After placing her kids in the care of friends in Seattle, Washington, Harriet Pullen
traveled to Skagway seeking to settle in and make a living to support her four
children. She arrived there with just $7.00 in her pockets. Captain William Moore, a
founder of Skagway, hired her almost immediately to cook, at $3.00 a day, for his
pier-building crew. A wily entrepreneur, she used her spare time to collect empty tin
cans, which she beat into pie pans. Before long, she was making a good profit by
selling apple pies to stampeders. As the crowds flooded the town, she recognized that
the real money was to be made not in looking for gold miles away, but by tending to the
needs of stampeders on their way into the fields. She used her pie money to set up a
freighting business. She still owned seven horses from her farm at Cape Flattery,
Washington, and sent for them. Her freighting outfit over the White Pass trail was
successful from the start, bringing her as much as $25 a day.
When freighting stopped paying off, Pullen used some of her profits to open a hotel.
She bought Captain Moore's home and turned it into the Pullen House Hotel, which she
opened a year after she arrived. Her businesses were extremely profitable and before
long she was able to send for her children. The hotel-keeper became famous for her
hospitality, and became known as "Ma" Pullen.
Harriet's neighbors believed her to be a widow - either by assumption, or her own claim.
But, after she had achieved success with her freighting company and hotel, her husband
arrived in town. Instead of staying and demanding part of her Skagway profits, Harriet
Pullen's husband decided to seek his fortune in the Klondike. Harriet remained in
Alaska, transforming Pullen House into an elegant hotel filled with the finest china
and silver, soft beds and what was a supreme luxury for the time, bathtubs. Harriet
Pullen was a strong supporter of Skagway's gold rush history. As the town waned in the
1930s, she continued to collect gold rush memorabilia and artifacts. During tourist
seasons, she personally greeted each boatload of visitors, regaling them with stories
of the town's wild history. "Ma" Pullen died on August 9, 1947 and was buried near the
site of her hotel.
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