Belinda Mulrooney was born in 1872 in Ireland. Her family emigrated when she was very young and at 21, she set out on her own, operating a sandwich stand during the 1893 Worlds Expo in Chicago.
With her profits from that shop she traveled to San Francisco and opened an ice cream parlor. A fire ended that shop so she found work as a stewardess on a steamship working its route from California to Alaska. She earned extra money on the side by selling necessities to the passengers on board.
With the discovery of gold in Juneau, Alaska she made another move-this time to the north in 1896. But less than a year later, news of the huge Klondike gold strike to the east,in Canada broke. She wasted no time and moved again.
She had no interest in seeking her fortune in mining as 300 thousand ‘Stampeders’ did, she saw a different golden opportunity. But first she must get there….The journey to the gold fields of the Yukon was a long and treacherous one.
Although there were few, the presence of women along the trails was noted in the letters and diaries of male stampeders. In a letter to his wife, Kitty, Fred Dewey wrote:
“It is a big day’s work to haul 100 pounds a distance of four miles, and then go back for another 100. There are three women alone on the trail and they are taking their own stuff in. I would be ashamed to back down before difficulties that those women surmount.”
With her savings of $5000.00,Belinda financed the ton of supplies required and she paid to get help with the transport. What she kept to herself as she traveled was that her supplies were mostly items she intended to sell. She secretly brought what she could make a fortune on. Not the necessities this time, instead she brought the niceties. Silk underwear for the in-demand ladies of the night, bolts of fine cotton fabric and hot water bottles. All sold for 6 times what she had paid for them in a matter of weeks. This was June of 1897 and she was 25 years old.
With her profits from her first venture, she opened a restaurant, a dress shop and purchased land lots in Dawson recognizing the need for housing.
“There was nowhere then in Dawson for the newcomers to live and lumber was as scarce as hens’ teeth so I started buying up all the small boats and rafts that were arriving, hired a crew of young fellows who had nothin to do and had ’em build cabins”
Next she went southeast from Dawson,into the heart of the mining claims. She traveled down the Bonanza and Eldorado Rivers, both the richest tributaries to be found in the Klondike. She built a roadhouse for the miners;The Grand Forks Hotel, at the junction of the two gold rich rivers.
In Dawson City and the outlying mine camps in 1897, gold was used to buy what was needed much more than paper currency. Every business had a set of scales and lucky miners kept little bags of gold nugget, flake and ‘flour’ in their coats. It occurred to Belinda that some of that fine gold dust was bound to end up on the floors of her establishment. She began collecting the sweeps from her saloon, boarding rooms and dining hall and ran them through a sluice daily. This is a commonly found simple piece of equipment used to recover gold.This ingenuity alone brought her $100 a day from the gold dust dirt that fell off the miners. And they were a dirty bunch! In 2016 terms…$2690.44 a day off dirt!
Belinda was also able to profit from information gathered from miners sitting around talking about their digs as they drank in her saloon. By the end of of the year, she either owned or was a partner in five gold mining claims.
“Miss Mulrooney is a modest, refined and prepossessing young woman, a brilliant conversationalist and a bright business woman. Mulrooney, with no big brother or husband to rely upon, believed that if a women could grace almost any business or profession at home, she could be a successful trailblazer” The Klondike News April 1898.
She sold The Grand Forks Hotel in 1898 and set about building the finest hotel in Dawson. The Fairview hotel was her final dream project and she filled it with the most exquisite goods, all which had to be transported over the Chilkoot pass and up the Yukon river. Cut glass chandeliers, silver and China linens and brass bedsteads for her rooms. The three story hotel held thirty guest rooms and also had a fine restaurant.
On October 1, 1900, Mulrooney married self-styled “Count” Charles Carbonneau, who claimed to be a French aristocrat, but was actually a champagne salesman and former barber from Quebec. By 1903 the couple separated, and she had lost her fortune through embezzlement and fraud. In 1906 she obtained a divorce. Her business experience and skill did not help her see who this charlatan was but her invincible spirit was not down for long.
Starting over, she moved to Fairbanks, Alaska in 1905 and prospered once again but this time by opening a bank with her sister Margaret.
Mulrooney died in Seattle in 1967.
T Lee’s thoughts on designing a collection for Belinda Mulrooney:
‘Belinda Mulrooney was a creative, determined and ambitious entrepreneur from a very young age. She had the uncanny ability to study a community and see what their needs were….and then provide that very thing at a fine profit. She never let failure, and she had many, keep her from starting over with another new business idea. The prospector scale was most certainly an object she handled every day as she bought and sold, and this was my inspiration for the Prospector Pendant with Pick Ax Toggle. Complete with 24kt scattered on the chain links and yellow sapphire in the pan, this would be a symbol important to her. She was a woman more likely to wear a neck scarf than a necklace, so I next designed the Yukon Scarf for her. The fine silver flowers terminate each end of the scarf strands illustrating that although the mining town of Dawson was rugged, the beauty of the landscape was irrepressible.’ T Lee December 2016