Con man, magician or scientist: Hatfield was called to make rain in the Klondike

Though he often referred to himself as a "moisture accelerator," Charles Mallory Hatfield is better known as a rainmaker.

Though he often referred to himself as a “moisture accelerator,” Charles Mallory Hatfield is better known as a rainmaker.

In 1905, when prospectors in the Klondike region required more water to fuel their hydraulic gold mining operations they called in the rainmaker to open the skies.

Hatfield was born in Kansas in 1875, and moved to San Diego, California at age 10.

He quit school in Grade 9 to become a salesman and began reading books on meteorology.

In the early 1904, Hatfield claimed to have called one inch of rain from the skies the Los Angeles area, and the newspapers heralded his accomplishment by dubbing him the “wizard of the clouds.”

Some called him a con man and some called him a magician, but Hatfield maintained that his rainmaking methods were based on science.

“Many people think that we pretend to make the rain,” Hatfield is quoted as saying in the Dawson Daily News. “We do not. There is always a certain amount of rain material in the air and all we do is to bring it together by artificial means, with the result that it falls on account of its weight.

“We puncture the clouds, that’s all, and there is no guesswork about it. It is a physical phenomenon as natural as the telephone or telegraph.”

Hatfield’s rain towers consisted of four beams that were each about 7.6 metres high. The beams supported trays containing chemicals and a machine which sends an electric current into the air.

“We set up our apparatus on a high knoll about thirty miles from Dawson on the watershed from which flow Sulphur Creek, Dominion Creek, Hunker Creek, Gold Bottom and Gold Run,” Hatfield is quoted as saying in the Dawson Daily News on August 18, 1906.

The “high knoll” that Hatfield referred to in his quote was King Solomon’s Dome.

If Hatfield had been able to bring rainfall to the Klondike miners, he would have been paid a princely sum of $10,000 – $5,000 of which would have come from the mine owners and the other half donated by the territorial government.

After Hatfield’s conjuring, the Yukon did not see an increase in rain over previous years and so he was paid only enough to cover his expenses, $1153.05.

A few months later, the Dawson Daily News published a story questioning Hatfield’s abilities.

“The particular state in which Hatfield is supposed to have operated successfully – he certainly was paid – is California. The entire state is suffering from a terrible drought less than nine months after the alleged successful experiment,” reported the Dawson Daily News in November 1905.

“We should suggest to Mr. Lithgow that if Hatfield is genuine, he should not be hiding during a dry spell. A real rainmaker’s opportunity would be just such a time as the present in California.”

Despite his failure in the Yukon, Hatfield spent the next few years travelling through parched towns in the United States and Canada having varying degrees of success in controlling the skies.

A few years later in 1916, Hatfield was employed to make it rain in San Diego, which was experiencing a terrible drought at the time.

In that case, he was so successful in calling water from the sky that the city experienced the worst flood in its history. A few dozen people died and the city sustained millions of dollars in damages in the disaster. Hatfield was not paid for his services because the city council decided that he had made it rain too much.

Over the years a play, a novel, a musical and a major motion picture, The Rainmaker, were all based on Hatfield’s life.

This column is provided by the MacBride Museum of Yukon History. Each week it will explore a different morsel of Yukon’s modern history. For more information, or to comment on anything in this column e-mail lchalykoff@macbridemuseum.com.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A Copper Ridge resident clears their driveway after a massive over night snowfall in Whitehorse on Nov. 2, 2020. Environment Canada has issued a winter storm warning for the Whitehorse and Haines Junction areas for Jan. 18. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Winter storm warning for Haines Junction and Whitehorse

Environment Canada says the storm will develop Monday and last until Tuesday

Maria Metzen off the start line of the Yukon Dog Mushers Association’s sled dog race on Jan. 9. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Mushers race in preparation for FirstMate Babe Southwick

The annual race is set for Feb. 12 and 13.

The Yukon government is making changes to the medical travel system, including doubling the per diem and making destinations for medical services more flexible. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Subsidy for medical travel doubled with more supports coming

The change was recommended in the Putting People First report endorsed by the government

Chloe Sergerie, who was fined $500 under the <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> on Jan. 12, says she made the safest choice available to her when she entered the territory. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)
Woman fined $500 under CEMA says she made ‘safest decision’ available

Filling out a declaration at the airport was contrary to self-isolation, says accused

Yukon University has added seven members to its board of governors in recent months. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
New members named to Yukon U’s board of governors

Required number of board members now up to 17

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Your Northern regulatory adventure awaits!

“Your Northern adventure awaits!” blared the headline on a recent YESAB assessment… Continue reading

Yukoner Shirley Chua-Tan is taking on the role of vice-chair of the social inclusion working group with the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences’ oversight panel and working groups for the autism assessment. (Submitted)
Canadian Academy of Health Sciences names Yukoner to panel

Shirley Chua-Tan is well-known for a number of roles she plays in… Continue reading

The Fish Lake area viewed from the top of Haeckel Hill on Sept. 11, 2018. The Yukon government and Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) announced they are in the beginning stages of a local area planning process for the area. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Local area planning for Fish Lake announced

The Government of Yukon and Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) announced in… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Fire damage, photographed on Jan. 11, to a downtown apartment building which occurred late in the evening on Jan. 8. Zander Firth, 20, from Inuvik, was charged with the arson and is facing several other charges following his Jan. 12 court appearance. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
More charges for arson suspect

The Inuvik man charged in relation to the fire at Ryder Apartments… Continue reading

The grace period for the new Yukon lobbyist registry has come to an end and those who seek to influence politicians will now need to report their efforts to a public database. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)
Grace period for new lobbyist registry ends

So far nine lobbyists have registered their activities with politicians in the territory

Most Read