Weddings of the gold rush era
June was a popular month for weddings long before the Klondike gold rush. People of medieval times often took their annual baths in May, which meant a bride would still smell fresh in June. To be safe, she carried a bouquet of flowers to hide any body odor. That’s where the custom of carrying a bouquet down the aisle comes from.
Many miners who came north in search of riches may have chosen brides at the beginning of summer for practical reasons. Once the ground thawed, and a miner found a plot that showed promise, he drove stakes into the ground to lay claim to mining rights. By 1897, only one claim per person was allowed in a district.
But a loophole in the mining laws allowed married couples the right to register a separate claim in the wife’s name, thus doubling the amount of land for prospecting. So taking a wife could mean untold riches from the ground.
Not too many miners could take advantage of the loophole, however, as there were very few women in the mining camps during the late 1890s. And miners who did find a bride faced another challenge – there were no judges or preachers in those camps to marry them. So they had to think up unique ways to perform nuptials.
One of the most unique was the case of lovers on the Koyukuk trail in the spring of 1899. In lieu of an official marriage contract, they created a substitute document along with one “French Joe.” The contract appeared in the society column of the Yukon Press.
Aggie Dalton said:
Ten miles from the Yukon on the banks of this lake,
For a partner to Koyukuk, McGillis I take;
We have no preacher, and we have no ring,
It makes no difference, it’s all the same thing.
To which Frank McGillis responded:
I swear by my gee-pole, under this tree,
A devoted husband to Aggie I always will be;
I’ll love and protect her, this maiden so frail,
From those sourdough bums on the Koyukuk trail.
And French Joe blessed the union with:
For two dollars apiece, in Cheechako money,
I unite this couple in matrimony;
He be a rancher, she be a teacher,
I do the job up, just as well as a preacher.
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