Alfred Henry Mayo
(1847 - 1924)
Captain Alfred H. Mayo (undated)
Photo from the Yukon Archives
Alfred Henry Mayo, a.k.a. Captain Al Mayo, was born in Bangor, Maine on February 7, 1847. Mayo was a Mason, a highly influential service brotherhood seeking a better society through enlightened behavior. Alfred was blessed with a dry wit and was prone to practical joking. In his youth, he was thin as a rail and short and wiry, and performed as a professional circus clown. His physique was in contrast to his future life-long business partner, Jack McQuesten, who was, even in his youth, a big stout man. Both were patient, personable, fearless, and observed strong ethical values. The highly successful McQuesten would say that Alfred Mayo was the best guy a man would ever want for a trail mate in the Alaska-Yukon region. Despite an 11 year age difference between Mayo and McQuesten, with Mayo being the junior of the two, it is likely that Mayo and McQuesten knew each other back in New England. McQuesten and Mayo would frequently team up with Arthur Harper, and they became a famous threesome of Yukon River traders who predated the Klondike gold rush.
In 1871, Al Mayo was one of the vigorous young Americans who were prospecting in more remote locations in northern Canada. He was part of a group that included Jack McQuesten, James McKnipp, Arthur Harper, Frederick Hart, and Andrus Kansellar. In 1872, Mayo, Harper, and McQuesten, along with Hart, were trading and prospecting in the Omineca region of western Canada. After moving north into the Yukon Territory, Mayo and others would drift down the McKenzie River; then portage across to the headwaters of the Porcupine River, thence reaching the former Hudson's Bay Trading Company post at Fort Yukon, established in 1847, at the confluence of the Porcupine and Yukon Rivers.
In May, 1874, Mayo was in Fort Yukon. From there, he moved downriver to St. Michaels at the mouth of the Yukon River, where he signed on as an agent for the Alaska Commercial Company, which was created out of the expropriated assets of the Russian America Company. Mayo decided to move upriver to establish a trading enterprise. Like his partner, Jack McQuesten, the 27 year-old Mayo met and married 14-year-old Neehunilthonoth, a.k.a. Margaret, at Kokrines, about 80 miles west of Tanana, during the fall of 1874. Margaret was the daughter of the chief of Nuklukayet, a small Indian village trading post located upriver near the present village of Tanana, at the Junction of the Tanana and Yukon Rivers. When Alfred asked Margaret's parents for permission to marry her, they first said no, worried that the trader would just abandon her, like so many white traders of the day. But Mayo promised that he would always take care of Margaret and her parents finally conceded. The Mayo marriage, conducted in accordance with Athabascan customs, was a success, and the couple would have eleven children. The Mayo family would pay tribute to Arthur Harper and Jack McQuesten by naming their children after their close trading colleagues. These included daughter Katherine (after Katherine McQuesten), and sons Arthur (after Arthur Harper), and Leroy (after Leroy Jack McQuesten). Like children in the Harper and McQuesten families, a number of Mayo's children were educated in 'Outside' schools.
Mayo established a trading post at Tanana later in 1874, which he operated until 1884. During this time, Mayo, along with McQuesten and Harper, found time to prospect the Yukon River basin, which they had practically all to themselves. In 1886, some 200 prospectors had trekked over Chilkoot Pass and prospected for fine, river bar placer gold at the mouth of the Stewart River in Yukon Territory. Although results were disappointing, this became one of the Yukon River basin's first 'rushes'. Later that year, the first miners' meeting held in Canada's Yukon was staged at the confluence of the Stewart and Yukon Rivers, with Al Mayo presiding.
Following Howard Franklin's discovery of coarse placer gold in the Fortymile River basin of east-central Alaska near the Alaska-Yukon border, Mayo, Harper and McQuesten established a trading post at Fortymile on the Yukon River in 1888. After trading there for several years, Mayo moved back downriver to Tanana in 1894, and then back upriver in 1897 to establish a trading post at the onset of the establishment of the Rampart mining district.
Mayo would earn is name 'Captain Al Mayo' when he, along with his trading partners McQuesten and Harper, acquired the small steamboat New Racket from Ed Schieffelin, a multi-millionaire from Tombstone, Arizona who had been prospecting the Yukon basin. Al Mayo became captain of the New Racket, a curious name for the vessel. Koyukon Athabascans often joked that Captain Mayo's little boat was named for the racket that it generated over the more than 20 years that he would captain the boat on the Yukon River.
Although generally thought of as exclusively a trader, Al Mayo did get involved briefly in coal mining. In 1895, Mayo, along with partners O.C. Miller and Jule Prevost located the Black Diamond Mine above Rampart, later known as the Pioneer Mining Company. Drifts developed the coal from the high water mark on the Yukon River, and a coal bunker was constructed. After three years, the property came under litigation and was sold.
Of the three Yukon trading partners, Al Mayo was the only one to spend the rest of his life in the Alaska-Yukon region, with his wife Margaret by his side. After a career of traveling up and down the Yukon River basin, Captain Al, Margaret, and most of their children moved to their final residence at Rampart in 1897, about 50 miles upriver from Tanana. The Rampart district was discovered by Alaska Mining Hall of Famer John Minook in 1893, but a rush did not ensue until 1896. Rampart swelled to a population of 1,500 by 1899, but then declined. Al Mayo became de-facto mayor for many years. Three of Rampart's more famous but brief gold rush citizens were novelist Rex Beach and Tombstone, Arizona residents Wyatt and Josephine Earp. In 1897-1898, the Earps would rent an unfurnished cabin in Rampart and both went to work for Al Mayo.
Many of the Mayo's children joined in the running of the Florence Hotel (named after the eldest Mayo daughter) saloon, blacksmith shop, and steamer New Racket. Margaret had an important and positive influence during the development of the gold rush community. Like Jack McQuesten's wife Kate, Margaret helped integrate the Euro-American, and Athabascan residents of the community, banning the use of alcohol and treating as many as possible with diseases through inoculation programs. At the same time, she raised ten children, ensuring that they were educated 'Outside' and baptized Christians; yet at the same time, respectful of their Native Athabascan traditions. Throughout her entire life, Margaret Mayo was an expert on infant care and Rampart's de facto midwife. She died at age 65 during the 1925 Interior Alaska flu epidemic. Captain Al Mayo preceded his wife in death; he passed away on July 17th, 1924 at the age of 77.
The name 'Mayo' is attached to a beautiful lake, a river, a village, and a mining district, all in Yukon Territory, Canada. Alex McDonald named Mayo Lake after Al Mayo for his unwavering faith in the prospecting potential of the Yukon River basin. In 1887, land surveyor William Ogilvie named a tributary flowing into the Stewart River as Mayo River. When a village was founded there in 1902, it became Mayo Landing (a.k.a. Mayo). Located at the confluence of the Stewart and Mayo Rivers, Mayo became an important transportation hub in central Yukon. The Mayo mining district contains the silver mines of the Keno Hill area, which has been one of Canada's largest producing silver districts. On the other side of the international boundary, there have been many descendants of Al and Margaret Mayo that have contributed greatly to the cultural and economical activities of the 49th State.
By Thomas K. Bundtzen and Charles C. Hawley, 1998; revised 2009
Aho, A.E., 2006, Hills of Silver-The Yukon's Mighty Keno Hill Mine: (published account of A.E. Aho (deceased in 1977) from unpublished records in Yukon Archives) Harbour Publishing Company, British Columbia, Canada, 335 pages.
Gaffin, Jane, 2004, The Trading Trio of Arthur Harper, Al Mayo, and Jack McQuesten: Online website article; 23 pages.
MacDonald, L. E.T., and Bleiler, L. R. 1990, Gold and Galena, a History of the Mayo District: Mayo Historical Society, Freisen Printers, 502 pages.
Mayo Community Profile and Land Use Plan-on the web @ http://yukonromance.ca
Murphy, Claire Rudolf, and Haigh, Jane G., 1997, Gold Rush Women: Alaska Northwest Books, 126 pages.
Wickersham, James, 1938, Old Yukon: Washington Law Book Company, Washington D.C.