Carolyn grew up in the historic town of Prescott, Arizona, and now lives in Tucson. She is the author of nine nonfiction books on Southwestern subjects: popular ethno-botanies of western plants, biographies, a book about Native American women, and a travel book on Southeastern Arizona. The Piano Player is her first novel.
She has brought the same level of exacting research to this novel as she has to her earlier nonfiction works. One early review says, “The main character in The Piano Player is the Wild West itself; especially the Gold Rush Wild West, stretching from scorching Tombstone to the frigid Klondike.” Find the book at https://tinyurl.com/madl42a. And check out her website at www.cniethammer.com.
Here’s some of Carolyn’s research about women – real life as well as fictional – in the Yukon:
Recently Ilene wrote about Josephine Marcus Earp when she lived in Tombstone during the silver heyday.
The late 19th century was an exciting time in America’s history and the Yukon Gold Rush of 1898 was one of the greatest North American adventures. A few intrepid women joined in. The first half of my new historical novel The Piano Player is set in Tombstone and overlaps somewhat with the time Mrs. Earp was there. The second half follows Nellie Cashman, a well-known historical character, and Frisco Rosie, her fictional friend, after they left Arizona and they hiked the treacherous Chilkoot Pass in yet another a quest to find a claim that would make them rich.
In 1897, the country was ready for something exciting to happen. The United States was in the deepest depression the country had ever seen. Then in the fall of 1897, a ship steamed into Seattle carrying miners who brought with them more than two tons of gold they had found in streams and creeks along the Klondike River. Every newspaper in the country carried the story.
Within the next year, more than a hundred thousand hopefuls left farms, banks, and shops behind as they headed for the Klondike, intending to cash in on creeks full of nuggets just lying there for the taking. Among these seekers were Nellie and Rosie. They were both getting older. If they were going to make their fortunes while they were still vigorous enough to take on the challenge, it had to be now.
In my story, the two women join up with a couple of men to prepare to make the climb over the icy pass and down the Yukon to Dawson City. They left in the spring, hoping to get in before the frozen Yukon broke up. (They didn’t make it, but that’s part of the tale.)
There was an easier way to get in, and that was the all-water route, entering the Yukon at St. Michael and transferring to a barge for the trip to Dawson City. But you had to wait for the spring thaw to get in. The payoff for enduring the risk of going in “over the ice” was to beat everyone else and have a chance at the best mining claims.
However if you were going in purely for adventure, you could wait until the Yukon thawed and go in more comfortably by boat. That was the case with two women, Mary E. Hitchcock and her friend Edith Van Buren, who traveled by boat with a Great Dane, a parrot, pigeons, a canary and a parakeet. (The parakeet died.) Their mountains of luggage included an ice cream freezer and a tent the size of a large room.
At this point, you might think I have delved into fiction, but no. All true.
Mrs. Hitchcock wrote of their adventures, commenting on the swarms of mosquitos so thick that the travelers needed to wear nets over their heads. When the boat stopped to take on wood, they took a photo of a three- year- old native child smoking a pipe.
In The Piano Player, although things didn’t turn out as Nellie and Rosie had hoped, they hitched up their skirts and fought all the odds to make lives for themselves. For one, it was the culmination of a long delayed romance. In the case of the real life Mrs. Hitchcock and her friend, they found a spot to pitch their enormous tent, made friends, joined Dawson high society, and then commissioned a small house to be built. They waited too late to go out for the winter on a boat and the river froze up. The easy exit they anticipated ended up with their having to hike out over the White Pass, an alternate route to the Chilkoot. That return trip must have whittled the glamor off the Klondike for them because there is no indication that they ever returned to Dawson City and their little house.