Rare newspapers reveal political satire of cartoonist Arthur Buel

In a recent column (Feb. 10), I wrote about the artistic genius of political cartoonist Arthur Buel.

In a recent column (Feb. 10), I wrote about the artistic genius of political cartoonist Arthur Buel.

I referred to a cartoon he drew depicting a government-appointed enumerator by the name of J. E. Girouard, who was fleeing from an angry mob seeking to get their names on the voters list for the election in December of 1904. It is one of his most famous drawings. One reader even asked if I could share it. Unfortunately, I could not lay my hands upon the cartoon in question at the time.

It wasn’t easy, but I found it. And in the process of searching for this image, I unearthed a collection of Buel political cartoons that have not seen the light of day in a long time.

Historical accounts I consulted described the vicious war of words fought between two rival newspapers. The Yukon World, was owned by and served as the mouthpiece for candidate and former commissioner of the Yukon, Frederick Congdon. On the other side was The Dawson Daily News, which championed political challenger Dr. Alfred Thompson.

Little is said about the role of a third newspaper during the election, the Yukon Sun, which was revived to help fight the corrupt Congdon Machine. The online and microfilm versions of the Sun end in March of 1904.

The Sun had absorbed the assets of two other early Dawson newspapers, the Klondike Nugget, which was bought out by the Dawson Record the summer of 1903, and the Record, which was bought out, in turn, by the Yukon Sun in November of 1903. Despite a fire in the fall of 1903, the Sun continued to operate, relying heavily upon government patronage, until the Congdon political machine transferred its patronage to Congdon’s own newspaper, the World, at the end of February, 1904.

The Sun was purchased by J.B. Tyrrell, a mining engineer, with an axe to grind. Commissioner Congdon had forced Tyrrell to move his residence off the government reserve for no apparent reason.

The new editor of the World, who had tried to blackmail Tyrrell, was W. A. Beddoe, a man forever after characterized as the “Black Male Snake” by the News and the Sun. The World was referred to by the other newspapers as “The Blackmailer’s Gazette.” It wasn’t long before the Dawson Daily News acquired the assets of the Sun from Tyrrell.

Articles in both the World and the News in early September of 1904, indicated that the Sun was to be published again as a special edition each Sunday, starting from early September of 1904. This newspaper did not exist on microfilm, but I learned that the Yukon Archives had original copies of the newspapers in their collection.

For months, I was unable to view the special weekly editions of the Sun because much of the collection in the vault at the Yukon Archives had been wrapped in plastic to shield it from dust generated during the enlargement of their storage area. Finally, in early March, the newspapers had been liberated from their protective shroud.

What I found was a treasure trove of Buel cartoons and numerous articles attacking the Congdon political machine. Examining the cartoons, I began to recognize some of the caricatures. Congdon, with his drooping moustache, was often depicted wearing a royal ermine robe, fastened at the front by an enormous safety pin.

Beddoe, the editor of Congdon’s newspaper, is depicted as a snake covered with dollar signs, with Beddoe’s head. William Temple, Congdon’s political bag man, is shown wearing a bowler hat and what appears to be a lustrous stick pin, and sporting a bulbous nose. I am still trying to decipher the identities of some of the other characters regularly portrayed in Buel’s cutting lampoons from this election series.

What really set my heart thumping, however, was the skillfully crafted cartoon of Girouard in the December 11 edition of the Sun. Girouard is shown with vest unbuttoned, collar and tie in hand, and shoes unlaced, running away from Montreal Marie, who stands dressed in her nightgown on the landing of her cabin, while the mob in the background pursues him.

The pages of the Sun in the fall of 1904 are filled with an abundance of cartoons, often a dozen or more in a single issue, all of them alluding to the corrupt practices of the Congdon political machine.

The Yukon is depicted in many of Buel’s cartoons as a young lady, small in stature compared to the other characters in his cartoons. She is frequently pointing at Congdon and uttering warnings and expressing disapproval. She is often accompanied by a small husky dog, which is one of the signature figures in many of Buel’s cartoons.

Uncovering these rare newspapers has revealed a graphic and colourful dimension to the liveliest political campaign that was ever waged in the Yukon. They are a true historical treasure, preserved for future generations of Yukoners to enjoy by the Yukon Archives. They are really worth a look.

Michael Gates is a Yukon historian and sometimes adventurer based in Whitehorse. His new book, From the Klondike to Berlin, is now available in stores everywhere.

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