1936 Yukon Nuggets
Robert Service always said all of the characters in his poems were fictional. Well, we know now that this is not quite true when it comes to Sam McGee. There was a Sam McGee in the Yukon at the turn of the century. As for Dan McGrew - well no-one to my knowledge has discovered a character name Dan McGrew. He is likely a figment of Service's fertile imagination.
But when Klondike Mike Mahoney left the Yukon a relatively rich man, he loved telling tales of his days in the gold fields. He talked at length about Robert Service and claimed he knew many of the people who were featured in his poems. Mahoney would often recite Service to almost any gathering that would listen to him.
He was especially fond of Dan McGrew - both the poem and the man. Mahoney insisted he knew Dangerous Dan. In 1936, he was invited to speak to the Sourdough Reunion in Vancouver and to recite some Service poetry. A newspaper reporter had been writing about Klondike Mike, who had gained fame as the man who packed a piano over the Chilkoot Pass. The sceptical reporter didn't seem to believe much of what Mike had to say. The reporter even went so far as to write to Robert Service asking him to write out an affidavit stating that Dan McGrew never existed. Service did so in a letter to the reporter.
Thus, when it came time at that Sourdough Reunion for Mike to recite Service and tell of the characters he personally knew, the reporter was ready. As Mike began to speak to the crowded hall of sourdoughs, the reporter jumped up and read the letter from Service saying Dan McGrew did not exist.
There was a moment of stunned silence. It's said Klondike Mike's face turned beet red. For a moment, he thought he was trapped.
Then a strange thing happened. The crowd began to boo and shout at the reporter. They told him to take his phony letter and leave the ballroom. Mike's reputation - along with another Yukon legend - was intact.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.