This article, copied here in its entirety, appeared in the October 1, 1898 edition of the
Evening Observer, Brisbane, Australia. A copy of it was found at the
Yukon Archives, in the Yukon Order of Pioneers collection (COR 222, #82/454, f.7)
On the Way to the Field
Letter from a Brisbaneite
Mr. George Vernon, of Brisbane, who is at present in Alaska, has written to friends here, giving an account of his travels to the gold regions. From
his letter we have been permitted to make some extracts. He says:
We left Vancouver on 14th April, by steamer, for Dyea. It is only a four days' trip, yet the fare is
£7 steerage, and the freight and wharfage on my luggage was £5. we left Dyea on the 23rd, our goods being conveyed in a waggon drawn by four horses, which
took it to Canyon City (which consists only of tents), a distance of about twelve miles, driving eight along the coast, over enormous boulders. Next day the goods were
packed on horses, donkeys, and mules, and carried to what are termed the Scales, part of the way up Chilcoot Pass. As we had contracted to have our goods put on the
summit at 4d. per pound we had nothing to do with them until they were unloaded there.
Now, to bring you with me over the track, I will take you back to Canyon. Leaving there with the packs for commerce, you commence an ascent between
two steep hills. Owing to the lateness of the season the ice which covers them is breaking up at intervals, and now and again you go down, perhaps up to the knee,
perhaps higher, in water. Of course, big indiarubber boots are worn, and, consequently, you don't get wet. This goes on until you reach Pleasant Camp (Tent City), where
you meet gorges running strongly with water, which you have to ford and into which in our case several of the animals fell with our grub and had to be assisted up. At
this time the water was at freezing point, and our hands simply numbed beyond all feeling, with snow falling all the time.
Happy Camp is the next place reached, and the travelling is somewhat the same, except that the snow breaks oftener, and you frequently find yourself up
to the middle and vainly attempting to get on the top again, until you have gone over quite a considerable length of ground each time rising, only to fall again.
The next place is Sheep Camp. This is an older place, and boasts of a large number of log cabins, and also of sharpers, who play games of every
description, decoying the unwary to pull out money, when they will grab it, turn up a card, and quietly tell the man he has lost his money. Having so many assistants
around, it is no use protesting; one has to go on his way. If ever there was a hell on earth this is one. There are no police or laws of any description here. At this
place the snow is mostly melted, and you travel in slush and mud for a distance of two miles, when you come to snow again, and once more experience the numbing business.
Just about here we met several boxes containing corpses from the late "slip," the packers using all kinds of abuse at having to stand out of the way while
they passed, the usual course being for the strongest man to knock the weaker one out of the way, and proceed on his way as though nothing unusual had happened.
At this point you leave the timber behind, and have either to carry firewood or buy it at the summit at ½d. per pound. Now you come to the spot
where the slide took place. It is like a V, on two mountains about 4000 to 5000 feet high, over which the trail passes, and on which the work was proceeding when the
fatality occurred. The snow slid in on either side, and into the bottom, where it was from 50ft. to 60ft. deep. We did not see any of the bodies taken out, but they were
got in all positions - some standing, others lying, while others were in an oblique position, evidently met on either side while endeavouring to effect their escape. Some
fifty-eight were recovered.
Rising the summit you take a rope in your hand and walk up in steps cut by people specially for that purpose, ascending about 4 in. each step, and the
ascent is about two-thirds of a mile. To descend you sit on the snow, and almost before you can say "Jack Robinson" you find yourself at the bottom, having descended at the
rate of about fifty miles an hour.
We had a few beans and a piece of bacon and coffee here at a restaurant, which cost us each 4s. Then three of us spread the tucker out, and then the
blankets on top, and the rest over, and went to bed; the other fellow slept in the restaurant, which is only a tent, and a bad one at that, on the snow floor, and had to
pay 4s. for accommodation.
Next day was a terrible one, snowing and freezing and blowing beyond description, and everybody had to keep indoors. Next day we took a sledge load down to
Lake Linderman, and pitched camp on the snow, putting some fir branches on it, and oilskins over that. the four of us were in a place 7ft. by 9ft., and we slept two and two.
We had nothing to eat but beans and bacon. The load we brought down (6cwt.) nearly killed us all, not being accustomed to work of late, and the road being bad owing to the
lateness of the season. Oh, it was a fair terror. We took two more loads, then gave it to a man to bring with his horse, a Laidley (Queensland) man. He only half brought it
to the bottom, and left it; then we let it to another man to Lake Bennett; he brought it to Linderman, and was damaging it, when one of our party told him to take it off,
which he did, and demanded his money, and we had to pay, so the rest of the way we fetched it ourselves, and a fine treat we had of it, I can tell you, although at the
finish we were getting used to it, and didn't mind it much.
Immediately we got here the weather took up, and sledding was better than it has been during the winter.
Now we are at Bennett city, and shall probably be here for a month. This is about twenty miles from the summit, and I think it is the best way to come to
the country, except by the all-water route; but let me say right here that that no one should attempt to come to this country unless he is a strong, stalwart person. Of our
party D. Dalrim was ordered not to come, Gibson backed out, Mick Dalgrim died on 23rd April of spinal meningitis, and two of us only are on the way, so the party is, you see,
quite broken up. We brought nearly sufficient timber for our boat, so hope to get it built cheap. A boat to carry two tons costs here £20.
All the Australians seem disappointed with the prospects, but I don't see why they should. I can't give anything reliable about the field. From some we hear
we shall be surprised by the amount of gold, while from others we hear the reverse. Americans are such "infernal liars" we never think of believing anything till we see it.
The newspapers here are absolute tissues of lies.
There are a great number of people camped here and all along the line. On the Queen's Birthday athletic sports were carried out, and this gave a good chance
of gauging the probable number of people - about 7000 I think. The Australians are having the tents numbered, and the occupants' names taken in case of accident while going
I took no part in the sports, but threw the weight against the winner for 5 dollars, and beat him by 13in., so you will see I am in good fettle. The sports
started with a ball match at 10 a.m., lasting to dinner, general sports in the afternoon, and boating in the evening; and although the boating was continued till 11 p.m., all
the events were not got through, and will be continued next Saturday.
The thermometer here to-day is standing at 91deg. in the sun, so you may imagine it is quite like real Queensland weather, with the exception that the sun
rises about 3 a.m., and sets about 10 to 11:30. I don't think there is any darkness at all, but twilight. It is, however, very cold at night, and I sleep under all my blankets,
and usually light a fire in the stove before turning in. Everybody has to carry a stove made of sheet-steel, which is very compact and light.
The lakes show signs of breaking up, and some are going on as it breaks, showing extreme folly, the result being that numbers are getting in ice floes, and
are getting smashed up, losing their outfits and life. Four men were drowned yesterday, and I hear there are three more today. Quite a number have gone through the ice and been
drowned. In some places it is 4ft. to 5ft. thick, while in others it is scarcely covered.
The graveyard here contains only six graves, the last addition to the number being a girl of 27 years, who died after four hours' sickness. The health
generally, however, is good.
The crowd is a very mixed one. Camped alongside of us is Mr. M'Intosh, manager of the Bank of Commerce, and his staff. I am very friendly with them, and find
them nice people, and taken as a whole the whole crowd are orderly and well-behaved. Drink is 25 cents a glass, equal to 1s. but the average people are small drinkers, and very
little indeed is consumed. On Queen's Birthday a great number of the Australians and New Zealand boys got pretty tight, and you would have imagined that you were in Australia or
that they owed America to hear them talk. However, the police were very indulgent with them, and everything passed off well.
The snow, of course, has all disappeared, and we are now in a comfortable camp, on a pretty flat piece of ground, extremely rocky, surrounded by very high
mountains, which have timbers growing part of the way up, but of a very poor quality. Most of these hills, I imagine, will be snow-capped, and perfectly lovely.
I have only seen two birds here, very small ones, and a raven. Ducks are plentiful down the river, also moose and cariboo (deer). A duck came on to Linderman on
Queen's Birthday, and it is estimated that over 300 shots were fired at it before it took to the wing, so you see they are unaccustomed to humanity.
It is estimated that fully 80 per cent of the people will return. No doubt many will, but I don't think that number. However, I shall not be amongst them. An
auctioneer at Sheep Camp has been making excellent money selling the outfits of people turning back. I applied for a license to do the same here, but found that a license had
already been granted. The person not being experienced, I am going in with him on half-shares, and to do the selling. Before I go back I shall be as gray as a badger. I notice
quite a majority of the people who come out are quite gray, though young.
There are two Presbyterian clergymen here, sent by the Church; one goes on to Dawson, the other stays here. I have made the acquaintance of both, very nice
fellows, and I attend the church. Every Monday night they have a social, and we have a good deal of talent. Captain Jack Crawford, who is well known as a poet, makes lots of
merriment, and Buffalo Bill gives great accounts of his exploits amongst the Indians, whilst we have plenty of good recitations.
Many of the Moana fellows are camped close here, and we often pay each other visits. One has just been along now; he is a New Zealand man of good education, a
shorthand writer, and is a cultured man. He is in company with a man named Elderhim, who was manager for a tea firm in Elizabeth-street, Brisbane. I can't for the moment think of
the name of the firm, but of course we are at home together, as we know so many people in common. We have formed a strong friendship. He offered me a free passage to the Stewart
River, but of course I can't accept it, as we want to make Dawson.
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