Klondike Bill & Friends Visit Iowa City.

SUI Campus – Circa 1900
Did You Know? the audio version.

Over the years, the Pentacrest has hosted many celebrities – from U.S. Presidents and Senators to College Deans and Hollywood Celebrities. In 1911, the green space surrounding Old Capitol was known as University Square. And in late November, a visitor, unlike any other, rolled into Iowa City…

(P-0340) November 1911 – Klondike Bill visits Iowa City

According to newspaper reports, Klondike Bill‘s real name was William Buchanan – a sixteen-year veteran mail carrier from Alaska – and in order to win a $100,000 wager with the North Dakota Commercial Club, Bill has the assignment of driving his seven-team dog sled (on wheels) over a 62,000 mile route that’s charted to take up to four years!

According to one news story, beginning in Grand Forks, North Dakota in June of 1908, Bill’s team first headed north to Nome, in the uncharted wilds of Alaska, before heading eastward through Canada to Montreal, Quebec. At that point, Bill’s route took him westward, entering back into the States at Sault St. Marie, Michigan, before arriving back in North Dakota. Now, for the second act, Bill left Bismark, heading south to Pierre, South Dakota and Des Moines. From Iowa City, he will head out on a cross-country trek toward the east coast, and in order to win the $100,000, Bill and his dog team must complete this massive four-year adventure in Washington D.C. by June 11, 1912.

Above are penny postcards and a newspaper clipping from the July 17, 1911 edition of The Sioux Falls (South Dakota) Argus-Leader. Reports say that when Klondike Bill left Grand Forks in 1908, he only had 15 cents in his pocket and 200 penny-postcards to sell.

In a November 30, 1911 article in the Davenport Weekly Democrat, we see that Klondike Bill was in Marengo in Iowa County on Saturday, November 25, and was planning to be in Davenport on Thanksgiving Day (the day of the article above). This means that our picture of Klondike Bill posing on Clinton Street in front of Old Capitol must have been on a weekday between November 25th and 30th.

According to the article, Bill’s dog team is comprised of two Alaskan Huskies, three German Shepherds, and two St. Bernards. Also traveling with Bill are five “wild animals” gathered from his journeys – plus two additional creatures he picked up when he was in the Klondike. Apparently, one of the ways Bill makes a living while on the road is by opening up his traveling zoo to curiosity-seekers.

An article in the Escanaba Daily Press from January 12, 1912 (above) tells of Klondike Bill arriving in Chicago on January 11, 1912 with a combination of wagon and sleigh and seven dogs traveling from Nome, Alaska to Washington, D.C., on a wager. Apparently, Bill refused to tell the reporter much about his trip, but said he would win a considerable amount of money if he reached the nation’s capital by a certain date. He also added that he was several days ahead of his schedule.

Above left is a syndicated article from the El Paso Herald that covers Klondike Bill’s January 11, 1912 stop in Chicago – shedding more light for us on our wayfaring postal worker. First, we have a photograph of Klondike Bill, posing with what looks to be a very unhappy puppy. And it’s here, we learn Bill’s full name: William Buchanan. The article also includes a lovely photograph of Miss Rose Maegerlin of Chicago – daughter of Bill’s host – William Maegerlin – when he was in the Windy City. Sounds like Miss Rose might like to stay in contact with Bill – especially after he wins that $100K! On the right is an article from the February 22, 1912 edition of The Ft. Wayne Sentinel. Here, Bill’s hoping the good mayor will give him permission to drive his dog team through the city streets!

By May 1912, Klondike Bill has now made it to Salem, Ohio – and his story seems to have taken on a few new twists – now he has nine dogs, and apparently, he originally started out in the Dakotas with twenty-six! Not a good sign for these poor pooches who had the hard work of pulling Bill and his traveling zoo over these 62,000 miles!

No reports can be found to indicate whether or not Klondike Bill ever collected on his $100,000 wager. We did find an interesting article from the September 2, 1912 edition of The Baltimore Evening Sun (below). Looks like Bill has added a friend named Joe, and his story continues to evolve. But alas – still no payoff! Hmm. Do I smell a skunk?

Oh no! It’s now July 1913 – over one year after his $100,000 deadline. Klondike Bill has run into trouble with the law in Wilmington, North Carolina. Apparently a “few small boys” dynamited Bill’s tent – resulting in a chase that led to charges against him. But – good news – Bill, who now calls himself William Brown, is off the hook. The bad news – only two of his dogs are still alive. Ugh!

Where’s the PETA people when you really need ’em? Oh yeah, this is only 1913.

Quite the story – don’t you think? We don’t know if Klondike Bill ever made it back to his home in Grand Forks, North Dakota. A search of gravesites does show several possibilities for a William Brown – which might be Klondike Bill – but alas, we may never know for sure.

Regardless – here’s a tip of the old hat to our 1911 Iowa City visitor – good ‘ole Klondike Bill – aka William Buchanan – aka William Brown – and his seven – or twenty-six – or two canine friends! Hopefully, Bill, you and your poor puppies found a good treasure at the end of your journey!

DYK-March 5, 2023

Who was Klondike Bill?, Iowa City Public Library, May 17, 2014

Klondike Bill in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Sioux Falls Argus-Leader, July 17, 1911, p 3

Klondike Bill On Way Here, Davenport Weekly Democrat and Leader, November 30, 1911, p 8

With Dog Sleds From Alaska to Washington, DC, El Paso Herald, January 26, 1912, p 13

Klondike Bill in Fort Wayne, The Ft. Wayne Sentinel, February 22, 1912, p 13

Klondike Bill, On 60,000 Mile Trip Camps Near Salem, The Salem Ohio News, May 3, 1912, p 1

Walking With Dogs From Klondike East, The Baltimore Sun, September 2, 1912, p 2

Klondike Bill Found Not Guilty, Wilmington, North Carolina Dispatch, July 11, 1913, p 1

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