Yukon Nuggets

1898 Yukon Nuggets

Klondike Mike


He was a big, bold and brash farmboy from eastern Ontario. When he joined the Klondike stampede in 1897, his youthful vigor and incredible strength got him into and out of a lot of trouble. In later years, so did his Irish wit.

As a teenager in Ontario, Mike Mahoney was a boxer. His life on his father's farm involved a lot of hard work. Mike was a big man. When he got to the Klondike, he was lucky enough to stake some claims. Some were good; some weren't. He'd often augment his earnings by working for others.

Mike Mahoney loved the unusual. So when he was approached in January of 1898 by an entertainment entrepreneur named Hal Henry to help bring a six-woman singing troupe over the Chilkoot pass and down river to Dawson, he jumped at the chance. Mike travelled from Dawson to Skagway. What he found amused him. The women were dressed in New York finery. Hardly the kind who could tackle the Chilkoot. He also found they had with them a piano they used in their show. They were billed as the Sunny Samson Sisters Sextette. Performing in Skagway, they had been making a good sum of money. Mike could see that Dawson City, with all its gold, would be even more profitable.

It was late February of '98 in Skagway, when Mike hired a team of four dog drivers to take the women and their belongings over the Pass to Lake Bennett. But they had one piece of equipment that could cause problems. It was the piano.

Story has it that the piano measured three foot six by four feet by twenty inches. The piano could be taken to Sheep Camp high up on the Chilkoot Trail by dog sled. But the final climb from there to the summit had to be done by a human packer. On this trip over the Chilkoot, only belongings and equipment would be taken. They'd come back to pick up the Samson sisters the next day.

Mike devised a leather harness with shoulder pads. When the dog teams got to Sheep Camp, Mike loaded the piano on his back and joined the long line of men. When he reached the summit, Mike decided to carry the piano a couple of hundred more yards...perhaps to show off.

This phase of the journey ended when they reached to newly built Canadian customs house staffed by Mounted Police. When the officer saw that Mike had a piano to declare, he invited him in for a long chat. It soon became apparent to Mike that under no circumstances would the mounties allow a troupe of six showgirls to cross the border into Canada.

Disillusioned, Mike went back to Skagway to deliver the news to Hal Henry. Thus ended the promising association of Klondike Mike, Hal Henry and the Sunny Samson Sisters Sextette.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.

Les McLaughlin

Les McLaughlin

As storyteller, radio man, and music producer, Les proved a passionate preserver of Yukon heritage throughout his life — nowhere more evident than as the author and voice of CKRW’s “Yukon Nuggets,” from its inception until his passing in 2011.