Accumulated Fragments - Bartlett: the stories behind the name

Posted: Sunday, November 14, 2010

Bartlett Regional Hospital carries a famous name. It was named after E. L. "Battling Bob" Bartlett, who was Alaska's territorial delegate from 1945-1958, and in 1959 became our first U.S. Senator. He died in office in 1968, but the name Bartlett goes even further back in Alaska history than that.

In Iowa in 1872, an Irish girl named Mollie Walsh was born. In 1881, she moved with her family to St. Paul, Minn. Then on Thanksgiving Day in 1890, the 18-year-old young woman ran away with her girlfriend to see the world. It didn't take long before they were in deep trouble, having most of their luggage and money stolen. But, as luck would have it, the two young ladies met Jefferson Randolph Smith, who took pity on them and became their protector and benefactor. This relationship continued for a lifetime. Smith's nickname was "Soapy," and at the time he was the head of organized crime in Denver, Colo.

From 1892 to 1897, the United States went into a serious recession. Jobs were hard to find and people were having a tough time. However, crime was doing well and Smith and his gang had expanded to the towns of Creed, Colo. and Butte, Mont. In 1897, the sailing ship Portland stopped in San Francisco with two tons of gold from the Yukon. It didn't take long before Soapy, his gang and the two young ladies were off to Skagway.

Crime in Skagway became vicious, with murder a common event. Smith quickly became the "Godfather of Skagway." He set up every dishonest enterprise possible. Mollie had learned how to make pie tins by pounding out cans and tasty pies from a successful entrepreneur named Harriet "Ma" Pullens. Because of the protection afforded her from Soapy, her ability to make friends with community leaders and her beauty, many a young man wanted to court her.

Three of these young men were Mike Bartlett, part owner of the Bartlett Brothers packing Company, Jack Newman, also an independent packer, and a faro dealer. A romantic rivalry began to develop between Jack and Mike. To relieve the tension, Mollie encouraged the attention of the faro dealer. Adding the third suitor only made matters worse, so in the spring of 1898 Mollie left Skagway and opened her grub tent on the trail at Shallow Lake, between White Pass and Lake Bennett. It was a place for weary prospectors to buy a good hot meal and enjoy Mollie's spirited conversation. All three of her suitors stopped by to visit with her at the grub tent as time went on. However, the faro dealer began a rumor that he had done more than just visit with Mollie. Shortly thereafter, a gun battle occurred between the faro dealer and Jack, in which the faro dealer was killed. Mollie was extremely upset with Jack and decided to marry Mike Bartlett.

There were three Bartlett brothers about one year apart in age. The oldest was Al, then Ed, and the youngest was Mike. The Bartlett brothers decided to move their packing operation to Dawson because the White Pass railroad to Lake Bennett was almost finished. Mike and Mollie were married Dec. 11, 1898. Mike decided to build a hotel/saloon in Dawson, but just as he was finishing, gold was discovered in the beach sands of Nome and a mad stampede ensued that drained most of his potential patrons from the Dawson area. Mike was in serious financial trouble and began drinking heavily. He decided to try and make it in Nome, but there was no need for pack horses. Realizing that, he decided to buy gold claims, but his purchases turned out badly. Mike sent for Mollie and when she got there she wasn't apprised of the full financial disaster. By the end of eight months, they were completely broke and Mollie was pregnant. Finally, Mike called his brother Ed and asked him to come and bring their horses back. Mike and Mollie boarded the ship Seattle No. 3 to return to Dawson. Mollie delivered her son 73 miles above Rampart while the boat was taking on wood from a large wood pile on the Yukon River. Mike spent the last of their money on a drunken party soon after the birth. After the party, Mike, in a drunken haze, told Mollie that the people on board had named their son Leon Edward Seattle No. 3 Yukon Woodpile Bartlett. This news ended their marriage.

Al Bartlett sold his shares of the business to his brothers and left. In 1901, Ed left for Seattle and decided not to return, sending Mike his power of attorney. In 1902, Mollie left for the west coast with a man called John Lynch. Mike, in a rage, followed them until finally catching up with them in Seattle. Mike shot Mollie to death and then tried unsuccessfully to commit suicide.

The newspapers billed it as the trial of the century. The trial began in November of 1903 and concluded Dec. 2 of the same year. Mike was acquitted based on insanity. He spent two years in a mental facility and was released. Six months later, he killed himself. Al Bartlett left for the gold fields of Tibet and was never heard from again. Ed Bartlett married Ida, who in 1904 gave birth to E.L. "Battling Bob" Bartlett. Ed and Ida moved to Fairbanks and remained there until Ed died in August of 1935. Mike and Mollie's son was a veteran of World War I and died in the Old Soldier's home in Washington D.C. in the 1950s. Finally, on July 21, 1930, Jack Newman dedicated a monument to Mollie Walsh Bartlett in Skagway. It stands there to this day.

• Jack Marshall is a 32-year Alaska resident who has been in Juneau for 26 years. His parents, grandparents and great-grandparents were pioneers of Oregon and Washington, leaving Alaska for him to discover. Much of the historical information in this column came from "Murder, Madness, and Mystery," a historical narrative of Mollie Walsh Bartlett by Art Peterson and D. Scott Williams.

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