She was born into the Wolf clan in the Tagish lake district of what was later to be known as the Yukon. Her Indian name was ShaawTlaa. She was living in her native village on the shores of Tagish Lake, grieving the death of her husband and young daughter. When a young man from California showed up, her life would never be the same.
The 1880s were a time of transition for the Tagish people. White fur-traders and gold-seekers were entering the territory in increasing numbers. George Carmack was one of them. He arrived at the Tagish village with Skookum Jim and Tagish Charlie. Shaaw Tlaa was Skookum Jim's sister. When Carmack asked Shaaw if she would spend the winter with him at Dyea, she agreed.
Thus was born a common-law relationship which would result in the best of times and the worst of times. Carmack, and his wife he called Kate, moved to the Forty Mile district where George operated a small claim with some success. But for Kate Carmack, it was years of endless winter living in a tent, sewing moccasins to sell to the miners.
In 1892, George opened a trading post on the Yukon River above Five Finger Rapids. But the post didn't do well and that summer he left for Fort Selkirk to help build the Anglican church. Kate was pregnant and, in January of 1893, gave birth to a baby girl she name Ahgay.
George and Kate worked the trading post until 1896, when they moved to a spot near the Klondike river, where it enters the Yukon. That summer, Skookum Jim, his younger brother Patsy Henderson, and Tagish Charlie arrived looking for Kate and Ahgay since they hadn't heard anything from them for two years.
It was to be a momentous occasion as Jim, Charlie and George began prospecting the small creek known as Rabbit Creek, while Kate fished for salmon, and took care of her daughter and the men.
It may never be certain who made the big gold find on Rabbit Creek that August of 1896. Whether it was Skookum Jim, George Carmack or even Kate Carmack, what is known is that it forever changed their lives. The wealth from their three claims, on what was renamed Bonanza Creek, kept pouring in and Kate grew tired of sewing moccasins. She now had real money...big money.
In 1898, George Carmack decided to take the entire family, including Skookum Jim and Tagish Charlie, on a trip to the States. Kate Carmack had never seen a city. Unfortunately, she ran into trouble with the law in Seattle for, as a newspaper report said, executing a Yukon war dance in a local hotel. The next summer, George Carmack married a Dawson City woman. Kate sued George for divorce, but the case was thrown out because there was no written proof of a marriage. Kate also filed a suit for maintenance for her daughter, now called Graphie.
She returned with Graphie to the Yukon in 1901. In 1909, George Carmack returned to Dawson and took Graphie back to the States. Kate never saw her daughter after that. She lived in a small clapboard house in Carcross until her death in 1920.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin
In June 1920, Captain Douglas of the U.S. Air Force and Captain Leroyer of the Canadian Air Board arrived in Whitehorse. Both came with the authority of the US and Canadian governments to present a plan for a record-breaking airplane flight from New York State to Nome, Alaska. The purpose was to study the feasibility of establishing aerial routes in the far north.
The Captains came to Whitehorse to arrange for landing places, fuel and supplies. The Whitehorse STAR described it as "an event that will go down in history as one of the most daring conceptions of the potentialities of aerial flight that has ever been conceived since the possibilities of a lighter-than-air craft for transportation became, through the inventive genius of man, a certainty."
They would need a field 600 yards long and 200 yards wide. The day after their arrival they were shown a site on the escarpment overlooking the tiny town. At the time, it was known as Cyr's wood lot and covered with trees and brush.
The four airplanes taking part in the expedition were the de Havilland DH-4 biplanes of the first Alaska Air Expedition. The distance to be covered from New York to Nome was ten thousand miles, with sixteen stops en route including Whitehorse and Dawson City.
A telegram from Washington, D.C., addressed to the "Mayor" of Whitehorse, stated the planes would reach here on or about July 22. The airmen in this transcontinental flight met with many difficulties.
However, they reached Wrangell on Saturday, August 14, 1920, and on the following Monday the first plane arrived in Whitehorse. Shortly afterwards two others appeared upon the horizon and were safely grounded on the local airfield. The fourth plane had met with difficulties on muddy ground at Wrangell, and did not reach Whitehorse until Tuesday, August 17th.
The bold airmen received a royal welcome in Whitehorse. Each plane had a speed of 135 miles an hour and was overhauled every thirty hours.
Back in 1920, this was big news, and the Whitehorse Star waxed eloquently about the feat.
Just as mighty oaks from tiny acorns grow, so, from the small airfield constructed for this first transcontinental flight north, has developed one of the finest airports in the north today, of which Whitehorse is justifiably proud. In the past it played an important part in aviation throughout the north. In the future, because of its strategic position, it is destined to play an even greater part in global aviation.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin