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Wrangell, Alaska, in 1898

Alaska Community Histories

The Province (Vancouver, BC) April 9, 1898

Wrangell, Alaska, in 1898

    Wrangel on the Stickine, April 1. -

    Last week's cold snap accomplished the work so ardently hoped for by upward bound gold seekers. The trail over the ice of the river was perfect and the heaviest loads imaginable were taken up by horses, oxen, burros, dogs, goats and men. Everyone was on the move. It was not an uncommon sight to see men start off with twelve to fourteen hundred pounds weight on their hand sleighs over the smooth ice. The main thing was to keep in motion when the load was large, Mackenzie Mann & Co., the railway contractors, were able to forward all the necessary tools, vehicles, horses, men, ferage and rations to Glenora to commence at once the opening up of the wagon road to Teslin lake. Over fifteen hundred miners and laborers went up during the latter part of the week. the mildness of the winter has made the river ice route somewhat uncertain, and it may be so in the future. Other means will be devised to overcome the stretch between Wrangel and Glenora, if the ice gives trouble next winter.

    A few parties with very large outfits are still here and will wait for the first boats. It is rumored here that the passenger fare between the above points by boat this summer, will be about $20, and the freight rate about $45 per ton. As there will be about 30 steamers on the Stickine this summer, the fare promises to be reasonable except the rush be great. This may be the case should the Chilkoot and other passes become impassible by any means. No doubt during the open season of six months this will be the favorite route, whether the railway is built or not, from Glenora to Teslin lake.

    That stretch is an easy one and can readily be covered by the wagon road in process of construction. Two or three large transportation companies will be operating from Wrangel to Teslin lake and on to Dawson City. Portions of the machinery for river boats have already gone forward over the ice to Glenora. These are being built on the lake and will run down the Hootalinqua river, plying to and from Dawson City. Most of those people now on the trail near Glenora, or going north from that point, will build small boats on the shore of Teslin lake. A saw mill will soon be in operation on the shore of the lake where timber is plentiful.

Where Customs Are Collected.

    Reports from parties coming down the river show that the crowd is well up to Glenora. All travel fast except those whose outfits compel them to double back for the remainder. The Northwest Mounted Police post 30 miles up the Stickine, is where the Canadian customs are collected on American outfits, and where the Wrangel customs bonds are cancelled on Canadian outfits. Inspector Primrose has 25 men with him. Dr. Fraser, of the force, took up a quantity of lumber a few days ago to build a hospital at the post. Customs posts will also be established at Glenora and at the head of Teslin lake, that is the southern end.

    It is expected that the expedition of 200 regular soldiers of the Canadian permanent forces, under command of Major Evans, will arrive here, to go into the interior by the Stickine-Teslin route, proceeding on to Fork Selkirk and Dawson City. This force is sent in for the purpose of assisting the Mounted Police in keeping order, and will probably do garrison duty in the treasure or banking towns in the Yukon territory.

    The most outlandish stories have been circulated in southern newspapers about Wrangel, much to the indignation of the citizens. There are no men here suffering with frost bites. There is practically no sickness in the town. The weather is mild and wet, but much good weather has been experienced this spring. The charges of wharfingers are in the majority of cases reasonable, as piers cost a great deal both in erection and maintenance. The rule is that a wharfage fee of 25 cents is made on all baggage over three feet in length, and on all freight the charge is $2 per ton cubic measure. The customs officers charge $1.50 to make an entry. The customs brokers charge from $3 up to make out the papers to clear the outfits purchased in Canada, which remain in bond until taken over the Canadian line. A bond has to be furnished of equal value to the amount of the customs charges for which the goods are liable, and when the outfit passes the Canadian line intact this bond is cancelled and returned to Wrangel. The business of bondsmen is conducted on the same plan as that of insurance. The broker charges you a fee of $5 or upwards according to the dutiable value of the outfit, and becomes bondsman to the Government that the goods will not be opened or sold in American territory.

    While there is room for complaint in the fact that many of the steamers carry freight billed for Wrangel, or to Skagway, compelling the owner to await the vessel's return, the general service is fair. The disappearance of goods from one of the piers has ceased since the change of management. They are now reasonably safe from theft or damage. The company charge storage fees on ordinary freight at the rate of $1 per ton per week.

The Cost of Living.

    Goods may be purchased in the large stores here at reasonable prices compared to those quoted in the coast cities. The merchants carry large stocks of clothing and goods suitable for the country. There are plenty of stores in the town. All other lines of trade and business, as well as the professions are well represented. There is no photograph gallery here. Board and lodgings can be obtained in hotels, restaurants and private houses. Meals cost from 35 to 75 cents, all good and clean. The bunk houses charge 25 cents per night for a bunk in which to spread your blankets. The hotels charge from 50 cents to $1 for the same privilege. Fish and meat are comparatively cheap. Quantities of venison are brought in by the Indians, from the islands.

    Fresh water of first-class quality is brought in pipes from the hill behind the town. A waterworks company is being formed to construct a system of waterworks. Undressed lumber of good, clear spruce, but very green may be had at the big saw mill for $22 per thousand feet. Fuel is costly. Seattle coal sells for about $20 per ton. The wet spruce firewood is rafted over the bay and sold for $3.50 per tier two foot lengths, or $7 per cord. Nothing but coal oil will start it burning and it must be watched like a sick child or it will go dead out.

    Wrangel is not at the present time either pleasant or attractive in appearance, but that is the characteristic of all boom towns. The erection of new buildings goes on with feverish haste. All lines of business are likely to be overdone unless a very large rush of adventurers is experienced on the Stickine this summer. The jumble of old and new structures is harrowing to an architect's eye, but the real estate agent's heart is rejoiced at the steady demand for new sites. These range from the beach lots, where the tide flows under the pile supported "shack," to the central sites on the main thoroughfare. It will take a good sweeping fire to rectify the faults of Wrangel's street plan and the quality of its architecture.

    But Wrangel can boast of a mild climate, an island locked harbor, two well built piers extending to deep water, and another equally good in process of construction. A little curved inner harbor gives protection to all small crafts. The tide acts as a scavenger until and after the health commissioner is appointed. When the land around the townsite is cleared up and the class of dwellings and buildings improved, which will come with the lapse of time, this town, shut in on the landward side by one commanding bluff, and by the shaggy hills beyond, will present a pleasing appearance from land or sea.

The Town Wide Open.

    For what may be called a place of a few week's growth, but now boasting a population of about 1,000 souls of a cosmopolitan character, from Siwashes to city folks, where everything is comparatively "wide open," the place is really very quiet and orderly. This may in a measure be attributed to the fact that the authorities have been especially severe on the illicit sellers of whiskey for some time past.

    The United States Government grants licenses to sell, but the Territorial Government steps in and prevents its sale. Drunkenness is not common. Dance houses are numerous, and gambling of which there is a great deal, is conducted in the most open manner. The range is from the fashionable roulette table in the gambling room, down through the various grades past the ignoble "crap shooting" to the shell game. The shell man employs a staff of 15 or 16 "cappers" and steerers to assist him fleece the new comers. The passengers from each northbound boat contribute their quota of money, totalling up into the thousands, to keep these vampires. A few days ago the passengers of the Navarro lost over $1,000 to these men. The captain of the vessel dropped $300.00. An Arizona man lost $200 and had one of these gamblers arrested. Judge Jackson fined him $200.

    There is no disputing the fact that the Stickine-Teslin route will be much travelled next summer. Without comparing it to any other route into the gold-fields, this can be said in its favor, that it is an easy one. When the river opens, probably about the middle of April, navigation for large flat-bottomed steamers will be good to Glenora, 150 miles from Wrangel. Small boats may also ascend by oar most of the way save for occasional turns with the tracking line when the current becomes too strong for rowing. The river navigation is not an experiment but a fact of many year's experience since the Hudsons Bay Company steamers have often made the trip.

    At Glenora, the headquarters of inland transportation, a good wagon road will commence, passing through an exceptionally easy country to the south end or head of Teslin lake, a distance of about 150 miles. Superintendent Duchesnay, of the C.P.R. engineer staff, informed your correspondent that a good wagon road could be easily made, along a line that he corrected in some places, by shortening it last fall. There are no hard grades, the line follows the course of the great central valley of British Columbia.

    If the prospector will continue on past Glenora, toward the head waters of the Stickine he will soon find himself in an old country, near or in the Cassiar mountains. If he follows the new line to Teslin lake he may prospect with good hope all the way, for he is in the gold belt. It is confidently expected by experienced men that rich finds will yet be made on the streams flowing into Teslin lake and the Hootalinquia river. He will pass down the latter on his way to the main Yukon and to Dawson City. Those who expect to prospect on the way have taken out miners' licenses from the British Columbia Government, in addition to the regular Yukon license. The former costs $5; the latter $10. The British Columbia boundary extends half way up Teslin lake and Dominion licenses are not valid therein.

Angora Goats a Failure.

    The new-comers in their verdancy do many strange things, but the owner of nine Angora goats who tied them to a pile near the water's edge at low tide, has regretted it ever since. He was to use them in the work of transporting his outfit up the river, but has gone on without them. The Indians will sport goat robes next winter. While the rush on the ice continued last week it was a study in natural history. Every animal available that could draw a pound was impressed into the work. Many of the crowd were ignorant of the proper method of driving any animal, and their antics afforded the old-timers an immense amount of amusement.

    The transportation service from Wrangel on the island to Cottonwood island in the north of the Stickine, is continued by the little stern-wheelers Monte Christo and Louise. Passengers pay $2.50 fare, and freight charges of $5 per ton between these points, a distance of 11 miles. On the island a considerable number of temporary structures have been erected to shelter men, animals and freight. It is proposed that the carrying of freight between the piers here and the mouth of the river shall be continued next summer as that would obviate the difficulty with the tide when the river boats come out of the river and on to Wrangel. They can only return when the tide is in.

    Four sailing ships came in last night convoyed by tugs, and are discharging their cargoes of lumber, etc., while riding at anchor. A whole fleet of coasters call here both on their up and down trips. All the passenger steamers, ocean tramps, coasting vessels and even tugs, which can be obtained have come to take a share of this trade.

Wrangel Has a Newspaper.

    An intermittent mail service is maintained with the south. When a mail steamer arrives, the line forms up in and out of the little cubby hole of a postoffice, and each man takes his turn, which may come within an hour or even longer. No doubt the pay is not sufficient to maintain a good office here, but a much needed change is to take place in the management of the office, which is to be transferred to another building.

    The journalistic needs of the town have been provided for by the establishment of the Stickine River Journal. Mr. Needham, the enterprising publisher, has gone south to negotiate for a larger plant. The present office is in the old lockup, but new quarters will be erected soon.

    Religious denominations are represented by a Presbyterian minister, Dr. Twing, who, with his wife, are laboring hard in the cause. The Y.M.C.A. have a small building where the traveller is made welcome. The original congregation of Indians have a comfortable church. The services in this are conducted through an interpreter. The white element is being organized into the Second Presbyterian church congregation. The Roman Catholic church had a mission at Wrangel but abandoned it many years ago. Their old church which is still standing, is falling into decay. Some speculators endeavored to "jump" or take possession of their burying ground but were driven off.

    The Thlinkits, or as they are called, Siwashes, are quite numerous here, and are fairly well educated and dress well. Some of them have made considerable money by selling their land claims. The men have unmistakeable Japanese features, and are short, but well built people. They speak a most unintelligible vernacular, but use the Chinook. Hitherto they have supported themthemselves chiefly by hunting and fishing. Some of the older men can tell of their experiences as packers for the miners when the rush started up the Stickine to the Cassiar gold fields about the year 1870. They are expert canoemen and show skill in hollowing out and modelling the trunks of gigantic cedar trees into their light, but peculiarly shaped canoes. These have the square-toed projection for and aft which might serve no better purpose than to furnish a seat for the owner's wife when knitting, while her spouse fished.

The Irishman's Catch.

    Some of the Indians do a little gardening, and grow good vegetables, potatoes, turnips, etc., farther inland. They bring numbers of the small jumping deer from the islands where they abound. These are about the size and color of a Virginia deer. Large fine fleshed halibut are caught in the bay, as also are cod, flounders and small fish. These are also taken with bait from the piers. Little smelts are captured by a man in a boat, armed with a long stick studded with sharp nails, by which he rakes in the fish with a deep, sweeping motion through the water. It is of the halibut that the Irishman spoke when a friend met him going back to the pier. "Be jabers I caught half a fish and IÕm just goin' back to ketch the other half."

    A large salmon cannery is situated half way between Wrangel and the mouth of the Stickine river and will be operated extensively this spring and summer. About the middle of May 20 men will be brought up the coast to help operate it. The salmon run on the Stickine river is very large. The company own a sloop steamer which is lying in Wrangel bay with steam up.

The Ice Breaking Up.

    Two men have just come down the river from Glenora, and report the ice as being weak on the lower stretches, showing every sign of an early break-up. They saw a team of horses and a couple of men go through the ice. They were rescued with difficulty. Another incident came under their notice. A man camped on the bank went down to the edge of a hole in the ice to draw water. In doing so he broke through. His brother seeing the accident ran down to the river, and as the man who had gone under the ice came past a hole 30 feet farther down the current, he seized and dragged him out, not much the worse at his strange adventure.

    Most of the parties going up the river have made good time with their sleigh loads of supplies. Those who arrived at Glenora are already pushing toward Teslin lake, where a large settlement will be formed awaiting the break-up of the lake and Hootalinquia river.

    The authorities made a round-up of gamblers. Sixteen of them appeared before the judge to-day and paid $20 apiece for their innocent amusement. However, the fleecing of the greenhorns will continue with unabated vigor. There is a tremendous lot of gambling going on all the time day and night in the good city of Wrangel. The shell men have a staff of about 20 cappers and decoys who work the newcomers with steady persistence and success.

                                                HENRY J. WOODSIDE