From high society to the floor of Dawson’s legendary theatres, Mae Field suffered one of the hardest falls from grace of any of Dawson’s dance hall girls.
Mae was barely 17 when she got married to Arthur Field, a man who was afflicted by gold fever.
The pair left South Dakota for the Yukon gold fields during the rush of ‘98. They honeymooned on the Klondike trail, according to Lael Morgan’s book Good Time Girls of the Alaska Yukon Gold Rush.
En route a strong wind hit Lake Laberge and sent their boat dangerously off course.
Though Mae and her husband made it through without a scratch, they lost expensive mining equipment that Arthur sank a lot of money into before the trip.
Low on supplies and luck, they sailed into Dawson in June 1898 and staked two claims on Bear Creek.
With food shortages pending in the Klondike, Arthur sent Mae home to her mother for the winter. Her mother was not impressed.
“She said that my place was with my husband, no matter where he was; so she sent me right back to him,” said Mae.
She trekked back to the Yukon and, by all accounts, the pair had a prosperous winter. Arthur and 50 other men had pulled $100,000 out of Bear Creek. Whenever Mae wanted to go shopping, she would knock some gold loose and take it into town.
After break-up the following spring Mae took another trip home, this time almost losing her life in a sternwheeler accident.
And when she came back to Bear Creek, it was a different place.
Arthur has made some bad investments in other mining operations and had lost all of the money he made.
After that he and Mae parted ways. Arthur took off to Fairbanks to find his fortune and Mae stayed in the Klondike and began a different sort of life.
“Meanwhile, little Mae, penniless and alone in the Far North, turned to dancing, the only thing she knew, for a livelihood,” wrote Mae’s biographer, Helen Berg.
In February 1900, the Klondike Nugget printed a story about a lawsuit involving Mae.
She refused to pay $18.55 to have her underwear cleaned at a local laundry. She thought that $8 was a more reasonable number, but the laundry’s manager insisted that Mae’s silken undergarments had many frills that required extra special care.
To prove her point, that her underwear required no special care, Mae caused quite a stir by submitting her silken nightgown to the court for examination.
Flustered, the judge decided that Mae would have to pay $12.05 for the cleaning.
Three years later, in 1903, Arthur returned to Dawson and bought the Annex Saloon.
And Mae made the newspapers again after strutting into the place and attempting to off herself with a pistol.
“Yesterday morning at about 7 o’clock May (sic) Field had a hunch to climb the golden staircase via the revolved route…” the Klondike Nugget reported.
The bartender wrenched the gun out of Mae’s hands and the shot went through the back of her hair and into the saloon wall.
In court, Mae testified that she never intended to do herself harm, she only wanted to get her husband’s attention.
In 1908, Mae scored a job at the Orpheum Theatre despite the fact that the owner had a strict policy against hiring prostitutes.
She worked from 9 p.m. to 4 a.m. everyday, except Sunday.
At $1 per dance and 50 cents per drink, Mae was one of the Orpheum’s highest grossing girls.
After a gentleman caller stayed over at Mae’s house one night the police stormed in to find the pair in bed together.
They charged Mae with keeping a bawdy house and she was sentenced to serve three months of hard labour in the Dawson jail.
She left the Yukon later that year and moved to Ketchican, Alaska where she lived out the remainder of her days.
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.