Doc Tanner: Victim or Murderer?

On January 1, 1898, Doc Tanner shot and killed two of his partners. After five hours of deliberation, a miners' court condemned him to death by hanging at dawn. Although he died at Hangtown at 9am on January 2nd, the memory of Doc Tanner strongly influenced participants on the Valdez Gold Rush Trail.

Was he a murderer or a victim? W.S. Amy, who later became mayor of Valdez, claimed Doc Tanner was the third man he'd helped to hang. The man was clearly guilty of murder. Prohibitionist Copper River Joe describes Tanner as a drunk and cold blooded murder. He deserved to be hung.

But others disagreed. Charles Hubbard, who met Tanner while the Witch City Mining Company was at Orca, said Tanner was a mild man who neither smoked, swore or drank. Hubbard blamed the Pacific Steam Whaling Company for their false advertising of the Copper River Route. Their greedy deception was the root cause of Call, Lee and Doc Tanner's deaths.

Addison Powell, who arrived after the hanging, recreates the episode in his Trailing and Camping in Alaska . He, too, saw Tanner as the victim. Powell's account makes a compelling argument for the injustice done to the poor man, the underdog.

Whether Doc Tanner was a victim or a murderer, everyone who arrived at the Valdez trailhead knew of his hanging and knew that, unlike Skagway, the Valdez gold rush trail was a law and order route.


(Addison Powell's, Trailing and Camping in Alaska, has been reprinted by Prince William Sound Books and is available in local bookstores).

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© Copyright 1998 Nancy Lethcoe and Virtual Valdez. This page is a Valdez Gold Rush site.