The Iowa City Public Library just added a fantastic new collection to the Digital History Project. Post Cards from Early Iowa City is a collection of 94 postcards from Bob Hibbs, one of Iowa City’s citizen historians. One of my favorite postcards from the collection is from 1910 and is of Klondike Bill and his team of eight dogs and a cart in front of the Pentacrest. Why was Klondike Bill in Iowa City with a team of dogs and where were they going?
I immediately googled Klondike Bill and found several of the Iowa City cards for sale on eBay, one for $99. The next hit was to a book by Iowa City author, Lyell Henry, Was This Heaven: A Self-Portrait of Iowa on Early Postcard. Henry writes that “When Klondike Bill, a colorful transcontinental itinerant, and his dog team reached Iowa City, a photographer snapped them standing next to the University of Iowa campus.” Well that was a start. I continued my search and found other postcards of Klondike Bill in other cities. One in Ortonville, Minnesota and another at the McKinley Monument in Colorado and another in Sioux Falls, South Dakota all with his team of dogs and a cart.
The next step of my search took me to newspapers of that time period. There were many stories of Klondike Bill passing through towns on his way east, but few with specifics. One article in the Escanaba Daily Press from January 12, 1912 in what must have been a wire story, 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… “Klondike Bill” refused to tell much of his trip, but said he would win considerable money if he reached the capital by a certain date, and added that he was several days ahead of his schedule. Another article from the El Paso Herald from January 26, 1912 sheds more light on Klondike Bill. We see Klondike Bill with what looks to be a very unhappy dog and learn that his name was William Buchanan and that the wager was for $100,000.00, a mighty sum for 1912. Also included is a photograph of his possible fiance, Miss Rose Maegerin.
But there the trail grew cold, at least for now.