Casanova of the Klondike – by Pierre Berton (Globe and Mail – December 24, 2004)

Of all the eccentric characters who made their pile in the Klondike, my favourite is Swiftwater Bill Gates, a moon-faced little American smooth-talker who was transformed from a penniless dishwasher in Circle City, Alaska, to a potential millionaire.

He might have become a millionaire, had he managed to hold on to his wealth, the bulk of which came from a share he held in Claim No. 13 on Eldorado Creek. Considered unlucky at first because of its number, it turned out to be one of the richest pieces of ground in the gold fields.

A legendary gambler and skirt-chaser, he dropped $500 in less than five minutes at faro and promptly stood drinks for the crowd at a cost of $112. He also lost $5,000 on one bet during a stud poker game he was just watching. When short of cash, he would borrow it at 10 per cent a month in interest so he could shoot pool at $100 a frame.

Swiftwater was given his nickname after boasting about his exploits as a boatman on Idaho’s Coeur d’Alene River. But he aspired to be a dandy even more than a daredevil, and at one point possessed the only starched collar in Dawson City. While it was being laundered, he would take to his bed rather than be seen without it.

Although he portrayed himself as the King of the Klondike, others called him the Knight of the Golden Omelet because he once bought up every egg in Dawson at about $2 each to lie at the feet of one of the many very young women he was constantly wooing.

At 19, Gussie Lamore was a comely strumpet and dancehall queen who eventually promised to marry him back in San Francisco. However, she neglected to note that she already had a husband and a three-year-old child there.

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