Gold Rush-era remains to be buried in Dawson City

The century-old remains of four men who were executed during the Klondike Gold Rush will be laid to rest this weekend in Dawson City, Yukon.

The century-old remains of four men who were executed during the Klondike Gold Rush will be laid to rest this weekend in Dawson City, Yukon.

The four Nantuck brothers are shackled in leg irons at the Tagish North West Mounted Police post in 1898, after they were arrested for killing a prospector. Two of the brothers, Dawson and Jim Nantuck, were hanged in Dawson City in August 1899. ((Canadian Museum of Civilization, Klondike Collection, 1898, no. J6186))

The remains, which were unearthed this past fall by an excavation crew in Dawson City, will be interred at the local cemetery on Saturday, according to the Tr'ondek Hwech'in Han Nation.

Forensic specialists have identified two of the remains as those of Dawson and Jim Nantuck, two First Nation brothers who were hanged in August 1899 for killing a prospector.

A third set of remains are those of Edward Henderson, who was sentenced to death for shooting one of his partners at Marsh Lake. Henderson was hanged at the same time as the Nantucks.

"The remains of Nantuck brothers, Edward Henderson and an unidentified fourth individual will be interred at the Dawson City cemetery tomorrow, June 11," Jackie Olsen, the First Nation's heritage director, told CBC News on Friday.

Simple, private ceremony

Olsen said members of three other Yukon First Nations will attend Saturday's ceremony, which will be closed to the public and the media.

"Family members and those involved have asked that it be a simple and private ceremony, and we thank everyone in advance for respecting their wishes," Olsen said.

The Nantuck brothers have descendents among the Carcross Tagish, Kwanlin Dun and Ta'an Kwach'an First Nations in southern Yukon.

Burial of the brothers' remains will be conducted in accordance with the three First Nations' elders and governments, according to a Tr'ondek Hwech'in news release.

In what was Yukon's first murder trial, the Nantucks were sentenced to death for killing prospector William Meehan on the McClintock River. Two of their brothers were also convicted in the case, but they died in jail of tuberculosis before they could be executed.

But some historical accounts suggest the brothers were avenging the deaths of two of their own people, who accidentally ingested arsenic powder that was mistaken for flour.

Secret burial ground

The Gold Rush remains have made national news since November, when crews digging a slope for Dawson City's new sewage treatment plant dug up four graves.

The excavation site is in the vicinity of Fort Herchmer, the North West Mounted Police's base in Yukon at the turn of the 20th century. The remains were found in an area that is believed to have been a secret burial ground for executed convicts.

Workers recovered four coffins from an excavation site in Dawson City, Yukon, in November. ((Government of Yukon))

Up to 11 men were hanged by the North West Mounted Police during the Gold Rush, all for murder. Where they were buried was never mapped or marked.

Parks Canada in Dawson City has launched "The Macabre Mystery of the Klondike Killers," a daily historical walking tour that explores the lives of two convicts whose remains have yet to be found or identified.

Victor Fournier and Edward Labelle were hanged in Dawson City for killing three men on the Yukon River in the summer of 1902. Labelle was arrested in Nevada after police spent three months tracking him down.

"The tour will highlight the investigation of the North West Mounted Police to find those guys in the Yukon and actually all the way down to Nevada, which was quite something for the time," said Marie-Claude Dufresne of Parks Canada.

Dufresne said interest in the Gold Rush remains has prompted the walking tour, which is taking place daily throughout the summer.

Walker Graham, an amateur historian in Dawson City, said he is glad to see the Fournier and Labelle case getting some attention.

"They always get their man — that was based on the Fournier and Labelle case," he said.


  • An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Peter Fournier as one of the hanged men. The correct name is Victor Fournier.
    Sep 12, 2017 10:03 AM CT