Life in the Klondike and Alaska Gold Fields
Letters Translated and Edited by C.A. Clausen (Volume XVI: Page 120)
"The stampede to Alaska, where everyone believes that gold grows as big as pears on the trees, is on in full force." So began a story in Seattle's Washington posten on February 25, 1898.
The streets of the city are crowded with people day and night, and there is a howling of dogs, a bellowing of oxen, a bleating of goats without any letup. Down by the docks it is almost impossible to hear what people say because of all the hubbub raised by these four-legged invaders. The Klondike fever seems to have developed its greatest virulence in the East, because from the eastern states come regiments of hysterical Klondikers who have no conception of the hardships which await them.
Among the thousands who joined the stampede were numerous Norwegian Americans. Most of them embarked at Seattle, but others left from Tacoma, San Francisco, and other Pacific ports. Two main routes could be followed to the land of gold. There was, first, the all-water route by ocean steamer to the mouth of the Yukon and thence up that stream by river boat to Dawson City, the administrative and business center of the Klondike region. Or, one might follow the famous overland route by way of either Skagway and White Pass or Dyea and Chilkoot Pass to Lakes Lindeman and Bennett beyond the divide. At these lakes the adventurers could build or buy boats, and, after hazardous trips down swift streams, reach the headwaters of the Yukon.
The "Klondike fever" was continually fed by stories about
returning prospectors who had "struck it rich." Even very staid readers of Washington posten, for instance, might feel their heads spin when, in the typical issue of July 25, 1897, they read that Ben Wall had just returned with fifty thousand dollars; William Carlson with fifty thousand dollars; Henry Anderson with sixty-five thousand dollars; Johnson and Olsen with twenty thousand dollars; and Charles Anderson with twenty-five thousand dollars. Equally stimulating were issues like that of July 29, 1898, listing the "gold boats" that had docked at Seattle during the previous week: the "City of Kingston" with five hundred thousand dollars; the "Charles Nilsen" with one million, five hundred thousand dollars; the "Humboldt" with two million dollars. All told, sixteen gold ships had arrived at Seattle that month, bringing a total of twelve million dollars in dust and nuggets. Among some of the fortunate individuals aboard the "Humboldt" were the former hotel owner, Thagaard, who brought home forty thousand dollars, and Johan Eriksen ("Klondike Eriksen," as he was dubbed) with three hundred thousand dollars, which represented merely his "take" for the past season. To be sure, the story of Eriksen was not entirely encouraging; the reporter went on to tell how Eriksen, though naturally a kind man, had become a millionaire so rapidly that he had turned haughty and so suspicious that he kept to himself with his 1,300 pounds of gold dust in a heavily guarded cabin. He did not want to be interviewed; and, when the reporter persisted, he called for the guard. But aberrations like this seemed to be unusual. Generally, we are told, the prospectors knew how to enjoy life when they returned to civilization with their newly won riches.
While the Klondike excitement was reaching its climax, another gold field almost equally rich was discovered in the now famous Nome region of the Seward Peninsula. As related in one of the letters translated below, this discovery was made by a Norwegian, Jafet Lindeberg, and two
Swedes, Erik Lindblom and John Brynteson, who, together with several later arrivals, staked out a number of rich claims. "The lucky Swedes" were not allowed to enjoy their Eldorado in peace, however. First they were harassed by a swarm of "claim jumpers" who argued that foreigners could not legally hold mining lands in Alaska. Later they and many other miners were threatened with dispossession by Alexander McKenzie, the notorious political boss and sharper from the Middle West. This incident developed into one of the most famous "affairs" in the history of the Alaska gold fields. McKenzie managed to fill practically all important offices in the Nome district with his friends.
The most influential of these henchmen were perhaps Arthur Noyes, C. L. Vawter, and Joseph K. Wood, whom McKenzie appointed as district judge, marshal, and district attorney respectively. When this was accomplished, "McKenzie sailed gaily away to Nome, accompanied by Judge Noyes and their group of chosen followers, intent on capturing a fortune by piratic force from a few simple-minded Lapp reindeer-herders and hard-digging Scandinavian miners. It looked to the boss like an easy job."
Immediately after their arrival, Noyes appointed McKenzie receiver for the choice claims in the district. According to the terms of the receivership, McKenzie could exploit the mines and hold the gold under order of the judge, from whose decision no appeal was possible in Alaska. After much legal battling, however, McKenzie was finally brought before the circuit court of appeals in San Francisco, where, in February, 1901,
he was sentenced to a year's imprisonment. In spite of the court's declaration that the proceedings of McKenzie and Noyes "may be safely and fortunately said to have no parallel in the jurisprudence of this country," President McKinley pardoned McKenzie in May, 1901, on the plea that he would die unless he was released immediately. He returned to his North Dakota home, where the bracing prairie air must have acted as a rare elixir, since he soon resumed his numerous activities as a leading citizen. Several of McKenzie's henchmen were also sentenced later; and, either because of their stronger constitutions or their weaker political influence, they had to serve their full terms. Judge Noyes, however, escaped with a fine of a thousand dollars. Judge James Wickersham, Noyes's successor, soon restored law and order, and the rightful owners resumed possession.
The men who wrote the following letters were among the thousands of those swept into the maelstrom of the Klondike and Alaska gold rush. Their accounts are written out of personal experiences and they give vivid impressions of the crowded existence on the Yukon River boats, the rigors of the Arctic trails, the grime and the toil on the claims, and the hurly-burly life of the rough mining towns.
The letters were found in the files of Washington posten and Tacoma tidende by Professor Kenneth Bjork of St. Olaf College, while he was doing research during 1947-48 toward a history of the Norwegian people on the Pacific coast. Titles to the letters were supplied by the translator.
I. TOWARD THE LAND OF GOLD
[L. C. Anderson to Washington posten, September 22, 1897.]
September 22, 1897
The approximately three hundred Yukon gold seekers who left Seattle on August 18 aboard the steamer "Humboldt" have finally, after many delays and difficulties, reached the now famous river and are steaming upstream toward the land of gold. Even though
we have endured hardships and suffered many disappointments since we left the Queen City, we must admit that fate has been kind to us. The trip from Puget Sound to Unalaska and St. Michael was completed without any noteworthy experiences. On the 23rd we met the "Portland," with which I sent my first communication to Washington posten, as well as letters to my wife and friends back home. That evening we ran into a furious storm and had to lay to for several hours. It was in this same storm that the steamer "Eliza Anderson" and the towboat "Holyoke'' were driven apart.
The "Humboldt" was overcrowded with passengers. Even though it is a fine boat, the accommodations during this trip were decidedly inferior. Officers and crew were generally impolite, while the food and eating quarters were miserable. The water was poor from the outset; after the seventh day, there was no more fresh meat; cooking and serving were worse than in a cheap Japanese restaurant. But the main thing was to reach St. Michael, and on August 29 we steamed into the harbor without having met any accident worth mentioning.
Arrangements for building the steamer that was to take the passengers up the river were made immediately. In accordance with the contract which the passengers had entered into with Mayor Wood, they were asked to help unload. We encamped a short distance from the headquarters of the North American Trading and Transportation Company. Within two days, more than a hundred tents had been pitched, the keel laid for the steamer, and the passengers had arranged matters as best they could for a three weeks' stay in this temporary shipbuilding center. A large mess tent was set up, where the passengers could be accommodated at three tables; kitchen stoves were put in shape; and within twenty-four hours after our arrival we were sitting in our "dining hall" eating the regular fare of pork, beans, potatoes, prunes, bread, and coffee. This is the usual fare, as stated, but by way of diversity we are occasionally served soup, apricots, canned meat, hash, or macaroni.
Our boatbuilding was begun with the usual spirit. Many of the passengers worked hard and vigorously, but others refused
to lift a finger. There was no system to the operations from the very beginning; consequently, things were always in a state chaos and turmoil. Many little disputes arose, some of which have not been settled yet. The cargo was moved three or four times from one place to another. People were always complaining about loss of goods: one could not find his spade; another had lost all his hardware; a third was minus a bag of potatoes or pork; while a fourth searched in vain for a bag of flour, etc. Some kicked about the food they were served; others quarreled over the division of goods they had bought in common; the foreman claimed that the men would not work --- in short, a regular Babel reigned, a confusion beyond compare. Add to this the eternal rumors that the boat would lack sufficient power or that the river would freeze over before we got started, and you will have some idea about the turmoil we were in. All these things Mayor Wood, the leader of the expedition, had to wrestle with, and I must say that generally he was equal to the occasion despite the numerous difficulties. If he could not satisfy people right then and there, he managed to dismiss them in the faith that everything would come out well in the end. A real politician that fellow! The passengers held several meetings in the mess tent to discuss the situation, but Mayor Wood always succeeded in quieting the malcontents, even ii he had to give in to their demands and promise them the full moon.
Finally, on September 18 the boat was launched. The machinists put the finishing touches on the structure, and the lading was begun. The boat, which was christened "Seattle No. 1," is 152 feet long and 30 feet wide. The body is well constructed, but the deck and the superstructure are less sturdy and will be reinforced next spring. Cabins for families and women were built on both sides of the boiler. It was assumed that this would be the most desirable part of the boat, but experience has proved otherwise. These cabins are dark, warm, dreary, and unhealthful because of the poor circulation. To the rear lies the dining hall with two tables, 30 feet long, made of unplaned boards. The whole space on one side of the dining hall is filled with a conglomeration of flour bags, baggage, tomato cans, life buoys, and
all the other things found in a gold miner's equipment. Under the tables are stacked boxes and sacks of provisions, etc., as well as freight for which space could not be found elsewhere. On the deck is built a structure covered with canvas, where most of the passengers were permitted to fix up cabins, small rooms containing six cots each. Every person had to find the necessary materials, lug them aboard, and then nail his bunk together. These are built as close to each other as possible, but it is doubtful that they will keep out the cold winds up the river.
The machines were tested for two days and found to be in good order, but they are not powerful enough. The flow is very swift farther up the river, and the boat will not be able to make much progress against the strong current. Most of the work on the steamer was done by the passengers, as the boatbuilders hired in San Francisco turned out to be rather unskillful. The same disorder and lack of authority reigns now as at St. Michael. Commands are issued by every Tom, Dick, and Harry but are obeyed by none. In spite of this we are making pretty good speed up the river, and we will be well pleased if we manage to reach some destination point or other, no matter how we may get there.
Before "Seattle No. 1" was launched, a spirit of distrust and discontent brooded over the camp. The long stay, the poor food, and the innumerable little disputes soured the spirits, and everyone was glad to leave. St. Michael is not a very interesting place. Even though it has served as trading center for the gold districts along the Yukon these many years, nothing there is worthy of much attention. Besides the stores and warehouses of the two big trading companies, there is a little Catholic church in the place whose worthy prelate dispenses solace and forgiveness to a few whites and several hundred natives who live in the neighborhood or in near-by villages on the mainland. The natives are a good-natured, peaceful folk. Seal hunting is almost a thing of the past, since the companies which have cashed in richly on the furs have practically exterminated the animals. The natives will soon find that their sources of livelihood are vanishing. Within a few years the most crucial question for them will be, "What shall we live on?" The government, however, interested
itself in the situation and established a reindeer station at Fort Clarence. It is under the management of Mr. [W. A.] Kjellman, a Norwegian, who formerly lived at Madison, Wisconsin. He has directed the station for three years and feels that the experiment is promising. Reindeer were brought from Siberia and thrive well. Plans are also afoot for using them during wintertime to transport mail across the snowy wastes of Alaska. This coming winter Mr. Kjellman will visit the States and expects to call on Washington posten during his stay in Seattle. He plans to leave St. Michael with the revenue cutter "Bear."
No news other than that already reported has come from the upper Yukon. Round about Klondike there are no claims available for newcomers. We have heard nothing from the Stewart River region, but rich strikes have been made along Minook Creek, which flows into the Yukon a short way above the Tanana River. Many people from Seattle have settled there.
It is impossible to say just where the "Humboldt" passengers will spend the winter. Some are determined to go to Dawson City; others, still farther up. The majority are debarking at Minook Creek, while others will pitch their tents along the Tanana River, where gold was found several years ago. The passengers are in fine shape. We have had no mishap of any consequence, and everyone feels well despite the fact that we have slept on the ground, which was frozen 2 feet deep.
The sudden shift from the heat of Central America to the cold of Alaska has done me no harm; on the contrary, the change seems to have benefited me greatly. When I arrived in Seattle from Guatemala, I weighed 120 pounds, was weak, and had no appetite. Now I devour our simple fare like a wolf, gain weight daily, and feel better and stronger than ever before.
We just met the steamer "Alice" on its way down the river. Because of the low water level, it did not get beyond Fort Yukon. No boat can reach Dawson City this fall, and as a result there will be a shortage of provisions. Consequently, many people have left the place for Circle City, to spend the winter there.
L. C. ANDERSON
II. SIX HUNDRED MILES UP THE YUKON
[L. C. Anderson to Washington posten, March 25, 1898,]
November 25, 1897
Some two months ago I sent you a letter which I entrusted to a Catholic priest about 600 miles up the Yukon River. He promised to send it to St. Michael with an Indian if the opportunity offered itself. If things went well the letter ought to have gone by one of the last steamers leaving for Puget Sound.
When I last wrote, the "Humboldt" expedition had almost reached the mouth of the Koyukuk River. We made good progress and were fortunate enough to avoid the many sandbanks found almost everywhere in the stream. On September 27, we reached Tanana station and also ran into ice floes in great quantities. After steaming some 10 miles past the mouth of the Tanana we met another boat which had turned about. We determined to follow suit, and set our course toward the mouth of the Tozikakat River. The steamer was laid up for the winter, and the passengers began building log houses. Within two weeks a little town had sprung up which we called Woodworth in honor of Mayor Wood and Captain Worth, leader of the "May West," another steamer which had also been laid up here for the winter.
About 85 miles above Woodworth lies Rampart City, where a large mining town has developed. Every now and then rumors of gold strikes near Rampart City reached us, and as soon as a trail could be laid out, about half of the "Humboldt" expedition went up there. It is difficult to say what these new fields may be worth, but they appear to be very promising. Several tributaries flow into Minook Creek, and gold claims are found everywhere, These tributaries are Hunter, Little Minook, Hoosier, Russian, Alder, Chapman, and Gold Pan creeks, as well as others which have not been prospected yet. Several large lumps of gold have been found, one being worth a hundred dollars. On No. 9 Little Minook every pan runs to three dollars and seventy-five cents on bedrock. Hunter Creek is also very promising. All who have
settled down along the Minook are well satisfied and believe that the winter's work will bring rich rewards. Members of the "Humboldt" expedition have prospected around Woodworth. Fifty claims have been staked out on Jackson Creek some 20 miles from here, while twice as many have been taken along Spicer Creek, about 4 miles above Woodworth. It has been impossible to dig down to bedrock because of water, and consequently the claim owners still have to live merely on expectations. Fifteen miles below, near Gold Hill on Dahlquist Creek, R. C. Washburn of Seattle and I have settled down in a log cabin, and here we expect to stay until we find out what the creek hides in its deep bosom.
It is beginning to get cold, averaging about 10° below zero; one day it even fell to 36° below --- and colder it will become. Much snow has fallen; it is difficult to get to town, as the road has drifted badly.
The "Humboldt" group cannot complain, as its members have been feeling well. A few mishaps have occurred, but none of them fatal. One passenger, who evidently was seized by a desire for fresh meat, bit a finger off the cook; another got badly burned when his tent caught fire; and a young man froze two fingers.
No expedition reached Dawson City this year, and between Rampart City and St. Michael about eight hundred gold seekers have encamped for the winter. As a consequence, the river and its tributaries will be thoroughly prospected.
L. C. ANDERSON
III. THE GATEWAY TO THE YUKON
[Pastor C. J. Larsen to Tacoma tidende, December 18, 1897.]
November 11, 1897
As I had the misfortune to sprain my left knee in falling on Juneau's slippery sidewalk, my departure was delayed more than a week. For some days the pains were almost unbearable, and I feared I would be confined to bed several weeks --- a most
disheartening prospect, since I wished to be under way as soon as possible. But Clod heard my prayer and sent help in the hour of need, so relief came quicker than I had expected. Several friends were extremely kind and showed me the greatest consideration.
Tuesday evening, November 2, I left Juneau aboard the little steamer "Detroit," bound for Skagway. As we traveled by night, I had no opportunity to observe the surroundings. After a trip of 100 miles, we reached Skagway, which has been so famous during the last three months because of the reputedly excellent road from there to the Klondike.
The town has a beautiful location on the eastern shore of the Skagway Fjord, which is locked between steep mountains, and some miles farther up is pierced by several promontories. Skagway itself is built on level land densely covered with forests yielding good timber for log houses. The town is laid out along modem lines with broad, regular streets, which as yet are uncleared and rich in stumps and mud.
Everything bears the impress of pioneer life, as is natural, seeing that the town is only four months old. Tents, shacks, and log houses extend in all directions up to a mile and a half from the water's edge. There are some two-story dwellings, several hotels, and quite a few business houses. Twenty-eight saloons are found in the place, all carrying on their death-dealing traffic night and day, with its usual influence on society.
Three wharves, extending a mile out to deep water, are under construction at a cost of about sixty thousand dollars. A tramway is also being built out on the mountain pass over which the road runs to Lake Bennett.
The various denominations have combined to build a church in the town, which at present is being served by a Presbyterian minister. There are about two hundred Scandinavians in Skagway, but most of them intend to leave for the Yukon next spring.
On Sunday, November 7, I preached in a hall down there to a group of some one hundred twenty-five people. After the English meeting, we had a Scandinavian service which was attended by about twenty-five persons.
The future of Skagway would seem to be uncertain, because the trail from there to the Yukon is not so excellent as was at first believed and claimed. Most of those who tried the crossing came back, not only empty-handed --- stripped of all their belongings --- but also rich in experience. It is dreadful to hear some of the men tell of the hardships they endured trying to get across White Pass; it is enough to discourage anyone from attempting such an adventure. Not less than 2,800 dead horses are lying along the trail. Horribly mistreated and tormented, the faithful, dumb animals had to endure the most terrible sufferings. It is heart-rending to see all the punishment inflicted on horses and dogs up here, and what will it be like next spring on the trek to the Yukon!
On Tuesday the 9th I took a little sailboat to Dyea, some 6 miles north of Skagway. Its location and surroundings have much in common with Skagway, but in my opinion it has a more promising future. As a town it is only four weeks old, but is already world-famous, since it is the gateway to the shortest and best crossing to the Yukon. Mail for the Klondike is sent from here, which shows that the government regards it as the most serviceable route, and people who followed this trail fared very well. I have talked with several who have crossed by both routes, and they all said that the Dyea passage is much the easier.
A tramway to Sheep Camp is under construction, and from there a steel cable, propelled by a steam engine, is to be stretched along the slope to the top of the mountain. Baskets will be attached to the cable, and freight carried thus all the way up. By
this means most of the problems will be solved, because, once the top is reached, it is easy to haul the goods by sleigh down to Lake Lindeman, where boats for the trip to the Yukon are built.
Thousands of human beings are expected next spring, and all sorts of preparations are being made. But things move slowly because there are so many difficulties in the way. Everything is new, and imports have just begun to arrive. At present there is a great shortage of building material, and we must pay thirty-five dollars per 1000 feet for coarse timber which could be bought for eight or nine dollars in the States. Lumber for flooring costs forty dollars per 1000 feet, but just now none of these materials are obtainable at any price. This makes it tough both for those who are here already and for new arrivals, since it is so difficult to find any lodging, and that which can be obtained is extremely poor.
We are now having below zero (-6°) weather, and many people must live and sleep in tents or shacks, even while the stiff north wind whistles around the corners. Fortunate is he who has been able to build himself a log house, because in such a cabin one is well protected. Yes, this is real, rigorous pioneer life. Blessed California, how lovely and fair you are, conjured up by the imagination of your lonely sons in this northern land!
As I write, I am sitting in a so-called "bunkhouse." It measures 14 x 18 feet and has sleeping quarters for twelve people, Let me open the door and show the reader the furnishings. There is no window, otherwise you could peek in through it. Along the side walls are nailed three tiers of bunks made from unplaned boards. They are filled with hay in lieu of mattresses, and sacks stuffed with the same material are used as pillows. A big packing box serves as a table. On it stands a tallow candle which is supposed, to light up the whole house. Some sawed-off tree stumps stand here and there, inviting a person to take a seat. A clothesline, on which hang wet socks, mitts, and woolen shirts, is stretched clear across the room, while in the middle of the floor stands a large Yukon stove, glowing hot, doing its level best to warm up frozen hands and feet as well as to dry the clothes on the line.
The air is thick and sticky, so much so in fact that if person had a really sharp Norwegian tollekniv [sheath knife], it should be possible to cut it up in sections. Some eight men are sucking away at their pipes and cigars which, despite the tobacco smoke, brings almost a pleasant change to one's nostrils. Some of the men began swearing, but soon it was whispered around that a minister was present, and such language ceased at once. After we had talked about various matters, the time came when we should betake ourselves to our rough beds. I then asked if it was permissible to say an evening prayer, to which several men answered "Yes." After a good devotional period, we went to rest.
Well, now the reader has visited Dyea's present sleeping accommodations, but better times are coming. In a few weeks several good, comfortable houses will be built as material becomes available.
No class distinctions can be detected here, which pleases me very much. I despise that snobbishness which is so prominent in America and is ever on the increase. Up here a white shirt and collar brands a man as a "tenderfoot" --- a disgrace so great that one hurries to get such fineries buried in the trunk and is glad to don the blue woolen shirt.
Everyone who has progressed enough to live in his own shack tries to prepare his own food. Doctors cook, lawyers cook, miners cook. At various hours they can be seen with a skillet in one hand and a coffeepot in the other, while scientists cook beans, fry pork, scorch applesauce, and philosophize about the meaning of all this.
It is surprising what people can tolerate and endure when there is an opportunity to earn money in a hurry --- a possibility of amassing wealth.
Foodstuffs cost about a third more here than in the States, while clothes are twice as high. Meals cost fifty cents each and lodging fifty cents per night in the bunkhouse. It takes money to live here. There will undoubtedly be much work available as soon as lumber starts coming in, but I fear that the cold of winter will be a great obstacle. Two wharves are to be built, and it is hoped that they will be completed in two months. This will
provide quite a bit of work- as soon as the long-awaited timber arrives.
I am now busy setting up the tent Bishop McCabe gave me. Because of the strong winds constantly blowing here, I am forced to lay a frame foundation to keep the tent from being torn away. I have bought a large stove which I hope will give sufficient heat. My plans are to be ready for meetings in a week's time. We also intend to use the tent as a reading room. Fortunately, I arrived just in time to secure a lot for the church on the corner of West and Fifth streets. All the lots were taken when I came, but through a friend I managed to obtain this one, which is centrally located. May God grant us progress and victory in our work. I expect to see many souls won for God during the winter. I have visited several sick people and was well received.
A person up here must live through many hardships and be separated from his dear ones, that is true, but still I feel happy at the opportunity of being able to bring comfort and help to those who suffer and are disillusioned.
Asking to be remembered in your prayers, I close for this time.
C. J. LARSEN
IV. DREADFUL CATASTROPHE IN SHEEP CAMP
[Andrew Nerland to Washington posten, April 29, 1898.)
April 7, 1898
It is now four days since the dreadful catastrophe happened in Sheep Camp, and today, Thursday, while thousands of men are still busy digging out the poor unfortunate victims of the terrible avalanche --- today undoubtedly millions of people in the States are reading the sad news, which by now must have reached the papers down there. Great numbers of these readers who have relatives, friends, husbands, brothers, or sons up here will most surely ask themselves anxiously whether any of their dear ones were among the dead.
Any man who has been in Sheep Camp since Sunday has seen a sight he will never forget; unfortunately, the end is not yet. During the last three weeks of March we had excellent
weather with sunshine which melted the snow, making sleighing difficult --- especially the first 12 miles out of Dyea. All who were fortunate enough to have their outfits in Sheep Camp made use of the fine weather to get their goods up to Scales and over the pass as best they could. But then, on the first of April, a change set in, and last Friday and Saturday possibly half a foot of snow fell in Sheep Camp. The storm increased Saturday evening, and by Sunday morning about 2 feet of moist snow had fallen.
It had always been customary for those who were going over Chilkoot to leave their tents here in Sheep Camp until they had lugged their outfits to the top of the pass, since the tree line runs only half a mile or so above the camp. When ready to move, they would take tents and everything clear to Lake Lindeman without a stopover because that is the first point beyond Chilkoot where wood is obtainable. But since all good rules have been broken this year, the custom just referred to was also violated, and as a consequence people pitched tents clear up to the foot of the pass, about 3 miles beyond Sheep Camp. Numerous little restaurants had also been set up along the trail clear up to Chilkoot, and it was the people running these places who got together Sunday morning to seek safety in Sheep Camp by hanging on to a long rope they had extended down the mountain side. There were also some foolhardy men who early Sunday morning left their tents and set off for the heights, attempting to carry goods over the pass in the face of the awful storm. Many of these were also caught in the avalanche which, to human eyes, appeared to come just at the time when all these unfortunate people were in its path.
As soon as news of the calamity reached Sheep Camp, thousands of men were ready, at the risk of their own lives, to set off and if possible go to the rescue of their companions buried in the mounds of snow --- what I saw that day I will never forget.
Between fifty and sixty of those caught in the slide escaped with their lives. A few managed to dig themselves out, while others got out with help. Three --- still alive --- were dug out as late as Monday noon. It is believed that they will survive. Fourteen dead were found on Sunday, twenty-three on Monday, seven on Tuesday, and nine on Wednesday. I do not know whether anyone has been found today, but twenty are still said to be missing.
Since Sunday all work has been forbidden above Sheep Camp, and consequently the unending stream of men which used to pass here pulling their sleds loaded with provisions has come to a stop. But in their place, every day from the hills, come the corpses of strong, strapping, vigorous men, practically all of whom were snatched away in their best years. These men, who only last week struggled from dawn to dusk to get their provisions up to the pass --- struggled harder than they probably ever did before --- now lie stiff and silent in a shack down in Sheep Camp where people may come and try to identify them.
By now I believe practically all of the dead have been claimed. Some of them are buried here and others at Dyea, while the greater number will be sent down to the sound. Most of the unfortunates were from Seattle, Tacoma, and San Francisco. Presumably ten or twelve of them were Scandinavians.
A committee has been appointed to look after the belongings of the deceased, and, when all expenses have been paid, the remainder will be sent to their relatives. A lot of provisions were also buried by the avalanche. Many men will undoubtedly have to dig down some 30 or 40 feet to recover theirs. My companions and I were fortunate enough to have our outfits so far up that they were not touched. Many well-known Scandinavian boys from Seattle are here, but I believe few of them suffered any losses.
If opportunity offers itself, I will let you hear from me before I leave Lake Lindeman.
V. TO LAKES LINDEMAN AND BENNETT
[Andrew Nerland to Washington posten, June 10, 1898.]
May 8, 1898
While lying here by Lake Bennett waiting for the ice to break up, I will send Posten a few lines with the hope that they will be printed, even though they are not war news.
When watching all the people moiling around here, I cannot help but think of these same human beings as they appeared on the streets of Seattle before they set off for the land of golden promise. Most of them could then be seen going about in big fur coats, high shoes, and heavy caps, still afraid that they might freeze to death. But I can assure you that they have been forced to shed clothes like that and have had no time to think of them since leaving Dyea. It is one thing to go about on the streets of Seattle and tell people that you are going to Alaska where you are planning to do this or that, but quite a different thing it is to transport with your own muscle power 1,200 to 1,500 pounds of provisions from Dyea to Lake Bennett, as numerous men have done this year --- and many a poor fellow has in the sweat of his brow cursed the day he took off for Alaska. By now many of these have probably found their way back. This would not be surprising, because a great number of people came up this year who were in no shape to undertake such a trip and, consequently, could not stand the hard work necessary to get "over the lofty mountains" and up to Lakes Lindeman and Bennett. All those who left Seattle after March 10 had difficulties in getting over, because they were forced to carry all their goods clear to the lakes.
We arrived at Dyea between March 10 and 15, and we were told that it was impossible to pull a loaded sled from there to Sheep Camp. But after inspecting the road for a ways, we decided we would make the attempt nevertheless.
We made use of the ice on the river where it seemed strong enough. It is 9 miles from Dyea to Canyon, and almost level; but
since the ice was poor, 300 pounds made a good load. Consequently, a man with 1500 pounds of provisions had to make five trips in order to move all his belongings. From Canyon City to Sheep Camp is a distance of 5 miles with an uphill climb, so that 200 pounds makes a good load. After having covered this stretch seven or eight times, we had all our goods in Sheep Camp, where there was a multitude of tents; but now, about six weeks later, the place is practically deserted.
Once you have reached Sheep Camp, the next objective is the famous Chilkoot Pass. Even though the first 2 miles, as far as Stone House, are steep, a person can haul 150 pounds on a Yukon sled. But the sight of the hills from Stone House to the Scales causes numerous men to lose heart and sell their whole equipment to the first bidder --- and back they go convinced that they have done their best to get over the pass; and all those who have managed to get across will probably not be surprised at their behavior.
In earlier years it must have been simple to come by way of this route, since very few had more than 500 or 600 pounds of goods along, and many not even this much. At that time, furthermore, the road was not blocked with men and animals, as was the case this year. The worst stretch was from Scales to Summit, where people were so packed together that they had to follow each other as if climbing up a ladder. This piece of road is about three quarters of a mile long, and a person must pack all his belongings on his back. If the footing is good and the trail not too crowded you can make the trip in forty minutes; but, when traffic is badly jammed, it will often take an hour and a half. An average load should not be more than 75 pounds, but many carry more than 100, while others do not manage more than 50. The hardest work I have done up here was to make this trip six times in one day, carrying 100 pounds each time. A performance like that is work for a horse or a machine but not for a human.
The top of Chilkoot Pass is a peculiar place. When you are up on the highest point, you can see far down toward Lake Lindeman on one side and down the valley toward Dyea on the other; in both directions extends an unending line of people
as far as the eye can reach. There on the top lie thousands upon thousands of pounds of provisions carried up 3500 feet above sea level by gold-hungry adventurers; and the gods alone know how much lies buried in the snow up there and down below. This will be revealed next summer when the snow disappears.
Up at Chilkoot a snowstorm can burst forth more suddenly than anywhere else I have been. You can have the most beautiful weather in the world in the morning, but before ten o'clock a fury of a storm may rage up at the pass, while three quarters of a mile below the sun may still be shining. A person can hardly stand being exposed to such an onslaught on those bleak heights; and, since shelter is difficult to find, it is tough indeed to be caught in a storm like that.
When a crew of men have all their belongings at the top of the pass, they must move their tents from Sheep Camp clear down to Lake Lindeman without a stopover, since there is no firewood between these places. The customs officials at Chilkoot Pass buy their wood, paying five cents per pound for it; the same is true of all the restaurants and saloons up there.
Most of those who go by way of Chilkoot Pass imagine that all heavy work is at an end when they have reached the top. This idea, I believe, helps many to endure the tough struggle of carrying their outfits up the steep trail. But alas, they are doomed to disappointment; after scaling the heights, they soon discover that their labors are by no means over.
I will long remember the day we moved from Sheep Camp to Lake Lindeman. It was the first day after the great avalanche that traffic was permitted; and, as a consequence, hundreds who had been waiting for this occasion now got ready for the trek. By noon we had all our household goods at the top of the pass, and soon our sleds were loaded, ready for the trip toward Lindeman. As the day was fine, there was a regular congestion of human beings, dogs, horses, and other beasts of burden. When this whole mass started moving toward Crater Lake, the road became so overcrowded that it took us three hours to get down the hill, even though it is only one third of a mile long. One man was killed, while three or four suffered broken legs, all because
several dunderheads turned their sleds loose and let them fly down the hill without any control. Since there were hundreds of people down below, anyone can realize what the result would be.
As already indicated, it was three o'clock before we reached Crater Lake. Then a stiff wind with snow blew up; but, as it was impossible to retrace our steps, we could do no better than continue on toward Lake Lindeman. The snowstorm increased in violence; and, by the time we were a mile beyond Crater Lake, it was impossible to see 10 feet ahead of us. Our only comfort was that there were so many people on the trail that they formed a continuous chain all the way. When we reached the half-way point, many men were forced to leave their loads in the snow and count themselves happy if they could get to the lake with empty hands. Since we did not wish to dig 10 feet in the snow for our goods the next day, we hauled them along as best we could and were fortunate enough to reach our destination with everything in good shape, although it was nine o'clock in the evening before we got there. Of all those who left Sheep Camp that day, not more than thirty got their loads clear to Lake Lindeman. Wet, hungry, and tired, we had to go to the forest for firewood and poles for the tent; and, before we got to bed atop 6 feet of snow, it was long past midnight.
The first thing a person notices up here is a difference in the air; it is colder and drier. Ice an inch thick freezes on the water in the tent at night, and the cold is more penetrating than it was at Sheep Camp.
Here at Lindeman there are just as many tents as there were in Sheep Camp in March and April --- and dozens of saloons, bunkhouses, and restaurants.
Numerous people who must make the trip between Chilkoot Pass and Lake Lindeman three or four times are in danger of becoming snow-blind. I do not believe a third of those who have come this spring escaped this evil. Two of our group of five were snow-blind three days, and they said it was terribly painful. Most of the glasses people bought for protection were of little use; a dark veil was much more effective. I, at least, escaped snow blindness by this device.
When we had brought all our goods down to Lake Lindeman, we waited for a very windy day. When it came, we loaded our equipment on the sleds, set sail, and off we went clear to the lower end of Lake Bennett, about 30 miles from the upper end of Lake Lindeman. Here we determined to build our boat, since there seemed to be more timber here than at any other place we had passed. The timber along these lakes has been cut pretty heavily, so it is almost impossible to find trees large enough for a boat of some size. I would estimate that about two thousand different boats are under construction along Lakes Lindeman and Bennett; and next to every bay that offers some protection against the wind there are all sorts of tents.
The ice is now practically impassable, but everything in nature indicates that spring is close at hand. The brooks seem to be running races down the hillsides and onward under the snow; the birds sing their love songs; and the rabbits have already donned their summer dress.
By now it is light at three o'clock in the morning, while outside the tent a person can read until past ten at night. This, as well as the natural surroundings, reminds a person so strongly of old Norway --- yes, even the air seems to be Norwegian, clear and pure as it is. But there are many with whom this climate does not agree; and, of course, they do not get along as well here as down by the sound. As for me, it suits me fine, and in spite of the hard work, I have gained 10 pounds since I left Seattle. This can probably be explained by the fact that I usually do the cooking. When I left Seattle, there were two things I feared I could not do: bake bread and wash clothes. Now I can bake bread with the best of them, but as yet I have not dared tackle the washing.
After we had cut down our timber, it took us more than two days to saw it up into boards. Mr. Kimoe from Ballard, one of our group, is presumably the best sawyer now at Lake Bennett; and, without bragging about myself, I wish to mention that he said I was the best "rookie" he had ever worked with. As a consequence, we cut enough boards for our boat in two days, while many others need that many weeks.
The latest papers we received are from May 3 and are full of news about the battle of Manila. The newsboys are doing great business selling them at one dollar per copy --- everything here is extremely expensive. Flour costs fifty cents per pound, sugar thirty cents, meat fifty cents, and if a person should buy boards from the sawmills, he would have to pay twenty-five cents per foot.
I saw in the Seattle Times the other day that the Argonaut Outfitting Company had cheated several prospective gold miners. I do not think this news came as a surprise to people in Alaska who had bought outfits there. Our group bought its hardware from that company, and we found to our great astonishment and embarrassment that all the implements we had not specifically seen packed away had been replaced by inferior ones. They have sent us poorer goods than those shown us in the store. Our worst experience was with the pickaxes. We paid a dollar fifty for them, and they were suppose to be the best available, but, when we unpacked, we found they were the cheapest imaginable. I can't understand why Mr. Nordby, as manager of the company, would permit such doings.
As soon as the ice breaks up --- which will probably occur in two or three weeks --- we shall continue our trip down the Yukon Valley to the land of gold.
VI. NO CHILD'S PLAY
[H. Field to His Parents, Washington posten, February 18, 1898.]
November 24, 1897
I received your letter a while ago and must now send a reply, but there is so much to write about that I do not know where to start.
I am in good health, but I feel a bit stiff this evening, since I just returned from Dawson City with a load of provisions. I am located about 16 miles from Dawson.
The price of goods is pretty high up here. We pay one hundred dollars for a sack of flour, one dollar for a pound of beans, a dollar and a half per pound for fresh meat, fifteen dollars per gallon for kerosene, and similarly for all other necessities.
What will happen before spring comes, I am at a loss to understand because there are many here who have neither food nor money. Stealing is a matter of daily occurrence, and many are killed because of their thievery.
It is not all gold that glitters here on the Yukon either, even though the present find is probably the richest in the world; but then the trials and sufferings are also in proportion.
My partner and I are well supplied with provisions; yes, I must say that we are excellently situated, and we have good prospects of earning some dollars this winter if things go somewhat according to plans.
Masses of people streamed in here last summer and fall-people from all parts of the world, and nearly all of them with few provisions, so that thousands have been forced to go beyond Dawson down to Fort Yukon and other places on the Alaska side where there are supplies enough.
The Yukon has been frozen for a couple of months now, which of course has put a stop to the immigration for awhile.
During the winter several hundred people have gone afoot on the ice and then crossed over the Pass to Dyea, a distance of about 700 miles --- no child's play, I can assure you. From Dyea they take the steamer to Seattle.
Tomorrow I am going down to Dawson City again, so I must finish this letter and repair the sled. I have two dogs to help me but intend to sell them as soon as I am through hauling the provisions. Dogs sell for about two hundred and fifty dollars each.
There are numerous Scandinavians in this area, and Norwegians not the least, but none whom I know from the Kongsvinger district.
People are much afflicted by illness, namely, typhoid fever and malaria. Many Scandinavians took sick and died here last summer, among them two brothers by the name of Carlsen, each of whom had thirty-five thousand dollars in gold, but the gold could not help them. A Swede by the name of Anderson is now
in the hospital and will possibly die. His claim is valued at half a million dollars.
The hotels in Dawson have been forced to close because of lack of provisions. One restaurant is still serving meals at three dollars and a half each. The saloons and dance halls are still flourishing and will so continue as long as they have whisky and kerosene. It is expected that their supplies will dry up by Christmas. Money, or rather gold dust, is of little value hereabouts at present, for there is nothing to buy.
I intend to leave this country next July if everything goes well. We have built ourselves a good house --- very warm --- and now we have cut 800 feet of lumber for floor, doors, cupboard, etc. It took us five days to cut these boards, We have a good stove and even a lamp and five gallons of kerosene, besides two boxes of candles. We will use the candles when we work in the mines this winter. I must say that we have things very cozy up here, indeed.
It costs me a dollar to send this letter.
Best wishes to all of you,
VII. SOMETHING ABOUT DAWSON CITY
[Andrew Nerland to Washington posten, December 30, 1898.)
November 18, 1898
Presumably Alaska, the Yukon Valley, and Dawson are so well known, so much talked of, on the Pacific coast that it may be wasted effort to write more about them; but, when I paid Seattle a brief visit last summer, I promised to send Washington posten something about Dawson and shall now try to fulfill my promise.
The Yukon is now frozen over, and a number of men have already begun the long trek on foot to the Pacific coast, I am sending this letter with one of them, paying the carrier a dollar per ounce.
Dawson has undergone great changes during the last six months. Where formerly stood only a few log cabins, beautiful
buildings have now sprung up which would be an adornment for any city.
As one comes down the Yukon River, he can see, at a distance of several miles from Dawson, the path of the great landslide which once in former days passed right above where the town now stands. He can also see a row of small log cabins on the brow of the hills, all of them built last summer by newcomers or "cheechakoes," as they are called up here.
When I left Dawson last summer, there were thousands of tents here, but by now all of them have been replaced by log houses, because the Arctic winter is too severe for tent life. The lowest the thermometer has registered this season is 42° below zero; that happened this morning. This evening it is only 38° below. A person can withstand the cold much better here than in the East, for instance, because here there is no wind when it is really cold. But, nevertheless, I fear that there are many sore noses and ears in Dawson this evening.
Times up here are not what they were last year --- no, not even what they were five months ago. The great influx of people from all parts of the world is partly responsible for the fact that a laborer must now be satisfied with eighty cents or one dollar per hour for the same kind of work which brought him a dollar and a half a year ago.
But a great number of those who came here last summer have gone out prospecting, with the result that every little creek and little river is claimed for "mining purposes." When winter is past, it will be revealed whether the rich Klondike gold district is confined to Bonanza and Eldorado or whether rivers like Hunker, Dominion, Bear, Sulphur, and several others contain their share of the hidden riches which we are all seeking, because hundreds of men will, during the cold months, work along these various minor streams. A very encouraging report has recently come from Dominion, namely, that miners on different claims in that area have netted up to three or four dollars per pan and that prospects are good along the whole valley. If this proves to be true, the future of Dawson is assured for many years.
Most of the men digging for gold around here this year are working on "lays," since those who own claims in the new
districts lack money to hire men until they find out what their claims may be worth. The laborers will do well on this arrangement if the finds should turn out to be as rich as many expect.
We have good sleighing at present, and most of the workers are busy transporting their winter equipment up to the mines. This is an easy job now, compared with what it is during the summer months when a man must pack everything on his back and when the roads are such that he sinks into mud above his knees.
Provisions are by no means as cheap in Dawson this year as a person would have expected when he saw the great stores of goods brought in from St. Michael last summer. Seventy-two steamers are said to have arrived, all of them carrying great quantities of foodstuffs. It is practically impossible to buy sugar, and almost as difficult to obtain oatmeal. Milk sells at seventy-five cents per can, while butter is a luxury article costing a dollar seventy-five to two dollars per pound. Very likely these prices are not caused by a scarcity of goods; it is claimed that certain persons have been buying up these necessaries on the sly in the hope of selling them at still more unreasonable prices later in the winter. I believe we can thank the large commercial houses in Dawson for the fact that conditions are not still worse. The companies always maintain a fixed price on their goods until they are sold out-but then the small dealers and the speculators have their inning and demand exactly what they please for their wares. This explains why N. A. T. and T. Company and A. C. Company and others would not grant more than 50 pounds of oatmeal, 25 pounds of sugar, 5 pounds of butter, etc., with each five-hundred-dollar "outfit," but I fear this rule was established too late, because by then many of the speculators had already managed to lay in large stocks.
Flour now sells at eight dollars
per bag and dried fruits cost from twenty-five to forty cents per pound, etc. All sorts of clothing is very cheap because so man), people brought such goods in by way of Dyea and Skagway this winter. Furs of all kinds can also be had at low prices; the town is full of them, and one Jew tries to undersell the next one. There are great numbers of Jews here, and it is said that some of them have a corner in the butter supply.
The days are getting so short in Dawson now that a person hardly has time to turn around during the brief period of daylight. When it is dark and cold, people like to be inside; and, since the saloons are the only places here where a fellow can sit down and enjoy the warmth, they are usually jammed with men. By taking a trip around one evening to study the folk life --- as a well-known character in Seattle once said --- I saw and heard many things which a person would never run into outside of Dawson. On passing the corner of First Street and Third Avenue, I heard lively music played by the orchestra of the Tivoli Theater --- it plays out on the street to attract crowds --- but, since it was not time for the performance to begin, I decided to look in on a couple of saloons where there is dancing at one dollar per dance.
"Oatty Sisters Concert Hall" was the first one I visited. It was full of menfolk who stood and gawked at one or more couples whirling lustily in time with the fiddler's false music. When the dance ended, a red-haired Irishman, the master of ceremonies, sang out that all the men should take their partners to the bar, and to the bar they went --- this happened after every dance. At the bar the women get a check instead of whisky, which the men usually take; and, when the dancing stops for the night, the women receive twenty-five cents per check from the
saloon-keeper. As soon as a girl has received her "treat," she hurries back into the crowd to engage a partner for the next dance because there it is always ladies' choice --- and soon we see another miner swinging merrily on his iron-soled shoes or moccasins with a "beautiful" girl in his arms. This means more to the old miners than all the gold in Klondike --- and thus the merriment continues until "the small hours" when we may chance to see them again as we go to our work, they having just finished for the night and being on their way to the restaurant or to their little cabins.
The Phoenix Dance Hall is the next one we visit. It is one of the most respectable places of this type in the city, and everything is conducted in orderly fashion. A person soon notices the contrast, for here come only the more well-mannered people who may wish to have themselves a swing up in the cold North. Between the Phoenix and the Tivoli Theater are a number of saloons; but, since they have no other source of attraction than poor whisky at fifty cents a glass, we will pass them by and let the reader imagine how things are inside. Another theater called the Monte Carlo is of the same type as the Tivoli, and you can gain admittance to either of them by purchasing a glass of whisky or beer at fifty cents.
In the Tivoli can be seen the well-known Irish comedians, Mulligan and Linton, the French or Danish Rudolphs, and Cad Wilson. These are the star attractions, but there are, of course, numerous less famous performers, the quality of whose singing is dreadfully low but who kick terribly high --- and between acts they sit in the boxes drinking wine costing thirty dollars per bottle, all at other people's expense. The owners of the theater have been shrewd enough to paint the name of some mining region on the facade of each box, such as Bonanza, Eldorado, Hunker, etc., and, when one of the gold "kings" comes to the theater, he always sits in the box bearing the name of the district where he has his claims --- and then he starts "cutting up." When the theatrical performances are over, the benches are cleared away and the dancing begins. It lasts until early morning, when many a poor dupe wanders off to his home with
heavy head but light purse-and thus it will presumably continue throughout the whole long winter.
There are many restaurants in Dawson, and several times they have tried to boost the prices of meals up to two dollars or two-fifty, but they were unable to co-operate; hence, it is still possible to obtain a fairly decent meal at a dollar.
Last summer numerous people were taken sick up here. A great number have not recovered as yet, and many died during August and September. All the hospitals were filled to capacity, while dozens of sufferers were lying either up in the mining regions or in cabins of friends here in Dawson. The Catholic hospital had the most patients. Yes, seven of my best friends were over there at the same time, but all of them have recovered by this time.
We have three weekly newspapers: the Yukon Midnight Sun, the Miner, and the Klondike Nugget. They report everything that happens among us; and, if nothing occurs, they always manage to throw something together, as you would expect from up-and-coming journalists.
As you of course know, Dawson was ravaged by a terrible fire on October 14. The sea of flames took everyone by surprise. Buildings worth thousands went up in smoke, and businessmen who a day earlier had looked forward to a bright future stood there deprived of everything except the clothes on their backs. We ourselves were unfortunate enough to live in the harried area; and, before we realized what was happening, our cozy winter quarters were reduced to ashes; but we were lucky enough to rescue our supply of wallpaper and paint. Many new buildings have sprung up on the old sites, and soon all evidence of the conflagration will vanish. Today Dawson has a well-organized fire department and a first-class engine with ladders, hoses, etc.; so from now on I believe we can feel more secure so far as fire is concerned.
Sunday is a legal holiday strictly observed here in Dawson. From twelve o'clock Saturday night until twelve o'clock Sunday night all saloons and gambling joints, yes, even grocery stores, must be closed. This is a law which both businessmen and
laborers like. Thanksgiving Day will soon arrive, and it is said that more than a hundred turkeys will be gambled away at dice. If a person could only be lucky enough to win one of them! They cost fifty dollars apiece.
I can give the following scanty information about acquaintances from Seattle. It must be remembered that they are spread over a large territory. Gulbrandsen and Kolloen are working on a lay on Bear Creek. Torhus and Aune are similarly engaged on Leota Creek, Thompson and DeFlaw on Hunker Creek, and Larsen and Halvorsen on Bear Creek. L. Miller, Anderson, and many others are busy on claims along different streams, while Waldahl is manager of No. 12 on the Eldorado and has Sandvig, Fosness, and others working for him --- and according to reports they are taking gold out by the sackful. So, when we come back with our pockets full of glittering gold, I presume the churches will be freed of debts, the societies will pay their rent, and the clubs will be rich enough to serve great banquets to members and friends.
Tomorrow the government will take out 60,000 letters, but on Sunday the famous letter carrier, Jack Carr, is starting out with mail, and I am sure he will get through much sooner than the official transportation.
Yesterday came a shipment of 3,000 pairs of Norwegian moccasins (finsko) --- the best kind of shoes against the Alaska cold. I bought a pair for eight dollars. They are practically all sold already.
Winter is here in full earnest now, and many a person who wishes himself home in Seattle will remember Terje Viken's words:
Astern lay the world with its mirth and joy
But ahead was a winter drear.
VIII. LIFE IN DAWSON CITY
[Andrew Nerland to Washington posten, April 28, 1899.]
March 21, 1899
To Washington posten:
Some days ago I was much surprised to receive a letter containing, among other things, the 1898 Christmas issue of Washington posten. On seeing all the familiar faces I felt as if I were back in Seattle. I wished I might talk with my friends again, but as that was impossible I could do no better than listen to the editor's talking pen and learn what he had to tell about them and their doings. As a result, when I was through with the paper, I knew more about my old acquaintances in Seattle than I had ever thought possible.
Life in Dawson City runs along as usual. The weather has been remarkably fine and mild the last three or four weeks, and now the snow is vanishing with every passing day. But the general opinion is that we will have another cold spell before the spring comes in real earnest. The mild weather has been a drawback for many of the mine workers, and it is said that five or six men on Sulphur Creek were blinded last week by gas down in the shafts. Water has also forced many to quit work for the rest of the winter.
The businessmen in Dawson are now yearning for the day when the miners shall have finished the season's work and will come down to the city to enjoy life on their hard-won gold dust. The belief is that more gold will be taken out of the mines around Dawson this year than any time earlier. Besides Bonanza and Eldorado, the only regions which yielded anything last year, we now have Hunker, Dominion, and Sulphur, all of which have proved to be rich in gold. Furthermore, many "hillside" and "bench claims" on Bonanza also turned out to be extremely profitable ventures. With very few exceptions all the mines along the Eldorado have been worked, and great results are expected. During the last six weeks several tributaries have turned out to be quite rich, such as Bear Creek, Last Chance Creek, Quartz Creek, Gold Bottom Creek, and not forgetting Gold Rim Creek,
which is already famous over the whole Northwest Territory and Alaska. In case Gold Rim turns out to be as rich as rumor has it, many Norwegians will become wealthy, because more than half of the valley is owned by our countrymen.
As you know, times have been pretty hard in Dawson this winter, but presumably the worst is now over, for people who have worked the whole season through are beginning to drift into town. Men who have done well working on "lay" always wash out so much spending money that they must come to town to get rid of it --- and naturally this improves conditions: the grocer sells his goods, the freighters get work, the restaurants get customers, the saloons and dance halls become busy, and thus the gold from the hills is scattered about, creating many happy faces in Dawson.
A ski club was organized here a couple of months ago, and on March 17 we had a meet which the whole population of Dawson attended. Our good Norwegian boys gave the local public a fine demonstration of their national sport. The spectators stood aghast at seeing men come sweeping down the hill, make a jump 60 feet high, land perfectly, and continue on without falling.
The club gave a dance in the evening that was attended by the most distinguished people in town, including Commissioner Ogilvie, who presented the medals to the best jumpers. In his speech he said that the name Ogilvie was really Olson; the original Olson, so we were told, went from Norway to Scotland, where he nabbed some women whom he took along home; but later this Olson returned to Scotland and decided to spend the rest of his life there; then it was that he changed his name to Ogilvie. Commissioner Ogilvie said he was sorry that Olson did not remain in Norway because if he (Ogilvie) had been born there instead of in Scotland he might have been a skier himself worthy of a medal that evening. The club has a membership of about a hundred, and it can safely be said that next to the Yukon Pioneers it is the largest and best attended club in Dawson.
The fire department has done good work during the winter. The owners of large buildings who have not seen them go up in smoke can thank the fire fighters for their good fortune. Since
the great conflagration last October, we have had no less than three big fires, all of them in the heart of the business district. During the fire of March 4 our firm, Anderson Brothers and Company, was one of several which was visited by the fiery demon. Our loss of wares was considerable and very inopportune, for it was the second time in two months that we became the prey of Dawson's worst enemy.
The mail that has been on the way ever since last fall finally arrived. All told there was 5,000 pounds of material. Every other day, when the post office is open, hundreds of people stand in line waiting for their turn, and many a heart has been cheered on receiving long-awaited letters from dear ones left behind in a civilized land.
People arrive in Dawson every day, primarily from Seattle. Most of them have, however, been here before. They tell us that times are good down there, which I hope is true.
Dawson regards Seattle as its best friend, and you can hear Seattle mentioned a hundred times to every single mention of Victoria or Vancouver. As a result people from our city are well thought of up here, and next summer Seattle will be able to greet many of her sons, returning with well-filled pockets.
IX. THE CAPE NOME GOLD FIELDS
[Wm. A. Kjellman to Washington posten, May 11, 1901.]
The discovery of the Cape Nome gold fields was made by the Swedes Erik O. Lindblom and John Brynteson and the Norwegian Jafet Lindeberg.
These three men left Golovin Bay September 11, 1898, in a flat-bottomed boat in which, I am sure, very few would have risked their lives. But these men were looking for gold, and under such circumstances people are not as
particular about their means of transportation as they probably ought to be. They followed the coast toward the northwest and assayed the sands on the shore and on every river that they hit.
On September 15 they reached the mouth of the stream now called Snake River at Cape Nome. They inspected the sand there also, and a couple of miles up the valley they found a little gold; but, not until September 18, when they reached one of the tributaries of the Snake, a stream now known as Anvil Creek, did they find coarse gold in paying quantities. The three men stayed in the region prospecting where they thought the best claims would be --- and later events proved that they had used good judgment. On October 5, they returned to Golovin Bay to get more men so they could form a district and draw up the necessary bylaws for the new community.
Dr. A. N. Kittelsen from Stoughton, Wisconsin, who at that time was in Golovin Bay, as well as Gabe Price of San Francisco, and a Laplander, Johan S. Tornensis, went with the three discoverers back to Cape Nome.
There they adopted bylaws, measured and regulated the claims in accordance with general usage, and opened a recorder's office. Dr. Kittelsen was elected recorder. This trip to Cape Nome was made in a little schooner belonging to the Swedish mission. The group left Golovin Bay on October 12 and arrived on the 15th at Snake River, where they were busy with district affairs and their claims until frost came. Then they returned overland to Golovin Bay and spread the news so that everyone interested could venture forth and try his luck.
These are the bare facts about the discovery of the gold fields at Cape Nome. The stories spread abroad through Skandinaven some time ago were, of course, pure fiction designed to blacken the reputation of two honorable Swedish missionaries, namely, P. H. Anderson and O. Hultberg. But the work of these two men and their standing among the people both in Alaska and in the States, where they are well known, cannot be discredited by scribblings such as Skandinaven has been serving forth. A while back Decorah posten also gave space to certain Cape Nome drivel, mixing Mr. Hultberg up with a treason affair of some sort, none of which contained any truth.
Certain it is that Cape Nome will produce much gold, but equally certain it is that thousands of the people who now rush up there will return with empty pockets and hard-earned, useful experience. The much-talked-of "beach diggings" will prove of little value; they do not correspond at all to the "ballyhoo."
It is the rivers, the creeks, and the tundra which will yield the gold in the Cape Nome district, and these had already been "located" long ago. Developments will undoubtedly prove that Cape Nome, like other fields, will fail to fill everybody's pockets but that the diggings there will increase the American gold production considerably.
WM. A. KJELLMAN
Mt. HOREB, WISCONSIN, April 20, 1900.
X. ARMED WITH WINCHESTER RIFLES
[C. M. Thuland to Washington posten, August 30, 1901.]
August 16, 1901
Yesterday the members of the Nome bar held a meeting in the courthouse and decided unanimously to send a memorial by telegraph from Seattle to President McKinley requesting him to dismiss Judge Arthur H. Noyes and appoint an honest, just, and able man to succeed him. In the petition, Noyes was accused of being inefficient, vacillating, weak, partial, and negligent of his work. The telegram was signed by every lawyer with the exception of a few who have been appointed commissioners and clerks-of-court and, therefore, cannot be said to practice law. At the meeting there was not a single man who defended Noyes except C. Sullivan from Tacoma, an intimate friend of the judge. Sullivan proposed an amendment to delete that part of the telegram which branded Noyes as inefficient, vacillating, weak, etc. According to his own words, he did this, not because he doubted the truth of the accusations, but out of diplomacy, since he did not believe they would carry any weight. After a short debate, the petition was accepted unanimously, and a copy ordered to be made. Meanwhile the lawyers waited; and, when the copy was produced, it was signed by all present except one. Every signatory gave the secretary two dollars to help defray the cost of sending the resolution by telegraph from Seattle to Washington, D.C. Such a meeting as this has never been held anywhere else.
The resolution adopted at the meeting merely gives a mild expression to the contempt which at least ninety-nine per cent of the population up here feels for Noyes. He was openly accused of being dishonest. The best his friends can say for him, when they defend him, is that he lacks ability and has gotten into such great difficulties and is so fearful of the results that his mind fails him.
Noyes left Nome without giving more than a couple of hours' notice. While the lawyers were working with cases to be handled
the next morning, the judge was in a launch on his way out to the steamer "Roanoke." Before he left, he signed three mutually contradictory orders in a case dealing with two mines down on Glacier Creek. Three different parties tried to take possession of the claim. An altercation took place early yesterday morning, with the result that one of the workers was shot through the thighs. Up on Gold Run Creek some men, armed with Winchester rifles, have also taken possession of claims. A clique of federal officials carry on to suit themselves. It was bad while the judge was here, but now matters will be far worse, due to his many blunders.
Very likely the mine owners and the citizens in the town will form a vigilance committee, which would also serve as a conciliation board, because they do not expect any aid from the government.
Up on Ivan Creek the mine owners have clubbed together. If a "jumper" tries to take possession of a claim, summonses are sent around and the men meet on the property in question to evict the intruder. This process is easier, cheaper, and possibly more just than an appeal to the federal court and Judge Noyes would be.
C. M. THULAND
XI. GUILTY OF BRIBERY
[C. M. Thuland to Washington posten, June 21, 1902.]
June 15, 1902
The little steamer "Elk" arrived here on June 2 and was thus the first boat to reach Nome this year. It followed the coast and in that way avoided the drift ice. The steamers "Portland" and "Nome City" got into the ice early in May. The "Portland" drifted northward, presumably through Bering Strait. There is danger that it will be crushed by the vast masses of continuously heaving pack ice. All the steamers are here now except the "Portland" and the "Jeanie," which is said to be stranded on Nunivak Island, but nothing is known with certainty. The "Senator" is in quarantine because of a Case of smallpox aboard.
United States Marshal Richards and Councilor Jourder have been found guilty of bribing the jury in connection with the trial of ex-postmaster Wright. As you probably know, Wright was declared not guilty. Judgment in their case will be pronounced tomorrow. A special session of the court begins then, so I have little time for correspondence.
The Seventeenth of May was celebrated here with a grand banquet at the Golden Gate Hotel. Places were set for 80 guests, of whom 77 attended, including 30 ladies. C. M. Thuland acted as toastmaster and spoke for Norway, while Mr. [G. J.] Lomen (lawyer) spoke for America, Mr. K. E. Forsell for Alaska, Mr. C. Bolden for Sweden, and Mr. T. Lehman for Denmark. Mr. Thuland closed the speechmaking with a toast to the ladies. The speeches were received with great applause and enthusiasm. Mr. Widsted gave us a couple of violin solos and Mrs. Christophersen some songs, which added much to the festivity of the evening. Later we danced awhile and enjoyed ourselves thoroughly. Several Danes and Swedes were guests of the Norwegians, and we had --- a united North!
The weather has been warm the last couple of weeks. Indications are that the summer will be dry. On the whole the winter was rather nice; I believed that it would be much worse.
We prospected on my bench claim No. 4 in Specimen Gulch during the winter and were much encouraged, as we discovered an old river bed with pay gravel 18 feet deep. Pioneer Mining Company is working on No. 1, and gold in paying quantities is being taken out. Mr. Siljan has been working his claim No. 6 on Dexter Creek as well as his ranch. Eleven hens give him all the eggs he needs, and a fine garden provides him with the necessary vegetables. He declares that as far as he himself is concerned, he cares little whether the boats arrive or whether they do not.
When the "Nome City" arrived, it brought all sorts of fresh foods. Eggs brought by the "Elk" sold at two dollars per dozen; but, when the "Nome City" came, they dropped to a dollar. The wholesale price per ease of various types of goods runs as follows: lemons ten dollars, oranges eleven dollars, potatoes nine dollars, eggs sixteen dollars, onions nine dollars, condensed milk nine dollars.
The Swedish missionary, Rev. P. H. Anderson, is being sued for four hundred thousand dollars. The ease concerns the ownership of No. 9 on Anvil Creek, which Anderson has kept and worked since the fall of 1898. The plaintiff maintains that the pastor has defrauded two natives, Constantine Uparazuek and Gabriel Adams, of their rights. Adams died in 1900 and Uparazuek and K. Hendricksen are managers of the estate. Lindblom staked No. 9 for Adams and No. 8 for Uparazuek, both of whom were members of the Swedish Mission congregation at Chivic. A month later Pastor Anderson undertook to act in behalf of the two [natives], since he had heard that natives could not hold mining claims in Alaska, and he arranged with S. W. Price to file again on claim No. 8 and R. L. Price on No. 9. The latter again deeded his rights to the claim to Pastor Anderson "to hold and keep in trust for Gabriel Adams." The terms specified in the deed are twenty dollars.
According to the natives, Pastor Anderson maintained that they could not hold mining claims and that he should hold the claims for them. They trusted him. Up to the present time, the two natives have received only four hundred dollars from Pastor
Anderson, while four hundred thousand dollars has been taken from this property. It is the richest claim on Anvil Creek. C. M. Thuland and T. M. Reed, counsels for the natives, are asking the court to return the claim to its rightful owners and their heirs and to force Pastor Anderson to account for the gold which has been taken out.
Greetings to all acquaintances in Seattle,
C. M. THULAND
<1> Quoted in James Wickersham, Old Yukon: Tales-Trials--Trails, 356 (Washington, D.C., 1938). Wickersham was Noyes's successor as judge in Nome. Chapters 22, 23, and 24 of his book give a fairly full account of the McKenzie-Noyes affair. According to Wickersham, Jafet Lindeberg "organized his Scandinavian co-locaters under Charles D. Lane, a fighting Missourian, and defeated the McKenzie-Noyes 'jumpers.'" It should be mentioned that Rex Beach's novel The Spoilers is built in part on the notorious looting attempts of McKenzie and his gang. On Lindeberg, see post, footnote 9.
<2> This letter was carried by dog sled from Woodworth to Dawson City and from there to Juneau by the United States mail.
<3> The author of this letter had recently been appointed Methodist minister to Alaska. The letter originally appeared in Vidnesbyrdet, a Dano-Norwegian Methodist publication, and was reprinted in Tacoma tidende.
<4> A writer in Washington posten, March 18, 1898, says that Dyea and Skagway "are engaged in a bitter feud, both wishing to become the center for the Yukon valley traffic. They stop at nothing to blacken each other's reputation; but, when a person has been up there, he finds scarcely a word of truth in all this scribbling." In spite of the fact that practically all observers claim that the Dyea-Chilkoot route was easier than the Skagway-White Pass route, Dyea was doomed to defeat because in July, 1900, the White Pass and Yukon Railway was completed, connecting Skagway with Whitehorse and the Yukon. The journey to the Klondike had lost its hazards, and Chilkoot Pass became merely a romantic name. "Today Dyea is a ghost town with one solitary inhabitant and a square mile of homes and business houses." Merle Colby, Guide to Alaska: Last American Frontier, 184 (New York, 1941).
<5> "In April, 1895, an avalanche of snow buried the line of climbing men from Sheep Camp to the summit. The slide began as blue smoke far up the mountain and swept across the trail in a blinding storm of snow and loosened rock. The men waiting in the camp below worked in relays to recover the victims. But the men of Dyea had little time for disinterring the certainly dead, and many bodies were never found." Colby, Alaska, 179.
<6> This letter was originally written to H. Field's father, Søren Field of Fergus Falls, Minnesota.
<7> "Working on lay" was equivalent to working on shares. A laborer thus employed received a share of the proceeds from the mining venture in lieu of wages.
<8> Standard items for a one-man Alaska "outfit" as recommended in Tacoma tidende, October 30, 1897, were the following: 400 pounds flour, 50 pounds corn meal, 50 pounds oatmeal, 35 pounds rice, 100 pounds beans, 40 pounds candles, 100 pounds granulated sugar, 8 pounds baking powder, 200 pounds smoked and salted pork, 2 pounds soda, 6 pounds yeast, 15 pounds salt, 1 pound pepper, 1/2 pound ginger, 1/2 pound mustard, 25 pounds dried apples, 25 pounds other dried fruits, 25 pounds canned fish, 50 pounds canned meat, 10 pounds dried prunes, 10 pounds raisins, 50 pounds dried vegetables, 50 pounds dried potatoes, 24 pounds coffee, 5 pounds tea, 5 pounds condensed milk, 5 pounds soap, 25 pounds canned butter, 60 boxes of matches. Other "household articles" would undoubtedly be purchased in the Alaska towns. Besides the food, there were the extra clothing and the implements.
<9> Jafet Lindeberg, a native of Finmark, Norway, came to the New World in 1897. He was then in charge of some reindeer which the American government had purchased in northern Norway to serve as draft animals in the gold-mining regions of Alaska. The reindeer did not do well in their new environment, and Lindeberg was then free to engage in prospecting. He was only twenty-four years old when he made his big discovery on Anvil Creek. In 1901 he and his companions organized the Pioneer Mining Company, of which he became president and general manager. Lindeberg and his associates also supplied Nome with electric light, power, and water for several years. The unsuccessful venture with Norwegian reindeer in Alaska did not discourage him. He later went into partnership with the well-known Lomen family and brought reindeer from Siberia which thrived well. Lindeberg remained in business in Alaska until the 1920's.
<10> Dr. A. N. Kittelsen was born in Wisconsin of Norwegian parents. He was educated at the University of Wisconsin and graduated from Rush Medical College in 1894. Two years later he was sent by the American government to Alaska as physician for the Lapps who had been brought there to initiate the natives into the care of reindeer. As Dr. Kittelsen was one of the first to arrive on the scene after the gold discoveries on Anvil Creek, he acquired several valuable properties which he later operated.
<11> In late 1899 gold was found in the beach sand at Nome between low and high-tide levels. The General Land Office decreed that claims could not be staked in this area; hence, anyone could pan for gold. The transportation companies soon began advertising that the golden sands were 25 miles wide and 250 miles long. Thousands, said the advertisements, were earning three hundred dollars a day or more. "Gold clung to the ships' anchors when they were drawn up." No wonder that there was a stampede to Nome during the summer of 1900. But soon reports started to drift back to the States that the gold-bearing sands formed merely a narrow strip of beach three quarters of a mile long. Some five hundred men who were working these sands earned from five to ten dollars per day. Colby, Alaska, 29.
<12> W. A. Kjellman was a native of Finmark, Norway. For a while he lived in Madison, Wisconsin. In 1894 he went to Alaska in the service of the United States government in charge of a group of Lapps who were to teach the natives how to raise reindeer.
<13> Conrad M. Thuland was born in Bergen, Norway. In 1884 he emigrated with his parents to Decorah, Iowa, where he attended Luther College, graduating the following year. After taking a graduate course at the University of Minnesota, he engaged in journalism, working on both English and Norwegian papers. In 1889 he moved to Seattle, where he founded Washington tidende, which later merged with Washington posten. He studied law in private law offices and "hung out his shingle" in Seattle in 1895. In 1900 he went to Nome to defend the interests of some of his clients. Later he settled in that town and became one of its active citizens. "Mr. Thuland is a successful and clever lawyer, and an educated gentleman, who is met with more pleasure in social life than as an adversary at the bar." E. S. Harrison, Souvenir Edition, Nome and Seward Peninsula, History, Description, Biographies, and Stories, 337 (Seattle, 1905).