Arthur Buel: Klondike cartoonist

During his 45 years in the newspaper business, Arthur Buel’s cartoons covered everything from politics, to boxing matches, social events and murder trials. He made his name in Dawson City.

When an angry mob went searching for Mr. Girouard, the registrar holding the voters list for the 1904 federal election, he took flight out the back door of Montreal Marie’s house in the north end of Dawson City. As she stood at the door in her night gown watching the mob pursue him, she shouted the memorable words: “run, Baby, run!”

The humour of the moment was captured in perpetuity in a drawing by political cartoonist and artist Arthur V. Buel, which at least one biographer maintains was his most famous creation. During his 45 years in the newspaper business, Buel’s cartoons covered everything from politics, to boxing matches, social events and murder trials.

His work, which illustrated the pages of three Dawson City newspapers, among many others, included caricatures of prominent people, maps, portraits, and even the odd advertisement.

Arthur Victor Buel was born February 6, 1878 at San Jose, California. When he was four years old, his family moved to Tacoma, Washington, where he went to school. He said that his high school career ended abruptly when he sketched his teacher on a test paper and then handed it in.

He was working as a cartoonist at the Santa Rosa Democrat when, at age 19, he was drawn north by the Klondike gold rush in 1897. He remained in Skagway for the winter, then carried on to the Klondike, crossing the Chilkoot on June 9, 1898. Arriving at Dawson in ill health and penniless, he worked at various jobs until George Swinehart, the owner of the Dawson Midnight Sun (precursor to the Yukon Sun) hired him as a cartoonist.

When the Sun was sold, Buel was hired by the Klondike Nugget, where he worked on and off for several years. In the spring of 1899, he produced a series of cartoons of a drunken spree by the U.S. Consul, James McCook, stumbling around, with pointy ears, bottle in hand. McCook did not appreciate that, and sued for libel, but in court, the Nugget was found not guilty.

By 1900, he was involved in a firm called the Art in Advertising Company and had taken on a position as the “art department” of the Dawson Daily News. His cartoon of the editor of the Yukon Sun, stealing news from the competition by listening at a knothole in the telegraph office, drew a hostile response from the Sun.

In the summer of 1901, he covered the infamous O’Brien murder trial for the Klondike Nugget. His sketches in the newspaper included drawings of the accused, witnesses, and graphic portrayals of the crime. A few months later, he lampooned the White Pass and Yukon Route railway, by characterizing the company as a pig growing fat on the backs of Yukon ratepayers.

Sometime during the winter of 1901-02, Buel took a trip Outside, and when he returned in June, he was rehired by the Yukon Sun, which obviously harboured no ill will toward him for having attacked them in ink two years before. It is difficult to summarize the work that he did for the Yukon Sun, because most of these cartoons were cut from the front pages of the surviving issues.

Buel may have liked the Yukon, but he didn’t appear to like the winters. He left for the Outside in February of 1903 (for the fourth time, according to the Sun), and didn’t return until May when he was again employed at the Nugget.

When not producing editorial cartoons for the newspapers, Buel, was playing baseball (indoor and outdoor), or boxing. Many of his cartoons illustrate important boxing matches, and when not drawing them, he was in the ring himself, either as referee or as a combatant

In September of 1903, Buel put his pugilistic skill to the test by climbing into the ring with F. Stanley Long in a match to determine the Amateur heavyweight boxing champion of the Yukon. It was no contest.

In front of 300 onlookers at the DAAA, Buel received a “larruping” from Long.

According to The Dawson Record: “Long literally punched Buel half way back to Puyallup, loosened his ivory, drove in his mustache, shoved one ear up on top of his head, put a kink in his neck, made his nose look like a farm sausage, and cut his lips until his mouth looked like a fresh aperture made with a can opener.”

Buel was knocked down after three and a half rounds, and his trainer threw in the towel.

The Nugget had gone out of business by September of 1903, and Buel was back working for the Yukon Sun. But his stint at the Sun didn’t last long.

In January 1904, the Sun started featuring photographs on its front page instead of Buel cartoons. On January 3, The Dawson Daily News announced that Buel was now in their employment, but that only lasted for two months. By March, he was back working at the Sun.

The Daily News bought the Sun in the summer of 1904, but continued to publish it as a morning edition for some time to come. The special Sunday editions of the Sun were profusely illustrated by Buel.

By the fall of 1904, Buel’s work had all but disappeared from the pages of the Dawson newspapers. One election cartoon did appear on the front page of the News on Dec. 7, however, depicting a large lady “Canada” making the naughty Congdon supporters dig up the hidden voters’ lists.

The golden age of journalism in Dawson City was finished. No longer did Buel’s artwork grace the pages of the newspapers. In February, 1905, he left Dawson for the last time.

He sought work in Portland, turned down an offer in San Francisco, and was soon employed by the former Klondike newspaperman L.C. Branson, the owner of The Tonopah (Nevada) Sun. The trademark husky that found its way into many of Buel’s Dawson cartoons was replaced by a prospector’s burro.

That was followed with work at the Reno Evening Gazette. By August, 1911, when he was married, he was cartooning for the Sacramento Bee. In 1922, he transferred to the Fresno Bee, where he worked until he retired in 1946.

Buel passed away November 11, 1952 after a colourful career as a newspaper cartoonist that started 50 years before during the heady days of the Klondike gold rush.

Michael Gates is a Yukon historian and sometimes adventurer based in Whitehorse. His new book about the Yukon during World War I, titled From the Klondike to Berlin, is due out in April. You can contact him at msgates@northwestel.net.

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