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Journey to Atlin, 1900

Atlin, British Columbia

Journey to the Klondike by Cy Warman, April 21, 1900

The Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), June 23, 1900

Journey to Atlin, 1900

(Copyright, 1900, by Cy Warman.)

Written for The Evening Star.

    At White Horse Rapids, homeward bound, we had our first rainy day since we left Chicago. Even at Seattle and all the way up the sound the sky was blue for us. Jim Thompson, my traveling companion, said it was not that the region of the north was so favored, but because we were good, that the sun shone always on our trail. Well, somebody must have been bad at White Horse, for it rained furiously for an hour. Furthermore we were comfortably tucked away on the Australian, and while we were enjoying a hot dinner she pulled out for Bennett.

    All that afternoon she trembled up the Yukon, idiotically called "Fifty Mile River" here. All the water from the summit of White Pass, from the chain of lakes that make the connecting links of the river from Taku Arm and the Atlintoo river, that drains Lake Atlin, come rushing down the Yukon, which, at this point, is only about half as wide as the Missouri is at Omaha. At Miles Canon it is as narrow as the Arkansas is where it rushes through the Royal Gorge. So it makes the Australian, with her powerful engines, quiver, to go up against the current. At first you think she will shake her seams all open, but she is made of steel, and, if we except the butter on the Victorian, is the stoutest thing on the Yukon.

Wonderful Butter.

    That butter deserves more than a passing notice. It is the same material that Sampson, sr., used on his hair, being a part of a crock that Delilah held out when she and the strong man broke up housekeeping. It was purchased at the sheriff's sale by the house of Dunraven, brought over on the Valkyrie and presented by Lord Dunraven to Mr. H. Maitland Kersey of the Canadian Development Company, who own and operate these splendid steamers.

    Jennings, the chief engineer on the Victorian, has been trying it on his engines. He finds that a few drops in each of his lubricators will increase the speed of his boat by two miles an hour, up stream. It would appear, therefore, that the fact that the Victorian makes better time on less fuel than the other boats is not due to her equipment, nor to the care or efficiency of her crew, but to the strength and vigor of her butter.

    Because of the conflicting reports of the Atlin district, and because Garland, after three months of the terrors and tortures of the trail, grew rapturous over the scenery of that section, I determined to make a side trip to that camp.

    Captain Ritchie, the superintendent of the steamboat line, graciously offered to hail whatever craft we chanced to meet in Lake Marsh, bound for Atlin, and throw me aboard. It was away along toward midnight when the whistle sounded, a little screwboat with a lamp like a lightning bug came out of the shadow of the hill and lay rolling on the gentle waves in hailing distance. She proved to be the William Ogilvie, bound for Atlin, and after hastily bidding Thompson good-bye I went below where the ever watchful Ritchie stood waiting to hand me over to the "master" of the Ogilvie.

Eight Dollars for Half a Sleep.

    After a few hours, when I had become hardened to the petrified mattress, I fell asleep to wake at the elbow of Taku Arm. The sun was blazing over the brown, broken, splintered or snowcapped hills. The rain of the day before had washed the earth and the air all clean, making a morning as fine and fair and glorious as I have ever known. The air was delightful, the water calm and clear. While I walked the scant upper deck, reveling in the grandeur of the scenery, the Japanese gentleman, who was the tzar of the kitchen, served breakfast so stealthily that I knew nothing of it until it was all over and we were making fast to the floating wharf at Taku City. The purser was the only person who took any interest in me. He took $8 for half a sleep.

    A three-room cabin, called a hotel, faced the wharf. Here I ordered breakfast. The man brought me a beautiful fish, half cooked; real Canadian bread (also half cooked), and coffee that I could not swallow. I asked for a cup of tea, and got a weak solution of concentrated lye. Seeing that I could not eat the "boss" charged me only 75 cents, misdirected me, and let me go. I took his advice as a point against the wagon road that he recommended, walked the towpath on the tramway and found walking not only good, but the run about a mile shorter than the other route. The man was a concentrated liar - "one of a series," as Mark Twain would say, "and alone."

On the Crest.

    A low ridge separates the waters of Taku Arm from Lake Atlin, and over this ridge runs a fine wooden railroad, but no cars. Atlintoo river, deep, narrow and swift, cuts through the ridge, connecting Atlin Lake with the Yukon through Taku Arm. Taku City is at the mouth of the river that rushes out so swift that the ripples and wake of the current can be seen half a mile from the shore.

    The moment you reach the crest of the low divide you begin to get glimpses of beautiful Lake Atlin.

    Two steamers were waiting at the wharf - Captain John Irving's Scotia and a little battered tub called the Ruth, which had been hauled up over the rapids of Atlintoo only the day before. This was to be her first trip across to Atlin, which we could see sleeping in the sun, six miles away. The Scotia was not going until the afternoon, but Captain Spencer, who knew me, offered to cast off and take me over if I had any doubts about the Ruth reaching the farther shore.

The Lady and the Freight Agent.

    I thanked him and strolled over to the Ruth. A lady in a Nile-green dress, trimmed in fur, was putting crimps in a freight agent.

    "If you hadn't lied to me," she was saying, fiercely, "I wouldn't a-went to Skagway at all."

    "Ida, I didn't mean to lie," said the man meekly. "I thought it was a piano, but it turned out to be a bureau."

    "Oh, you idiot; can't you tell a piano from a burro?"

    "I said bureau."

    "Oh, well, nobody'd take you for a bureau - you're an ass, plain as the moon at midnight."

A Limpid Little Sea.

    Atlin lake is about 100 miles long and an average of six miles wide. From the upper deck of this little limping steamer I had, on this glorious summer morning, the grandest, wildest, the most imposing, awe-inspiring picture spread before me that mine eyes have ever seen. Far to the north, thirty miles away, Mount Minto rises out of this limpid little sea, lonely and grand as Shasta. A veil of fleecy clouds, blown across her shoulders, hung down and trailed in the water. This mountain marks the boundary between British Columbia and the Northwest territory.

    To the south, six miles away, another island hill rises rugged and grand, pushing her ice-capped crest into the clouds. The steamer Scotia has sailed around the island and found the distance to be eighty miles.

The Town and the Prospectors.

    The town of Atlin is beautifully situated on a gentle slope overlooking the lake. Although the place was supposed to have been dead for many moons there were many signs of life. A man had just brought in a slab of copper - almost pure copper - so rich that some men who pretended to know said it was worthless. It could not be smelted, they said. Business was fair and living cheap. You could send a cocktail or a telephone message to a man for 25 cents. At the British-American Corporation's big store bacon was 35 cents a pound and flour $10 a hundred. A telephone line was in operation to Pine City, eight miles up the river, where 4,000 people were pounding away, cheerful, hopeful and happy. Here the B. A. C. people, who are taking an active part In the development of the whole northwest country were putting in hydraulic machinery, which will hasten the opening of this important mining district.

    It is impossible to walk anywhere on the creeks or in the hills without stumbling over a stake, and the stampeders who drove them had no more mining sense than ground mice have. The whole career of one of these "prospectors" in the Atlin district, who came in a tramp and went out a beggar, reveals about as much intelligence as is displayed tn the wild caperings of a bumble bee under a straw hat.

A Promising Region.

    And these penniless adventurers were the gentlemen who damned the Atlin country. Half a thousand of them left good jobs on the White Pass grade - jobs in which there were three meals, as many dollars and a warm place to sleep - and trekked away to the new diggin's between the rising and setting of the sun. These "Cheechawkos" have nearly all tramped out as they tramped in, leaving the country in the hands of practical men. Mining companies with large capital are becoming interested in the district. The litigation which for a time threatened the very life of the camp and country had been greatly lessened by the honest efforts, plain common sense and fairness of Judge Erving, who had been sent out by the dominion government to try to settle the disputes over claims which were causing war in some of the New York papers almost every Sunday. All the people with whom I talked, British and Irish, Americans and Missourians, were loud in praise of the judge, who, as they put it, had jumped on the jumpers. He pleased the old miners by recognizing, first of all, the right of the discoverer, and did much to remove the cause of the friction that was becoming annoying to the district as well as to the governments at Ottawa and Washington.             CY WARMAN.