The rise and fall of a Klondike king: Pat Galvin

It was said that Pat Galvin had the Midas touch. Before the gold rush, he was the owner of a hardware business in the small mining camp of Forty Mile. By 1898, he was at the peak of his success.

It was said that Pat Galvin had the Midas touch. Before the gold rush, he was the owner of a hardware business in the small mining camp of Forty Mile. By 1898, he was at the peak of his success.

He was the head of a steamboat company, the president of one of the largest mining corporations in the Klondike, a cattleman, the manager of a mercantile operation, and one of the big hustlers buying and selling real estate and mining properties all over the region. But within a year, he was broke.

Pat Galvin was born in Kerry, Ireland, and immigrated to the United States as a young boy. Before coming to the Yukon, he was a hardware merchant in Belle Plains, Minnesota, and then chief of police, manager of a newspaper and superintendent of some mines at Helena, Montana.

He moved farther west to Puget Sound, when the region was booming, then headed north to Juneau to manage a hardware business while the owner went on an extended trip Outside. The siren call of the Yukon lured him yet farther north to Forty Mile, where he took a large stock of hardware and tinsmith’s tools. Making stoves for miners along the Yukon became a lucrative enterprise, and he soon had a branch store in Circle, Alaska.

Galvin was on the scene when the Klondike was discovered and applied his capital to investing in shares of mines in the newly discovered and yet unproven goldfields. He was partners with Big Alex McDonald and George Byrne on Claim Number 41 on Eldorado Creek and Number 5 on Bear Creek. He soon had a half interest in Number 35 Above Discovery on Bonanza Creek, as well as shares in Numbers 30 and 31 Below Discovery on Hunker Creek, and Number 40 on Eldorado.

Nine men were given lays, or shares of the proceeds for mining, on Number 41, Eldorado, but after a couple of barren holes, seven of these men gave up. The remaining laymen struck the pay streak on February 22, 1897. Galvin was now, along with his partners, a rich man. Then his claim on Bonanza hit the pay streak too, and he was a millionaire.

Galvin stayed in Dawson during the winter and spring of 1897, but as summer wore on, and with the threat of famine casting its dark shadow over Dawson City, and a heavy poke, he decided to head Outside. He and his wife, Mary Ellen, travelled out with a party that included English cattleman Charlie Thebo over the Dalton trail. The month-long trek involved 800 kilometres of travel, much of it on foot, including through early winter blizzards in the summit of the Chilkat pass.

They continued to Seattle, and from there made their way to England, where, using his claims as collateral, he incorporated the North British American Company, and, with several million dollars of investors’ money, he returned to the United States.

He planned to construct a fleet of four riverboats. The first, named after his wife, was to be a floating palace. Unfortunately, the Mary Ellen Galvin drew too much water to be of use through the shallows of the Yukon River and was a failure. He purchased a herd of 1,000 cattle which Charlie Thebo would take over the Dalton Trail to Fort Selkirk, where Galvin would meet him with a riverboat to transport the animals to Dawson City.

Galvin planned to take 600 tonnes of merchandise by boat up the Yukon River to Dawson City before proceeding to Fort Selkirk for the cattle. In April, he made a fast trip back to Dawson over the frozen Yukon River, where he purchased a waterfront property for his retail store at a price of $60,000, and undertook other deals before returning to the Outside.

It was then that his good-hearted nature got the better of him. Instead of sticking strictly to business, he started to party, making the acquaintance of an aristocratic Englishman named James Beatty, better known as “Lord Jim.” Lord Jim was a profligate fool, and one of the factors that eventually led to Galvin’s downfall.

Delayed by partying and carousing, the Galvin party finally departed for St. Michael, Alaska, on August 22 and arrived at the mouth of the Yukon River September 9, which was far too late in the season. Since the Mary Ellen Galvin was not suitable for the trip, they had sailed north in a cranky and unseaworthy vessel named the Cleveland. In St. Michael, Galvin purchased the river boat Yukoner, but she laboured up the Yukon and was trapped by winter before getting very far.

Meanwhile, Galvin took passage in a downriver steamer, leaving the Yukoner and her crew to fend for themselves. By Christmas, he was back in Dawson where he and Big Alex McDonald contributed heavily to Father Judge for the construction of a new hospital.

Thebo and his cattle, meanwhile, had to make their own way to Dawson City. They butchered the herd near Fort Selkirk in cool fall weather and loaded the meat onto scows headed for Dawson, but much of it spoiled during a warm spell. A year later, Thebo owned the meat business and Galvin was out.

When the Yukoner arrived in Dawson in the summer of 1899, a year behind schedule, much of the canned goods had spoiled. “Lord Jim,” who was entrusted with the finances, could not account for tens of thousands of dollars. Worried investors foreclosed on Galvin, taking in the process the claims entrusted to the North British American Company.

The fun-loving ex-millionaire had one final spree in the fall of 1899, going through his remaining cash as though he still had millions in the bank.

“Come on, boys,” he said, leading his procession of followers to the bar, “open up the best you have. The drinks are on me.”

After a hectic week of celebration, Galvin left town aboard the last steamer of the season. The Clara pushed its way through the slush ice of the Yukon River and disappeared around the bend. Three years later, Pat Galvin, while prospecting in the Philippines, contracted cholera when tending to a sick friend, and died. According to the newspaper, “Galvin … was said to have greatly added to his fortune made in Montana, Alaska and San Francisco.”

Michael Gates is a Yukon historian and sometimes adventurer based in Whitehorse. His new book, Dalton’s Gold Rush Trail, is now available in stores. You can contact him at msgates@northwestel.net