Intrepid Woman of the Klondike

  

In 1976 during the nation’s bicentennial, President Gerald Ford signed a declaration recognizing February as Black History Month in the United States. In doing so, he urged all Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history”. Today on History Imagined we begin our own acknowledgement of those accomplishments with an article about a courageous woman who faced tremendous hardship and succeeded where others failed. She is not someone who will be featured in an academic tome, but she is one of those little footnote nuggets that make the study of history all the more enjoyable for their discovery. She was a wife, mother, gold rush miner, Klondike pioneer, and a Woman of Color. Her name was Lucille Hunter.

When we learn about the Klondike Gold Rush of 1897-98, the names we usually hear are male – those Klondike “kings” who struck it rich. But many women also caught the “gold fever” that ignited the frenzied stampede northward in search of treasure, a fever that spread quickly thanks to an economic depression. They came from all walks of life, some with husbands but many alone. Their reasons for venturing into the unknown were as varied as those of the men, ranging from desperation for money to feed themselves and their families to a desire for adventure.

Women of the Klondike

  About 1500 women crossed over the White Pass or the Chilkoot Trail in their quest to reach Dawson City and the Klondike River region. Lucille Hunter was one of them.

Lucille

In 1897, nineteen-year-old Lucille Hunter left Michigan with her husband, Charles, for the Klondike. They were among the few African Americans who joined the gold rush.  After leaving with a group of stampeders from Wrangell, Alaska, they followed the Stikine River through the coastal range and then overland to Dawson. This was considered one of the most difficult routes to the gold fields.

     Lucille was pregnant at the time. She and Charles stopped at Teslin Lake, where she gave birth to a daughter. The indigenous Tagish community apparently had not seen black people before and were at a loss for what to call them. They referred to the Hunters as “just another kind of white person.”

     Most of the others in their group stayed at Teslin Lake for the winter, but the Hunters decided to go on alone by dogsled over hundreds of miles of snow in temperatures that dipped as low as 60 degrees below zero. They and their infant daughter arrived in Dawson just after Christmas in 1897, well ahead of most of the stampeders. This allowed them to stake three claims along Bonanza Creek, where they lived in primitive conditions, digging gold and raising their daughter.

      A few years later, Charles also staked some silver claims near Mayo. The couple mined gold and silver until his death in 1939. Lucille continued to operate the mining claims and raised her grandson, since her daughter had died earlier. When construction began on the Alaska Highway in 1942, Lucille and her grandson moved to Whitehorse. She set up a laundry business and her grandson made the deliveries around town. 

     In later years, she lost her sight but kept up with current events by listening to her radio. She died in 1972 at age 93.

Our guest author today is Ann Markim, whose latest work, The Claim, is set during the raucous Gold Rush period of American history. Here’s a bit more about the book:

Erik Stryker is determined to make his mark in the world on his own, by establishing a brewing and distilling business in the Yukon. After striking gold in 1896, Erik continues to mine but spends his time and energy pursuing his dream—expanding his beloved spirits business.

Katie Garrick is a beautiful young actress and singer from San Francisco who arrives in the Klondike alone, expecting to marry the unscrupulous suitor who has sent for her—but she is not the only bride-to-be he’s sent for! Now, Katie’s choices are limited—become a prostitute to survive, or work on the mining claim for Erik’s partner and his wife.

As Katie and Erik work together in the harsh conditions, they discover a respect and passion for each other as challenging as the life they have built on the claim. But when Katie can finally afford to return to her beloved San Francisco, will Erik be able to give up all he’s worked for? Is love worth the sacrifice of a dream?

The book is currently available on Amazon. Here’s the link:

Biography

Ann Markim has enjoyed a three-act career, with each act allowing her to pursue a personal passion. After graduate school, she pursued her love of people, working in and directing programs providing care and services to improve the lives of elderly people and individuals with disabilities.


In her second act, she owned and operated a retail nature store. This afforded her opportunity to share her love and knowledge of birds and nature with customers, children, and other interested people through conversations in her shop and presentations to school groups and various nature and gardening organizations.

Now, in her third act, she is devoting full time to her passion for writing. Her interest in writing historical novels began some time ago with her curiosity about her ancestors and evolved into a fascination with researching historical events and imagining what life must have been like in those earlier eras. Although the stories she writes are fictional, they are set in actual historical settings and she includes authentic details about real occurrences.

Ann lives in Omaha, Nebraska, with her two cats, Ripley and Riley. In addition to writing, she enjoys gardening, quilting, and traveling.