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Kalamazoo Hustlers and the Gold Rush

Local Men Sought Riches in Alaska


In 1897, the announcement of gold in Alaska sparked a group of Kalamazoo entrepreneurs to unite and make plans to seek their fortunes in the Yukon. While the group was popularly known as the “Kalamazoo Hustlers,” the official name was the Kalamazoo Mining and Prospecting Company. The founding members of the company were William A. Doyle, general manager, Arthur W. Rickman, treasurer, James K. Evers, secretary, with Doyle, Evers and Stewart L. Campbell as managing directors and James Doyle, Fred Scheid, and Arthur Pierson as the directors. Shortly before the company’s departure, five others joined the group; Harry denBleyker, John Ensing, Jerome H. Fisher, Henry Greendyke, all from Kalamazoo, and Fred Longwell of Paw Paw. Each member had to put in $800 for the purchase of provisions to sustain them until they were established on a claim in the Klondike. Only a person going to the Klondike could hold stock in the company, as defined in the articles of association sent to the Secretary of State in Lansing.

Preparations for Departure
Members of the Kalamazoo Mining & Prospecting Co. prep for departure to Alaska, 26 January 1898. KPL Photograph Collection, P-820

January 26 was the date set for the group’s departure. Before that date, the purchase of fourteen tons of provisions they planned to take with them had to be organized. Kalamazoo grocer, Eugene A. Welch arranged for the purchase of the food they took with them. Stewart L. Campbell travelled to Detroit to obtain the materials needed for the sawmill, as well as the materials for electric lights they took with them. Along with Arthur Rickman, Campbell arranged for other supplies, that included eleven dogs, stored in Chicago, to be collected when the group’s train stopped there on the way west. Already in Kalamazoo, a freight car held part of the provisions. In a special car with banners on both sides that read “Kalamazoo Hustlers Enroute for the Klondike”, the group left on a two-year trip each hoped would make him rich.

From Skagway to Lake Tagish

The first letters received in Kalamazoo told of the group’s arrival in Skagway and preparations for the dangerous climb to White Pass. Their first challenge was the purchase of horses and the packing and hauling of what had become 40 tons of provisions. On the climb up the hardships of walking and camping in snowstorms and the sight of dead prospectors along the way caused the first of the group, Jerome Fisher, to turn back and return to Kalamazoo. Within a month, they successfully made it over White Pass with all their provisions intact. By May 1, Evers wrote to his wife that they had their camp set on Lake Tagish with the sawmill in operation. For eight weeks the Hustlers sawed timber to build the boats needed for travel on the Thirty Mile River to the gold fields. Overall, the group’s letters said all were well with “no homesickness” and that they had even begun to stake claims in “good areas.” By June they had built two steamers, the KALAMAZOO and the MICHIGAN, and were testing them on the lake.

A Near Disaster and a Death

The use of a steamer on the Alaskan/Yukon Rivers was not considered possible. The Kalamazoo Hustlers made headlines when they launched their boats. On the day they went through the White Horse Rapids on Thirty Mile River, many others watched with amazement along the shore with Harry denBleyker who photographed the event. All went well until a smaller craft, on a very crowded river, cut in front of the KALAMAZOO. Rather than hit the smaller craft, the pilot of the KALAMAZOO turned without looking, and smashed the steamer into a rock. Although the steamer was damaged and partially submerged, no one was injured, and the food supply was saved. Using a centrifugal pump, William Doyle raised the steamer and did repairs. Fortunately, most of the heavier gear had been on the MICHIGAN, which successfully maneuvered through the rapids.

On July 2, both steamers docked at Dawson, where the Kalamazoo men set up their base camp. They split into two groups, with one working their claims along the Indian River, the others at their claims on the Salmon River. James Evers was working on the Indian River claim when he suddenly became ill. He died of dysentery in the Dawson Hospital and was buried in the same town. Two months later another member, Arthur Pierson, also became ill and made his way back to Kalamazoo.

Embezzlement and Larceny

William Doyle wrote in September 1898 that all were well and that the group had built a cabin above Dawson for their winter home. Within weeks, word reached home “that the Kalamazoo Hustlers have disbanded, and every man is now going it alone.” John Ensing had written to his wife that both William and James Doyle were “no longer connected with the Kalamazoo Hustlers” and that William “was accused of a charge of crookedness” and was out on bail. William Doyle had collected money owed to the group; however, it was questioned if he had the right to do so after he had given it to James to hold, who lost it in a “drunken spree” in a saloon. As he was a general manager, the court found in his favor. Not long after this, Doyle faced charges of larceny and defrauding the Canadian government. Doyle had stolen equipment from the company, sold it for cash to help in an escape. He also collected money from other miners looking for transportation out of the Yukon. To avoid expenses, Doyle, in the name of the Kalamazoo Mining and Prospecting Company, had gained permission from the Canadian government to stay as guests of the Canadian police in their camps while he claimed to be blowing up rock hazards in the rivers. Doyle and those going with him, did stay at the camps, but he did not blow-up rocks in the rivers. Through this deception, he was able to get out of Canada and escape trial and jail. Upon his return to Kalamazoo, Doyle denied the charges. However, Arthur Rickman returned a short time later and declared them true and produced signed statements and affidavits from other members of the company and the Canadian police to back up his statements.

The End of the Kalamazoo Hustlers

January 1899 saw a much-reduced Kalamazoo Mining and Prospecting Company; Fred Scheid, Henry Greendyke, Stewart Campbell, John Ensing and Harry denBleyker were all that remained of the original group. After struggling to overcome the negative publicity gained from the Doyle scandals, the five tried to work claims together, but found it difficult and gradually drifted apart. Ownership of a building in Dawson, encouraged by William Doyle, had tied up their funds and prevented them taking advantage of other more profitable ventures. A poorly constructed wood building, considered a fire risk, made its sale difficult. Harry denBleyker, then secretary and treasurer, handled the group’s business transactions and stayed in the Dawson area for that reason. Fred Scheid had already begun to end his connection with the company at the end of 1898. Scheid put his machinist training to use and opened a machine shop in Dawson and built up a profitable business. Henry Greendyke went out on his own, working his own claims and others for shares. Stewart Campbell tried to work a claim, but the small return led him to leave Alaska for the warmer climate of California. John Ensing said he enjoyed the rugged life and the country, but the death of his son and poor health brought him back to Kalamazoo. Harry denBleyker, stayed in Dawson and went into the painting and paperhanging business with another Kalamazoo man who had traveled west on his own. In 1900, when a new gold field opened in Nome, Alaska, both Scheid and denBleyker joined the excitement. Each, briefly, returned to Kalamazoo seeking financial support; Scheid to expand his machine shop business, as well as get married, and denBleyker to work a claim. DenBleyker returned to Kalamazoo later that year; Scheid stayed for another twelve years. While others from Kalamazoo tried to make their fortunes in Alaska, none attracted as much attention as the Kalamazoo Hustlers.

 

Written by Brent Coates, Kalamazoo Public Library Staff, December 2022

Sources

Articles

“Officers of the Kalamazoo Mining and Prospecting Company”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 14 December 1897, page 4, column 2

“Jottings: “The Kalamazoo Mining and Prospecting Company…”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 31 December 1897, page 5, column 2

“Jottings: “Kalamazoo Mining and Prospecting Company…”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 9 January 1898, page 5, column 1

“Will take a big load”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 20 January 1898, page 1, column 4

“Sawmill for Klondike”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 23 December 1897, page 1, column 2

“Jottings: The Klondike Party…”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 22 January 1898, page 1, column 1

“Leave for Alaska”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 26 January 1898, page 1, column 1

“Tears and cheers”
Kalamazoo Gazette, January 1898, page 1, column 1

“Klondike news”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 29 March 1898, page 8, column 4

“Struck good claims”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 19 May 1898, page 4, column 3

“No Hustlers lost”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 24 July 1898, page 1, column 3

“Raised the Kazoo”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 11 August 1898, page 1, column 4

“Died among friends”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 26 August 1898, page 1, column 5

“Jottings: It is said that the Kalamazoo Hustlers…”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 4 October 1898, page 5, column 1

“Jottings: Letters received by Mrs. John Ensing…”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 23 November 1898, page 5, column 2

“Acquitted once”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 6 January 1899, page 1, column 1

“Are close to gold”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 31 January 1899, page 8, column 2

“The affidavits for it”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 14 May 1899, page 6, column 2

“Broken and scattered”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 2 August 1899, page 8, column 2

“Weepah gold rush recalls local men’s Klondike trip”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 10 April 1927, page 22, column 2

“Hustlers started Fred Scheid on 14 years in gold field”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 10 April 1938, page 8, column 1

“Alaska saga”
Kalamazoo Gazette, 18 January 1959, page 35, column 1

 

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