Hougen Group


Joe [Boyle] with Swiftwater Bill Gates, 1897, Joe 29 yrs. old. Yukon Archives. Oxford Historical Society, #34.

Swiftwater Bill Gates (No. 1)

There must be something in the name Bill Gates which attracts money. The only difference between the Bill Gates of 1998 and the guy with the same name in 1898, is that one saves all his money. The other spent all his.

Thanks to the computer world of 1990s, Bill Gates is a billionaire. He's a Microsoft genius in a micro chip world, and it's likely he couldn't spend all his money if he tried. Bill Gates of 1898 is another story. Known as Swiftwater Bill, he came to the Klondike from Idaho. In 1897, he lucked out on a claim on Eldorado Creek...claim number 13, which no miner wanted to touch because of its unlucky number.

The claim made the five-foot five-inch prospector a millionaire. Unlike Microsoft Bill Gates of this century, Swiftwater Bill Gates of the last thought money was made to spend...foolishly. And he did. It seems he was a gambler by birth. In three weeks in 1898, he lost $50,000 dollars playing pool in Dawson. Swiftwater Bill rarely went anywhere without wearing a fine silk shirt, a necktie with a diamond stick pin, a Prince Albert coat and a silk top-hat. He made sure everyone knew he had money.

It's no surprise that he was a ladies man. One day, Bill fell madly in love. But when he discovered the woman of his affection dining with another man, on expensive eggs no less, he bought up all the eggs in Dawson - at two dollars each. He then had them cooked in a restaurant and fed to the dogs hanging about outside. His lady love threw in the towel and followed him to San Francisco but refused to marry him. No matter. Gates married her sister, a marriage that lasted three weeks. Swiftwater Bill went back to the Klondike, but found that his expensive lifestyle had taken a toll on his bank account.

He hightailed it for Alaska and, remarkably, struck it big again...this time on a rich find known as Cleary Creek near Fairbanks. He also married for the fourth time. This time, he was really on the wrong side of the law. His bride was 16 years old. Bill Gates was arrested for bigamy and taken back to California. While due process of law was taking place, he handed out Klondike souvenirs to the curious...gold nuggets wrapped in 20 dollar bills. Somehow he escaped the wrath of justice and set about looking for another wife.


He never went back to the Klondike, but became a character of some note in the American west during the roaring twenties. The end came for Swiftwater Bill Gates in 1935 in Peru where he was still trying to find more of that yellow ore. Bill Gates of the last century made and lost a fortune in a precious metal called gold. Bill Gates of this century made and kept a fortune in a precious metal called silicon.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin


See also: Swiftwater Bill Gates (No. 2)