Carnation the Moose and Other Animals in Early Skagway

Humans have been using animals as pets, beasts of burden, and food probably for as long as we have been human. Over that time span, we have built up some very interesting relationships with animals and they are the subject of some rather strange tales told in the land of the midnight sun. For example, during the Klondike gold rush Stampeders used dogs, goats, horses, oxen, donkeys, and mules to carry large amounts of goods over the steep Coast Mountain trails to their immediate goal of Lake Bennett and later on to Dawson and the Klondike gold fields. In the park’s collection of over 11,000 images, there is even one historic photograph of a man using an elk as his beast of burden although the photograph clearly indicates that he’s not having much success dragging his elk over the Chilkoot Pass. There are also a number of historic images of bear cubs on leashes roaming about town or being harnessed to small sleds although I have yet to see photographs of adult bears in harness.

A bear harnessed to a sled with two people on it
"Alaska Joy Ride"

National Park Service, Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, Shoemaker Papers, KLGO 38172.

People being people often named their animals. Monty Atwell and his two partners purchased Marc Hanna, a wild Oregon ox named after the notorious Republican Party boss to pull their 5,400 pound outfit between Dyea and the pass. Although horses hauling 300 pound loads often passed him on the trail, Hanna, easily pulling 500 pounds, invariably beat all the horses into camp at the end of the day. Hanna also became somewhat of a celebrity when two days after he was buried by the April 3, 1898 avalanche, he was found alive contentedly chewing his cud in a snow stable he had trampled out for himself under all that snow.

Then there was the man who struggled over the Chilkoot Pass with a crate of live chickens. Once in Dawson he set them up in a box at the police barracks and a crowd soon gathered to watch the first egg laid that year in Dawson. It sold for five dollars before the hen had finished laying it. Everyone thought he was crazy, but the Stampeder who brought in a scow-load of kittens to Dawson that summer of 1898, made out like a bandit, selling the kittens to lonely miners craving for the companionship of a pet at an ounce of gold per kitten. H. L. Miller floated down the Yukon and arrived in Dawson with his milk cow on June 29, 1898. He was the first man to sell fresh milk in the Klondike at thirty dollars a gallon or five dollars a mugful at the Aurora Saloon, five times more expensive than whiskey. And then there’s that historic photograph showing a pack train of horses carrying crates of turkeys over the White Pass Trail.

Reindeer next to a loaded sled in a snowy landscape.
Historic postcard. Reverse side reads "one of Santas[sic] reindeer"

National Park Service, Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, Shoemaker Collection, KLGO 38210.

I’m sure you’ve heard about that very odd but heartbreaking story of the Klondike Relief Expedition, the subject of an earlier History Talk article, when the United States government attempted to ship some 500 reindeer from Norway to Dawson in order to relieve starvation in the Yukon. The expedition was not much of a success although a few reindeer did manage to make it to Dawson a year or so later. By 1900 in contrast, historic photographs show car-loads of cattle and sheep at Moore’s Wharf awaiting shipment to Whitehorse and beyond over the White Pass & Yukon Route railway.

Perhaps the most unusual animal story from the Klondike concerns the Trans-Alaskan Gopher Company which offered shares at a dollar apiece and promised returns of ten dollars a minute when it got into operation. The operation it proposed was to take contracts for digging tunnels in the Klondike gold fields with specially trained gophers. Yes, I can see it now, let the gophers loose in the gold fields and in a few minutes they’ll be digging through the permafrost and the nuggets will be pouring in, but I wonder what the gophers got in return or how they were trained! Unfortunately there is no information on how successful the company was or how the next scheme faired. A Milwaukee man proposed to use carrier pigeons to establish communication between the Klondike and the rest of the world. Letters would be photographically reduced to the size of a needle point in Dawson (microfilm we call it today), and then sent by carrier pigeon along a route involving a series of pigeon stations, and then enlarged at Victoria, British Columbia and re-mailed from there.

And of course, I doubt if we will ever be able to forget those poor horses on the White Pass Trail. As Jack London put it so well,

    The horses died like mosquitoes in the first frost and from Skagway to Bennett they rotted in heaps…and they became beasts, the men on the Dead Horse Trail.

This event, like so much of the gold rush, was captured by historic photographs of the dead horses in the Skagway River and along the Dead Horse Trail. But we also have a photograph taken by Mollie Brackett in 1898 of “Old Bob” a small horse that somehow survived the terror of that time.

In a lighter vein, however, here’s a story about a man and his moose that you don’t hear about every day. The story involves Captain William Moore’s son Ben Moore and his pet moose, Carnation. Under the headline of “His Mooseship Parades Downtown” in the Daily Alaskan of March 23, 1900, we find out that …

    All idle eyes in the business center of the city yesterday afternoon were amused by the sight of a fine specimen of the monarch of the woods, a moose, parading in the streets in harness and subservient to man.
    The moose is the property of Ben Moore, of Skagway. It is and has for some time been kept in bondage but yet allowed to gambol in Mr. Moore’s yard, but not until the last few days has it been put in harness. Mr. Moore decided to train the animal to drive, and although the work requires patience, there is hope of success.
    The moose is eleven months old, as large as a pony and with a head as big and ungainly as a barrel and ears to make the largest and most unshapely government mule green with envy.
    As his mooseship strode in his ungainly gait down Sixth Avenue yesterday afternoon, a horse that was tied to a post became badly frightened at the appearance of the stranger, and it was with difficulty the equine could be persuaded to remain at the post, even then the affrighted creature pawed restlessly and sniffed the air as though in mortal fear of its life.
    Mr. Moore moved on unperturbed and not the least troubled as to the fear that he gave the horse. The child of the forest offered no violence to anyone, but several times it threw low its ugly head and rushed like a football player around the street and uncomfortably near to onlookers.
  • The picture fiends were not absent. While the moose passed from Broadway to Main Street, only a block, at least four cameras were leveled at him, and the takers congratulated themselves on getting shots at “game” that does not fall to the lot of many of the Kodak army.

    Horns have not yet appeared on the animal, but it has all the other striking characteristics of its kind and Mr. Moore is picturing to himself what an elegant carriage animal he will have when it displays its great broad antlers.

  • The moose is a male calf. It was captured on Flat Creek, about thirty miles up the Klondike River from Dawson. A female mate was taken at the same time but died from a broken leg. This moose was brought from the interior by Mr. Hyde, and taken to Seattle, but brought back here December 20th.

In another Daily Alaskan newspaper article, this one from May 5, 1900, we find that:

    Ben Moore’s pet moose is in disfavor with its owner. On Thursday evening one of the army mules was taking a roll in the sand just after his supper when he espied the moose. He was immediately seized with a passion of jealousy at seeing a creature so many points superior to himself in the champion class for ugliness and with a yell of rage started after that moose.
    The moose loped over the railroad track and back again, the mule yelling after him. He went into his own yard but the government mule had the audacity to follow him, and the moose on the first opportunity shot out again and toward the car shops closely followed by the screaming mule.
    Back came the frightened denizen of the mountain forest to his corral, where the government mule tried to bit a piece out of him, or at least to bit a mark on his anatomy to kick at. And the mule had wheeled suddenly round to kick that exact spot, as is the nature of army mules, when Ben Moore came to the rescue of his pet. The mule was driven back.
    Yesterday Mr. Moore had again to defend his pet; this time it was against dogs. The pet was at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Broadway browsing on lemon and orange peelings when a wicked dog set on to him. Other dogs thought it fun to join in. Mr. Moore came up and threw a … rock at the wicked dog. The rock did not hit the dog. [Instead] It struck the tire of a wagon standing there and from the tire ricocheted into the beautiful plate glass window of Burkhard & Co.
    That plate of glass will cost Mr. Moore at least $50.

Well, you didn’t expect Carnation to pay for it – did you?  As the spring of 1900 bloomed into summer and then fall, the affectionate, if homely beast continued to be the object of public attention.  He was the subject of news articles, photographs and visits.  Ben Moore, the son of the founder of Skagway and heavily involved in the Moores’ lawsuit against the city, received a good share of the public press at the time and their famous pet luxuriated in the publicity.  Carnation’s reign in Skagway, however, was sadly short-lived.  From the Daily Alaskan of September 1, 1900 we hear that… 

    “Carnation,” Ben Moore’s famous pet moose is dead.  He was a victim of gluttony.  Too much clover caused his early death.  Mr. Moore had the head and skin saved, and soon will have the animal mounted.  The carcass was buried in the vacant lot at the east end of Sixth Avenue.

And there, in one of a series of photographs of the interior of Ben Moore’s house in Skagway, taken around 1904, is the head of Carnation the moose hanging from a wall. In happier times there are also several photographs taken during that golden summer showing Carnation grazing on Ben Moore’s property with Captain Moore’s mansion in the background, or harnessed to a two-wheeled cart in front of Ben Moore’s house near the corner of Fifth Avenue and Spring Street with Ben holding the reigns and Ben’s daughter, Edith Gertrude, sitting in the cart. So far no photographs of Carnation strolling up Broadway or down Main Street taken by those Kodak army “fiends” has surfaced but maybe in time some will.

About this article

This article program was researched and written by Frank Norris, former historian for Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park and extensively rewritten and revised by Karl Gurcke. Thanks also to Bruce Dansby for the newspaper articles on Carnation. Information for this program was supplied by the following sources:

Berton, Pierre
1972 Klondike: The Last Great Gold Rush 1896-1899. Revised Edition. Toronto, ON: McClelland and Stewart Limited. (Pages 143-144, 239, 258, 282-284)

Brady, Jeff (writer, compiler and editor)
2013 Skagway: City of the New Century. The True Story of Skagway, Alaska including the White Pass, Dyea, and the Chilkoot Trail. Historical Features and Photographs. Skagway, AK: Lynn Canal Publishing. (Pages 34-36)

The Daily Alaskan, March 23, 1900, May 5, 1900, September 1, 1900

Last updated: December 7, 2017