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A Guide to Dyea, Alaska

by Murray Lundberg

More Alaska Community Guides

Grave of Wilbert Garfield Packard at Dyea, Alaska     Standing in the dense, silent coastal forest at the head of Taiya Inlet in the year 2002, it is almost impossible to imagine that 104 years ago this was the site of one of the most meteoric boom towns in North American history. From silence to a booming city and back again over the span of just a few months in 1897-1898.

    This area has been the home of Tlingits Indians for thousands of years, and the pass that would become famous as the Chilkoot Pass was a well-used trading route for them. The Tlingits traded with the people of the interior, and also acted as middlemen in trading between the Russians and the interior. The pass was off-limits for non-Tlingits until 1879, when US Navy Commander L.A. Beardsley was able to reach an agreement with the Tlingits which allowed white people across the pass. The importance of having this agreement in place when the Klondike Gold Rush started in 1897 cannot be overstated.

    Dyea reached its zenith in about May 1898, at which time the town had a population estimated at 5-8,000 people, served by 48 hotels, 47 restaurants, 39 saloons and 19 freighting companies. Competition between Dyea and neighbouring Skagway had been intense, but a single project turned the tide in Skagway's favour and led to the abandonment of Dyea. That event was the construction of the White Pass & Yukon Route railway.

    Although aerial tramways had been built across the worst part of the Chilkoot Pass and a railway was on the drawing board, the first WP&YR train to leave Skagway, on July 20, 1898, signalled that the race between the two towns was almost over. By that time, business had already started to decline as the gold rush waned, and only one of the towns could survive. The winner would of course be the one with the best transportation across the granite barrier of the coastal mountains.

    Dyea's status as an American town was very much in dispute during its heyday. The wording of the 1825 treaty that set the boundary between Russian and British territory was not clear, and it was not until 1903 that the issue was finally settled (extensive documentation is online - see link below). In February 1898, the North West Mounted Police set up machine guns at the summits of both the Chilkoot and White Passes to enforce Canada's claim to the region at least that far south.

    Now, there is little to indicate that a town once existed on the tidal flats at the mouth of the Taiya River. Many buildings were taken apart and moved to other areas or burned once the rush was over. The river's meanderings have already taken away a great deal of the old townsite, including the main cemetery, and time and weather have done the rest of the cleanup.

    The links below will give you much greater detail about various aspects of the life of this fascinating community.

Current Services

Chilkoot Trail Outpost
Log cabin rentals within a short walk of the Chilkoot trailhead. Gazebo with BBQ, bikes to use and much more.

Dyea Tours
Daily tours of the Dyea townsite are offered in the summer by the National Park Service.

Hiking the Chilkoot Trail
Five unforgettable days following in the footsteps of the gold stampeders. Includes a wide variety of other resources to aid in your planning.


Map of Dyea Townsite
An excellent map from the National Park Service.

Dyea Cemeteries
A complete photo-inventory of all 52 grave markers as of January 2001, captioned with the complete text, and further information when available.

Dyea Historic Buildings Survey
Seven images from the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS/HAER) collection, taken in July 1982 by Jet Lowe.

Banking on the Stampeders
A well-illustrated article about the competition between Dyea and Skagway.

Black Glacier Gold Rush
A brief article from The Dyea Trail of May 7, 1898, about a fake placer rush in the area.

Palm Sunday Avalanche
An illustrated report by the National Park Service.

Victims of the Palm Sunday Avalanche
This complete listing from four major publications shows clearly the difficulty in establishing who was killed.

Douglass Saloon Fire Kills Two
Two articles from Dyea newspapers of March-April, 1898, regarding a fire at the Douglass Bunk House that killed Bert Meeker and Gus Taylor.

Dyea's Death Knell
An article from the June 10, 1900 Klondike Nugget (Dawson City).

The First American on the Yukon, 1865
An article from The Dyea Trail of January 19, 1898, about one of their new residents.

Stampede Routes to the Klondike Gold
Descriptions and a map of the Klondike Gold Routes.

Chilkoot Pass Railroad from Dyea May Yet Be Constructed
An article from the June 10, 1900 Klondike Nugget (Dawson City).

The Alaska-Canada Boundary Dispute
Although diplomats thought they had the border between Alaska and the Yukon settled in 1825, the issue continued to flare up right until 1903. The full text of all related documents is posted here, in both French and English, as well as an analysis.

Klondike Gold Rush
Dozens of links to the best resources on the Net.

Rails to Riches - Historic Railroads of Alaska and the Yukon
Railroads that were either planned or actually built in the Yukon and Alaska.

To Alaska Community Links Links

Clicking on the aerial view of Dyea below will open an interactive map at Google Maps, in a new window.
Dyea is in the center of the image, Skagway is at the lower right, the Chilkoot Trail runs up the upper center.