This is Lee Habib and this is Our American Stories. And we tell stories about everything here on this show, including yours.
Send them to OurAmericanStories.com. And coming to terms with grief. Here's David LaBelle with his story. My name is David LaBelle. I'm primarily a teacher and a photographer and have been for the last 50 years. I started in high school. When I was a junior in high school, I was probably the kid most likely to end up in prison.
In fact, I think some kids probably wrote that in the yearbook for me. Because I came from a difficult family and I wasn't a good student and I hated school. And so, you know, I stayed away from school. I ditched school as much as I could. And then eventually they caught me, a truant officer caught me, I think as a junior. And then I had to, I had to go to school, had to go to night school in order to even graduate from high school. When I, I used to walk to the halls of the high school when I was a junior and I would see these photographs on the walls and I thought, boy, that's what I'd like to do. And then eventually when they asked, when they took me, the truant officer took me to school and they asked me, you know, how do we keep you in school? I said, well, I'd like to take photography.
I think that would really be something that would center me. And he said, you can't do it basically. He said, you know, there's a, there's a waiting list of 300 kids. You have to be a good student and you're not.
And so we're not going to let you in. And then what I'd learned 40 years later, when I was talking to my high school photographer, my high school photo teacher one night, he said, you know, had it not been for your mother, you know, you would have never been in that photo class. And I said, I don't know what you're talking about. He said, your mother came, came to me by night and begged me to let you in the photography class because she was so worried about you, worried that you were really going down the wrong path and that you were going to be in trouble. So I, you know, I mean, that's very humbling when you realize that because it did change my life. And I ended up being pretty good in photography. And so she, she's the one that believed in me. She's the one that certainly was my advocate many times had it not been for her.
And I'll give one quick, one quick example. When I was a senior, you know, we didn't have any money. I was a senior. You had to have a $10 craft card to be able to take the photo class. And I didn't have $10. My mother went to my dad and she asked him, you know, said that she needed the $10.
And he kind of reacted bad. Like, what do you need $10 for? What are you going to, I mean, what's he going to do with photography anyway? What's the, what's that going to do in his life? And so she advocated for me and said, you know, I think that he is going to do something.
I think this is something that, that there's going to be a lot of potential. So she, again, she, she stood up for me. She, I mean, basically she was my matrix.
I mean, people need that in their life. You know, in every family, there's usually, there's usually one pillar. And sometimes it's the mother, sometimes it's the father.
If you're really blessed, it could be both of them. My father, bless his heart, tried to do well, but he wasn't, he wasn't a great father. He struggled with a lot of things.
My mother was, when she was in high school, she met my father and my father was a handsome guy, rode a motorcycle and I get whatever it was, there was an attraction. And so she got married and, and then she had five children. That became her life. And it was a burden. I mean, it was, it was a financial burden.
It was an emotional burden. My mother was, I think, always sad, always a dreamer, wishing that we had a better house, that she had a better kitchen, that we had more money, that we, that there was more stability in the family. She always, she always dreamed that. And I think she just pretty much lived her life in pain, which always was painful to me.
You know, when she went through high school, she could type very fast, probably had a great career in something. And then she, she, she, she, she, she, she, married the dreamer, my dad, who, so it kind of came to a screeching halt, but she was always, I don't think I remember about her more than anything. She would read to me a lot growing up, even when I was 15, I would, we would drive and she would read, read books to me, you know, read The Wind in the Willows, read, you know, Where the Red Fern Grows. She's the only one that really played baseball with me. I mean, she would pitch to me out there on the, on the rocky field and I wanted to be a baseball player. So she would get out there and pitch to me. And you know, I mean, we did a lot of things together.
I wish I was kinder to her. I'm trying to think I was 17, a friend of mine named Randy Miller. He dared me one day to run away to go to Missouri. I took the dare. So I took my mother's car, which was a Plymouth station wagon. And we headed out, I had $2 with me. We headed out for Missouri on a Saturday and we made it. It was, I siphoned gas.
We had people help us and it's, and that is in itself is a credible story. Well, the long story short is it broke my mother's heart and I didn't even realize until really in the last year or two, how devastating that must've been for her because I was closer to her than probably anybody else. Not that she wasn't close to my brother and sister. She was, she was loving and she caring, but we had a special relationship.
I just, one person that I felt like I could talk to and trust. And so when I still basically stole her car, she's afraid for my life. She doesn't know what's going to happen to me. And we're driving across in the winter. And then I remember when we finally got home, we were gone about two weeks. We finally got home. The look on her face haunts me to this day. It was a combination of relief, of contempt for what I did, of anger, but above all, there was just disappointment. I disappointed her and that I wish they just would have beat me with a stick rather than, it was so disappointing to look at her eyes. But she, one thing about her is that she saw, yeah, I was pretty reckless and wild, but she, but she knew that I had a good heart.
And so she, I mean, she, I mean, she was my comfort. And so losing her as a high school senior was, was pretty tough. And it's not something that you ever forget. And it's something that forever shapes who you are and how you interact with others. And you're listening to David LaBelle tell the story of his mom and my goodness, how he must've felt bringing that car home. And we've all been there disappointed our parents or loved ones.
And you don't need to get yelled at. You've already beaten yourself up enough, but what a feeling that is when we come back, more of the story of David LaBelle and his mom here on Our American Stories. Folks, if you love the great American Stories we tell and love America like we do, we're asking you to become a part of the Our American Stories family. If you agree that America is a good and great country, please make a donation. A monthly gift of $17 and 76 cents is fast becoming a favorite option for supporters. Go to our American stories.com now and go to the donate button and help us keep the great American Stories coming.
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Simply go to Geico.com or contact your local agent today. And we're back with Our American Stories and David LaBelle's story. When we last left off, David was telling us about his mother, a woman with a lot of sadness in her life, but whom he truly loved.
He also mentioned how he wished he was kinder to her because she passed away young when David was a mere senior. And we're back with Our American Stories and David LaBelle's story. Let's continue with the story. It'd been raining a lot.
Ventura County had a lot of rain and so much so that my mother and I had a conversation. We read in the newspaper about eight boy scouts who died while trying to cross the river on a giant caterpillar. And we said, guy, what, what if it got that bad here? What would we do? You know? And David said, well, you know, a giant caterpillar. And we said, guy, what, what if it got that bad here?
What would we do, you know? And within five days, the same, that happened to us. In five days, the creeks kept, you know, swelling. And on this particular night, it was, it was Friday night. The creek was, it was so deep and so fast. And it was tearing up houses and tearing up all kinds of stuff.
Well, that, that night about, you know, 10 or 11 o'clock, my dad came in and they went to bed. And then about five in the morning, my brother wakes us up and he says, look outside. It was just getting daylight and the cars were moving and there was water all around the house. Everything was starting to move.
He couldn't stop him. My dad had a power wagon and all of a sudden it's going down the river. And eventually we were able to get everybody on top of the roof of the house. And I was still inside trying to call flood control, trying to call anybody to get us help. And actually I was on the phone with a friend and she said, are you all right? And I said, I don't, I don't know.
I said, we're really desperate situation here. And right then the back door broke open and all the water came through and I, and I went out with it and, and was able to get pulled on the roof. And we were on that roof for, I don't know, four or five hours. It's a freezing rain.
I mean, it's probably 33 degrees. It's just rain is beating you and it's ice and we're frozen and it's cold. And all you, you have five hours to think about what the end of your life's going to be. It's not like, wow, I almost hit the curb and boy, well, I saw my life.
No, I hadn't, I saw my life flies for me in over hours and prayed to God that I would be saved, that we'd all be saved. You know, bargaining, doing anything to try it, because you know, you're going to die. And it's like that. You get this terrible cottony feeling in your mouth because you know, this is the end. I mean, there's just, was not a way out of it.
And I'm pretty good at looking for ways out of things. There wasn't a way out of it. So we waited and waited. And then eventually we knew the house was going to break up and we were all going to get chucked in the river. And there's no way you could swim in that.
There's nobody could swim in that. So I kept pacing the roof and telling, trying to tell my family, I said, Ben, you know, when this thing, when this roof breaks, it's going to go toward the main current and it's going to bounce off and it's going to go to shallower water for a couple of minutes here. And when that happens, we have to jump as far towards the hills as we can.
That's the only chance we're going to have. So eventually we heard the walls crash and everybody was like, oh my gosh, here we go. The roof starts down the river. And it did just as I had predicted, because I watched sticks in the creek all my life. I jumped as far out as I could. And I actually, you couldn't see it, but there was gravel under the water. I hit gravel and I was able to stand up.
And I looked back and nobody else had jumped. And here comes the roof down the river. I mean, there's no way they're going to survive this.
And so I'm helpless to watch this. And then a big sycamore tree comes rolling down and crashes into the thing and knocks everybody off. And people are hanging onto the tree. Part of the roof pins my sister against the tree. My mother tries to get to her. She's like hanging onto the tree, tries to get to my sister. My brother tries to get to my sister to free her.
They eventually pulled a piece of the wall away from her enough. And she passed out basically. And my brother grabbed her. My mother lost her hold. And so my last image is watching my mother, you know, sitting backwards, slapping the water and screaming. And that's where she disappeared. That's a really hard last image, you know, for anybody, particularly somebody who was, who, you know, who you loved that much.
We never found her. We looked. And then about, it might have been five or six years or eight years after the fact, a car rolled over the side of the hill, up the R&S grade, which is about two or three miles from our house. And when it rolled, well, when it rolled over, it unearthed a skeleton. And the skeleton was, you know, only a few feet from the highway, which means that if someone was thrown out of a car, somebody, they don't know what, why that skeleton was there. And so for a while, it was presumed that that skeleton was the skeleton of my mother. And if that, if that was the case, which was really troubling, it meant that she survived the water and somehow had climbed at 75 or 100 feet up the side of this hill and almost made it to the highway before she died. That could have happened. So I got to thinking about that over and over and like, oh my, what, what if that's her? What if that's what happened? The coroner called my dad and I and asked us, would we come there to try and take DNA samples?
So after the test, they just said, the tests are inconclusive. And the coroner said, I don't believe that's her. But from that I thought, okay, what if she did survive?
It's possible. What if she did climb up that hill? What if she was so beaten and stripped and disoriented that she didn't know what she was doing? And what if somebody, you know, she could have amnesia. What if somebody picked her up and helped her?
She didn't know who she was at this point. And so that really, that became a very remote possibility. And I know it's remote. As remote as that is, that possibility gives you something to kind of, to kind of build on. And so from that point on, after I was given the news, I started putting a story together. And I realized through the course of writing it, over 25 years writing it off and on, that I was going to have to go back to the story. And I realized through the course of 25 years writing it off and on, that something really incredible happens. Is that when you're working on a story, particularly when you get into the fiction part of it, as long as you're working on the story, those characters are real and they're alive. And it was when I finished the story that it really got me.
I finished the story on this upper, they had this kind of a balcony I was working out of and was there a lot in Kent, Ohio. When I finished writing that on Christmas day, I sat there and just wept because it really, it really struck me then that this is fiction. She's not alive.
This is, I made this up. But until then, you're sort of, you're kind of living on false hope. And I know, it's like mentally you know that.
You know that the chances of her being gone are great and that she's not alive. But that's the miracle of fiction when you write it, is that those people can live forever. You know, I worked in a program in Ohio, it's called the Athens Photo Project. And what we do is we use photography and the arts to really to kind of help stabilize people, you know, you know, to help them get over their stories. And one of the things you learn about that, you know, when you work with this group is that you would tell them, you know, you can change your story. Just because you're a drug addict doesn't mean you have to be a drug addict. Just because you were abused as a child doesn't mean you have to live that abuse. You can change your story. And you think about it, that's what I'm doing is I'm changing my story. I'm changing the ending of what I think happened to what I wish could happen.
An ending that I can live with, that I can have peace with, you know, instead of always having to live in the past. I don't always have to be the suffering child. I don't always have to be the, you know, as my wife says, the kid with no lunch money. I don't always have to be those things. So just as those, you know, in mental health recovery, how we use photography in the arts for them to change their story and to kind of stabilize them and balance their lives.
And I've been able to do the same thing. If the self-therapy, you know, I didn't go to a therapist, you know, writing and my photography was therapy, all that is what makes me who I am today. And a special thanks to Monty on the production of that piece and a special thanks to David LaBelle. His book, Bridges and Angels, the story of Ruth.
Get it on Amazon.com or the usual suspects. And there's so much in this story that most of us can relate to. And my goodness, that last image, seeing his mother slapping and screaming in the raging flood and never seeing her again.
Well, that's not something that happens to most of us. You can change your story. That's what David LaBelle closed with. I don't have to always be the suffering child.
I don't have to always be the kid without money. David LaBelle's story, his grief story and how he rebounded here on Our American Story. And we continue with Our American Stories. Between 1896 and 1899, the stampede to Dawson City in the Yukon was the last great gold rush in history.
Scurvy, dysentery, frostbite, starvation and worst of all failure stalked all who dared to arrive in Dawson. Here to tell the story of one of the bravest and most successful entrepreneurs of the Klondike Gold Rush is Roger McGrath, author of Gunfighters, Highwomen and Vigilantes. A U.S. Marine and former history professor at UCLA, McGrath has appeared on numerous History Channel documentaries and is a regular contributor here for us at Our American Stories.
Here's McGrath. No woman figured more prominently on the Yukon and Alaskan frontiers than Belinda Mulroney. She gained international fame as the richest woman in the Klondike and made and lost more than one fortune. She became a character in novels and her dog the inspiration for Buck in the Call of the Wild. Belinda Mulroney is born in Ireland in 1872 but she's reared partly in Pennsylvania when her father leaves Ireland to work in Scranton's coal mines.
Here's Melanie Mayer, author of Staking Her Claim, the life of Belinda Mulroney, Klondike and Alaska entrepreneur. Belinda's early years in Ireland have a big effect on her personality. She doesn't know her father, John, because he leaves for America shortly after she's born. Then after two years of bonding with her mother, Mary. Mary disappears too.
Belinda is left in the care of her loving grandparents on the farm in Ireland and she does have some young rough-and-tumble uncle playmates who help her learn to stand up for herself and not whine. But losing her mother is traumatic. Who can she really trust?
Who can she really love? This will be an issue the rest of her life. As a child she turns to her trusty donkey.
She calls him her twin because he was born on the same day she was. When Belinda is almost 13 years old, her parents send for her to come to America. She says, leaving my uncles was bad. Leaving my grandmother was worse.
But leaving the donkey, I threw my arms around his neck and I cried and cried for hours after I left him. Belinda leaves home in 1893 to open a small restaurant at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Before the exposition closes, she has accumulated eight thousand dollars in profits, something like a quarter million in today's money.
Mulroney's next stop is California, where she opens an ice cream parlor in San Francisco. The money is rolling in again, but a fire destroys the parlor and leaves her broke. She ships aboard a coastal steamer, City of Topeka, as a stewardess. She quickly gains a reputation for resourcefulness, business acumen, quick wit, and spirit. When a snobbish passenger condescendingly tells her to black his boots, she tells him if she sees his boots outside his cabin door, she will throw a pitcher of water on them.
When a baby has to be delivered, she does the job, while the ship's captain stands discreetly outside the cabin door and reads instructions from a medical text. The captain is so impressed by Mulroney, he soon puts her in charge of purchasing supplies for the ship. For her extra duties, she receives a 10% commission on the cost of the supplies, but so canny as Belinda that the captain still reckons he gets a bargain.
When news of the gold strike in the Klondike region of the Yukon reaches the Alaskan coast during the spring of 1897, Mulroney has saved $5,000. She says goodbye to the captain and uses her money to buy all the cotton goods and hot water bottles she can find. With the help of hired hands, she packs her goods from the port of Dye, over the coast of the Dye, over a treacherous Chilkoot Pass, and then floats on a raft hundreds of miles down the Yukon River to Dawson, a mining camp that is fast becoming the great boom town of the far north.
Stepping ashore, Mulroney throws the last coin in her pocket into the river and exclaims, never again will I need such small change. She's right, she sells her cotton goods and hot water bottles on Dawson's main street at a 600% profit. Here's Charlotte Gray, author of Gold Diggers, striking it rich in the Klondike. In her packing, she has these long aluminum tubes, and she won't tell anybody what's in them. She gets to Dawson within six weeks. She has a restaurant going, she is supplying men with outfits, and she has a construction business going.
Because what was in those aluminum tubes was incredibly wonderful silk underwear, lingerie, night dresses. And she knew that there were women in Dawson, and she could sell this stuff to them at a huge profit. She opens a diner that's crowded with men daily, and builds cabins that are sold before they are finished.
Here's Melanie Mayer. Belinda reaches Dawson in the early summer of 1897 when she's 25 years old. She's been clever enough to get there before most of the stampede of Gold Seekers, but she knows they're coming. So she explains, I started buying up all the small boats and rafts that were arriving. Hired a crew of young fellas who had nothing to do. They took apart the boats, salvaging the lumber and nails. I had them build cabins. I wasn't thinking of the money I'd make.
We just had to shoulder those people. But of course, Belinda does make money from those cabins. And even old timers who've been mining in the Klondike for a while end up wanting a cabin for when they come into town. One old timer, Swiftwater Bill Gates, comes into Dawson with a load of gold. He's so eager to buy one of Belinda's cabins, he pays $6,500 for it.
In today's money, that's like $117,000. Mulroney takes another gamble and opens a hotel and store in the heart of the mines, where El Dorado Creek pours into Bonanza Creek. Here again is Charlotte Gray. It's the city of whiskey, women and gold. Everything was paid for in nuggets and gold flakes.
And every commercial establishment had a set of scales on its counter. By the fall of 97, her Grand Forks Hotel is open. Prices for meal and lodging, and for whiskey and cigars, are the highest in the Yukon.
No matter. Sourdoughs throw gold nuggets onto the Grand Forks bar. Mulroney is also in a location to get the first word on every new claim. By winter, she's an investor in several valuable mining properties.
Putting the name of the name on the list. Putting a hotel 15 miles from Dawson at the junction of Bonanza and El Dorado Creeks, the Forks, isn't everybody's notion of a good idea. One old timer explains, boys, there's a new woman up to the Forks with a bit of an Irish brogue and the tongue of a lawyer that's going to show us old mossbacks how to get rich. Hanged if she ain't got so much money to lose that she's going to build a two-story hotel bigger than any in Dawson right up here on the Creeks. But that's Belinda's genius. She can seek possibilities where others see only muck.
And she has great energy and self-confidence even when only 25 years old. She builds the Grand Forks Hotel using construction skills she learned at the Chicago World's Fair five years earlier. And the Grand Forks Hotel is a huge success not only as a hotel but also as a restaurant, a bank, and a social center during the long bitterly cold nights of the Yukon winter. And when we come back we'll hear more of Belinda Mulroney's story, the richest woman in the Klondike. America not reimagined but America's story simply retold.
Our American stories continues after these commercial messages. And we return to Roger McGrath and the story of Klondike gold strike queen Belinda Mulroney. When a boat loaded with supplies is wrecked on a sandbar in the Yukon River, Belinda goes in a partnership with Alex McDonald to salvage the cargo.
Big Alex stands over six foot seven and weighs nearly 300 pounds. He began his stay in the far north as a laborer and worked his way up to managing an Alaskan trading company. Through the acquisition of one mind after another he is becoming a multi-millionaire.
He will soon be known as the king of the Klondike. Mulroney and McDonald have a crew who salvage the cargo but McDonald has the goods divided before Mulroney arrives. McDonald takes crates full of foodstuffs for himself and leaves cases of whiskey and boxes of rubber boots for Mulroney.
With winter approaching and starvation a real possibility, foodstuffs will be at a premium. You'll pave through the nose for this, Belinda tells Big Alex. Here again is Melanie Mayer, author of Staking Her Claim, the life of Belinda Mulroney, Klondike and Alaska entrepreneur. You can understand Belinda's relation to Alex McDonald if you think of her rough and tumble days with her uncles in Ireland. They like each other but they're competitive, very competitive. Their so-called practical jokes are tricks where the jokester sets up the other person to be duped.
But Belinda is determined to not be anybody's victim. Early in the spring of 1898 there is an unusual heat wave causing a sudden thaw. The rapidly melting snow and ice floods the Klondike country. Work in the mines is impossible without rubber boots. None other than Big Alex arrives at Mulroney's pleading for rubber boots for his men. Belinda sells the boots all right but makes him pay thirty dollars a pair, the equivalent of nine hundred dollars in today's money.
Mulroney uses the profits to build the Fairview Hotel on Dawson's Main Street during the spring and summer. Nearly everything that goes into the Fairview has to be freighted from the Port of Skagway. Belinda makes the long and dangerous journey to the Alaskan coast to personally supervise the operation. She arrives there only to learn that Joe Brooks, the packer she has hired, has moved her goods just two miles up the trail before dumping the cargo when getting a better offer to transport whiskey from Bill McPhee.
Joe Brooks is now about to learn what Big Alex learned. Don't cross Belinda Mulroney. Belinda marches to the Skagway wars and hires the roughest men she can find. Legend says she instigates a fight among them and makes the last man standing her foreman. Whether that's true, she's soon leading these men up the trail.
They catch up with Joe Brooks and his crew and beat him and his men into submission. Belinda mounts Joe Brooks' own horse and leads the back train over White Pass and down to boats waiting on the Yukon. The Fairview Hotel opens by the end of summer 1898. It's the most elegant hotel in the far north. It has 22 steam-heated rooms, electric lights, Turkish steam baths, and dining tables spread with fine linen and set with sterling silver and bone china. Cut glass chandeliers hang from the ceilings and an orchestra plays in the lobby. The Fairview is a cash cow from the day it opens.
During its first 24 hours of operation, the bar alone takes in $6,000, something like $180,000 today. By the fall of 98, Belinda is known internationally. Scribner's magazine calls her the richest woman of the Klondike and others christen her the queen of Grand Forks. She becomes a character in the novels of James Oliver Curwood and her dog Nero, becomes immortalized as Buck in Jack London's The Call of the Wild.
Here's Melanie Mayer. Belinda St. Bernard Nero is just a big pup when she adopts him in Dawson and he immediately captures her heart. He grows to be as big as she is and Nero goes everywhere with Belinda, on the trails, into her cabins or hotel, onto boats. When there's snow on the ground, he proudly pulls her in a sleigh basket.
He is her best friend. One day during the spring thaw, they're coming back to Dawson loaded with gold taken in at the Grand Forks Hotel. Belinda has a heavy backpack of it. Nero carries two bags of gold across his back like a saddle.
They come to a place where they have to cross Bonanza Creek on a log, so Belinda goes first. But when Nero tries to follow, he slips and falls into the icy rushing water. His load of gold is so heavy he sinks to the bottom. He can't swim.
Can only sometimes bob his head out of the freezing water for a gasp of air. Holding onto the tree with one hand, with the other she manages to grab Nero's collar on one of his bobs for air. But now, they're in a dangerous fix. The tree is swaying. Belinda can't lift Nero out. He's too big and the gold makes him even heavier. All she can do is keep his head above the water and hope that she can keep hanging onto the tree. Eventually, some miners come along. One miner starts to climb out on the tree with Belinda in an attempt to reach Nero.
But then, the tree abruptly sags. Both Belinda and the miner are dumped into the water with Nero. Eventually, with everyone hauling and pushing, Nero, Belinda, and the helpful miner are rescued. Once his packs are off, Nero shakes off the excess water and is set to go again.
Belinda, of course, is soaked and with no dry clothes on hand, she has a very cold hike into Dawson. Yes, Nero is Belinda's best friend in the Klondike. Even decades later, in 1962, when interviewed on her 90th birthday, tears come to Belinda's eyes when she remembers her faithful, beloved Nero. In 1900, Belinda Mulroney marries Charles-Eugène Charbonneau, purportedly a French Count with the States in Europe.
He is bold, dashing, and handsome, but French-Canadian rather than French, and no Count of any kind. Before Belinda learns the truth, the couple honeymoons in Europe as the Count and Countess. Upon their return to the Klondike, Belinda becomes the manager of the Gold Run Mining Company. When she takes control of the company, it's bleeding red. Within 18 months, she has it, making millions again. Her husband, meanwhile, is losing millions of Belinda's money in European business ventures. She divorces him in 1906. Through hard work and daring gambles, Belinda recovers much of her fortune. One of her new businesses is the Dome City Bank of Alaska. When an investor accuses one of Belinda's sisters of embezzling money from the bank, Belinda collars the man and horse whips him until, in the words of the Fairbanks Times, he cried like a baby. Embarrassed, the man later claims Belinda had two men help her. I needed no help, she replies. Twenty friends, all old sourdoughs of Alaska, begged to be allowed to take the work off my hands, but it was a family affair, and I attended to it to the best of my ability.
A blackmailer simply received a little Alaska justice. Sue Taylor, a woman who plays the role of Belinda Mulroney for visiting tourists at the Palace Grand Theater in Dawson City, shares what brought her to the area and explains why people are still drawn to Dawson to this very day. Belinda Mulroney was, she's a fabulous character, and I feel very honored to play her.
Every time they told her she couldn't do something, she went and did it even bigger and better than they said she couldn't do, and now that's the spirit that's still here, oh you bet. So I came up here and thought I'd see what happened and moved into a tent. Town was full of mud, bought a brand new pair of rubber boots and that was my first day. Walked down to the Westminster Hotel, the boyfriend, he stayed outside, he was afraid to go in. I went inside with my bright shiny boots on and these big hairy guys took one look at my boots, picked me up by my boots, shook me until I fell out of it, then they poured the jug of beer into the gum boot and they passed it all around and when it got to me I had a drink too and I guess I was just accepted. I liked it fine. My boyfriend never did come in and he left town very quickly, but I stayed.
It's just this place has a calling for people who just want to do be themselves and be who they want to be, be who they are. Belinda Mulroney eventually leaves the far north and builds a grand estate near Yakima, Washington. It becomes known as the Charbonneau Castle and is today a historical landmark. She lives there until shortly before her death at the age of 95 in 1967, making her the last of the legends of the Klondike Gold Rush to die. And what a story. Great job as always by Greg Hengler and thanks as always to Roger McGrath, author of Gunfighters, Highwaymen, and Vigilantes. Also a special thanks to Melanie Meyer, author of staking her claim the life of Belinda Mulroney. Belinda Mulroney's story, The Richest Woman in the Klondike, here on Our American Stories.
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