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 him.

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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