Leslie’s Weekly, September 30, 1897
At the Gate of Klondike
By: John Bonner
It is nearly a month since I wrote you of he Klondike, which was then in the flush of its boom. Scince then several thousand people have left San Fransico, Seattle, Tacoma, and Victoria for the gold-camps, and are on the way still. Some of themwent by way of St. Michael’s, intending toascend the Yukon in the steamers of the North American Navigation Company; but the greater portion took the Juneau route and landed at Juneau or Dyea, or Skagway. Our latest dates are from St. Michael’s to August 16th, from Skagway to August 21st, and from the lakes to August 10th. The adventurers who took the Skagway rout are floundering in the mud, and strung out along a line fifty miles long from the head-waters of Lynn Canal to the lakes. Some of them are in tents, some in cabins; some sleep a’ la belle etoile, and dream that a villainous Chilkoot is shooting them in the shoulder with his arrows.Everybody has plenty to eat; flour and beacon are cheaper at Juneau than at Seattle; and thus far there has been no suffering from the cold, the blizzards not being due till September. Among the adventurers who have crossed the passes, many have done some in the Dyea and Skagway rivers. A lady has placed her opinion on record that, so far as her sex is concerned, wading waist-deep in ice-cold water becomes monotonous after a time; she exchanged her skirts for an extra pairof her husband’s trousers with satisfaction.
But there has been no loss of life or limb. There is a spot on the Chilkoot passwhere the grade is so steep that progression is easiest on allfours, and, as on Vesuvius, a brisk gate is best attained when an Indian propels the traveler by butting him with his head from behind. On the White’s Pass so many horses have been injured and shot by their owners that a heated spellwould be likely to generate a pestilence; the poor brutes lie in heaps with swollen abdomens, and long leg clawing the air. But the pioneers have met no worse fatethat casualties for which St, Jacob’s Oil is said to be a cure, and their tempers have suffered more than their persons. The laurels so long enjoyed by our army in Flanders as a fountain of execration may now be transferred to the pioneers to Skagway. Gold-seekers were warned before they took ship for Alaska that they must provide themselves with supplies, as the country to which thay were going was an empty desert; hence, provident adventurers took a year’s rations with them, besides tools and lumber for house-building.
Some paid freight on boats in sections, which were to be put together for the navigation of the lkes and river. Not one boat has thus far been got across the passes, and as there is plenty of timber on Lake Bennett, and aaaa mill with a whip saw, they will probably all be left on the beach of the sallt-water inlet. The more impetuous of the new-comers have been so bothered with the embarrassment of their riches, in the shape of tools and food, that they have left the bulk of them by the road-side. The trails over the Chilkoot and White’s are walled with piles of boxes and bales, some of which bear tha inscription, “Help yourselves!” The writers were so eager to reach the land of nuggets that they were willing to run some risk of going hungry on the way. The great river of the north takes its rise in a monstrous quagmire, which was once a sheet of water and is now divided between bog and lake. At this season, between the eastern foothills of the Skagway range and Lake Lindeman, the soil is soggy and the traveler sinks to the ankle; by and by the ground will be frozen solid, like the Siberian tundra, and travel will only be impeded by the sportive snowdrift. Across this stretch of lowland, seven or eight miles wide, the patient travelers now plod their weary way, like pilgrims to Mecca. Tons of food and piles of lumber invite but do not allure the thief. Here and there an open box displays sugar and coffee, which will be priceless by and by.
At intervals fly-tents flap a hospitable canvas door to the wayfarer, who is informed by a sign on a board that genuine old Burbon can be obtained inside at the moderate price of fifty cents a glass. In a body of prospectors there are necessarily many sorts and conditions of men. Some, with set lips and clinched teeth, are pegging along, bent on reaching the lakes, if life lasts, though with no very definite purpose as to what they will do when they get there- where they will get boats, and how, if they get them, they will find their way to the El Dorado which is their goal. Still, their grit is good and their stomachs stout. Others again,and of these the number is increasing, have broken down, and openly confess a yearning for the old flesh-pots. Stalwart men are met, with tears flowing down their cheecks and curses on their lips. One of them, whose acquaintance with sheol was not derived from Biblical sources, says that the White Pass trail is about as near hell as asny man wants to go.
Three or four parties procured boats on Lake bennett, pushed through lake after lake, and are now on the bosom of the Yukon, where the ice has not yet begun to run. Scraps of news from them have reached civilization by courier. After leaving Lake Lebarge, the Yukon is an angry, turbulent river, with rapids and whirlpools, in which many men easily lose their lives; flowing between sand-banks sloping up to green pine woods, and grim brown mountain beyond, it would be delightful if it hada few hotels here and there. When the rapids are passed, the river widens into a dull, sluggish steam, with roses and wildflowers on its banks and loons and ptarmigans skimming its surface. The travelers write that they are often overtaken by parties going in, but meet no one going out. The most advanced party from which any word has come is now within four hundred miles of the Klondike. From the other side of the Arctic territory there is no news to relieve the monotonous gloom. When the Portland left St. Michael’s, on the 16th, the Weare, which was supposed to contain a million or two in gold from the Klondike, had not arrived; it was supposed that she had grounded on a sand-bar, or that her machinery had broken down. St. Michael’s was plunged in its normal desolation. It was raining – it always does that; it was blowing – it generally does that. Everybody was in bad temper, which usually happens to people aho have started out on a journey and are arrested on the way by insuperable impediments.
Several river-boats were due at St. Michael’s. It is to be hoped that they arrived since then, but the Yukon is very low; in its normal condition it is only suited for navigation by vessels which can snail wherever it is a little damp. There are four thousand two hundred tons of goods at St. Michael’s waiting for transportation to Circle City or Dawson. The problem which was being discussed at St. Michael’s when the Portland left was whether the two great companies which control the Yukon region would be able to get suffient food ip the river to feed the thousands who may be at the mining-camps, and who may have to stay there till next spring’ s thaw comes. A miner from Klondike says that if one river-boat breaks down it will mean starvation for one-third of the men now at the Klondike. It is due to the two companies to add that they are straining every nerve to forward food from St. Michael’s, and if Providence should be so kind as to delay the approach of winter for a few days they will probably succeed. In the meantime, by comparing the accounts of the returned miners, the public are arriving at a better understanding of the new mining region. Next to the Klondike, the most promising diggings are on the Stewart, which empties into the Yukon from the east, about seventy miles above the Klondike.
Gold was first found here in 1885, on bars within one hundred miles of the river mouth. there was a time in that fall when six thousand dollars to the man was taken out with rockers in here for lucrative empoyment for thousands of miners for, at any rate, several decades. Your readers need not be told that, while the average earnings of an army of gold-seekers on the Yukon may be above the average wages of farm laborers in the United States, the gains will be unequally divided, some winning thousands, others depending on charity for bread. The precious metal is distributed so capriciously that neither science nor experience avails to indicate where to look for it. No one would have expected to find gold in the low, willow-grown marsh through which the El Dorado and the Bonanza flow, but the rich finds have been made there.
All through the region the gold is found near the surface, twelve to twenty feet below the grass-roots. But those twelve or twenty feet are frozen earth, as solid as rock, yet differing from rock in that it cannot be blasted. The earth must be thawed and knocked to pieces with a pick. It takes two or three weeks of the hardest work to drive a hole through the frozen layer under which the gold bearing gravel lies. The hope of the Placer-miner is to find the quartz-bed which was the cradle of the nuggets and fine gold found in the streams. Thus far that source, which miners call the mother vein, has not been found in Alaska. But Mr. Ogilvie, who is a scientific geologist, and who has spent years in British Columbia andthe Northwest Territory as government surveyor, is of opinion that the mother vein is not far from the present workings along the Yukon. He does not think that the nuggets have been washed out of the gravel; they look as if they had been hammered out of a lode.
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