Kate Kennedy

(1882 - 1969)

Print Friendly Version

Kate Kennedy

Kate Kennedy in Oregon, undated
Photo from Patricia Garrett files

Kate Kennedy lived for nearly three decades in the copper mining boomtown of McCarthy, Alaska. Her home was four miles from the mill to which the Kennecott mines would feed copper ore for the Kennecott Copper Corporation for 27 years. Her hotel and dining hall in McCarthy was within sight and easy walking distance from the Copper River and Northwestern (CR&NW) Railroad depot and turnaround yard. In the early 20th Century, Kate Kennedy, a divorced woman, became the largest property owner in the Chitina Valley and McCarthy's best known entrepreneur.

Kennedy's origins are sketchy. She was born in Utah. Her mother was from Utah and her father was from Missouri. Kate's maiden name is, at this time, unknown. By the time Kate ascended Chilkoot Pass in July, 1898 to travel to the Klondike goldfields, she was 16 years old and married to Charles J. Kennedy.

Noted Canadian author Pierre Burton described the Chilkoot Trail in The Klondike Quest: A Photographic Essay. According to Burton, one million people made plans to stampede into the Klondike. About one hundred thousand actually set off, heading north on overloaded steamers packed with people, horses, dogs, goats, pigs, and miscellaneous freight. Many planned to buy gear in Dawson and find gold. For months, interior river valleys were said to resemble anthills (Berton, 1983, 1987). About 30,000 adventure seekers eventually made it to Dawson.

On the Chilkoot Trail, travelers were required to carry or have packers carry adequate supplies for one year per person. This often equated to about one ton of supplies or about 30-40 pack loads up the steep pass. The barest necessities became luxuries as a continuous line of climbers draped across the white-washed slopes.

According to some estimates, approximately one fifth of the gold seekers were women. Kate traveled to Dawson, Canada the same year as Martha Loiuse Black, who would become the 'first lady' of the Yukon. Martha and Kate reached the Klondike about one year after AMHF Inductee Fanny Quigley, a freight and round house operator best known for her future exploits in the Kantishna Mining district in Alaska. Both Kate and Fanny operated primitive roadhouses near one another on Hunker Creek outside of Dawson.

Chilkoot Trail image

Chilkoot Trail, circa 1898
Photo: McCord Museum, California

Hunker Creek Miners

Hunker Creek, Yukon, 1898, where AMHF inductees Kate Kennedy and Fanny Quigley operated kitchens for stampeding miners.
Photo credit: Klondike Archives

"By mid-summer, 1899, word of gold on the beaches of Nome emptied Dawson City" (Berton, 1987). Kate and Charles left Hunker Creek in the Yukon and traveled down the Yukon River and on to Nome. From there, they would continue onto Candle, a newly discovered mining district in the northeast corner of the Seward Peninsula. Candle would become well known for a dog mushing race known as the All Alaska Sweepstakes that covered over 400 miles from Nome to Candle and then back to Nome. This dog race, first undertaken in 1907, featured such famous mushers as Leonhard Seppala and Scotty Allen; and more recently, Rick Swenson and Mitch Seavey. Some of Kate's dogs (she was a dog musher), including Whiskey, came from mushing stock from this race.

By 1909, Candle had a population of approximately 900. The 1910 Census reveals that Kate had nine boarders. Her husband worked as a miner, then a merchant, and he had political dreams. Both Kennedys invested in mining opportunities throughout the Seward Peninsula, including in the Cape Nome mining district.

Candle street scene

Candle Alaska in 1909 shortly after discovery
Photo Credit: UAF Juke Box

Hudson Stuck, the Archdeacon of the Episcopal Church of Alaska and Yukon, Canada, visited Candle by dog sled between 1910 and 1913. His diaries report that assignations took place in Kate's boarding rooms. The term assignation refers to the role of a brothel's madam in arranging for customers to meet with prostitutes. Kennedy was repeatedly accused of assignations during her tenure in McCarthy.

It is unclear how long she lived in the Candle mining district. But by 1914, she was residing in both Blackburn and McCarthy in the Chitina valley of the Wrangell Mountains. She had stampeded into the Wrangell Mountains during the 1912 Shushanna (aka Chisana) gold rush, which pulled in stampeders from across the Territory, including Fairbanks.

In 1912, Charles Kennedy, Kate's husband, was elected to the first Alaska Territorial Legislature. He set a time record mushing his dog team from Candle to Juneau to attend the first Legislative session that began in January, 2013. In his first year, Kennedy voted for an 8-hour-work day for women working in laundries and wrote an amendment that would allow felons out on bail.

In 1914, Charles and Kate Kennedy were divorced in Seattle. Court documents indicate that Kate was awarded $60/month in alimony. Regardless of the terms of the marital split, Kate showed up in McCarthy with more-than-adequate start-up funds to begin her many business enterprises.

Blackburn and McCarthy were small interior mining towns nestled in the Wrangell-St. Elias Mountain ranges. Less than one mile apart, they fought over which community would dominate for the mining company business. After the Copper River and Northwest (CR&NW) Railroad built a depot and rail yard in McCarthy, it became clear which community would win. McCarthy soon became filled with freight haulers, railroad men, road builders, bridge builders, big game hunters, adventurers, surveyors, miners, merchants, drifters, drunks, and dreamers. Many of these characters had already spent time in Dawson, Nome, Fairbanks, and other frontier Alaskan mining camps. Kate was no exception.

After running boarding houses near Dawson and in Candle, Kate knew that, with McCarthy's interior location, with it's vegetable gardens, chicken houses, dairies, good drinking water and railroad to the coast, her work would be much easier than where she operated businesses in Dawson or Candle, north of the Arctic Circle. The Seward Peninsula placer mining camps were serviced with freight from Nome, and interior Alaska districts like the Klondike and Fairbanks were serviced with river steamers. But the freight for these areas was only seasonally provided and at great expense. In contrast, McCarthy was a one day trip by railroad to the year-round ocean port of Cordova.

Group at Blackburn

Kate Kennedy standing near the center of the photo, with her husband and Alaska Territorial Legislator Charles Kennedy with dog in front of her in Blackburn, then the rival community of McCarthy. Circa 1913
Photo Credit: McCarthy Kennicott Historical Museum

Thus McCarthy was the ideal locale for Kate to build her hotel, home brewing facility, card rooms, and boarding units. She built a five bedroom log cabin with in indoor bathhouse. The log cabin burned down in 1920. Kate then moved her business to The Alaska House, a large hotel and dining room on Shushanna Avenue, which became the commercial heart of downtown McCarthy. Kate partnered with Sig and Marge Wold to run a taxi business. First using dog teams and later cars, they ferried workers from the bone-dry Kennecott mine and mill town, where abstention was strictly enforced, to McCarthy to spend their money and leisure time.

Kennedy Kids with Mom

From left to right Sig Wold, three 'Kennecott kids', and Kate Kennedy at 'Alaska House', circa 1920s.
Photo Credit: McCarthy Kennicott Museum

Kate and Sig guaranteed the miners would make their shift back at the mine on time. Kate also partnered with the local sheriff, Jack Reynolds. He left the jail house door unlocked. Miners could sleep it off in the warm jail and not freeze out in a snow bank. That also meant that it was also easier for miners to be picked up by a taxi cab driver.

According to some sources, Kate had prostitutes working for her in McCarthy. She allowed no drunks or violence, and she demanded that women under her employment be clean and stay healthy. She brought her sister to McCarthy to work as a semstress so that woman could dress fashionably. Her friend, Alvina Shultz, had a dress shop in McCarthy. Previously, Alvina had been a chorus girl in Chicago and she was known for her love of exotic furs. Alvina's store ads boasted: "if you saw it in San Francisco, you can buy it here". Her husband, Henry Shultz, was a mining engineer and an investor.

Kate knew that Alaskan Mining Law restricted mine employment to an eight hour work day and that Kennecott Copper Corporation ran three eight hour shifts per day, seven days a week. The miners had spare time to spend money. She provided a setting to lonely workers that was clean, comfortable, and safe.

Her cooking was good and her dining hall was favored by locals and visitors alike. The staff at the Kennecott mines looked forward to spending time with Kate. She was a gracious hostess and had a following. The young nurses teachers, and office workers wrote in their notebooks: "going to Kate's by dog team for tea. Had a lovely time and look forward to going again." (Nell, Stenographer, Kennecott Copper Corporation, undated).

During one of her arrests for "lewd behavior", the crime for alcohol violations during prohibition, the Marshall reported Kate's place: as "possessing a teapot smelling of alcohol and a half-empty bottle of alcohol sitting close by". The arrest further states: "She was using a teapot to serve alcohol". During the 1920s, Kate's Alaska House was a territorial speakeasy in a rich mining boomtown. She provided an escape from the isolation, homesickness, and severe weather conditions of interior Alaska. Her Victrola played the latest clay records. Wallpaper and linoleum were tasteful, and the town's laundry provided clean aprons, table clothes, and towels.

Kate help miners down on their luck, especially old men that she had been with in the Klondike and Candle districts. She helped with financial backing for the Bremner mine after Pete Bremner first started it's development. Kate Kennedy generously supported fund drives for the Armenian orphans and the Red Cross during WWI and she supported the grade school in McCarthy. Although she lacked a formal education, she was literate and strongly believed in education. She was very fond of children, giving them treats whenever they visited. "Oh our moms didn't care when we visited Kate. She was a nice lady and she gave us ice cream". (Ingar Ricci, a 'Kennecott Kid', undated). Another 'Kennecott Kid', Jeanne Moore-Morris, wrote that both of her parents liked Kate. "They never had a bad word to say about her".

Kate and Molly

Kate Kennedy holding Molly Gilmore in front of the Alaska House, circa 1920s
Photo Credit: McCarthy Kennicott Museum

Kate liked dogs. Her favorite sled dog, Whiskey, came with her to McCarthy from Candle. Whiskey is buried at McCarthy at the dog cemetery; his grave is cared for today by locals who still know Kate's story. Without women like Kate in frontier Alaska, it would have been more difficult for the people coming north for riches or for needed change in their lives. She started out with a humble roadhouse on Hunker Creek in the Yukon and expanded her boarding capabilities in the Candle district northeast of Nome.

When Kate arrived in 'metropolitan' McCarthy, she greatly expanded her lodging capabilities at the 'Alaska House' to include a dining room, a billiard room, card rooms, and a roulette table. Of course, she made whiskey and was involved allegedly in, as Hudson Stuck would say, assignations in her boarding rooms. Sig and Marge Wold and Kate provided for nearly all taxi services in the community. Kate did constantly complain about the high freight prices that she paid to the CR&NW Railroad but never stopped using the valuable transportation service. Kate appreciated the latest innovations and bought the latest DELCO generator in November, 1923. (McCarthy was not on the Kennecott electric grid). She invited folks over to look at the generator and moved structures closer to the wired-up Alaska House, including her home, so that she and others could enjoy the luxury of electricity.

It is often said in describing Alaska's Mining History that people liked Kate "mined the miners". Of course she did. Yet the benefits that she made available F— providing comfort to those far from home--more than justified the economic benefits that she obviously obtained. It is likely that Kennecott Copper Corporation would have had a harder time keeping people in the camp without the amenities provide by Kate. Some have said that the company actually subsidized her activities, but that can't be verified. It is well known throughout the West that mining firms tolerated prostitution, bootlegging, alcohol, and gambling in adjacent communities in order to keep men on the payroll.

Kennecott Copper Corporation finally stopped Alaskan production in 1938. In truth, making a go of a copper mine during the 1930s was difficult because of the low copper prices experienced during the Great Depression. The pullout of the CR&NW Railroad began in late 1938 and was completed by late 1939. Kate's remarkable journey in the North was slowing down. She arrived in the 'copper country' in part by dog sled in 1912 and was flown out of McCarthy in 1938 to Chitina by the famed bush pilot Mud Hole Smith. From there, she boarded a Richardson Highway coach and traveled to Fairbanks to visit Sig and Marge Wold, her old business partners. The trip to Fairbanks took three days and you had to get out and push if necessary.

Kane's house in McCarthy

Kate Kennedy's house in McCarthy, built in 1921 and moved to itís present location in 1924
Photo by Paul Scannell, Dublin, Ireland, September, 2016

Then this unstoppable woman, who climbed Chilkoot Pass in 1898, moved to Oregon. Kate's business center, The Alaska House, burned to the ground in 1940. She did not return to McCarthy. A McCarthy woman contacted her in the 1960s and asked about her years in McCarthy. Kate replied: "Oh McCarthy, that was a long time ago. I don't want to think about it right now".

Kate Kennedy passed away in Salem, Oregon in 1969.

By Patricia Garrett 2018

Sources Cited or Researched by the Writer

Cordova Daily News. Review of daily papers from 1908 to 1938 with focus on McCarthy, Copper Kennecott Copper Corporation mines in the Chitina valley, the Copper River and Northwestern (CRNW) Railroad.

Valdez Miners News; Review of 1912-1918 articles focused on Nizina and Shushanna mining districts, and Kennecott Copper Corporation.

Austin, Basil, 1968, The Dairy of the Ninety-Eighter, 2nd Edition: John Cumming, Publisher.

Beach, Rex, 1977, Iron Trail, an Alaskan Romance: Hard Press Publishing,

Berton, Laura Beatrice, 2005, I Married the Klondike: Lost Moose Publishing.

Berton, Pierre, 1983, The Klondike Quest: a Photographic Essay: Houghton and Mifflin, Publishers.

Berton, Pierre, 1987, Klondike: The Last Great Gold Rush: McClelland and Stewart Publishing, pages 61, 77, 89 and 160.

Black, Martha Louise, 1976, My Ninety Years: Alaska Northwest Publishing Company.

Ellis, Lucia, 1962, Klondike Kate, 1873-1957: Comstock Editions.

Fairbanks Daily News Miner, November, 1938 'Kate Kennedy Visits Sig and Marge Wold in Fairbanks'

Garrett, Patt, 2009, Jim Edwards — his Fifty Years in McCarthy: personnel collection of photos.

Garrett, Patt, 2014, Alaska Yukon Gold Rush with Eric Hirschmann, Phd., paper submitted 'Three Women Crossing the Chilkoot Pass in 1898 and their diverse paths from there on —with f ocus on Kate Kennedy.

Garrett, Patt, 2015, 'Kennecott Mines and the CRNW Railroad'.

Garrett, Patt, 2016, Communications with Jeanne Morris-Moore.

Garrett, Patt, 2017, Communications with Jeanne Morris-Moore.

Garrett, Patt, 2017 Communication with Jim Edwards and his years at McCarthy and his parents landlady and friend, Kate Kennedy.

Janson, Lone, 1981, Mud Hole Smith, Alaskan Flyer: Alaska Northwest Publishing Company.

John, Betty, 1987, The Alaska Diaries and Letters of Libby Beaman: Houghton-Mufflin.

Jones, Cherry Lyon, 2006, Remarkable Alaskan Women: More than Petticoats: Two-Dot (Publishers)

Jones, Preston, 2007, Empires Edge: American Society in Nome, Alaska, 1898-1934: University of Alaska Press.

Jordon, Lee, 1916, Stampede! Saints, Successes, Suckers, and Scoundrels of the Yukon Gold Rush: Samson Press.

Kirchhoff, M.J., 1993, Historic McCarthy: The Town that Copper Built: Alaska Center Press.

Lethcoe, Nancy, and Lethcoe, Jim, 1996, Valdez Gold Rush Trails of 1898 - 1899: Prince William Sound Publisher.

Mayer, Melanie, Klondike Women: True Tales of the 1897-1898 Gold Rush: Swallow Press, University of Nebraska.

"McCarthy and Kennecott Local Newspapers 1909-1938"

Shell, Maria, and Garrett, Patt, "Ingar Ricci, February 2015". Visit with Ingar approximately two months before her death about her childhood at Kennecott.

Stuck, Hudson, 1988, Ten Thousand Miles with a Dog Sled: A Narrative of Winter Travel in Interior Alaska-1914: University of Nebraska Press.

Tower, Elizabeth, 1988, Ice-Bound Empire: Industry and Politics in the Last Frontier 1898-1938: Alaska Publishing and Press.

Tower, Elizabeth, 1988, Mike Henny, Irish Prince of the Iron Trails: Alaska Publishing and Press.

Vanasses, Debra, 2016, Wealthy Woman: Kate Carmack and the Klondike Race for Gold: University of Alaska Press.

Wickersham, James, 2010, Old Yukon: Tales, Trails, Trials: University of Alaska Press

.

Top of Page