Mollie Walsh raced out of her house on Pike Street in Seattle, crying. A look of panic filled her face. It was October 27, 1902. It was raining. Mollie was petrified and sick with the flu. She glanced over her shoulder just in time to see her husband, Michael Bartlett, burst through the front door and take off after her. He swore at her and shouted for her to stop, but she only ran faster. Bartlett pulled a revolver out of his pocket, took aim and fired two shots. Both bullets hit Mollie in the back. She fell face first into the mud, reeled up once and then died. She was thirty years old.
Jack Newman, a handsome man with a square jaw and lively chestnut hair sat at the bar at Clancy’s Saloon in Skagway, Alaska. A few tears fell into his beer. With his big fist he wiped the other tears he couldn’t hold back off his face and mustache. In his hand he held a dog-eared photograph of Mollie Walsh and a copy of her obituary he found in the Klondike Nugget newspaper. “To have known such a great and exalted love,” Jack mumbled to himself, “and have it flee from your grasp.” Jack took his drink over to the window to watch a heavy snow blanket the soggy streets and remember his great and exalted love.
Mollie Walsh was lured to Alaska in 1897. Gold had just been discovered in the Klondike and like other Stampeders, Mollie embarked on a journey for fortune and glory. She was a diminutive and gracious woman of 26 with long, dark hair and a dusting of freckles across her nose. She arrived in Skagway in October and worked as a cook and waitress in one of the town’s nineteen restaurants. She saved her money and eventually opened her own “tent road house” near the tiny mining town of Log Cabin.
Mollie’s Grub Tent was a popular establishment. She provided good food and supplies for gold miners and packers hiking through the cold, snowy mountains. She faithfully attended church services held under a lean-to. When it came time for a building to be constructed Mollie helped raise the funds for Log Cabin’s first Union Church. Reverend Dickey was the pastor of the church and was impressed with Mollie’s eagerness to lend a hand whenever needed and with her delightful disposition. He was highly complimentary of her sense of humor as well. In December of 1897 he wrote in his journal that “Miss Walsh was a pretty, Irish girl, full of fun and not averse to making fun of herself in a crowd. When teased about being, “an old Maid,” she admitted to having had three proposals, back home in Montana.”
No one was more taken by Mollie’s fine character than Jack. Mollie was the soul of honor and first caught Jack’s attention when she risked her reputation and the censure of the respectable women of the area to nursed a sick girl at a brothel. When the woman died Mollie asked Reverend Dickey to hold her funeral at the church. The Reverend agreed. In his eulogy he urged the prostitutes in attendance to quit their profession. Captain Samuel O’Brien of the S.S. Shamrock attended the funeral and was so moved by the sermon he offered free passage to Seattle for any woman that wanted to leave. Mollie raised money to give the women a fresh start. Many left one the S.S. Shamrock that night.
Mollie was well known for her generosity to all. Jack was the recipient of her kindness on more than one occasion. One night while Jack was packing his way through the mountains he got caught in a bitter snowstorm. Almost blinded, his left hand frozen, he stumbled into Mollie’s trailside tent. Mollie helped Jack to a table, served him hot coffee and rubbed his hand until the circulation returned. Jack recalled that tender moment in his memoirs written in 1902. “A strange feeling passed between us as Mollie tended to my frost-bitten hand. I left her tent with a great love flooding my heart.”
Packer Jack Newman had rarely seen the benevolence Mollie practiced. Being a roughneck mountain-man he primarily kept company with those just like him. According to his friends, Jack was a complex fellow. He was a philosopher, altruist, poet, and a two handed pistol shot champion. He had fought Indians and driven pack trains in the early days of Arizona, Colorado, and Alaska. He was a determined man and a success at whatever he set out to do.
Jack set his sights on Mollie and every chance he got he would stop into her grub tent and visit with her. Jack wasn’t the only suitor vying for her attention. A faro dealer had his eye on Mollie as well. Word got back to Jack that the gambler had called him a “low-down shaggy wolf.” Jack called the dealer out into the street to settle things once and for all. A large crowd looked on as Jack and the faro dealer drew on one another. Jack beat the gambler to the draw and shot him in the leg. “I promised you I wouldn’t kill him,” Jack told Mollie. “But I had to make it hard for him to keep running to your place anymore.”
The more time Jack spent with Mollie the more in love with her he fell. Mollie cared a great deal for Jack, but wasn’t convinced they were a match. She eventually wanted to move to a more populated, congenial spot. Jack preferred frontier living – miles away from the grind of city life.
Mollie’s Grub Tent was an oasis in the desert for many packers. They looked forward to getting a good meal at her establishment and chatting with the friendly, gracious woman. Thirty-two year old Michael Bartlett happened into her business one afternoon. He was tall, handsome and hardworking. His family came to Alaska from Texas and quickly became wealthy selling supplies, livestock and machinery to the miners. Bartlett was instantly smitten with Mollie and began spending a lot of time at her restaurant. Jack didn’t like Bartlett paying so much attention to Mollie and let it be known. “Rights claimed by Newman in business or love were of no concern to him,” Mike replied. Jack ordered Mollie not to let Barlett into her tent. His demands did not set well with her. Jack later said of that day, “Mollie was angry, for sure. She said I wasn’t her master, not being married to her, and this was a public eating place, so anyone in the whole northland was welcome. One thing led to another. Trifle piled on trifle. Neither of us would weaken.”
Mollie grew tired of the filth and corruption that ran rampant in the little mining town and began making plans to relocate. Jack wanted her to stay, but knew he couldn’t make her happy living in a place she didn’t want to be and he didn’t want to leave his profitable business as a packer. In June of 1898 Mollie moved to Dawson. In December she married Mike Bartlett. Packer Jack’s heart was broken.
The Bartletts were happy for a time. Mike moved Mollie into a beautiful vine-covered cottage. She eagerly accepted the domestic responsibilities and social obligations befitting the wife of a successful businessman. Problems began early on for the couple however. Mollie was not well liked by Mike’s family. His brothers opposed the marriage. They believed she married Mike for his money. They also felt she had a questionable past. They didn’t believe Mollie merely ran a grub tent for packers. They accused her of being a prostitute. Mollie’s spirit of enterprise further added to her in-law dilemma. She decided to take a break from her domestic life and become involved with the family business. Her in-laws did not approve. To escape the turmoil Michael moved Mollie to Seattle. Shortly thereafter he traveled back to Alaska to take care of the Bartlett brothers’ interests in Nome.
Jack’s gold miner friends traveling back and forth from Seattle to Skagway kept tabs on Mollie and would let the broken hearted Jack know how she was doing. He tried his best to forget her and buried himself in his work, but she never left his mind for long. In 1900 when he heard she had given birth to a son he thought about her, and when he got word that her husband’s business was failing and he was gambling and drinking, he thought about her even more.
Rumor had it that Mike was abusing Mollie. Jack ached for her. He was encouraged when news came that she had secretly left Bartlett and was headed for Skagway. He hoped he could catch up with her and they could get back together, but Michael had other plans for Mollie. He was frantic to find her and his son. He chased them all over the country – even to Mexico. When he finally found his family he promised Mollie he would change and begged her to return to Seattle with him. Mollie agreed. Jack was devastated.
The Barlett’s reconciliation was short lived. Mike’s behavior did not improve and Mollie left him again. She withdrew a substantial amount of money from their bank account and moved into a boarding house. Bartlett found out where she was living and paid her a visit. He asked her to come home with him and when she wouldn’t, he tried to kill himself with a pistol. The shot, which lodged in the ceiling, attracted police officers, but Mollie told them that “he was not crazy and would hurt no one but himself.” At her request, he was not prosecuted.
The pair decided to separate and come to an understanding regarding finances. Mike drank more and more. Mollie felt sorry for him and proposed that they reunite. Mike readily accepted her offer. Again Barlett’s violent temper over took him. This time Mollie had him arrested. She told the officers that her husband “abused her in all ways which he could devise, called her all the names nature could suggest, and had often threatened to make away with her existence.”
A judge found Mike guilty of threatening to kill his wife and sentenced him to thirty days. Mollie persuaded the judge to suspend her husband’s sentence. She was afraid if he were placed in jail he would kill her as soon as his time was up. The judge reluctantly gave into Mollie’s request. Mike assured the court he “would not harm a hair on his wife’s head.” One week after his release Michael killed Mollie.
Jack followed Barlett’s trial closely, as did all of Seattle. The court case dragged on for more than a year. Bartlett claimed Mollie’s unfaithfulness drove him to take her life. Mike was acquitted of the murder charge by reason of insanity. The court called it “a crime of passion.” Two years after the trial Bartlett committed himself to an asylum and later committed suicide.
Packer Jack married in 1906, but he never got over his love for the woman he referred to as the “angel of the Klondike Trail.” In 1930 he had a bronze statue made of Mollie and sent it to Skagway. Her likeness stands at the entrance of Mollie Walsh Park. Packer Jack wrote the inscription etched in granite beneath the bust. “Alone without help – this courageous girl ran a grub tent near Log Cabin during the Gold Rush of 1897-1898. She fed and lodged the wildest gold crazed men generations shall surely know. This inspiring spirit was murdered on October 27, 1902.”
Before Jack died he asked his wife of twenty-four years to bury him on the White Pass Trail where he believed the spirit of Mollie still lived.