I'll never forget our arrival in San Francisco. It was a cool morning and it was April 1, 1897. I remember my first words to Boyle as we stepped out from the station were:
"I hope this doesn't prove an April fool joke." We had been hitting the bumps of misfortune rather too much for comfort, and I hoped that the State of California would treat us better. We went to the California Athletic Club and were greeted by Secretary Hay. After expressing his delight at meeting us he said:
"I'm sorry, gentlemen, but the match is off."
Off!" shouted Boyle and I together.
"Yes," he assured us.
"An April fool joke after all," I lamented.
Hay then told us the story. The club had made an offer to Johnson, who was the same negro who had refused to fight me in Rochester, and he had replied that he would be willing to meet anyone, When they wired that he had been matched with Slavin, the following telegram found its way to Hay:
"Match is off, Johnson."
"Well, we've got to do something for you boys now we've got you out here," volunteered Hay. "Who! would you like to fight? How about Peter Jackson, he's popular here." "Get Jackson by all means," I acquiesced. "There's no man in the world I would rather fight than Jackson."
Hay cabled to Jackson, offering him 10,000 dollars for a fight. Jackson cabled back:
"Yes, who do l fight?"
"Slavin," went back the answer.
There was no farther word from Jackson.
Hay finally got in touch with Joe Butler, a big negro in Philadelphia, whom I had knocked out in two rounds in the East. Butler agreed to a match for 1,000 dollars, win or lose. We entered the ring on May 6 and the bout ended inside the first minute. I had driven Butler to my comer, when I slipped and fell. Jimmy Carroll, one of my seconds, reached inside the rope and pushed me up. The referee immediately awarded the fight to Butler. I protested violently, but the referee, while feeling sorry for me, could not excuse Carroll, who knew that once a fighter was in a ring no one could touch him. These upsets began to turn me sour on fighting, and I knew that I must soon cast my eye on other fields of endeavor. I was now 36 years of age, and my best fighting days were past. I had a family coming on and the prize-ring could not support me much longer. About this time there was a great deal in the papers about mining in the north. Rich strikes were reported in the Yukon, although the information on them was very vague. My lust for the mining creeks began to reassert itself. Had I not turned my thoughts to the prize ring I would undoubtedly have stayed in my native land and mined. But with the championship of the world beyond my grasp, I knew that the next best thing for which I was fitted was mining.
"Let's go North," I said to Boyle one evening.
He was quite willing, and we took passage from San Francisco for Victoria, B.C., where we arrived on May 16, 1897. Although I continued to give exhibition bouts for many years, mining now became my chief delight, and everywhere I went I enquired for news of the Far North. A hotel-keeper told me that the previous winter he had kept between 80,000 and 90,000 dollars in gold in his safe. It had been brought out by men from the Yukon. "It's a rich place, but it's hard to get in there," the hotelkeeper advised me.
After an exhibition bout in Victoria I was introduced to a Jew, who was financially interested in what was to be the town site of Skagway. When he learned of my previous mining experience and my great desire to go to the Yukon he made a proposition to me. At that time the only way in to Lake Bennett and Dawson was from Juneau. This Jew, along with Captain Moore, believed that there was a shorter and better route from the head of Lynn Canal They offered to finance an expedition over this route if Boyle and I would lead it. We agreed. As none of the steamers went to Skagway, we disembarked at Juneau. When it was noised about that I was in town I was asked to give an exhibition, and Boyle said he would go on with me.
Juneau at that time was the wildest town I had ever been in. Every man carried a gun and a knife, and they were all hard men. They had to be hard and tough, or the North would soon squash out their hopes and lives. It seemed to me that there was a murder every night. Although lawlessness reigned, the sheriff came out flat-footed against such an affair as a boxing bout. He was offended at our neglect to see him about a permit. But we never thought for a minute that permits would be needed there. The miners in Juneau were greatly interested in our expedition to reach Lake Bennett from Skagway. Several parties wagered that they would get ahead of us. We had a dangerous run from Juneau to Skagway, our boat being so heavily laden that it almost sank. Skagway consisted of a small saw-mill, a store, and a few cabins. With our expedition ready, Boyle and I set off from Skagway to map out the trail over which the White Pass and Yukon railway was later to be built. Thousands of tourists each year make the trip over the very ground that we tramped nearly 30 years ago. From the window of a railway coach the country looks dangerous, difficult, and beautiful, but for I one who had to make the journey on foot it was tedious, tiresome, and treacherous, especially with the end of a 20-foot canoe on your shoulder.
The White, Pass route, however, did not prove to be quite so easy as our promoters had told us. We had expected to reach the summit in one day, but instead were two and a half days getting there. We had 25 horses to carry our stuff, but the dangerous footing, the narrow gorges, with their swift turns, and the muskeg retarded us. When we reached the summit Boyle and I climbed to the highest pinnacle, and we were able to make out Lake Bennett and Lake Linderman. We felt certain that we could put the trail through so we sent word back to Skagway by "Long-Short," our teamster, who was 6 feet 6 inches tall and about 4 inches in circumference, to send up 20 men. When the men arrived we rushed the trail through to completion. On reaching Lake Bennett I met a newspaperman from San Francisco, who communicated to the outside world news of my latest exploit. This brought to the attention of the flock of miners who were to rush in to the Yukon the following year, the information that they could use a new port known as Skagway. For some inexplicable reason news was also flashed to the outside world that I had been lost and found dead. One dispatch said that my body had been found "frozen among the icebergs." Yet it was mid-summer and the sun shone throughout the 24 hours. Men were located who had seen my body on the "ice bergs," and could prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that I had passed the Great Divide. Despite the fact that the newspapers on the outside devoted much space to my obituary notice, and that my wife in London was put to great anguish, I continued to live happily in the wilds of the Northland. Strange as it may seem, my wife refused to believe that I had died. She was sure she would have had some mental image if I had passed along. For two months she held stoutly to her belief, and did not wear the widow's weeds which were customary in that day. She read the great tributes to my skill and courage in the London papers. One of the big news agencies agreed to check up on all details of the story. They traced me until they found the men who said they had seen my dead body stretched out on the "icebergs."
"I'm afraid it's true," the manager of the agency told Mrs. Slavin. "We've checked up completely, and find that Frank has gone.
Mrs. Slavin then put on hear "weeds" and wore them for three months. I was totally ignorant of my "death" until I was on my way to the outside. On the boat coming south from Skagway a man who had mourned me as dead exhibited signs of alarm.
"You're not Slavin? Can't be? A regular double," he raced on excitedly.
"Yes, I'm Slavin." I assured him. He then told me of the reports concerning my death. This greatly upset me, and as soon as I reached Victoria I cabled the rejoicing news of my return to the land of the living to Mrs. Slavin in London.
The Register (Adelaide, South Australia), March 27, 1926.