The Floor of Heaven: A True Tale of the Last Frontier and the Yukon Gold Rush

The Floor of Heaven: A True Tale of the Last Frontier and the Yukon Gold Rush

3.0 9
by Howard Blum
     
 

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It is the last decade of the 19th century. The Wild West has been tamed and its fierce, independent and often violent larger-than-life figures – gun-toting wanderers, trappers, prospectors, Indian fighters, cowboys, and lawmen –are now victims of their own success. They are heroes who’ve outlived their usefulness.
But then gold is discovered in

Overview

It is the last decade of the 19th century. The Wild West has been tamed and its fierce, independent and often violent larger-than-life figures – gun-toting wanderers, trappers, prospectors, Indian fighters, cowboys, and lawmen –are now victims of their own success. They are heroes who’ve outlived their usefulness.
But then gold is discovered in Alaska and the adjacent Canadian Klondike and a new frontier suddenly looms - an immense unexplored territory filled with frozen waterways, dark spruce forests, and towering mountains capped by glistening layers of snow and ice.

“Klondicitis,” a giddy mix of greed and lust for adventure, ignites a stampede. Fleeing the depths of a worldwide economic depression and driven by starry-eyed visions of vast wealth, tens of thousands rush northward.

Joining this throng of greenhorns and grifters, whores and highwaymen, sourdoughs and seers are three unforgettable men. In a true-life tale that rivets from the first page, we meet Charlie Siringo, a top-hand sharp-shooting cowboy who, after futilely trying to settle down with his new bride, becomes one of the Pinkerton Detective Agency’s shrewdest; George Carmack, a California-born American Marine who’s adopted by an Indian tribe, raises a family with a Taglish squaw, makes the discovery that starts off the Yukon Gold Rush – and becomes fabulously rich; and Soapy Smith, a sly and inventive predator-conman who rules a vast criminal empire.

As we follow this trio’s lives, we’re led inexorably into a perplexing mystery. A fortune in gold bars has somehow been stolen from the fortress-like Treadwell Mine in Juneau, Alaska, with no clues as to how the thieves made off with such an immensely heavy cargo.  To many it appears that the crime will never be solved.  But the Pinkerton Agency has a reputation for finding the answers that elude others.  Charged with getting the job done is Charlie Siringo who discovers that, to run the thieves to ground, he must embark on a rugged cross-territory odyssey that will lead him across frigid waters and through a frozen wilderness.  Ultimately, he’ll have his quarry in his sights. But then an additional challenge will present itself.  He must face down Soapy Smith and his gang of 300 cutthroats.  Hanging in the balance: George Carmack’s fortune in gold.

At once a compelling true-life mystery and an unforgettable portrait of a time in America’s history when thousands were fired with a vision of riches so unimaginable as to be worth any price, The Floor of Heaven is also an exhilarating tribute to the courage and undaunted spirit of the men and women who helped shape America.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Dramatic and colorful with touches of humor and poignancy, The Floor of Heaven has the spark of a television miniseries and the depth of a novel.  That Blum’s tale of adventure is tall but true makes it all the more enjoyable, particularly because its heartbeat is so keenly American.”
Associated Press

“Highly enjoyable…a narrative history set before, during and just after the [Yukon gold] rush.  Blum traces the lives of three storied men – a prospector, a cowboy turned Pinkerton detective and a notorious conman – whose fates intersected over a stash of gold...It must have been a daunting task wrangling all these conflicting stories into a single, seamless tale, but you never feel that effort on a single page of this unabashedly entertaining book.”
Salon
 
True Grit meets Call of the Wild.  That’s the skinny on Howard Blum’s Floor of Heaven, a big sprawling book that pairs colorful cowboys and ornery thieves with noble Indians and the kinds of hardworking prospectors found in Jack London’s tales of the Yukon…Blum’s characters have undeniable folksy charm and ‘grit’…and it doesn’t take much effort to imagine them in a movie.  The Floor of Heaven has the benchmarks of a bestseller.”
San Francisco Chronicle
 
“There is no doubt that all three of Mr. Blum’s main subjects led fascinating lives…Mr. Blum skillfully intercuts [his story’s] plotlines, building momentum toward his big finish…entertaining.”
Wall Street Journal
 
“Packed with larger-than-life characters straight out of a John Ford western…a rich tale…entertaining.”
American Heritage

“Full of suspense…an amazing real-life adventure story, peopled with characters that any novelist would be proud to have invented: first-rate entertainment.
Michael Korda, New York Times bestselling author of HERO, WITH WINGS LIKE EAGLES and IKE

“In the tradition of great history as great literature…highly recommended…readers will be richly rewarded by Blum’s masterful use of a colorful cast of genuine historical characters set in the majestic northwestern wilderness.”  Library Journal (Starred Review)

"Wildly compelling...a truly memorable frontier tale."
–Kirkus

“A fascinating story…Detailing crimes perpetrated and solved, relationships both happy and tragic, hardships unthinkable in the modern age, and the cold, magical allure of Alaska and the Yukon, Blum captures the spirit and mood of the last of the Old West. The final pages, especially, are filled with drama and a strange yearning…a huge success.”
Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

"A tense, exciting tale filled with colorful characters.” –Booklist

"Wonderfully original. This narrative about the Alaskan gold rush has everything but Charlie Chaplin. Resurrecting three of the giant figures of the time -- a cowboy detective, a genius con artist and the luckiest bastard in the Yukon -- Blum laces together a grand string of adventures (all the more impressive for being true) that take us deep into the glory hole and the transforming power of greed."
–Pope Brock, New York Times bestselling author of Charlatan

“Brings to life the frenzy of the Yukon Gold Rush that opened Alaska, bringing with it fabulous wealth for a few, the violent lawlessness of the lower Wild West, and a breed of charlatan that fiction could not invent.  From a virtual mother lode of unmined material, Blum casts a narrative that both informs and entertains as he forges the image of the wild days of the last American frontier.”
–William C. Davis, author of the Pulitzer-nominated Battle of Bull Run and also Three Roads to the Alamo and Lone Star Rising
 
“Howard Blum has taken a whole handful of good yarns, and has woven them into a tapestry of  adventure, cattle drives, manhunts, bonanzas, greed, gunslinging, saloon brawls and heists, and of schemers and dreamers who became legends in their time. A novelist could hardly make up such characters, but these were real men. Blum has worked as hard as a sourdough prospector to mine their memoirs, letters and scrapbooks, to trace their interwoven biographies and write a vivid, amazingly plotted narrative that's like spun gold.”
–James Alexander Thom, author of the national bestseller Follow the River and From Sea to Shining Sea
 
"Hold on to your seats! Howard Blum has thrown us a thunderbolt of a tale about three adventurers scrambling to experience the untamed life on the American frontier before it vanishes. The Floor of Heaven is a full-gallop epic of fortune-seeking and betrayal that leaves you pondering the high price we pay for both domesticity and freedom."
–Scott Zesch, author of The Captured
 

"The Floor of Heaven will make a great movie--that goes without saying, since it's by master storyteller Howard Blum. But it's more than that: the best kind of reading experience, where the reader is transported to another time and place and is soon caught up in a glorious adventure.  It's the spellbinding tale of three fascinating characters--a lawman, a con man, and a prospector--set against the background of one of the most alluring eras in American history, the Yukon Gold Rush. This is a great, untold story of daring men involved in a dangerous and exciting enterprise: the taming of a lawless land."
–Jim Donovan, author of Custer and the Little Bighorn
 

From the Hardcover edition.

Dennis Drabelle
Other than pulp Westerns, few books deserve the appellation "rip-roaring" anymore, but Howard Blum's The Floor of Heaven is one of them…Blum has told with flair the true story of three men whose paths crossed in the Klondike, where the last great North American gold rush took place in the late 1890s…Blum has performed an invaluable service: reminding us that the Wild West touted by dime novelists and movie moguls had a pretty solid foundation in fact.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Blum, author of the bestselling and Edgar-winning American Lightning, displays all his creative gifts here. Using primary source materials from the three individuals around whom the narrative revolves, he tells a fascinating story of the 1897 Klondike Gold Rush. Charlie Siringo was a larger-than-life hero, a cowboy turned successful businessman turned Pinkerton detective renowned for his sense of duty. Jefferson "Soapy" Smith epitomized the frontier "confidence man" who considered dishonesty a way of life. George Carmack, the prospector who precipitated the great Alaska gold rush that drew the men together, deserted from the Marines, married a Native American, and pursued his prospecting dreams to the Klondike. Detailing crimes perpetrated and solved, relationships both happy and tragic, hardships unthinkable in the modern age, and the cold, magical allure of Alaska and the Yukon, Blum captures the spirit and mood of the last of the Old West. The final pages, especially, are filled with drama and a strange yearning. From a purely historical perspective, there should have been more information on Alaska as a Russian colony and American territory, but as an exciting narrative, this is a huge success. 8 pages of b&w photos; 1 map. (Apr.)
Library Journal
Blum (contributing editor, Vanity Fair; American Lightning: Terror, Mystery, the Birth of Hollywood, and the Crime of the Century) combines his skills as an investigative journalist and popular author to bring forth an original history of the last of the Western gold rushes in the northwestern frontier of Alaska and Canada. Closely basing his narrative on primary historical documents and academic histories, Blum brings new life to prospector George Carmack's Yukon adventures. In the tradition of great history as great literature, he sorts out historical contradictions and variations to provide a single lively narrative wherein Charlie Siringo, a cowboy-turned-Pinkerton detective and author (e.g., A Texas Cowboy, or Fifteen Years on the Hurricane Deck of a Spanish Pony) solves the mystery of the Treadwell Mine gold thefts before dealing with Denver con artist Soapy Smith's attempt to relieve Carmack of his newly won fortune. VERDICT Highly recommended for public and academic libraries; general readers will be richly rewarded by Blum's masterful use of a colorful cast of genuine historical characters set in the majestic northwestern wilderness. [See Prepub Alert, 11/1/10.]—Nathan E. Bender, Laramie, WY

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780307461735
Publisher:
Crown/Archetype
Publication date:
03/27/2012
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
440
Sales rank:
552,099
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.92(d)

Read an Excerpt

After a good deal of thought, Charlie Siringo decided to hang his sign on the new iron bridge spanning Bluff Creek. It would take a bit of doing; he’d need to link chains to the top of the bridge’s battlement and then run’em through a couple of holes he’d punch in the corners of the painted board that, to his great delight, had turned out “as pretty as a picture.” Sure, Kansas, he’d come to realize, had more than its fair share of weather; on a gusty day the oval- shaped sign would be flaying about. Nevertheless, Charlie was certain. This was the perfect spot.

He remembered that two years earlier—two years? It might as well have been in another lifetime—when he’d led the LX outfit and eight hundred fat steers up the Chisholm Trail, the sight of muddy Bluff Creek had filled the worn-out cowboys with excitement and anticipation. It had been a long, slow drive up from the Texas Panhandle during the uncommonly hot summer of 1882, day after day as dry as the piles of bleached chalk-white buffalo bones they saw scattered across the flat plains. Nights took their time coming, but the thin, cool evening whistling through the scrubland was a blessing—for a while. Once they crossed the Red River, the darkness brought new concerns. They were in Indian Territory. Most of the old chiefs had made their peace, but there was always the fear of half- starved Kiowa or Cherokee renegades swooping in from out of the thickening shadows to pick off cattle from the herd, or some ponies from the remuda, and, for good measure, lift a few fresh scalps. But Bluff Creek was the landmark that told the cowboys their ordeal was over. They were coming out of Indian Territory and heading up the end of the trail. Sporting girls, whiskey, and the railroad were only a short, hard ride away in Caldwell.

The Santa Fe Railroad had come to Caldwell, Kansas, in 1880, and now that there was a shipping point to the eastern markets days closer to the Texas ranches than either Wichita or Dodge City, Caldwell quickly became a hurrah cow town. The “Queen City of the Border” the cowboys called it. And once the LX outfit got near Bluff Creek, it was as if whoring and drinking and gambling was all anyone could think about. Around the campfire, there was a lot of hot talk about the rattling good time the boys were looking forward to at Mag Wood’s celebrated Red Light Saloon.

Charlie, too, had every intention of finding himself a bottle of whiskey and a sweetheart to share it. The way he saw it, after more than two dusty months driving a herd, a cowboy had earned himself a howling night. But he was also the trail boss; a leader had a duty to his men to impart a few words of commonsense restraint. Besides, at twenty-seven he was older and more experienced than most of the outfit. He had seen the trouble a fellow could ride into when coming off the range. So as they were heading up on Bluff Creek and the talk was getting pretty feverish, Charlie decided it’d be a good time to tell the hands about the scrape he had gotten into in Dodge City.

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

HOWARD BLUM is the author of the New York Times bestseller and Edgar Award winner American Lightning, as well as such bestsellers as Wanted!, The Gold Exodus, and Gangland. He is currently a contributing editor at Vanity Fair. While at the New York Times, he was twice nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting.

From the Hardcover edition.

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The Floor of Heaven: A True Tale of the Last Frontier and the Yukon Gold Rush 3 out of 5 based on 1 ratings. 9 reviews.
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Not that great - lots of implausible scenarios. An OK novel rather than non-fiction.
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BookBobBP More than 1 year ago
This was a pretty interesting story. Howard Blum slowly draws you into the stories of a cowboy detective, a con man, and the prospector who starts the gold rush in the Yukon in the 1890's and brings it all together in a riveting story you cannot put down. Even if you are not a big history fan this reads like a good suspense fiction novel. I highly recommend this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago