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Captain William Moore:
Founder of Skagway, Alaska

An Explorer's Guide to Skagway, Alaska

Alaska-Yukon Pioneer Biographies

Captain William Moore     Captain William Moore first saw the Skagway River Valley and the White Pass in the spring of 1887 when he came with a Canadian survey team to determine the exact position of the 141st meridian which separated the Territory of Alaska and what would soon become the Yukon Territory. He was impressed by what he saw that he returned in October that year with his son, Ben, to stake a 160-acre homestead in the Skagway valley. The Moores laid a foundation for a cabin and began building a wharf before leaving for the winter in November.

    A former steamboat captain on the rivers of British Columbia and Alaska, William Moore was an adventurer who had taken part in several gold stampedes in both North and South America. Like many other men already mining in the north, he believed that gold in large quantities would be found, and had a vision that Skagway, with its deep-water harbor and trail through the White Pass, would be come the gateway to those gold fields. For the next 10 years, he and Ben worked intermittently on improvements to their homestead and wharf.

    Moore's dream, though, became a nightmare when thousands of stampeders began to arrive on the beach at Skagway in July 1897, following news of a huge gold discovery in the Klondike the previous August. While most of those stampeders continued on to te gold fields, some remained at Skagway to build a new community. They refused to recognize Moore's homestead claim, and took over most of his land. Through litigation, the Moores were eventually awarded the land that their improvements were on, plus 25% of the assessed value of the land that had been forcibly taken from them. They later sold their wharf to the White Pass & Yukon Route, which was building a railway through the White Pass.

    William Moore was a man of great strength and endurance. In 1896, when he was 73 years old, he contracted with the Canadian government to deliver mail through the winter by dog team, on a 600-mile route from Juneau through the Chilkoot Pass to Forty Mile on the Yukon River. He is seen to the right on his wharf in about 1898, with Mount Harding and the Harding Glacer in the background.

    Like his father, Ben freighted mail and supplies to camps along the Yukon River. He married a beautiful young Tlingit woman, Klinget-sai-yet Shotridge (Minnie Elizabeth Moore), daughter of Chief Shotridge of Klukwan, and brought her and their children to live at Skagway.

    As Skagway developed and settled down from the boom years, Captain Moore had a hand in many businesses, and became a wealthy man as well as a strong influence in the community. He built a palatial home near the original cabin and home.

    The Moores left Skagway in 1907. For 20 years they had pursued a dream, and had seen Skagway bloom and prosper. Captain Moore spent his remaining years in Victoria, British Columbia. He died there in 1909, having earned and lost at least 3 fortunes in his 87 adventurous years.

    The large home that Captain Moore had built in Skagway later became the Pullen Hotel, one of the most famous hotels in Alaska.

The east side of Skagway harbor and Moore Wharf in 1897 The east side of Skagway harbor and Moore Wharf in 1897, during the early days of the rush to the Klondike gold fields. The log cribs filled with rocks were built by the Moores in 1888; the wharf is under construction. When the Moores left Skagway, they sold their wharf to the White Pass & Yukon Route railway.
Captain Moore and Harriet Pullen in a wagon pulled by 6 dogs Captain Moore on Broadway showing off his six dog wagon team in about 1905. Mrs. Harriet M. Pullen and little Florence Rogers are on the rear seat, and a hired man has the reins.
Moore and his son built the cabin and house on their original homestad in Skagway. Ben later enlarged the house for his growing young family. Today the 2 properties, at Fifth and Spring Street, belong to the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park. They have been restored and are open to the public.
Left: Photo 76-33, Moore Collection, UAF Rasmuson Library Archives
Below: Photos by Murray Lundberg
Pullen Hotel, Skagway Mrs. Harriet M. Pullen in front of her hotel, which had been Captain Moore's home.