Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Chariton Cemetery Heritage Tour 3: Charley Rose

Charley Rose, whose story easily could have been the subject of an adventure novel, was portrayed by Mike Miller Sunday afternoon during the 17th annual Chariton Cemetery Heritage Tour, entitled "The Lady in the Iron Fence and Her Neighborhood."

Mary Finley (Alicia McGee), reinterred in the cemetery soon after it was established in 1864, was the lady in question. You'll find the script of her presentation here. Deming Jarves Thayer, second on the program, was portrayed by Blake Yocom. His script is here.

And here's a bonus photograph, from the Lucas County Historical Society collection, showing (in the foreground) Charley and his ill-fated partners in this adventure, John Bentley and Starling Riggins, training their nine sled dogs, hitched to a sleigh, on South Grand Street in Chariton during January of 1898. We're not sure which of the three men is which.

Here's the script:


I was one of those grass-is-always-greener guys, someone who never settled down --- until they planted me here in November of 1917 that is. My name is Charley Rose and my final resting place is over there, near my wife, Jennie, and our son, Bert.

Although I spent most of my life in and around Chariton, my friends and neighbors remember me best because of the years I spent in Canada’s frozen northwest --- Yukon Territory --- after catching one of the worst cases of gold fever known to man.

It was an obsession that cost my two partners their lives --- and ruined my health --- but I stuck with it until the Klondike chewed me up and spat me our after six years.


I was born during 1854 in Franklin County, Ohio, one of 13 children, but came to the Freedom neighborhood southwest of Chariton during 1859 with my parents, Stephen and Rosalinda Rose. When 21, I married Miss Jennie Proctor, whose father, Thomas, operated a livery stable in Chariton. Our only child, Cyril Albert --- known as Bert --- was born a year later.

Everything I did, I did well --- and always made a good living for my family. But I didn’t stick with anything for long. During the first 20 years of our marriage, I worked as a confectioner, operated a grocery store, found a job as a freight agent, opened another grocery store and then a restaurant.

During 1890, Jennie and I built one of the finest houses in town --- still standing on South Grand Street east of your Fielding Funeral Home. Some of you will remember it as the home of Bill and Elgin Stuart. We sold that house to Sam and Florence McKlveen during 1895 and moved on.


By the fall of 1896, I was ready to try something entirely new. As it happened, gold was discovered that fall in the Klondike region of Yukon Territory in northwest Canada. The news reached San Francisco and Seattle early in 1897 and spread like wildfire across the United States. That set off a stampede of 100,000 or more prospectors.

Lucas County was not immune. The world passed through Chariton daily on the C.B.&Q. Railroad and special trains loaded with supplies and men bound for the Klondike were noted and reported upon in the Chariton newspapers. Some of our merchants even offered outfits to potential prospectors.

Two of our businessmen --- Frank Crocker, of First National Bank, and Webb Hultz, representative of the Tones Spice Co. --- baited the hook during the fall of 1897 by offering to finance an expedition to the Klondike in return for a cut of the gold.

Three of us took the bait. At 43, I was the oldest and, as it turned out, the toughest. The others were John Bentley, 35, a blacksmith; and Starling “Starl” Riggins, 31, a traveling salesman. My son was grown; the others both had young families.


The Canadian government required each prospector to have on hand about a ton of supplies and equipment to transport by dog sled and backpack to the Klondike before allowing him into Yukon Territory.

So we equipped ourselves in Chariton with much of what we would need because prices shot up the closer to the gold fields you got. That included all of our clothing other than hiking boots, canned goods --- and nine dogs. We trained our dogs on the streets of Chariton that cold, snowy January, hitched to a sleigh.

The departure date was set for Feb. 1, 1898, and Webb and Ida Hultz threw us a farewell party at their big house on South Main Street.

After that, we traveled by train to Seattle; by ship to Skagway, Alaska; then by dog sled to the base of the Chilkoot Pass --- gateway to the Yukon --- with Dawson City, our destination, 600 miles beyond.


We reached Sheep Camp, just before the pass, in late February during an epidemic of meningitis. John sickened and when he did not improve, we moved him into the only hotel. He seemed to improve, but died there on March 23rd, despite our best efforts.

There were no undertakers, so Starl and I prepared his body as best we could, took it to Skagway and placed in on a ship to Seattle, accompanied by the desk clerk at our hotel who was anxious to leave Alaska behind. In Seattle, he wired Frank Crocker in Chariton, who informed the family. The body arrived in Chariton on the morning of April 5. First Baptist Church was packed to overflowing for the funeral that afternoon, but John’s remains were in bad shape, so he remained in the hearse. Burial here in the Chariton Cemetery followed the funeral.


Having done what little we could for John, Starl and I pushed on into Yukon Territory, traveling the last 500 miles to Dawson City by water on a raft that we built, arriving there in mid-June. Although we remained friends and often shared quarters, Starl went to work with his brother, Herbert, who already had a promising claim.

I was too late to stake a good claim, but jobs were plentiful and wages were good --- a dollar an hour plus board --- so I was able to support myself and send a good amount of money home to Jennie in Chariton. I continued to prospect when the weather allowed, but had little luck. This was the pattern I followed until 1903 --- five years.

During the late fall of 1900, Starl became critically ill with what I think was appendicitis --- but we knew little about that then. He died at 33 on Nov. 22 in our camp and again I found myself dealing with the body of a dead friend. We took his body into Dawson City. It was claimed by his brother, then living in Whittier, California, and transported there for burial. His wife and little girls were living in Indianola at the time.


I never did strike it rich, but couldn’t shake that gold fever. During early 1903, I raised enough cash to buy into a claim that produced gold. But my good luck was short-lived.

During October of that year I slipped and fell down the mine shaft, about 40 feet, breaking a leg. I was alone, so pulled myself up the ladder, using my good leg, and when I couldn’t get over the cribbing at the top, tied myself to it so I wouldn’t fall again.

Help finally came, but my leg was improperly set and it was months before I could travel to Dawson City, where my leg was reset and I spent many weeks in the hospital.

Finally, during midsummer of 1904 I was able to travel --- even though I could barely walk, and made my way home to Chariton by ship and train, arriving on August 10, six and a half years after we’d left Lucas County on this deadly adventure.

My health wasn’t good after that and I had trouble walking. In 1912, I was hired as deputy Lucas County auditor and during 1916 was elected auditor in my own right.

But I didn’t have long to enjoy the position. I accompanied the Lucas County supervisors to Albia a year later, on Nov. 17, 1917, for a meeting with their Monroe County counterparts. Waiting for the train home to Chariton, I suffered a heart attack and dropped dead on the depot platform.

My funeral was held a few days later at First Baptist Church --- the same church that had been packed to overflowing 20 years earlier when Chariton said goodbye to its first victim of the Klondike gold rush. And then I finally settled down.

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