Mollie Walsh is not remembered for dancing at the Palace Grand or for striking the Mother Lode; she’s remembered for something much more soft and sinister.
She is known for providing a warm meal and soft place to rest for the gold-seeking miners along the White Pass Trail, and for her brutal murder, just two years later.
Caught up in gold rush fever, Walsh came to Skagway, Alaska in 1897.
She was 24 when she arrived in the lawless gold rush town, which at the time was run by Soapy Smith and his gang, and quickly decided that she would have better luck outside of town.
Walsh travelled the 50 kilometres up the trail and settled at Log Cabin, near the North West Mounted Police post.
“Pitched on the bleak wastes of the northland, her tent caught the full stream of exhausted, discouraged and fever-ridden, hungry men,” wrote Thora Mills in her Angel of the White Pass: a true story of Mollie Walsh.
“Before many moons it was hailed as a ‘haven of light and food’ and Mollie became known from Skagway to Circle City as ‘Queen of the White Pass Trail.’”
In the autumn of 1898, a stampeder named Jack Newman happened upon Walsh’s tent just in time to save his frozen hand.
“She must have been as wise as it is agreed she was beautiful for she filled Packer Jack’s innards with hot coffee; she rubbed his poor hand with snow, and tenderly, we suppose until the circulation returned,” reported Frank Lynch in 1952.
Newman fell madly in love with Walsh and that’s where her trouble started.
He became jealous of other men who were competing for Walsh’s attentions.
One man, Mike Bartlett, was Newman’s natural rival. He started a pack train in competition with Newman’s, and he started to compete with Newman for Walsh’s affections.
Newman ordered Walsh to not let Bartlett anywhere near her tent – a move that ended up being Newman’s big mistake.
“Mollie was angry,” Newman told the Seattle Star years later. “She said I wasn’t her master, not being married to her, and this was a public eating place, so anyone in the whole northland was welcome. One thing led to another … Then Mollie up and married the skunk.”
In 1900, the White Pass and Yukon Route railway completed the link between Skagway and Whitehorse, eliminating the need for Walsh’s grub tent and Bartlett’s pack train.
The pair pulled up stakes and moved to Seattle. Bartlett quickly lost the family’s money and, in 1902, he murdered Walsh in front of their home.
A year later he was tried and acquitted because he was found to have been temporarily insane. The courts called it a “crime of passion.”
Though Newman married it’s said that he never forgot his love for Walsh.
It took nearly 30 years for him to find a suitable way to preserve her memory.
In September 1930, a sculpture of Walsh was sent to Skagway. It bears the inscription: “Alone without help this courageous girl ran a grub tent near Log Cabin. During the gold rush of 1897, 1898, she fed and lodged the wildest gold crazed men. Generations shall surely know this inspiring spirit murdered October 27, 1902.”
Today, Skagway has a small park on Seventh Avenue named after the ‘Queen of the White Pass Trail’.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.