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A True Tale of the Last Frontier and the Yukon Gold Rush

by Howard Blum

Pub Date: April 26th, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-307-46172-8
Publisher: Crown

An accomplished storyteller and two-time Pulitzer nominee charts the criss-crossed lives of three remarkable Klondike characters.

By 1898, George Carmack, the prospector who first discovered gold at Bonanza Creek and set off the Yukon gold rush, was looking for a way to transport a quarter-million dollars’ worth of ore from his claim to the stronghold of a boat headed for Seattle; Jefferson “Soapy” Smith, the underworld king of the Skagway, Alaska, boomtown planned on stealing the treasure; Charlie Siringo, an intrepid Pinkerton detective, owed an unusual debt to Carmack and sought to repay it by helping to foil the robbery. By now, fans of Vanity Fair contributing editor Blum (American Lightning: Terror, Mystery, the Birth of Hollywood, and the Crime of the Century, 2008, etc.) are familiar with his narrative formula: Take a few colorful characters, each a book-worthy subject in his own right and build a story that culminates in their mutual encounter. If the final collision here of the three principals comes as a bit of a letdown, it’s only because following the seemingly predestined paths of each to their Skagway wharf confrontation has been so wildly compelling. A California sheepherder who always dreamed of finding gold, Carmack joined the Marines, learned the Tlingit language and ways, deserted and then returned to Alaska intent on prospecting and fulfilling his mystical destiny. The garrulous Siringo, former shopkeeper and cowboy, signed on with the Pinkertons for adventure and, mourning the death of his wife, went undercover in Juneau to solve the Treadwell mine heist. An outrageous con man, Soapy and his scamming gang had taken over and been run out of a series of Western towns before landing in Skagway. The tumult of the times tosses these three hardened men together—two fleeing warrants, all driven by private demons and outsized dreams—against the backdrop of the last great stampede for gold.

Apportioning just the right attention to each of their stories, Blum weaves a truly memorable frontier tale.