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.