Island Bound Traveller Writer, Storyteller
Gary Grieco is a freelance writer, avid reader, sailor, and motorcycle enthusiast based on Texada Island, British Columbia, Canada.
CHARLIE "THE LUCKY SWEDE" ANDERSON
THE TRUTH AT LAST
by Gary Grieco -email@example.com
Published Swedish Press 2009
Charlie John Anderson, who came to be known as the Lucky
Swede, was one of those fascinating characters of the Bonanza and
Eldorado days. Slight of stature, with a pinched face and a small pointed beard, this thirty-seven year old Swede from Boston was immortalized in Pierre Berton's ' Klondike - The Last Great Gold Rush 1896 - 1899'.
Periods of Anderson's life are still cloaked in mystery, and there are many conflicting stories about this legendary Swede. What we do
know is that Anderson was one of the thousands of fortune seekers
who made their way to the Yukon during the Gold Rush. In his epic story of the Klondike, Pierre Berton recounts that
Charlie Anderson, The Lucky Swede "still wearing his little pointed
beard, died in 1939 pushing a wheelbarrow at a saw-mill near
Sapperton, British Columbia, for three dollars and twenty-five cents a
day." Yet, residents of Texada Island, B.C. claimed the Lucky Swede
lived and died on their northern Gulf Island in the Strait of Georgia.
Canadian journalist Pierre Berton's credentials are impeccable, and the two historical volumes he wrote in 1958 are still considered de-
finitive works on the Klondike. But, did his researchers get the Lucky
Swede's ending right ?
Here was a mystery worth digging into - no pun intended. The idea that fortunes could be made in the west and the north
was a magnetic attraction for men, many of them desperate adventur-ers in the late 1800's. There were thousands of unemployed men who were caught in the severe depression called the "Panic of '93" which rocked the American economy, putting prosperous businesses into bankruptcy. The only place left for the wanderers, explorers, and adventurers was the great north - Alaska and northwest Canada. The Last Frontier !
Charles John Anderson's story of prospecting in the Yukon begins in 1894 in San Francisco. The thirty-five year old Swedish farmer embarked on a harrowing journey over land, sea, mountains, and
plains accompanied by one Englishman and four Norwegians. They froze, starved, and generally suffered a great deal, but finally arrived at an ice valley in the Yukon called Glacier Creek. Anderson slaved for high pay with his disparate partners, digging for gold for a dollar an hour and ending up as a partner in the Glacier Mine.
The legend is that grubstake miners Al Thayer and Winfield Oler had staked out Claim Twenty-nine on the Eldorado in theKlondike Valley. Believing it worthless, they returned to Forty Mile looking for someone on whom to unload it. They found thirty-seven year old Charley Anderson who had been mining for several years out of Forty Mile. It did not take long for Oler to sucker the discouraged and drunken Swede into paying him eight hundred dollars for Claim 29. A sober Anderson tried to get his money back, with no luck. But, luck came his way in the form of a million dollars worth of gold that lay in the bedrock under his Claim 29. Charley Anderson bore the moniker of "The Lucky Swede" for the rest of his life. As for Oler, he became the butt of so many jokes that he fled the country in disgust, and died in the Pioneers' Home in Sitka, Alaska. The Klondike gold fever lasted just two years - from mid-summer 1897, when the news first reached the outside world, until mid-summer 1899, when word from Nome, Alaska of another strike emptied Dawson City. But in that brief period, according to Pierre Berton, "thousands of men lived a lifetime. Those who survived the experience and learned from it were made wise; they had taken their own measure and now understood their failings as well as their strengths. At last they realized that the Klondike experience was as much a quest for self as it was for gold." Gold fever deserted Dawson City just as quickly as it had descended on the town. The population dwindled from 30,000 to 5,000. The statistics regarding the Klondike stampede show that an estimated one hundred thousand people actually set out on the trail, and some thirty or forty thousand reached Dawson. Only about one half of this number bothered to look for gold; of these, only four thousand found any. Of the four thousand, a few hundred found gold in quantities large enough to call themselves rich. These were the Klondike Kings, but out of these fortunate men only the merest handful managed to keep their weath. Charlie Anderson was one of the unfortunate ones. After leaving Dawson City, the Lucky Swede, who had reportedly taken more than one million dollars from #29 above Eldorado in less than four years, headed to Europe accompanied by his wife, Grace Drummond, a former dance hall girl and the toast of Monte Carlo. Grace had promised to marry the Lucky Swede if he would pay fifty-thousand dollars into her bank account, and the Lucky Swede was happy to oblige. The more romantic story is that Charlie Anderson gave Drummond her weight in gold so she would marry him. After spending time in Paris, London and New York, Charlie Anderson and his wife returned to San Francisco where the The Lucky Swede built a monument to his bride in the form of a turreted castle worth twenty thousand dollars in the outskirts of the city. But it was not long before his wife divorced him, and the San Francisco earthquake in 1906 laid waste Charlie Anderson's wealth since he had invested heavily in real estate. He, however, remained an incurable optimist in spite of these setbacks, and was so convinced was he that he would strike it rich again that he vowed not to shave off his little pointed beard until he had recouped his fortunes. At this point, The Lucky Swede's history becomes hazy. One source claims he went to Texada Island in 1907 after losing his wife and money, while another has him moving to Van Anda in 1924, with the latter date being more credible. Island history has him working in the Howe Sound area for a few years, mining in the Brittania Mines as well as Sapperton, then coming back to Texada and working in the Billy Slater Mine along with Eddie Raper and Herb Lowther. Anderson would have felt right at home in the once bustling mining town of Van Anda. At its peak of activity, between 1880 and 1919, there were seven working mines with names like Gold Bug, Gold Slipper, Copper Queen and the Little Billie Mine, plus a host of others scattered over the island. In the late 1890's when Klondike fever was at its height and Charlie Anderson was becoming a millionaire, Texada Island was declared the richest 25 square miles in British Columbia. Twin side-by-side cities named Van Anda and Texada City boasted three hotels complete with saloons, an opera house, and three thousand residents, rivalling San Francisco. The Henry Liebich family donated The Lucky Swede's camera and binoculars to the Texada Heritage Museum. I interviewed Henry Liebich just before he died at age 94, and recorded his memories of Charlie Anderson who lived two doors down in a modest house on Smelter Avenue, now just an empty lot. Liebich reminisced, "he was a small man with a little beard, and very affable. He wore mostly dungarees, and I remember him as a ladies' man. Charlie once told me that it wasn't a million dollars in gold, but $900,000." Henry's ninety year old brother, Art Liebich only knew the Lucky Swede by sight and reputation. Art was 24 when Charlie Anderson died, but he did reveal a fascinating story to add to the Lucky Swede lore. "A native Sliammon found a rich gold mine toward the south end of Texada. He would come up for years, hammering out just enough gold to support himself for the coming year. He travelled different ways each time so as not to leave a trail. He was smart. Charlie Anderson and Percy Kirby spent years camped out over the summers looking for this lost gold mine mid-island on Texada. Percy was a bachelor and an odd person. He didn't mix very much. I think it was between 1925 and 1930, but they never found it." Marion Little, now deceased, was the daughter of George MacLeod, a prominent Texada Island pioneer, and a great friend of The Lucky Swede. Marion Little remembered him. "He was a small, kind, and dapper man, and the ladies liked him." The Lucky Swede's sister, Annie Letenoba travelled from San Jose, California to live with him for the last years of his life until he died at age 80. On his deathbed, he said to his dear friends and sister, "I've got many good miles ahead of me." He died a few hours later and is buried in the Van Anda cemetery. I eventually found the headstone of Charles John Anderson's grave in Van Anda's Woodland Cemetery. It needed attention, and I spent some time brushing and cleaning it while thinking about the small man buried under my feet, and whose life story was still shrouded in some mystery. The stone reads, "In Loving Memory - Charles John Anderson - Klondike Pioneer." He was born in Sweden in 1859 according to his death certificate, and died June 28, 1939 in Van Anda, B.C. Pierre Berton got the date right, but the place wrong. Anderson's length of stay in Van Anda as recorded on the death certificate was 16 plus years, which makes the 1924 date about right. But, where was he between the years of 1907 and 1924 when he likely left San Francisco and made his way north ? A mystery man to the end, The Lucky Swede's death certificate shows his wife's name as Marie Bjornland with her birthplace as Sweden, and not as Grace Drummond, dance hall girl.