Time Machine

Time Machine: Romance in the Yukon as two Iowans find each other in midst of Klondike Gold Rush

Ely Weare of Cedar Rapids made a daring run in the steamer Weare, shown above, up the Yukon River, from St. Michael to D
Ely Weare of Cedar Rapids made a daring run in the steamer Weare, shown above, up the Yukon River, from St. Michael to Dawson City, as winter weather was threatening in 1897. Prospectors, attracted by the Klondike Gold Rush, were starving until the Weare appeared with supplies, just as the river was freezing over. (Photo from “Golden Alaska,” by Ernest Ingersoll, 1897)
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The Yukon love story of Mary Emily Fellows of Montour and Ely Ebenezer Weare of Cedar Rapids was reported across the country in 1899.

Mary had graduated from the Iowa State Agricultural College in Ames in 1890. She taught five years at a school in White Sulphur Springs, Mont., and the next two years in the Irving Park neighborhood of Chicago.

Mary returned to her parents’ home in Montour, in Tama County, for the March 31, 1898, wedding of her sisters, Lydia and Lottie. And then she was off to explore the Klondike, in Canada’s Yukon Territory, that summer.

She had every intention of returning to her job in Chicago in the fall. Instead, she fell in love with the wide-open spaces and took a job in the offices of the North American Transportation and Trading Co.

She lived with the trading company’s general manager and his wife, Capt. John and Isabella Healy, and became friends with the company’s resident director, Ely Weare. They fell in love, and wedding invitations were mailed.

The couple — she was 29, he was 49 — were married in Dawson City on Feb. 15, 1899, in what was described as “the greatest social event that has thus far occurred in the Yukon region.”

A special messenger came from Seattle with orange blossoms for the wedding, and Mary was dressed in a traditional gown, attended by bridesmaids and ushers, for the 8 p.m. ceremony. A large reception followed at the Hotel Healy.

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Portus Weare, Ely’s brother, said of the wedding, “My brother’s marriage to Miss Fellows is a genuine old-fashioned love match. The Weare and the Fellows families have been close friends for years, and I am proud of Ely Weare’s good sense in taking so estimable and charming a girl as Miss Fellows for his wife.”

ELY WEARE WAS CEDAR RAPIDS BANKER

Before the Yukon called, Ely Weare for 25 years headed the First National Bank in Cedar Rapids and served as president of Nebraska City Packing Co.

His brothers, Portus and Charles Weare, had business interests in Chicago and New York. They started a trading company in 1895, with Ely as its president. He soon was managing the company’s interests in the Klondike just as the vast influx of gold seekers began arriving. He and Healy were among the first to reach the Klondike and stake claim to valuable placer grounds, rich in gold, quartz and copper.

A mass of prospectors followed, overwhelming the region’s supply system, threatening the miners with starvation in the winter of 1897-98.

Ely was determined to get supplies to the miners, ignoring warnings from veteran steamboat pilots about being caught in the Yukon River’s ice. He loaded his steamer, the Weare, in St. Michael, near Nome on Alaska’s west coast, to begin the dangerous, a 1,500-mile trip up the Yukon to Dawson City.

Armed miners stopped the steamer at Fort Cudahy and Circle City, demanding the crew hand over supplies. Ely consented, providing they leave enough supplies for Dawson City. The miners agreed.

‘Klondike Queen’

For her part, Isabella Healy took quite an interest in the “Iowa girl and boy.”

She was the first white woman to set up housekeeping in Alaska. As a successful prospector in her own right, she was called the “Klondike Queen” by the miners. Her claims on the Eldorado and Bonanza creeks had yielded millions of dollars worth of gold and quartz.

She became Mary’s adviser, helping her make good investments in the Klondike.

Back to Lower 48

After Mary and Ely were married, they decided to spend their winters in Chicago and summers in the Yukon, arriving in Chicago on Nov. 9, 1899.

The Ocean newspaper in Chicago reported on Ely’s exploits and his stories about finding recent gold on the beaches around Nome. The beach claims averaged $10 per day — around $300 a day in today’s dollars — while creek claims pulled out $4 per day. The only unknown, he said, was where the beach gold came from. If it was washed in by the tide, it seemed limitless, but if it was only a deposit, there could be only that one yield.

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Mary and Ely were living in Morton Park, Ill., when Ely died of cancer in 1904 at age 55, leaving Mary, in her mid-30s, to bring up the couple’s two children, Martha, 4, and Buel, 2.

Ely’s funeral was held in Cedar Rapids on a Sunday afternoon, July 24, 1904, at the home of his widowed stepmother, Martha Campbell Rogers Weare, at 853 A Ave. NE. He was buried in Oak Hill Cemetery.

Mary and her children returned to Illinois but moved to Cedar Rapids in 1908, living briefly at 1258 B Ave. NE and 1648 First Ave. NE before settling at 1936 Fourth Ave. SE for nearly a decade.

Mary then traveled for a few years, returning to Cedar Rapids in May 1928. She and her daughter lived at 1825 Washington Ave. SE, while preparing for Martha’s wedding to Dr. Marc Williams Bodine of Wellsboro, Pa.

On Nov. 3, 250 guests attended the wedding at First Presbyterian Church. Martha’s brother, Buel, came from Boston to escort his sister down the aisle. She carried orange blossoms like her mother had in 1899.

When Buel began working for the Washington Post in 1933, Mary lived with him there during the winter.

When she died in 1957, Mary was staying with her daughter in Williamsport, Pa. She was buried beside Ely in Oak Hill Cemetery.

l Comments: d.fannonlangton@gmail.com

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