Joe Reinhardt was born in NY in 1848, the son of George Reinhardt and
Elizabeth Schussler Reinhardt. His parents were both from Germany, immigrants
looking for a better life in this country. Joe was the oldest of four boys
and soon Charles, Jacob and Peter were added to the family. About 1855
the Reinhardts joined Elizabeth's relatives in Fond du Lac Co. WI., settling
near the small community of Dotyville. In 1857 daughter Louisa joined
the Reinhardt family.
On Aug. 24, 1864, at age 16, Joe enlisted in Company E, 3rd Regiment,
Wisconsin Volunteers, claiming that he was 18. He was a paid substitute
for E. Edhard of Sheboygan, WI. Joe joined the union army just in time
to participate in General Sherman's march thru the south.
Upon his return from the war, Joe married Anna Dumas, the daughter of
John and Mary Dumas. Anna grew up less than a mile from the Reinhardt farm.
Their marriage is recorded twice, once on Nov 18, 1869 by P.W. Mahoney,
a Justice of the Peace in Eden, WI, (with witnesses Joseph Perront and
Emma Phillips) and then again on Nov 23, 1869 at St. Michael Catholic Church
in Dotyville, with Nicholas Fuchs and Maria Buese as witnesses.
Joe and Anna were the parents of seven children: George Herbert, Frank,
Mary Virginia who died at age 18 mos., Anna Louise, Henry Jacob, Rose Gertrude
and Mary Amelia. Joe was a business entrepreneur, a wheeler-dealer. He
bought and sold carloads of cattle. He speculated in real estate. He ran
a feed store in South Milwaukee. Eventually Joe had to bring his elderly
parents to live with him when they could no longer care for themselves.
Joes dealings were not always successful. His brother Charles
had married a young woman named Elizabeth Hegner, the oldest of seven children.
The Hegner children were orphaned when Elizabeth, the oldest, was 18, and
the youngest, Sarah, was only 7. When she turned 17, Sarah Hegner requested
that Joe Reinhardt be appointed her guardian, and her inheritance was invested
by Joe. By the time she turned 21 and wanted control of her inheritance,
Joe no longer had her money. She had to take Joe to court to get back her
inheritance, which was paid back at the rate of $25 every three months.
Joe was 50 yrs old when the Alaskan Gold Rush caught his imagination.
He could not resist the lure of gold. He joined the many adventurers, lured
to Alaska by promises of easy wealth. He left his wife, and six grown children
behind in South Milwaukee, WI.
He arrived in Seattle, Wash, and joined a group of twelve men headed
by Capt. Bens, of Michigan. They each invested $600 in a joint venture
for gold, and each man would receive a share in whatever gold the company
found. The original investment money was used to build and supply a ship
to take them along and around the Alaskan coast to the gold fields.
The skooner Elk II was built, and the enterprise was supervised by Capt.
Bens, a man who had operated ships on the Great Lakes. By the time
the Elk II was completed, the company was low on funds, so they sold another
partnership, to help pay for supplies needed.
On June 10, 1898 the journey to the gold fields began. The
trip from Seattle was the first rude awakening. Their craft was tossed
about at sea for many days, causing many to fear for their lives. They
ran out of fuel, and found themselves becalmed, not far from their first
destination. When they finally arrived at St. Michael, they were
appalled at the jump in fuel prices. But they could not turn back. They
kept on. The leader of the expedition had visions of sailing all
around Alaska, into the Artic circle, and then down the MacKenzie River
to the Yukon. When you view a map of Alaska to see just where this
trip would take them, you think of the term "gold fever" and you
start to question their leadership. Evidentally so did some of the members,
because they decided that the leadership had to be replaced. An election
was held, and Joe Reinhardt was elected the new president of the enterprise.
The skooner finally put into Kotzebue.
The reality of what was found in Alaska was not what anyone had
envisioned. No one was prepared for the hardships of perma-frost, the logistics
of waiting for "summer". They may have been intelligent about many matters,
but they were greenhorns when it came to knowledge of Alaska. The
group argued. Most were in favor of waiting out the winter, and starting
again in the spring. By now, several members had died of scurvey
or malnutrition, and others were ill.
Later reports and letters also indicate that the group did not
have the proper food or equipment. And once their initial propecting
led to disappointment after disappointment, Capt Bens decided, in true
'gold fever' fashion, to hike across Alaska to the Yukon.......without
any dogs, or notion of how far away the Yukon was. The others refused to
go with him, and so he and his wife set off alone. .He did not make
it very far, before he collapsed. After his death, his widow started
walking. She eventually spotted chimney smoke, and her calls for
help were answered. Two kind-hearted prospectors came to her rescue,
and took her down a near-by river, eventually getting her to St. Michael,
where she was able to beg for passage to Seattle. The ship that was heading
for Seattle had a reporter as a fellow passenger, and Mrs. Bens told her
story of horror. What she didn't have knowledge of, she manufactured,
indicating to everyone that she alone survived the expedition. Family members
of the others who were on the expedition read about their deaths in this
APwireservice story. Later, in an interview with The Examiner, of
San Francisco, she repeated details of all the men's deaths, adding that
the 4 men left with the Schooner Elk had also died of scurvey. It
was only after returning home to Michigan, that she recanted her tale,
indicating that not all of the men were dead. Half of the men did die in
Alaska, including Joe Reinhardt. His effects were returned to his widow,
including his gold watch, and letters from Anna that he carried with him.
Joe left behind a wife and 6 grown children, but his story does
not end with his death. Anna was destitute. Joe had invested $600
in this venture, and Anna needed that money to survive. She received
letters from survivors of the expedition, or their relatives, attempting
to locate the schooner, and obtain some sort of compensation. She
received conflicting stories about what really happened in Alaska, and
she did not know who to believe. One man who invested in the enterprise,
but who had sent a substitute for the actual trip, wrote to Anna for power
of attorney, to represent her in attempting to get her money. She did not
know if she should trust him. She heard from one of the survivor's, telling
her not to trust this investor. Eventually she did give him authority to
act in her behalf, but it did no good for anyone. When this investor
made his trip to Alaska, to claim his rightful share of this venture, he
received quite a shock. He discovered that one of the survivors of
the expedition had taken over the ship, and was making a tidy profit by
providing transportation between Seattle and Alaska to others affected
with gold fever. And he knew enough about maritime laws, that he
was able to grab sole ownership of the vessel, simply by putting a small
hole in the ship, and then having the ship declared a "shipwreck". He then
turned around and filed papers indicating that he had "salvaged a shipwreck",
which entitled him to sole ownership of the vessel free and clear of any
liens. So he made out like the bandit that he was, and none of the
investors could make a claim against the ship.
The story of Joe's venture is not only a story of a tragedy in
Alaska, but also the story of media manipulation, intrigue, greed and thievery
among the survivors.