Mulrooney (Carbonneau), Belinda (1872–1967), frontier entrepreneur, was born on 16 May 1872 (though her official birth certificate stated 10 June) in her maternal grandparents' 21-acre farm near Carns, Co. Sligo, the first child of one son and four daughters of John Mulrooney from Carra, Co. Mayo, and his wife Maria (née Connor). Soon afterwards her father left for America to be followed within a few years by her mother. Raised in Carns by her grandparents, Belinda had a happy childhood, mostly spent roughhousing with her uncles, who were only slightly older. Her primary school education, however, was cut short when she quarrelled with the teacher.
Wanting help in raising their younger children, her parents sent for her in 1885 to join them in Archbald, Pennsylvania, where her father was a coal miner. Once there, she hated living in a cramped house in that soot covered town. Although a bright student, she quit school because she was teased for her accent and kept getting in fights. She reacted against her mother's fervent catholicism by not going to mass and resented being steered towards conventionally feminine roles, preferring instead to earn money by picking berries and hauling coal. For some years she aimed to save enough to return to Ireland. Aged seventeen, she escaped Archbald by visiting her aunt in Philadelphia and staying there, finding employment as a nurse maid in a wealthy household.
Around the end of 1891, she moved to Chicago and bought a site amidst the construction work underway for the 1893 World's Fair. The rent she earned from storing a Ferris wheel went towards erecting a new building on her property, which she sold profitably in order to take over, and thrive further off, a busy sandwich counter nearby. In 1894 she moved to San Francisco where she lost all her money when a building she had rented and redeveloped burned down. From spring 1895, she spent eighteen months as a stewardess aboard a steamship serving the Alaska route, during which she developed a side-line selling clothes, goods and whiskey in Alaskan ports, prompting the company to open a store for her in Juneau in July 1896. She had quit by September and departed Juneau briefly, returning that winter just as rumours arrived of gold discoveries in Canadian territory along the Klondike River.
Getting there from Alaska's south-eastern panhandle entailed first hiking over the Coast Mountains and then boating down an often-hazardous network of waterways, all while carrying her wares and winter supplies. Abandoning her first attempt, she was better equipped and accompanied upon setting out on 1 April 1897. She climbed the 3,400ft high Chilkoot Pass over twenty times, hauling her gear piecemeal on backpacks and sleds between two camps. That June she completed the 600-mile journey by reaching Dawson, the Klondike's nascent boomtown, well ahead of the gathering host of fortune seekers. By packing niceties as well as necessities, she made a killing from selling her supply of hot water bottles, cotton cloth and silk women's undergarments. These gains were used to buy food and rafts from newcomers for the purposes of running a canteen and building log cabins for sale in what was still a tent settlement. As most transactions were in gold dust, she inflated her already considerable profits by manipulating her weighing scales.
In July she travelled the eleven miles to the gold fields at the aptly named Bonanza Creek, where she built a roadhouse called the Grand Forks Hotel. Completed in mid-August, it was a sixteen by thirty-two foot, two-storey, log structure with large paned windows, comprising a bar and dining room on the ground floor and a row of bunk beds on the upper floor. She shamed drunken customers into behaving by being pleasant, good-humoured and prim (by Klondike standards). The money-spinning Grand Forks served as a trading depot, a lumberyard, a gold dust deposit, a brokerage for swapping claims and a collection centre for Canadian government royalties. Even the daily sweepings could yield $100 in stray gold dust.
To accommodate the fresh wave of 'stampeders', she built an elegant three-storey hotel in Dawson called the Fairview, which opened in July 1898 after she personally supervised the hauling of furnishings over the mountains. (When her carrier, Joe Brooks, dumped these valuables on the trail upon receiving a better offer, she hired toughs who violently seized Brooks's packhorses, using them to deliver her cargo). Eventually covering the full 160ft depth of the site, the Fairview featured twenty-two steam-heated rooms, electric lights, cut-glass chandeliers, brass bedsteads and Turkish baths, and provided sumptuous meals as well as an orchestra playing chamber music in the lobby. A key player in Dawson's frenzied development, she founded the area's telegraph company and a venture selling much needed boiled and purified water. She also generously supported the charity work undertaken by local churches, despite being dismissive of religion.
Being privy to the latest mining gossip, she accumulated interests in claims from 1897, sometimes by purchase, sometimes by getting a share in return for providing financing or equipment. In 1899 she sold the Grand Forks and leased the Fairview to concentrate on mining the hillsides above Bonanza and Eldorado Creeks. She relished supervising the miners, her ferocity best instanced by a dispute with another operator's foreman that she resolved by clubbing him to the ground. An observer described her as 'Irish – distinctly so – short, dark, angular, masculine, could swear like a trooper' (Armstrong, Yukon yesterdays, 49). Involving generous production bonuses for workers and the use of tram cars to move the dirt, her relatively sophisticated operations flourished. She was worth over $1 million at her peak and hailed as the richest woman in the Klondike.
In October 1899 she embarked on a tour of America and Europe, taking in visits to her family in Archbald and her grandmother in Sligo. Becoming close to her immediate family, she endowed her parents with money and property, and made sure her younger siblings, and later her nieces and nephews, were well educated. By then she was in a relationship with Charles Carbonneau, a Québécois of humble origins posing as a French count. Busily forming Klondike mining ventures for ensnaring distant investors, he was an obvious swindler yet she admired his dash and sophistication, and was lonely after several years of shrewdly avoiding being overfamiliar with her fellow Klondikers. Neither was she above sharp practice, having promoted a dubious mining investment vehicle of her own in 1897 and acted as a front for government officials barred from owning claims. They married in the catholic church near Dawson on 1 October 1900 and spent the subsequent winters travelling Europe at great expense, enabling Charles to canvass banks and investors there.
In 1902 the Carbonneaus accomplished the largest Klondike-related stock floatation yet through their new company, the Gold Run (Klondike) Mining Company, which bought $1.175 million worth of claims at Gold Run Creek, sixty-six miles from Dawson. By summer 1903 Belinda was managing hundreds of employees there, but this venture foundered amid a lack of investors and complaints of broken promises from partners and bankers. During spring 1904 she realised that Charles had only married her for her wealth, the remainder of which he had committed to what proved a failed shipping venture. She returned to the Klondike without him that summer, bidding to salvage something, only to be ousted by the banks from the Gold Run company. Fleeing an impending conviction for fraud in France, Charles stole $17,000 worth of valuables belonging to Belinda and briefly abducted her younger sister Agnes. Belinda never met him after 1904 and obtained a divorce in 1906, passing herself off as a widow long before he died in prison in 1919.
Embroiled in assorted lawsuits and pursued by creditors, she left the Klondike in September 1904 for the new gold mining settlement in Fairbanks, Alaska. Backed financially by her family, who now repaid her earlier generosity, she engaged in prospecting before establishing a bank in 1906 at Dome City, a creek settlement eighteen miles from Fairbanks, in partnership with a miner, Jesse Noble. The Dome City Bank advanced loans but thrived mainly off buying gold dust for onward shipment to the US mint. Recognising that her legal difficulties owed much to her dislike of paperwork, she delegated administrative matters to her sister Margaret, a business school graduate. Animosities arising from the collapse of Noble's marriage to her sister Nell led him to sue Belinda for fraud in October 1907. The case was dropped when Noble bought out Belinda while agreeing to retain her at the bank.
In late November 1908 she resettled in Yakima, Washington, where she bought farmland worth $125,000 and built a turreted stone mansion known as Carbonneau Castle, living there in some style with her parents and several of her siblings. More suited to operating within chaotic gold-rush surrounds, she failed to develop a financially viable orchard on her estate. Likewise, her bid for social respectability was undone by her unladylike proclivities for smoking, gambling, drinking whisky (albeit in moderation) and sitting with her feet on the table. She was also embroiled in a discreditable legal battle with two former business partners who claimed she had established the Dome City Bank with misappropriated funds. Threatening her with financial ruin, the case lasted until 1917 before she triumphed. Furthermore, on 27 January 1911 Noble's new partner at the Dome City Bank, August Ruser, sued her sister Margaret for embezzlement just as another of her sisters, Nell, was pursuing Noble for failing to honour the terms of their divorce settlement. Within days Belinda lured Ruser to a hotel room in Seattle where two men held him down while she horsewhipped him. She pleaded guilty to this and was fined $150; Ruser dropped the case against Margaret.
As the money ran out in the 1920s, she leased Carbonneau Castle and then gradually sold off her Yakima property, moving to a smaller house in Seattle in 1925. There she maintained both herself and family members with the rent from another property and by working as a seamstress. During the second world war she cleaned steel welders in a Seattle shipyard, enjoying it so much that she joined a commercial shipyard following the war. In 1957 she entered a local nursing home, remaining sharp and lively into advanced old age. Latterly she was transferred to a nursing home in Redmond, Washington, eventually dying in the Swedish Hospital, Redmond, on 3 September 1967. Having re-joined the catholic church late in life, she was buried in Holyrood catholic cemetery in King County, Washington. In 1927–8 she reminisced about her life to 1900 in a series of unpublished interviews. The notes are in the Bancroft Library of the University of California, Berkeley. She was played by Abbie Cornish in the American television series Klondike (2014).