"Double Murder and A Lynching. Port Valdez, Alaska. Christened in Crime."
So shouted the large, front page headlines of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer
on February 3, 1898. Prospectors waiting in Seattle for boats to Alaska
read and discussed the tragedy that helped shape the character and lore
of the Valdez Route.
In the Seattle P-I account, Tanner becomes dissatisfied and disagreeable
when the other members of the Witch City Mining Co. expected him to do
"much of the work about camp at Port Valdez" because they had outfitted
him. When he objects and over hears that they want to get rid of him, he
gets his revolver, enters the tent, and kills Lee and Call, but misses
Haines, the leader. The camp is roused.
"In the still watches of an almost Arctic winter night the crime of
Tanner was weighed. The majority advocated immediate retribution; a minority
held out for sending the prisoner to Sitka to be dealt with by the regularly
constituted authorities. It was no unreasoning mob; no crowd of lawless
border ruffians thirsting for the blood of their fellow man; but a calm,
determined gathering of such as at home rank among the most respected and
law-abiding citizens. There were professional men, merchants, office men,
artisans and laborers. The prisoner was the coolest of them all. He even
dosed during the proceedings. He urged that he be sent to Sitka, where
he thought he would be able to clear himself. As excuse for his deed he
pleaded self-defense. His companions had planned to abandon him, he said,
and in such a country that meant death."
When the vote was taken and 29 were for hanging and 9 for sending Tanner
to Sitka, Tanner's only remark was: "Gentlemen, I guess you are doing what
is right." Doc Tanner was hung on January 3, 1898.
As the prospectors on their way to Valdez read and discussed the event,
they must have asked, "What would they have done?" "How should disputes
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1998 Nancy Lethcoe and Virtual
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