In the first few years of Fairbanks, gambling was legal, and most saloons in Fairbanks offered games of chance. Gambling was then outlawed in 1906. Today’s History Nugget is about a dog and the gambling life in the early days of this camp:

Whiskers

This is a picture of Whiskers. It is plainly seen that Whiskers is not an ordinary dog, and it is also obvious that he is appropriately named. Whiskers lives in Fairbanks. He is not distinguished as a leader in a sled team. He may never have been in harness, although there are few dogs in Alaska that do not know the meaning of “mush,” “gee” and “haw.” But Whiskers has had an eventful life, nevertheless.

His origin is shrouded in mystery. He may have blue blood in his veins, as he has grown fat and wheezy; but this condition may be due to the easy, care-free life he has led during the past few years, and probably is not an inheritance.

For the purpose of this sketch, Whiskers’ career begins in a bear trap, where he was caught and held captive for several days. He was introduced to the canine society of Fairbanks in the early days when that city of metropolitan manners was a mining camp. It is not material that these early days were not more than four years ago. The towns of the Alaska gold fields have a fairy characteristic of growing so rapidly that they do the transformation act.

In the early days of Fairbanks there were dance halls and brilliantly lighted saloons where faro banks, roulette wheels, dice devices and old-fashioned poker tables furnished opportunities for the speculative to win easy money or lose their toil-earned accumulations. It is not a part of this story that all these features have passed away.

Whiskers attached himself to the Eagle saloon. As Whiskers is a dog nobody has given him any credit for the selection of his vocation. Had he been a man, society would not have given him any credit for his selection but being a dog, it is obvious that he showed rare prescience. It would not be proper to say that a dog used judgment, but as dogs are credited with the faculty of intuition, it is quite proper to say that Whiskers manifested rare prescience.

Instead of hiking over the trail with aching muscles and sore feet, he found a warm, comfortable room, and a cozy place to sleep. If he had not had a large bump of friendship he might have had to forage for food, but Whiskers was friendly. There was a pleasant how-do-you-do in every wag of his tail.

He was a homely animal, but his ugliness made him attractive, and he soon became the mascot of the Eagle Saloon. His interest in the games was noticeable. He never missed a big play at faro. If biped speculators became too numerous and crowded him away, he would fight for a position from where he could see the game. It didn’t matter to him if he received kicks for snarls and snapping at booted legs. He let them know that he was interested and wanted to see. So, he was given a seat beside the lookout if some superstitious player had not previously engaged him as a mascot to help him woo the fickle Goddess of Chance.

Somebody who had dipped into Oriental philosophy started the story that Whiskers was a gambler reincarnated as a dog. The transmigration story did not injure Whiskers. He received even greater attention and consideration. Whiskers is now like Othello, his occupation is gone, but he still has a home in the Eagle Saloon. He has an armchair in which he sleeps, but as he is fat and growing old, it is difficult for him to get into the chair. If his wishes are not anticipated when he wants to rest, he will stand beside the chair and bark until someone lifts him into his resting place. Here Whiskers, “in the sere and yellow leaf” of canine life, with a full belly and every visual sign of contentment, dozes, and dreams.

Note: The Eagle Saloon was roughly located where Lavelle’s Bistro sits today. The next time you are at Lavelle’s remember to raise a glass to Whiskers, the Eagle Saloon, and the rowdy days of Fairbanks.

This jammy History Nugget has been proudly brought to you by the Fairbanks Igloos of the Pioneers of Alaska, who would like to remind you that more History Nuggets are available on our website at pioneersofalaskafairbanks.org.

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