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Frontier Spirit: The Brave Women of the Klondike

by Jennifer Duncan

Jennifer Duncan is the sort of person you’d like to meet around a campfire or at a cozy pub on a snowy night – a true woman of the Yukon, a woman who can tell a mean yarn. The extended campfire stories she weaves together in Frontier Spirit are, like life in the Yukon itself, stripped down to rugged real-life adventure tinged with folklore.

In the introduction, Duncan describes her own adventures in this frozen land. An urban, artsy, vegetarian, Duncan had many misconceptions about the lumberjack- and hunter-filled near-Arctic, all of which were scuttled when she visited her brother in Dawson City. There she met the town’s eccentric inhabitants and tapped into a thriving arts scene. Duncan was especially taken with the diverse community of women in the North, who have had to struggle for survival and yet can no longer imagine being anything but Dawsonites. She decided to write about the women who came to the area during the infamous Gold Rush.

Duncan’s biographies of the Gold Rush women make it clear that the turn-of-the-20th-century Yukon women were a diverse group. She tells of Klondike Kate Rockwell, a chorus dancer with a thirst for fame; of Belinda Mulrooney, a tough Irish mining mogul who built many of Dawson’s best- known landmarks; of Nellie Cashman, who stole gambling gains for charity. Duncan’s enthusiasm occasionally leads to excessively florid language, but the stories are in the main straightforward, compelling, and fun.

The tales in Frontier Spirit are feminist in nature, without being explicitly political. Duncan simply demonstrates that the women in the Yukon a century ago often lived more challenging lives than the men. And just as a woman can survive the Yukon as well as any man, Duncan can tell a great Gold Rush story as well as any of the guys at the bar.