This article by Murray Lundberg was originally published on May 10, 2001
The Klondike Gold Rush was a time of great adventure and great hardship. Men get most of the glory, but many women joined the rush as well. Among them was a young woman from Montana, Mollie Walsh. The bust and interpretive panel about Mollie seen in the photo to the right stand in a children's park in Skagway, Alaska that was named to honour her (click on the photo to enlarge it).
Born Mary Welsh, Mollie was a resourceful and independent young woman with a wanderlust and a love of frontiers. In 1890, at the age of 18, she left home for Butte, Montana, where she spent seven years. As soon as she heard about the discovery of gold in the Klondike, though, she packed her bags and headed north. She arrived in Skagway in 1897, and quickly became popular both as a waitress and for her participation in the humanitarian activities of the Union church. When her work with the church brought her into disfavour with Skagway gangster Jefferson "Soapy" Smith, she feared retaliation and moved up the White Pass Trail to a point near the North West Mounted Police post at Log Cabin, where she erected a grub tent.
Many of the thousands of stampeders who passed through her tent spoke of her charm and grace, and she had more than her share of suitors. Among them were two men who worked as packers on the White Pass, Mike Bartlett and Jack Newman. Both were hardy and reputable men, but it was Mike who finally won Mollie's heart.
Mike and Mollie followed the wave of stampeders to Dawson City, where they were married in 1900 and had a child. They lived very well in Dawson, but then Mike went to Nome, where a bad experience combined with too much drinking changed him dramatically. Mollie took her child and moved to Seattle without Mike, but he followed her. On the dreary evening of October 27, 1902, Mike showed up at her apartment, drunk and quarrelsome. After a short argument, Mollie, who was ill, fled to a muddy alley where Mike shot her in the back and killed her.
As a passing policeman closed in, Mike tried to kill himself, but only grazed his scalp with the bullet. He was later able to convince the jury that he had gone temporarily insane as a result of Mollie's drinking and cheating (which her friends denied, though not in court), and was acquited. He spent some time in a mental hospital, and two years after Mollie's murder, he hung himself.
Jack Newman never forgot the diminutive woman who had won his heart. In 1930, his statue of Mollie was unveiled, and it now stands in a park named in her honour. Newman wrote that Mollie was a woman "on whose headstone could be most fittingly inscribed: 'Here Lies Drama!'"
Below Mollie's bust is the following 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 Oct. 27, 1902.
In August 1905, a monument was set up on the family grave in the Calvary Catholic Cemetery in St. Paul, Minnesota, by the Woodmen of the World, a fraternal organization which Mollie's father, Patrick Welsh, belonged to.
A century after her death, Mollie's admirers still pay tribute to her. In May 2001, Norm Kagan visited her grave, and placed salmon-gold colored carnations, a copy of Art Petersen & D. Scott Williams' booklet about Mollie, "Murder, Madness, and Mystery", and a 1"x2" piece of bark that he brought from The Mollie Walsh Park in Skagway. He took the photo to the right and emailed it to me for posting here - click on it to enlarge it so you can see the details, including the flowers and piece of bark.
For a more colourful version of Mollie's story, see
this article by Sam Holloway in The Yukoner Magazine.
To A Guide to Skagway, Alaska
To Yukon & Alaska Pioneer Biographies