Skagway, Alaska was the “Gate to the Yukon” in 1898. Thousands of people started their journey to the Klondike Gold Rush through Skagway, most taking a steamship from Seattle to Skagway. Then the stampeders would take either the Chilkoot or Deadhorse Trail to the gold fields. Skagway went from a sleepy homestead to a boomtown overnight.
Although some miners did strike it rich, it was much more common for someone to make good money from other means. Many men, and a few women, set up businesses in Skagway to “mine the miners” and make their fortunes from selling supplies or services to them as they were headed out to the trail or returned to civilization. On the main streets, wooden buildings stood next to canvas wall tents. Saloons, dance halls, stores and newspapers sprung up. Churches and the Salvation Army had a presence too. Grubby miners walked down the boardwalk with businessmen in pin-striped suits.
And of course everywhere people gather for legal reasons, there are others who take advantage of the opportunity to bend or break the law. The king of Skagway was con man Soapy Smith. There are differences in opinion in how nefarious he really was, but there is evidence he and his men conned gullible people through several scams. One was the telegraph service–they’d promise to send your telegram, but there were no lines running out of town. Smith’s saloon, Jeff’s Parlor, was said to be a place were pickpockets worked. And some say that Smith was running a protection racket, extorting money from local businesses for alleged security services. Some Skagway residents decided that enough was enough in the summer of 1898, and Smith was killed by a citizen as he tried to enter a meeting about how to get rid of him.
This is the setting of my young adult historical romance Fools Gold, coming out December 4th! It was easy to create strong characters, drama, and romance with Skagway as the backdrop. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did writing it. For the direct link to the book, go to www.prismbookgroup.com/foolsgold.html.