You’ll perhaps recall that when I finally got around to reading Arthur Arnold Dietz’s book, Mad Rush For Gold In Frozen North, I was a little bemused to discover it was a pretty obvious fake (at least in parts) given its widely accepted status as one of the classics of Gold Rush memoirs. My original post about that is here.
Well, I’ve now got hold of historian Terrence M. Cole’s article, “Klondike Literature”, in the Summer 2008 issue of Columbia, which I find is appropriately subtitled, “The Mad Rush For Truth in the Frozen North”.
Cole is pretty clear about Dietz’s book: “Monstrous factual mistakes are spread throughout every chapter …” He points out one I’d missed—the fact that Dietz claimed to have seen the midnight sun on March 24th at Yakutat. Wrong latitude, wrong time of year.
Interestingly, Cole finds a record of an A. Dietz on the passenger manifest of the brigantine Blakeley, bound out of Seattle for Yakutat in February 1898. A Seattle Post-Intelligencer article at the time reported that 150 aspiring gold-prospectors were aboard. We have the right person aboard a ship with the right name and with the destination mentioned in Dietz’s book, but setting off a year later than the date given in Mad Rush For Gold.
So if Dietz actually went to Yakutat, why are there so many “monstrous factual mistakes” in the book?
Well, it seems possible that Dietz didn’t write the book for which he is listed as author and copyright holder. The preface is certainly odd—written in the third person (“During the time he was away Mr. Dietz kept a diary …”) and signed only “AUTHOR“, which would fit with the involvement of a ghostwriter.
Cole feels, based on the quality of the writing, it was “probably scripted by a professional ghostwriter or perhaps a Los Angeles journalist looking for some extra money.” The work may have been intended as a morality tale, spun around the events of the Gold Rush—a lesson on what can happen to greedy people.
Nevertheless, it seems to have been a work of fiction (in part, at least) sold under the guise of a factual account.