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Fairbanks' notorious 'Blue Parka Man' comes to life in verse

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Posted: Sunday, July 22, 2012 12:35 am | Updated: 10:35 am, Mon Jan 21, 2013.

Editor’s note: Coinciding with the annual celebration of Golden Days in Fairbanks, we publish below a poem that recounts the story of the Blue Parka Man, the most famous outlaw from the city’s early history. Pleasant Valley resident Michael “Rattles” Kramer wrote the poem, which we’ve had to truncate and edit somewhat here. Kramer dedicated it to his teachers — Chester A. Sweigert, who introduced him in high school to the poetry of Robert Service, and Jean Hummer, who taught him penmanship in third grade. In 2009, Kramer received from the National Archives at Kansas City copies of a variety of documents concerning the Blue Parka Man’s time at the U.S. Penitentiary in Fort Leavenworth, Kan., from 1907 to 1920. Kramer used this material and other sources, including the 1980 book “Blue Parka Man: Alaskan Gold Rush Bandit”

by Hershel C. Landru, to reconstruct the tale in verse.

This is a story that’s gotta be told;

It’s a true one that happened in the rush for gold.

An educated “skwegin,” with an engineering degree,

Turned out to be Blue Parka Man on a crime-laden spree.

Back in ’98 on the mighty river Yukon,

downriver from Whitehorse in the mining town of Dawson,

Charlie got started there, and he wasn’t trapping foxes.

Mounties gave him five years there, for cleaning out sluice boxes.

Charles Hendrickson did his five, and was released from jail.

And in Circle City in ’05, he went down the Fairbanks trail.

He was a steam point driver for Swiftwater Bill.

Ten thousand men working on that gold-laden hill.

This man had a plan to retire some day,

and had a .30-30 Savage to make it that way.

Lurking on Cleary Summit, watching for mining folk,

he’d wait for you to come along and take your hard-earned poke.

Working the mining claims, this guy could really hustle.

His shirts bursing at the seams, he was full of muscle.

Blond beard and hair, with azure blue eyes and

5-foot, 8-inches tall,

weighing 182, you found his name written on every

ladies’ room wall.

At the Floradora, Chuck really like to dance,

and all the ladies there were just itchin’ for the chance.

Billy Gorbracht wailed the upright; he also blew the horn.

And all the gals danced with Chuck until the early morn.

This highway man was busy after stopping Bishop Rowe.

He handed him five other pokes — “Your parish funds are low.”

This wasn’t like the other hold-ups, and no one understood,

who’s the fellow on the summit who mimics Robin Hood.

The miners they were scared, so they traveled by caravan.

Crossing the summit, keeping their pokes from Blue Parka Man.

But after all what could they do? It wasn’t them to blame.

They just set the trap; he robbed the whole wagon train.

He needed supplies. N.C. was the place, because they

had the best.

But on his way out, Marshal George said “Hold it, you’re

under arrest.”

Three charges on Charlie, acquitted on one.

And before the next trial, away he run.

Paul Burkall, who was jailed for stealing a dog,

helped Charlie saw through a 14-inch log.

Up the Little Chena with no meat or potatoes,

driven half nuts by the gnats and mosquitoes,

over hummocks and tussocks he would plummet,

but, by God, Charlie made it to Twelvemile Summit.

At the roadhouse on the summit, Fred Nichols let him in.

“It’s been a long time, Charlie, I’ve heard where you’ve been.

The marshals been asking everyone they can

if they’ve seen hide or hair of the Blue Parka Man.”

With bounty on his head, words develop many leaks.

So marshals George and Frank together mushed up

over the peaks.

With lead dog Bingo up in front and at 50 below,

the leader turned the team around in deep overflow.

Now with a fire lit and all the clothes a-drying,

the marshals knew that Bingo just saved them from dying.

They mushed out again, when dry was every thread.

“I’ll never forget this episode,” Marshal George Driebelbis said.

With persistence in mind, the marshals pushed on.

Slept at Fred’s roadhouse and left there at dawn.

Fred ratted on Charlie, so they knew where to go.

And when they mushed out, it was 60 below.

Now Charlie had a partner, they were working for a mine,

Cutting timbers on Birch Creek and doing just fine.

The marshals mushed up the creek and snuck up on the pair.

Chuck’s rifle propped against a tree, George yelled

“Hands up in the air.”

At the Fairbanks jail, there was no bail, and the crowd came out

for a peep.

Lights were all lit and they all caught a glimpse of the one they

couldn’t keep.

Here come the reporters, they want a story for their papers.

But, it is recorded, he said nothing of his capers.

So they ask Frank Wiseman of the journey and the climb.

They said “Marshal Wiseman, can you keep him this time?”

The crowd had its doubts and was rooting for Chuck,

until the next jailbreak when Pete Peterson got stuck —

with a knife from inmate Thornton no one knew how he got.

Charlie sprang forward and flew from his cot,

and punched out jailer Galliger, then shed his shackles on the floor.

The two escapees grabbed some clothes and scrambled out the door.

Escaping down the Valdez trail, fighting dark and cold,

Chuck nearly froze that night, as the story is told.

Behind came George’s brother with a dog team that he drove.

Found Chuck there in a vacant cabin, shivering by an unlit stove.

Now the crowd back in town, a rope they were a-cinching,

’cause the one who stabbed Pete Peterson, they were planning

on lynching.

Now in drove the dog team, with Chuck cuffed in the sled.

But the noose the crowd had cinched was for

Thomas Thornton’s head.

It took a month to catch the one who stabbed Pete Peterson.

Nine months confined and now in court with Judge Wickersham,

fifteen years he sentenced them, for the crimes the pair had done.

To McNeils they will be shipped, down in Washington.

The travel day had come, the marshals marched them

toward the ship.

A tight-jeaned girl with auburn hair, a jeweler’s file she did slip

into Charlie’s hair as she hugged him there, and the marshals

they demand

“Get away from him,” but no one saw the sleight of hand.

The boat was packed, there wasn’t room for another bed.

While plying up the Yukon River, they blew an engine head.

They dropped some parts overboard and now they cannot go.

Along comes steamship No. 3, and now they are in tow.

On the river for way too long, the food they had to ration,

and, running low on firewood, they docked at the village of Nation.

While loading wood upon the deck of steamship No. 3,

through a previous hole cut in the roof, away the pair did flee.

All the men were deputized to find the fleeing pair.

With bounty placed upon their heads, you’d think they’d

find them there.

But they disappeared into the brush and off into the dark.

The captain yelled “Ice is forming, we’ll freeze if we don’t

embark.”

The two gaurds, Noon and Darlington, who Marshal Perry

hired,

found themselves without a job ’cause the next day they

were fired.

Tom and Chuck were found again after the sun had risen.

They were put back on another boat, headed for the prison.

To Dawson and Whitehorse and train to Skagway,

finally the law was getting its way.

To McNeils Island and stuck in the pen, you’d have thought they’d never be heard of again.

Tom died in prison, he got sick and insane.

But that damn Chuck, they couldn’t contain.

Jail-broke twice, now arms chained to his girth,

they shipped him off to Leavenworth.

Two times more he was gone from his cell.

Keeping him contained was a job from hell.

Finally the guards got a reprieve from heaven;

1920 was his release, on February 11.

So this is the saga of the Blue Parka Man,

and he was never seen or heard of again.

Now that this story I have told,

where did Charlie stash his gold?

Michael Kramer is a resident of Pleasant Valley.

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