1920 Yukon Nuggets
She was born into the Wolf clan in the Tagish lake district of what was later to be known as the Yukon. Her Indian name was ShaawTlaa. She was living in her native village on the shores of Tagish Lake, grieving the death of her husband and young daughter. When a young man from California showed up, her life would never be the same.
The 1880s were a time of transition for the Tagish people. White fur-traders and gold-seekers were entering the territory in increasing numbers. George Carmack was one of them. He arrived at the Tagish village with Skookum Jim and Tagish Charlie. Shaaw Tlaa was Skookum Jim's sister. When Carmack asked Shaaw if she would spend the winter with him at Dyea, she agreed.
Thus was born a common-law relationship which would result in the best of times and the worst of times. Carmack, and his wife he called Kate, moved to the Forty Mile district where George operated a small claim with some success. But for Kate Carmack, it was years of endless winter living in a tent, sewing moccasins to sell to the miners.
In 1892, George opened a trading post on the Yukon River above Five Finger Rapids. But the post didn't do well and that summer he left for Fort Selkirk to help build the Anglican church. Kate was pregnant and, in January of 1893, gave birth to a baby girl she name Ahgay.
George and Kate worked the trading post until 1896, when they moved to a spot near the Klondike river, where it enters the Yukon. That summer, Skookum Jim, his younger brother Patsy Henderson, and Tagish Charlie arrived looking for Kate and Ahgay since they hadn't heard anything from them for two years.
It was to be a momentous occasion as Jim, Charlie and George began prospecting the small creek known as Rabbit Creek, while Kate fished for salmon, and took care of her daughter and the men.
It may never be certain who made the big gold find on Rabbit Creek that August of 1896. Whether it was Skookum Jim, George Carmack or even Kate Carmack, what is known is that it forever changed their lives. The wealth from their three claims, on what was renamed Bonanza Creek, kept pouring in and Kate grew tired of sewing moccasins. She now had real money...big money.
In 1898, George Carmack decided to take the entire family, including Skookum Jim and Tagish Charlie, on a trip to the States. Kate Carmack had never seen a city. Unfortunately, she ran into trouble with the law in Seattle for, as a newspaper report said, executing a Yukon war dance in a local hotel. The next summer, George Carmack married a Dawson City woman. Kate sued George for divorce, but the case was thrown out because there was no written proof of a marriage. Kate also filed a suit for maintenance for her daughter, now called Graphie.
She returned with Graphie to the Yukon in 1901. In 1909, George Carmack returned to Dawson and took Graphie back to the States. Kate never saw her daughter after that. She lived in a small clapboard house in Carcross until her death in 1920.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.