Monday, March 21, 2011

London and McQuesten

One of the more interesting tales of our family is of how Jack London received many of his ideas and background for his stories of the Northland from Captain Jack McQuesten. We know beyond any doubt that London knew McQuesten as he says so himself. He says where and when they met and he speaks in considerable detail about Captain Jack.

In addition, our name (spelled McQuestion) is mentioned in at least four books, four short stories, and an essay - all written by Jack London. I have a book of his writings and the first two stories are Batard and Call of the Wild, because these are considered his best. McQuestion is mentioned in both of these tales. In Batard, the little town of McQuestion is mentioned, in particular the surgeon at McQuestion. It is interesting to note that some of the best photos we have of Jack McQuesten were taken by a doctor who lived at Jack's town of Forty Mile. I have his complete diary but am not allowed to quote out of it yet. I can use it for reference, but it is in litigation over some of the language used.

In Call of the Wild, McQuestion River is mentioned. From that point on in the book, Buck, the canine hero returns to his wild heritage. It is no wonder. I have been to the McQuesten River and it is remote. It is about a three and a half hour drive from either Dawson (which is very remote in itself), or Whitehorse, nearly as remote. There is an airstrip, basically a clear spot in a field, called McQuesten Airport for bush pilots to land on. At the little "town" called McQuesten there are just a few buildings. One is a very large and nice log cabin lodge called McQuesten Lodge. The owner is of Eastern European descent, with no real connection to Jack or the Yukon, but he built this lodge with the idea of it becoming a shrine, as it were, to Jack McQuesten. The government put so many restrictions on him that he had to slow down to a crawl. Still outbackers and canoeist use it to crash in.

Anyway, back to London and McQuesten. In addition to London's writings about McQuesten, the descendants of Captain Jack say that London was at the McQuesten Mansion in Berkeley quite often. London lived only 10 miles from McQuesten, and attended college only a mile and a half away while attempting to get a writing degree. He finally gave up on the degree BUT he is the first person to become a millionaire from his writing. This happened while he was visiting Captain Jack. In fact, he never published a single Yukon story until AFTER he and Jack McQuesten moved near each other in California.

And, from the very beginning Jack London started including the McQuestion/McQuesten name in his stories. In fact, in Burning Daylight he refers to "those elder giants, Al Mayo and Jack McQuestion."

Over the weekend I found even more "proof." In Call of the Wild London tells how Buck kills a black bear that was fishing in a river and was stung so badly in the eyes by mosquitoes that he couldn't see and was in a rage. Well, this very tale was called "McQuesten's famous yarn" by Lieutenant Fred Schwatka, the first man ever to transverse the entire Yukon River. In this case however, the bear was killed by a man, not a large white dog named Buck. George Snow, the first historian of the Yukon Order of Pioneers, who knew Jack McQuesten personally, elaborates on the story, telling us it was Jack's partners, Joe LaDue and Mickey O'Brien, who came upon the bear and shot it to put it out of its misery.

Here is a case where London used an exact episode as told by Jack McQuesten, only changing the bear killer from one of Jack's partners to the dog hero, Buck. If I had time, I could probably sift through all of London's writings and find other stories lifted from McQuesten's life.

There are two short stories that are said to be based on his life - The Wife of a King, where he refers to the main character as the King of Circle City, which McQuesten essentially was in real life - and - The Story of Jees Uck, which Dick North, curator of the Jack London Interpretive Center, and visitor to the McQuesten Mansion when Jack's children were still alive, says is also based on Captain Jack's life. One of the characters in this story is Spike O'Brien, and Jack's partner was Mickey O'Brien.

Son of the Wolf is the first book Jack London ever had published, and it has our name in it. A Daughter of the Snows is another London story with our name in it, as is Smoke Bellew.

There are at least nine separate stories that London wrote that I have found containing our name. There may be more since he was such a prolific writer. He expressed his admiration for Jack McQuestion in this way -

"Jack McQuestion aptly vindicates the grip of the North. After a residence of thirty years he insists that the climate is delightful, and declares that whenever he makes a trip to the States he is afflicted with homesickness. Needless to say, the North still has him and will keep tight hold of him until he dies. In fact, for him to die elsewhere would be inartistic and insincere. Of three of the "pioneer"pioneers, Jack McQuestion alone survives. In 1871, from one to seven years before Holt went over Chilcoot, in the company of Al Mayo and Arthur Harper, McQuestion came into the Yukon from the Northwest over the Hudson Bay Company route from the Mackenzie to Fort Yukon. The names of these three men, as their lives, are bound up in the history of the country, and so long as there be histories and charts, that long will the Mayo and McQuestion rivers and the Harper and Ladue town site of Dawson be remembered. As an agent of the Alaska Commercial Company, in 1873, McQuestion built Fort Reliance, six miles below the Klondike River. In 1898 the writer met Jack McQuestion at Minook, on the Lower Yukon. The old pioneer, though grizzled, was hale and hearty, and as optimistic as when he first journeyed into the land along the path of the Circle. And no man more beloved is there in all the North. There will be great sadness there when his soul goes questing on over the Last Divide, — "farther north," perhaps, — who can tell?"


  1. i really like your articles.i try to keep up with all of them.i hope that i have not missed any of them?i also have another question.on your list of followers are any of the Mc Quiston on the list related to Edward D Mc Quiston & Sarah Yoder?(e.g.their children or grand children?)
    they might have some info. for me.also is C arleen Daggetts book available?thanks phyllis smith

  2. B J McCuiston can get you on a website where many people may be able to help you.

  3. Look the McQuesten Farm in Litchfield New Hampshire up. They are all family