Take a Ride on our Hoosegow

"What the heck is a HOOSEGOW?" This is a question many newcomers and tourists ask during Valdez Gold Rush Days. Hoosegow (lovingly pronounced by locals as “who’s cow”) is simply a fancy term for a prison.   The idea for the Valdez Gold Rush Days Hoosegow originated in 1972, when former Fairbanks residents Mac & Sheila MacDonald proposed to the Gold Rush Days committee a traveling jail, similar to the one that bounced around Fairbanks, Alaska during their annual Golden Days celebration. The notion was met with gusto; Owen Johnson donated a single axle snow machine trailer for the cause. Owen and Mac both supplied the lumber, which Mac and Rollie Goebel built into a traveling jail down at Johnson’s Sand & Gravel shop on the Valdez Harbor. The original Hoosegow was used for 2 years.  Calamity struck  when the axle broke during a 1975 Gold Rush Days event- mostly likely due to the over zealous Gold Rush Days CanCan Girls and Keystone Cops.  The break probably was attributed to the practice by “The Girls and Cops” of arresting” townsfolk, supplying them with beer from a keg located inside which resulted in other manners of raucous & celebratory behavior. Mac and Rollie were able to patch it together to make it through that year, but the next year the Hoosegow was upgraded to a double-axle car trailer at the base, rebuilt and painted again at Johnson Sand and Gravel.


Many local businesses of the past and present have had significant stake in the Hoosegow. It has been stored, for free, at Johnson Sand and Gravel, Harris Sand and Gravel, and both Gary Schliesing’s and Bill Crump’s warehouses, during its 46-year history. According to Larry Henson, a former employee at JS&G in the late 1970’s, work was put on hold in the days leading up to Gold Rush Days, so they could get the Hoosegow in top shape for 5 glorious days of Hoosegow fun!

According to former Gold Rush Days member, Scott Smith, there were a few years in the 90’s when the original Hoosegow, as we know it, was unable to be towed around town, due to insurance and permitting issues. However, a little technical hitch like this could not deter the fun of Gold Rush Days. A bus was purchased from Brown Bus lines and brought to town to use as the Hoosegow for 2 years. Scott & Jenni Smith, along with Lori (Plaster) & Jerry Saylors, with the help of their children, painted the bus by hand to spruce it up for the occasion. (Gold Rush Days requests that if you have any pictures of the painted bus Hoosegow, please send a copy to us at valdezgoldrushdays@gmail.com!)


In 2007, the CanCan Madame at the time, Missy Derifield-Kaiser, and her husband, Dennis White, refurbished the Hoosegow, which had been out of commission for a few years. They replaced several wood panels and repainted the trailer. It was during this refreshing that the pole was installed inside the Hoosegow, partly for stability, but primarily for partying.


As for the painting and lovely decals on the Hoosegow, which is currently undergoing it’s 3rd major renovation, we thank Rick Nichols, who has been hand painting the lettering for the past several years. In 2009 the Hoosegow was repainted, and Tim Simpson, along with his 4-year-old son, Jackson, added vinyl lettering and hand painted graphics to the front and side of the trailer. Local artist, Nerine Chaffin, lent her skills on two separate occasions as she hand-painted lovely CanCan girls on the front plexiglass window.

The Hoosegow has just finished its 3rd major renovation this year. Started in 2017 by the Longoria, (Nate) Smith, and Kupczk families, the Hoosegow was torn down to the axles and rebuilt from scratch with time and materials donated by Harris Sand and Gravel. Several of the night-time CanCan girls pitched in the week of Gold Rush Days 2017 to get the Hoosegow ready just in time! Some new highlights from this refurbishment are new and stronger rebar for the jail’s windows, a re-enforced front plexiglass window (which will hopefully stay put and not crack!), and hidden storage spaces in the benches for the CanCan Girls, sheriffs, and Keystone Cops to keep their valuables while prowling the town looking for ne’er-do-wells.

During the summer months the Hoosegow sits quietly waiting on the corner of Tatitlek Ave and Egan Drive for Gold Rush Days to begin. Take a moment this summer to stop by and check it out- or better yet, grab a Jail & Bail Warrant from the Gold Rush Store or website and get yourself arrested for a ride in our world-famous Hoosegow!

Send us your Hoosegow memories  & info