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

by Howard Blum


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New York Times bestselling author Howard Blum expertly weaves together three narratives to tell the true story of the 1897 Klondike Gold Rush.

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. 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.

In a true-life tale that rivets from the first page, we meet Charlie Siringo, a top-hand sharp-shooting cowboy who 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, and makes the discovery that starts off the Yukon Gold Rush; and Jefferson "Soapy" Smith, a sly and inventive 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. Charlie Siringo 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 to 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, The Floor of Heaven is also an exhilarating tribute to the courage and undaunted spirit of the men and women who helped shape America.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307461735
Publisher: Crown/Archetype
Publication date: 03/27/2012
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 440
Sales rank: 342,349
Product dimensions: 5.15(w) x 7.97(h) x 0.97(d)

About 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.

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.


Michael Korda joined Simon and Schuster as an assistant editor in 1958, and subsequently became Managing Editor, Executive Editor and Editor in Chief. Over nearly five decades his authors have included presidents Carter, Reagan and Nixon, Charles De Gaulle, Dr. Henry Kissinger, Mayor Ed Koch, the Duchess of York, and such stars as Cher, Kirk Douglas, Shelley Winters, such media figures as Phil Donahue and Larry King, historians such as David McCullough, Richard Rhodes, Michael Beschloss, Cornelius Ryan, Larry McMurtry, Jacqueline Susann, Jackie Collins, Mary Higgins Clark, James Leo Herlihy, Susan Howatch, James Lee Burke and Stephen Hunter, and such theater figures as Tennessee Williams, John Gielgud and Laurence Olivier. Mr. Korda is now Editor in Chief Emeritus of Simon & Schuster.

His books include the #1 bestseller “Power”; the bestselling novels “Queenie” and “The Fortune”; a widely acclaimed book about his family, “Charmed Lives”; and more recently “With Wings Like Eagles: A History of the Battle of Britain”; “Ike: An American Hero”; “Country Matters”; “Another Life”; “Horse People”; “Ulysses S. Grant” and “Journey to a Revolution”.

Michael Korda on THE FLOOR OF HEAVEN

At frequent intervals the “Western” has been declared dead and buried, this despite the fact that Larry McMurtry has been keeping it alive and well for almost half a century, and that in the motion picture business it regularly reappears and scores a huge success, as in Clint Eastwood’s The Unforgiven or the Cohen brothers’ brilliant remake of True Grit. As Faulkner put it, the past is not only not dead, it is not even past. Judging by the daily newspaper, events along the border with Mexico seem pretty much like events along the border in the days of the Earp brothers, except that drug smuggling has replaced cattle rustling. The Old West is not only not dead, it is still there, and filled with bigger-than-life figures and endless shootings.

Of course the West that is fixed in the American mind tends to look towards the south, and resonates to the clink of spurs and the jangle of bridles and bits. The most unusual aspect of Howard Blum’s brilliantly readable new book is that while it’s clearly a non-fiction Western story, it takes place along the border of Canada, not Mexico, and is centered on the Yukon Gold Rush, in Alaska, rather than Texas.

To say that it reads like a novel is a cliché of course—people say that about half the non-fiction books published, and it’s mostly not true—but in this case Howard Blum’s narrative skill is such that The Floor of Heaven does read like a novel, and a rich and entertaining one at that. At the heart of it of course is the discovery of gold in 1896, and the way it draws people like a magnet to a hitherto pretty empty spot on the map (to the extent that it was mapped at all), and one moreover with a killer climate. Blum manages to make this exciting reading—the first fifty pages of the book, in which he “sets up” the event and his major characters are so artfully done that one only gradually realizes that these are real people, not fictional characters, and that Blum has in fact done a painstaking job of research, and uncovered a remarkable amount of documentation—in fact his main problem, as he himself notes, is that these people left too much material behind them, not any lack of it. As in Larry McMurtry’s books, the villains and heroes of the West were so busy telling their stories to writers while they were still alive and kicking that it’s a wonder they ever found time to rob a bank.

Blum’s chief characters, are a Marine Corps deserter named George Carmack, whose discovery sets off the stampede to the Yukon, a flamboyant western villain named “Soapy” Smith, and a cowboy turned Pinkerton detective named Charlie Siringo, and it would be a disservice to the reader to tell the story of the interaction between them, which is full of suspense, and includes, at the very end, a real-life western gunfight. Suffice to say that he managers at once to produce a very readable work of history and an amazing real-life adventure story, peopled with characters that any novelist would be proud to have invented: first rate entertainment.

--Michael Korda Author of Hero, With Wings Like Eagles and Ike

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The Floor of Heaven: A True Tale of the Last Frontier and the Yukon Gold Rush 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
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.
debnance on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
You'd think you were reading fiction. This story is that good. And the truth is that Floor of Heaven is a little bit fiction. Even Blum, in his final Note on Sources, acknowledges this. Just a bit fiction, though. This book contains just enough fictional elements to shape the three intermingling true stories into a great book. But the heart of the story is solidly nonfiction. It is a great book. It's the story of the beginnings of Alaska, the story of three characters so quirky and real that you can't help but be fascinated with their lives. One is a cowboy detective named Charlie Siringo. One is a gold prospector named George Carmack. One is a con artist named Soapy Smith. All three head to Alaska, all for different reasons, all with amazing stories. Sly trickery. Clever detective work. And gold. This book has it all.
NovelChatter on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
For me to be drawn to a non-fiction book it has to be something unique! I prefer to drift off into a made-up world that someone else creates. OK, it's escapism. But every now and then a true story comes along that triggers the escape mechanism in my mind and I HAVE TO read the book. The Floor of Heaven is one of those rare books. Howard Blum sets the stage for this true life tale so perfectly, the reader forgets it's true! Blum tells the story of three men hunting for a better life, and the place they chose was 1896 Alaska, the Yukon. Gold Rush territory. Soapy Smith, Charlie Siringo and George Carmack, a swindling con man, a Pinkerton detective and the prospector who's find at Bonanza Creek started the Yukon gold rush, respectively. Three more diverse people you'd never find, but they all shared the drive to make something better of their lives. Thanks to Blum's ability to tell a story I was entranced frim the very beginning.In writing The Floor of Heaven Blum unearthed first hand accounts of these men's lives, so through the use of letters, diary entries, poems, legal papers and any number of written accounts, Blum weaves together the good, the bad and the often ugly that permeated their struggles. This book is structured so flawlessly that you must constantly remind yourself that this is real! These things really happened!I highly recommend The Floor of Heaven, be prepared to step back in time and watch as the last days of the Alaskan frontier and the mad rush for gold unfold on the page in front of your eyes.4 out of 5 stars!According to Fox 2000 has acquired screen rights to The Floor Of Heaven. I can't wait to see this one on the big screen!
ElizaJane on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Reason for Reading: I've never consciously thought about this before but I do seem to have a penchant for reading about the Klondike/Yukon gold rush. I'm even reading aloud a fiction book to my son on the topic at this moment! This was a must read for me.This is a true story told in narrative form which really reads like a novel and thus a quick page-turner. The book focuses in on three people: George Carmack, AWOL Marine who "ignites" the biggest gold rush the world has seen; Soapy Smith, conman, bamboozler, thief and murderer who starts off by taking control of Denver's underworld but eventually end's up in Alaska running the lawless boom town of Skagway; and finally, Charlie Siringo, a former cowhand turned Pinkerton detective who is sent to Alaska to solve a crime no other has been able to solve and Pinkerton's name itself is on the line.The book of course is about the gold rush but it is first and foremost about these three men. The narrative shifts from one to the other telling their stories in detail from early adulthood until they all end up in various parts of Alaska, making each others acquaintance, though never on friendly terms. The book concentrates on the American side of the story, all three men have eventful lives in the States before they head North. Main events are centered in Skagway, Dyea and Juneau. It isn't until quite close to the end of the book that the story crosses over into Canadian land and the actual accumulation of gold in the Bonanza Creek. This book is more about the getting there, the life the prospectors lead, the mindset of these people and specifically the lives of the three main characters.A truly brilliant, riveting read that would make a great novel if it weren't all true! A fascinating time in history when the lust for gold took over man's sense of reason and turned a barren land into a small collection of roaring last stop boom towns. I have of course previously read all about Skagway and also Soapy Smith as well as a bit about George Carmack but only in the context of the gold rush. Finding out about their backgrounds was fascinating and made for great reading. Charlie Siringo was relatively new to me, I've heard him mentioned briefly, but his fascinating story was fresh. A great read for anyone interested in the harsh, rough and tumble life of the gold rush days, whether you've read much on the topic before or not. The narrative story telling voice is so captivating to read that I am very interested in reading more of Mr. Blum's previous works. He has a very interesting backlist!
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Not that great - lots of implausible scenarios. An OK novel rather than non-fiction.
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