Belinda Mulrooney was an Irish woman who succeeded in becoming the “richest woman in the Klondike.”
Amongst all the men who, in the late 19th and early 20th century, rushed to Yukon to get wealthy from Klondike gold, there were very few women able to play smart in the rush, but Mulrooney was one of them. As an entrepreneur, she made a fortune and lost it. Then, she amassed another one which left her wealthy almost until the end of her life.
Mulrooney was born in Ireland, in 1872. During her youth, she moved to Pennsylvania but it isn’t certain if she emigrated with her family, or whether she was sent there alone to live with relatives. As soon as she arrived, she managed to set up her own sandwich stand which she operated during the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
With the earnings from her sandwich stand, in 1894, Mulrooney traveled to San Francisco where she set up an ice cream parlor. Unfortunately, she lost everything in a fire but was lucky enough to find employment on a Pacific Coast Steamship Company ship as a stewardess on a route from California to Alaska. Having a good sense for business, Belinda earned extra money by selling necessities and luxuries to the passengers.
When gold was discovered at Juneau, Alaska in 1896, Belinda followed her business instinct and moved north. However, the Klondike rush followed soon after, so she immediately moved to Canada. But she didn’t join the prospectors in their “gold fever,” rather, she took note of their needs and bought supplies of what they demanded the most. With her savings of $5,000, Mulrooney bought hot water bottles, bolts of cotton cloth, and silk underwear, and transported them to Dawson City through Chilkoot Pass.
In June 1897, when the gold prospectors arrived, Belinda was selling them the goods for six times the amount she bought them for. When she had earned enough, this business woman built a restaurant in Dawson. As business was going well, Belinda managed to open a roadhouse as well, and then a hotel – the Grand Forks Hotel with a restaurant, near the gold fields.
As she was prospering, Mulrooney started investing in mining claims, and in less than six months she either owned or was a partner in five. She went on to sell the Grand Forks Hotel for $24,000 and built the finest Dawson hotel – the Fairview Hotel, which was opened in July 1898, with capacity for thirty guests and with a restaurant.
She once partnered with the Klondike legend Alex McDonald to help her get the cargo from a small ship that was wrecked on a sand bar. McDonald took all the food from the boat and left Mulrooney with only the whiskey and a load of gum boots. However, when the next spring came, and McDonald was in need for boots for his workers, Mulrooney got her revenge by selling them to him at $100 a pair.
Not everything was blooming for Belinda. She married the fraudster, Charles Eugene Carbonneau, who claimed to be a “Count” descending from French aristocracy when in fact he was a champagne salesman and former barber from Quebec. They got married in 1900 and separated in 1904, and Belinda lost all her fortune. She managed to obtain a divorce by the end of 1906.
In 1905, Mulrooney started all over. First, she moved to Fairbanks in Alaska where she established the Dome City Bank assisted by her sister Margaret and prospered again. She built a large mansion in Yakima, Washington, where she retired. As long as she had a high income, Belinda regularly supported her family. But when her money ran out, she moved to Seattle where she died in 1967 at the age of 95.