Bones reveal identities of Klondike killers

Evidence is mounting that two of the bodies unearthed in Dawson City belong to the Nantuck brothers - two Tagish men who were hanged for murder during the Klondike Gold Rush.

Evidence is mounting that two of the bodies unearthed in Dawson City belong to the Nantuck brothers – two Tagish men who were hanged for murder during the Klondike Gold Rush.

Two of the uncovered remains belonged to young First Nations men, according to Susan Mooney. She’s an osteologist and heritage manager of the Carcross/Tagish First Nation.

The Nantuck brothers were the only First Nations men to be strung up by the Mounties during the gold rush, according to Ken Coates, a history professor with the University of Waterloo. He ought to know: Coates is the co-author of Strange Things Done: Murder in Yukon History.

“The mystery’s getting closer to being solved,” said Coates.

Dawson and Jim Nantuck were hanged on August 4, 1899. They were convicted of shooting two prospectors at the mouth of the M’Clintock River.

Their motive remains murky, but it’s believed they committed the crime to avenge the deaths of an old man and a young boy who died from arsenic poisoning.

A backhoe operator discovered human bones in the pit he was digging for Dawson’s new sewage treatment plant on November 3. The remains of three coffins were unearthed during the hurried, two-day dig that followed.

The number of coffins proved to be the biggest clue, leading Coates to initially suspect that the Nantucks had been found. The Nantucks were hanged and buried the same day as Edward Henderson, an irritable American convicted of shooting his business partner at Marsh Lake.

The third coffin contains the remains of an older man of European descent, according to Mooney’s early study, providing another match.

You can tell a lot from someone’s teeth – including ethnicity. First Nations people share with Asians certain distinct dental traits. Compared to people of European descent, their upper incisors are angled inward and have sloping backs.

“It was a textbook case, with the dentition,” said Mooney.

The length of bones and the condition of teeth indicate age. All clues point to the Nantucks, she said.

DNA testing would likely be needed to be absolutely certain of the bodies’ identities. “But, in this case, we really don’t need to,” said Mooney.

“It was old-fashioned archeology that put this together for us.”

No reburial plans have yet been made.

A fourth body was dug up on November 14. This one appears to have been buried without a coffin. Its remains have yet to be examined.

Contact John Thompson at

johnt@yukon-news.com.

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