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Welcome to Gold Rush Music

If you are looking for authentic gold rush music of the Klondike and Alaska era this is the place.  The book, “Music of the Alaska/Klondike Gold Rush,” contains 94 songs either written about the rush or sung by the folk at the time.  It includes the music, images of covers, and photos of miners and performers.  All music is accompanied with historical accounts located in journals, diaries., and archives.

The CD has 24 of those songs performed by professional musicians in Fairbanks, Alaska. 

Thoughts of the Klondike Gold Rush era provide images of dance hall girls in feathers and frills performing rousing music. The miners enjoyed the dance halls but the diaries of those stampeders also talk about the songs they sang in their lonely cabins or tents with dripping socks hanging from the rafters and frost seeping through the walls from the minus forty degrees outside.

"We found that music, more than anything, tended to ease the tensions among us. A fellow by the name of Bates often brought his guitar over to our cabin and we'd blow off steam, singing old songs at the top of our lungs."

Ed Lung had reason for tension. He and six hungry, disappointed companions were marooned for the winter of 1897-98 in a tiny cabin in the town of Circle, Alaska on the Yukon River. Many picture books exist about the this gold rush however now we can experience the music Lung talked about.

The book includes much common music of the time with Gay Nineties tunes and old folks songs of interest to any lover of music

Liner notes which follow annotate the songs on the CD provide context gleaned from miner diaries and other sources.

1. The Carmack Song

George Carmack started it all when he and his wife's relatives, Skookum Jim and Tagish Charlie, discovered gold on Bonanza Creek in the Yukon, Canada in August 1896. Ed Lung, author of Black Sand and Gold, recalled hearing “The Carmack Song” in a bar in Dawson in July 1897.

Vocal and guitar, Will Putman; mandolin, Charlie Hunt. Author of words and music is unknown. Collected by Paul Roseland.

2. Mountain Canary

Charles Hamlin, a miner on Last Chance Creek in the Yukon, hosted a dance at the Last Chance Roadhouse during the fall of 1897. Music for the dance was provided by fiddle player, "Three Tune" Eddie Draper. Eddie's entire repertoire consisted of three songs but Hamlin was thankful for any live music. A miner with an instrument was a valuable comrade. Draper played this tune and "Dear Evelina," (see track #7) but Hamlin did not name the third tune. Mountain canary is another name for a burro.

Fiddle, Susie Hallinan; guitar, Scott Darter; mandolin, Charlie Hunt. Composer of the music is unknown. Music collected by Carol Ann Wheeler.

3. The Klondike Gold Rush

This song, first quoted in the London Daily Chronicle before 1900, epitomizes the excitement of the news of gold in the Klondike. "Moodyville," mentioned in the chorus, is now a part of North Vancouver, BC.

Soloist, Dana Hart; Chorus, Fairbanks Light Opera Theater Showcase singers; Soprano - Amanda Durst, Carly Sween, Sherry Abrahams, Cathi Massay; Alto - Diane Egley, Kanza Easterly-Keill, Marcia Holt, Kelly Houlton; Tenor - Jeff Tilley, Silver Chord; Bass - Chuck Machetta, Todd Paris, Ted Sponsel; Theresa Reed, director; guitar, Will Putman. Author of words and music is unknown. Courtesy of the Writer's Union of Canada.


4. The Man That Struck It Rich In the Klondike

Several successful gold miners fit the description of the man in this 1898 song. "Tammany's van Wyck," in the chorus refers to Robert van Wyck, the successful 1897 Tammany Hall candidate for mayor of New York City.

Vocal, Dana Hart; pianist, Genie Loser. Words and music by Albanus Soderlund.

5. The Klondike; March of the Gold Miners

Imagine yourself in a Dawson home in 1898. You have just finished a pleasant dinner and retire to the sitting room. This music may have part of the entertainment. Several archives in Canada and Northern United States have copies of this 1897 piano solo. Composer, Theodore Metz, contributed this and another song to the gold rush. The summer of 1899, Alaska Natives sang his, "Hot Time in the Old Town," to soldiers on the Copper River and to miners on the Kobuk River.

Pianist, Paul Krejci.

6. He Is Sleeping in the Klondike Vale, Tonight

While some miners struck it rich others were not so fortunate. The December 10, 1898, issue of the Klondike Nugget reported that, “The audience refused to be satisfied until Mr. [Fred N.] Tracy had obliged with ‘The Klondike Vale’— which is destined to be a great favorite with Dawson audiences.”

Vocal, Bill Reed; pianist, Genie Loser. Words and music by M. J. Fitzpatrick.

7. Dear Evelina, Sweet Evelina

The fiddle sounds lonely as it begins this waltz but in 1897 at the Last Chance Roadhouse it was the only instrument and the dancers were glad to have "Three-tune" Eddie Draper available. Charles Hamlin, author of Old Times in the Yukon included this tune, which he described as "dreamy," with "Mountain Canary" (see track #2) . The song appeared in an 1848 Christy Minstrel collection of songs with only "M.T." given as the composer.

Fiddle, Susie Hallinan; guitar, Scott Darter; mandolin and harmonica, Charlie Hunt; bass fiddle, Robin Dale Ford. Composer is unknown.

In spite of the camaraderie the miners were often lonely and thoughts of family and friends crept into their music.

8. Why Don't You Write a Letter Home

Jack Hines, author and miner, sang this 1898 song at Tex Rickard's Northern Saloon in Nome the summer of 1900. "The post office had an increase of letters going out the next day,” Hines wrote in Minstrel of the Yukon.

Vocal, Bill Reed; pianist, Genie Loser. Words and Music by Wm. H. Windom and Gussie L. Davis.

9. The Girl I Left Behind Me

Lynn Smith was serenaded by friends with this 200-year-old British military tune as he boarded the train in Anderson, Indiana the summer of 1898 . Smith was going to the Klondike. One of the many young ladies who came to bid him good-bye remarked, "It is just too bad." Smith mined, was a jeweler, and finally a US Marshall in Fairbanks.

Vocal and guitar, Will Putman; mandolin, Charlie Hunt; fiddle, Susie Hallinan. Authors of the words and music are unknown.

10. With Gold I Bring From the Klondike

Many a man made a promise like this to his wife or sweetheart as he left home to join the gold rush. Horace Conger sold his pharmacy in Kasota, Minnesota and took passage to Valdez, Alaska. Writing to his wife from Valdez on March 8, 1898, he said, “I hope and pray two years will find me on my way home with enough [wealth] to take us to Paris and to live on for the balance of our lives.” A year-and-a-half later he was in St. Michaels at the mouth of the Yukon River ready to return home—with no gold.

Vocals, Theresa Reed, Bill Reed; pianist, Genie Loser. Words by Wm. H. Gardner, music by Chas. D. Blake, 1897.

11. Wanted, My Darling PaPa

June Baldridge of Dodge Center, Minnesota, born in 1924, was 70 years old when she provided this touching song by cassette tape. Mrs. Baldridge recalls learning the song as a child but is unsure of its origin. Several groups of adventurers from Minnesota stampeded north during the gold rushes. A search of five years of turn-of-the-century Minneapolis Tribune personal columns yielded nothing. Still it has the ring of truth.

Vocal, June Baldridge. Author of words and music is unknown.

12. Klondike Rag

George Botsworth, the composer of this rag was obviously influenced by the style of Scott Joplin. Ragtime has become a favorite mood-setter today for anything gold rush even though show pianists of 1898 were more apt to be playing a fancy "Oh, Dem Golden Slippers," or "Buffalo Gals," since Joplin didn't publish his first rag until 1899. While he is not as well known as Joplin, Botsworth wrote several ragtime solos. This is the only one known to be related to the gold rush.

Pianist, Paul Krejci.

The miners may have pined for their women left behind but some songs talked about other women of the gold rushes.

13. The Belle of the Klondike

"The Belle of the Klondike," was a description given to several performers and assumed by others. It was the title of a movie during the 1940s. The lady in this 1898 song is a widow, whose reputation as the owner of a gold mine won her considerable attention.

Vocal, Julie Rafferty; pianist, Shirley Hughes. Words by J. Dannenberg; music by Ellis R. Ephraim.

14. Such a Nice Girl, Too

A favorite Dawson and Nome dance hall performer, Cad Wilson, was mentioned in several gold rush diaries. This 1892 British music hall tune was her signature song. Inexplicably, the song was never included in any of the gay nineties song collections. It was located in the Library of Congress.

Vocal and piano, Shirley Hughes. Written and composed by Arthur Seldon. Words revised by Hattie Anderson.

15. Cheechako Lil

This is really a song about three people of the Klondike and Fairbanks gold rushes. Lil was a "good time girl" who stopped by Ft. Gibbon at the confluence of the Tanana and Yukon Rivers before moving to Fairbanks in 1904. Curley Monroe was a trustworthy miner who judged wrong about gold in Fairbanks. George Noble was a local business man and sometime entertainer. Cheechako means "new comer." The Fairbanks area was first called "The Tanana," (district) after the river that flows along it southern edge. The song was collected from Frank Young who crossed the Chilkoot with his father in1898 when he was 7 years old.

Vocals, Shirley Hughes, Bruce Hanson; piano, Shirley Hughes. Words by "Tin Whistle Jack." The music is similar to the 1902 Harry von Tilzer song, "Down Where the Wirtzburger Flows."

Sometimes they sang or wrote songs just for the fun of it. A dance was particularly welcome.

16. Irish Washerwoman and Irishman's Shanty

Two tunes are artfully combined to show similarities and to remind us that tunes often have a history. Josiah Spurr, recalling a dance, recited words to "Irish Washerwoman" in his 1900 book, Through the Yukon Gold Diggings. Current published versions of the tune have no words. The search, however, led to "Irishman's Shanty" with words more nearly like those given by Spurr. "Irish Washerwoman," a Scotch-Irish tune was documented in 1792 and is traditionally played in a major key. The two minor key interludes in this performance are from, "Irishman's Shanty," a song published in 1859. The two are obviously related.

Fiddle, Susie Hallinan; mandolin, harmonica, Charlie Hunt; guitar, Scott Darter. The composer of "Irish Washerwoman" is unknown. Henry Tucker claimed authorship of "Irishman's Shanty."

17. On the Banks of the Yukon

Eugene Schmitz wrote the words to this parody set to the 1896 Paul Dresser tune, "On the Banks of the Wabash," while Schmitz was aboard the Yukoner, a shallow draft sternwheeler headed toward Dawson in June of 1899. He and a fellow Dawson symphony member, Alfred Roncovieri, had just chased a cheating partner down river from Dawson to Ft. Yukon. With a reluctant illegal prisoner, a mutinous crew, and a leaky boiler, author Walter Curtin described the trip upriver as ten days of fun and music. Both Schmitz and Roncovieri (see next track) had been members of the San Francisco symphony before their adventure in the north. Schmitz was mayor of San Francisco during the 1906 earthquake. Vocal, Brian Bennett; pianist, Jean A. Murray.

18. The Chilkoot March

Composer, Alfred Roncovieri, published this piano solo in 1897, two years before he and fellow San Francisco symphony member, Eugene Schmitz (see previous song) went to the Klondike. We are not told whether Ronconvieri played the song as they went upriver the summer of 1899.

Pianist; Paul Krejci.

19. Let the Sunshine In

“One of the most popular songs on deck these cloudy days has been...‘Let a Little Sunshine In,’” Joseph Grinnell wrote in his diary on June 25, 1898. He was about 75 miles south of the Bering Strait. Grinnell was part of a group of twenty stampeders from California who were sailing on their own three-masted schooner intending to find gold along the Kobuk River in northwest Alaska. No gold was found along the Kobuk.

Vocals; Robert Menaker, lead; Rick England, tenor; Allen Menaker, baritone; Virgil Holman, bass. Words for this 1885 gospel song were written by Ada Blenkhorn; music by Chas. H. Gabriel.

20. Klondike Gold

"Klondike Gold," commissioned by William Randolph Hearst, the publisher of the San Francisco Examiner, was featured in the February 13, 1898, Sunday Supplement issue. The words in the chorus, "to cut the pigeon wing," refer to a fancy dance step executed by jumping and striking the legs together.

Soloist, Bill Reed; Chorus, FLOT Showcase; pianist, Genie Loser. Words by Roger S. Phelps; music by Leo Bruck.

21. Turkey in the Straw

"The good old-fashioned dances were the most popular. The miners and the stampeders loved the shottish, the polka, the square dance, and waltz. 'Turkey in the Straw' was a high favorite," Eugene Allen, the Klondike Nugget editor, wrote in his memoirs. It continues to be a favorite, today.

Fiddle, Susie Hallinan; mandolin and harmonica, Charlie Hunt; guitar, Scott Darter; bass fiddle, Robin Dale Ford. The composer is unknown.

22. Some Folks

"We sang all the Stephen Foster songs," remarked Betty, a singer at Hannah Marr's Bar in Skagway, the summer of 1898.

Vocal and guitar, Will Putman; mandolin, Charlie Hunt. Words and music by Stephen Foster.

23. Arctic Brotherhood Two-Step

Gedeon Pepin composed this 1909 piano solo in honor of the Arctic Brotherhood, a fraternal organization that started in Dawson during the gold rush. It was "Respectfully dedicated to my friend H. J. Landahl, Arctic Chief, Dawson Camp No. 4." Pepin was the organist for Dawson's St. Mary's Catholic Church after the church bought an organ in 1901.

Pianist, Paul Krejci.

24. Yukona

"Yukona," appeared in the February 10, 1902, Daily Klondike Nugget as the winner in a song contest with a prize of $50. The paper had great expectations for the anthem saying, "[It] has been received with great favor by all who have heard the song, which is especially impressive when rendered by a large number of singers as was the case at the concert Friday night." Gedeon Pepin (previous song) more than likely attended the performance.

Quartet; Soprano, Theresa Reed; Alto, Marcia Holt; tenor, Silver Chord; bass, Bill Reed. Chorus; FLOT Showcase; director, Theresa Reed; pianist, Genie Loser. Words by Emogene Coleman; Music by Arthur Boyle.


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