The Hougen Group of Companies - A Yukon Tradition
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Gagoff Hanged

Sheriff George Brimston asked the man with the noose around his neck if he had any last words. The reply, in Russian, was 'nyet'. "May God have mercy on your soul", said Brimston. The trap door was sprung. The first and only hanging in Whitehorse was carried out.

Alex Gagoff came to the Yukon in 1914 with a party of 40 Russians heading down the river to prospect for gold. He spent the summer in the Dawson area and then moved to Whitehorse in the early winter of 1915.

He worked briefly with a White Pass section gang and then went outside in the spring. He could barely speak English and often said he thought some of the men were making fun of him. In the early fall he returned to Whitehorse.

On September 30th, 1915, the five-man section crew with the White Pass railway were on their lunch break. They were working on the tracks near Ear Lake. Then Alex Gagoff came walking down the tracks. The soul survivor of the looming rampage, Arthur Wilkens, told police that someone said "here comes Alex". At that moment, a round of 30-30 rifle shots split the cool fall air.

Foreman Pat Kinslow was shot in the heart and died instantly. George Lane was shot in the leg and while he tried to tie off his wound, was shot in the head. Tom Bobconich was shot in the head. Henry Cook was shot in the chest and died later in hospital. Arthur Wilkens escaped death by hiding in the bushes.

Gagoff then walked to Whitehorse and strolled down the main street holding his rifle for all to see. He entered McPherson's drug store on Front Street where he was persuaded to give up the weapon. A short time later he was arrested by members of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police. The town was in shock. All four men were known and well liked in the community.

Gagoff offered no motive for the killings. On October 22, 1915 a six-man jury found Alex Gagoff guilty of first-degree murder. Mr. Justice MacCaulley, of the Territorial Supreme court, handed down the sentence. Death by hanging to take place on March 10th, 1916. On that day, a six-man jury was selected to witness the event. Official hangman Ellis, from Ottawa, sprung the trap door. Alex Gagoff was dead.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin



Skookum Jim Mason

Skookum Jim was born, in the 1850's, into the Dakl'aweidi clan of Tagish, son of the Tagish Deisheetaan Chief Kaachgaawaa and Gus'duteen, his mother, who was from the Telegraph Creek area. His birth name was Keish, which means wolf. He came by the name 'Skookum', which means 'strong' in Chinook trade jargon, by carrying 156 pounds of bacon over the Chilkoot Pass for William Ogilvie, almost double the load most prospectors could carry.

Jim was well known for his strength. In the summer of 1892, from a boat he saw two bears fighting, and decided to hunt them. They ran up the mountain from him, but he shot and killed the black bear, then shot and wounded a big brown bear. He had a hand to hand fight with the wounded bear, ramming his rifle into the bear's throat and hitting him on the head with big stones. The bear went downhill and hid in some bushes, where Jim finally killed him with one shot.

When work ran out in Skagway, Jim went with his nephew, Dawson Charlie, and his brother-in-law, George Carmack, to prospect for gold. There is some confusion about who actually made the discovery. George Carmack said it was himself, but Dawson Charlie, Jim and each of their wives said it was Skookum Jim. As Jim told of the discovery to William Ogilvie, the three men were along what is now called Bonanza Creek when their supplies ran out and Jim had to hunt for moose. He called to George and Charlie and, while he was waiting for them, decided to look in the sand of the creek where he had gone for a drink. He found gold, more than he had ever seen before, and consequently set off the Klondike Gold Rush. Their first pay-off was about $150,000. The three men leased their claims and took a celebration voyage to Seattle. After selling his claim in 1904, Jim settled in Carcross.

Skookum 1
Skookum Jim's cabin Carcross. 1922.
Yukon Archives. Finnie Family fonds, #216.
Click for larger view.

Incidentally, Jim and Charlie also set off the Kluane Gold Rush when they made a discovery on a creek in the Kluane Lake area a few years later.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin



George Black 1916

In far off France in that dismal year of 1916, men in the mud braced themselves for yet another shelling. Both the Allied forces of Britain and Canada and the German army had reached a stalemate. The war to end all wars - it seemed - would never end.

Back in Dawson City in 1916, Commissioner George Black, now 43 years old, grew restless. Sporadic news reports from the front lines, were mostly bad. Black, who had come to the Yukon in 1898, as a young lawyer from New Brunswick, knew the war, which was to be over in months, would not likely be over for years.

He telegraphed the Canadian minister of the Militia, Sam Hughes in Ottawa and offered to set up a Yukon Regiment. He received no reply so he made the long trek to Ottawa to personally present his proposal. Hughes said if he could raise a battalion, Black would become a colonel.

Back in Dawson, Black cajoled men from the gold dredges to form an infantry company. The recruitment letter on the Commissioner's office letterhead lead to 275 volunteers who were ready to join George Black overseas. The contingent left Dawson on the sternwheeler Casca on October 16, 1916.

Mrs. Martha Black went too. After months of training, the Yukon Infantry and Mrs Black, the only woman in the company, boarded a troopship and sailed from Halifax harbour in January 1917. In England, the Yukon infantry trained with the17th Canadian Machine Gun Company before going to the front in France .

There, the Yukoners took part in the famed Battle of Amiens, which began on August 8th, 1918. It was the opening phase of the Allied offensive that ultimately led to the end of World War I.

On the grim march to battle in Amiens, just a few months before the November 11 armistice, Captain Black took a bullet in one leg and a piece of shrapnel in the other. His war was over and he was sent to England for medical treatment.

At war's end, Captain Black, now fully recovered, was stationed with the Army of Occupation in Germany . Then, in 1919, the Blacks returned to Canada and settled in Vancouver where Mr. Black opened a law practice. But he couldn't resist politics. In 1920, he ran unsuccessfully for a seat in the British Columbia provincial legislature.

When the federal election was called in 1921, George Black was offered the Yukon nomination for the Conservative Party, so the couple returned to Dawson City and began another phase in their illustrious Yukon careers.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin



Alex Van Bibber

Many Yukoners have fond memories of Alex Van Bibber. Mine is watching him take Babe Southwick’s dog team around the 14-mile course on the final two days of the 1965 Sourdough Rendezvous dog-sled race.

Babe was Alex’s sister-in-law. On the first day of the three-day race, she had finished fifth, but when the lap ended, she collapsed and died of a heart attack. Her number - 8 - was retired in a moving ceremony on the river ice and the mushers decided that the races should continue. Alex Van Bibber drove her team for the next two days in honour of a great Yukon musher. He didn’t win that year, but the symbolism of his feat is etched in Yukon dog mushing history.

Alex was born under a spruce tree, beside the Pelly River on April 4, 1916. His father, Ira, was from West Virginia. He came to the Yukon over the Chilkoot Pass in 1898.

In the Pelly River area, Ira Van Bibber met his Northern Tutchone wife, Eliza. Together they had fourteen children, all born and raised in the wilds of the Yukon. The family lived off the land, hunting, fishing and trapping.

Young Alex attended school in Dawson City at a time when his parents could only afford to send a few of their children to school. Alex was only thirteen when he was put in charge of the handmade log raft that carried him and his brothers several hundred miles downstream to the school in Dawson. He attended school until grade five. Then had to step aside to let his other brothers and sisters get educated.

Alex worked on the gold dredges in the Dawson area during the summer, then went home to trap during the winter.

In January 1943, the U.S. Army hired him to work with an expedition of six men and three dog-teams seeking a pipeline route from the Imperial Oil wells in Norman Wells to Whitehorse. His job was to use his knowledge of the country, to keep the party safe, and to break trail on snowshoes to Fort Norman, Northwest Territories, a distance of about 400 miles. It took about forty-two days to make this overland trip.

Alex started his professional hunting career in the fall of 1943 working for Carl Chambers. It was the start of an extremely successful guiding career that spanned six decades. He owned his own guiding territory, from 1948 to 1968, that he operated with his wife, Sue, who was born and raised in the bush and has lived a subsistence lifestyle all of her life.

A fond memory for Alex came when he was asked to look after journalists when Robert Kennedy climbed Mount Kennedy in 1965. At the Whitehorse airport, Alex presented the U.S. senator with a gold sheep-head necktie.

In the past thirty years, Alex has taught and shared his vast knowledge with others. In 1976, he became the chief trapping instructor for the Yukon Government.

Alex Van Bibber has been formally recognized over the years with various awards including the Order of Canada in 1992, the Yukon Fish & Game Association Sportsman of the Year Award in 1995, and the Canadian Wildlife Federation Roland Michener Award 1996.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin