Saturday, March 24, 2018

The King of the Klondike

Alexander "Big Alex" McDonald (1859–1909) was a Canadian gold prospector who made (and lost) a fortune in the Klondike Gold Rush, earning himself the title "King of the Klondike".

The son of Scottish immigrants, McDonald was born in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. He was in the Yukon, employed by the Alaska Commercial Company at Forty-Mile to buy mining properties when Gold was discovered in the region in 1897.

"... a large brawny, swarthy man, canny and close of mouth, with a curious habit of slowly rubbing his chin whenever a new proposition is presented to him. He makes it a rule to first say "No" to every proposal, however alluring, thus gaining time to think it over."
One of the early arrivals in the Klondike, he purchased Claim 30 on Eldorado Creek for a sack of flour and a side of bacon. That claim proved to be one of the richest of the Klondike and made a fortune.

Rather than work claims, he leased them to others, who did the actual work for half of the proceeds. He soon acquired 28 claims and by 1898, he had interests in 75 mines, making him the largest landowner and employer.
Klondike City in 1898 "Scraping Bedrock 2 Above Bonanza, 1899, 2 Pans of Dirt Yielded $2,000.00, Alex McDonald Co. Ltd."
Unfortunately the Klondike Gold Rush didn't last and neither did McDonald's money. He died alone in a cabin on Clearwater Creek of a heart attack in 1909 virtually penniless.
One character of McDonald's era was 'Soapy Smith'. "Smith took little time to stamp his mark with the trick that earned him his nickname: during first-day drinks at Clancy's Bar, he produced a small tripod on which he opened an old leather suitcase, whose open lid blocked patrons from seeing its contents. "Friends," he announced. "My name is Colonel Jefferson Randolph Smith, and I have the pleasure of introducing you to my special brand of soap … soap, friends, that I have an offer for you…"

At this stage he unwrapped a bar of soap and slipped a $100 bill under the wrapper which he carefully resealed, then $50 into other bars, and smaller notes into more. He nonchalantly tossed each bar back into the suitcase, then invited the suckers: "Friends, choose a bar of my soap for $5, and you could gain $100!"
Patrons rushed forward. The first man to select a bar of the soap, unwrapped it and jubilantly thrust aloft a $100 bill; several others unwrapped $50 bills, others found five- and two-dollar notes in their $5 soap bars. Or nothing at all …. ultimately of course the only big "winners" were Smith's gang members, who knew exactly the bars with the notes in them.

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