THE TRAIL OF A SOURDOUGH
Life in Alaska
MAY KELLOGG SULLIVAN
Author of "A Woman Who Went to Alaska"
RICHARD G. BADGER THE GORHAM PRESS BOSTON
Copyright 1910 by Richard G. Badger
All Rights Reserved
THE GORHAM PRESS, BOSTON, U. S. A.
While the word Sourdough (sour dough) is perfectly familiar to those in Alaska and along the Pacific Coast it may not be amiss to give a brief explanation to our Eastern readers.
A Sourdough is a miner who has spent one winter in Alaska and "has seen the ice go out." Mrs. Sullivan is a Sourdough herself. In all she has made seven trips to Alaska extending over a period of ten years.
When miners are beyond the pale of civilization, with a supply of flour but no baking powder, yeast or potatoes, they cut from each batch of bread dough a little piece, to be kept until it turns sour, and then used as leaven for the next baking.
It is through this custom that the miners themselves came to be called sourdoughs.
This little book is my second Brain-child. The first, entitled "A Woman Who Went to Alaska," has been so cordially received by the reading public that I have been induced to send another in its footsteps. It is with great pleasure and perfect confidence that I do this.
To my Alaskan readers it is unnecessary to state that these little tales are deduced from every day life, as they are easily recognizable. To those not yet favored by a residence in this Northland I would say that I have written each tale with a well defined purpose. With truthfulness could each one have been more vividly, yes startlingly, told; but I have no wish to unduly disturb my readers. It has been my aim, however, to picture not only character, but also the vast and wonderful gold producing region, so plainly that even the young may better know Alaska, and learn somewhat from glimpses of the trials, privations and successes of its early pioneers.
To these last Trail-blazers no "Chee-chako" can ever do justice. Their courage, bravery, patience under difficulties, and stoicism under severe trial can never be properly appreciated except by their fellow sufferers.
My readers will find in the book much of the folklore and a touch of the mysticism so common to all people of the northland.
Counting myself one of the least among them I have been a witness to their struggles and triumphs, and for this reason I do most heartily dedicate this little book to the memory of each horny-handed pack-laden miner "musher" who has ever lifted a finger to assist, encourage, or strengthen the author of The Trail of a Sourdough.
The name of these helpers is Legion. That their cabins may be warm and roomy, winter dumps high and numerous, sluice boxes filled with nuggets, and lives long and happy is the earnest wish of
MAY KELLOGG SULLIVAN
I The Miner's Reasons 11
II Under the Tundra 22
III The Hidden Ledge 44
IV A New Klondyke 81
V Estella the Eskimo 106
VI Why Midas Failed 132
VII The Old Stone House 172
VIII A Miner's Own Story 192
IX Eyllen's Water Witch 214
The Heart of Alaska in Winter frontispiece
A Huskie 21
Dressed in his fresh miner's rig 25
A welcome shelter 43
The scene on shore was a repetition of that on the neighboring beach at Skagway 51
A Messenger of cheer 80
Panning out 105
Upon his mother's back, beneath her parkie 115
The little one clinging tightly to her hand she approached the door 121
The pretty woman was a full-blooded Eskimo to face page 138
Poling up the river 171
When Old Tillie was Young 181
She scanned the horizon to face page 216
"Holy Mother Mary! I believe it's gold" 223
Father Peter 229
The Lord of the Northland 258
The cover design is a picture of Cape Nome, Alaska.
The Trail of a Sourdough
THE MINER'S REASONS
A furious blizzard was raging. Six or eight miners of various ages were huddled around the stove in a little road-house where they were likely to remain storm-bound for several days.
"Chuck some more wood into that bloomin' fire and fill up my pipe if you fellers want a yarn from me," said one, when they had besieged him for a story with which to pass the time.
"You wanted to know yesterday when I staked that claim for the woman, who and where she is, also my reasons for stakin' it; and I promised to tell you when I got the chance. One or two of you grumbled considerable at my stakin' for a person away in the States, and maybe when I have finished my story you won't feel any different; but I can't help it, and it is none of your —— business. The deed is done, and well done, and Rosa Nell (that ain't her name, as you can see by the initial stake if you want to dig it out from under the snow) is the half owner today of one of the handsomest quartz ledges on the whole Seward Peninsula. Walls of grey slate and trachyte, and the yellow stuff is good and plenty. Zounds, boys! I wish I had a bumper," and the speaker threw his furry cap to the ceiling.
"Never mind the bumper, pard, you know it's the last of March when no live mining camp in this country has a thing but empty bottles to bump with. Behold the size of the glass dump outside yonder if you don't believe me", remarked the keeper of the place in vindication of his house; but with sore regret in his voice.
"The story, the story! We want the story", sang out one and another by the stove, "the fire is just a whoopin' and 'twill soon be goin' out".
"Well, then, here goes," said the miner addressed. "It happened two years ago. I sold one of my Nome claims for fifteen hundred dollars with slight prospecting, (like a blasted fool that I was) and after blowin' in a good third or more of the money concluded to buy a thousand dollar outfit and go to Norton Sound. It was late in October; the storms came on, and the upshot of it was that we were ship-wrecked off the coast and were finally put in at a small camp nearly a hundred miles from where we wanted to winter. I had taken two men with me named Long and Hartley, and though we saved, by hard fightin' in one way and another, the most of our supplies, we were without shelter, except a couple of tents, with an Arctic winter—our first in this country, upon us.
"Gee-Whilikins! Boys, it makes my black hair white to think of it! What we suffered for two months in those tents was awful; for the camp was full and there was not a vacant cabin anywhere. If there had been, you know we were absolutely without money to buy or build with. How I cursed myself for havin' foolishly spent hundreds of dollars on 'box rustlers' at the Casino,—but that is another story, boys, so we'll pass it.
"In our new camp we had many Eskimos and all kinds of people. Among others there was a little blue-eyed woman perhaps thirty years of age; maybe more—maybe less. She was also evidently not where she had intended to be, just like ourselves, but was a teacher, left over from some stranded expedition, probably. Anyhow, there she was, and there we were. We a-livin' in the tents, and the thermometer forty degrees below zero. The teacher was stayin' with some of the Missionary folks only a quarter of a mile away, and she was all right.
"In December the dogs of the camp began to go mad. Every few days one or two had to be killed. Some men, you know, don't water their dogs once in six weeks, if at all, and as everything is froze hard in winter, the poor brutes go mad, exactly as in summer in the States, from heat.
"One night, Long and I smoked in the little road-house close by, but Hartley went to his bunk in the tent and turned in. He had not slept, but lay with closed eyes, he said, tryin' hard to get warm under his fur robe; when the tent flap was brushed aside, and in rushed a mad dog, snapping and foaming. At the first movement Hartley supposed we had returned to go to bed, but was instantly undeceived as the crazy brute made directly for him.
"Hartley threw out his hands and leaped from his bunk, seizing an axe that lay upon the floor. With that he made for the dog, and finally drove him from the tent; but only after he had been badly bitten in several places.
"The first we knew he rushed in, half dressed, where we were. He was pale with fright, covered with blood, and his eyes seemed starting from their sockets.
"Whiskey, for God's sake!' he pleaded, panting for breath. 'Hydrophobia, and so far from home. This is hard lines, ain't it, boys?' between gulps, the blood dripping from the hand that tremblingly held the glass.
"With that he broke down utterly and cried like a baby. We washed and dressed his wounds as best we could, and put him to bed in the road-house as it was then past midnight, while three of the boys rigged themselves in their furs and hunted the blasted brute that had done the mischief. They found him gnashing his teeth alongside an outhouse, and a good dose of cold pills settled him forever.
"Next mornin' we sent a man to the little teacher to ask for medicine for Hartley, and immediately she and another woman came over. They brought lint bandages, carbolic acid, and other things and bathed the wounds; but, best of all, they cheered up the poor fellow by telling him that he need have no fear of hydrophobia, as the bite of the Eskimo dogs in winter does not have the same effect that the bite of other dogs has in hot weather. By the repeated visits and ministrations of the women, poor Hartley, in a few weeks, recovered.
"However, the little teacher was not satisfied. She knew we must suffer terribly in our tents, and wanted us to make other arrangements. At last she thought of a plan for us: An old log school-house, long since deserted for the new one built near by, was unused except as a store-room. This building had been originally made warm and tight by moss chinking, a heavy door, and closely caulked windows. Some of the latter were now broken, and the snow sifted in upon the dirt floor, but these things could be remedied.
"The little woman had planned it all before we knew it. She had asked and gained consent of the owners before she opened her story up to us. The baggage then in the cabin was to be piled in one corner, the windows were to be mended as well as possible along with the chimney in the middle of the roof; and for a trifling consideration each month we were to have the use of the building. It was a god-send to three men only partly sheltered by canvas in January, latitude sixty-five; and if you don't believe me, boys, just try tents yourselves next winter, and find out.
"Did we spend the remainder of the winter in that old school-house? You bet we did. After puttin' considerable time on the old chimney, makin' some new stove-pipe and a patent damper of our own from coal-oil cans, and usin' the sides of some of the same in place of glass in the windows, we did get fixed some sort of comfortable. Anyhow, we had a house over our heads that could not blow down in a blizzard, and a solid door which kept out mad dogs at night. To be sure, when the spring rains came, the roof of turf, upon which the grass began to grow, leaked in several places; but we spread our canvas tent over it, weighted it down with stones at the corners, and got along finely.
"The gist of my story is still to come. One day along in February the little woman sent for me. She wanted to see me very particular, the messenger said. When I saw her a few minutes later her eyes were shinin' like stars in the night time. She wanted me to go with another man to stake a creek about fifteen miles to the north of us. She had heard from some source that the creek was good.
"Would I go the next day if she furnished the outfit? Of course I said, yes, and our plans were hastily laid for the next day. We had some trouble to get good dogs for the trip, and before our preparations were completed the whole camp was onto our racket and wanted to go along.
"Now, you know on such occasions, above all others, one does not want the whole country at one's heels, so we tried our best to shake them. We postponed our trip until the second day; the women in the meantime gettin' our grub cooked. We then took the bells off our dog collars and packed our sleds behind closed doors; but it was no go. In spite of all our precautions three dog-teams followed our trail as we slipped stealthily out of camp at midnight. The moon shone brightly and the snow was not too deep. The boys kept at a respectful distance behind us, and we mushed along between low hills mostly up the streams on the ice.
"To make my story shorter, we staked what we wanted of the creek, and let the other fellows in on what was left. After that, without sleeping, but with a hasty meal, we put back home again as fast as our dogs would travel.
"Three months later, when the snow was about gone, and we thought the time ripe for prospectin', I took my two men and an outfit and gave that blamed old creek a fair trial. We hustled and rustled to beat the band. We shovelled, panned, built dams, and worked like beavers in water above our knees. We moved our tents further up on the bank at midnight at the risin' of the creek durin' a hard rain—but, egad! after two weeks of that sort of thing, no gold could we find. Not a color! We cursed and tore around something fierce among the Queen's English, but it did not help matters a particle.
"There was no gold there.
"When we reported to the little woman she would not believe a word of it. She did not think we had tried to find it. Perhaps we had not gone deep enough. We should have waited until midsummer when we could have done better work; and a lot of other things of like description. When I insisted that we had done the very best we possibly could, and that there was positively no gold there, she still persisted in sayin' she wanted that bunch of claims recorded. In vain I told her it was no use; the creek was no good, and to record the claims was a waste of money.
"While I talked, the little woman stood lookin' in an absent-minded way before her. When I had finished she turned toward me with considerable spirit, and almost with anger said, the tears comin' into her eyes meanwhile, 'I will never again ask you to stake a claim for me, so there! and she ran into the next room and shut the door.
"The claims were never recorded.
"Well, boys, she kept her word, and I wish she hadn't. I would be willin' to let her pick out creeks for me forever, for, say, let me tell you, fellows," dropping his voice and taking the pipe from between his teeth he knocked its ashes out upon the cold hearth, "that creek bed was solid stream tin; pure cassiterite, the best on the Seward Peninsula, and a whole fortune for anyone; but we did not know it.
"Next time a woman like that one tells me to do any recordin' of claims I'll do it, you bet; for somehow, I can't explain it, but there are others besides Eugene Field's kids who are good at 'seein' things at night,' and a woman can sometimes feel things that we fellows can't see in broad daylight.
"Now you have my reasons for stakin' for her yesterday. If any of you fellows want to kick at what I have done, you can just take it out in kickin'—yourselves. Our new ledge is a jim-dandy; and seem' as I cheated the woman out of her cassiterite, I'm bound to make it good in yellow gold.
"But I'm goin' to turn in now, boys, and I'll listen to you to-morrow. Good night."
UNDER THE TUNDRA
In a little three-room cabin in Nome, a middle-aged woman, wearing glasses, knitted a gray woollen sock for her boy, as she called him.
"Yes", she said musingly, "my husband and I came here during the rush of 1900. My son, Leroy, had come the year before to pave the way for us, as he called it, and this he tried his best to do. He staked some gold claims and a town lot, and put up a one-room cabin, building on to the latter after we arrived. His idea was to get his father and me away from the farm (which he hated) and start us in mining in Alaska, he being exceedingly enthusiastic on this subject and positive that we would enjoy it as well as he did."
At the conclusion of this introduction to the story the woman laid down her knitting and pushed her glasses up to the top of her head. Then with an amused expression about the corners of her mouth, she said:
"The story of all the actual mining that Pa Morrison and I ever did is not a long one, but it is one he would much rather I did not often relate. However, as you wish to hear it, and he is too busy at his book-keeping in the next room to know what is going on, I will tell you how we began mining in Alaska.
"We had landed safely upon the beach with all our necessary belongings, as well as feather-beds and pillows, also fruit-cake and other good things for Christmas. My son had met us with open arms and shown us with much pleasure to his tiny cabin on a nearby street. To this place all our boxes were in due time hauled by dog-team, and a big tent set up temporarily alongside the cabin.
"While unpacking articles to be immediately used we had not forgotten our mining tools, gold pan, picks and shovels, as well as rubber boots, and all were spread out in fine array in the sunshine beside the tent.
"Much of our clothing had been especially selected with a view to our new occupation, and there were dozens of new blue and brown denim jumpers and overalls, bandana handkerchiefs, woollen socks and shirts for Pa, as well as short, warm dresses and stout aprons for me.
"To enumerate all would take too long. Enough to say that in our anxiety to get to work at the real object of our coming, we rushed the adjustment of affairs in our camp through with all speed, and two days after landing at Nome, Pa and I started out to do some mining on our own hook upon our first gold claim."
Here the woman paused to take breath, and picking up her knitting to inspect it for a moment, seemed somewhat reluctant to proceed.
"Was the claim far from town?" some one asked, in order to bring her back to her narrative, and at the same time not to appear too anxious.
"Oh, no," she said, brightening considerably. "Leroy is always such a good and thoughtful fellow, and he had selected this cabin for us near the west end of town, close to the cemetery, on the tundra. It was only a short walk for us, he said, and the ground must, undoubtedly, be rich, as much gold had been taken out of the beach-diggings next the tundra where our claim was located.
"It was reported that the beach contained from one to three pay streaks before a depth of three feet was reached; that nuggets worth as much as twenty dollars were found in the beach-diggings, and the tundra was good pay dirt from the 'grass roots down'.
"Well, my husband and I started for the claim, as I said—we started Snake River bridge, Pa paying his ten cents toll, while I went across free as was the custom that summer, and we trudged down the road on the sandspit to the cemetery. Dressed in his fresh miner's rig, (that was an accidental pun) taken so lately from our big packing boxes, Pa marched with all the dignity a man of his height and thinness can assume, with a gold pan under one arm, and a shiny pick and shovel upon his shoulder. I followed close behind."
At this stage of the story Mrs. Morrison cast a quick glance at the door of the adjoining room where her husband was writing. Then opening a table drawer close at hand, she took out two kodak views and handed them to her listeners.
"He must not know where I keep these pictures or he would burn them as sure as fate; I have dubbed them 'before and after'."
They examined the views she handed them. A stout, resolute looking woman with a pleased expectant countenance, short dress, huge basket on right arm. The man beside her holding his broad brimmed miner's hat in his hands, his unused gold pan, pick and shovel, at his feet. For a background a tent, a bit of the river, and bridge.
In the "After" picture the scene was changed. Dejection was depicted on both faces. Their clothing was soiled and their implements had seen usage, but were now flung upon the ground in disorder.
"A friend took these snap-shots of us," she explained, returning the photos to their places, "and Leroy likes to preserve them 'just for fun' he says.
"To go back to my story, we made our way along as best we could by inquiring (for Leroy had been obliged to go to the creeks to attend to some work in progress; so could not go with us; in fact, he did not know of our intention of sallying out upon the tundra), and finally arrived at the cemetery. We spent little time in looking at the few rude head-boards and scattered mounds of those quiet sleepers by the sea, but bestowed more attention upon the beach-miners on our left. Here, at the edge of the water, and even standing in the surf, were many men at work, beach-mining with Long-Toms' or other contrivances, and all wore high-topped rubber boots.
"Looking about for the claim in which we were so much interested, we finally found the corner stakes, and the St. Charles cream can in which the location notice had been placed by Leroy a few months before.
"Then Pa wanted me to read the paper to him, which I did, after seating myself on a big hummock of tundra and properly adjusting my spectacles.
"The paper ran thus: 'We, the undersigned citizens of the United States, have discovered placer gold in the ground hereinafter described, and hereby claim for placer-mining purposes twenty acres on the tundra west of Nome and 100 feet north of the cemetery.' Then followed the distance between stakes, the name of the witness, our own names, and that of Leroy as our agent, the date of the location, etc.
"By this time Mr. Morrison was hungry. So after replacing the location notice on the initial stake under the old cream can, just as we found it, we lunched heartily on ham sandwiches, doughnuts, pie and cheese. A quart bottle of coffee had added much to the weight of the basket on the way.
"We now turned our attention to the tundra. Of what was it composed? How deep was it? Was it easily handled? Would it burn? Was it wet? And how large an extent of country, or rather territory, did it cover. These were only a few of the questions that Pa Morrison now flung at me in quick succession, leaning as he did meanwhile on the handle of the shovel.
"I grew impatient.
"'I really cannot answer your questions, Pa Morrison, and you know it; but as to the extent of the tundra I think I can safely say that it covers the whole of this gold claim and a good deal more besides, for I can see as far as the hills yonder without my glasses that it all looks alike,' and I tugged with might and main at some small trailing vines imbedded in the deep mosses.
"'As to the depth of this tundra you have the shovel in your hands and can soon investigate if you see fit to do so', I continued as Pa still stood looking dubiously about him without so much as making a jab with his shovel.
"'Then there is the composition of this tundra to be studied. If I understood the flora of Alaska I would give you the desired information quick, but I don't, and I am too old to begin to study it now. I believe, however, that I can tell a gold nugget when I see it, and if you will bestir yourself and turn up a few, I will agree to analyze them to your heart's content,' giving him what was meant to be a conciliatory smile which was entirely lost because he never looked my way.
"With that he set to work. Down into the deep moss and tangled vines of the tundra he plunged that new and shining shovel with force enough to jar the teeth out of his head. This was kept up for fully ten minutes, while I rummaged around among the hummocks for the lovely many colored mosses, and mentally tried to count the different kinds of tiny plants, numbers of which were blossoming in artistic colors and profusion under our feet.
"'Do you think a hole four feet square instead of six would be big enough?'
"'O, yes, certainly. Anything, if it is only one foot square,' said I, sarcastically, for I had a consuming anxiety to get down to those nuggets which lay 'just at the grass roots' and Pa was so awfully slow.
"We had talked this matter over the day before, and had decided upon a hole six feet square.
"'If I were in your place, Mary, I wouldn't be too smart,' said he testily, and then rested again upon the shovel handle. His face was flushed and heated. He breathed hard. Dead silence for a long minute.
"'I wish I'd brought the axe,' said he.
"'To cut these beastly vines and roots with.'
"'Dear me! Shall I go home and fetch it?'
"'No, you needn't', crossly. 'By the time you got here with it you would have to go right back to get supper. It is half past one o'clock now, and I have been at work an hour.'
"'But you were going to work all day, weren't you?' He had scarcely made an impression on that tundra, and not a single nugget had we seen.
"With that he planted a few more good, hard jabs into the thicket of moss, vines and leaves, trying to get the hole four feet square anyway, after my rather uncalled for taunt about its size.
"In the meanwhile I was not wasting my time. I was using the pick upon a cluster of bunch grass hummocks, wishing to fill the gold pan with dirt from underneath that I might wash it out and see if it contained 'colors'.
"Somehow I felt more subdued like, perhaps because I was growing tired; but Pa seemed to be affected differently. I could hear him grumbling to himself, and that was a bad sign. By and by his shovel struck something hard. He uttered an oath.
"'Pa Morrison!' I exclaimed, 'Ain't you ashamed of yourself? To think of your swearing like that. It's awful! Give me that shovel instantly.'
"'Give me that shovel, I say,' for we were both church members and had been for many years, and I was inexpressibly shocked at his profanity, and wished to remove the cause.
"'Shut your head, Mary Morrison! Whose doing this mining, will you tell me?'
"'O, of course you are, but then I wanted to help you if I could,' trying to speak quietly and coming close enough to take the instrument of dispute from his hand if he would let me.
"'What did you strike, Pa, that made the shovel ring just now?'
"'Shovel!—ring!—It was ice! bloomin', blasted, infernal ice, I tell you,' he shouted in a rage, standing in black muck almost to his knees, with the same material bespattered over him from head to foot. Indeed his red and perspiring face showed a couple of great, black smirches with which he had unknowingly beautified himself.
"He was fairly sizzling with wrath. 'Git down here yourself, and go to work, and see how you like it,' he shouted excitedly, forgetting his English and everything but that we had encountered an astonishingly hard proposition, and it had gotten the best of us. Like an old clock he was wound up and could not stop.
"'No gold, no nuggets, no grass roots even; nothing but muck and ice!' and another mouthful of big, strong words gurgled from that man's lips like water from an uncorked jug.
"'Don't, Mr. Morrison, don't do that,' said I, in a voice cold as the ice in that four foot hole, 'you may be heard by some one who will report you to the church trustees, and then you will be expelled. At your age it would be a positive disgrace.'
"'Shut your mouth, I tell you,' he yelled, 'I ain't no baby! I know what I'm doing, and I know what I want to do, but it ain't mining on this confounded tundra!'
"At this I clapped my hands over my ears to shut out such language, but he kept on just the same.
"'Did we lease our farm for a whole year with all the machinery and stock, pack up our household furniture and come three thousand miles over this water like the blooming old idiots we are, to dig in a muckhole full of ice? Did we tell our banker that he should have the very first gold we took out of the ground to pay the two hundred dollar mortgage on our town lots? Does this look much like lifting mortgages from anything?'
"As I made no reply he insisted, 'Does it, I say?'
"'No, Pa Morrison, it doesn't,' I admitted, 'but wait a minute and let me talk.'
"'Well, ain't you talking now?' he rejoined irritably.
"Without noticing his exasperating words or tone I said calmly:
"'I remember hearing Leroy say when we first arrived that the tundra is a hard and peculiar proposition. Many have failed at mining it, but to those who go to work at it in the right way, at the proper time it will prove a bonanza. Now, probably you and I have not gone at it properly.'
"A surly silence ensued, during which Pa worked slowly, with anything but a good grace. Leroy was right. The tundra was a hard and peculiar proposition. Nothing like it had we ever seen before. For miles on three sides of us it spread itself like a carpet of green, dotted often with tiny pools of clear water, shining like glass in the June sunshine. Miles away to the northward rolled the smooth-topped hills, only one of them bearing a small, rocky crest; while further away, and forming a background to these, lay the snow-tipped Sawtooth."
To the south of us and close at hand spread the wonderful waters upon whose broad and beautiful bosom we had so lately sailed, and whose gently sweeping surf was today making sweet music among the sands and pebbles on the beach.
"Many ships lay at anchor beyond. However, it was neither the scenery, nor the water, nor the ships that we were now called upon to consider; but a layer of ice, the depth of which we did not know, lying between us and the much desired golden nuggets. The ground lay level and open to the sun, with nothing to prevent its thawing except this peculiar blanket of tundra mosses, vines, and plants, which formed an insulator as perfect as if made to order. It was now the middle of June. There was no doubt but that the ice would remain as it was all summer.
"Giant powder might possibly be used, but it was dangerous and expensive. I would never allow Father to handle the stuff. Better let it all go forever. Probably Pa was right about our being foolish to come here. We could go home again as many people were doing. There lay the steamers making preparations to sail; but how our friends at home would laugh at us!
"On the other hand was it not too soon to pronounce on this tundra, and really no fair trial of the ground or mining? Then, too, our son probably had his own plans for us which must be more intelligent ones, for had he not had some experience and a year's residence in this place?
"There were the creek claims, besides. They must surely be very different and easier to work.
"Reasoning thus I had wandered away a short distance by myself in order to let Pa's temper cool, and had forgotten the panning I had started out to do.
"I now returned. Taking up the gold pan I filled it with dirt and muck from the four foot hole taken directly above the objectionable ice, and though I found its weight almost more than I could carry, and Pa did not offer to help me in the least, I carried it to a small pool of water at no great distance and began to pan it.
"How heavy it was to be sure. There might be gold in it yet. I would see presently. I had watched men panning on the beach that morning and I believed I could do it as it appeared very easy.
"Immersing the pan in the water, after pinning my skirts carefully higher, I began the rotary motion so necessary to separate the gold from the sand and dirt. A moment of this employment and I was breathing heavily and felt very warm. I put the pan down and flung off my sun-bonnet, pulling my sleeves a notch higher before continuing. Again the rotary movement with various dips of the edge of the big pan to let the waste material pass away. Small pebbles showed themselves and had to be picked out, the heavier material sinking in the natural order of things, to the bottom.
"I was watching the outcome with great interest, though panting for breath and covered with perspiration. Suddenly the soft earth under my right foot gave way, and I found myself, gold pan and all, in the mud and water up to my knees.
"I thought of Pa and his recent profanity, but I shut my teeth resolutely together, wringing out the edges of my petticoats and pulling my rubber boot tops still higher.
"Fishing for the gold pan I brought it to light. Of course its contents were lost, my hands and clothes were muddied and my efforts wasted; but I would not give it up yet.
"Another pan of the same material was brought and a second trial was made, with success this time as the pan was not filled so full.
"Finally, after shaking, twisting, dipping, picking out pebbles, washing off sand, and resting a moment at intervals, it was finished.
"There was gold in the pan.
"A few small 'colors', bright and shining as if made so by much scouring of beach sand, appeared in the bottom of the gold pan to gladden my longing eyes, and I hastened to show them to Pa Morrison, whose head and shoulders were still visible in that four foot hole.
"'Humph!' said he, in much disgust, as I exhibited the result of my labors. 'Is that all?'
"'And no nuggets?'
"At that he flung the pick he had been using in the ice upon the ground.
"'I'm going home', he said shortly.
"Now I hardly knew whether he intended to say he was going to the United States, or to the little cabin and tent on Front Street, but rather than run the risk of exploding another bomb of wrath like the last one by asking a question, I kept quiet and made preparations to go back to our tent.
"On the beach we washed our hands and smoothed our clothing as best we could; but the frown which had lodged on Pa's forehead remained.
"That evening when Leroy had returned from his work and we had eaten our eight o'clock supper with the sun still shining very brightly upon the tent, the boy lighted his pipe and asked for the story of the day's doings.
"I then gave it from the beginning. When I reached Pa's discovery of the ice in the prospect hole on the tundra, Leroy laughed heartily. Then seeing the aggrieved look on his father's face, and, I suppose, a bothered one on my own, he became more serious, and drawing closer, took my hand in both of his.
"'I never intended you to begin mining in that way, Mother,' he said, simply, in a low voice. 'I want you here to help me keep house, to mend my clothes, to bake bread and fry griddle cakes, and do the many little things for Father and me that only you can do. In this way I can keep my health and give all my time to my mining.'
"'I want you, Father,' he continued, laying his hand affectionately on his pa's knee, 'to do my book-keeping, reckoning the time and wages of my men at work on the claims. Accounts of assessment work on twenty claims, besides new prospecting in different localities, will give you something to do after cutting the kindling for Mother; and neither of you need feel that you are useless nor idle. Part of these gold claims are yours, and in your own names, and you can both make short 'mushing' trips of inspection over the country when you like; though the new railroad up Anvil will be finished in a few weeks, and then you can ride. Under no consideration must either of you think for one moment of buying steamer tickets back to the States inside of a year. At the end of that time we will be taking out so much gold that you will not wish to leave, I assure you. I am almost thirty years old now, Mother, and you and Father are all I have,' he said softly, pressing my hand.
"Then I kissed his forehead and promised to stay, and I have never been sorry. Father said he would try it a year, and then see about staying longer, and here we are still in Nome after four years without once going 'outside'.
"And you like it here?" they asked.
"Very much indeed, because our ground is turning out finely, and Leroy is so good to us.
"About that tundra claim, however, nothing was ever done. Pa could never be induced to step his foot upon it again, and being so determined in the matter, we just let it drop.
"There it is yet, St. Charles cream can, stakes, and all; but the four foot hole, with its icy foundations, is nowhere to be seen, having been long ago levelled by wind and weather."
THE HIDDEN LEDGE
The summer of 1897 was a memorable one in the great Northwest. It was then that the first authentic news of the immense richness of the Klondyke region became public. Less than a dozen persons had wintered on Bonanza and Eldorado, the famous gold creeks discovered by Carmack in September, 1896, and these reported the marvelously rich "strikes." Certain weighty moose-hide sacks they carried, confirmed their stories.
Two weeks later the docks of the principal cities on the sunset coast presented a changed appearance. All was hurry and flurry. Ships being loaded to the deck rails were moored by their great hawsers alongside docks groaning under immense freight deposited upon them. The rush and clatter of drays and wagons united in one deep, deafening roar. These huge masses of freight and baggage presented the same general appearance. Everything with which to begin mining life in a new and barren country was there. Dog sleds and fur robes, heavy army sacks crammed to their drawstrings with Mackinaw and rubber clothing, boots and shoes, boats, tents, dogs and horses, piles of lumber for boat building, coils of rope, dog harness and bales of hay, while fat yellow coated hams bulged in heaps both gay and greasy in the summer sun as though further frying were unnecessary.
There were mining tools heaped in corners or against the walls of warehouses, being stacked too high to safely keep their places if jostled ever so lightly. New and clean gold pans, one inside another, towered roofward among outfits of aspiring tradespeople of the prospective camps in the Klondyke; these same rich men in embryo being also the proprietors of the closely piled sacks of flour, meal and beans, along with hundreds of cases of butter, eggs and cream, ad infinitum.
Among the hurrying, excited men preparing for departure an undesirably large number were those anxiously caring for bottle-filled cases and black barrels, cumbrous and heavy enough to have been already crammed with Klondyke gold; but in reality being full to the brim of that which (their owners prognosticated) would relieve them of using pick and shovel, and bring them without effort after their arrival in the new diggings all the shining gold they could want to handle. It concerned them little that they would give in exchange for all this wealth only that which would deplete the pockets, befuddle the brains and steal the wits of the deluded purchasers, making them in every case less able to cope with adverse conditions so desperate in this new, untried, and remote region.
These men walked, well dressed and pompous, among their goods and chattels on the great and busy wharves in the hot sunshine, mopping their perspiring brows and fat cheeks, which latter, like those of well kept porkers, adorned their rubicund faces. Across their broad waistcoats dangled glittering ropes and "charms" of tawdry composition, well suited to the ankles of a chaingang, so heavy were they; and from spotless white shirt fronts there shone jewels (?) of enormous size and cheapness.
Above the din was heard at short intervals on the steamer's deck the rattle of machinery, dropping huge, freight-laden nets or baskets into the hold. Upon the wharves hustled blackened stevedores, flushed and panting, reeking with perspiration and tobacco juice, but straining, tugging, lifting until one could almost imagine he heard their muscles snap; resolutely and steadily laboring hour after hour, until at last, wearied beyond further endurance, they gave way to others who sprang energetically into their places.
It was little past midsummer. A large ship of the collier class, lately fitted in the roughest possible manner for carrying passengers to Alaska, lay alongside the dock in the great town of S. Hundreds of people waited on shore to catch the latest glimpse of friends about to leave them, while a round thousand of those eager to "strike it rich" in the new Klondyke swarmed over the vessel.
Of these, many, no doubt, would never return. It was a sad day, and brightened only by that hope without which the world would be undone.
Upon their arrival in the quiet little sea of Lynn three days later all hands were cheered because this indicated the end of their uncomfortable voyage; and even if new discomforts awaited them, they would, at least, be those occurring on shore and under broad heavens, in pure, cool air, where the fetid atmosphere of ship's steerage quarters was unknown.
But alas! When the dense fog lifted, and the sun with diffidence peeped through its grey and watery veil, the sight that met the eyes of the expectant argonauts was grand but not reassuring. Mountains rose to wondrous heights above and on all sides of them, while those directly in front, and barring them from their desired route and destination in sheer contrariety loomed heaven-high, as though they would rend the azure sky with their jagged and snowy peaks. Steep and precipitous rose the sides of those giant hills directly from the water's edge except where, at the foot of the Grand Canyon, trending northward, a small tract of wet and boggy land dejectedly spread itself. Between this and the anchored vessel upon the decks of which stood the thousand would-be miners the waters of old Lynn rose and fell with an ocean's pulsing, at the same time quietly moving in their accustomed way among the beach sands and shingle. No soothing lap of the waters against the sides of the vessel consoled these unromantic men. There were no docks or wharves at Skagway. The immense ship's cargo must be unloaded into small boats or hastily built scows to be towed ashore over the shallow waters. It was the beginning of a gigantic undertaking, and many, hearing of a more desirable landing-spot and a quicker, easier mountain pass further on, kept with the ship to Dyea. But the same low and lazily lapping waters surrounded them as at Skagway. Tides rose and fell, and, at their own will, fogs settled and lifted.
By turns rain came, winds blew, and the sun shone, the latter in a subdued and apparently reluctant manner, as in winter on the shores of old Puget.
At this stage of affairs there was no further postponement of an evil day possible, and the remaining voyagers with their freight were hustled on shore with as much expedition as was permissible with a few barges, flat-bottomed fishing boats, and Indian canoes.
With their faraway homes behind them, and the top of lowering mountains often hidden by storm-clouds before them, these hundreds of daring argonauts faced the hardships of a trail, and life in an Alaskan mountain wilderness; their own backs and those of a few pack animals being the only means of transporting many tons of necessary supplies into the vast interior to which they journeyed.
To say that the courage of no man failed at the prospect would be untrue; but none liked to appear to his fellows to weaken, and notwithstanding the disheartening outlook, all set to work with a will until the hold of the great ship was entirely empty and her waterline had risen many feet above the ripples of Lynn.
The scene on shore was a repetition of that on the neighboring beach at Skagway, separated from it, however, by glittering peaks, the snows of which were melted daily by the sun and warm wind and found their way in streams down ravines and canyons, across glaciers and around boulders, dropping lower and still lower to the moraines near salt water.
Busy indeed was the scene now presented. Colonies of canvas tents were grouped upon the beaches close above the high water mark where the outfits of the travelers had been hastily dumped. Camp fires crackled and Indian fishermen traded fresh salmon for tobacco; but the tired and already mud-bedraggled prospectors slept heavily upon the damp, cold ground when too much exhausted to proceed further with their "packing."
The race was now on. With many it was a race to their death. On sight of the struggle at closer range, men formed themselves into groups or partnerships, thinking thus to simplify and make easier the crossing with their heavy outfits these tremendous mountains. In some instances this was a wise precaution, but in many more cases it was followed by failure to work harmoniously together, and profanity, bad feeling, and quarreling ensued.
Like fish in their native element, or vampires living off others, so the fat and rubicund-visaged owners of the bulky, black barrels before mentioned, flourished on the needs, discouragements and extremity of their brothers. Booths and shacks were expeditiously erected above their barrels dumped out upon the sands, counters and rude seats were provided, while flaring, staring cloth signs were flung out informing all that this was "The Shelter", "Tommy's Place", or "Your Own Fireside", in order to allure the cold, weary and disheartened travelers into the saloons. Here, in exchange for their money, they were given poisonous and adulterated liquors, imbibing which, with empty stomachs and discouraged hearts, they became ill-natured and selfish, as well as in a chronic state of internal drought.
At Skagway the army of "stampeders" swarmed up into the mountains. Following the Skagway River northward up the Grand Canyon, their difficult trail crossed and recrossed the bed of the stream many times. With small trees "corduroy" bridges were hastily thrown down in spots made impassable by bogs and the continued tread of hundreds of hurrying feet. With quick, impatient axe strokes men struck at overhanging and obstructing trees and vines. On all sides hung huge boulders and cliffs like pouting, protruding lips, as if the mountains had been shaken into shape by some subterrane force and resented even yet their rough treatment. Mosses hung from tree trunks, and vines thickly blanketed the rocks and ledges between which dashed sparkling waterfalls in haste to join the Skagway below. It mattered not if the hot noonday sun at times entered these fastnesses; it served only to cheer the hearts of little birds and animals, and bring to pestiferous life millions of mosquitoes and flies to torment both day and night the unfortunate toilers on the White Pass Trail.
These toilers worked in desperation. Their mad haste was infectious. Men literally tumbled over each other on the trail in their eagerness to put the Passes behind them. Every man carried strapped upon his back as much of a load as it was possible for him to carry, and often times more, with the not infrequent result that they dropped beneath their packs on the trail. In like manner they loaded the animals they drove before them, and here was exhibited man's awful inhumanity to the dumb brutes. Pack horses, mules and dogs, loaded to top-heaviness and cinched until one could almost hear their bones crack, climbed, straining, struggling, panting, wild eyed and steaming from over-exertion under the lash of angry and profane drivers, until they sank to their haunches, helpless and exhausted, in some quagmire. Such common misfortune necessitated the unloading of the poor beast at the loss of time and patience, not only of his own driver, but those following, as any obstruction to this narrow trail was greeted with extreme disfavor.
Language both bad and bitter was hourly exchanged between men on this strenuous stampede to the Klondyke in the fall of '97. Animosities were born which die only when hearts in men's bosoms are forever stilled. Feuds were here originated, which if not settled with firearms were ended in ways as deadly afterwards.
Conditions on the Chilkoot were identical. "Tenderfeet" were there as tender, and the way as rough, even if a trifle shorter than that over the White Pass. Nor were the tempers of the Chilkoot argonauts better than those of their neighbors.
One root of the matter was not far to seek. Had they been content to leave liquors untouched, nerves would have been less often jarred, patience would not have become so soon exhausted, while brains would have been clearer to plan, foresee, and execute. Not every man drank liquors. There were numbers whose strongest stimulant was the fragrant coffee, or water from the mountain springs; and these were among the quiet, helpful ones who plodded patiently and industriously; lending a kindly hand to some unfortunate fallen comrade or animal along the rock-bound trail. They, too, were the ones who soonest reached the first objective point of their journey—the end of mountaineering at Bennett, from which place their boats would carry them into the Klondyke.
Among hundreds of others two travelers one day trudged with heavy packs upon their backs, each following his loaded mule, which, once placed in the long line of men and animals, wending their way toward the mountains, would not, in self-defense choose to deviate from that course.
Both men were strong, of middle age, and with money and supplies enough to take them into the gold fields. After landing at Skagway they decided to go into partnership, chiefly for the purpose of receiving assistance.
Little thought was given by either to the help he was to render his partner; and although they had now been but a few days together, each had already reminded the other of some fancied duty to himself; which act, often repeated, will sometimes stir up unpleasantly the muddy waters of men's souls. After having gotten a late start from Skagway, they had gone only about two miles up the Canyon when both men and mules seemed too much fagged to proceed further without rest, and as night was close upon them they decided to make camp.
Turning to the west side of the Canyon they moved laboriously among fallen logs, boulders and driftwood, and through the tangle of vines, ferns, and foliage which also barred their way.
When they were well out of sight of their trail companions they found themselves close under a huge wall of rock in the steep mountain side which made a quiet spot for camping.
Selecting an open space between trees, the packs of all were deposited upon the ground. Men and mules now breathed deeply, and rested strained muscles, so chafed beneath the heavy and unaccustomed packs.
"Give the mules enough rope, but fasten 'em tight, Smithson," said one, "we don't want 'em wanderin' away and we havin' to hunt 'em up. Time is too precious on this trail, and there are too many fellows around wishin' fur just such mules. We'd have a dandy time hiking it over the Pass with our four tons of grub all on our backs, wouldn't we?"
"It would take us a year, sure," was the reply, "and may as it is. I know one thing. I'm goin' to take a drink before continuing these proceedings, and I advise you to do the same," pulling a flat bottle from his "jumper" pocket and putting it to his lips.
For answer his companion dropped the sticks he had been gathering for a fire, and produced a duplicate bottle which he quickly appropriated in like manner.
To an old miner, inured to such life, the work of pitching camp here would have been slight, but to these men it was a new experience. Cooking upon a camp fire, sleeping upon a bed of boughs, cut from the thicket when exhausted after new and hard labor was bad enough; but when to this was added the almost unendurable stinging and singing of the ever present mosquitoes it was a thousand fold worse. A good fire and smoke must be kept going all night, and by lying close beside it they hoped to get some rest from the insects.
Before sleeping the two men planned their next day's work. They would leave everything and ride back to Skagway for another load of supplies, getting all here under the rock before proceeding further up the trail.
In the meantime the bothersome winged insects buzzed and flirted. They crept into the ears of men and mules in spite of the long journey the latter necessitated; the poor brutes learned after a time either to keep up a continual flopping of these head ornaments, or to assume a low, drooping position, thus keeping their ear chambers closed to visitors; while their caudal appendages were not allowed a moment's respite from duty. The men relieved themselves of bitter and revengeful sentiments toward their unwelcome visitants by deep and hearty curses, until a little later, worn and weary, in the camp-fire "smudge" they slept despite their discomforts. It is not really known, but it is supposed, that the two long eared animals might have done good work that night had they been wise enough to also raise their voices in protest; the mosquitoes of these mountain fastnesses being as yet unused to such foreign and reverberating sounds.
However, the men slept fitfully, though they arose in testy humor the following morning and took immediate recourse to their whiskey bottles upon awaking.
The mules were still fastened to a tree nearby. They had crossed in front of the wall of rock which was moss covered to such an extent that its face was considerably hidden, and then climbed higher in an attempt to secure the best herbage, and were still browsing.
"Smithson, you're the youngest, you fetch the mules while I make the fire for breakfast," said Roberts to his companion, yawning and rubbing his mosquito bitten hands and face.
"Do it yourself! I'm only two years younger than you. If I'm going to hear that gag every time there is anything extra hard to do on this trip I'll quit now and hunt a boy to work with," was the disgruntled answer.
"Do it then! I don't care; though I don't think it's harder to get the mules than to bring water, cut wood, and get breakfast, do you? I'll swap jobs if you want to, but getting the mules includes watering them at the creek, of course."
"Oh, yes, of course," echoed Smithson in a surly voice.
"You better get a move on or I'll have breakfast cooked and eaten before you get 'round to anything. You needn't suppose I'm going to do your work and mine, too," was the impatient rejoinder of Roberts as he swung his axe hard into a stick of wet wood he was cutting.
Smithson shuffled off up the bluff in search of the animals, which, when found, were treated in no very kindly manner by the sour faced, mosquito-bitten and generally disgusted tenderfoot, whose introduction into this new world was, apparently, taking all good-nature out of him.
The mules made no resistance and were soon poking their noses into the creek waters where Smithson had led them. When he returned to camp expecting to find a smoking breakfast awaiting him, he was disappointed. Looking about for Roberts he saw him against the face of the cliff nearly half way to its top.
"Smithson, come here quick," called Roberts in a voice trembling with excitement.
"I won't do it! I want my breakfast. What are you doing? Picking wild flowers, I suppose. How're we goin' to get along without grub, I'd like to know. Come down, I say!"
Roberts appeared to be working industriously. Finally he rose from his stooping position, and motioning to his partner, called out in a low tone:
"Come quick, man, or you'll be sorry! Never mind breakfast; you can eat that any day; but you don't see this sight often."
With that Smithson ambled over to the foot of the cliff.
"What is it?" he inquired crossly.
"Catch this bit of rock and look at it," said Roberts in a low, excited voice, dropping a small white fragment at the feet of the other.
"By Jove! Roberts, it carries gold!"
"Shut your mouth! Don't tell the men on the trail! These hills have ears and plenty of 'em. Come up here quick, but first bring a pick and hammer from the packs."
With that the dilatory fellow forgot his hunger, his mosquito-bitten hands and face, and in less than two minutes was climbing up the cliff with the tools.
He found his partner looking well pleased but perspiring. As Smithson joined him he sat down on the rock and mopped his face with his red bandana.
"What made you come up here?" asked Smithson, "I thought you were gettin' the grub."
"So I was, but I had no dry wood, and saw some near the foot of the cliff. Coming to get it I saw that the ropes of the mules had crossed this rock and as they climbed higher their ropes pulled tighter and had worn off the moss which fell to the ground below. Among this moss there were several bits of whitish rock which seemed to be quartz. Then I saw a spot high above my head that looked like the small piece below, and climbed to see, when you came back and found me."
"What do you think of it?" asked Smithson.
"Think of it? Why, man, we have struck a quartz ledge with gold in it! See that shiny yellow stuff, scattered through this rock! Can't you tell gold when you see it?"
"Yes, but perhaps that's all there is of it—what then?"
"A likely story! No, sir, there's more where that comes from. Give me that pick! You scrape off the moss and break up some of the rock as I get it out, and we'll see what it looks like; but above all things we must not forget to speak low, for by Jiminy crickets! we don't want to see anyone around here but you and me."
"What about goin' to Skagway for the freight?"
"We won't go to-day. We've got enough grub to last till to-morrow. We'll work right here."
They did so. Even the mosquitoes were forgotten. At noon they wondered what made them feel so faint. The bottles in their "jumper" pockets were empty—they had eaten nothing since the night before. Both at last decided to quit work and prepare their meal before prospecting further.
In their eager efforts to get at the width of the ledge the men afterwards scraped off the moss and vines, by this means exposing what appeared to be a four foot vein. On each side of this vein ran a wall of hard, dark rock they did not recognize, but the quartz was quartz and carried free gold; and that at present was enough for them. In their ignorance they knew nothing of which way the vein "dipped", of what the "gangue" was composed, nor how often and where "faults" occurred. The question in hand was the presence of gold and the length, width, and depth of the quartz lode. The gold was really there in pretty yellow streaks and spots, shining brightly in whichever way it was turned.
Of course Roberts claimed the discovery. This angered his partner.
"The mules are the real discoverers," declared Smithson with spirit, "and one of them is mine. You knew very well that the quartz was there when you sent me after the animals so you could prospect the place."
"You're a liar, and you know it!" retorted Roberts, hotly. "There is none so suspicious of others as a rogue. If you understood mining laws you would know that by being my partner one half of all I find is yours without your raising a finger, and you could quit this howl before beginning. A man may be an idiot in the States if he chooses, but here he needs all the sense he was born with besides what he can cultivate." With this thrust Roberts picked up his tools to resume his prospecting.
"I like that first rate. It reminds me of home and Hannah. I presume you want me to put these things in a grub box and wash the dishes while you go out to prospect your quartz ledge, don't you?" sneered Smithson, in whose temper there was little improvement since he had eaten because his stock of whiskey and tobacco was exhausted.
"It is almost as easy as swinging a heavy iron pick, I reckon," replied Roberts sarcastically.
With this the men parted. A fresh dispute soon arose, however, as to whether the ledge should be immediately staked or not.
"We would surely be fools to go and leave it for others, especially as it is uncovered and in plain sight," objected Smithson.
"We will cover it so that none can find it. If we stake the ledge it must be recorded in Skagway, and the moment we do that our secret is out. By simply planting stakes or monuments, we cannot hold the ground from others, but it must be on record. Now if we stop here long all these fellows on the trail will get into Dawson ahead of us and gobble up the claims. We started out for placer gold—creek gold—not quartz gold which takes machinery for development. By going to Dawson first we may find enough to allow of our opening up this ledge in a year or two."
"Well, I've always heard that 'a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush', and if this is true I think we'd better stay right here."
"If you knew more you would kick less. It takes a lot more money to open up quartz mines than we've got or ever may have. But I see what you're after. You want to stay near Skagway and its well warmed barrooms, don't you?" laughed Roberts.
"You go to blazes!"
"No, no, I'm going to Dawson. But first I think we'd better drop this business and pack our supplies from Skagway, don't you?" asked the more sensible man of the two.
"Yes, yes," said Smithson, who was thinking of his whiskey and tobacco in that place, and of his chronic thirst which water from the mountain could not allay.
Before leaving, the new prospect hole was hidden from the view of stragglers. A few tall saplings were felled, which, with foliage still upon them, were pushed over the edge of the cliff with stems downward in order that their leafy tops might rest against the prospected rock and temporarily hide the new discovery. In case anyone happened that way it would appear to them that the saplings had been felled and dropped over the cliff for firewood.
By this time the White Pass trail had grown to be a veritable horror. Men were ill and suffering from hard work and exposure. Animals lay dead at the foot of cliffs, over the edges of which they had slipped or been crowded with packs still strapped upon their sore and bleeding backs. Others lay, stripped of all accoutrements, in the hot sunshine among the buzzing flies, after a broken leg had necessitated a bullet in the head, thus causing stenches to fill the nostrils of the already suffering and oppressed passersby. No one had time to bury animals. If a man fell it was, of course, obligatory to halt from their "packing" long enough to dig a shallow bed among the rocks; but this done, and a handful of granite fragments heaped above his head, the procession moved on as before. No time could be spared for headstone marking; and long after these strugglers of the argonauts on the White Pass Trail were forgotten by all but the participants (who will never to their dying day forget them) these lonely mounds of the fallen men could at intervals have been seen flanked by bleaching bones of defunct animals.
Lonely indeed were these dreary resting places. The scream of the eagle as he easily swung on powerful pinions from cliff to cliff on family errands or to drink at the foot of some rushing cascade was the only dirge that was sung. Ferns swayed gently in shaded nooks, and wild flowers nodded familiarly to each other. Filmy winged bees flitted with bustling movement head foremost into the cups of bluebells beneath skies as azure as they, and in atmosphere as pure as God could make it.
In winter all this was changed. Snow covered the little mounds as well as the whole surrounding region; and intermittently the falling flakes whirled and drifted into ravines and canyons, making them level with the steep mountain-sides; presently melting under the sunshine and beginning a race to the sea.
However, the argonauts hurried on. They were not here to moralize—they had something else to do.
As the two men proceeded, making numerous trips with the freight laden mules between camps, they found, much to their disappointment, that, without assistance, they would not be able to reach Lake Bennett in time to build a boat and make their way into the Klondyke before being overtaken by winter.
In order to proceed faster it would be necessary to hire Indian packers to help them over the summit of the Pass, else the sun of another summer would see them still wearily toiling on that terrible trail.
Indians were then hired. The great mountain tops, bald of everything save boulders and a few saucer-shaped lakelets reflecting in their cold depths the floating clouds above, seemed now for the first time to encourage the harassed and footsore travelers.
Soon they were cheered by entering a forest. Here was fuel in abundance, and shelter, at least partial, from frosts and rain. Below, the green and level "meadows" beckoned to them, and still farther the shining waters of Bennett. But trail troubles would soon for them be over, and with lighter hearts, though with weary feet and backs, they stumbled on in their eagerness to reach the long waterway which was to guide them into the promised land.
Beautiful Bennett! How pure its waters, and how clean its sands! With what maidenly modesty it nestles in the rugged arms of its lovers, the sky-piercing mountains!
Tents were everywhere. Cabins rose in a night. In surrounding thickets were the axes of men heard, felling trees for boat-building. Night and day this continued, and turns were taken at sleeping in order that the work might not be stopped; indeed, some men seemed never to sleep, so intent were they on making an early entrance into the gold fields ahead.
Not so, Smithson. He slept more than ever. His bottle made him drowsy. It did not increase the sweetness of his naturally selfish disposition, which under the delays, hardships, and extra expense of their journey had rather increased his laziness and stubbornness.
Nothing Roberts did pleased him. They often came to words, but never to blows in an argument, for sooner than do this Roberts would turn on his heel and leave his partner to fall asleep and thus escape his burden of the work.
"Come now," said Roberts one morning, "our boat is nearly finished and we ought to be off and away in about two days. You can surely do the caulking of seams, after which I'll paint her."
"I never caulked a boat in my life, and I think it a poor time to begin," said Smithson. "If it isn't done right all hands may go to the bottom. You better get someone else to do it."
"There is nobody but me to do it unless we pay ten dollars a day, and we can't afford that. I've done most of the work so far, and I think you might take hold now like a man if you never do again," argued Roberts.
The words "like a man" nettled Smithson. He resented the inference that he was not manly. Seizing his hat he shambled off toward the beach where the boat was in process of construction.
His heart was filled with anger. He began fairly to hate Roberts. He had no right to order him around, and he hated to leave that quartz ledge. If Roberts were only out of his way the hidden ledge would all be his own. He had pondered this many times when his working partner supposed him sleeping. Only for Roberts he could sell the boat and supplies for double their cost, return to Skagway, and build a cabin near the quartz ledge, thus escaping the long and dangerous trip down the lakes and rivers as well as the awful Arctic winter which he more and more dreaded in the Klondyke. On the south side of the mountains the weather would be more mild; he would have no difficulty in finding another partner, if not of his own sex, then the other—why not? he asked himself. The owner of a ledge like that one might afford luxuries beyond those of the common people. In this way he ruminated, standing with his hands in pockets alongside the boat he was expected to finish by caulking.
Smithson hated work. Why should he work? There was enough gold in the big ledge on the other side of the summit to keep him as long as he lived if he could have the whole and manage it to suit himself. Could a boat be caulked lightly in spots, he wondered, so that such weak places might be plugged at the proper moment afterwards, making it fill with water and sink with its freight?
It might be done, but that would be bad policy, for freight landed even this far had cost large sums of money; farther on it would be worth more and could be sold for many times what they had paid for it at starting; but men were far too plenty. One man would not be missed. It might be managed, perhaps, and he decided to do the caulking as requested by Roberts.
An hour later a fair beginning had been made. A fire was built over which the smoke of melting pitch ascended, while oakum was filling the seams of the boat's sides under the hands of the new ship-builder.
Smithson could work if he liked. When his partner, after taking a much needed rest and nap, came out to see how the business was progressing he was well pleased. The work appeared satisfactory.
"I'm afraid you'll be sick, old fellow, after such exertion as this," laughed he with a twinkle in his eye, "for you're breaking your record, sure; but keep right on; I'll get paint and brushes in readiness to start my job the moment you've done. The sun will soon dry all thoroughly," and he hastened back to their tent.
For reply the new workman only lighted his pipe. His mind was busy and he needed a nerve-quieter. The train of thought in which he had just indulged was strange, and rather disquieting—altogether he needed the smoke.
The common industry at Bennett was now the launching of boats. Hundreds of frail and faulty craft were started upon their long voyage to the Klondyke laden with freight to the water's edge. Men who had never before used a saw, axe, or plane, here built boats and sailed courageously away.
Smithson and Roberts had done the same.
It was late in the afternoon. The storm clouds were rapidly gathering overhead. The men had raised a sail and were scudding northward before the wind towards Caribou. If they could make the crossing that night, Roberts said, they would be in luck. To sleep on shore and sail again next morning was his plan.
Night came on. No other craft was near. The wind flapped their small sail and the yardarm wobbled badly. Roberts sat in the stern.
"Mind the sail, there, Smithson, and pull that tarpaulin over the grub pile, for by Jingo! we're goin' to catch it now!" as the cold rain dashed full against their faces, and they both crouched lower in the boat.
"Haul in the sail!" shouted Roberts, an instant later at the top of his voice, and Smithson arose presumedly to obey.
"Haul in the sail!" repeated Roberts while tending the rudder, as the other hesitated.
With that the man addressed moved, but not in the way expected. He grasped the yardarm and swung it suddenly and heavily around against Roberts.
Instantly the side of the little craft dipped low, shipping water, but the roar of the gale drowned the noise of a sudden splash. A cry of horror, the flash of two hands in the water, and the boat sped madly away on her course.
Ten minutes later the white capped waters tossed a boat upon the beach near Caribou. Its one occupant looked wildly around in the darkness but presently managed to make a fire by which to warm and dry himself.
He muttered incoherently meanwhile.
"I didn't do it—'twas the wind—dark and wild—couldn't stop the boat—terrible storm—two hands in the water—Jove! where's that whiskey?" and he fumbled among the supplies under the tarpaulin. When he had found it and drunk deeply he felt stronger and replenished the fire.
"The ledge! The hidden ledge! It's all mine now, yes, mine, mine!" and he hugged himself in his greedy, guilty joy.
"To-morrow I'll sell the grub and backtrack to the coast to guard it."
The storm died away and the cold, bright moon shone searchingly. The man lay down in the boat to rest, pulling his furs and tarpaulin over him.
Sleep did not immediately come at his bidding. He saw and heard affrighting things. The rush and roar of the elements—two hands flashing out of the ink-black water—the cry of horror—but he wanted to forget, and at last, in spite of all, he slept.
* * * * *
An Indian guide trudged heavily up the long trail toward the summit. He was closely followed by a white man and both were headed southward. The guide carried a heavy pack on his back, but the white man was "traveling light."
When night came they camped and rested; amusing themselves for a while with a poker game. Black bottles kept them company. At last trouble arose over the cards. Smithson had indiscreetly allowed his guide a glimpse of his money belt, and though the white man was well armed, in a moment of forgetfulness he allowed the native to pass behind him; when a sudden shot and thud upon the ground quickly settled forever all scores between them.
An Indian seldom smiles.
This one smiled gloomily now; muttering as he wiped the revolver in his hand:
"Him bad white man yesterday,—good man now,—heap long time sleep."
Half an hour later the sure-footed Indian cautiously made his way along the trail. Stars twinkled overhead. A well filled money belt, a revolver, and blankets ornamented his person, though only the latter were visible.
The "Hidden Ledge" was close at hand, but unknowingly he passed it by; its secret having been, for the present, buried with the two partners who were numbered among the strenuous stampeders on the White Pass Trail.
A NEW KLONDYKE
Two miners sat smoking in a small log cabin in Dawson. They were hardy young fellows, and used the accent of born Canadians. They were brothers, and the elder was speaking.
"What's the use of our hanging 'round here all winter doing nothing? The best creeks are all staked, and there isn't the ghost of a show for us to get any first class ground hereabouts. Let's light out, blaze a new trail for ourselves, and prospect in the likeliest places during the winter instead of idling away our time here, eating up high-priced grub and hating ourselves. I'm sick of this camp. What do you say?"
"Which way shall we go?"
"Any old way. No, it would be better to have some definite idea of the point we wish to reach, of course. We might make for the headwaters of the Klondyke and then east into the unknown country where only a few poor Indians live."
"They might prove ugly. What then?"
"We could manage them. We would take plenty of grub and ammunition, and a couple of white men, at least, with us."
"What makes you think there's gold there? It wouldn't pay us to risk our lives for nothing in such a wilderness. I would be willing to go if I thought our time and efforts might turn up something good."
"I have been watching the Indians who come here for supplies from that direction, and they are far from penniless. They carry good-sized pokes of nuggets and dust which they use in trading. They must get these from some of the creeks over east," said the elder of the two men.
"They are mum as oysters; one can't get any information from them."
"What'll you bet I can't?"
"A box of cigars," laughed the younger, whose name seemed appropriately bestowed, for it was Thomas, and he often doubted.
With that George MacDougall drew on his fur coat and mittens and quitted the cabin. He would find a certain long haired Indian he had seen that day, and prove to his brother that he was not simply a boaster.
It was early in the evening; but for the matter of that, the hour made little difference, for time slipped by unreckoned in the Klondyke in winter. Night was more often than not turned into day by the restless denizens of the mining camp, and belated breakfast sometime the following afternoon was the sequel.
Just now the moon shown brightly above the camp, the deep frozen river and the high hills. George MacDougall could plainly hear the loud talking and shouts of those bent on dissipation while crossing the ice by dog-team to West Dawson. Glancing in that direction he saw the brilliantly lighted dance-house and saloon, whose blare of brassy instruments reached his unwilling ears at that distance; the still, cold air of an Arctic night being a perfect conductor of sound. Under the sheltering, furry fringe of his cap his forehead gathered itself into a scowl.
"What fools!" he muttered. "If one must carouse why come here? That sort of thing can be done on the 'outside', but in here where grub is worth its weight in gold, and none expect comforts, why waste time? We came here for that we cannot obtain in the States—at least I did—for gold,—gold, and I'll have it, too, by Gad!" Then pricking up his ears again at the end of his soliloquy, he listened and laughed aloud.
"Hear those malamute cusses! How they do whoop it up, to be sure," as a familiar canine chorus surged clearcut through the frosty air. "I'd rather listen any time to the brutes zig-zagging up and down their scales than to the giggling 'box rustlers' from the Monte Carlo crossing yonder to the dance-house; but where's that blooming Indian, I wonder? I must find him," and the stalwart Canadian moved on more quickly up the main street.
An hour later he again smoked in his cabin with his brother. Opposite them sat an Indian with long, black hair. The latter held in his hand a whiskey glass, now almost drained, the contents of which had no doubt called up the good-humored expression at the corners of the native's habitually unsmiling mouth.
The Canadians smoked; their chair-backs tilted against the wall. There was no hurry. The elder MacDougall re-filled the Indian's glass with liquor, and leisurely and carefully knocking the ashes from his pipe, placed it upon a shelf. He then took from an inside pocket a half dozen cigars of reputable brand and placed one between his lips, by chance, probably, glancing toward his visitor, whose fingers now twitched at sight of the much relished tobacco stick.
"Plenty gold where you come from?" carelessly interrogated MacDougall, his eyes on the lighted end of his cigar, and flirting away the match he had been using.
"Yes," grunted the Indian in answer.
"Can we find it, too, Pete?" queried the white man, at the same moment holding one of the cigars toward his visitor, who eagerly seized it.
"Will you show us a gold creek, Pete?" continued the patiently questioning Canadian.
"How much you give?"
"I'll give you a gallon of whiskey and a box of good cigars if you will take me with my brother here to your gold creek, or any gold creek that is not taken up by white men already. Understand, Pete?"
The Indian nodded. He loved liquor better than gold, but Yukon authorities had prohibited the sale of the stuff to Indians, and strictly enforced the law, so, though he had attempted in various ways to purchase it in Dawson he had not been successful. Here was the offer of a whole gallon in exchange for gold so far away that the white man would probably die before he reached it, even if he attempted to cover the distance; and the Indian acquiesced in the bargain.
Thomas MacDougall wanted to be shown some of Pete's gold, and so remarked; whereupon the latter thrust his hand into his trouser's pockets, well hidden by the fur parkie he wore, took out a poke and threw it upon the table. When Thomas had untied the string and held the moose-hide sack by its two lower corners bottom upwards there clattered out upon the boards enough of good-sized golden nuggets to cause the eyes of the doubter to sparkle with interest.
"Are you sure you did not steal these from some white man's cabin on Bonanza or Eldorado, Pete?" queried the skeptic Thomas.
"No steal 'um,—catch 'um big crik,—plent' gold,—heap. You sabee?"
Thomas understood, but only partly believed. His brother argued that it was a case of "nothing venture, nothing have" and he would take the risk and follow Pete into the wintry wilderness.
If indecision is a sign of weak minds then there are but few feeble-minded men in an Alaskan gold camp. Here men decide matters quickly. It is touch and go with them. This trip might mean the end of all things earthly to the two MacDougalls, but they determined to make the venture. They might fail of finding gold in quantities, but that was their fate if they remained in Dawson. They could die but once. Having risked so much, and come so far already, it was small effort to stake still more of time, effort and money, and they decided to follow Pete.
A week later the two brothers, (their company augmented by two white men and as many Indians, besides long-haired Pete, the guide) might have been seen slowly but carefully making their way through the snowy hill region of the headwaters of the Klondyke River. Mapped carelessly, as it often is, this appears a small and unpretending stream; but to the Indian or prospector who has tracked its length from a small creeklet at starting to a wide and rushing mouth emptying its pure waters into the muddy Yukon, it has a good length of several hundred miles, and must not be lightly mentioned. On its "left limit" were Bonanza and Eldorado Creeks where men with underground fires burning both night and day tried with puny strength to checkmate the stubborn ice king in order to add to the dumps to be hopefully washed out in the springtime. Though they burned their eyes from their sockets in these pestilential smoke holes, and though from badly cooked and scanty meals their blackened limbs made declaration that the dreaded scurvy was upon them; still there were always men eager to fill the places of those who succumbed, and the work went on.
There were creeks called Bear, Rock, Benson, Wolf, Gnat and Fox, which with Nello, Arizona, and many more, went to make up the far-famed Klondyke River.
Now all were fast frozen. Snow lay deep upon the ice. No babbling of hurrying waters over pebbly creek beds was heard, but instead, the axe of the solitary miner at wood chopping on the banks of silent streams.
As the short days passed, and the small caravan forged on, the smoke of white men's cabins was more seldom seen; until finally the last one was pointed out by Indian Pete, and it was soon left far behind.
Shorter grew the daylight hours. Proceeding they were forced to break trails, although their guide appeared familiar with the region and was heading toward the best and easiest pass in the Rockies. This tedious snow waste once crossed, their way to the great lakes was comparatively clear.
They soon learned to travel as well in the dusky snow-light as by daylight, and enjoyed it better, for there was no glare of the sun on the white mantled earth. Their dog-teams were good ones, and a source of comfort to the travelers whose experience with this mode of migration was limited. While the weary men slept in their little tents by night the malamutes howled and rested at intervals. If one happened to be startled by a bad dream he immediately communicated the fact to his neighbors, of whom there were more than thirty, and they, either from sympathetic interest in a brother, or because they resented being waked thus unceremoniously in the midst of enjoyable naps, began echoing their sentiments in the most lugubrious manner. To all sorts of notes in the musical scale the voices of these dogs ranged, they seeming to spare no pains to give varied entertainment. How these creatures work so hard, eat and sleep so little, howl so much, and keep in good condition, is ever an unsolvable riddle; but they are usually docile, pleasant of disposition, and ready for any task.
The MacDougall party treated their animals kindly. Men must reasonably do this in self defense. That a brow-beaten dog gives up and drops from the race through sheer discouragement often happens; but well fed and with considerate treatment a malamute will bravely work to the last moment.
A few hundred miles farther east and these dogs would be exchanged for "Hudson Bay huskies", or sent back over the trail to Dawson to be sold. In case the MacDougalls "struck it rich" in the Indian country it was imperative that they be provided with huskies, but for the present the "malamute made much music", as Tom MacDougall laughingly remarked.
One day the party came upon the fresh tracks of a caribou. Made by good-sized hoofs, the animal had gone toward the south apparently in great haste. In a moment Pete was off with his rifle to the nearest hill-top, stealthily but rapidly treading the soft, deep snow. The elder MacDougall shouldered his gun and followed the trail of the animal whose flesh he coveted as a feasting dish after living so long upon dried fish and bacon.