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Captain Dick Stevenson, Inventor of the Yukon’s Legendary Sourtoe Cocktail, Has Died

The inventor of the Sourtoe Cocktail willed his own toes to the Downtown Hotel for use in future drinks, and instructed his daughter how to remove and preserve them.

According to Dick Stevenson, he found the first toe in a cabin he bought in Dawson City in the early 1970s. It turned up in a pickle jar while Stevenson was cleaning out the cabin. A dried up human toe in a jar, frostbitten, supposedly cut off a prospector decades earlier.

Naturally, Stevenson thought it should go in a drink, and that’s how the Sourtoe Cocktail was born.

The mummified toe was placed in a beer glass full of champagne for those brave enough to accept the challenge. But to join the exclusive Sourtoe Cocktail Club at the Downtown Hotel, there is one rule: “You can drink it fast, you can drink it slow, but your lips must touch the toe.”

“I thought maybe only 10 or 12 people would ever do it,” Stevenson said in a 2017 interview.

But now, 50 years later, the club is 90,000 members strong and growing.

Sourtoe Cocktail
The Sourtoe Cocktail

“As a young man, he hitchhiked his way across Canada, working on cattle ranches and in logging and mining camps,” Canada’s CBC writes. “In 1956, he thumbed his way to Yukon and found a home in the Klondike. He worked as a fish warden in Dawson City for a while, but then became Captain Dick when he bought a boat and began offering tours on the Yukon River. He did that until his retirement.”

“Captain Dick was a true colorful five-percenter who changed Dawson’s brand,” Visit Dawson City tweeted. “His legacy is cemented with the Sourtoe Cocktail, but we’ll always remember him for his undying love of Dawson City. Thanks for everything Dick, we’ll toest one for you tonight.”

Over the years, the Downtown Hotel has accepted more than 10 amputated toe donations to help replace those that have been swallowed or stolen. And now, Stevenson’s own big toes will join the collection.

“I’m pretty sure I’m the only daughter in history that has to, following my dad’s will, make sure that his toes are removed and dried and make it up to Dawson City,” Stevenson’s daughter Dixie said. “He kept telling me how I’m supposed to dry his toes. So one day I said, ‘Dad, you have to come so I can type this out, because I’m not going to remember it.”

On her way to pick up containers and pickling salt for her father’s toes, Dixie added, “So as morbid as that sounds, this is what I’ll be doing for the next few weeks.”

Mummified human toe used in the Sourtoe Cocktail
One of the preserved human toes used in the Sourtoe Cocktail

Stevenson, surely an honorary member of the Cult of Weird, spent his final years in the Macauley Lodge Retirement Home with a briefcase. Inside, he kept a leather-bound registry of Sourtoe club members and a small collection of dried human toes.

The Sourtoe Cocktail’s Main Ingredient Was Stolen

Someone stole the mummified human toe used to make the Yukon’s famous Sourtoe Cocktail.
Sourtoe Cocktail
The Sourtoe Cocktail

The Sourdough Saloon, part of the Downtown Hotel in Dawson City, is home to the time-honored tradition of serving up a unique drink for anyone brave enough to try it: The Sourtoe Cocktail. It is a shot of whiskey (usually Yukon Jack) served up with a real, shriveled human toe floating in it. To become a member of the Sourtoe Cocktail Club one must pledge the “Sourtoe Oath” and remember the most important rule: “You can drink it fast, you can drink it slow, but your lips must touch the toe.”

Also, don’t swallow or steal the toe.

Recent: Inventor of the Sourtoe Cocktail dies, leaves toes behind for future drinks

Much to the hotel’s dismay, a customer ordered the drink last Saturday, and then made off with the toe. He convinced a staff member to serve him the drink outside of the designated “toe time,” and then pocketed the severed digit.

The hotel has backups, of course, (because you should always have a few spare toes) but as Terry Lee, the Toe Captain, told the Guardian, “toes are very hard to come by.”

According to the legend, a rum-runner in the 1920s named Louie Linken got frostbite on his big toe during a cross-border delivery. To prevent gangrene, his brother Otto amputated the frozen toe with an axe, and preserved it in a jar of alcohol to commemorate the moment. Years later the toe was discovered in an abandoned cabin and brought to the Downtown where, naturally, it became the primary ingredient in “the most disgusting cocktail in the world.”

The toe was accidentally swallowed seven years later. In 2013 a writer from New Orleans intentionally swallowed the toe and paid the C$500 fine. The hotel then raised the fine to C$2,500. In total, at least 8 other toes have gone missing since the tradition started in 1973, and 10 have been donated. The toe in question is their latest acquisition, donated by a man who had it surgically removed. After six months of being cured in salt, the toe had just made it’s debut that weekend.

Missing toe poster

Fortunately, the thief returned the toe this week. Police were able to track him down because he left his Sourtoe Cocktail Club certificate behind, already filled out with his name on it. He sent the toe back to the hotel in mail along with an apology.

There are over 100,000 members of the Sourtoe Cocktail Club from all over the world. If you can’t make it to Dawson City, here’s the recipe to try at home:

  • 1 ounce (minimum) of alcohol
  • 1 dehydrated toe
  • garnish with courage