Historically, most of the gold recovered in the Yukon and Alaska was recovered by placer mining, which involves the separation of loose particles of gold from the surrounding sand or gravel. This separation process requires a large, fairly constant supply of water; although various means, from the use of water-efficient rockers to the construction of the massive Yukon Ditch, were employed in the Klondike to alleviate the situation, most of the early placer miners in the district faced a constant battle with Nature and each other to get the right amount of water at the right place and time.
In 1905 and 1906, a group of miners, with the complete support of the Yukon Council, employed a particularly unusual technique in an attempt to ensure the water supply that would allow the Yukon to flourish economically. Surprisingly, the story of Charlie Hatfield, the Klondike Rainmaker, is virtually unknown.
During the summer of 1905, one of the driest summers that had been seen in the Klondike, word was spread about an amazing string of succesful rainmaking contracts undertaken in the western United States by Charles Hatfield, of Los Angeles.
Born in Fort Scott, Kansas, in 1875, Hatfield claimed to have been "a student of meteorology" for 7 years, during which time he had discovered that by sending a secret combination of chemicals into the air, clouds could be produced in large enough quantities that rain was sure to follow. Although not all of his contracts were a success, and despite the fact that the U.S. Weather Bureau labeled him a fraud, his fame grew rapidly.
On August 10, 1905, the Yukon Council entered into a contract with Hatfield to bring his equipment to the Klondike in 1906; if the rains did indeed arrive in sufficient quantity (that amount to be determined by a board of seven men), Hatfield would be paid $10,000. If not, his transportation and living expenses for the trip would be paid. Half of the $10,000 was raised by donations, with the balance to come from General Revenue.
Hatfield, with his brother to assist him, passed through Whiteorse on the 3rd of June 1906, and The Weekly Star quipped that residents "might get him to give us a shower here - just a little one for fifteen cents or two for a quarter." When the sternwheeler Selkirk arrived at Dawson, "Hat" was welcomed by a huge crowd of people adorned with rubber boots or umbrellas.
Within a couple of days, Hatfield had set up his headquarters at the Cook Roadhouse, and had built a 24-foot tower which was sending out clouds of thick smoke from the top of King Solomon's Dome.
Despite optimistic reports that "Hat" was "A world beater as a cloud producer," day after day passed with no rain or only a short shower, and an ever-increasing number of placer operators were forced to shut down due to the lack of water.
The little rain that did fall was considered to be no more than normal. A hail storm at the mining centre of Grand Forks, however, was credited to Hatfield,
and "all the owners of flower and vegetable gardens are swearing vengeance on him." By the 30th of June all humour in the reports of the situation had vanished, although Chief Isaac, of the local Han Indians, claimed that four of his medicine men were preventing Hatfield from making rain. He also offered, for only $5,000, to show Hatfield how rain should be made.
Feelings against Hatfield ran increasingly strong through an exceptionally dry July; on the 26th, he shut down his project, and two days later was gone.
Charles Hatfield might have been written off as just another nut, but in January 1916, he fulfilled a rainmaking contract with the City of San Diego to such an extent that streets were flooded, homes washed away, and a dam eventually broke, resulting in the death of many people. A string of lawsuits were filed against him, and went all the way to the Supreme Court of California, where it was ruled that the rain was an act of God (that, of course, also meant that the city did not have to pay him!)
Quotations are from The Weekly Star of June 1, 1906 and the Dawson Daily News of June 12 - August 8, 1906.
Lockhart, GaryThe Weather Companion (New York: Wiley & Sons, 1988).
© 1998-2018 Murray Lundberg:
Use for other than research purposes must be approved by the author.