The Prospector’s Dream Becomes Reality: Portrait of the Founder of Dawson City

LADUE (LEDOUX), Joseph – He was born in 1855 in Schuyler Falls near Plattsburg in the state of New York, where he spent part of his life. His family, however, was of French Canadian descent, and the memoirs of François-Xavier Mercier confirm that Joseph Ladue really was French-speaking (F. GUAY. Joseph Ladue, fondateur de la ville de Dawson, L'Aurore boréale (Whitehorse), March 18, 1988, p. 10.; F. X. MERCIER. Recollection of the Youkon, p. 32).

In 1874, Ladue set out for the West to seek his fortune. Eight years later, he was working in Alaska, at the Treadwell Mine. In 1882, he tried his luck in the Yukon. He was among the first to cross the Chilkoot Pass and then make his way to Fort Reliance, where Jack McQuesten and Arthur Harper had set up a trading post (P. BERTON. Klondike, p. 33). Ladue would become their partner (C. GIRARD and R. LAROCHE. Un jardin sur le toit, p. 49). During the winter of 1882-1883, he and his partners tried a new mining technique that would become very popular with miners in the region. It involved building fires to thaw the ground. This way the gold-bearing gravel could be heaped up, ready for sluicing once spring arrived (K. S. COATES and W. R. MORRISON. Land of the Midnight Sun, p. 50).

During the summer of 1894, Jos Ladue and his partner Arthur Harper established a trading post on a large island in the Yukon River, near the mouth of Sixtymile River. They named the place Ogilvie, in honour of surveyor William Ogilvie (MAYO HISTORICAL SOCIETY. Gold and Galena, p. 384). Up until 1895, Ladue held several jobs: prospector, farmer and trader. During the winter of that year, he travelled to New York. Upon his return, he heard that George Carmack, Skookum Jim and Tagish (Dawson) Charlie had struck gold. Long convinced of the value of the Klondike District for prospecting, he quickly saw the possibilities for development. He rushed to buy up 160 acres of land, at $10 an acre, at the junction of the Klondike and Yukon rivers -- the present site of Dawson City (K. S. COATES and W. R. MORRISON, Land of the Midnight Sun, p. 85; C. GIRARD and R. LAROCHE. Un jardin sur le toit, p. 49).

In a report to his superiors, surveyor William Ogilvie wrote, “All the streets [in Dawson] that are parallel to the rivers are 66 feet long and perpendicular to the 50-foot-long ones that Ladue had already opened” (N. BOLOTIN, Klondike Lost, p. 16).

On September 1st, 1896, Ladue moved his sawmill, which till then had been located in Sixtymile, to Dawson. This sawmill would operate day and night for two years. He also built a store, the first building in Dawson, as well as the town’s first saloon, the Pioneer (A. A. WRIGHT. Prelude to Bonanza, p. 285). Thanks to the income from his businesses and the sale of his plots of land (those on the street by the river sold for up to $5,000 each), he became a millionaire in less than two years (R. COUTTS. Yukon Places and Names, p. 152; C. GIRARD and R. LAROCHE. Un jardin sur le toit, p. 98). In 1897, Ladue and Arthur Harper officially named the city in honour of George Mercer Dawson, who had led the 1887 geological mission to the Yukon (A. A. WRIGHT. Prelude to Bonanza, p. 285).

On July 14, 1897, Ladue was on board the steamboat Excelsior as it arrived in San Francisco to a horde of waiting journalists and a crowd of onlookers. Of all the newly rich, Ladue was greeted with the greatest frenzy because the newspapers called him the mayor of Dawson. He had to hide to escape the admirers and fortune hunters who would pursue him and bombard him with questions. Journalist Lincoln Steffens wrote at the time, “He's the weariest looking man I ever saw” (P. BERTON. Klondike, p. 100-101).

In December 1897, Ladue at last realized his dream: he finally won the hand of Anna Mason, whom he had long coveted and who was the daughter of wealthy parents. In 1899, when Willis Lamay, a friend of Ladue, became a widower, the Ladue couple adopted his son Francis (AFY, S. SAITO, Research notes, [“Chronologie de Joseph Ladue”], [Dawson, Yukon, 1996], Typed manuscript, 6 p.). The Ladue Gold Mining & Development Co., founded by Ladue in New York, was thriving (AFY, S. SAITO, Research notes, [“Chronologie de Joseph Ladue”]). At the time, Ladue was worth five million dollars. He was referred to as the “Barney Barnato of the Klondike” (P. BERTON, Klondike, p. 101). He bought a farm, a house, a luxurious buggy, and a grand piano for his wife. At Christmas, Ladue provided a feast for the poor.

The difficult living conditions in the North, however, had affected his health. In 1900, his doctor recommended that he go to Colorado Springs, in hopes of slowing down the advance of his tuberculosis. It was already too late. On June 27, 1901, Ladue died in Schuyler Falls, New York, at the age of 47. He bequeathed his entire fortune to his adoptive son and his wife. Mrs. Anna Ladue Tyler died in 1948 (A. INNES TAYLOR, Joseph Ladue, The Early History of Forty Mile and the Yukon, Whitehorse, [s. n. ], p. 3. Yukon Archives, PAM ND-150). The descendents of the Ladues still live in the state of New York (Dawson City Museum, People Card Index, J. F. Ladue). A river in the Keno area of the Yukon has been named in honour of this pioneer of the North. It is known as the Keno Ladue River to avoid confusion with Ladue River and Ladue Creek, which are in the Sixtymile area (R. COUTTS, Yukon Places and Names, p. 145).

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