Monday, December 13, 2010

Latest Scotch-Irish Society articles

Here is the latest issue of the Scotch-Irish Society of the United States of America newsletter. In addition to my regular music column, there is also a small article on the McQuiston 275th anniversary celebration in New Castle, DE. All pictures and posting like this can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image.

Friday, December 10, 2010


While in Columbus, Ohio over Thanksgiving I picked up a great book on the Isle of Skye. I was pleased to see Dunscaith Castle as the first castle photo shown. Dunscaith is where the McQuiston family name essentially began. The book is called simply "Skye" and the author, Ann MacSween, recounts the old Dunscaith poem -

All night the witch sang, and the castle grew
Up from the rock, with tower and turrets crowned;
All night she sang – when fell the morning dew
'Twas finished round and round.

This is a view of Dunscaith that I, and no doubt countless other adventurers have photographed of Dunscaith from the excavated moat that separates the castle from the mainland of Skye.

The author also mentions Somerled and the McDonald Clan, and even Hugh of Sleat and Clan Uisdean. It is a beautiful book, especially when found in a used bookstore for less than $10.00.

Skye is an attitude, a history and continuity that no modern age can tear from the soul of those whose blood is strong and whose heart is Highland.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Mitchell Addendum

Another explorer, writing in 1893, says that Forty Mile was the most remote mining town in the world and that the mail only came once a year. So we are talking of only a handful of times the mail even arrived at the Mitchell Post Office, no matter whether it turns out to have been a miner's cabin over the U.S. Canadian border, or the counter of Captain Jack McQuesten's store. No wonder it is such a sought after postal cancellation.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Mitchell, Alaska

Followers of my writing may remember the controversy over where the Mitchell, Alaska, post office was located. The mail received there was almost always for U.S. citizens living in Canada. The Mitchell Post Office cancellation is one of the most sought after postal stamps in the postal collectors' world because its location is such a mystery.

One old writer said it was actually in Captain Jack's store in Forty Mile (in Canadian territory). Others have said it was about 70 miles over the line. Ed Jones surmised that there was a miner there at the time, in Alaskan territory, named Mitchell, and Jack may have been using his camp as the pseudo post office "office."

Well, in the new book I just purchased of old writings about the Yukon a contemporary writer describes how U.S. mail would enter Canada over one of the passes south of the Yukon, and be sailed through lakes and streams northward, passed Dawson and on to the U.S. post office back in Alaska.

What this means is that mail destined for Mitchell would have been off loaded from the mail boat at Forty Mile regardless, and so it is likely Jack just passed it out there rather than travel over the border and back with it just to make it official. When he filed a report with the postal service, he was extremely vague on the actual location of Mitchell.

I think it was a matter of convenience. Circle City wasn't founded by Jack yet, and the next closest U.S. Post Office would have been so far away as to make it impractical to go there on any regular basis. This way, he had the U.S. postal service bring the mail right up to Forty Mile, whether or not it was carried across the border and back, or not. Even coming in this way, the typical trek for mail into the Yukon could last months, especially in the winter. So any postal worker in his right mind would be thrilled to have Jack take the mail at Forty Mile instead of walking or sledding the additional 70 miles or so to a mythical post office, just to see it returned to where they started at Forty Mile.

Some verification for my Yukon theories

In my Captain Jack book and on my website I proposed two theories not found elsewhere but based on an awful lot of research. These are as follows - 

The Han First Nations, along with other Native groups in the Yukon region, principally those who raised sled dogs, seem to have Asian origins and in fact, Han is also the name of a Chinese dynasty. In some very old writings a monk stated there were "two Hans" - the one in China and another one in a place that well could have been Alaska and the Yukon Territories.

My theory is simply that the Han natives of the Yukon were Asian in origin. One bit of helpful evidence is a study done in Europe that virtually proves that all modern domesticated dog species had their start in Asia. On my website, under the "Dogs of the North" link, I show the Han man who took us down the Yukon, comparing him to a modern day Chinese Han descendant. They look like brothers or father and son.

A book I just purchased includes a letter written by a fairly well-known Harper's Magazine writer named Tappan Adney. Adney had written an article in which he quotes Hans as referring to Captain Jack McQuesten as "Injun Papa." Of course, others called him Father of the Yukon and Father of Alaska.

In a letter Tappan wrote to his employers he tells  a story that supports the Han/Han theory to some degree:

"As we draw near, it proves to be a party known as the "Christie" party from the Skagway trail. They have a Japanese cook aboard. The Indians on Lake Labarge would not believe (he) was not an Indian "You Injun?"  "No!"  "You mama Injun?"  "No!"  "You papa Injun?"  "No! No!" -"

So it appears that even the natives of that period could not tell a Japanese man from their own tribesmen, adding considerable support to my theory. I know there is a difference between the Chinese and Japanese but they both obviously have Asian features.

Another theory I've proposed is that the Vikings played at least some role in early Yukon history, and especially in the naming of the Klondike. The original name for the river was Thronduik, meaning "hammer water" or "hammer a water dam" as this is where the Han set up fish dams to catch salmon. Some have thought the hammer part referred to the stakes being driven in to hold the fish nets.

The greatest god of the Norse was Thor, the Hammer God. Dike is a Scandinavian word for a water dam. So Thronduik, and the similar word Thordike would  mean essentially the same thing - "Hammer a water dam."

There was another interesting story in this new book I purchased about a report by an Ethnologist of that time period who said that the Eskimos around Herschel Island and the Mackenzie River told him that before their grandfather's time (which he says is how they dated almost every old story) –  "There once lived here a people who hunted exclusively whale, and who were men of prowess and remarkable seamanship." He added "In a measure, our excavations confirmed this tradition."

I had also found the old report about a group of blue-eyed, fair-haired, taller than normal Eskimos being found in pretty much the same area of the mouth of the Mackenzie River, along the shoreline. The explorer that found them conjectured they were a mix of local Eskimo and Norsemen. There are records of Norse setting off from Greenland and Iceland heading west and never being seen again. There is also a tradition that the Vikings were the first "white" men the Eskimo had ever seen. 

This final story seems to support that theory since, beyond the obvious physical characteristics matching the typical Norseman, the Vikings were men of prowess and remarkable seamanship, for sure, and considered the best whalers in the world. One old magazine article from 1939 says that "Unquestionably, many valuable secrets of whales generally are stored up in the heads of Norwegian sailors. They know much more than you will find in any published work."

A website on the Vikings of Greenland talks about their interaction with the Inuit or Eskimo  – 

"The disappearance of the Greenlanders has intrigued students of history for centuries. One old source held that Inuit, who had crossed over from Ellesmere Island in the far north around A.D. 1000, migrated down the west coast and overran the settlement. Ivar Bardarson, steward of the Church's property in Greenland, and a member of a sister settlement 300 miles to the southeast, was said to have gathered a force and sailed northwest to drive the interlopers out. When the Norsemen arrived in Greenland, they had the island and its waters to themselves. Now they had to contend with the Inuit, who were competing with them for animal resources. 

This was especially true in the Nordseta, the Greenlanders' traditional summer hunting grounds. For years the Norsemen had been traveling to the area; they killed the walruses, narwahls, and polar bears they needed for trade with Europe and for payment of Church tithes and royal taxes.

"Inuit-Norse relations seem to have been fairly friendly at times, hostile at others. Few Inuit objects have been unearthed at the farms. Various Norse items, including bits of chain mail and a hinged bronze bar from a folding scale, have been found at Inuit camps in Greenland, mainland Canada, and on Baffin, Ellesmere, and Devon Islands. These are suggestive of commerce between the two peoples, but they may also have been seized by Inuit during raids on hunting parties in the Nordseta or plundered from farms."

Another website says that no one really knows where the area of Nordseta really was, but it was a favorite whaling grounds for the Vikings.

If Vikings made it to the Yukon area, whether on purpose to hunt whales, by an accident of weather and fate, or as captives of the Eskimos, it is quite possible that their Hammer God, Thor, and their word for water dam, "dike" could have somehow been incorporated into the name of the stream that became known as the Klondike.

I also have a pretty good idea how Thronduik became Klondike, but I'll save that for another day. 

Saturday, November 20, 2010

That was some beer!

From the Springfield Republican of 9/7/1854 -

"A boiler exploded at McQuiston's brewery, at Madison, Ind., on Tuesday evening demolishing the building totally. The boiler is said to have ascended one thousand feet, and in falling, went through the roof of a shop two hundred and fifty feet distant. No person was injured, but several narrowly escaped with their lives."

Note: The first brewery in the Madison area is said to be McQuiston's Malt House, which was located at the east end of 4th St. This appears to have been before 1840. A newer version of the McQuiston Malthouse opened in 2001 and is considered one of the hidden secrets of private brews. The current McQuiston's Malhouse is pronounced as McHouston, though I have the same spelling and pronounce the name as McWhiston. There are other spellings though, that do use the McHouston pronunciation and it may, in fact be, closer to the original Gaelic name of McUisdean.

A beer lover's website says -

"McQuiston’s Malthouse, where the hard working folks are flying under the regional good beer radar. Given that McQuiston’s (pronounced McHouston’s) is a mom ‘n’ pop establishment with the young owners pulling most of the evening’s only business hours, there’s not much time for self-promotion.

If you’re approaching Madison’s amazing downtown historic district on State Road 56, the highway becomes Main Street, and McQuiston’s is on the right side just before you reach the center.

"605 W. Main Street is an attractively restored old commercial building with an appropriate past. It was constructed more than a decade before the Civil War and originally housed the Crystal Brewery. Scotsman William McQuiston operated the brewery during its short life, and afterwards, many businesses held forth at the address until the current owners opened the Malthouse in 2001."

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Been here, done this!

The Giant's Causeway, located on the northern Antrim coast of Ireland and spreading out 40,000+ six-sided rocks into the ocean arising again on an isle off the Scottish coast. This is the only place in the world where something like this exists. Legend has it that it was volcanic activity, but the truth, we know, is that two giants, one Scottish and named Fingal and another Irish and named Finn McCool, would use this causeway to walk back and forth between these Celtic countries.

By rocks like these that heard the eagle's scream, 

Or wolf, loud howling by the moon's pale beam, 

Or, on the battle field, o'er heaps of dead 

Where Erin's sons by mutual wounds had bled, 

The blood-stained harp bade all its sorrows flow. 

So wildly sweet, prevailing woe. 

That yet its echoes, faintly though they roll 

Down Time's long current, rouse and thrill the soul. 

Friday, November 12, 2010

McQuiston Magic

McQuiston, with all its spellings and pronunciations, is quite the amazing family. I have been studying our history for about 40 years, having first seen Leona McQuiston's book - "The McQuiston, McCuiston and McQuesten Families 1620 - 1937" back when I was a teenager.

The 1937 date was the publishing date of her book, however she worked on it, in the days of no computers, and even few telephones in homes, for about 19 years. She amassed about 10,000 name records and traveled all over America and to Scotland and Ireland, where she was able to study in some pretty exclusive libraries. There are some errors in her work, but considering she was using information given to her by others, and the lack of the amazing internet to double check, she did a wonderful job and anyone with this name owes her a great debt for her work.

Leona was aided by Ed McCuistion, who wrote the foreword to her book and provided history he had been collecting since the late 1800s especially concerning the North Carolina McCuistion and McCuiston branches, and the Texas McCuistions, of which he was a part. The love these two people had for the family is easily apparent in their writings and this has been carried on by so many others. 

I personally have been helped by so many people who send me packets in the mail, emails, web addresses to look at, or who hand off pages of copies at family get-togethers. It has been a group effort, and I am always pleased to be one of those sorting out the stories, patching the tapestry together, filling in the blanks with educated guesses or new-found information, and publishing it in a variety of forms.

It is my hope that this blog can become my clearing house for any and all related stories of the Celtic life I try to maintain in an ever-changing world. This is to a large degree my anchor and you are welcome to attach your boat to it, too.

The date of 1620 in Leona's book title comes from the earliest solid records she was able to find of a name similar to our modern spelling. The two in particular are James McQuiston, who was serving under the Earl of Antrim, Northern Ireland, who became "earl" in 1620, and John M'Queisoun, in a record from July 27, 1620, in Ayrshire, Scotland. There are a couple of reasons to believe that James of Antrim was in fact the father of John of Ayrshire. In a later record, his will, John lists a James as his father. There are others clues, but that story is for another time.

There was a constant connection between these locations in Antrim  and Ayrshire since the ferries that connect these countries, even today, still run between these places. The ferry actually lands in Wigtonshire, Scotland, where many McQuistons have been found, even today, and Ayrshire is just above this, where the McQuiston Cup is a golf match at the famous Troon golf course, and where another Jim McQuiston is an archivist and historian working at Dundonald Castle.

On the Irish side, the ferry lands at Belfast where the McQuiston Church stands as the largest ever Presbyterian congregation in Irish history, and the old McQuiston School has become the Belfast School of Music.

So it is easy to see that James and John were just two of many family members considering Antrim, N.I. and the coast of Scotland as pretty much the same country. In fact is was – for thousands of years. This was the old kingdom of the Gael, the land of Dalriada, from where the great Celtic/Viking heroes Somerled, Angus McFergus, and many other early Scots heroes ruled the Gaelic world.

Even today, Ireland is split to a degree into three areas - Northern Ireland, with heavy Scots influence (the old Dalriada); the English-influenced counties around Dublin, once known as "The Pale," from where the expression "outside the pale" comes; and those counties that have remained more truly old Irish, especially County Connacht and the west of Ireland. As the Scots infiltrated Northern Ireland and the English infiltrated the Dublin area, many if not most old Irish families moved particularly to Connacht, and other western counties.

Other records follow those of John and James. The next dated record is of Bryise M'Queistene on Aug 23, 1622. However, I have found many earlier records of names from our tradition of our descent from Hugh of Sleat that are very close to modern spellings or at least phonetically attach us to his family.

Hugh of Sleat or Uisdean McDonald was born about 1436 and we know that he died in 1498. He was likely born in Dingwall Castle, in Dingwall, Scotland, and he most likely died at Paisley Abbey, in Paisley, Scotland. His Gaelic name of Uisdean (sometimes spelled Uisdein or Uisdeann) was pronounced as somewhere between Ooshdn and Ooshn. Ooshdn seems to be the closest when compared to early English spellings of the name and to some modern pronunciations of the name. Other pronunciations given are Oosh - tchen, and Ocean.

In a small pub on the Isle of Skye, where our name was born, I was told by Angus McLean that Uisdean was a name created from the sound of ocean waves hitting the shoreline. In fact, it makes sense that the Ocean was also named for this very sound. George Black, in his great book, "Surnames of Scotland," says Uisdean is pronounced as Ocean.

There are a group of McDonalds who refer to themselves as the "Ocean" McDonalds and this no doubt comes from their relationship to Uisdean McDonald.

I have heard Uisdean pronounced by a handful of Scots and it is difficult to capture, in English, which one of these pronunciations best represents the Gaelic sound of the name. To complicate matters, another version of the name is Eystien, which comes from the Norse bloodline, which makes up a large part of our family background.

It is obvious that this name is so unique that it has been spelled and said many ways over the centuries, from its very beginnings until today. It is perhaps this mystery of spelling and pronunciation that has sparked so many family members to look into the history of the name.

Uisdean or Ooshdn became McOoshdn, or "son of Uisdean", when Hugh's first son was born. His name was recorded in 1494 as John Roy Makhuchone, by English speaking historians. I have also recently found it written in an old book as "John MacHuistean."

The "Black Book of Clanranald" describes the descendants of Hugh of Sleat as Siol Huistiuin, or "Race of Hugh". It also records Hugh's first four sons as -

Domhnall gallach mc huisdiuin,
Domhnall hearach mc huisdiuin,
Eoin mac huistiuin,
and, Giolla asbuig mc huisdiuin.

Domhnall gallach mc huisdiuin is the man we all most likely descend from and he is listed elsewhere as Donle VhicHuiston, vhic being a variant of Mc but referring to a grandfatherly figure.

There are a handful of other similar early finds of names that match ours in phonetics, if not in exact spelling, and they all tie exclusively into the Hugh of Sleat tradition. Much of the family of Domhnall hearach mc huisdiuin took the name of Hearach or Harris, and in DNA testing many Harris men match McQuiston men in their DNA results.

There are other names, particularly Martin, Houston and Hutchinson which come directly from the Hugh of Sleat tradition and we also have a fair number of men with these names that match our DNA, along with McDonalds, McConnells and other obvious names that should match.

We have been named a "clear subset" of Clan Donald by that clan, through this DNA analysis, and so it seems that the stories Leona and Ed told us, back in 1937, which had been handed down for five centuries, are for the most part true, even if a few details here and there have been or need improved upon.

As a family we have influenced the world. I have told and will continue to tell stories that prove this.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

From Scotland to Nova Scotia

Back in the 1800s, when the Highlands were being cleared of clans people in favor of sheep, many of the Highlanders and Islanders loaded up boats and headed for Nova Scotia, taking with them a chunk of the heart of Scotland. Some have said that Nova Scotia is more "Scottish" than Scotland. Having been to both, I would have to say no, BUT, Nova Scotia is definitely an equal to the Highlands and Islands, and perhaps superior in keeping alive the old music.

I've been to Scotland three times and covered most of it, if even just driving through. I've also been to Northern Ireland, where many Scots settled. This past summer my wife and I went to Nova Scotia. We visited the Gaelic College and the Celtic Music Interpretive Center.

We sat with Mami, the aunt of the great Cape Breton fiddler Natalie McMasters, at a 3 hour ceilidh or musical get-together. She told us many little stories about Cape Breton and about the McMasters legacy.

Many of the Clan Donald, my family's parent clan, moved to Nova Scotia and it is impossible not to see the name McDonald on businesses and buildings just about everywhere. Other familiar names from the Isles and Highlands are Rankin, McLeod, Mackintyre, and more - names that often wrapped around my own family's history, back in the day.

We also heard lots of great music and the Gaelic language being spoken on occasion. Like I said, a huge chunk of Scotland's heart was transported to Nova Scotia where it beats still, today.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Fire Walks and Highland Games

The first picture below shows my wife and I at the Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Highland Games earlier this year, with the director of the games. This appeared in the latest issue of Highlander magazine, a tome for which I occasionally write historical articles on Scotland.

We spent seven days in Nova Scotia and especially Cape Breton listening to Celtic music every day, and visiting both the Celtic Music Interpretive Center and the Gaelic College. I sat in playing music at a pub, and later at a sessions with about 2 dozen other players. We heard some of the best Cape Breton music there is and sat with Natalie McMaster's aunt through a three hour ceilidh, hearing all kinds of great stories about Cape Breton music.

Nova Scotia 2010 was added to Scotland 2006 and Ireland 2005 in our travels to enhance the music we play as Celtic Creek. Our website is at -  < click here

Tonight we perform at the Crown Theater in Jamestown, NY, along with Irish dancers from Buffalo, NY, and another duo from Olean, NY. It's a big stage show for the surrounding communities and should be fun.

The next picture is of my son's foot. What!

Yep, that's his foot after walking through fire last night with the great self-help guru Tony Robbins. He is spending an entire weekend with Tony and has read his books and listened to his tapes for years. Must be it works because he is a hot shot doctor/medical officer in DC.

I have taken periodic courses for ten years from two of Tony's former employees - his NYC marketing manager and his national marketing manager. They've both also walked through fire with Tony but I haven't had the privilege (?) yet.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

OK, Jack O'

Sorry I was away to Fort Lauderdale, FL, for fun in the sun, and it just so happened that Halloween took place while there. I saw an interesting story on TV about how it was basically a Celtic holiday, and that the first jack o'lanterns were made with turnips. The story was that a man named Jack was so evil that he was kicked out of hell by the devil. He would walk around with a candle set in a gourd and became known as Jack of the Lantern, or in the old world way of saying it - Jack O'Lantern. His job was mostly to scare little kids. Eventually Scots and Irish children made their own lanterns from the abundant turnip, until the practice was brought to America, where the larger tougher pumpkin made the perfect jack o'lantern!

OK. Ok what? OK. This little pseudo word is thought to be the most common word in the world. And my buddy President Andrew Jackson had a lot to do with that. The word was first used as a joke in a newspaper to abbreviate "all correct" - a joke in that the actual abbreviation would NOT be "all correct" but "oll korrect" or actually incorrect.

Despite how many great writings he produced, Jackson's political opponents pushed the myth that he was illiterate. Truth was lots of words were spelled lots of ways in those early days of the development of the "American" language. So . . . he became the butt of the OK joke and soon the rumor was spread that he marked lots of his staff's papers with OK on them - not of course true. The word took off.

But, like today, facts don't mean much in politics, just making personal false attacks on the president. Jackson has ended up considered as one of the very best presidents we've ever had, and he is still demonized by many despite his amazing efforts to keep the Union together, his tremendous influence on Abraham Lincoln, his battle against big banks owned by foreign interests, and a large host of other unsung accomplishments.

Basically, he did OK!

Sunday, October 24, 2010


So my son was just accepted into MENSA. Membership of Mensa is open to people who have attained a score within the upper two percent of the general population on an approved intelligence test that has been properly administered and supervised. Cool. 

Another cool thing I just saw on PBS. There is a new musical about Andrew Jackson. Now that might seem like a weird subject especially since it stars a bunch of young people. Jackson was the first populous president and the gist of the musical is that while Jackson wanted to lead the people and take care of serious issues he was forced to deal with (the so-called Indian problem for instance) it was the people who pushed and followed him at the same time when, for the first time in their lives or family histories, they were actually in control of the government of a large nation. Before Jackson all U.S. Presidents had come from the elite and all ignored many serious issues like the almost daily massacres of both whites and Indians on the frontier.

Jackson is my favorite president. Part of that is due to the fact that he is said to have McQuiston blood in him through his great grandmother. Part of that is because I own virtually every biography on him, even some very old versions from the 1800s, and he was a man PERIOD. He stood for no BS, he took on anyone and everyone at the same time, did what he felt was right when no one else would act, and did his best through a vast amount of written documents, which go mostly unnoticed, to explain the reasons behind his choices. He was a Scot, through and through and I wish there was an Andrew Jackson today to lead this country out of its mess.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

New Project

I am very excited to report that I have been asked by the Yukon Order of Pioneers, founded by Jack McQuesten over 100 years ago, to recreate a large banner that they had used for years and that had burned when their meeting hall was destroyed in the 1960s. There are only two pictures of it, both in black and white, and a little blurry so it will be a good challenge to try to reveal what each element was and recreate it.  Member Ed Jones is hoping the banner will be ready for a big event next August. It is a velvety cloth with lots of design work on. Here is one of the two shots.

There was another famous march that happened just a few years ago by this group. On "Jack McQuesten Day" - August 11, in 2007, the Yukon Order of Pioneers marched along with two Mounties and a bagpiper to the spot where a large plaque was mounted at the confluence of the Klondike River and Yukon River showing Jack McQuesten and his story.

The Pioneers, Ed Jones, two of his friends, myself, and the family at large all put in equal shares of $500 each to pay for the plaque. I and particularly the Jones picked up the balance of the tab for the $4,000 project. Here is Ed Jones standing at the plaque on Jack McQuesten Day -

It was a wonderful day with nearly every living Yukon historian speaking to the crowd and honoring perhaps the most famous McUisdean ever - Father of Alaska, Father of the Yukon, inspiration for Yukon Jack, Injun Papa to the natives, expert on the line between Canada and the U.S. according to the U.S. Labor Department, friend, inspiration and story-teller to author Jack London, inventor of the Sourdough Thermometer that saved many lives, first official recorder of the weather on the upper Yukon, collector of hundreds of specimens for the Smithsonian, founder of four Yukon towns, skipper of at least the first four steamboats on the Yukon, famous across America and inspiration for a solid gold statue at the Exposition Universelle of 1900, the World's Fair held in Paris France. The list goes on!

Ed and Star Jones, Walter McQuesten (Jack's grandson) and their Yukon friends made it possible for my book and for the incredibly important plaque, which will be viewed by 50,000 to 100,000 tourists every summer season, for time immemorial, and for this I am so honored to be able to give back with my skills to recreate the Yukon Order of Pioneers banner.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Pretty cool how this blog works

I've only been up for 9 days, have 8 followers and 136 hits so far, about 14 per day. Instead of posting my new finds to one of six different websites, I am going to attempt to post them all here as a clearing house of sorts.

Concerning Captain Jack McQuesten, Father of the Yukon, I received an email from a gentleman in Germany who collects all things postal, asking if there were any postal marks on letters from Jack's Mitchell, Alaska, post office, in our family collection. What I found out later is that one such item took the highest bid at some major postal auction back in 2005, because you see, no one knows exactly where Mitchell, Alaska, was!

Jack lived at Forty Mile, just across the Canadian border and would not be eligible to be a U.S. postmaster. However, a lot of mining around Forty Mile was done on the U.S. side and Jack, a U.S. citizen, but Canadian resident, was no stickler for the letter of the law. There are two theories -

A) The Mitchell P.O. was located in his store at Forty Mile, and the postal officials blinked their eyes at it.

B) Or it was located a short distance across the border at a stake claimed by a prospector whose last name was Mitchell, and Jack simply walked the mail over the border. There were few if any U.S. authorities on the Alaskan side, but the Mounties were stationed in Forty Mile towards the end of Jack's days there. Jack filed a report on its location, which appears to be purposely vague.

Once the Mounties started asking too many questions about the amount of gold being recovered (for tax purposes) and about whiskey being made (also for tax purposes) Jack picked up and moved across the border where he established Circle City. Jack was one of only two people referred to as part of the "whiskey gang" by the Mounties and Yukon Jack Whiskey is named for him. The other whiskey gang member started a legal distillery in Dawson once the Mounties came on the scene. He is probably the guy who named Yukon Jack for his partner, Yukon Jack McQuesten.

Another interesting story about Circle City is that legend has it the settlers thought it was within the Arctic Circle and so named it Circle City. This has been proven false. Number one, there were many surveyors in the land, including two government teams, one from the U.S. and one from Canada trying to determine the exact U.S./Canadian border. Secondly, Jack McQuesten was named by the U.S. Labor Department as the authority on that border and he provided lodging and supplies to both government surveying teams. To assume that all of these people, and especially Jack, who had been in the area for about 20 years at the time, would not know where the Arctic Circle started, would be crazy.

The other bit of info is that one miner who was at the meeting when the city was named says specifically that they were first going to name it Dawson after a Yukon explorer, but someone said, since the town looked liked a half circle because of the geographic lay of the land, why didn't they call it Circle, and so that was the name that was chosen on the spot. Some called it Circle, others called it Circle City. The real Dawson was settled a few years later upstream near the Klondike.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Scotch-Irish

There has been so much controversy over who the Scotch-Irish are, or if the words should even be written differently, as in Scots-Irish. One of the best books ever written on this race, by Senator Jim Webb, uses Scots-Irish instead of the original Scotch-Irish, despite how thoroughly his research is in all other areas.

Though it is much ado about nothing, the proper or at least original term is in fact Scotch-Irish. Some would say that the term originated in America to differentiate Scottish-blooded settlers of Ireland from the later arriving Irish, and others say it only refers to those Scots settling in Ireland after or during the Plantation of Ulster, beginning about 1607 – folks coming principally from the lowlands.

However, the truth is that the term Scotch-Irish was used on April 14, 1573 in a manifesto issued by Queen Elizabeth concerning Scots already in Ireland for several generations. It is most likely that the term Scotch-Irish was a contraction of Scottish-Irish, which was meant to separate these people from the native Irish.

The contention that this race typically only included lowlanders is also easily dismissed, as probably half of all so-called Scotch-Irish surnames us the Mc prefix in front of them. Mc, which was originally the Gaelic "Mhic," was principally used in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, from where many early Scots immigrated on their way to Northern Ireland (Ulster) and eventually on to America.

Since the earliest known form of the term was in fact "Scotch-Irish" and since it was used long before the Ulster Plantation, and long before immigration to America began, the most authentic acceptance of this race and its name is that of Scottish peoples settling in Northern Ireland from early times and being referred to as the Scottish-Irish, or the Scotch-Irish.

Some have taken exception to the word Scotch, because it also seems to apply to liquor, however, the true term is Scotch Whisky, just like Irish Whiskey (note the spelling difference between whisky in Scotland and whiskey in Ireland). If it was appropriate to randomly take the ch off Scotch and add an s to make it Scots, then it would be just as appropriate to take the sh off Irish, add an s and make it Iris. We would then be the Scots-Iris. All joking aside, the earliest, original term is my choice, and the long history of Mc families in Ireland before the plantation, specifically referred to as "Scotch-Irish" should eliminate the argument, but I suspect it will continue.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Past Writings

As a reminder to blog readers, I have published a host of stories online concerning the Scottish-Irish race, the McQuiston family (all spellings), and on Captain Jack McQuesten, Father of the Yukon, Father of Alaska. In addition, I have written several Celtic music columns for the Scotch-Irish Society of the USA newsletter, and about a dozen articles on Scottish history for Highlander magazine, as well as a few books. I hope to make PDFs available through this blog for some of these writings, soon.

My websites include -


plus our music website at

Monday, October 11, 2010

Discovering America

Today we celebrate Columbus Day, and it is true that the explorations of Columbus were the most instrumental in opening this country up to settlement by Europeans. But it is also widely accepted that he wasn't the first.

Some of those that are said to have landed in America much sooner were an Irishman, St. Brendan, a Viking, Leif Erikson, a Welshman, Prince Madoc, and a Scots/Viking, Sir Henry Sinclair. Sinclair is said to have sailed from Caithness, Scotland, There are proponents of and opponents to each theory, but one thing all of these possible discoverers have in common is their Celtic/Viking origins.

And no wonder. A look at the globe from above shows that there is not that much distance between the northern lands – from the Norwegian countries to the British Isles, from Greenland and Iceland to Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, and even on to the northwest corner of Canada and the United States, places like Alaska and the Yukon Territories, as long as the ice was clear.

Almost no one in the world was more experienced in sailing in rough and cold waters than the races of Norseman and Celts. Even as the Great Lakes area began to be settled, it was Scots and Irishmen chosen to man the ships that would sail these equally treacherous waters.

The truth may be that many other northerners from these groups landed on what would be considered North America and were just never recorded; or that others set out on this adventure and were never heard from again. There is a fair amount of unexplained evidence in the northeast corner of this continent that points to Viking/Celt settlements and/or exploration, that pre-dates Columbus.

Even as ships began setting out for America from Northern Ireland, filled with Scotch-Irish families in the early 1700s, many went down along the rugged Antrim coastline, the same coastline that claimed a great number of Spanish Armada ships. Many had to turn back to begin again. Still, they, perhaps like those who made this attempt before Columbus, kept trying until, as a group, they made it to this land of promise.

And so all those who braved the great Atlantic Ocean in wooden ships deserve our admiration.  

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Mountain Echo

Here is one of the famous "Mountain Echo" leaves of Luther Eames McQuesten, born 1866. 

Luther was a gold miner, a fisherman, a nature lover, and a dreamer in the California county of Santa Cruz. He was employed as a printer at the old Santa Cruz "Surf" newspaper when he set off on an adventure to edit his own newspaper - the Boulder Creek "Mountain Echo." This latter newspaper was founded in 1896 by C.C. Rodgers. When Rodgers passed away, his brother took over the business for a short while before leasing the newspaper to the idealist, McQuesten, in 1914 – just at a time when the economy of this lumber boom town found itself in a steep decline.

Perhaps more infamous than famous, old Boulder Creek once had 26 saloons, gambling houses, cat houses and hotels. Ravaged by fire in 1891, many of the "new" buildings are over 100 years old. Below is one of those many places of "ill-repute" - Sarmento's Saloon.

Despite his best efforts, within two years McQuesten found himself deep in debt, unable to collect money owed to him by subscribers and advertisers. Out of newsprint, and in an attempt to embarrass those who owed him money, Luther published two week's editions of his newspaper on larger leaves. The November 11, and November 18, 1916 issues of the "Mountain Echo" are probably the only newspaper editions ever published that could truly be called "leaflets."

In the November 18th issue, the still optimistic Luther writes - "Boulder Creek is a deserted lumber camp 14 miles up the San Lorenzo canyon, reached by a branch of the Southern Pacific and a good stage road. The last of seven lumber mills has shut down for lack of material. Quite a few of the inhabitants, who appreciate only stampage value, think that the town has seen its best days, but visitors passing through the State Redwood Park 12 miles beyond are delighted with the mountain scenery, babbling brooks, gigantic redwoods, the rare bracing atmosphere and pure water. A second growth has already hidden the scars of the woodsman and the hills are again clothed in perpetual verdure. The confluence of Bear Creak and Boulder Creek with the San Lorenzo river at this point furnishes excellent trout fishing streams. Deer and other game abound in the fastness of the mountains. Quite a few (vacationers) already are taking advantage of the low price on summer home sites and ere long this place will out-rival the neighboring resorts of Brookdale and Ben Lomond. Property owners will pay as liberally for finding purchases, so the Echo will cheerfully answer all inquiries."

Luther died November 25, 1936 leaving behind his wife and two daughters. His obituary and the story of his famous leaves was told in the San Francisco Examiner the following day. He was a dreamer but also a prophet, it seems, as Boulder Creek is now generally known as the gateway town to the Big Basin Redwoods State Park, California's oldest State Park, founded in 1902. Luther's leaves are protected at the San Lorenzo Valley Museum in Boulder Creek.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

An Introduction

For a handful of decades I have been studying my Scottish and Scotch-Irish family history. Along the way, I've learned a lot through travel to many parts of the world – from Scotland to Ireland, from Nova Scotia to the Yukon, from the islands to the highlands of the earth. This blog will be used to publish some of what I've learned.

There is no final plan for its nature and I hope to keep it that way. Whatever comes up, that's what I'll published. I hope all readers will enjoy my ramblings, especially those members of my extended family, those interested in Celtic history, and in the early history of North America, especially the Yukon Gold Rush and the American Revolution.

The background photo is of the cliff-ridden shoreline of Ireland, from where my father's family left for America 275 years ago. The name "Mountain Echo" fits my family well, whether it be the Highlands of Scotland or the mountains of the Yukon. It comes from a newspaper that a distant relative of mine once owned. As the boomtown around him lay dying a slow death, and his debtor list grew, he ran out of newsprint, and so he printed two week's editions on large leaves. This was almost one hundred years ago, and those leaves still exist. So does the penchant for story-telling by some members of my family, including me, of course.

We'll see how it all goes.