Real gold rush in 1898 - not silica sand

August 1, 2012 

'There's gold in them thar hills,' Wisconsin hills that is. Mining is making farmers smile as silica sand is being mined and sold for use in the shale fields for a process called 'fracking." The stuff is being sold for up to $200 a ton. The new rush is on, but here's a story a Finley resident told of his experience in the rush for gold in Alaska in 1898.

Old time news man tells of gold rush of '98

Published on November 10, 1948

By the Tri-City Herald staff

Wilbur Brock, a veteran newspaper man now living in Finley, told members of the Kennewick Kiwanis club, of his experiences in reporting the Alaska gold rush in 1989.

Brock described how he carried two six shooters, one in each pocket, when he went to meet a notorious confidence man, whom Brock had exposed in a series of newspaper articles. The confidence man, Jeff "Soapy" Smith, first offered to buy him off, failing in that maneuver Smith then threatened him, Brock said. "I had the pockets of my overcoat cut especial to carry a short-barreled .38 pistol in each one. I kept my right hand in my pocket throughout most of the conversation," he said.

Smith employee about 200 men to bilk the gold seekers enroute to the fields, by means of confidence games. Smith particularly gained the name by selling bars of soap with gold pieces in them, but it turned out that only his confederates ever got the gold pieces.

Later, Brock said, soldiers stationed in the area, disguised themselves as civilians and went out and held up several of Smith's gang taking $700 from them. "It sort of evened up the score, at least partially," Brock commented.

While working as a reporter in Alaska Brock had occasion to write a dying man's will, who was 700 feet below him, trapped in a crevasse in a glacier.

"Three men had one out to cross this glacier, and while crossing a bridge of snow, it collapsed and all three fell into the crevasse. One fell to the depth of 1500 feet, another 700 feet and the third stopped at the 600 foot mark. We knew how deep they were because we let down ropes to pull them out. We succeeded in getting the closest man out, but the other two men were so badly trapped and held so firmly that when we tried to pull them out their arms broke where the ropes were tied. Finally the man at the 700 foot mark called out for someone to take down his will. I did so and had two witnesses sign it. Of course it was impossible to get him to sign it as required by law, but when I sent the will to his people in Kansas I appended a note explaining the situation. Later I was told the will had been admitted to probate and was acted upon as the man wished."

Discussing the confidence man, "Soapy" Smith, Brock told how he toured the gambling dens in company with an army officer who was acting as the direct representative of the United States President in Alaska. "We also took along two crack shots from the soldiers, who acted as bodyguards. After that I never had an further trouble with Smith's gang, although they had been trailing me consistently since my first meeting with Smith."

Brock predicted that Alaska would see another large gold rush this spring, when news of another fabulous strike is announced to the outside world. "There is only one cure for gold fever, and that is gold nuggets," he admitted. "I may even go myself, if I can get away." At the present time he is engaged in writing a history of the Pacific Northwest.

While in Alaska Brock was assigned to the U.S. Army as a scout. Part of the army contingent was two companies of the 48th Infantry. 'We carried more than 200,00 pounds of supplies and 1000 reindeer along the Yukon river to relieve the suffering of people isolated there," he said.

The two army companies were later sent to China during the Boxer Rebellion. "One day I received a call from three of them to meet for dinner. They told me that they had brought back a lot of money. And they did. One had $10,000, another $8,000 and the third also had quite an amount They said they had gotten it by robbing banks and stores, which all goes to prove that looting is always a by-product of war."

Wilbur Brock, a veteran newspaper man now living in Finley, told members of the Kennewick Kiwanis club, of his experiences in reporting the Alaska gold rush in 1989.

Brock described how he carried two six shooters, one in each pocket, when he went to meet a notorious confidence man, whom Brock had exposed in a series of newspaper articles. The confidence man, Jeff "Soapy" Smith, first offered to buy him off, failing in that maneuver Smith then threatened him, Brock said. "I had the pockets of my overcoat cut especial to carry a short-barreled .38 pistol in each one. I kept my right hand in my pocket throughout most of the conversation," he said.

Smith employee about 200 men to bilk the gold seekers enroute to the fields, by means of confidence games. Smith particularly gained the name by selling bars of soap with gold pieces in them, but it turned out that only his confederates ever got the gold pieces.

Later, Brock said, soldiers stationed in the area, disguised themselves as civilians and went out and held up several of Smith's gang taking $700 from them. "It sort of evened up the score, at least partially," Brock commented.

While working as a reporter in Alaska Brock had occasion to write a dying man's will, who was 700 feet below him, trapped in a crevasse in a glacier.

"Three men had one out to cross this glacier, and while crossing a bridge of snow, it collapsed and all three fell into the crevasse. One fell to the depth of 1500 feet, another 700 feet and the third stopped at the 600 foot mark. We knew how deep they were because we let down ropes to pull them out. We succeeded in getting the closest man out, but the other two men were so badly trapped and held so firmly that when we tried to pull them out their arms broke where the ropes were tied. Finally the man at the 700 foot mark called out for someone to take down his will. I did so and had two witnesses sign it. Of course it was impossible to get him to sign it as required by law, but when I sent the will to his people in Kansas I appended a note explaining the situation. Later I was told the will had been admitted to probate and was acted upon as the man wished."

Discussing the confidence man, "Soapy" Smith, Brock told how he toured the gambling dens in company with an army officer who was acting as the direct representative of the United States President in Alaska. "We also took along two crack shots from the soldiers, who acted as bodyguards. After that I never had an further trouble with Smith's gang, although they had been trailing me consistently since my first meeting with Smith."

Brock predicted that Alaska would see another large gold rush this spring, when news of another fabulous strike is announced to the outside world. "There is only one cure for gold fever, and that is gold nuggets," he admitted. "I may even go myself, if I can get away." At the present time he is engaged in writing a history of the Pacific Northwest.

While in Alaska Brock was assigned to the U.S. Army as a scout. Part of the army contingent was two companies of the 48th Infantry. 'We carried more than 200,00 pounds of supplies and 1000 reindeer along the Yukon river to relieve the suffering of people isolated there," he said.

The two army companies were later sent to China during the Boxer Rebellion. "One day I received a call from three of them to meet for dinner. They told me that they had brought back a lot of money. And they did. One had $10,000, another $8,000 and the third also had quite an amount They said they had gotten it by robbing banks and stores, which all goes to prove that looting is always a by-product of war."

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