Penny Willie McGrew Belinda Lottie S'water Soapy Aces LaDue

....Your computer opponents are modeled on nine of the most colorful characters of the Klondike goldrush. The harshness of the arctic climate allowed only the toughest to survive the rigors of the miners' diggings. Equally rough were the ramshackle towns that dotted the area. Perhaps the most famous of these were Skagway and Dawson City.

....Here fortunes were found, lost or thrown away and found again over a span of barely a decade. Here, too, the contrasts of incredible wealth, stark poverty and opportunism led to some of the most outlandish behavior ever witnessed. Each of these 'house' players occupy a special place in the history of this bygone era.

....A brief biographical sketch of each player follows. Each sketch is based on the literature of the period combined with a likely card playing style. As stated, these are rough characters from a tough era and will provide a formidable challenge.

Penny One Pass Penny

....One Pass Penny (whose real name is still a mystery), would frequent the Aurora Saloon in the wee hours of the morning. It was rumored that she was Alex McDonald's "kept woman" since her losses were both sizable and steady.

....While more than one Alaskan had become addicted to the sport, none was more consistant in manner of play that Penny. Hand after hand would end prematurely with a shake of her head and a muffled curse.

....When she died in late 1915 in a Skagway poorhouse, the press reported that she had made her last pass.

Willie Wild Willie

....In Fortymile, a few miners were hanging out in McPhee's saloon when in burst George Carmack, gulped two straight whiskies, turned from the bar and announced his strike on Bonanza Creek. That happened August 16, 1896, probably the most memorable date in the history of the Yukon.

....But "Lying George"s reputation was so bad that no one at first believed his story. When he emptied a cartridge of nuggets on the bar, the mood began to change. These savvy prospectors knew that THIS gold was different. By morning the entire town of Fortymile was emptied as the rush began.

....Bill Farrell was among the drinkers that nite and joined the exodus. But his luck at finding a rich strike was incredibly fickle. He would stake a claim only to see it pan out at far less value than a neighboring claim. This pattern continued over the next two years and by the time Dawson was a fullblown boom town, his bad luck had become legendary. And left him frustrated and barely in control of his senses.

...."Wild Willie", as he became known, was a frequent visitor at Canfield's saloon and card hall where his play seemed to reflect his irratic luck. For no apparent reason, he'd skip a move on a hunch. Usually he'd lose but occasionally, it would pay off bigtime. Wild was his nickname and wild was his game.

McGrew Dan McGrew

....Altho Robert Service immortalized this klondiker in his famous poem, few will remember the game that Dan was playing that fateful nite when he and the stranger shot their way into American folklore.

A bunch of the boys were whooping it up in the Malamute saloon;
The kid that handles the music box was hitting a ragtime tune;
Back of the bar, in a solo game, sat Dangerous Dan McGrew,
And watching his luck was his light-o-love, the lady that's known as Lou.

....Little else seems known of this (perhaps fictional) character but we can safely conclude that he was no slouch at our favorite game.

Belinda Belinda Mulroney

....Belinda Mulroney was "The Queen of Grand Forks". A coal miner's daughter, she fled the soot of Scranton, PA for the Columbian Exposition in Chicago at the age of eighteen. Her flare for business soon had her opening an eatery clearing eight thousand dollars only to lose it all in a risky California venture the following year.

....She next shipped aboard the "City of Topeka" as stewardess and soon was in charge of buying all supplies. By the spring of 1897, Belinda has amassed five thousand dollars by charging the captain ten percent for her services. She invested it all in supplies to be sold in the booming Klondike. Clearly, this lady was nobody's fool.

....After selling her wares in Dawson at a six hundred percent profit, she opened a roadhouse closer to the mines. A roaring success from day one, it was frequented by all the Eldorado kings. She picked thru all the news and rumers that filled her saloon and soon owned half a dozen valuable mining properties. A few months later, she returned to Dawson to build the opulent Fairview! What a woman!

....As to her interest in solitaire, she had little time and when she did indulge, was only a so-so player. Cant win 'em all.

Lottie Sweet Lottie

....Against a backdrop of dozens of saloons, hotels and brothels, throngs paraded nitely up and down the mud streets of Dawson City as if at a summer carnival. By early autumn 1898, upwards of 60,000 persons had reached the goldfields of the Yukon, most of them crammed into Dawson making it the largest city north of San Francisco and east of Toronto.

....Among the spring arrivals that year was Sweet Lottie Oakley and her sister Polly. Just off Main street, behind Sam Bonnifield's Bank Saloon, the girls danced and entertained on a rough platform to the wheezing sound of a portable organ. The throngs crowding this area kept the revelry high making for a gala atmosphere.

....After twenty or so lively but brief dances, Lottie and Polly would still the crowd with their two-part harmony of "A Bird in a Gilded Cage", "Break the News to Mother" and the like. Instant fame and adoration was their true reward. Of course, the dollar-a-dance they collected was not unwelcome, either.

....Among Lottie's admirers was Jim Daugherty who built two dance halls for the singing sisters with $360,000 he had dug out of his claim on the Upper Bonanza. Jim (whose nickname will not be mentioned here in the interest of political correctness), would later marry Sweet Lottie only to lose her in 1900 after going broke.

....After a long nite of dancing and singing, Lottie would stop at one of the main street saloons for a nitecap or two with an admiring throng. Avoiding the roulette wheel and dice, she would display her talents at solitaire where her shrewd play was widely admired.

S'water Swiftwater Bill Gates

...."Swiftwater Bill" Gates arrived in Dawson from Circle City where he had been a dishwasher, determined to find his fortune and live a life of outlandish extravagence. He did both.

....He got his nickname from bragging about his exploits on the Coeur d'Alene River in Idaho. Like many others, the name stuck long after his first gold strike launched a lavish lifestyle. Dispite a diminutive stature and rather comic appearance, he never failed to attract attention to his exploits.

....His eye for the ladies led to numerous escapades including pursuit by irate mothers and several marriages. One famous fried egg episode with Gussie Lamore earned him the title of Knight of the Golden Omelet, but that's another story.

....In 1899, gold dust was discovered on the sand beaches of Nome, just across the Bering Sea from Siberia. The strike emptied the town of Dawson as every one headed for the new strike. By then, Swiftwater Bill had blown most of his Klondike gold and joined the exodus that summer.

....Another Gates came to Alaska about the same time.

....Today's Microsoft's Bill Gates' great-grandfather, Wm Henry Gates, Sr, arrived in Seattle in the 1880's. When gold was discovered in Alaska, he moved his family to Nome where they lived for the next 9 years. In 1908, they returned to the navy shipyard town of Bremerton in the Puget Sound area where they operated a furniture business for many years.

....Although both these late nineteenth century Bill Gates had their roots in the northwest, there is no solid evidence of common heritage between the flamboyant "Swiftwater Bill" and a century's later "Microsoft Bill"s parentage.

Soapy Soapy Smith

...."Soapy Smith" was considered by most to be the baddest man in Skagway.

....Born Jefferson Randolph Smith in rural Georgia, he first became a cowboy on the Texas range, later hooked up with a passing circus where he learned the con man's art and soon appeared in the mining town of Leadville, Colorado where he proceeded to separate the miners from their gold.

....Soapy acquired his nickname from an act where he seemed to wrap a twenty dollar bill around a bar of soap and sell it to the nearest sucker for the bargain price of one dollar. He moved on to Denver where he became something of a dandy heading a band of tricksters.

....By the autumn of 1897 he was on his way to Alaska to turn the Gold Rush into his own private Bonanza. Settling in Skagway, he opened a saloon and gambling parlor (what else?). There, his gang routinely relieved customers of their gold before or after a fling at dice, cards or roulette.

....Still, Soapy had a generous nature and was known to give shelter and food to the penniless. It seemed that he sought the notoriety more than the money and his often swashbuckling manner made him an easy target for the reformers in a town with no law and little order.

....In July of 1898, he died in a shootout with Frank Reid while trying to single-handedly break up a vigilante meeting bent on shutting down his shady businesses. In a time and place of colorful characters, none outshown Jefferson Randolph "Soapy" Smith.

Aces Aces Up

....Sam Bonnifield ran the Bank Saloon and Gambling House, the most celebrated establishment of its kind in the Klondike. Every inch the professional gambler, he had worked his way west from Virginia thru Kansas, Montana and California before heading north to Juneau, Circle City and finally, Dawson.

....Mostly, when Sam was gambling for himself, his game was poker, although he would often spend a few minutes and "a bit of dust" at the faro table. Less well known was his habit of taking on the solitaire gambit at Canfield's hall across the 60 foot wide mud stream that served as Dawson"s Front Street.

....He believed that aces held the key to winning the game and would quit whenever he didn't have at least one ace at the end of the first pass. Two or more aces at the end of pass two were required to "keep him in" and so on. Soon, the dealers started calling him Aces Up, a nickname that never left the premises.

LaDue Joe LaDue

....Joe LaDue had come prospecting along the Yukon River in 1882 but found no gold. He turned to farming but the frosts ruined his barley and cabbages. Next, he opened a trading post on the Yukon River one hundred miles upstream from the frontier town of Fortymile.

....When gold was discovered along Bonanza Creek, he staked out a townsite on the swamp where the Klondike River and the Bonanza joined the Yukon and named it Dawson City. His sawmill provided lumber for both the miner's sluice boxes and the rickety houses of the town. His store and saloon supplied grub stakes and solice for the ever hopeful prospectors who poured into the area after the news broke in Seattle and San Francisco.

....As a shrewd business man, Joe was known to stake many a prospector down on his luck. His honesty and sensitivity won him friends and admirers in the harsh and unforgiving climate of the last great gold rush.

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