Aug

25

Wherever there are rational people responding to instinct, doing foolish and irrational things, you will find a swarm of lies and deception. Mark Twain's story of the Duke and the King with its parody of the Shakespeare play shows how the lie and liars work in such a situation.  It starts with the lure: the promoter telling the truth, but not the whole truth.  The victims of the lure turn to pathological lying; rather than admitting a mistake, they allow themselves to become strong supporters of the promoter. And finally you find the con-men each stepping over the others to take advantage of the swarm.

The Klondike gold rush was born of instinct. Great wealth and dangerous conditions ensured that greed, fear and folly were sure to follow.

A. The Truth but not the Whole truth.

First came the media and marketer alliance created to oversell its wares. This group often prides itself on technically telling the truth, but practices deliberate deception by creating an illusion to promote their agenda.  Perhaps chief amongst them was Erastus Brainerd, a Harvard educated newspaper man, editor of the Seattle Times. He is noted for fueling the rush into a frenzy.  He sent out over 70,000 pamphlets to every US post office and to libraries, besides promoting the Seattle through news reports. The "reports" are now regarded as little more than thin guises, advertising Seattle.  His efforts won Seattle a role as the trail-head of the gold rush, mainly because his map to riches started in Seattle. This created a boom town monopoly for supplying the prospectors.

If there is any doubt that the prospectors felt duped, consider the complaints against W. D. Wood. Wood, on hearing the news of the gold, promptly resigned as mayor of Seattle to run a steamboat business for the eager prospectors.  He was almost lynched by his customers when they saw he left much of their newly acquired gear on the dock because he overbooked his ship. However, in true politician fashion he was able to talk his way off the gallows by returning the ship to pick-up the gear.

I was conversing with some descendants of a rusher, granddaughters  and great grand kids, who also toured Skagway, Alaska, gateway to the Klondike. They were taking the tour still trying to understand what could have possessed their bright forefather to have made such a foolhardy expedition.  With such clear signs, in hindsight, that the efforts were clearly doomed to failure they are still questioning such a costly mistake. The success of the deceptions below should be studied by all trying to get rich. The promoters created the rush by:

1. Creating a bottle neck. Most simply choose Seattle for the starting place to load up simply because Brainerd's map showed this as the start of exploration.  Actually several cities to the north (in Canada) or south would have expedited the trip.

2. Old news is still actionable. Reporting on how to plan an expedition implied that the reader was receiving up to date news relevant for decision making.

3. Creating a rush. Downplaying the crowds, the impossible odds for all but the front line and those with the best organized efforts and  reporting of how an individual would go about prospecting as if this was the most rational choice.

4. Targeting the educated, wealthy; planting "reports" in libraries. Most of the prospectors were professionals. Emphasizing the need to plan, and the expense, ensured the prospectors would have money to burn.

5. Under-reporting the corruption, organized scamming  and organized crime.  Implying just hard effort and brains would win.  No need to be on guard, questioning everything. Especially don't question the truth of reporting.

6. Ramping up the lies with  questionable sources.  The Seattle papers had a steady stream of reporters going to and from Skagway. The "expert's" stories of success largely came from two sources.  The collaborators, fellow promoters whose success, like the reporter success, came from successful crowd herding. Many needed cheap laborers, and many needed gulible people to dupe.  Also many tales of prospecting success from clear failure and pathological liars- a group that has trouble distinguishing reality from what they wished were reality. The lies got bigger, with the "reporters" were looking for "sources" that were simply willing to outdo the last one.

7. Appeal to the adventure, versus the cold hard truth of death and total ruin.  If there were any "balance" in the piece it still did not convey the odds, or give a clear picture of the risk.  Many smart, strong, prepared men were doomed to die by sheer bad luck.

8. Needing the crowd, promoters reassure the crowd that so many can't all be wrong, when a few moments thoughts would reveal the opposite: that following the crowd ensures all fail. What I found interesting was that much of the tourist trade by the Alaska inner passage still heavily relies on such crowd herding devices to pad the wallets.

B. The second liar is the pathological liar. The harsh reality of the task of prospecting, the insurmountable odds of the Klondik, made many a former honest man into such a liar. Pathological liars, lie about everything, from what they ate for breakfast to their net worth and physical and mental abilities.

Clearly, as Twain's story shows, one person can be all three, a promoter, con-man and pathological liar. But what separates a pathological liar from the other two is this need to live in an alternate reality.  They need to live in a world, very similar to reality, but slightly altered so that their folly and gut instincts become genius. Most stories contain some truth, and the reason the liar can appear to actually believe in the lies, is in his opinion, it could have easily happened that way, just need a slight reallignment of reality.  The purpose of every "story" is to believe if luck had simply smiled on me, I would be successful. Implying as luck changes I will be fine.  However, the only effort these liars put forth, so there luck could change, was to create a pyramid scheme fueled by their lies.  But often these are given strength by the promoter's organization, and their need to distance themselves from the lie, but support the lie.

The gateway town to the Klondike was full of such men: men who were once town leaders, the most educated doctors and lawyers; men who had given up, men that had known those that struck it rich, men that were trapped into a position of either admitting their mistake and going home or living the life of a pawn and liar.

C. Finally, the con-man: What distinguishes a con-man is his deceptions go directly for your wallet.  Perhaps the best known and most sucessful con-man of the era was Soapy-Smith. Soapy got his name from his Colorado days when he and his gang would sell soap by holding rigged lotteries, in which he would place large dollar bills, $10, $20, $50, and $100. The crowds would start buying, when they saw someone unwrap a $10 and yell "I won $10!".  Then same with the $20, and $50.  And after that he would turn them into a wild mob when he announced, Nobody has picked the $100 dollars winner yet.  This funded his was to Alaska, where he and his cohorts bought a tavern and brothel.  Soon he had many other businesses, a telegraph office, with wires that ended just outside of town. Skagway did not get an actual telegraph until 2 year after his death. Here are a few observation to perhaps helps spot such a con-man:

1.  He kept politicians on his payroll. Hosting the Governor four days before his death. He owned the town police and government. Many a fool would be taken in by underestimating the scope of his operations.

2.  He gave generously to all churches. And he would set up "charities" to expand his kingdom such as "finding" owners for the "orphaned sled dogs". Influence was as important to him as wealth.

3.  After conning many out of their money in his gambling establishments, he would instruct his workers to send them to his telegraph office… where he could ask someone at home for more money.  Of course without a real telegraph, no money would come.  He would instruct the telegraph office to send the lost soul to him, where he would give them the fare, to leave town.
 
4. He generously donated and took up a collection for the widow after one of
his men shot a local man in a argument over change.

5. Even with such measures to eliminate enemies and mobs, when the government turned a blind eye, the legitimate businesses and town people gouped against him. His demise came when a group of his men out-right stole several thousand of dollars of gold dust from a prospector unwilling to gamble, knowing he would be swindled.  The locals had a gunfight in which he died. His gang fled town quickly and he was buried in a paupers grave, with nobody attending his funeral.

There are many more Klondike characters to research.


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