jan. 2, Call, Lee, Pierce and Haines were sitting in their tent, talking about kicking Tanner out of their group.
Tanner stood outside the tent and overheard the conversation.
The story of the murder of N.A. Call has been told often. Less familiar is the fact that a mass murder —an Aurora, Colorado, murder was attempted. Tanner flipped the flap at the front of the tent with his pistol drawn and began shooting.
Nobles County’s Call was seated near the tent entrance. Call was the first victim of a bullet. He fell face down. The second bullet went into the chest of Lee. He fell dead. Pierce jumped behind some boxes and Haines threw himself on the floor just as Tanner fired once again. This bullet shattered the lantern inside the tent. Everything went dark. Haines cut a hole in the back of the tent and went running. Pierce remained ducked down in the darkness behind the boxes.
Tanner had intended to shoot four men. He got only two before the ruckus brought other prospectors running to the scene. The shooter soon was held to the ground in a snowdrift.
It was decided to call a general meeting. Runners were sent to alert the whole group — the Witch City Mining Co. soon were standing in the cold and dark outside the murder scene. At 11 p.m. a lawyer from San Francisco named King was named judge by the group and a trial was convened. It was not truly mob rule. Everything was orderly. No loud voices were raised. The men stood in the snow for more than five hours — from 11 to 4:40 a.m. hearing testimony from Pierce and Haines, giving Tanner an opportunity to tell his story. There were other witnesses. At last — 4:40 — there was a vote with 29 of the 38 men assembled opting to hang the cowboy murderer. A short while later, Milford (Doc) Tanner was hanged from a tree.
Back home — Nobles County — there was sputtering and alarm when the story first was told. “Imagine! A man trying to kill four people!”
It was an Aurora story from 114 years gone by.
Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.