By Dimitra Lavrakas
For Senior Voice 

The history of the Klondike Gold Rush never gets old

Ancestor's story becomes a trilogy

 

January 1, 2024 | View PDF

Photograph courtesy of Brian George Smith

Brian George Smith lives in Homer, where he writes and also operates a rescue for older cats.

Somewhere in the wilds of Homer is Brian George Smith, a self-proclaimed "male action figure of the opposite of a crazy cat lady."

He has 13 older, special needs cats who keep him company while he writes.

With a video, screenplay and film background, this man who hasn't watched TV in 20 years turned to writing books after his business died during the pandemic.

"The books aren't making much money, and they pay you squat," he says of the self-publishing approach, "but I'm happy as a clam selling a few."

While there are old-timey clichés to jibe with the time that transports you into that era, before you jump to the conclusion that his books contain worn phrases, I'd like to point out the way with words he has on the page.

For instance, "He blinked, the tumblers in his lizard brain slowly turning over."

What a picture.

Family history tugs at him

His first book, "Ida Mae Joy: Gold Dust Dreams," tells of his great grandmother's marriage and her move to Skagway from Upper New York state to set up a grocery with her husband William Henry Joy. The trilogy continues in 2022 with "Pearl: In Search of Ida Mae Joy," and in 2024, it will be complete with "MacGregor's Gold."

The move itself, her faith in her husband and her mettle is a real indication of her character. Smith's own trials with alcohol adds reality to Will's battle and defeat because of it.

So many, an estimated 100,000, followed their dreams north during the 1890s when the country was in the throes of financial depressions and bank failures. The gold standard at

that time was tied to paper money, and gold shortages at the end of the 19th century meant that gold dollars were rapidly increasing in value ahead of paper currency - worldwide. This contributed to the Panic of 1893 and Panic of 1896, causing unemployment and financial uncertainty.

In response, men and women dropped everything and headed north to make their fortunes, filing through Seattle then on to Skagway and up and over the Chilkoot Trail to the Klondike area of the Yukon Territory of Canada.

Like Ida Mae Joy, many did not make a killing but had the adventure of their lives. Their stories have been written many times over the last 125 years.

"I have thought about ghost writing, writing is sort of like acting, everyone says they can do it," Smith says.

And in a way he is ghost writing his great grandmother's story, inhabiting her body and mind, as she wrestles with the failures of her husband and the attention of Skagway outlaw Soapy Smith.

Eventually both men betray her, and Smith does portray her emotions with a feminist flourish.

Friends have given feedback like "a real page turner" and "she has depth and range."

Love, illness, loss, work, blizzards, death, and lessons learned fill the pages.

Eventually he will return to Skagway and do more research into her life,

Smith said.

"I'll delve into what her real story is," he said. "There isn't much information and she fell off the map in 1898."

To order his books and also make donations to his Roundhouse Cat Sanctuary for rescued senior cats, email him at sojourn53@gmail.com. The books are also available at local bookstores.

 
 

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