A WOMAN WHO WENT —— TO ALASKA
By May Kellogg Sullivan
Boston: James H. Earle & Company 178 Washington Street
Copyright, 1902 By MAY KELLOGG SULLIVAN
All Rights Reserved
I Under Way 9 II Midnight on a Yukon Steamer 19 III Dawson 28 IV The Rush 36 V At The Arctic Circle 48 VI Companions 58 VII Going to Nome 78 VIII Fresh Danger 81 IX Nome 94 X The Four Sisters 109 XI Life in a Mining Camp 131 XII Bar-Room Disturbances 149 XIII Off For Golovin Bay 162 XIV Life at Golovin 184 XV Winter in the Mission 199 XVI The Retired Sea Captain 215 XVII How the Long Days Passed 231 XVIII Swarming 247 XIX New Quarters 261 XX Christmas in Alaska 275 XXI My First Gold Claims 292 XXII The Little Sick Child 311 XXIII Lights and Shadows of the Mining Camp 325 XXIV An Unpleasant Adventure 340 XXV Stones and Dynamite 354 XXVI Good-bye to Golovin Bay 374 XXVII Going Outside 379
Obvious printer errors have been corrected. All other inconsistencies remain as printed.
A list of illustrations, though not present in the original, has been provided below:
MAY KELLOGG SULLIVAN IN ALASKA DRESS. DAWSON, Y. T. CITY HALL AT SKAGWAY. PORCUPINE CANYON, WHITE PASS. MILES CANYON. UPPER YUKON STEAMER. FIVE FINGER RAPIDS. GOING TO DAWSON IN WINTER. A KLONDYKE CLAIM. EAGLE CITY, ON THE YUKON, IN 1899. YUKON STEAMER "HANNAH." FELLOW TRAVELERS. ESKIMOS. UNALASKA. STEAMSHIP ST. PAUL. NOME. LIFE AT NOME. CLAIM NUMBER NINE, ANVIL CREEK. CLAIM NUMBER FOUR, ANVIL CREEK, NOME. MAP OF ALASKA. ESKIMO DOGS. WINTER PROSPECTING. AT CHINIK. THE MISSION. CLAIM ON BONANZA CREEK. ON BONANZA CREEK. SKAGWAY RIVER, FROM THE TRAIN.
This unpretentious little book is the outcome of my own experiences and adventures in Alaska. Two trips, covering a period of eighteen months and a distance of over twelve thousand miles were made practically alone.
In answer to the oft-repeated question of why I went to Alaska I can only give the same reply that so many others give: I wanted to go in search of my fortune which had been successfully eluding my grasp for a good many years. Neither home nor children claimed my attention. No good reason, I thought, stood in the way of my going to Alaska; for my husband, traveling constantly at his work had long ago allowed me carte blanche as to my inclinations and movements. To be sure, there was no money in the bank upon which to draw, and an account with certain friends whose kindness and generosity cannot be forgotten, was opened up to pay passage money; but so far neither they nor I have regretted making the venture.
I had first-class health and made up in endurance what I lacked in avoirdupois, along with a firm determination to take up the first honest work that presented itself, regardless of choice, and in the meantime to secure a few gold claims, the fame of which had for two years reached my ears.
In regard to the truthfulness of this record I have tried faithfully to relate my experiences as they took place. Not all, of course, have been included, for numerous and varied trials came to me, of which I have not written, else a far more thrilling story could have been told.
Enough has, however, been noted to give my readers a fair idea of a woman's life during a period of eighteen months in a few of the roughest mining camps in the world; and that many may be interested, and to some extent possibly instructed by the perusal of my little book, is the sincere wish of the author.
MAY KELLOGG SULLIVAN.
A WOMAN WHO WENT—TO ALASKA.
My first trip from California to Alaska was made in the summer of 1899. I went alone to Dawson to my father and brother, surprising them greatly when I quietly walked up to shake hands with them at their work. The amazement of my father knew no bounds,—and yet I could see a lot of quiet amusement beneath all when he introduced me to his friends, which plainly said:
"Here is my venturesome daughter, who is really a 'chip off the old block,' so you must not be surprised at her coming to Alaska."
Father had gone to the Klondyke a year before at the age of sixty-four, climbing Chilkoot Pass in the primitive way and "running" Miles Canyon and White Horse Rapids in a small boat which came near being swamped in the passage.
My brother's entrance to the famous gold fields was made in the same dangerous manner a year before; but I had waited until trains over the White Pass and Yukon Railroad had been crossing the mountains daily for two weeks before myself attempting to get into Alaska's interior. At that time it was only a three hours' ride, including stops, over the Pass to Lake Bennett, the terminus of this new railroad, the first in Alaska. A couple of rude open flat cars with springless seats along the sides were all the accommodation we had as passengers from the summit of White Pass to Lake Bennett; we having paid handsomely for the privilege of riding in this manner and thinking ourselves fortunate, considering the fact that our route was, during the entire distance of about forty-five miles, strewn with the bleaching bones of earlier argonauts and their beasts of burden.
Naturally, my traveling companions interested me exceedingly. There were few women. Two ladies with their husbands were going to Dawson on business. About eight or ten other women belonging to the rapid class of individuals journeyed at the same time. We had all nationalities and classes. There were two women from Europe with luggage covered with foreign stickers, and a spoken jargon which was neither German nor French, but sounded like a clever admixture of both.
Then there was the woman who went by the name of Mrs. Somebody or other who wore a seal-skin coat, diamond earrings and silver-mounted umbrella. She had been placed in the same stateroom with me on the steamer at Seattle, and upon making her preparations to retire for the night had offered me a glass of brandy, while imbibing one herself, which I energetically, though politely, refused. At midnight a second woman of the same caste had been ushered into my room to occupy the third and last berth, whereupon next morning I had waited upon the purser of the ship, and modestly but firmly requested a change of location. In a gentlemanly way he informed me that the only vacant stateroom was a small one next the engine room below, but if I could endure the noise and wished to take it, I could do so. I preferred the proximity and whirr of machinery along with closer quarters to the company of the two adventuresses, so while both women slept late next morning I quietly and thankfully moved all my belongings below. Here I enjoyed the luxury of a room by myself for forty-eight hours, or until we reached Skagway, completely oblivious to the fact that never for one instant did the pounding of the great engines eight feet distant cease either day or night.
A United States Judge, an English aristocrat and lady, a Seattle lawyer, sober, thoughtful and of middle age, who had been introduced to me by a friend upon sailing, and who kindly kept me in sight when we changed steamers or trains on the trip without specially appearing to do so; a nice old gentleman going to search for the body of his son lost in the Klondyke River a few weeks before, and a good many rough miners as well as nondescripts made up our unique company to Dawson. Some had been over the route before when mules and horses had been the only means of transportation over the Passes, and stories of the trials and dangers of former trips were heard upon deck each day, with accompaniments of oaths and slang phrases, and punctuated by splashes of tobacco juice.
On the voyage to Skagway there was little seasickness among the passengers, as we kept to the inland passage among the islands. At a short distance away we viewed the great Treadwell gold mines on Douglass Island, and peered out through a veil of mist and rain at Juneau under the hills. Here we left a few of our best and most pleasant passengers, and watched the old Indian women drive sharp bargains in curios, beaded moccasins, bags, etc., with tourists who were impervious to the great rain drops which are here always falling as easily from the clouds as leaves from a maple tree in October.
Our landing at Skagway under the towering mountains upon beautiful Lynn Canal was more uneventful than our experience in the Customs House at that place, for we were about to cross the line into Canadian territory. Here we presented an interesting and animated scene. Probably one hundred and fifty persons crowded the small station and baggage room, each one pushing his way as far as possible toward the officials, who with muttered curses hustled the tags upon each box and trunk as it was hastily unlocked and examined. Ropes and straps were flung about the floor, bags thrown with bunches of keys promiscuously, while transfer men perspiring from every pore tumbled great mountains of luggage hither and thither.
Two ponderous Germans there were, who, in checked steamer caps enveloped in cigar smoke of the best brand, protested vigorously at the opening of their trunks by the officers, but their protests seemed only the more to whet the appetites of these dignitaries. The big Germans had their revenge, however. In the box of one of these men was found with other things a lot of Limburger cheese, the pungent odor of which drove the women screaming to the doors, and men protesting indignantly after them; while those unable to reach the air prayed earnestly for a good stiff breeze off Lynn Canal to revive them. The Germans laughed till tears ran down their cheeks, and cheerfully paid the duty imposed.
Skagway was interesting chiefly from its historical associations as a port where so many struggling men had landed, suffered and passed on over that trail of hardship and blood two years before.
Our little narrow gauge coaches were crowded to their utmost, men standing in aisles and on platforms, and sitting upon wood boxes and hand luggage near the doors.
It was July, and the sight of fresh fruit in the hands of those lunching in the next seat almost brought tears to my eyes, for we were now going far beyond the land of fruits and all other delicacies.
"Pick it up, old man, pick it up and eat it," said one rough fellow of evident experience in Alaska to one who had dropped a cherry upon the floor, "for you won't get another while you stay in this country, if it is four years!"
"But," said another, "he can eat 'Alaska strawberries' to his heart's content, summer and winter, and I'll be bound when he gets home to the States he won't thank anyone for puttin' a plate of beans in front of him, he'll be that sick of 'em! I et beans or 'Alaska strawberries' for nine months one season, day in and day out, and I'm a peaceable man, but at the end of that time I'd have put a bullet through the man who offered me beans to eat, now you can bet your life on that! Don't never insult an old timer by puttin' beans before him, is my advice if you do try to sugar-coat 'em by calling 'em strawberries!" and the man thumped his old cob pipe with force enough upon the wood box to empty the ashes from its bowl and to break it into fragments had it not been well seasoned.
Upon the summit of White Pass we alighted from the train and boarded another. This time it was the open flat cars, and the Germans came near being left. As the conductor shouted "all aboard" they both scrambled, with great puffing and blowing owing to their avoirdupois, to the rear end of the last car, and with faces purple from exertion plumped themselves down almost in the laps of some women who were laughing at them.
We had now a dizzy descent to make to Lake Bennett. Conductor and brakeman were on the alert. With their hands upon the brakes these men stood with nerves and muscles tense. All talking ceased. Some of us thought of home and loved ones, but none flinched. Slowly at first, then faster and faster the train rolled over the rails until lakes, hills and mountains fairly flew past us as we descended. At last the train's speed was slackened, and we moved more leisurely along the foot of the mountains. We were in the beautiful green "Meadows" where pretty and fragrant wild flowers nodded in clusters among the tall grass.
At Bennett our trunks were again opened, and we left the train. We were to take a small steamer down the lakes and river for Dawson. We were no longer crowded, as passengers scattered to different boats, some going east to Atlin. With little trouble I secured a lodging for one night with the stewardess of the small steamer which would carry us as far as Miles Canyon or the Camp, Canyon City. From there we were obliged to walk five miles over the trail. It was midsummer, and the woods through which we passed were green. Wild flowers, grasses and moss carpeted our path which lay along the eastern bank of the great gorge called Miles Canyon, only at times winding away too far for the roar of its rushing waters to reach our ears. No sound of civilization came to us, and no life was to be seen unless a crow chanced to fly overhead in search of some morsel of food. Large forest trees there were none. Tall, straight saplings of poplar, spruce and pine pointed their slender fingers heavenward, and seemed proudly to say:
"See what fortitude we have to plant ourselves in this lonely Northland with our roots and sap ice-bound most of the year. Do you not admire us?" And we did admire wonderingly. Then, again, nearing the banks of Miles Canyon we forged our way on up hill and down, across wet spots, over boulders and logs, listening to the roar of the mighty torrent dashing between towering, many-colored walls of rock, where the volume of water one hundred feet in width with a current of fifteen miles an hour, and a distance of five-eighths of a mile rushes insistently onward, as it has, no doubt, done for ages past. Then at last widening, this torrent is no longer confined by precipitous cliffs but between sparsely wooded banks, and now passes under the name of "White Horse Rapids," from so strangely resembling white horses as the waters are dashed over and about the huge boulders in mid-stream. Here many of the earlier argonauts found watery graves as they journeyed in small boats or rafts down the streams to the Klondyke in their mad haste to reach the newly discovered gold fields.
After leaving White Horse Rapids we traveled for days down the river. My little stateroom next the galley or kitchen of the steamer was frequently like an oven, so great was the heat from the big cooking range. The room contained nothing but two berths, made up with blankets and upon wire springs, and the door did not boast of a lock of any description. Upon application to the purser for a chair I received a camp stool. Luckily I had brushes, combs, soap and towels in my bag, for none of these things were furnished with the stateroom. In the stern of the boat there was a small room where tin wash basins and roller towels awaited the pleasure of the women passengers, the water for their ablutions being kept in a barrel, upon which hung an old dipper. To clean one's teeth over the deck rail might seem to some an unusual undertaking, but I soon learned to do this with complacency, it being something of gain not to lose sight of passing scenery while performing the operation.
At Lake La Barge we enjoyed a magnificent panorama. Bathed in the rosy glow of a departing sunset, this beautiful body of water sparkled like diamonds on all sides of us. Around us on every hand lay the green and quiet hills. Near the waters' edge they appeared a deep green, but grew lighter in the distance. Long bars of crimson, grey and gold streaked the western horizon, while higher up tints of purple and pink blended harmoniously with the soft blue sky. As the sun slowly settled the colors deepened. Darker and darker they grew. The warm soft glow had departed, and all was purple and black, including the waters beneath us; and as we passed through the northern end or outlet of the lake into Thirty Mile River we seemed to be entering a gate, so narrow did the entrance to the river appear between the hills.
At night our steamer was frequently tied up to a wood pile along the banks of the river. No signs of civilization met our eyes, except, perhaps, a rude log hut or cabin among the trees, where at night, his solitary candle twinkling in his window and his dogs baying at the moon, some lonely settler had established himself.
The Semenow Hills country is a lonely one. Range upon range of rolling, partly wooded, hills meet the eye of the traveler until it grows weary and seeks relief in sleep.
Five Finger Rapids was the next point of interest on our route, and I am here reminded of a short story which is not altogether one of fiction, and which is entitled: Midnight on a Yukon Steamer.
MIDNIGHT ON A YUKON STEAMER.
The bright and yellow full moon drifted slowly upward. The sun had just set at nine in the evening, casting a warm and beautiful glow over all the lonely landscape, for it was the most dreary spot in all the dreary wilderness through which the mighty Yukon passes.
The steamer had tied up for wood, and now the brawny stevedores with blackened hands and arms were pitching it to the deck.
To the passengers, of whom there were a goodly number, time hung heavily, and the younger ones had proposed a dance. Musical instruments were not numerous, but such as there were, were brought out, and two non-professionals with an accordion and a banjo, were doing their very best.
A small number of sober ones were to be seen on deck pacing restlessly back and forth, for the ruthless mosquito was distinctly on evidence, and threatened to outgeneral the quiet ones, if not the orchestra and the hilarious dancers.
On the upper deck, a lady, clad in warm cloak and thick veil, walked tirelessly to and fro. A big stump-tailed dog of the Malemute tribe at times followed at her heels, but when she had patted his head and spoken kindly to him he appeared satisfied, and lay down again with his head between his paws. Then sounds from the dancers below, the shrill laughter of the women mingled with the strum of the banjo and the wheezy accordion seemed to disturb the dog's slumber, and he would again pace up and down at the lady's heels.
At times there would come a lull in the tumult, and the click of the glasses or crash of a fallen pitcher would make a variety of entertainment for the lady and her dog on the upper deck; but the short and dusky midnight was well passed before the dancing ceased and partial quiet and order were restored.
Two figures remained near the stern of the boat. One, a young woman with a profusion of long auburn hair, the other a man with flushed face and thick breath.
"I cannot tell now which one it will be," said the girl coquettishly, "but if you wait you will see."
"No more waitin' in it," he growled. "I have waited long enough, and too long, and you must choose between us now. You know we will soon be at 'Five Fingers,' and you must be good or they may get you," with a wicked leer and clutch at her arm calculated to startle her as she carelessly sat on the deck rail.
"I'm not afraid of 'Five Fingers' or any other fingers, and I'm not afraid of your two hands either," making her muscles very tense, and sitting rigidly upright, "and you can't scare me a bit; I'll do as I like, so there!"
By this time the moon shone high above the tops of the tall slender pines, and spread its soft light over all the swift and swirling waters. To the west, the hills faded first from green to blue, then to purple, and lastly to black, silhouetted as they were against the quiet sky.
The swift flowing current pushed the waters up among the weeds and bushes along the river's edge and the loose rocks were washed quite smooth. Now and then might be heard the bark of a wood-chopper's dog stationed outside his master's cabin, and the steady thud of the steamer never stopped. At two o'clock it was growing light again, and still the young man pleaded with the girl on the deck. She was stubborn and silent.
Swiftly now the boat neared the "Five Fingers." Only a few miles remained before the huge boulders forming the narrow and tortuous channels called the "Five Fingers" would be reached, and the face of the pilot was stern. It was a most dangerous piece of water and many boats had already been wrecked at this point.
Suddenly above the noise of the waters and the steamer's regular breathing there arose on the quiet air a shrill shriek at the stern of the boat.
The lady on the upper deck had retired. The captain was sleeping off his too frequent potations, and only the pilot on the lookout knew that the scream came from a woman; but it was not repeated.
The pilot's assistant was off watch, and his own duty lay at the wheel; so it happened that a guilty man who had been standing by the deck rail crept silently, unnoticed, and now thoroughly sobered, to his stateroom.
His companion was nowhere to be seen.
A small steamer following next day in the wake of the first boat, came to Five Finger Rapids.
"See the pretty red seaweed on the rocks, mamma," cried a little boy, pointing to the low ledge on the bank of the east channel.
Those who looked in the direction indicated by the boy saw, as the steamer crept carefully up to the whirlpool, a woman's white face in the water, above which streamed a mass of long auburn hair, caught firmly on the rocks.
Standing by the side of his pilot, the captain's keen eye caught sight of the head and hair.
"It's only Dolly Duncan," he said, with a shrug of his shoulders. "No one else has such hair; but it's no great loss anyway; there are many more of such as she, you know."
By this time we had passed the Hootalingua, Big Salmon, Little Salmon and Lewes rivers, and were nearing the mouth of Pelley River, all flowing into one stream from the east and uniting to form the Upper Yukon. Many smaller rivers and creeks from the west as well as the east empty into this river which gathers momentum and volume constantly until it reaches a swiftness of five miles an hour between Five Finger Rapids and Fort Selkirk.
This latter fort is an old Canadian Post where mounted police and other officers and soldiers are stationed. Never shall I forget my first experience at Fort Selkirk. We arrived about one o'clock in the afternoon and were told that our steamer would remain there an hour, giving us all a chance to run about on shore for a change. Taking my sunshade, and attracted by the wide green fields dotted with pretty wild flowers of various colors, I rambled around alone for an hour, all the time keeping our steamer in plain sight not many hundred yards away. Curious to learn the meaning of a group of peculiar stakes driven into the ground, some of which were surrounded by rude little fences, I made my way in a narrow path through the deep grass to the place, and soon discovered an Indian burial ground. There were, perhaps, twenty little mounds or graves, a few much sunken below the level as if made long years before, but all were marked in some manner by rude head boards.
These were notched, and had at one time been fancifully stained or colored by the Ayan Indians, the stains and funny little inscriptions being, for the most part, obliterated by the elements. Dainty wild roses here nodded gracefully to each other, their pretty blooms being weighted down at times by some venturesome, big honey bee or insolent fly; both insects with many others, some of them unknown to me, buzzing contentedly in the sunshine overhead.
Daisies and buttercups grew wild. Flowering beans and peas trailed their sprays upon the ground. Blue bells, paint brush, and other posies fairly bewildered me, so surprised was I to find them here in this far Northland. Without this happiness and cheer given me by my sweet little floral friends I might not have been so well prepared to endure the rudeness that was awaiting me.
Upon my return to the steamer I found all in confusion. I could see no signs of departure and no one of whom I cared to make inquiries. Men and women were coming and going, but none appeared sober, while many with flushed faces were loudly laughing and joking. A few Canadian police in red coats scattered here and there were fully as rollicking as any, and the steamer's captain and purser, arm in arm with a big, burly Canadian official, were as drunk as bad liquor could well make them.
Going to my stateroom I sat down to read, and, if possible, hide my anxiety. As there was no window or other ventilator, and it was a warm day, I could not close the door. While sitting thus the doorway was darkened, and looking up I saw before me the drunken Canadian official, leering at me with a horrible grin, and just about to speak.
At that instant there stepped to his side the tall form of the only really sober man on board—the Seattle lawyer, who, in his most dignified manner motioned the officer on, and he went; the gentlemanly lawyer, tossing his half-consumed cigar overboard in an emphatic way as if giving vent to his inward perturbation, marched moodily on. Catching a glimpse of his face as he passed, I concluded that the situation was fully as bad or worse than I had at first feared. Already we had been several hours at Fort Selkirk and should have been miles on toward Dawson.
The captain and crew were too drunk to know what they were doing, and they were hourly growing more so. Many were gambling and drinking in the salon or dining room and others came from the liquor store on shore a few rods away. The voices of the women were keyed to the highest pitch as they shouted with laughter at the rough jokes or losing games of the men, while red-faced, perspiring waiters hurried back and forth with trays laden with bottles and glasses. Now and then the crash of a fallen pitcher or plate, followed by the shrieks of the women would reach me, and looking through the great cracks in the board partition which was the only thing separating me from the drunken crowd, I could see most of the carousal, for such it now was.
My anxiety increased. I feared the danger of a night on board in a tiny stateroom, without lock or weapon, and entirely alone.
"Mr. H——," said I quietly, a little later, to the man from Seattle, as I stepped up to him while he smoked near the deck rail. "When do you think the steamer will leave this place?"
"Tomorrow, most likely," in a tone of deep disgust.
"Do you not think that the captain will push on tonight?" I asked in great anxiety.
"I doubt if there is a man on board with enough sense left to run the engine, and the captain—look there!" pointing to a maudlin and dishevelled Canadian wearing a captain's cap, and just then trying to preserve his equilibrium on a wooden settle near the railing. "It would be a blessing if the brute tumbled overboard, and we were well rid of him," said the gentleman savagely in a low tone. Then, seeing my consternation, he added: "I'll see what can be done, however," and I returned to my room.
What should I do! I knew of no place of safety on shore for me during the night if the steamer remained, and I dared not stay in my stateroom. I had no revolver, no key to my door. I might be murdered before morning, and my friends would never know what had become of me. There was no one on board to whom I could appeal but the lawyer, and he might be powerless to protect me in such a drunken rabble. With a prayer in my heart I made my nerves as tense as possible and shut my teeth tightly together. It was best to appear unconcerned. I did it. Suggesting away all fright from my face I watched proceedings in the dining room through the cracks in the wall. It was a sight such as I had never before seen. It was six o'clock and dinner was being served by the flushed and flustered waiters. Probably a hundred persons sat at the tables in all stages of intoxication. Hilarity ran high. Most of them were wildly jolly and gushingly full of good will; but all seemed hungry, and the odors from the kitchen were appetizing.
I now hoped that the dinner, and especially the hot tea and coffee would restore some of these people to their senses in order that they might get up steam in the engines and pull out of this terrible place before they were too far gone. Dinner was well over in the dining room and I had not yet eaten. A waiter passed my door. He stopped.
"Have you eaten dinner?"
"No, I have not."
"Don't you want some?"
"Well, yes. I think I could eat something."
"I'll bring you some." And he was gone.
A few minutes later he entered my stateroom with a big tray, and putting it upon the edge of the upper berth he left me. I ate my dinner from the tray while standing, and felt better.
An hour afterward the drunken officials had been coaxed into going ashore; the furnace in the engine room was crammed with wood; the partially sobered pilot resumed his place at the wheel; the captain had pulled himself together as best he could under the threats of the lawyer from Seattle, and the steamer moved away from the bank, going with the current swiftly towards Dawson. Nothing of further importance occurred until next morning when our steamer pulled up alongside the dock at Dawson. It was Monday morning, the thirtieth of July, 1899, and the weather was beautifully clear. I had been fourteen days coming from Seattle. Hundreds of people waited upon the dock to see us land, and to get a glimpse of a new lot of "Chechakos," as all newcomers are called.
Soon after landing I met upon the street an old Seattle friend of my parents, who knew me instantly and directed me to my father. This man's kind offer to look up my baggage was accepted, and I trudged down through the town towards the Klondyke River, where my father and brother lived. I had no difficulty in finding father, and after the first surprise and our luncheon were over we proceeded to find my brother at his work. His astonishment was as great as my father's, and I cannot truthfully state that either of them were overcome with joy at seeing me in Dawson. At any other time or place they undoubtedly would have been delighted, but they were too well acquainted with conditions to wish another member of their family there in what was probably then the largest and roughest mining camp in the world. The situation that presented itself was this. Instead of finding my relatives comfortably settled in a large and commodious log cabin of their own on the banks of the Klondyke River, as they had written they were, I found them in the act of moving all their belongings into a big covered scow or barge drawn close to the river bank and securely fastened. Cooking utensils, boxes, bags of provisions consisting of flour, beans and meal, as well as canned goods of every description, along with firewood and numerous other things, were dumped in one big heap upon the banks of the Klondyke River near the barge.
The small sheet iron box with door and lid, called a Yukon stove, had been set up close in one corner of the living room, which in size was about eight by ten feet. Two bunks, one above the other in the opposite corner, had been lately constructed by father, who at the moment of my arrival was busy screwing a small drop leaf to the wall to be used as a dining table when supported by a couple of rather uncertain adjustable legs underneath.
The meaning of all this commotion was not long to find. Father and brother had, along with many more as peaceable and law-abiding citizens, been ordered out of their log cabins, built at a great out-lay of time, money and strength, so that their homes should be pulled down in accordance with an order given by the Governor. This land, as the city had grown, had increased in value and was coveted by those high in authority. No redress was made the settlers, no money was paid them, nothing for them but insulting commands and black looks from the Canadian police enforcing the order of the governor.
"Never again," said my father repeatedly, "will I build or own a home in the Klondyke. This scow will shelter me until I make what money I want, and then good-bye to such a country and its oppressive officials."
Other men cursed and swore, and mutterings of a serious nature were heard; but there was nothing to be done, and the row of comfortable, completed log cabins was torn down, and we settled ourselves elsewhere by degrees. A bunk with calico curtains hung around it was made for me, and I was constituted cook of the camp. Then such a scouring of tins, kettles and pails as I had! Shelves were nailed in place for all such utensils, and a spot was found for almost everything, after which the struggle was begun to keep these things in their places. Then I baked and boiled and stewed and patched and mended, between times writing in my note book, sending letters to friends or taking kodak pictures.
I was now living in a new world! Nothing like the town of Dawson had I ever seen. Crooked, rough and dirty streets; rude, narrow board walks or none at all; dog-teams hauling all manner of loads on small carts, and donkeys or "burros" bowing beneath great loads of supplies starting out on the trail for the gold mines.
"Don't do that!" shouted a man to me one day, as I attempted to "snap-shot" his pack train of twenty horses and mules as they passed us. Two of the animals had grown tired and attempted to lie down, thus causing the flour sacks with which they were loaded to burst open and the flour to fly in clouds around them. "Don't do that," he entreated, "for we are having too much trouble!"
Some of the drivers were lashing the mules to make them rise, and this spread a panic through most of the train, so that one horse, evidently new to the business and not of a serious turn of mind, ran swiftly away, kicking up his heels in the dust behind him. There were also hams and sides of bacon dangling in greasy yellow covers over the backs of the pack animals, along with "grub" boxes and bags of canned goods of every description. Pick axes, shovels, gold pans and Yukon stoves with bundles of stove pipe tied together with ropes, rolls of blankets, bedding, rubber boots, canvas tents, ad infinitum.
There was one method used by "packers," as the drivers of these pack trains were called, which worked well in some instances. If the animals of his train were all sober and given to honestly doing their work, then the halter or rope around the neck of a mule could be tied to the tail of the one preceding him, and so on again until they were all really hitched together tandem. But woe unto the poor brute who was followed by a balky fellow or a shirk! The consequences were, at times, under certain circumstances, almost too serious to be recounted in this story, at least this can be said of the emphatic language used by the packers in such predicament.
One warm, bright day soon after my arrival in Dawson, and when order had been brought out of chaos in the scow—our home—I went to call upon an old friend, formerly of Seattle. Carrie N. was three or four years younger than myself, had been a nurse for a time after the death of her husband, but grew tired of that work, and decided in the winter of 1897 and 1898 to go into the Klondyke. A party of forty men and women going to Dawson was made up in Seattle, and she joined them. For weeks they were busily engaged in making their preparations. Living near me, as she did at the time, I was often with Carrie N. and was much interested in her movements and accompanied her to the Alaska steamer the day she sailed. It was the little ship "Alki" upon which she went away, and it was crowded with passengers and loaded heavily with freight for the trip to Dyea, as Skagway and the dreaded White Pass had been voted out of the plans of the Seattle party of forty.
Now in Dawson I called upon Carrie N. eighteen months later, and heard her tell the story of her trip to the Klondyke. They had landed, she said, at Dyea from the "Alki" with their many tons of provisions and supplies, all of which had to be dumped upon the beach where no dock or wharf had ever been constructed. Here with dog-teams and sleds, a few horses and men "packers," their supplies were hauled up the mountain as far as "Sheep Camp," some ten miles up the mountain side. It was early springtime and the snow lay deep upon the mountains and in the gorges, which, in the vicinity of Chilkoot Pass at the summit of the mountain are frightfully high and precipitous.
The weather was not cold, and the moving of this large party of forty persons with their entire outfit was progressing as favorably as could be expected. A camp had been made at Dyea as the base of operations; another was made at Sheep Camp. At each place the women of the party did the cooking in tents while men gathered wood, built fires, and brought water. Other men worked steadily at the hauling, and most of their supplies had already been transported to the upper camp; when there occurred a tragedy so frightful as to make itself a part of never-to-be-forgotten Alaskan history.
It was on Sunday, and a snow storm was raging, but the weather was warm. Hundreds of people thronged the trails both going up and coming down the mountain in their effort to quickly transport their outfits over to the other side, and thus make the best possible time in reaching the gold fields. Here a difference of opinion arose among the people of our Seattle party, for some, more daring than the others, wished to push on over the summit regardless of the storm; while the more cautious ones demurred and held back, thinking it the part of discretion to wait for better weather. A few venturesome ones kept to their purpose and started on ahead, promising to meet the laggards at Lake Bennett with boats of their own making in which to journey down the river and lakes to Dawson.
Their promises were never fulfilled.
While they, in company with hundreds of others as venturesome, trudged heavily up the narrow trail, a roar as of an earthquake suddenly sounded their death-knell. Swiftly down the mountain side above them tore the terrible avalanche, a monster formation of ice, snow and rock, the latter loosened and ground off the face of old Chilkoot by the rushing force of the moving snowslide urged on by a mighty wind. In an instant's time a hundred men and women were brushed, like flies from a ceiling, off the face of the mountain into their death below, leaving a space cleared of all to the bare earth where only a few seconds before had stood the patient toilers on the trail.
Only one thing remained for the living to do, and that was to drop all else and rescue, if possible, the dying and engulfed ones. This they did. When the wind had died away the snow in the air cleared, and hundreds of men threw themselves into the rescue work. Many were injured but lived. Some were buried in snow but found their way to light again. One man was entirely covered except one arm which he used energetically to inform those above him of his whereabouts. He was taken out unharmed, and lived to welcome the writer of this to Dawson, where he carted and delivered her trunk faithfully.
But Carrie N. had remained at Sheep Camp and was safe. Then her experience in nursing stood her in good stead; and while men brought the dead to camp, she, with others, for hours performed the services which made the bodies ready for burial. It was a heart-rending undertaking and required a cool head and steady hand, both of which Carrie N. possessed. Two men of her party thus lost their lives, and it was not until days afterward that the last of the poor unfortunates were found. Nearly one hundred lives were lost in this terrible disaster, but there were undoubtedly those whose bodies were never found, and whose death still remains a mystery.
Since the discovery of gold by George Carmack on Bonanza Creek in September, 1896, the growth of this country has been phenomenal, more especially so to the one who has visited and is familiar with Dawson and the Klondyke mining section.
As to the entire yield of gold from the Klondyke Creeks, none can say except approximately; for the ten per cent. royalty imposed by the Canadian government has always met a phase of human nature which prompts to concealment and dishonesty, so that a truthful estimate cannot be made.
The Canadian Dominion government is very oppressive. Mining laws are very arbitrary and strictly enforced. A person wishing to prospect for gold must first procure a miner's license, paying ten dollars for it. If anything is discovered, and he wishes to locate a claim, he visits the recorder's office, states his business, and is told to call again. In the meantime, men are sent to examine the locality and if anything of value is found, the man wishing to record the claim is told that it is already located. The officials seize it. The man has no way of ascertaining if the land was properly located, and so has no redress. If the claim is thought to be poor, he can locate it by the payment of a fifteen dollar fee.
One half of all mining land is reserved for the crown, a quarter or more is gobbled by corrupt officials, and a meagre share left for the daring miners who, by braving hardship and death, develop the mines and open up the country.
"Any one going into the country has no right to cut wood for any purpose, or to kill any game or catch any fish, without a license for which a fee of ten dollars must be paid. With such a license it is unlawful to sell a stick of wood for any purpose, or a pound of fish or game." The law is strictly enforced. To do anything, one must have a special permit, and for every such permit he must pay roundly.
The story is told of a miner in a hospital who was about to die. He requested that the Governor be sent for. Being asked what he wanted with the Governor, he replied: "I haven't any permit, and if I should undertake to die without a permit, I should get myself arrested."
It is a well-known fact that many claims on Eldorado, Hunker and Bonanza Creeks have turned out hundreds of thousands of dollars. One pan of gravel on Eldorado Creek yielded $2100. Frank Dinsmore on Bonanza Creek took out ninety pounds of solid gold or $24,480 in a single day. On Aleck McDonald's claim on Eldorado, one man shoveled in $20,000 in twelve hours. McDonald, in two years, dug from the frozen ground $2,207,893. Charley Anderson, on Eldorado, panned out $700 in three hours. T. S. Lippy is said to have paid the Canadian government $65,000 in royalties for the year 1898 and Clarence Berry about the same.
On Skukum Gulch $30,000 were taken from two boxes of dirt. Frank Phiscator of Michigan, after a few months' work, brought home $100,000 in gold, selling one-third of his claim interests for $1,333,000, or at the rate of $5,000,000 for the whole.
When a man is compelled to pay one thousand dollars out of every ten thousand he digs from the ground, he will boast little of large "clean-ups"; and for this reason it is hard to estimate the real amount of gold extracted from the Klondyke mines.
Captain James Kennedy, an old pioneer and conservative mining man, estimates the output for the season of 1899 as $25,000,000, or fifty tons of dust and nuggets.
The most commendable thing about the Canadian Government is their strict enforcement of order. Stealing is an almost unheard of thing, and petty thieving does not exist. Mounted police in their brown uniforms and soldiers in their red coats are everywhere seen in and around Dawson, and they practice methods, which, to the uninitiated, make them very nearly omnipresent.
While walking down street in Dawson one morning about nine o'clock, I passed a group of men all wearing sober faces. "They're done for now," said a rough miner, glancing in the direction of the Barracks, where a black flag was fluttering at the top of a staff.
"How so?" asked another, just come up to the group.
"Three men hung over there, an hour ago. They're goin' to bury 'em now," and the speaker twitched his thumbs first toward the Barracks, then farther east, where a rough stretch of ground lay unused. Here could be seen policemen and soldiers, evidently in the midst of some performance not on their daily routine.
A number of prisoners wearing the regulation garb of convicts,—pantaloons of heavy mackinaw, one leg of yellow and the other of black,—were carrying long, rough boxes, while others were digging shallow graves.
Upon inquiry I found that what the miner had said was true. Three prisoners, two of them Indian murderers, with another man notoriously bad, had indeed been hung about eight o'clock that morning in the barracks courtyard. In less than two hours afterward they were interred, and in as many days they were forgotten.
By the middle of July, 1899, the steamers leaving Dawson on their way down the Yukon to St. Michael and the new gold fields at Nome, were well filled with those who were anxious to try their luck in Uncle Sam's territory where they can breathe, dig, fish, hunt, or die without buying a license.
By August the steamers coming from St. Michael brought such glowing accounts of the Nome gold fields, that while few people came in, they carried as many out as they could accommodate.
By September the rush down the Yukon was tremendous, and of the twelve thousand people in Dawson many hundreds left for Nome.
When, after six weeks spent in curiously studying conditions and things,—not to say people,—in the great mining camp, it was decided that I should accompany my brother down the Yukon to Cape Nome, and so "out" home to San Francisco, I felt a very distinct sense of disappointment. The novelty of everything, the excitement which came each day in some form or other, was as agreeable as the beautiful summer weather with the long, quiet evenings only settling into darkness at midnight.
In September came the frosts. Men living in tents moved their little Yukon stoves inside, and brought fresh sawdust and shavings from the mills for their beds. Others packed their few possessions into small boats, hauled down their tents, whistled to their dogs, and rolling up their sleeves, pulled laboriously up the swift little Klondyke to their winter "lays" in the mines.
Hundreds were also leaving for the outside. Steamers, both large and small, going to White Horse and Bennett, carried those who had joyfully packed their bags and smilingly said good-bye; for they were going home to the "States." How we strained our eyes from our cabin window or from the higher bank above, to see the people on the decks of the out-going boats. How the name of each tug and even freight-carrier became a familiar household word, and how many were the conjectures as to whether "she" would get through to White Horse Rapids in the low water before a freeze-up!
One day our own steamer came. She was a magnificently equipped river boat called the "Hannah," belonging to the Alaska Commercial Company, and had cost one hundred thousand dollars. This was to be her last trip for the season, and with us it was "home now, or here all winter," and we made ready to leave. My kodak had been emptied and filled again, calls on acquaintances made, and good-byes said. My battered and broken trunk, which, at the hands of the English customs officials had suffered much, had now to be repaired and put to a good long test. This box was in a state of total collapse; rollers all gone, covering torn and bent, screws and nails lost, sides split, bottom entirely dropped out, but it must go; so my big brother was wheedled into putting it into some kind of shape again, and it came out stronger than before.
No lunches were needed. The cuisine of the Hannah was said to be as perfect as could be in this far away corner of the globe, and we trusted to that.
On September sixteenth the Hannah sounded her whistle—all was hurry and bustle, and such a sight! If hundreds had stood on the docks to welcome us as we entered the city, there were thousands now. It was pleasant. We felt flattered, especially as the band struck up our own national airs, giving us a medley of "Yankee Doodle," "America," "Tramp, Tramp, Tramp," and "When Johnny Comes Marching Home." They felt constrained, however, to wind up with "Sweet Marie," and rag-time dances, one old fellow in slouch hat and with a few drinks too many, stepping the jigs off in lively and comical fashion.
Our pride was perceptibly lessened afterward, when we learned that we had on board a dance hall outfit, and the band belonged to the Monte Carlo saloon!
We were now in the midst of a group, cosmopolitan beyond our wildest dreams. Pushing their way through the crowd to the gangplank came men, women and dogs, carrying grips, kodaks, tin cash boxes, musical instruments, army sacks, fur robes, and rolls of blankets. Struggling under the weight of canvas tents, poles, Yukon stoves and sleds, as well as every conceivable thing, they climbed the stairway to the deck. Here, and in the main saloon, all was deposited for the time being.
There was a woman with a fine grey cat, for which she had been offered fifty dollars, wrapped in a warm shawl, much to pussy's disgust. A number of women had dogs and were weeping, probably at leaving other canines behind. Several persons carried little grips so heavy that they tugged along—evidently "Chechako," or paper money, was more scarce with them than dust and nuggets.
As freight, there was a piano, many iron-bound boxes containing gold bullion, securely sealed and labeled, and tons of supplies for the consumption of the passengers, of whom there were now five hundred.
Then the whistle again sounded—the gangplank was hauled in, handkerchiefs fluttered, the band struck up "Home Sweet Home"—we were headed down the Yukon River and toward the Arctic Circle.
* * * * *
We had now a journey of seventeen hundred miles before us. We were to traverse a country almost unknown to man. We were two of a party of five hundred persons, the majority of whom, if not actually desperadoes, were reckless and given over to the pursuit of gold regardless of the manner of its getting. There were loose characters of the town by hundreds; there were gamblers running a variety of games both day and night; there were dance house girls and musicians; there were drunks and toughs, and one prize fighter. No firearms or knives were seen, though many, no doubt, had them.
With the enormous amount of gold on board (for the steamer's safe was overflowing, and the purser's room well packed with the precious stuff), with the numbers of hard characters we carried, and the now increasing remoteness from centres of government, there were dangers, we were forced to confess, but which we only admitted in whispers.
Three hours after leaving Dawson we were taking on wood at Forty Mile. This is the oldest camp on the Yukon River, and the early home of Jack McQuestion. The river banks were lined with canoes; many natives stood looking at us from the shore, and while stevedores handled the wood, many passengers visited the town. It was not long before they came back with hands full of turnips, just pulled from the ground, which, had they been the most luscious fruit, could not have been eaten with more relish.
I then tried to buy one of a young man, but he had evidently been long away from such luxuries, for he refused to sell; afterward, his gallantry getting the better of him, he politely offered me one-half of the vegetable, which I took with thanks.
As my brother peeled the precious turnip, I asked him how long since he had eaten one. "Two years," he promptly replied. Knowing that he was especially fond of such things, I ate a small slice, and gave him the remainder. It is needless to say he enjoyed it.
To the right of the landing at Forty Mile, just across a small stream which runs into the Yukon, is Fort Cudahy, containing the stores and warehouses of one of the large companies, as well as a post-office.
But we were soon off again, steaming along between hills yellow with fading poplar leaves and green streaked with pines. Many rocky spurs towered grandly heavenward, with tops, like silvered heads, covered with newly fallen snow. The Yukon is here very crooked and narrow, and abrupt banks hedged our steamer in on all sides.
Next morning early we arrived at Eagle City, Alaska. We were now in Uncle Sam's land, and breathed more freely. We felt at home. We cheered and waved our handkerchiefs to the blue uniformed soldiers on the river bank who had come to see us.
We went ashore and called upon lieutenant L., lately from his home in Connecticut and campaigning in Cuba. Taking us into a log house near by, he pointed out forty thousand rounds of ammunition and one hundred and fifteen Krag-Jorgensen rifles of the latest pattern.
Here were stationed one hundred and fifteen men, some of them at that time out moose hunting and fishing. Captain Ray, an old white-haired gentleman, stood outside his cabin door. At Eagle we saw the new government barracks just being finished, the logs and shingles having been sawed at the government saw-mill near by, at the mouth of Mission Creek.
We were particularly struck with the very youthful appearance of our soldiers, and their wistful faces as they watched our preparations for departure.
The lieutenant had said that life in Cuba, or in almost any old place was preferable to that at Eagle, with the long winter staring them in the face, and we could see that the poor fellow longed for home. We were quite touched, but tried to cheer him as best we could.
Circle City, on a big bend of the river from which it derives its name, was reached the following evening. Here all hands crowded over the gangplank and into the stores. In less time than it takes to write it, these places were filled with miners, each man pulling away at his strong, old pipe, the companion of many weary months perhaps; while over the counters they handed their gold dust in payment for the "best plug cut," chewing gum, candy, or whatever else they saw that looked tempting. Here we bought two pairs of beaded moccasins for seven dollars.
As a heavy fog settled down upon us, our captain thought best to tie up the steamer over night, and did so. Next morning by daylight we saw the offices of the United States marshal; both log cabins with dirt roofs, upon which bunches of tall weeds were going to seed. We hoped this was not symbolical of the state of Uncle Sam's affairs in the interior, but feared it might be, as the places seemed deserted.
Many of the one thousand cabins at Circle were now vacant, but it is the largest town next to Dawson on the Yukon River.
During the whole of the next day our pilots steered cautiously over the Yukon Flats.
This is a stretch of about four hundred miles of low, swampy country, where the Yukon evidently loses its courage to run swiftly, for it spreads out indolently in all directions between treacherous and shifting sand-bars, fairly disheartening to all not familiar with its many peculiarities.
We now learned for the first time that we were practically in the hands of three pilots, two of whom were Eskimos, one of them on a salary of five hundred dollars per month. This man was perfectly familiar with the entire river, being an expert pilot, as he proved during this trip to the satisfaction of all.
Owing to the near approach of winter, and the extremely low water at this point, the captain, crew, and many others, wore anxious faces until the Flats were well passed. Should our steamer stick fast on a sand-bar, or take fire, we might easily be landed; but to be left in such a bleak and barren place, with cold weather approaching, snow beginning to fall, no shelter, and only provisions for a few days, with traveling companions of the very worst type, and no passing steamers to pick us up, we would indeed meet a hard fate, and one even the prospect of which was well calculated to make strong men shudder.
AT THE ARCTIC CIRCLE.
We were now at the Arctic Circle. For three days we had no sunshine, and flurries of snow were frequent. The mountain tops, as well as the banks and sand-bars of the river, were spread with a thin covering of snow; enough at least to give a wintry aspect. This added to the leaden sky above, made the warmth of big coal fires acceptable indoors, and fur coats comfortable on the decks.
At Fort Yukon the low water prevented our landing. We were told, however, that the place contained one hundred log houses, as well as an old Episcopal Mission, in which Mrs. Bumpus had lived and taught the natives for twenty years. Many of the Eskimo girls are trained as children's nurses and make very satisfactory ones.
Into the Yukon Flats empty the Porcupine River, Birch Creek and other streams. Fort Yukon was established by the Hudson Bay Company many years ago, all supplies coming in and shipments of furs going out by way of the McKensie River and the great Canadian Lakes.
Toward evening one day, while the stevedores were busy handling wood, we went ashore and visited an Eskimo family in their hut. It was built on the high river bank among the trees, quite near the steamer's landing. On the roof of the hut, there lay, stretched on sticks to dry, a large brown bear skin. Near by we saw the head of a freshly killed moose, with the hoofs of the animal still bloody.
As we stooped to enter the low door of the cabin, we felt the warmth from the fire in the little Yukon stove which was placed in the corner of the room. Next to this was a rude table, on which lay a quarter of moose meat, looking more or less tempting to travelers living on canned goods.
A bed stood in one corner, upon which two or three little children were playing, and upon a pile of rags and skins on the floor sat an old Eskimo woman, wrinkled and brown. These were her children and grandchildren, and she was spending her life on the floor of the cabin, watching the little ones play around her, for she was paralyzed.
There were no chairs in the cabin, and but few rude utensils and playthings. A box or tin can, which had contained provisions, was now and then utilized.
After a few moments with the Eskimos, we backed out into the open air again, for the atmosphere of the hut was peculiar, and not altogether agreeable to our southern olfactories. It reminded us of Mrs. Peary's description of native smells in Greenland.
The short path back to our steamer lay through a poplar grove, and under our feet was spread a carpet of brown and yellow leaves, which, in the cool night air, smelled ripe and woodsy.
Next came Fort Hamlin, where we again saw some of Uncle Sam's boys, and where we trudged out through the soft light snow and took some kodak views.
Rampart City was reached in the early evening. One long row of houses upon the south bank of the Yukon, near the mouth of the Big Minook Creek constitutes the town. Here empty the Little Minook, Alder, Hunter, and many other gold-bearing creeks, and a bustling town sprung up only to be almost depopulated during the Nome excitement.
By this time several inches of snow had fallen, and the ground was freezing. We managed here to climb the slippery steps of the log store building in the dusk and buy a pound of ordinary candy, for which we paid one dollar.
Again we were in deep water. This time so very smooth that the hills, peaks, trees and islands were all mirrored on its surface, and very beautiful.
The days were now quite short. About five in the afternoon the electric lights were turned on through the steamer, fresh coal again piled on the fires, and we reminded ourselves how comfortably we were traveling.
Then the dinner bell rang, and we sat down to dinner. Some attempt at decoration had been made, for tall glasses stood in the centre of the tables filled with ripe grasses and pretty autumn leaves, but, strange to relate, we were more interested in the contents of our soup plates and what was to follow. The cold and bracing air during our short walks on deck had given us all famous appetites, and we relished everything.
After hot soup with crackers, we ate of fresh fish, three kinds of canned meats, baked or boiled potatoes, with one other kind of vegetable, canned tomatoes, corn or beans. Side dishes consisted of pickles, olives, cheese, sardines, canned fruits, fancy crackers or biscuits, and afterward came pudding and pie. These last were made from various canned fruits, and with the rice, sago or tapioca pudding, formed most enjoyable desserts. On Sunday nuts and raisins or apples were added to the menu.
If we ate with keen appetites, we were not too much occupied to take note of the passengers around us. Nearly opposite sat a beautiful woman with a profusion of auburn hair piled high on her head. She was fashionably dressed in black silk or satin, and her white fingers were loaded with costly rings. As she handed a dish to the man beside her, her diamonds and other gems sparkled brightly. Her companion, much older, had a hard and villainous face. A heavy frown of displeasure habitually rested upon his brow, and his glance was shifting and evasive. He was a professional gambler, kept his game running continually, and was going to Nome.
At the end of the table sat a tall and pleasant mannered young Englishman, with blue eyes and ruddy cheeks. He represented mining interests in the Klondyke amounting to millions, and was on his way to London. He was fond of wine, and consorted chiefly with those who were fast bringing him down to their level.
There was the girl with pretty black eyes, lady-like movements, low voice, and exquisite toilettes. A blue-eyed, pretty little blonde, with infantile complexion, small hands and feet, and wearing a tailor-made suit attracted considerable attention. She was fond of cigarettes and smoked many times a day, though she only looked "sweet sixteen." They were both dance-house girls.
There was a young and handsome Englishman in the triggest of dude toggery, but having a squaw wife and three children, as well as older men at the head of similar broods.
The long tables were spread two or three times at each meal, as several hundred people were to be fed.
A different class, and a worst one if possible, was met with at these late meals. Do you see that short, fat woman over there with the bleared eyes, and the neck of a prize fighter? She is a Dawson saloon keeper, and is now on her way to Nome.
But there were a number of people on the steamer not properly belonging to this set, and after supper a few usually gathered in one corner to listen to each other's experiences in the far Northwest. Some were tales of hardship, sickness and death; some of hair-breadth escapes from the jaws of an Arctic winter, or from shipwreck. One told of having, two years before, paid $175 for five sacks of flour in the Klondyke; selling the same, a few days later, for $500. Stories of rich strikes were related; how one man, while drunk, was persuaded by his associates to trade a valuable claim for one apparently worthless; his indescribable feelings the next day and until he had prospected the so-called worthless claim, when it proved ten times richer than the first one.
A little middle-aged Norwegian woman told her story with great gusto. She had sailed from Seattle two years before with Mayor Woods' expedition, getting as far as a point on the Yukon River two hundred miles below Rampart City. Here the low water prevented their going farther. She, in company with others, made her way to Rampart as best she could, rested and "outfitted" for a trip to Dawson over the ice. Finally, with sleds and provisions, eight dogs and four men, she started. It was a journey of about eight hundred miles. Before leaving Rampart she experimented with fur sleeping bags, and finally made one in which she could sleep comfortably on the ice and snow. Rice and tea were their staple articles of diet, being more quickly prepared in hasty camps at night, and being found most nourishing. After a perilous trip of thirty-five days in the dead of winter, they reached Dawson in good shape, two days ahead of a party of men with whom a wager had been made. With these, and similar stories, we whiled away the long evening hours by the fire. Many short stops were made along the river. A few little settlements were passed during the night. At Holy Cross and Russian Mission we saw flourishing Catholic schools for the natives.
The Yukon was now getting wider and wider, the water was shallow and more shallow, then suddenly we felt a heavy jar. The big stern wheel refused to move,—we were stuck fast on a sand-bar! Here we remained all day, dreading a hard freeze which was liable to settle down upon us at any time, fixing our boat and us in the ice indefinitely. But we were now in the Aphoon, or eastern mouth of the Yukon, and near enough to Behring Sea to get the benefit of the tides; so that in the early evening we again heard the thud of the big machines,—the steamer quivered,—the stern wheel again revolved,—we had entered the Behring Sea!
By four o'clock next morning we were in St. Michael Bay, having covered the sixty miles from the mouth of the river during the night. Snow was falling heavily through which we saw the lights of the harbor, and a number of vessels at anchor. By daylight we counted eleven ships and two revenue cutters lying under the lee of the island.
Breakfast was served on board, and an hour later we went ashore. We now sought the steamer company's hotel, and had no difficulty in getting good rooms and seats at table; for we were still in their care, having bought through tickets to San Francisco. Here we were to wait for the ocean steamer "Bertha," which was now nearly due from that place, and we anxiously watched the weather signs hoping all would be favorable, and that she would very soon put in her appearance.
Our hotel was a new frame building of about forty rooms, lighted by electricity, having large halls, pleasant double parlors overlooking the bay, with a good view of incoming ships from the north. Just across the street stood an old block house or fort containing the funny little cannon used by the Russians over a hundred years ago. The antiquated lock on the door, the hundreds of bullet holes in the outer walls, were all quaintly interesting.
Half a mile south were stores, a hotel, another large company's dock, and in good weather we tramped over there or north the same distance to the headquarters of a third company. These three were small settlements by themselves, and constituted, with their employees, natives and dogs, the whole population of St. Michael. Good sidewalks connected these different stations and commanded fine and extensive views of the surrounding water.
St. Michael, as an island, is not large, and is entirely without trees or timber. However, there is deep, wet moss or tundra everywhere, as one soon discovers to his sorrow if he attempts to leave the plank walks. St. Michael Bay, lying between the island and the mainland on the east, is a fine body of water. The coast line is well defined with ranges of mountains zigzagging their cold and snowy peaks, blue tinted or purple during the day, and pink in the setting sun.
St. Michael is the windiest place on earth. After a few days spent in studying the native dress of the Eskimos, and in trying to adapt my own dress to the freakish breezes I concluded that if I stayed at St. Michael I should dress as they did. If I started for the eating room with my hat properly placed on hair arranged with ever so much care, a heavy beaver cape, and dress of walking length, I was completely demoralized in appearance five minutes later on reaching the mess-house. With a twisting motion which was so sudden as to totally surprise me, my dress was wound around my feet, my cape was flung as if by spiteful hands entirely over my head, causing me to step in my confusion from the plank walk; while my hat was perched sidewise anywhere above or on my shoulder. One unfortunate woman wearing an overskirt covering a striped cambric sham, was seen daily struggling, with intense disgust on her face, up the steps of the eating house, with her unruly overskirt waving wildly in the wind.
But this wind did not keep the Eskimo women and children at home. Dressed in their fur parkies, which are a sort of long blouse with hood attachment, short skirts and muckluks, or skin boots, they trotted down to the beach daily to fish, standing on the wet and slippery rocks, regardless of wind, spray or snow. Here they flung their fish lines out into the water and hauled the little fish up dexterously; when, with a curious twitch they disengaged the finny fellows and tossed them into a big pan. Little Eskimo children ran on in front of their mothers, and shaggy dogs followed close behind at the smell of the fish.
But there were passengers arriving at St. Michael each day from different points bound for Nome.
At last the side-wheeler "Sadie" was to leave for Nome, and what a commotion! Men in fur coats, caps and mittens, leading dogs of all colors and sizes, some barking, but all hustled along with no thought of anything except to reach Cape Nome as quickly as possible. At last they were off. A rough, and in some instances a drunken lot, but all hopefully happy and sure that they would "strike it rich" in the new gold fields. Many, no doubt, were going to their death, many to hardships and disappointments undreamed of, while a few would find gold almost inexhaustible.
Still we waited day after day for the ocean steamer "Bertha." One Sunday morning we looked from the hotel windows to see a clear, cold sky, with sun and high wind. About ten o'clock we heard a steamer whistling for assistance. She was small and used for errands by one of the steamship companies. Still none went to the rescue, as the gale was terrific. A steam tug started out, but she passed by on the other side, not caring to act the part of good Samaritan to a rival. In a few moments the fires of the little steamer were out,—she was sinking. Through a glass we saw three men on the roof of the craft—then they clung to the smokestack. A larger steamer, though herself disabled, finally reached the three drowning men. It was not a moment too soon, for the water was icy, the gale fearful. They were then hauled in, almost exhausted and frozen.
It was a wild day. Soon after noon, one of the two big covered barges in tow by the "Lackme," already loaded for a start for Nome, began to sink. The wind came from the north, and little by little the barge became unmanageable, until at last she was cut loose and deserted. For an hour we watched the barge, until, she too, sank out of sight beneath the waters of the bay.
Small steamers still came straggling in from Dawson crowded with passengers going to the new gold fields, and our tired cooks and stewards in the kitchens were rushed both day and night. Here the price of a meal, to all but those having through tickets to San Francisco, was one dollar, and fifteen hundred meals a day were frequently served.
In this hotel we waited two weeks, patiently at times, restlessly at other times. What would we do if the Bertha failed to appear? Possibly she was lost, and now drifting, a worthless derelict, at the mercy of the winds! Not another boat would or could carry us, tickets on each one having long ago been sold. If we should be frozen in all winter, with no way of letting our friends at home know of our whereabouts for six months, how terrible would be their anxiety, how hard for us in this exposed spot near the Arctic Sea! Many times a day and in the night did this emergency present itself to us, and we shuddered. Each day we climbed the hill a quarter of a mile away to look, Robinson Crusoe like, over the ocean to see if we could discover the "Bertha."
In the meantime, with note book and pencil in hand I often sat in the parlor; and, while occupied to a certain extent, I gathered sundry bits of information regarding the gold fields in this wonderful new Golconda. Two million dollars, it was said, had already been extracted from the beach at Nome, and no estimate could be made on what was still there. The pay streak ran to the water's edge, and even farther, but just how far, no one knew.
Back of this beach spread the tundra, an expanse of marsh, ice and water, which extends some four miles inland. The size of the claims allowed by law is one thousand three hundred and twenty feet in length, and six hundred and sixty feet in width; or about twenty acres of land. The insignificant sum of $2.50 is required to be paid the recorder.
In the York District the area allowed for claims is smaller, being five hundred feet in width, and the length depending on the geographical formation or creek upon which the claim is situated.
North of Nome there are ninety to one hundred miles of gold-bearing beach to be worked, and again to the south a vast stretch of like character extending to Norton Bay. The tundra, which is nothing but the old beach, follows the present shore, and is fully as rich as the surf-washed sands. More productive and larger than all is the inland region traversed by rivers and creeks that form a veritable network of streams, all bordered by gold-producing soil.
Anvil Creek, Sunset Gulch, Snow Gulch and Dexter Creek, near Nome, are all exceedingly rich; one claim on Snow Gulch having been sold for $185,000, and another for $13,000.
Golovin Bay District is situated eighty-five miles east of Nome City, and is large and very rich. Fish River is the principal one in this section, and has innumerable small tributaries running into it, most of which are also rich in gold.
Casa de Paga is a tributary of the Neukluk River, and very rich. On Ophir Creek, claim No. four, above Discovery, $48,000 was taken out in nineteen days by the Dusty Diamond Company working seventeen men. On number twenty-nine above Discovery on Ophir Creek, seventeen dollars were taken out a day per man, who dug out frozen gravel, thawed it by the heat of a coal-oil stove, and afterward rocked it.
There was much discussion over the rights of those claiming mining lands located by the power of attorney; though the majority of men here seemed to believe they would hold good, and many such papers were made out in due legal form.
At last, on the morning of October ninth, the "Bertha" really appeared. It was a clear, cold day, sunny and calm. I ran in high spirits to the top of the hill overlooking the bay to get a good view. Sure enough, there lay the "Bertha" on the bright waters as though she had always been there. How rejoiced everyone was! How relieved were those who intended to remain here because of the additions to the winter's supplies, and how rejoiced were those waiting to get away? How we all bustled about, packing up, buying papers and magazines just from the steamer, sealing and stamping letters, making notes in diaries, taking kodak views, saying good-bye to acquaintances, ad infinitum.
All were willing to leave. Finally on the afternoon of the tenth we were stowed into the big covered barge which was to take us out to the "Bertha." It was cold and draughty inside, so we found a sheltered place in the sun on some piles of luggage, and sat there. As the "Bertha" was reached, a gangplank was thrown over to the barge, which came as close alongside as possible, and up this steep and narrow board we climbed, clinging to a rope held by men on both decks.
Our trouble had now begun. We were overjoyed at making a start at last, but under what conditions! The river steamer "Hannah" had been a model of neatness as compared with this one. On deck there were coops of chickens, and pens of live sheep and pigs brought from San Francisco to be put off at Nome, as well as a full passenger list for the same place. On the way here a landing had been attempted at Nome, but the surf had been so tremendous that it could not be accomplished, and passengers still occupied the staterooms that we were to have. However, we were temporarily sandwiched in, and, about four P. M., said good-bye to St. Michael.
It was a lovely day and the waters of the bay were very calm. Along shore in the most sheltered places were numbers of river steamers and smaller craft being snugly tucked up for the winter. From three tall flagstaffs on shore there floated gracefully as many American flags as though to wish us well on our long journey out to civilization.
That night on board was simply pandemonium. Hundreds of people had no beds, and were obliged to sit or walk about, many sitting in corners on the floor, or on piles of luggage or lying under or upon the tables. Every seat and berth were taken. Many of the staterooms below were filled from floor to ceiling with flour in sacks for Nome, as well as every foot of space in passage-ways or pantries. Many men were so disorderly from drink that they kept constantly swearing and quarreling, and one man, in a brawl, was almost toppled into the sea. To make things worse, the stench from the pens of the animals on deck became almost unbearable, and the wind came up, making the water rough.
There was no sleep for us that night. We longed to reach Nome that we might be rid of some of these objectionable things, and hoped for an improvement afterward.
From St. Michael to Nome, the distance is about one hundred and twenty-five miles, and the latter place was reached about eight A. M. A little before daylight we had been startled by a series of four sudden shocks or jars, the first being accompanied by a very distinct creaking of timbers of the ship, so that some of us rose and dressed; but the ship had apparently sustained no injury, and we proceeded on our way. Whether we had struck a rock, or only a sand-bar, we never knew, for the ship's men laughed and evaded our questions; but the passengers believed that the boat had touched a reef or rock, hidden, perhaps, beneath the surface of the sea.
By daylight the animals had been removed to a barge, and soon after breakfast the Nome passengers were taken ashore in like manner, for the surf was so heavy on the beach, and there being no docks or wharves, it was impossible for a large steamer to get nearer.
Away in the distance to the north lay the famous new gold camp of Nome. Stretched for miles along the beach could be seen the little white tents of the beach miners, back of which lay the town proper, and still back, the rolling hills now partly covered with snow. Not a tree or shrub could be seen, though we strained our eyes through a strong glass in an effort to find them. A few wooden buildings larger than the rest were pointed out as the Alaska Commercial Company's warehouses and offices, near where the loaded barges were tossed by the huge breakers toward the beach.
Passengers now went ashore to visit the camps, but to my great disappointment I was not allowed to do so on account of the tremendous surf. When, after watching others, seeing their little boats tossed like cockle shells upon the sands, and hearing how thoroughly drenched with salt water many of the people were while landing, I gave it up, and remained on board.
For five days we lay anchored outside, while stevedores loaded supplies from the "Bertha" on barges towed ashore by the side-wheeler "Sadie." For hours the wind would blow and the breakers and surf run so high that nothing could be done; then at sundown, perhaps, the wind would die away, and men were put to work unloading again. The calls of those lifting and tugging, the rattle of pulleys and chains, never were stilled night or day if the water was passably smooth, and we learned to sleep soundly amid all the confusion.
Next morning the steamer "Cleveland" cast anchor near the "Bertha." Presently we saw a small boat lowered over the side and two women were handed down into it, four men following and seating themselves at the oars. The ship on which the women had first sailed had been wrecked on St. George's Island; from there they were rescued by the revenue cutter "Bear," transferred to the "Cleveland," and were now going ashore at Nome, their destination. As they passed us we noticed that they sat upright in the middle of the lifeboat, the hoods of their cloaks drawn quite over their heads. We were told that one of these women had come to meet her lover and be married, and we felt like cheering such heroism.
Next day the bodies of several men were picked up on the beach near town. They had started for Cape Prince of Wales in a small boat and been overtaken by disaster. Many were dying of fever on shore, and nurses, doctors and drugs were in great demand.
Many tales of interest now reached our ears, but not many can here be given.
One of the first American children to open his eyes to the light of day in this bleak and barren place—Nome City—was Little Willie S. His parents lived in a poor board shack or house which his father had built just back of the golden beach sands. Here the surf, all foam-tipped, spread itself at the rising and falling of the tides, and here the miners toiled day after day washing out the precious gold.
It was here that Willie's papa, soon after the baby came, sickened and died. He had worked too long in the wind and rain, and they laid him under the tundra at the foot of the hill.
For a time the baby grew. The mother and child were now dependent upon the community for support, but the burly and generous miners did not allow them to want. Willie was a great pet in the mining camp; the men being delighted with a peep of his tiny, round face and pink fingers.
The little child could have easily had his weight in gold dust, or anything else, had he wanted it. Big, shining nuggets had already been given him to cut his teeth upon when the time came, but that time never came.
Willie died one day in his mother's arms, while her hot tears fell like rain upon his face.
Then they laid him to sleep beside his papa under the tundra, where the shining wheat-gold clung to the moss roots and sparkled as brightly as the frost and snow which soon covered everything.
When spring came Willie's mamma found the baby's tiny grave, and put wild flowers and grasses upon it, and there they nodded their pretty heads above the spot where Willie and his papa quietly sleep.
Passengers for San Francisco were now coming on board with their luggage. Several men were brought on board on spring beds, being ill with no contagious disease. A box containing the body of a man, who had shot himself the day before, was placed upon the hurricane deck, lashed down, and covered with tarpaulins. Strong boxes of gold bullion, with long, stout ropes and boards attached in case of accident, were stowed away in as safe a place as could be found. Copies of the first issue of the "Nome News" were bought at fifty cents a copy; size, four pages about a foot square. Beach sand and pebbles, were handed about in many funny receptacles,—pickle jars, tin cans, flour sacks,—any old thing would do if only we had the pleasure of seeing the golden sand.