The Witch City Mining Company -- death by hanging
On hearing of gold in Alaska, Herbert Haines, a newspaperman, and Grant Hoag quickly
organized a group of Massachusetts gold seekers and set out for Orca and the Copper
River route. "We mean to dig gold or die," Haines told a reporter. By the time the
Witch City party reached Seattle, they decided they needed an experienced prospector and
frontiersman, so they invited Doc Tanner to join their party and partially grubstaked
At Orca, the party learned of the near impossibility of the Copper River route and
decided to go on to Valdez. Meanwhile, the experienced Doc Tanner discovered that
instead of provisions for six months, there were only three months. He vigorously
protested. Others apparently did, too, for the party split into two groups. Doc Tanner stayed
with Haines, Lee, Call, and Pierce, the others went with Hoag.
But discord continued. Finally, on New Year's Day, 1898, Haines, Call and Lee decided
to give Tanner "his share of the supplies and let him go on his own resources." Doc
Tanner, overhearing their conversation, thought being sent out alone into the Alaskan
wilderness in the middle of winter was a death sentence. He got his gun and shot Lee,
Call and Haines. Lee and Call died immediately. Haines, the man Doc Tanner said he
most wanted to kill, was only injured.
The forty-four other prospectors camped at the head of Port Valdes immediately called
a miner's meeting. From 11 pm to 4 am they debated Doc Tanner's fate. Finally, thirty-seven
men voted to hang Doc Tanner at dawn on January 2nd 1898.
(Jim and Nancy Lethcoe are the authors of Valdez Gold Rush Trails 1898-99
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