While doing research for my latest novel, Resolution: Huck Finn’s Greatest Adventure, I came across an astounding woman—one who bested some of the toughest men in the world at their own game. Her name was Belinda Mulrooney.
The setting for RESOLUTION is the Yukon Territory in the year 1896. The biggest discovery of gold had just been made and the outside world was flocking in by the tens of thousands. The women who made the arduous climb over the Chilkoot Pass and flowed down the Yukon River to Dawson City—the hub of the goldfields—all travelled with their menfolk. All, that is, except the twenty-five year old Belinda. She came to Dawson City in 1897 . . . alone.
She arrived without a dime to her name, but she had had the foresight to bring along something that she knew would be in great demand in that hostile environment. She brought one bolt of silk and another of cotton along with fine and delicate ladies’ undergarments. She had trudged over the pass carrying dresses, petticoats, and things that the women who had been in the vicinity before the gold strike—and those that were pouring in—would pay a hefty price for.
Belinda constructed a crude cabin from scrap lumber to live in; its roof—a piece of canvas. The cabin also doubled as a makeshift store. She set up a wood plank to act as a counter and went into business.
After months and sometimes years of wearing coarse, men’s clothing, the women were more than ready to feel a little softness against their skin. They had their men pulling out their pokes of gold dust and lining up with them to purchase the frilly treasures before they were all gone.
Once the last camisole had been sold and Belinda had a substantial poke of her own, she cast an eye about to see how she would next separate the miners from their dust.
She noticed that the few eating establishments in town offered a very dull bill of fare, so she hired herself a man to do the cooking and converted her store into a restaurant. The food she served was so far superior to her competitors’ that the miners were soon lining up outside her cabin, waiting for a seat at one of the few tables inside.
Her poke grew even heavier.
When Belinda saw that the influx of people to the area was not abating, but growing, she went into the property development business. She bought empty lots in town, hired men to build cabins on them, and sold the cabins for an astronomical profit.
Her poke grew heavier still.
At the time, all the mining took place up Bonanza and Eldorado Creeks. When the men needed supplies or just a respite from their back-breaking labors, they would have to hike into Dawson. But first they would have to trek down-creek anywhere from five to ten miles to where the creeks converged. Then it was an additional sixteen miles into Dawson.
Belinda looked at the spit of land where the creeks met and thought it would be a good place to build a hotel and save the miners a thirty-two mile roundtrip hike into Dawson. And at the same time, add a little dust to her poke. Hence, she built the Grand Forks Hotel—a two-story affair. The downstairs housed the bar and the dining room. Upstairs were bunk beds for the miners to catch forty winks before heading back to their claims. The place was always filled to capacity . . . and then some. The hotel was such a success that Belinda built another one. The Fairview Hotel was the first three-story structure in Dawson.
The gold dust continued to pour in.
With no sewers or sanitary conditions to speak of, the water around Dawson soon became polluted. So Belinda started the Yukon Hygeia Water Supply Company, which sold boiled and purified water. The endeavor paid off handsomely. She also bought stakes in numerous claims up and down the creeks. Within a year of landing in Dawson as a penniless, single woman, she had amassed a fortune of almost three million dollars.
The next year, she married a man that was more in love with her money than with her. After he had gone through a good portion of it, she caught on and divorced him.
In 1908, she settled in Washington State where she built herself a grand mansion. She lived there until the 1920’s when her money ran out, forcing her to take menial jobs such as housekeeping and sewing dresses for the wealthy ladies of Seattle.
She died in 1967 at the ripe old age of 95, feisty to the end.
Belinda Mulrooney left the Yukon Territory with as much gold, if not more, than any of the miners. And she did so without panning for an ounce of it while standing stooped over in the freezing waters of a creek. She did it without turning one shovelful of frozen earth. She did it using her wits and the brains that the good Lord had given her.
Belinda Mulrooney was one hellava woman!