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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.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307461742
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/26/2011
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 432
Sales rank: 394,411
File size: 6 MB

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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