It was a moment of hopeful desperation.
When Belinda Mulrooney arrived in the Klondike in 1897, legend has it that she tossed her last half-dollar into the Yukon River and vowed that she would make her fortune in the rugged land.
She quickly made good on that vow.
Mulrooney’s success was due to her incredible foresight. When she came to the Klondike she didn’t waste her time packing staples like beans, bacon and flour. Every prospector had access to those. Mulrooney packed her bags full of silks, hot water bottles and fine cottons – things that miners in a remote region would want after a long winter digging in the creeks.
She sold her supplies at a 600 per cent mark-up and sunk the money she made into building a restaurant and much-needed housing for miners.
“There was nowhere then in Dawson for the newcomers to live and lumber was as scarce as hens’ teeth,” Mulrooney is quoted as saying in the book Klondike Women.
“I started buying up all the small boats and rafts that were arriving, hired a crew of young fellows who had nothing to do and had ‘em build cabins.”
Mulrooney’s fortunes grew, but instead of sitting back and watching the money come in she looked for other investments.
Mulrooney opened the wildly successful Grand Forks Hotel, which was located at the junction of Bonanza and Eldorado Creeks. The hotel quickly became the centre of the town.
“Miss Mulrooney is a modest, refined and prepossessing young woman, a brilliant conversationalist and a bright business woman,” reported the Klondike News on April 1, 1898.
“Mulrooney … had no big brother or husband to rely upon, but she believed that if women could grace almost any business or profession at home she could be a successful trailblazer.”
As lonely discouraged miners decided to sell their claims and return home, Mulrooney bought their claims.
Soon she became a stakeholder in one of the most successful companies of the time – the Eldorado-Bonanza Quartz and Placer Mining Company.
Then Mulrooney moved back to Dawson City and opened the Fair View Hotel, the finest lodgings in town.
“The completion of the Fair View fills a long-felt want in Dawson,” reported the Klondike Nugget in July 1898. “Miss Mulrooney is to be commended for her enterprise, for the hotel is by far the most pretentious structure now in Dawson.”
Mulrooney and Carbonneau married in 1900, in one of the most glamorous weddings in Dawson City.
They lived happily together for a few years splitting their time between Dawson and Paris, and then the tides turned.
Mulrooney’s businesses began to fail, and Carbonneau was charged with embezzlement and fraud.
Carbonneau and Mulrooney split ways – some accounts say that she divorced Carbonneau, others say that he left town with her jewels and furs.
Mulrooney followed the Alaskan gold rush to Fairbanks where she had some success mining and running a bank.
She settled in Washington and used her amassed fortune to support her family. Mulrooney died in Seattle in 1967, at age 95.
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 email@example.com.